Notes I adore Erestor and I simply wanted him to play a somewhat more prominent role so...he's a close friend of Bilbo's now. Also, as we know hardly anything about him, I decided to put him into Gondolin as well and thus give him his own little slice of Hell (i.e. Glorfindel's death). Mean, yes? And proud of it!

Translation of Elvish: Mellonen - my friend.

Chapter 19 - Of Solstice Past and Yule Present

Then (3019 T.A.)

It was over, if was finally over. This would be the first winter solstice where they knew, knew beyond any doubt that Sauron had been vanquished. That Saruman the traitor was no more and Middle-earth could finally begin to heal. Though he feared the same could not be said for their guest. Bilbo Baggins was quiet, eyes scanning the pages of the book he was reading, but Erestor guessed the hobbit's mind was not following the Lay of Lúthien. No, it was preoccupied with something else. The way it seemed to be so often.

Bilbo would not speak of it. Would not reveal what was troubling him so. Erestor had initially suspected it was worry for his nephew's wellbeing. He had left all his possessions to Frodo, and by the sounds of it, there were certain relations who might give the young hobbit grief over it. But by the time the One Ring had been revealed for what it was, Erestor had let go of that foolish notion. Bilbo was not afraid, he was...grieving.

Grief...a feeling Erestor was only too familiar with. After Gondolin's fall, Erestor had been relieved to find Glorfindel still alive and well. Until the balrog attacked the refugees. He had seen it all, had seen the golden elf fight this most gruesome adversary until Shadow and Flame consumed even the bright light of the Elda and Glorfindel fell to his death. And Erestor wanted to join him, wanted to die with his beloved. But fate had other plans for him.

For too many years he had dwelt alone, no matter how many friends he had surrounding him. Elrond had been kind, and the new High King as well; but something within Erestor had died and there was only blackness where his heart had been before. And then, as if by miracle, Glorfindel had appeared in Imladris. His Glorfindel. Radiant and golden and so very much alive. At first Erestor had not believed his eyes. Clearly he had been mistaken, it could not possibly be... So he had run and hid in his rooms. And then the soft knock on his door, and it had opened and Glorfindel had been standing in front of him, and there had been tears of joy and tender kisses and...

Erestor caught himself before his mind could provide him with images that were inappropriate for Elrond's library, especially not when there was someone else around. He knew though, back then when he had lost Glorfindel, he had been close to fading from the world of the living...and he would not have cared if it had happened. After all, it would have reunited him with his beloved. And Bilbo...he could sense the same pain in the old hobbit and wished there was something he could do. He and Glorfindel. For the Elda had seen it too. As had Elrond. The Lord of Imladris had offered elven healing to Bilbo, but the hobbit had rejected it. Even after he had broken down in these very rooms. Erestor did not know the specifics, but he and Glorfindel had their suspicions.

It had to be something about those dwarves the hobbit had been travelling with all those years ago. The way he had reacted to seeing Gló if the dwarf was a ghost, a spectre of Bilbo's past, still haunting him. But then they had embraced, and Glóin had whispered, "I know, laddie, I know," and that had been that. The dwarf had all but moved into Bilbo's rooms, probably talking of times long gone. But now the dwarves had returned to their mountain after news of their king's death had reached the valley. There was another King under the Mountain now, King Thorin III. Erestor had been the one to inform Bilbo of it, and finally, finally the puzzle pieces had fallen into place. King Thorin... Oakenshield, not Stonehelm.

For months after, Erestor had given Bilbo ample opportunities to speak about his heartbreak, but the hobbit had kept his silence. Even after the elf had told him of Gondolin, of the nightmares that had been hounding him since that fateful day. Until Glorfindel had returned to his side. Bilbo had simply smiled, had told him how lucky they both were to have each other. And then the hobbit had excused himself, and Erestor had seen the hobbit clutch at something underneath his shirt, had seen Bilbo's eyes go watery. That night, he had cursed himself. Some advisor and friend he had been to the halfling. Instead of helping Bilbo, he had only accomplished one open the wounds even more. He had told his hobbit friend of his own heartbreak but subsequent happiness, forgetting that for Bilbo there would be no happily ever after.

It was then that both he and Glorfindel had come to the decision to turn this solstice into something special. The elves of Imladris normally did not celebrate the winter solstice, but this year would be different. Anything to make Bilbo see that there was joy yet to be found in the world. Even though it would never be enough to break through the pain and heartache he wore like an armour.

That evening, as Bilbo was sitting in his favourite armchair, reading of Beren and Lúthien, Erestor broke the silence. "I have read of the Yule Festival hobbits celebrate this time of the year, mellonen. And it gave Glorfindel and I an excuse to prepare a special celebration this solstice. So if my Lord ever asks you about it, please just nod and confirm what we told him. That is, that you knew of our plans and love the idea." Bilbo looked stunned, but not in a bad way. On the contrary. Before long, there was even a faint smile gracing his features, and that was indeed an achievement.

"As long as you don't expect me to help out. I'll gladly eat and drink anything you put in front of me know, to test the quality of the food." Bilbo winked then, and Erestor could hardly believe his eyes. So there was a remnant of a happier hobbit left under all his grief. And the elf vowed that, with Glorfindel's help, he would try and bring out this side of Bilbo more often. No one should spend the remainder of their days in misery...not after Sauron had fallen. Bilbo Baggins would know joy again, even if it was fleeting and ever overshadowed by feelings of loss. He would see it done.

Now (3021 T.A.)

Bilbo was standing on the balcony, wrapped in furs, gazing down at the sea of lights in the valley beyond the main gates. Elven lights and dwarven, mingled together to make the night as bright as day. He could see hobbits run this way and that, and he didn't need to behold their faces to know they were smiling. It was Yule after all and food was aplenty, as was drink, and there would be gifts and dancing. The dwarves of Erebor had gladly joined in with the Shirefolk, had not only adopted the hobbit festival but made it their own. Bilbo suspected that Fili and Kili were responsible for that. They had taken the idea of gift-giving to a whole new level and especially the dwarflings were squealing delightedly at the sheer number of boxes they received.

But most surprising were the elves. Except, they weren't. Bilbo could still remember the first solstice after Sauron's fall, and all of the following ones. But this time... Ecthelion had returned just a few days ago, carts of elvish goodies in tow. But not only carts. He also brought company.

Celebrían was there, and the former High King, Gil-galad. Galadriel was riding by her daughter's side, smiling brightly and when she beheld the hustle and bustle that was the preparations of the festivities, she laughed...and it sounded like bells chiming. Erestor had come as well, and Lindir, and indeed many of the elves who used to live in Rivendell. An impromptu meeting was set up then, and Bilbo was asked to attend alongside Thorin.

Bilbo smiled to himself. There would be an elven settlement sooner than Thorin had expected, but his betrothed had been hard pressed to find any excuse to stall. Which in truth he didn't want to do anyway. But he was still a dwarf and they were still elves and... "Elven terraces on a dwarven mountain! No wonder Durin chose to remain in the Halls." Bilbo had pointed out that Elrond wasn't just any elf lord, that he most certainly wasn't Thingol, and that he had ever been a friend to both Erebor and to Bilbo himself. So it was decided that spring would see the start of more building works, this time outside the mountain.

After the meeting, Erestor had been seeking out the company of Bilbo once he had given Glorfindel a glance that spoke of love and promises that made Bilbo chuckle to himself. And then the elf had knelt in front of Bilbo and had embraced him, "I wish you had spoken of it, mellonen, and not held it all in. But to see you with him makes my heart sing with joy. Too long have you been alone, and now you will never have to be again."

Thorin, who had witnessed the exchange, shot Erestor a thunderous yet teasing glance and muttered under his breath, "Keep your hands off, pointy ear!"

Erestor had simply glared and replied, "I have been his friend when you were enjoying yourself in Valinor, so back off, dwarven dinner-destroyer."

Bilbo, who by now had been fearing the worst, was beyond surprised by what happened next. Thorin bowed to Erestor. "You have my eternal gratitude for that." And then he added with a smirk, "However, kindly remove your hands from my betrothed lest I chop them off." He pointedly gripped the hilt of Orcrist and Erestor shook his head as he got back to his feet. "Now Lord Elrond tells me you like books and are a scholar of dwarven history. Maybe you would care to see our library? I'm sure Bilbo could lead the way..." Thorin's eyes caught the hobbit's, and Bilbo had to swallow around the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. Thorin not only entrusted him with a visitor...friend or not...but also trusted him to find his way to the library. Alone. Along walkways spanning casms Bilbo rather didn't think of.

He breathed a "Thank you" and Thorin gave a curt nod before turning back to Erestor. "Though please, take that blond menace with you. He's driving everyone up the wall with his ideas for the festival." The elf smiled wryly, but assured Thorin that he would try his very best. Though if Bilbo's memories of Imladris were anything to go by, even his best wouldn't be good enough to keep Glorfindel from making a nuisance of himself if he put his mind to it.

Soon after, they were both ensconced in the library, Ori nearly bursting with pride at Erestor's praise. Frodo was there was well, eyes bright with joy as he handed books and maps to the elf. Frodo had made a home for himself in the library it seemed, and was happier than Bilbo had...ever seen him, really. He spent his days with Balin and Ori, and occasionally with Thorin's nephews as well and he was beyond content. It made something uncoil in the pit of Bilbo's stomach to see Frodo like this...that remnant of guilt at having been somewhat distant for the entire time Frodo had lived with him.

They spent as much time among the books as possible during the next few days, until duty...and a festival...called them back above ground.

Tonight was the winter solstice, a time to let go of the past and embrace the future, and Bilbo would do so wholeheartedly. His future was laid out before him as if on a table with the most delicious food, and he couldn't wait to begin tasting each and every dish. The new year would bring new growth to Erebor and the most anticipated event since...the retaking of Erebor. A wedding. Their wedding. Balin had told Bilbo that preparations would begin as early as March and that there would be certain rituals the both of them would have to undergo in the time leading up to the big day. Rituals and royal appearances as his friend had called them. Like the one that very night.

For under the furs wasn't his usual hobbitish attire. There were robes...robes! Dwarven ones at that. Crafted specifically for him, for the future consort of the king. They were...overwhelmingly beautiful. The finest silks and the softest of velvets in warm colours that reminded Bilbo of his travelling attire. The outer robes were the same red as his coat, and the inner the green of his waistcoat. At least he had been allowed to wear his own pants underneath all the splendor. He still felt decidedly overdressed, but he wasn't going to mention that to Thorin. Not after all the times he had assured the dwarf that he was fine with his lot in life. Oh yes, and what a horrible lot it is. Spending forever with the dwarf you love, being by his side...ruling with him.

He was so focused on his thoughts and the goings-on down below, he didn't hear the soft footsteps behind him, didn't notice Thorin walk up to him until the dwarf wrapped his arms around the smaller frame of the hobbit. "It is time, Ukrâd. Let us get you warmed up before we have to face the snows down there, and the cold." The dwarf pulled Bilbo back inside the study they now shared, and the hobbit went more than willingly. That was, until he glanced at his desk.



"Under no circumstances, Thorin! I've told you, and I've told Balin...and everyone else who would listen. I will not wear it!" There on his maps sat the object of much discussion over the past few days. A beautiful mithril circlet.

"It's your right as..."

"No! We're not yet..." Sighing, Bilbo tried to collect himself. "I will not wear it until we are truly bonded. I don't want to...jinx it." He lowered his gaze as he began to fidget with his robes.

"It's not the circlet you will be wearing as my consort, Bilbo. I have yet to craft it." Bilbo frowned at the floor. "This..." he could hear more than see how Thorin gestured at the circlet, "it's the circlet of the king's intended. Just like the robes mark you as my betrothed." Oh...darn. He had been so busy fending off the piece of jewellery that he hadn't allowed anyone to explain its significance. Well done, Bilbo. Well done! "Please..." Bilbo quickly crossed the floor to where Thorin was standing by the desk, holding out his hand for the circlet. But instead of cold metal, a warm hand grasped his while another was placed underneath his chin. "I know you do not like it, but I promise there won't be many occasions that call for full regalia. Trust me, I can think of better things than carrying this thing," he looked up at his crown, "on my head."

Bilbo chuckled, "So here we are then, a king who doesn't want to wear his crown, and his hobbit betrothed who will not wear his circlet." He stepped back a little to take in the sight of Thorin. He was...stunning. Deep blue robes covered a familiar armoured tunic, showing that he was both a warrior and a dwarf of peace. "They let you wear your shirt and breeches..."

"That's because I know how to say no when Balin starts going crazy. A skill you have yet to learn. However," he was suddenly very much aware of the dwarf's eyes on him, "I am very pleased with the result, my hobbit. Though I am not sure I still wish to share you with our subjects. Maybe I should become one of those awfully jealous kings who lock their mates up somewhere and don't allow anyone to see them..."

"And if you want me to let you touch me ever again, you will forget about that splendid idea right now. I'm not some prize to be locked away somewhere, Thorin Oakenshield. I have elected to be here. Even if I have to run around like...this." He ran his hands up and down the robes.

"There was but one time when I entertained such thoughts, and I wasn't myself then. I thought to put you and the Arkenstone in my rooms, never to let you leave again." The dwarf's faint smile was rueful, but soon it was replaced by a real and warm smile, and Valar, it made Bilbo weak in the knees. "I would not force you to stay, but to know you do it willingly..." He had reached for the circlet, and he was now holding it up in both hands. "May I, my betrothed? May I show the world that I chose you to share my life?" Bilbo could only nod and inhale deeply as the circlet was placed on his head. It was as light as a feather, just like his shirt had been. His shirt...

It had been returned to him by Gandalf after the battle before the Black Gates of Mordor. The wizard had found it in all the mayhem and given it back to its rightful owner with the words "He wanted you to have it, and while it was gracious of you to lend it to your nephew, I think it's time you had it once more." His shirt... It had been Thorin's gift to him... His gift!

"I...I need just one second," Bilbo held up his index finger as he rounded his desk and rummaged through several drawers until he found it. His gift for Thorin. "You have given me so much already. I have a future now that I never thought I would have. You have taken all the pain away and replaced it with love and happiness and so much joy my heart seems to be overflowing with it. Today is not only the first day of Yule, it is also a day to remember the past and to let go of it. And to look to the future. I..." The book suddenly felt very heavy in his hands, but he still presented it to Thorin, fingers trembling as the dwarf took it. "This is my past, but not like the book I gave to Frodo. Not like the story we are now re-writing. This is the story of...of my heart, Thorin. It is a diary, the book I started scribbling in after the Carrock. It... I..." Oh Valar, he was stuttering like a tween! What would his mother say? "I was writing it to you. Today, I made the last entry and tomorrow, I will start a new one."

"Bilbo..." Thorin's arms were wound tightly around him then, and the dwarf kissed him softly before pulling back, one of those special smiles on his lips. "My Bilbo..."

Whatever else Thorin had been about to say was cut off by a loud knock, the clearing of a throat and a cheerful, "Duty calls, you two. You can continue being sappy after you attended the, you know, festivities." And if looks could kill, Balin would have been a very dead dwarf.