2017: Owl Flying Free

Title: Owl Flying Free
Author: penumbria
Fandom: Hobbit Sentinel fusion
Warnings: canon violence
Summary: Bilbo and Thorin have met and bonded as Sentinel and Guide. The trick – getting Bilbo out of the Shire without being stopped by the other hobbits. And finding their way through the wilds.
Banner Art: FanArt_series

Bilbo sat next to his Guide on his Great Aunt Pansy’s divan, while the rest of Thorin’s company of dwarfs brought the chairs from the dining room into the sitting room and used them. Bilbo had retrieved the big person’s chair from the bedroom that his mother Belladonna had made just for Gandalf’s use and which Bilbo had never converted after her death and the wizard gladly used the correctly sized furniture for his size, though he still brushed the ceiling when sitting, the smial not being sized for Men.

Bilbo’s senses were steadier than he had ever known them to be, he wasn’t spiking or close to zoning or dulled at all. It was exhilarating to the hobbit. His hand was curled around Thorin’s as he waited for the conversation to begin.

Predictably, it was the wizard who started them off. “Bilbo, I want to apologize to you. I realize that I misjudged your reactions this morning to my offer of an adventure. I believed that you had simply allowed your Baggins respectability to overcome your Took heart. I felt that an adventure would do you good. I had no idea you had come online as a Sentinel. I would have never even thought of offering this quest to you if I had known.”

Bilbo nodded his acceptance. “Thank you for the apology, Gandalf. I came online during Fell Winter. When – when the wolves – we were nearly out of food and my father was ill and most of Hobbiton was starving and we were making our way to Took Hall for help and well – we thought that by going in a large group the wolves would be too – but we were wrong. We were nearly there when a pack attacked. Mother was always fierce and her adventure with you prepared her as most hobbits wouldn’t be. She had a knife and killed two of the wolves before – I don’t remember anything beyond seeing her fall beneath the claws and jaws of more wolves. I came online in that moment and I was feral. I killed the rest of the pack, some with my bare hands, evidently. I only know what the others in the party have told me. Of the sixteen hobbits that were with me that day, we lost three in that attack, including my mother. The rest had minor or no injuries. I led them to Took Hall and once safe, I was overcome and – the grief – I – well, two days later I led them back to Hobbiton with supplies of food and wood and medicines. But my father, he didn’t last much longer, without my mother, he – well, yes, so I’ve been a Sentinel since then. Not at all the respectable Baggins that my father imagined I would grow up to be.” Thorin wrapped his arm around Bilbo and rubbed his shoulder in sympathy.

Kili sat forward, his face scrunched. “Wait, Gandalf, why wouldn’t you want to invite Mr Boggins along if you knew he was a Sentinel? Even a hobbit Sentinel would help our journey. Any online Sentinel would help.”

Gandalf shook his head. “No, I’m afraid this is a cultural difference, Kili.” Ori pulled out a bound book and a pen. Gandalf smiled at the young scribe. “It isn’t a cultural secret. It is simply a difference. In most of Arda, Sentinels and Guides are treated much the same. They come online and learn the same things, look for their match, work together as bonded pairs for the good of their race or the good of all of Arda. Hobbits are different. Nearly every hobbit is a Guide. But they aren’t like the Guides you know. Mostly. Their Gifts are more specialized and rather than focusing on empathy towards people, their Gifts manifest in understanding of the Earth, plants, trees, fields, even occasionally animals. Those of you who are Sentinels may have felt a bit more relaxed than you might normally do since you set foot in the Shire. This is because the entirety (nearly) of the race of Hobbits constantly use their Guide gifts to saturate the area. It provides a buffer for the land and creatures here. And it provides a haven for that rare, oh so rare, being – a Hobbit Sentinel.”

Balin strokes his beard. “So, hobbit Guides never shield their Gifts?”

“Only those rare few whose Gifts include empathy as you know it and they are even more rare than hobbit Sentinels. And the last hobbit Sentinel, before Bilbo, was before Erebor fell to Smaug.”

“And did – did that Sentinel bond to a hobbit Guide?” Ori spoke up, shyly.

Gandalf shook his head. “No. Hobbits do not believe in a singular Guide for a Sentinel.”

The Company, bar Thorin, gasped nearly as one. But Bilbo sat forward a bit. “Now, Gandalf, that isn’t quite accurate. It isn’t that we don’t believe they exist, hobbits simply don’t do that. Men, elves, dwarfs, that is fine for them but hobbits simply find the idea – well – repulsive and constrictive for the most part. I suspect it has to do with the differences between hobbit Guide Gifts and the rest of the Guides in the world.”

“So, laddie, you don’t believe in one on one bonding, then?” Dwalin nearly growled the question while glaring at Thorin’s arm around the Sentinel.

“I never truly considered the matter until tonight, Master Dwalin. I had no reason to do so. Hobbits are fairly insular and I’ve rarely seen a big person in my life unless I went to Bree, which is rare for me. And since no hobbit with Guide Gifts would do such a thing, the point was moot, I’m afraid. But I think hobbit Sentinels have no impediment from forming such a bond if a Guide was compatible. The last hobbit Sentinel before me was Bullroarer Took. And after he defeated the goblins with the use of his Gifts, he eventually retreated, isolated himself to control his Gifts. He didn’t have a happy life after he came online. His wife – well, she stayed behind when he moved to Long Cleeve as did most of his children. His second oldest son, his eldest daughter and her family, and his second youngest son and his wife, moved to Long Cleeve to support him as did a handful of others but for a hobbit community it was very small (at that time) and very isolated and cut off from the rest of the Shire. He only lived a bare handful of years after coming online, died in his sleep (according to his family) though rumors insist it was actually a zone out that they couldn’t shake him from. He was just too isolated and there were too few hobbits there.”

Fili frowned. “But wouldn’t that have been a good thing? Away from too much stimulation to control his senses better?”

Gandalf frowned. “For hobbits, I’m afraid the reverse is somewhat true. The way that hobbits use their Gifts, constantly, provide a – well – a shield for Sentinels. It keeps them from zoning too hard or long or deeply. Mostly. But if surrounded by many hobbits, a Sentinel, even if deeply zoned, will be able to be brought out of it with minimal difficulty by nearly anyone. And I do mean any Sentinel surrounded by many hobbits. So if a hobbit Sentinel left the Shire…”

Bilbo nodded. “When I was a fauntling, I dreamed of going on an adventure like my mother had when she was young. I would wander the woods and hunt for elves. But once I came online, that dream died. If I had gone beyond the Shire – being so accustomed to the shielding provided by the Shire, I would have zoned within hours, maybe a couple of days if I was lucky. Even going to Bree is difficult for me now. Or well, before Thorin. There are hobbits living there but it is mostly a town of Men. I could manage but it took constant attention from Zirandas to keep me from zoning and I needed to have my pipe lit almost the whole time.”

“Your pipe?” asked Bofur?

“Yes, there is a special pipeweed that can dull senses. It is mostly used for surgery, and in greater and stronger quantities than I use. But for me, it assists me in not extending my senses beyond what I mean to. It was truly wonderful when I first used it. I had already heard and seen several things that I wish I never knew. I smoke several times a day. Though, I suppose now, I won’t need to, at least not with that pipeweed. But I would miss my pipe if I gave it up altogether. I used to love a pipe of Old Toby as a youngling.”

Thorin cleared his throat. “I would like to address something Gandalf said when he apologized. You said that Bilbo turned you down this morning?”

Gandalf huffed into his beard. “Ah, yes, well, that is true.”

Thorin turned to Bilbo. “When did Gandalf first ask you on this quest of ours, my Sentinel?”

Bilbo frowned. “This morning. I didn’t even quite recognize him as a matter of fact. The last time I saw him was when I was a faunt – a young child.”

Thorin growled, “Gandalf, you told me weeks ago about this hobbit burglar who would join us!”

Bilbo had his walking pack on the bed and was slowly filling it with essentials for a trip. He packed several of changes of clothing, mostly his old gardening clothes and one fine suit which he wrapped in waterproof wrapping to protect it. He had examined the map of Thorin’s and looked over the planned route. The journey would take a considerable amount of time and wandering through many terrains.

Bilbo dug into his closet and pulled out warm flannel undergarments, a heavy woolen hat with ear flaps, two types of gloves: a thick woolen almost mitten and a glove that was mostly used in gardens and kitchens in the Shire which had a leather coating on the fingers and palms; and a thick woolen scarf as well as foot pads.

Hobbits didn’t wear boots but in the coldest weathers they were known to don thick sock-like material on their feet. Foot pads weren’t socks, in a formal sense that other races would wear. They were thick soles with wool padding around the top of the foot and toes and wrapping up the leg. The soles were designed to protect the foot from the intense cold of snow and ice but not restrict the connection which the hobbits felt from contact between their feet and the earth. The material wasn’t rubber, it was a blend of fabrics that were treated to harden and stiffen them.

Bilbo added his treated waterproof jacket and his traveling coat, called such as it contained many pockets, both on the outside and inside on the jacket, as well as hidden places within the seams to hide valuables. Finally, Bilbo took out his thieves belt. It would pull double duty, both as a normal belt and also to place money in the inside. It was unlikely that a normal thief or pickpocket could rob him, as a Sentinel Bilbo was constantly aware of his surroundings, but his coat could be lost along the journey.

It was always wise to have plans within plans within plans when living your life. You never knew when it would take a turn and change entirely, Bilbo had learned this harsh lesson during Fell Winter and now with Thorin’s arrival, it had happened once more.

Bilbo tried to anticipate issues and problems their journey could bring and pack accordingly. He glanced around his bedroom and went over the plans in his head for the first step in the journey. The dwarfs and Gandalf would set out in the morning and take the road towards Tuckborough before heading east towards Bree once beyond Hobbiton. Meanwhile, Bilbo would lock up and walk to Bree. It was a bit early in the season for his supply trip to the mixed race town but it wasn’t too outside of the timeline, only a few weeks. Once near Bree, Bilbo would reunite with Thorin and the Company and continue on their way, bypassing Bree where Bilbo would be recognized. It would be over a week before those in Hobbiton would expect to see him again and that would give them a sufficient head start to avoid trouble. By the time anyone found the letters he would leave behind prominently, they would be well on their way.

Bilbo might not have been considered respectable due to his status as a Sentinel but that same status made the hobbits possessive of him. He had used his senses numerous times over the years to help, from warning of storms or floods or bandits to finding lost faunts or animals that had wandered away and gotten lost. They would not be willing to allow him to leave the Shire, especially not upon learning that he had bonded with a singular Guide of another race. He had heard many hobbits talking of trying to stop him from even his bi-annual trips to Bree.

One of the worst was his nemesis, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. She had been a bit of a bratty faunt, a terrible tease as a tween, and a miserable hag after marrying Otho. She was one of the loudest and most vocal about restricting Bilbo from going far from Bag End. She pushed people to consider that he couldn’t take care of himself and that she and her husband should be appointed his caretakers and occupy Bag End with him so he didn’t zone and no one know. The fact that he had never zoned that badly was used as a way to smack her down. Plus, everyone in Hobbiton wanted to keep the Sackville-Baggins away from this side of the river. They all knew that she just wanted access to Bag End and didn’t care a jot about Bilbo or his possible zones.

As Bilbo folded a few handkerchiefs and laid them on top of his pack and another in an outer pocket of his traveling coat, his gaze fell upon his mother’s jewelry box. It was a beautiful artistic thing that his father had carved himself while courting Belladonna Took. Inside lay both the Baggins heirloom jewelry (a lovely pearl necklace with three strands and a pendant of green stone that came from the mountains during the Wandering Days) and Belladonna’s personal jewelry (her wedding ring, two pairs of earrings, one of pearl and one simple gold studs, and a necklace with a locket which had a snip of Bungo’s hair and a snip of Bilbo’s hair from when he was just born).

Life could change in an instant, Bilbo mused once more. And it could easily end just as quickly. This was not a simple journey to Bree for new pots or clothing. This was a journey through the wilds, over mountains, through untamed forests and vast plains. There would be encounters with wild animals for certain, wolves and possibly bears. There was the chance of worse encounters with goblins or orcs. And at the end of the journey: a dragon. Bilbo realized that he may not survive and decided to write out a will to leave behind with his letters to the Thain, Holman Greenhand, his gardener and caretaker, and his grandmother Laura Baggins.

Bilbo sat at the small desk in his bedroom and began making a list of who he wanted to have of his possessions when he thought on Bag End itself. Bilbo may be a Baggins but the house was built as a dower house for his mother, a Took. It wasn’t entailed to the Baggins clan but rather should return to the Took side of his family. Certainly it would never pass to Otho Sackville-Baggins, regardless of Lobelia’s mutterings. Mercenary female! Bilbo tried to determine to whom he wanted to leave in charge of Bag End should the worst occur and Bilbo not return.

As this thought was pondered, another one overtook it in his mind. Even if Bilbo and the Company survived the journey and the dragon, even if they were unable to retake the mountain but retreat with their lives intact, Bilbo wouldn’t be returning to the Shire. His Guide was not just a dwarf but the leader of his people, a king among the dwarfs. There was no way he would be able to make a home in the Shire, living with Bilbo in Bag End. And if they retook the mountain and somehow defeated the dragon, Bilbo couldn’t return to Bag End when his Guide would be taking his place as King Under the Mountain. This was not just a journey to defeat a dragon, it was a quest to retake a home and no matter the outcome, whether that home was Erebor or Ered Luin, it wouldn’t be Hobbiton. His plan – his thought to avoid the possessive nature of some of his fellow hobbits regarding himself and his Gift wasn’t feasible. It was cruel in the light of his realization.

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