Chapter 2: Unexpected Visitors
"Fetch us a drink, the, lassie."
I stare open-mouthed at the huge man, his thick fingers tapping on the table, the pewter gauntlets gripping to his knuckles and heavily-scarred forearms.
"Lass," the man repeats, "a drink, and another for my Kin."
I open my mouth to speak, and stare down into my empty cup; without another word, I stand and make my way into the pantry as though in a trance. I have a feeling that I may have mumbled 'yessir' at some point.
"You don't mind, do you?" I call across to Bilbo as I take a new chalice from the counter, and he seems to panic a moment, befuddled between directing me towards the store of alcohol and asking his new guest what on earth he was doing in his home.
I twist the barrel of the ale keg and fill the broad mug with the rancid liquid before shuffling back to the kitchen and handing it to the huge man, Dwalin, who thanks me gruffly and stoops back over a plate of pre-prepared food. He congratulates Bilbo on is culinary skills and bites the head off a slimy fish, a scale or two spraying across the table. One hits the sleeve of my shirt and I grimace. It is then, as I flick the iridescent skin from my wrist, that it finally registers in my mind the clothes I am wearing.
Oh, good Lord above..
And not just any pajamas; the cheapest, scabbiest, girliest, most miss-matched pajamas to ever grace the face of the earth. A pair of rainbow-covered fleece bottoms and a pale blue t-shirt with a crudely drawn ice cube on the front, and the corny slogan of 'Stay Cool' printed across its front in white ink. Kill me.
When I return from the pantry, it is to another intruder in the home of the tetchy Hobbit. The new guest is older than the first, with a white beard and a coat the colour of oxblood. He has a bulbous nose and a merry, Santa Claus-esque face. I hand the kindly old man in the dark red coat his mug of ale, and he begins to inspect the cheese in the pantry with Dwalin.
The peculiarities of all of these characters are starting to make me believe that, rather than a dream, I must be hallucinating. Maybe I'm on acid? Has someone slipped me acid?! Was that stroganoff I had for dinner last night made with magic mushrooms?
"I think it's gone off," the old man mutters over the cheese, taking a wiff of a block of blue-veined Stilton. Dwalin pulls it from him and tosses it away. "Riddled with mould."
The two ponder the cheeses as they guzzle the wine, and it is gone in seconds. Dwalin hands me both mugs and digs his hand into a bowl of dried meat in the pantry.
"Another wine for my brother, Lassie. And an ale for me, I wouldn't mind."
Without question and now almost as flustered as the tiny home owner, I head back to Bilbo's kitchen and pour another mug of the bitter ale, taking on the role of barmaid without much thought. I take a swig of the black goop for myself to help calm my nerves. Just a dream, you sissy. Calm yo-self. You can do this. Just keep your cool. The phrase makes me think of the stupid slogan on my t-shirt, and I groan aloud.
Soon after, there is a knock at the door again. Bilbo looks as though he might faint; I'm starting to feel rather sorry for the poor little guy.
"I'll get it," I offer with the aim of reliving some of his stress. I head to the door, reach for the handle, and Bilbo calls out,
"Don't let any more in-!"
"Too late, my dear Bilbo, afraid I've already unlocked the door. One more won't hurt, surely..."
Oh. Two more.
Two young men stand the other side, the parallel of one another; the older-looking of the two is blond with warm blue eyes, a wry smirk and a braided moustache. The younger is a little taller and far darker, with shiny black eyes, high cheekbones below a mess of long bistre-brown hair, grazed with stubble and the same smug smirk as his partner. Goodness me. You've out done yourself here, subconscious... kudos to you.
"Fili," says the blonde, offering a tiny bow.
"And Kili," mimics the darker, stooping of his own accord; in sync the two chime,
"At your service."
The darker grins. "You must be Mr. Boggins."
"...Uh... what?" I say with a bemused stare, eyes locked on to the pair of them; the older clips the darker around the back of his head with his palm, eyes flaring momentarily with embarrassment.
"Forgive my little brother," the blonde says, stepping past me and into the house before handing me an armful of absurdly heavy weaponry, "careful with those, we've just had them sharpened- you see, m'lady Hobbit, Kili is young and has seen very few women in his time, being Dwarven. He has most certainly never laid eyes on a She-Hobbit such as yourself... he meant no offence, I can assure you."
"Well, uh, I'm not a man, or a... Hobbit... and did you say Dwarven? ...Like, Dwarves? You're Dwarves?"
"Oh, another who struggles to distinguish races!" Fili laughs to his younger brother, handing me his coat and a shake of his broad hand, "a perfect match!"
I stare at the two, though decide not to question my dream-logic too far. Kili returns from wiping his boots on an expensive-looking box before offering his hand too, along with a muttered apology for thinking me a dude rather than a dudette.
"Aren't you a bit tall for Dwarves?" I remark, staring the two up and down. The eyes of the darker brother light up fondly.
"Do you think-?"
"Enough of that, brother," Fili teases, "come; there's food waiting. I'm starving."
The younger stares blankly from his brother to me, releasing my hand with a half-smile before muttering to his brother, "you said they all looked feminine!"
"I meant they lack beards and the strength of our kind," Fili muttered, "they do not look exactly like women. I did not think you assumed they were to be... buxom." The word registers in my mind, and I haul the neckline of my top up past my collar bones self-consciously. Bilbo appears in the hall, and Fili points fondly at him. "Ah! See here, Kili... this is a male Hobbit. Mr. Boggins, I assume?"
"Baggins," Bilbo corrects, "and might I ask who you-?"
"Where's the food?" Kili interrupts excitedly, before Dwalin appears and scoops his arm around the younger brother, leading him away.
"It's not that I don't like visitors!" Bilbo calls after them as the troop of us head back to the dining room, "I like visitors as much as the next Hobbit. But I do like to know them before they come visiting-"
Like a banshee calling, there is another knock at the door.
"No!" Bilbo proclaims, "no, no, no, there is nobody home! Go away and bother somebody else, there are far too many Dwarves in my dining room as it is! If this is some clot-head's idea of a joke, I can only say it is in very poor taste!"
The next thing I'm aware of is a flurry of Dwarves bursting through the house, and constant calls from Mr. Baggins of 'Not my wine, put that back. Not the jam, please! Excuse me. Excuse me... can you please use the cheese knife?'
"Cheese knife?!" a whimsical voice calls back from behind me as a barrel-sized orange dwarf scuttles past with three wheels of cheese resting on his enormous belly, "he eats it by the block!"
In the confusion, I find myself tripping face first over an orange that is rolling down the hall, bashing my arm off the frame of the doorway, and walking straight into a man who is, quite frankly, gargantuan. I stare up at him and try for an apology, but all I can manage is,
"Hmm..." the giant rumbles, bending to my level. For a few moments he studies me cautiously, before nodding to confirm something to himself and giving me a bright smile. "Might I introduce myself; I am Gandalf. Gandalf the Grey."
"Good grief," I shrill, staring up at the grey-cloaked giant, "you are a tall one, aren't you?"
The old man laughs down at me kindly, half-hidden behind his long beard. "I think you'll find, my dear, that you are rather short," he jests. He bends a little lower to get a better look at me, and squints. "And you are certainly not from around these parts..." he leans a little closer, so that the rowdy Dwarves in the dining hall, who appear now to be having a belching competition, cannot hear. "Or of this time, I dare say."
Tired of it all, I shrug in defeat. "You've got that one right, Gandor."
"Gandalf. Give it to me, then; I've had Dwarves and Hobbits and giant sheep so far. What are you?"
He stands upright once more... well, as upright as he can get without colliding with the low ceiling.
"I am a Wizard."
I nod. "Whatever you say, Dream-Wizard. I hope I remember this dream when I wake up, it's pretty fancy... where are we, then? I still have no idea."
"The Shire," he smiles down at me. "How exactly did you get here?"
"I can't really remember," I tell him with a half-attempted smile.
"And what are you, if you don't mind my asking? You have the height of a Dwarf, but the appearance of the Atani-"
"...Men, my lady. Humans."
"You've hit the nail on the head right there," I tell him, "I'm your average run-of-the-mill human. Bilbo seems to think I'm a Dwarf, though, and the Dwarves thought I was one of the Hobble things."
He nods firmly, but it appears he does not quite understand. "I would keep that to yourself for now. What is your name?"
I look around, and see a vase of delicate purple flowers in my vision. "Lavender," I answer, not quite sure why I felt the need to lie; there's something about this whole place which I don't quite trust. Besides, I've panic-lied about everything else thusfar, so surely one more can't hurt.
"Well, Lady Lavender," Gandalf says to me... ooh, I rather like the sound of that. "Perhaps we should join the company of the others; they are quite the merry gathering, once you get used to them."
"Good idea," I say, heading past him towards the dining area; I shuffle my way quickly into the packed dining room with the band of excitable Dwarves, deciding not to question how the huge Wizard-man . A bread roll flies past my head and slams off the wall behind me, causing me to jump out of my skin; a bowl of soup follows it, and I stand there, drenched in the spray of pureed carrots and peas.
"Sorry," calls over a softly-spoken Dwarf with two plaits either side of his chin. I look up at him with hooded eyes, before bursting into a cascade of laughter and sucking some of the soup from my forefinger.
"Don't be," I smirk, taking another step into their company. "It's quite delicious."
As far as dreams go, so far, this is a good one.