Garden for a King

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"Honor him in the Shire. He will be with you always."

AU where Fíli and Kíli survive and Bilbo unknowingly helps them through the grieving process.

1. Acorn

The tomb was quiet. Bilbo suspected that wasn’t anything unusual for a grave, but it felt uncommonly impersonal. The chill wind outside of the mountain seemed to find its way into the halls. It would whip through the tunnels with icy sharpness. Even where he stood at the entrance of the tomb, he could hear it howling through the halls.

It wasn’t that he expected the tombs to be more warm and welcoming than they should be. The atmosphere was somber, and the cold and quiet were not entirely out of place. But it wasn’t what he was accustomed to. In the Shire, graves felt personal. A warm memorial of the lives they represented. As if they were still part of the world in some small way.

Thorin’s tomb felt impersonal and unfamiliar to Bilbo. The two injured dwarrow sat still and quiet on either side of the sarcophagus. The only sound besides the howling of the wind was the occasional hisses between teeth as one of them shifted and exacerbated a still-healing wound. Bilbo was finding it increasingly difficult to stay still. He knew the dwarves were mourning their kin and their king, and he shouldn’t intrude, but he was leaving soon. And he wanted to say goodbye. Not just to them.

So he cleared his throat and took a long stride forward. His large, furry feet tapped on the stone, and the room echoed with the sound. But neither of the dwarves moved. They were either lost in their own grief or willingly ignoring him. He cleared his throat again, and finally, the dark-haired dwarf turned his head toward the sound.

“Is there something you wanted to say, Mister Boggins?” he asked. Bilbo’s heart was heavy, but the sound of Kili’s voice brought a smile to his face. For a brief moment.

“I’m to be off soon,” he told them. “I wanted to say goodbye.”

Neither of them spoke. Kili merely sighed before leaning against his hand and letting out another quiet hiss of pain. Bilbo knew they would want to see him off, but since he hadn’t planned to set out for a few hours, they were in no rush to say their goodbyes. He cleared his throat again. The momentary lightness he felt after hearing Kili’s voice had faded with its echo.

“In the Shire,” he said cautiously as he stepped toward the stone that held Thorin’s body at the head of the room. “We don’t—make tombs. Not like this.”

Neither of the dwarves spoke, but he was confident they were listening. Kili, the usually restless young dwarf, was staring at the wall. And Fili hadn’t moved his eyes from his own feet for as long as Bilbo had been there.

Bilbo knew that dwarves preferred to bury their dead among the stone they had come from. Balin told him so. They had done all they could to craft a worthy tomb for Thorin in the time they’d been there. And it was truly magnificent. But still so cold. And Bilbo’s heart ached to think of Thorin spending an eternity in a cold room surrounded by stone until even the Mountain herself forgot him.

“Some prefer to make graves into—into gardens,” he continued. “That way we always remember them, but they still—have a place. Some plant—trees and things. Others—others plant flowers. It makes us feel closer to them, I suppose.”

His voice wavered, and he immediately regretted telling them about hobbit burials. They were dwarves. Of course, they wouldn’t care about how hobbits buried or mourned their dead. He felt stupid for bringing it up. Guilty for admitting that he found the tomb so cold and impersonal. But maybe he’d hoped to bring them comfort somehow. He could tell by their stony expressions that he hadn’t. He was only interfering on a grief he would never fully understand. He’d cared for Thorin, intensely, and had happened to be with him when he took his last breath. It was a pain he wasn’t certain he’d ever overcome. But the two dwarrow at his sides had known him far longer, and much differently. He felt impolite, intruding on grief that could only belong to them.

So he took another step forward and finally reached the sarcophagus. It was a big, ugly thing, he thought. Cold and uncomfortable. But he felt, in his own way, he deserved to grieve in a way that was best for him and brought comfort to his kind. So he reached up and set his hand down on the smooth stone. It was tall enough so that he could only see the surface if he stood on his toes. But it felt smoother than he expected. And when he pulled his hand away, he left behind nothing but a small acorn.

He knew the dwarves had moved their eyes to him when he finally turned away. He could almost feel them examining the gift and following him back out into the halls. He shouldn’t have said what he said, but he wanted them to understand the gift. Or at least to know what it meant to him.

Bilbo was not surprised when neither of them appeared for the next few hours. He readied his possessions and gifts and prepared to say his goodbyes. He’d helped the dwarves get home, but his place was in the Shire, and more than anything, he longed to be back in his chair by a warm fire. He knew it would be some time until he was there again, but he was looking forward to a less harrowing adventure on the way back.

The two youngest dwarves appeared before he set out, just like he expected them to. They crept out of a dark, cold hall, limping and groaning from all the unseen wounds beneath their clothes. And when they sadly embraced him and wished him luck, Fili slid the acorn back into his hand and met his eyes.

“Honor him in the Shire,” he said, gripping the hobbit’s small hand like a friend instead of a king. “He will be with you always.”

Bilbo could not argue. He forced a smile and slid the acorn back in his pocket. He knew it had no place in the tomb where there was no light and warmth. It would shrivel and die. Letting it grow in the Shire where it could thrive would be a far better honor to Thorin’s memory than to let it be forgotten in a tomb.

He said his goodbyes and headed out into the early morning light. The air was just as chill outside, and he took his first steps toward home, not knowing he had successfully planted a seed in Erebor. The two young dwarves watched him descend toward Dale and thoughts of the peculiar creatures, and their garden graves brought a lightness back into their heavy hearts.

The acorn was planted in the Shire, as promised, and quickly took root. Bilbo was glad to see it grow, and by the time a full year had passed, it was becoming a beautiful young oak. There was light in his heart again, and he knew he had truly honored Thorin’s memory with the tree. Though no one else in Hobbiton knew the exact reason why he’d planted such a magnificent tree.

The letter arrived by messenger years after he returned home from Erebor. Bilbo wasn’t accustomed to getting letters from the mountain anymore. Every once in awhile, something would arrive from the dwarves who had been his friends on his adventure. But he did not know much about the happenings of the mountain now that he, and the dragon, were gone.

The envelope was thick and heavy when he brought it inside Bag End. The scrolling, messy handwriting no doubt belonged to Kili, and he smiled when he pulled it open. The letter was surprisingly short, as Kili only told him about the potted garden they were growing inside Thorin’s tomb. The tomb was built into the side of the mountain, and after a few altercations, they were able to construct windows to let the sunlight in. The people of Dale had brought them gifts of potted vegetation when their own city began to flourish again, and Fili, the young King Under the Mountain, had decided Thorin’s tomb was a good place for them to grow.

Bilbo smiled when he pictured the tomb now. It had been so cold and unwelcoming the last time he’d seen it. But now he imagined sunlight spilling over the stone through diamond-shaped windows. And green. So much green. A warm, welcoming place where Thorin’s memory could live on in the potted plants that now scattered the tomb.

Inside the letter, Kili included a small packet wrapped in thick parchment. And when Bilbo pulled it open, he found himself holding a handful of seeds. The note, this time in Fili’s neater handwriting, said “Seeds from the King’s garden.”

Bilbo panted them outside his front window. In the spring, Thorin’s flowers were the first to burst through the layer of snow in the garden. And before he knew it, his front steps had been overtaken by fragrant yellow blossoms that crawled up the stones and quickly made Bag End their home. Every night he would sit outside and smoke his pipe while the scent of them washed over him. He would look down at the tree growing bigger and stronger and he would think of Thorin in his warm sunny garden, surrounded by fragrant yellow flowers.

 

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My gift for @toboldlynerd for the Tolkien Secret Santa on Tumblr.

I couldn't find much about Hobbit funeral customs except for the Battle of Bywater, which happened after Lord of the Rings. The bodies of fallen "soldiers" were buried in a mass grave, where they eventually constructed a memorial stone. And at some point, it was turned into a communal memorial garden.

I thought the idea of turning graves into gardens was a very hobbit-like way to honor a loved one.

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