- Adventures: Hazardous to One’s Marital Status
- Discussion - Rape
- No Beta
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Alternate Universe
Bilbo strolled down the pedestrian walkways of the Dale marketplace, taking in the beautiful city and the people who milled about him. Elves, Dwarves, and Men could be found wandering through the permanent storefronts and temporary booths or working as merchants. Either way, none of them paid him much mind other than as a minor curiosity, likely because the majority of them had never seen a Hobbit before.
Though with his Dwarvish bloodline – his great-grandfather was half-Dwarf and the King of Ered Luin – his size and the braids he generally wore covered his rather pointy ears, and he was young enough that they could just be mistaking him for a beardless Dwarf not yet come of age.
Bilbo fiddled with one of his beads and sighed softly. It had belonged to his mother, who had given it to him just before she succumbed completely to her grief of losing his father, Bungo, three years prior. Her death occurred less than two years ago, and losing both of his parents so young and one after the other like that had been hard on him. He’d been lucky that she’d lived long enough to see him come of age. It meant that he didn’t have to worry about greedy relatives trying to get hold of his parents’ fortune, in spite of what his grandfather would have done to them had they tried to weasel his inheritance away from him.
But it didn’t stop his confounded Baggins relatives from trying to marry him off to various Hobbit lasses and lads of their choosing. He knew they were picked because they wanted someone in his life who could manipulate him into handing over money and property that ultimately would end up in their hands. That they thought he was stupid enough to fall for it said something about their own intelligence. It didn’t help their plans that they chose Hobbits he’d go a mile out of his way to avoid at all costs.
The latest pawn in their schemes had been Lobelia Bracegirdle. What they didn’t seem to understand was that the two were friends in an antagonistic sort of way, and so when Lobelia caught wind of their plan she’d come to him and they’d both agreed that it was a truly horrible idea. Marriage between them would have resulted in murder before the first year passed, and it was a toss-up as to which one would have emerged the survivor.
So in order to preserve their friendship such as it was, and everyone’s sanity, Lobelia had fled for a family visit on the other side of the Shire to derail them, and while they were trying to figure out just what had happened Bilbo had given instructions concerning Bag End to both the Gamgees next door and Flambard, his favorite Took cousin and one he trusted to care for his businesses, and high-tailed it Eastward toward Rivendell.
Granted, sneaking out in the dead of night with a hefty travel pack and a bagful of gold that he’d collected randomly over the last months, since he’d had a feeling he’d need to take an extended vacation before he strangled someone, wasn’t the most dignified way of leaving, but really, it saved him the headache of dealing with the whining and griping.
His survival and camping skills were excellent and the trek between the Shire and Rivendell was relatively safe, so he’d had no real issues, especially as he’d purchased a pony in Bree to help him with carrying extra provisions.
The most challenging event he’d had came not all that far from Rivendell, in a peaceful little forest area known for centuries as the Trollshaws, which had been considered an odd name by all since there had never been a troll habitation in the area in all of known history. It was there that he’d ironically run into trouble with three rather stupid mountain trolls who’d stolen his pony while he’d been dozing. It was sheer luck that they hadn’t seen him at all.
He found himself both terrified and infuriated, but he’d done enough reading to know that sunlight would turn them to stone, so he’d sent them on a merry chase, using his small stature and wits to frustrate and enrage them enough they didn’t bother with the sunrise until it was far too late. Exhausted but happy that both he and Myrtle had survived the ordeal, Bilbo found a place away from the trolls to rest for the day. The next he found himself still sore, so he’d stayed an extra day and had done a bit of leisurely exploring.
He found gold, jewels, and weapons in the trolls’ hoard when he finally talked himself into braving the stench. He took gold, some of the prettiest and most expensive of the jewels and jewelry – he may be more Hobbit than Dwarf but he did know his gold, jewels, and their values – and the weapons he liked best, leaving the rest for whoever might come across it. Then he’d moved on to Rivendell without further incident.
He’d spent three weeks in Elrond’s realm until a party was scheduled to leave for the Woodland Realm. Intrigued, Bilbo decided to tag along, over the mountains and through the forest until he was face to face with the King of Greenwood. Thranduil, in spite of the rumors Bilbo had heard about him, was quite congenial and had offered to have his own people escort him onto Dale since they’d planned a trip to the kingdom in a weeks’ time.
He spent the week becoming acquainted with both Thranduil and his children before leaving for Dale, and here he found himself on the second day of his time in the city of Men, wandering through the marketplace, his pockets full of gold and surrounded by so many interesting things. The rest of his belongings were locked up tight in his room at one of the pricier inns.
Another ten minutes of aimless wandering and Bilbo finally stopped at a semi-permanent stall that sold yard goods. He’d just found a soft, velvety deep blue material that would make an excellent evening robe when he heard a commotion headed his direction.
A commotion that was all too familiar.
He turned around, curiosity getting the better of him, and watched as the younger one stalked in his direction, attempting to ignore the ones following behind him. Both were dressed in fine clothing that denoted them part of the aristocracy. Guards loomed behind the elder Dwarf, who glared at the younger who now stood close enough that Bilbo could reach out and touch him if he so chose. Clearly, they were both Dwarves of some import.
Deciding to mind his own bloody business – he had enough dramatics of the Dwarven variety in his own family, thank you very much – he turned back to the merchant and smiled. “Can I get three lengths, please?”
The merchant, who had been eying the Dwarves with some curiosity of his own, nodded and began measuring out the cloth for cutting while Bilbo continued browsing. Though he did keep an ear out for the Dwarves behind him, who were starting to talk rather heatedly. It wouldn’t do for him to end up in the middle of a brawl, even if he’d been taught to hold his own. They weren’t wayward Took children that Bilbo felt compelled to corral at a party.
“Thorin!” The elder one finally started yelling outright, ensuring that everyone in the vicinity could hear them. “I demand that you return to Erebor this instance! Your behavior has been disgraceful as of late, and running away like this is childish! You have a duty to the kingdom.”
Thorin huffed. “Duty does not require me to marry that horrid woman. She has no designs other than the Queen’s throne and the King’s gold. She likes me as much as I like her. Which is to say not at all. The only reason that simpering idiot is here is that her father wants to wallow in the treasure halls like a pig wallows in mud.”
Bilbo had thought the name ‘Thorin’ familiar, but his words brought his previous studies back to the front of his mind. Thorin, son of Thráin, who he presumed was the other Dwarf. The King of the Dwarves and the Crown Prince were having a domestic directly behind him. Wasn’t that just the bloody limit?
“She is a good match for you, my son, and it’s not as if you enjoy the company of the nicer ones we’ve brought to you. I must insist. If you do not have a good reason for rejecting Dorwina, then you will be marrying her. I’m sick of the way you’re dragging your feet over this. My youngest is already wed!”
“Because Dís was lucky enough to find her One before she even became eligible for marriage!” Thorin argued. “Don’t I deserve the same consideration? Besides, I have found my One. I only just discovered it while I was wandering the marketplace.”
The disbelief was practically dripping from King Thráin’s next words. “Really? How convenient. And who is this creature that Mahal has deemed your perfect love match?”
Bilbo, more interested in the cloth he had in his hands than whatever Prince Thorin was going to say to get out of his predicament, handed it to the merchant. “Eight lengths of that if you have enough.”
Just as the merchant opened his mouth, Bilbo yelped as he was grabbed by the upper arms and whirled around to be thrust in front of King Thráin and his guards.
“It’s him,” Thorin said, sounding so confident that Bilbo almost would have believed him, had he not been completely certain neither of them had seen one another earlier in the day. “He’s my One. I will not marry another.”
Bilbo turned and glared up at the Dwarf, nearly swallowing his own tongue when he got a good look at the Crown Prince. He was stunningly beautiful, with long, dark, wavy hair and piercing blue eyes. His braided beard reached down mid-chest and was decorated with tiny mithril and sapphire beads. The sight of him did keep Bilbo from stating exactly what he thought about being dragged around like a child’s ragdoll.
That was probably for the best. To be honest, those living in the Shire had made telling off Dwarves an art form, much to the chagrin and amusement of said Dwarrow, though which depended on whether or not they were the one getting their ears blistered by a significantly smaller being than themselves. While the Dwarves of Ered Luin took it with a great deal of grace, none of them were of the Durin royal line and they were used to Hobbits’ ways whereas Bilbo doubted many Ereborean Dwarves had ever met a Hobbit.
Clearly, though, King Thráin didn’t believe Thorin’s claim, because the disbelief etched on his face doubled and he stared down at Bilbo. “You expect me to believe this…this…child is your One?!”
Bilbo glared at him for that. What an arse. “Excuse me, but I’m not a child! I am a Dwobbit, I’ll have you know, and I am of age and a perfectly normal adult with land and businesses and everything! Of all the rude, obnoxious -”
A hand clamped over his mouth and he glared up at Thorin as best he could. “Yes, this Dwobbit is my One. I had only just discovered it myself several minutes before you came, Father, and I was trying to decide how to approach him. I cannot marry Dorwina because he is the one I am meant to spend my life with. I will have no other.”
Thorin’s father narrowed his eyes as he looked between the two. He nodded but his expression said he didn’t believe Thorin was telling the truth at all. Finally, he sighed. “Very well. I will leave Dwalin and a few guards here so that you may talk with your intended and begin the courting process. I expect to see you and your of age and adult Dwobbit at Erebor within five days. If I do not, I will have the others begin planning your courting and wedding to Dorwina.”
Bilbo watched the other Dwarf turn and stalk off with three of the guards, leaving behind three of the others. One of them was smirking at Thorin, who had stepped back to give Bilbo space, and Bilbo figured it was that Dwalin fellow. Then he tilted his head up to glare at Thorin. The only thing that stayed his tongue was the desperate, pleading look on the Dwarf’s handsome face.
Sighing, Bilbo tapped his foot and folded his arms over his chest. “You’ve got a great deal of explaining to do, Thorin, son of Thráin, son of Thror.”
Thorin jerked a little in surprise. “You know who I am?”
“I’ve heard of you.” Bilbo smirked at him and then turned back to the stall, where the merchant was looking highly entertained. “I’ll take what I asked for, for now. I’ll come back later, once I figure out what I’m supposed to do with this one.”
The merchant grinned and wrapped his neatly folded materials in plain white cloth and tied it up. “One gold coin and three silver.”
Bilbo handed him two gold coins. “Keep the difference.” Then he turned to Thorin. “You’re taking me to lunch and we’re talking about this. And you’re paying.”
Thorin nodded dumbly, words clearly escaping him at the moment, but he didn’t move.
Sighing, Bilbo made a shooing motion. “Well, let’s get on with it. We don’t have all bloody day, future husband of mine.”
Thorin flinched slightly and started walking. “This way.”
Bilbo followed, ignoring the snickering guards behind them, and followed Thorin through the marketplace and to an out of the way building.
Bilbo walked inside, taking in the dining area. It was rather large with many tables that could hold a varying amount of people. It was light and airy, the many windows allowing the sunlight and the breeze from the lake to filter in. The walls were stone but the tables and chairs were a rich, dark wood, ornately designed and carved with lovely woodland patterns.
The one who greeted them bowed low. “Prince Thorin. How may I serve you today?”
“Do you have a private room? I and my companion need to discuss a few things and I would prefer not to have an audience,” Thorin said, dropping a few gold coins into his hands.
“Of course, Your Highness, right this way,” the man said, leading them up a set of stairs and to a room toward the back. “There is a room next door for your guards if you wish to be alone. The balcony joins the two rooms in case you should need them.”
Thorin nodded to Dwalin, who led his men into the other room, and Thorin guided Bilbo into the first. They sat at the table closest to the window and the man left them with a bow, promising to bring food and wine up directly. Then they were alone.
Bilbo folded his arms on the table and leaned forward. “So I’m your One, hmm?” he asked when Thorin didn’t say anything. “Because that’s what you told the king and he’s expecting us in a week, well on our way to marriage via courtship.
“Not that he bought it. Not that I buy it. I was simply within convenient dragging distance.” He sat back. “So why don’t you tell me exactly what is going on up in that pile of rocks you call a kingdom that has its Crown Prince running for the hills.” He waved his hand, ignoring the indignant look he was receiving at his description of Erebor, and continued on. “I mean, I got the gist but I want to hear the whole story from you.”
Sighing, Thorin slumped back in his chair. “I am sorry. I panicked and you were the closest one nearby.” He frowned. “And what is a Dwobbit, if I may ask? I’ve never heard of your people.”
Bilbo raised an eyebrow. “Maybe I’ll share a bit of storytime with you once you explain. Quit stalling.”
Thorin frowned at him. “I don’t know what you know about the royal line already.”
“I know your grandfather died nearly two years ago and your father took the throne. My great-grandfather came for the coronation.”
Nodding, Thorin sat up. The servers brought in platters of food and the wine, leaving once everything was set up.
“After my father took the throne, he suddenly decided I needed to marry and produce heirs. Nevermind that my sister is newly wed and plans on providing worthy enough heirs and that we have a younger brother intent on spreading his seed far and wide. Or at least he’s recently been making an effort to seem like he is.”
“A flirt then,” Bilbo said with a laugh, knowing the type well.
“Yes, quite, which is fine since he seems to enjoy himself and is very careful not to give any false hopes that there could be more,” Thorin said. “But my father, once he sets his sight on something, keeps after it until the task is complete and he is determined to see me wed.”
Thorin huffed as he reached for the serving fork and speared a piece of roast to put on his plate. “I do believe he has gone out of his way to find the Dwarrowdams who were the stupidest, most spineless, nastiest or most gold-digging ones of every Dwarf-kingdom in Middle-Earth. While I have never been interested in those I have met nor in marriage in general, I have met some of the most delightful Dwarrowdams one could ever hope to meet, who I could have tolerated being married to if forced and been content enough. None of those are the women my father has picked. He has the most awful taste with the exception of my mother, but as that was an arrangement I do not think it counts.”
Bilbo chuckled because he surely could understand Thorin’s plight. “I can sympathize, actually. I’m here in Dale instead of in the Shire because my father’s relatives keep trying to marry me off to lads and lasses that I would go out of my way to dodge so I don’t have to speak to them. I fled the Shire because their next choice was a friend and any relationship other than friendship would have ended with one of us killing the other, and I’m not certain who would achieve murder first. And she’s the one that I tolerate well enough out of the entire lot.”
“So you do understand my problem,” Thorin said, sounding relieved.
“Yes, of course. No one should be forced to marry someone they find contemptible. But what about all that One business?” Bilbo asked. “I know what a One is, but there’s no way he believed you and you’ve painted yourself into a corner.”
“I know, but at this point, I believe that me finding my One is the only thing that is going to keep me from having to marry Dorwina, unless I actually run away from home.”
Bilbo tilted his head as he cut up his meat. “What’s she like?”
“She is the worst of the lot he’s thrown at me. She is greedy, cold, and perhaps a little mad, and she dislikes me and my family though she hides it from my father well. I fled when he decided I would be marrying her with my consent or no because I needed the space to think and I felt suffocated under that pile of rocks, as you called it. Of course, he followed me. And, well, you know what happened after.”
“And now you’re in a difficult place,” Bilbo murmured. “You either have to actually court and marry me, or you have to go back with the news that I rejected you and he’ll be waiting for you to fade.”
“And when I don’t, he’ll know I lied and I’ll be back to being forced into marriage to that horrible woman.” Thorin sighed and pushed his plate away. “I am sorry I managed to catch you up in my drama.”
Bilbo slid his plate back. “Eat your food. Not eating is hardly going to help you.” He thought for a minute as he ate a bit. “While I do know about Dwarvish courtship, I’m not sure if Erebor’s rules are any different. How long is courtship?”
“Depending on what the couple wishes, there are two versions. The shorter lasts one year and the second lasts two,” Thorin told him.
Much like the courtships in Ered Luin, Bilbo thought to himself. He weighed his options, the possible inconvenience to himself, and the ramifications of his family finding out and the problems that could come with it, and said fuck it. The poor Dwarf in front of him looked so dejected and resigned to his fate that his heart couldn’t help but go out to him.
“I guess, then, we’ll just have to begin courting.”
Thorin’s head shot up so fast Bilbo winced in sympathy for his neck. “What?! I mean…what?!”
Bilbo released a small laugh. “Look. Courtship is two years. A lot can change in two years. This woman could marry someone else. We can work on your father to make him see reason, especially if he has an issue with me not being exactly what he wants in a mate for his son. It will help save you face with this whole One thing, it will keep me away from my relatives for a while, and it will give us time to set things to rights.”
“I can’t ask this of you,” Thorin said, staring at him wide-eyed.
“You’re not asking. I’m offering.” Bilbo shrugged. “I know what you’re going through. I don’t mind, really. I wasn’t looking forward to going back to the Shire anytime soon. No one should have to marry for anything other than love.”
Thorin sighed and grasped Bilbo’s hand, his relief palpable. “Thank you.”
Bilbo smiled at him. “You’re welcome. Now eat. We’ve got a fake courtship to plan.”
After lunch, Thorin guided Bilbo out of the restaurant. “We should move your things to the King’s castle. That’s where we stay when we’re here in Dale overnight.”
“My things are at the Black Stallion Inn,” Bilbo said with a frown as he looked around. “I’m a bit turned around at the moment. I only arrived yesterday.”
Dwalin grunted. “It’s this way,” he said, leading their group to the right. “Don’t ask Thorin for directions. He has no sense of direction outside Erebor.”
Bilbo looked at Thorin, who was glaring at the back of Dwalin’s head and laughed silently. “I’m going to need to go through the marketplace over the next few days. I was not expecting to remain here for any length of time, so I’m going to need things.”
“We’ll be sure to get you whatever it is you desire,” Thorin promised as they came upon the familiar sign.
It was quick work to get his belongings from his room, settle his bill, and get Myrtle from the stables.
The King’s castle wasn’t that far from the inn, situated on the top of a tall, wide hill.
The head of the castle guard greeted them. “Thorin. This is an unexpected pleasure.”
Thorin smiled at him. “Lorne, it is good to see you. I hadn’t expected to come down to Dale today, and I had an unexpected run-in with my One. As he wasn’t prepared to spend significant time around the area, we need to spend a few days gathering things for him at the markets.”
Lorne nodded. “Your standard rooms are, as always, available for you. The Queen and the children are away visiting family in Rohan, and Dorian is currently abed with a rather nasty cold. I doubt you’ll see him for at least a few days, as he’s declared rather dramatically he’s on death’s doorstep.”
Thorin laughed softly. “There’s no reason for Dorian to drag his royal arse out of bed just to entertain us. We’re more than capable of doing so ourselves, and we’ll be wandering around Dale anyway, likely only here for dinner.”
Lorne escorted them to their rooms and left them to settle in. Thorin showed Bilbo which room he could take and all of them brought his things in.
“I take it Lorne is good friends with the King to be so casual about his impending doom,” Bilbo said as he set most of his packages in the closet, with the exception of his clothes and the material he just bought.
“They grew up together. I did some of my growing up with them,” Thorin told him as he watched him flit about. “We’re all good friends.”
Bilbo nodded as he organized his clothes into different types and studied what he had. “It’s nice to have good childhood friendships that last into adulthood. Do you think there’s a quill and parchment I could use?”
“There’s writing implements in the desk over there,” Thorin told him, motioning across the room.
“Thanks,” Bilbo murmured, going to it and retrieving what he needed and bringing it to the table by the bed, where he had his things spread out. “It’s early summer yet, but what are the winters like here? In the Shire, it’s fairly mild and only occasionally snows. When it does, it doesn’t last long.”
“It gets quite cold here,” Thorin admitted. “There’s a lot of snow that sticks for some time once it starts. The lake here ices over though it’s not solid enough to walk on and breaks up somewhat easily. What are you doing?”
“Trying to figure out what I’m going to need clothing-wise, so I can buy the appropriate materials to make what I need.”
Thorin hummed in surprise. “You can make your own clothing?”
Bilbo nodded. “Yes. My father taught me. He loved to sew and he passed on that particular hobby to me. I have a ton of clothing at home and most people think I bought it, but I actually made the majority of it. My mother hated sewing and was limited to fixing a hem. She was the cook of the family.”
He laughed softly. “My father, on the other hand, could set water on fire just by looking at it. I think part of the reason my mother decided to settle down and marry my father was pity for his horrible cooking skills. He’d have never survived as a bachelor.”
“You speak of your parents in the past tense. Are they not with you any longer?” Thorin asked, his voice gentle and a little hesitant as if he wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to ask.
Bilbo shook his head and smiled sadly at Thorin. “My father died five years ago. He drowned after saving a child who fell in the river. He got the child out but the waters swept him away before he could be pulled out. My mother died of grief nearly two years ago. She held on long enough for me to come of age and take control of our family’s estate.”
“No reason to be. As sad as I was, he died honorably and I was grateful for the two years I had with my mother after that. I know that if it wasn’t for her love for me, she likely would have joined him within weeks of his death. She loved him beyond reason. He was her One, you could say.”
Bilbo sighed and frowned at his meager amount of clothes. “I’m going to have to do a lot of sewing.”
“We do have tailors in Erebor,” Thorin said with amusement.
“And I’ll be more than happy to have them create the more formal clothing I’ll need, but I have particular preferences for clothing I don’t have to wear for formal events,” Bilbo informed him. Then he spent the next few minutes making notes on his parchment.
After he was done, he went to the desk and sat down, taking out another piece of parchment. “Do you have any idea what my rooms will look like?” he asked.
“Depends on what you like,” Thorin said as he walked over and leaned against the wall near the window. “We have several suites available in the Royal Halls.”
“I like to cook, and I prefer to have easy access to the outside if possible. Sunlight and fresh air are important to my people.”
Thorin nodded and thought for a moment. “We have one empty suite that has access to a massive terrace on the side of the mountain. It used to house gardens, as a queen in our distant past had an affinity for growing things. Not much is known about her. Those rooms also have a large kitchen.”
“Those sound perfect, actually,” Bilbo told him and smiled.
“I’ll send word to have them readied for our arrival,” Thorin said, straightening up. He rummaged through the desk and came up with a second writing set and took them over to the sitting area while Bilbo started making preliminary plans for an autumn and winter garden.
When they were done, Thorin escorted him back out and they headed back into the marketplace.
That night the five of them had dinner in the informal dining hall, the Dwarves doing most of the initial talking while Bilbo listened and studied their personalities.
The tall Dwarf with the rather odd hair – he was bald on the sides, but there was a rather ample lot of hair on top of his head that ran down the center toward the back and stuck straight up – was indeed Dwalin, who kept smirking at the two all throughout the day. The second Dwarf was named Borin. He was a head shorter than Dwalin, but stockier and had enough muscle that he looked like he could knock down a cave troll if he got a good running start. The third guard, Konar, was easily the youngest, having just been promoted to work in the royal guard, which he’d proudly proclaimed was a family calling, his own father being one of the personal guards of the King himself.
Dwalin was still smirking in Bilbo’s direction, so he stared back, making sure Dwalin knew just how completely unimpressed he was with his behavior.
“He could kill you with both hands tied behind his back,” Thorin told him, clearly amused by the two of them.
“And I could knock him out cold with a well-aimed rock to several different places before he ever got close enough to try,” Bilbo replied sweetly, grinning when the Dwarves’ laughter echoed in the room.
“So,” Dwalin said, eying him with amusement and approval, “where is this Shire?”
“In Eriador,” Bilbo replied. “Where I live within the Shire, Hobbiton, is a little less than seventy leagues northeast of the southern half of Ered Luin. Other parts of the Shire are quite a bit closer, obviously, as it is a fairly good-sized land. My home is rather in the center of our lands, as that’s where my father’s family are from. My mother’s side resides closer towards Ered Luin.”
Thorin hummed. “Have you met the Dwarves of Ered Luin? We don’t have much contact with them, to be honest. I know a delegation came from there for my father’s coronation. I met them briefly, but they’re rather far away for any meaningful interaction.”
Bilbo bit back a smile. “Yes, I’m well acquainted with them. King Moran is my great-grandfather.”
Dwalin choked on his ale. “You’re part Dwarf?”
Bilbo nodded. “Grandfather Moran, who is only part Hobbit himself but we call him half-Dwarf as it is easier than saying he’s 5/6ths Dwarf, married Emmaline Took, the firstborn daughter of the Thain at the time. My grandfather, Gerontius, was his second-born and became Thain of the Shire when my great-grandfather Took decided he didn’t want to be Thain anymore. My cousin, Fortinbras, is the current Thain. Grandfather Gerontius decided he wanted to wander rather than listen to Hobbits complain about nonsense, so he handed over the job to his firstborn who kept the position all of three years before flinging it at Fortinbras. Last I heard, my grandparents were wandering about Lothlorien and making plans to go find some Ents.”
“So, Hobbits are compatible with Dwarves then? They can have children together?” Borin asked, eyes wide.
“You’re one of the royal family of Ered Luin?” Konar squeaked out.
“Yes, yes, and yes,” Bilbo said with amusement. “Belegost and the Shire have been trading partners and allies for centuries. Grandfather Moran was hardly the first who married a Hobbit. Some Dwarves live in the Shire part or full-time, depending on if their craft is feasible to work on there. Many Hobbits, especially from the Brandybuck and Took families, of which both are extensive, have married Dwarves and live in Belegost. Trade is ample between the two, so Hobbits are often able to come down and visit family.”
“And the children are like you?” Thorin asked.
“I’m actually more Hobbit than Dwarf because my father was a full Hobbit, but Dwobbits vary in which parents they take after. Some don’t grow beards, some do. We tend to gain the height of the Dwarf side more often, hence my height. Hobbits are usually at least a head shorter than the shortest Dwarves. Hobbits, and indeed Dwobbits, mature and come of age faster, but our lifetimes are comparable.”
He smirked. “From what I understand, it took some time for them to become comfortable with the fact that Hobbits are fully mature physically about their mid-twenties and come of age at thirty-three, considering Dwarves don’t physically mature until they’re in their forties and come of age at sixty-five.”
Thorin’s eyebrows shot up. “And how old are you?”
Bilbo laughed. “I’m not yet thirty-five.” He laughed again when they all paled. “I assure you I am very much an adult, and there isn’t a Dwarf in Belegost that would bat an eyelash at a courtship between you and me.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Thorin said, though he was frowning a bit.
“I promise, I wouldn’t lie to you about this,” Bilbo told him. “And remember, I’ve told you my father’s family has been trying to marry me off in earnest for coming up on two years.”
Thorin nodded and relaxed a little.
“As for children, Hobbits go about having them differently than Dwarves, and it transfers to their children no matter which side they take after,” Bilbo started.
“How in the world would you go about having children differently?” Borin asked, sounding flabbergasted by the very idea.
“We grow our children in the garden,” Bilbo said, smiling when all of them stared at him, mouths gaping in shock. “We’ve always done it that way, and over the centuries Dwarves who have a Hobbit ancestor even distantly in their bloodlines are capable of having children that are pretty much all Dwarf, since the Hobbit bloodline is more or less diminished by that point, and yet they can still create children in that manner. The Dwarves of Belegost actually have a thriving community and often have at least four children in their family.”
Bilbo hummed thoughtfully while the others continued to stare at him, clearly mind-boggled by the very idea. “Paladin, my cousin, and his husband Bombur planted their fourth in the ground nearly a year ago. He or she should be emerging sometime soon.”
“Two males can have children your way?” Dwalin asked, staring at him in disbelief.
“Well, yes, of course,” Bilbo replied as he got up and refilled his tankard. “Or two females. Most of the Dwarrowdams of old who were not craft-wed took Hobbit husbands or wives so that they could have children without the high risk they often face with giving birth the way they do. The added benefit is being married to a Hobbit male meant they didn’t have to be careful with regards to sex. Hobbit males can’t impregnate them the way Dwarf males can.”
“So the females now that are almost full Dwarf…” Borin asked leadingly.
“Are incapable of carrying a child but are quite able to grow them,” Bilbo told him. “Most every Dwarf there at this point has at least one Hobbit ancestor. And as I said, as a people, they’re thriving.”
“That’s amazing,” Thorin said, still staring at him. “So in theory, you and I could…”
“Have children? Yes, and it’s a certainty, not a theory,” Bilbo replied. “I daresay the future line of Durin would thrive should that be the case. Grandfather Moran has ten children himself. Grandfather Gerontius had to outdo him with thirteen. Uncle Vongar, the next in line for the throne, had to outdo them both with sixteen. Isumbras and his husband are on their ninth so far with plans to beat Uncle Vongar’s record. A most ridiculous competition, but what can you do?”
“The Dwarves of Erebor could only dream of those kinds of numbers regarding young,” Borin said. “It’s a gift from Mahal that they found the Hobbits.”
“Perhaps,” Bilbo said while he buttered a roll. “After all, Hobbits are Yavanna’s children. We came after, and though our primary duties are to tend to the lands, I would think we were also sent to intertwine with the Dwarves since we’re so compatible, of a complementary size, and have a similar lifespan.”
He turned to Thorin. “Tell me about your family.”
Thorin sighed while Dwalin chuckled. “You met my father, King Thráin…well, sort of. I know he may have seemed rather cross and his harping on me to wed and his means in getting me to be that way may seem harsh, but usually, he is a much kinder man and he has been a good father to us and a good husband to my mother. I think he will take kindly to you, especially after hearing you can give him grandchildren. He longs for grandchildren to spoil. And he worries desperately about our line thriving.”
Bilbo laughed at that. “Sounds like a typical grandparent.”
“My mother, Marís, is a delight and you will love her. She is very kind and has a steel spine. She has been away with my sister, visiting our kin in the Iron Hills, which is why my father is trying to force me into a marriage contract now. She would not allow it but could do nothing once it was done,” Thorin said, his love for his mother written all over his face. “And I have to say it’s rather short-sighted of him, as he would have to face her with what he’d done afterward.”
“And she is a beautiful lady, our Queen is,” Dwalin added. “She is as tall as Thorin. She has beautiful, flowing blonde hair, a rather exquisite blonde, braided beard, piercing blue eyes – Thorin has her eyes – and a smile that lights up whatever room she is in. She also has a tongue on her that can rip the hide right off of ya, if you do something spectacularly stupid as all of her children have found out at one time or another.”
Bilbo burst out laughing at the glare on Thorin’s face. “Oh! She sounds rather like my mother. I cannot wait to meet her.”
Thorin continued to look at Dwalin. “I seem to recall you, Dwalin, being on the receiving end of my mother’s tongue lashings more than once yourself.”
“Only when whatever I did involved you. You were horrid at getting caught,” Dwalin replied and went back to slicing his roast.
Choosing to ignore Dwalin, Thorin turned back to Bilbo. “My brother, Frerin, is much like my mother in looks.”
Borin snorted and said, “Blond, beautiful, and outrageously flirtatious and mischievous. When – not if…when – you see him get a gleam in his eyes, run, because he is about to do something rather naughty. Or traumatizing.”
Bilbo laughed. “Sounds like things are never boring with him around. He’d fit right in with the Took family.”
“Perhaps we should take him to the Shire and marry him off there,” Dwalin said, grinning at Thorin.
“Just what you need in Erebor’s royal bloodline…two Tooks,” Bilbo said, chuckling.
“The Dwarrows in Ered Luin seem to thrive with many, so I do believe we would be safe,” Thorin said, smiling as he cut open another roasted potato and dressed it with butter, cheese, and a spice blend he seemed to enjoy.
“Then there is the youngest of us. Dís is much like me in appearance… When she dresses as a male for travel, it is very difficult to distinguish between us unless you know us both.”
Bilbo slowly gave Thorin a once-over, smiling when the Dwarf blushed. “So she’s quite beautiful, then.”
“Yes, very,” Dwalin agreed, grinning at Thorin like a cat who found the cream.
Just then the dining hall door burst open behind them.
Thorin’s shoulders slumped and he hung his head. “Mahal save us,” he muttered.
Bilbo’s shoulders shook even as he pressed his lips together to keep the laughter at bay. “Frerin?” he murmured as he leaned close to Thorin.
“Frerin,” Thorin confirmed, and then he pushed his chair out and stood. Turning to his brother, he glared at him. “What are you doing here, Frerin?”
“Adad told me all about meeting your One and I just had to come and meet him for myself,” Frerin said, striding forward and embracing his brother. “I couldn’t bear waiting.”
Thorin, who looked annoyed, embraced him warmly and without reluctance. “How angry is he?”
“Furious,” Frerin said with a laugh. “You are to marry a male, Mahal save you, and that will not get him what he wants. The Arkenstone may have been Grandfather’s greatest treasure, but we all know Adad is still waiting for his. That you turned down an excellent political match and someone who could give him grandchildren has got his smalls rather in a knot.”
Even as Bilbo laughed silently behind his hand, he sent up a prayer of thanks to both Yavanna and Mahal that it wasn’t Frerin he’d met and got into this predicament with, because he had a feeling that being courted and wed to him would be tiring. Still, Bilbo couldn’t help but like him already.
Thorin sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. “At least some of his irritation will be eased when we meet next, but that does not explain why you could not wait for a few days to meet Bilbo.”
“Bilbo? Is that his name?” Frerin asked, side-stepping his brother and striding up to the table, even as Bilbo calmed himself and stood up.
Bilbo bowed. “Bilbo Baggins, at your service, Prince Frerin.”
“Oh, please, just call me Frerin. You’re to be family. No need to stand on ceremony,” Frerin said, dropping down to one knee and surprising Bilbo by pulling him into a big hug. Then he pushed Bilbo back to arm’s length, hands still on Bilbo’s arms. “My, you are a lovely Dwobbit. My father neglected to mention that. You are very lucky, brother.”
“I am well aware,” Thorin said, casually dislodging Bilbo from Frerin’s grip and pulling him closer to himself, his arms sliding around Bilbo rather possessively. Bilbo, to his surprise, found he didn’t mind very much at all. “Why don’t you join us since you’re here? There is a seat available on the other side of the table.”
Frerin’s eyes danced with mirth and he nodded, taking the empty place setting across from Thorin and helping himself to the abundance of food still left. “So what was the topic of discussion when I graced all of you with my royal, majestic presence?”
“I do not know but in our world, where you inflicted your annoying presence on our otherwise delightful evening, we were discussing Dís and Thorin’s beautiful likenesses. We hadn’t gotten to your troll-like visage yet,” Dwalin said, barely grunting when Frerin punched him hard in the arm.
“You love and adore my very existence, Dwalin. Do not pretend otherwise,” Frerin said airily before turning to Bilbo. “But yes, my brother and sister are extremely beautiful. Our family doesn’t quite fit the usual definition of Dwarven beauty, but there is no denying we are quite sought after because of our attractiveness. There are many Dwarrowdams who will be weeping into their forges when they discover Thorin is no longer available to them.”
Frerin frowned then. “Of course, that means that now I will be on the chopping block. When does Amad come home again?”
Thorin chuckled. “She should be home by this time next month. Do not worry. We will protect what’s left of your virtue until then.”
“If Adad gets too insistent, I will simply run away to wherever your beautiful Dwobbit is from. If they’re all as lovely as he is, I just may find my own One among them,” Frerin said, smiling when Bilbo blushed.
Thorin chuckled. “You may at that. Apparently, the Dwarrow who reside in Ered Luin have been finding spouses with the Shirelings for centuries and having children with them.”
Frerin looked up in surprise at that. “Truly?”
Thorin nodded. “I will explain later.” Then he turned back to Bilbo. “My sister is already wed to a Dwarf called Víli. He is an attractive, ginger-haired Dwarf, and not nearly as stupid as I thought he would be after our first meeting.”
Frerin chuckled. “Aye, he seemed rather a dolt upon first meeting but he was very nervous. Dís said he was rather an idiot the first time they met as well. He does better after the first meeting.”
“He is rather shy and was very nervous meeting the entire royal family. Once he became used to us, he fit right in,” Thorin said.
“Yes, we’re rather fond of him now,” Frerin replied as he cut into his meat. “He warmed up after he realized we weren’t going to gut him or slit his throat for daring to look at our sister.”
“Master Baggins won’t have that problem. Apparently, he’s quite capable of knocking us out with rocks long before we can get near him,” Dwalin said, winking at Bilbo when he snorted and sent him a half-hearted glare.
“I will demonstrate my capabilities sooner than you might think if you continue, you cheeky Dwarf,” Bilbo said, trying not to smile when Dwalin smiled back at him, completely unrepentant while the others laughed loudly.
“Oh, yes, he’s going to fit quite well within the family,” Frerin said to Thorin. “You had best keep him close or I may steal him for myself.”
Thorin snorted though he wrapped his left arm around Bilbo’s shoulders. “Find your own Dwobbit.”
“I may have to do just that.” Frerin winked at him again.
Bilbo, rolling his eyes, went back to his dinner while the two brothers planned on how to deal with their father.
“What’s on the agenda this morning?” Thorin asked as they walked into the marketplaces the next day. The afternoon before had been more about walking around and investigating what was for sale, after they found a stationery stall for some cheap parchment and a graphite pencil for him to write with.
“First thing, I want to find the material I need for my clothing and a few projects to keep my hands busy during the winter months,” Bilbo told him as he looked at his list.
Frerin, Thorin, and the guards had joined him, much to his amusement. He looked at them now and shook his head. “You do realize that if you need to do something, I’m perfectly fine looking around myself and purchasing what I need. I’m not going to make a run for the Greenwood treeline the moment I’m out of your sight.”
“And we’re here to help you get them transported back to the castle, and then to Erebor,” Thorin told him as they walked toward the yard goods stall they’d met at the day before.
“We have incredible tailors in Erebor,” Frerin said, taking his arm and guiding him through the crowd. “They can help you with whatever you need.”
“I plan on having them do the formal clothing I’m going to need since I brought none of my own,” Bilbo told him as they walked up to the stall. He saw Thorin glaring at Frerin and elbowed him lightly. “Help me find some material that will work well within the mountain.”
They and Frerin sorted through the materials picking one or another. After a while, Frerin held up a thick, burgundy material that was soft to the touch. “This would be perfect for a long coat,” he said, pressing it against Bilbo’s chest. “Perhaps some gold or silver thread on the edges, gold or silver buttons, and possibly fur on the collar if it’s going to be for outdoors or travel.”
Thorin moved around him and looked through the stack. “They also have it in a darker blue and a deep forest green. We can get all three and make coats out of all of them, so he has a selection.”
“Do I really need three coats?” Bilbo asked.
“It gets much colder here than where you said your Shire was,” Thorin told him.
“And even in the summer months, it can be quite cool within the mountain itself depending on where you are,” Frerin added. “You’ll be glad for the variety. Working with the tailors will ensure you have the appropriate clothing for the coldest parts of winter.”
Thorin passed over all three bolts. “We’ll take the lot.”
“I don’t need that much material,” Bilbo protested.
“I’m thinking ahead, in case something happens to one of your coats. Also, you may want shorter jackets as well. The long coats will come down to mid-calf.”
“All right, then,” Bilbo said.
Thorin held up a bolt of silky red material and a similar one in a deep blue. “Think Amad and Dís would like these?”
Frerin nodded and picked up a bolt of black material and examined it. “You should think about having a few pairs of boots made as well, Bilbo.”
Bilbo looked down at the ones he was wearing at the moment and nodded. “Good idea. These are the only ones I have with me. I only wear boots outside the Shire. Hobbits and many Dwobbits rarely wear shoes in the Shire. Usually only in cases where frostbite might be a risk.”
“You don’t wear shoes?” Frerin asked.
“No. We tend to have very thick soles, and the Shire isn’t a harsh land. But traveling can be hard on the feet, especially when walking over mountains or through extremely cold weather.”
“Our leather workers are also the best boot makers in the area,” Thorin told Bilbo. “We can go and see them once we get you settled in for measurements.”
Frerin showed them the material he was holding. It was black and extremely soft and thick to the touch. “This would be spectacular as night clothes, especially for the winter. Robes as well.” He turned to the merchant. “Do you have this in any other colors?”
The merchant nodded. “It’s a new material we received from Lothlorien. I believe we have it in several colors.”
Bilbo hummed. “I thought this looked familiar. Many of the Rivendell elves have day robes made of it. It feels quite decadent. I’d enjoy wearing this.”
Frerin smirked at him. “I believe my brother would enjoy removing it more,” he murmured in his ear.
Bilbo flushed and glared at him, but his mouth twitched as he tried not to laugh. “Mind your tongue, Master Dwarf, or I’ll be tempted to find a pebble or two to help you learn better manners.”
Frerin laughed and continued browsing, while Bilbo turned to find Thorin looking at Frerin with narrowed eyes, though he did seem amused so Bilbo left him to his thoughts.
The merchant came back with eight different colors of the same type of cloth. “These are the other colors we have, and we have six additional bolts of each color.”
“We’ll take three bolts of each color,” Thorin told him. “Charge these and all of the other purchases to the Erebor Royal accounts.”
“I can purchase my own things,” Bilbo told him as the merchant went to gather the others from the back. “Also, why so much?”
“Well, Frerin is going to want some things made with it, and I do as well. I’ve no doubt the rest of the family will as well once they see them. And if there’s any left after that, we can always sell it to the tailors for their use.”
Thorin rested his hand on Bilbo’s back, between his shoulder blades. “Besides, you’re my intended and we’re about to commence a courtship. It is my responsibility to see to your needs, especially as I am keeping you away from your home and means of income.”
Bilbo nodded and gave in gracefully. “If that’s your wish, I suppose I’ll let you indulge me.”
Frerin snorted. “Not like Adad doesn’t have the gold to burn in the treasury anyway. Thorin could buy you the entire marketplace and it wouldn’t even make a dent.”
After making arrangements with the cloth merchant to send their rather significant purchases to the castle, they made a stop at a scribe’s stall at Bilbo’s insistence. While the stall they’d stopped at quickly the day before was good for the basic and practical informal type of stationery, this one was by far superior and one of the best Bilbo had ever seen.
There were inks of all colors, quills of various sizes, parchments and journals in a wide range from basic to high quality, graphite pencils and charcoals for sketching… and lap writing desks, some of them so ornate and beautiful, they took his breath away.
“Uh-oh…I think we’ve lost him, Thorin,” Frerin said from behind him. “He’s looking at this shop the way you look at weaponry.”
Ignoring them, Bilbo moved about, looking at the different writing desks and peeking inside some of them, wanting one that was both practical and beautiful.
“What about this one?” Thorin asked, lifting one from the top of a shelf. Thorin had to stand on a stool just to get to it.
It was, in a word…exquisite. It was made of oak, sanded smooth and polished until it shone. The lock itself was crafted gold in the shape of a rose, the petals around the lock decorated with thin slivers of rubies. Winding away from the lock on the top and bottom half of the desk were long vines of gold, with emerald encrusted leaves.
Carefully opening the latch while Thorin held it, Bilbo found sections for many inks, for quills, and plenty of space for parchment and journals. “It’s perfect. My mother would have loved this.”
Thorin’s eyes went soft at that. “Then this is the one you’ll have. Pick out whatever else you wish, while I go and speak to the merchant.”
Taking a shaky breath and blinking back the tears thoughts of his mother had caused, Bilbo turned and began picking out various inks, parchments, quills, and journals, picking up items so he could sketch out his garden plans as well.
Two hours later, Bilbo stood at the edge of one of the weaponry stalls, watching with amusement as all of the Dwarves practically salivated over the swords. It did not seem to matter that Dwarves mostly made their own weaponry. It was simply that they were weapons. He did have to admit that some of the Elven blades for purchase were rather beautiful.
“I did not think to find you at such a stall, Master Baggins.”
Bilbo turned and looked up and then up some more, grinning when he found none other than Thranduil, Legolas, and Elrond’s sons Elrohir and Elladan standing behind him. “Thranduil! What are you doing here?” he asked, giving the Elven King a hug when he knelt down.
He did the same with the other Elves as Thranduil spoke. “I became terribly bored with my councilmen and Elrond’s bickering over the details of some agreement, so I decided that I needed some time away while they managed to figure out what exactly it is each of them wants to accomplish. I had been hoping to run into you. How has your visit been so far?”
“Rather eventful, but I have been enjoying myself,” Bilbo said, but before he could elaborate, he heard the clearing of a throat behind him.
He turned and saw Thorin and the others watching the Elves with the slightest hint of suspicion. Looking back and forth between Thranduil and Thorin, he got the distinct impression that the two were not the best of friends. Elrohir and Elladan looked amused, and Legolas looked exasperated.
“From the love and adoration I’m feeling floating between you, I take it you two know each other,” Bilbo said dryly, rolling his eyes.
“Yes, though I did not know you knew the King of Greenwood,” Thorin said, stepping forward and pulling Bilbo back toward him, his arm going around him in a possessive manner.
“He came through my realm on his way here,” Thranduil said, eyebrows rising at Thorin’s behavior. “He stayed for some days and we spent much time talking. He’s quite a delightful young man.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed. And quite friendly. Too friendly, one might say. I will have to make certain he does not befriend those who would not be great allies to him,” Thorin replied.
“Clearly he needs some guidance,” Thranduil agreed, his eyes narrowing as he took in the braid in Bilbo’s hair, the one Thorin was deliberately toying with.
Bilbo huffed, rolled his eyes, and pulled away from Thorin. “While you two whip your cocks out of your breeches and proceed with measuring them to see whose is bigger, and then begin engaging in this pissing contest you seem insistent upon having, I’m going with Legolas to the stall over there. There are some things a son just shouldn’t see his father do.”
He grabbed the bottom of Legolas’ tunic and proceeded to half-drag the laughing Elf across the way, noticing how everyone’s gaze was drawn to him. Not that Bilbo blamed them. Legolas was beautiful, especially when he was so animated. He sighed when they finally reached the books. “Honestly. I realize that the Dwarves and Elves have a rather rocky history, but there’s a point where the past should stay there and people should just move on.”
“It’s difficult for my father, since he was alive then and lost many people close to him because of the actions of the Dwarves of Nogrod,” Legolas said as he leaned against the side of a bookcase.
“Yes, and the Petty Dwarves are long dead and never were of the Line of Durin.” Bilbo looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “I’m part Dwarf. My great-grandfather is the Dwarven King of Ered Luin. Is he going to hate me because I happen to be part Dwarf? Though it’s been thousands of years since those events occurred?”
“I wouldn’t think so, but I could always shoot him in the arse with an arrow if he decides to be difficult,” Legolas offered, grinning when Bilbo laughed. “I, for my part, hold no grudges over events long over. There was blame on both sides and I personally find the Silmarils to have been the bane of our entire existence. Too many died, too many killed because of shiny rocks.”
Legolas nodded toward his father. “He’s not as difficult as he used to be, but then again, he had issues with Thrór that he doesn’t have with Thráin or Thorin. Thrór was quite gold-mad.”
Bilbo smirked and waved at Thranduil and Thorin, who were staring after him still, looking shocked and scandalized. The rest of the lot were in various stages of amusement. Dwalin was leaning his head against the side of the weaponry stall, his shoulders shaking. Elrohir and Elladan were leaning against one another and snickering. The other two guards were behind the entire group, wiping at their eyes and trying to pretend they weren’t laughing at their Prince.
Frerin was sitting on the ground next to Dwalin and laughing his ass off.
Shaking his head, Bilbo motioned for Legolas to come closer. “Help me find some books so I can have something to pass the time when I’m not working on something else. Winters are long around here, so I’m told.”
“Especially since you seem to be sticking around here for some time,” he said, flicking a bead in his hair lightly. “This one is not yours. And it’s clearly a Durin bead.”
Bilbo shrugged. “Long story and one best not got into any time soon. Just know that I know what I’m doing and am doing it of my own choice.”
“You are an adult and know your own mind,” Legolas said. “I make no judgments.”
“Let us hope your father takes the same stance, or I just might have to poke him in the arse with my Elvish dagger,” Bilbo said, smiling when Legolas laughed again and began helping him pick out several titles he thought Bilbo might enjoy.
Thorin was in a mood for the rest of the day, since Thranduil insisted on following Bilbo around and talking to him, even purchasing him a few things to clearly get under Thorin’s skin. His mood turned even sourer when he discovered that Thranduil and his party would be staying with them at the royal castle as well.
Dinner was a stilted affair for the most part, though Bilbo did his best to be diplomatic. It helped that Frerin took great pleasure in flirting with every Elf, including Thranduil, and Legolas, Elrohir, and Elladan were delightful, drawing in the guards with talk of sword fighting and knife work, however grudgingly the Dwarves did so. Bilbo was somewhat glad the king was still too ill to join them so he did not have to witness the whole thing.
After dinner, not wanting to deal with the tension in the air, Bilbo excused himself to go to his rooms. He was not surprised when Thorin followed him out of the dining hall and to his door.
He let Thorin in, closing the door behind him. “Whatever you wish to say, out with it,” Bilbo said with exasperation as he flopped down onto the sofa and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers.
“I am sorry.”
“My behavior,” Thorin said, sitting down beside him. “Thranduil and I will never be the best of friends, but we are allies and I don’t hate him or even truly dislike him, though I’m sure my behavior today said otherwise.”
“What about him bothered you so?” Bilbo asked, shifting around so he faced Thorin.
To Bilbo’s surprise, Thorin flushed and then huffed. “You’re wearing my bead, and yet he insisted on touching you and affectionately doting upon you in ways that only family or very close friends should engage in during a courtship. And I know he was doing it on purpose to get under my skin. He was doing it to slight me and I didn’t like it.”
Bilbo smiled a little. “You were jealous.”
“A little,” Thorin admitted with a sigh. “It’s ridiculous, I know, and I hardly wish for you to refrain from a friendship you clearly struck up when you were there. I just would have appreciated it if he hadn’t been a jackass about it.”
Laughing, Bilbo patted his hand. “I suppose I understand that. You’ve not been exposed to Hobbits the way that the Dwarves of Belegost have been. They’re much more relaxed in that manner because Hobbits are quite affectionate between friends and family.”
He entwined their fingers and squeezed. “I promise you that I will not be engaging in any affections or touches that we reserve for only our intended, even if he were so inclined which he isn’t. He has a wife.”
Thorin sighed. “She’s gone.”
“To the Halls of Mandos, yes. One of his sons told me how their mother died. But to take another husband or wife would doom her to never be reborn, and she is the love of his life,” Bilbo murmured. “He has eyes for no one but her. He’s just trying to get a reaction from you and you’re playing into his hands and his amusements. He’s old as rocks and has to find it somehow because he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”
Bilbo threw caution to the wind and leaned over to press a soft kiss against Thorin’s mouth. He smiled when Thorin kissed him back.
Laughing softly, Thorin leaned his head against Bilbo’s. “I’ll try and refrain from being baited by the arse tomorrow.”
“I’m sure Legolas is probably going to give him a lecture or two,” Bilbo replied dryly. “Now, you need to go because you being in here while we’re alone is highly inappropriate. Off with you!”
Thorin grinned and pressed another kiss to his mouth and left the room with a soft, “Good night, Bilbo.”
Bilbo blew out a breath as soon as the door was closed. He was in so much trouble.
The next day went far better, with Thranduil behaving himself and Thorin acting far more congenial. Bilbo managed to finish his shopping with the group tagging along, and Thorin made arrangements for everything to be sent to Erebor the next day.
Bilbo managed to meet King Dorian that night at dinner, as he was feeling well enough to join them. He was an older man with graying hair. He was kind and boisterous, and clearly had a close friendship with Thorin.
They all parted the day after, with Thranduil and the others reluctantly heading back to Greenwood and the trade talks, and the Dwarven party to Erebor. Bilbo extracted a promise from Elladan and Elrohir to come up to Erebor for a visit before they left for Rivendell again.
Their goods had already been sent on ahead, so Bilbo only had his personal belongings to manage as they rode away from Dale. “Do you think your father will expect you to come home with me?” Bilbo asked after they’d been riding in comfortable silence for some time.
“No. I think he’ll be waiting for me to come home with my tail between my legs, resigned to marrying that woman. This will probably be a bit of a nasty shock for him.” Thorin smirked at him.
Frerin laughed. “It would have been a far nastier shock for him if he thought Amad would let him live without being in pain for the rest of his days if she’d come home and found you forced into a courtship with Dorwina.”
Dwalin snorted. “At least he’ll be soothed by the prospect of more grandchildren. If we’re lucky, Dís will come home pregnant and you’ll be given a reprieve.”
Grinning wickedly, Thorin leaned forward to look at Frerin. “Of course, that just means he’ll focus next on you.”
“Oh, come on!” Frerin yelled as the others laughed. “You said you’d protect me from his machinations! Thorin!”
They spent the rest of the trip alternating chatting about their different homelands and teasing Frerin. It was mid-afternoon by the time they reached the rather impressive front gates of Erebor.
“Wow,” Bilbo said, looking up at the gates that stood open, tall and wide enough to allow a full-grown dragon to walk through.
The inside greeting area was magnificent. Stone-carved murals decorated the walls of the well-lit area, depicting the creation of the Dwarves and the life of Durin I.
“Your Highness,” a Dwarf said, bowing as they moved forward. “Your wagons have been unloaded and the items taken to the chambers you directed us to.” He glanced over at Bilbo, his gaze drifting briefly to the courting braid in his hair, before looking back at Thorin. “Your father is in meetings but he wished me to inform you he would see you for dinner.”
Thorin nodded. “Thank you, Ragnar. I’m going to see my intended to his rooms along with Frerin and help him sort through all that we purchased, in case we’re needed.”
“This way, Bilbo,” Thorin said, motioning him off toward the right. The city was bustling with activity, with people walking along the various pathways above and then below them as they crossed onto a path wide enough that two full-grown trolls could walk side by side without issue.
Bilbo glanced over the side and spied several walkways below them going this way and that. Enormous statues designated the openings of what he figured were Erebor’s mines. “This place is magnificent,” Bilbo murmured.
“It truly is,” Thorin said with no little amount of pride as he came to stand beside him. “The openings at the bottom of the statues lead to the mines below the mountain proper. We have maps that will better show you where each of the walkways leads. Residences are scattered around the mountain and are occupied usually depending on profession or rank in society. Our kingdom is large, but we do ensure to the best of our abilities that everyone does well and has enough to eat and are warm and comfortable, and that the children are well taken care of and educated.”
Thorin got them moving again, going left as the walkway branched off to the right and declined, turning into a stairway. “That leads to the great dining halls, where all Dwarves are welcome to eat. Most don’t cook or bother with installing kitchens, so the dining hall is always full for meals. The main kitchens are down that way as well.”
He motioned back toward the entrance. “The throne room is directly across from the entrance, beyond those doors.”
Bilbo peered back and saw gold and jewel-encrusted doors glittering in the light of dozens of oil lamps and illuminated crystals, a bit of Dwarvish magic that he knew well, as he was quite adept at the creation of the crystals himself. “I look forward to seeing it.”
Frerin pointed to the left of that area. “The walkway leading away from the throne room on the left – you can just see it there – leads to the stairs that wind down into the treasury.”
“There are four armories,” Thorin continued as they started walking again. “One on this side of the mountain, one behind the throne room, the third is at the entrance, just below where we came in, which is where the barracks are for the guards. The fourth is next to the treasury.”
“The Library is on this side of the mountain, toward the back. It’s the biggest library in the East,” Frerin said. “In spite of our issues with the Elves, we do house a large collection of Elvish tomes and are always looking to add to them. I’m sure the librarians, researchers, and scribes who work in the library would love to get their hands on any texts from the Shire if you were amenable to arranging for them to be brought here.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Bilbo told him. If courtships were the same as the ones he was used to witnessing, he’d need to send for some family anyway, both to witness it and to bring him his things and make more long-term arrangements for Bag End and his properties and businesses.
Thorin guided him into a lift that was close to a large, winding staircase that led up several hundred feet. “The Royal Halls are four turns up. You can either use the lift or the stairs, but it’s easier to use the lift when you’re carrying a lot.”
Once they were in along with three other Dwarves, the operators started it and they slowly made their way up, stopping on the second landing so the three could drag their bags off. “Laundry day,” one of them grunted when he saw Bilbo watching them.
Bilbo nodded, amused, and they continued up to the fourth landing. “I take it the laundry rooms are on that level?”
Thorin nodded. “Those three live in residences near the kitchens, where they work. Those, however, were personal belongings. The kitchen and dining room laundry is rolled about in huge wheeled baskets.”
Frerin hummed. “There are five different laundry rooms throughout the mountain, not counting the one meant for the royal wing, which is much smaller, and the big drying barrels help with heating up the mountain, along with the forges and the steaming water that pumps through the hot water pipes that run through the walls and floors.”
“They help immensely keeping the air in here merely cool when the air outside is sometimes cold enough it feels as though a breath can freeze your lungs,” Thorin added.
“I’ve seen and used the laundry facilities in Belegost,” Bilbo replied. “I’m sure they’re probably very similar.” He looked at Thorin as they stepped off the lift. “I presume you have marketplaces within the mountain.”
“Of course,” Thorin said as he motioned them down a nearby hall. “They’re on the left side of the mountain, two levels above the treasury. They span four levels and have virtually anything you can think of. The guild offices and crafting halls are all on that side as well, more toward the back.”
“What’s on the levels between the treasury and marketplace?” Bilbo asked.
“The royal offices and meeting rooms, the Council chambers, a few storage areas,” Frerin said.
“Ah, Thorin, there you are!” a Dwarf with brown hair and a long beard that split and curled at the bottom said as he walked toward them.
“Balin,” Thorin greeted. “I would like you to meet my intended, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire. Bilbo, this is Balin, the chief advisor of my personal Council. He’s also Dwalin’s elder brother.”
Bilbo huffed softly. “Cheeky Dwarf,” he muttered, smiling when Balin burst into unexpected laughter. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“I see you became well-acquainted with my brother over the last few days,” Balin said and beamed at him. “The pleasure is mine, I assure you. Especially all things considered,” he added, looking pointedly at Thorin.
“Trouble?” he asked as Balin joined them.
“Dorwina,” Balin replied. “She threw a truly unbecoming fit in front of your father when he informed them that Thorin found his One while visiting Dale.”
He laughed when Thorin groaned. “On to pleasanter subjects, as I’m sure Thráin will tell you all about her drama at dinner. The rooms you requested are all cleaned and all the plumbing and the stovepipes were tested. We also tested the irrigation on the entire terrace and checked it over for any weak spots. Everything checked out fine. The greenhouses on the terrace have several glass panels that need to be replaced, but we’ve put in an order with the glassworkers down in Dale and they should be installed next week.”
“There are greenhouses?” Bilbo asked, perking up.
“Four of them, two on either side,” Balin confirmed. “They’re quite large.”
He grinned at Thorin. “I can have tomatoes and berries growing in winter.”
Thorin’s smile was indulgent. “Whatever you wish.”
“I wonder if we can find someone who will sell me beehives,” he murmured to himself. Then he looked around the long hall. “What are all these rooms?”
“The living areas of the Councils for the King and the Crown Prince, and for the Royal Guards,” Balin told him. He pointed to a door coming up. “That’s where I live, and Dwalin lives directly across from me.”
“Balin will be the one helping you with learning the customs and history of Erebor, and anything else you will need to know or brush up on,” Thorin told him. “When he’s not working with me, he is on the Council that deals with education in the mountain.”
Balin smiled at Bilbo. “Once you’re settled in, we’ll discuss what you know and what you need to learn.”
“Sounds good to me,” Bilbo said as they reached a ‘T’.
They stopped, and Frerin pointed. “The double doors here are the royal dining halls. Beyond them are the royal kitchens. On the right side of the hall, all the way at the end are the royal laundry and storage rooms.”
Thorin took his hand and tugged him toward the left. “All the way at the very end are the King’s Suite and the Queen’s Suite.”
“They have separate chambers?” Bilbo asked.
“It’s traditional, but my mother mostly lives with my father in the King’s Suite. But her own suite gives her her own space for her own hobbies,” Thorin told him.
Frerin laughed. “It also gives her a place to go when she’s about two seconds from strangling Adad.”
Bilbo huffed a small laugh. “Whose rooms are these?”
Thorin pointed. “Mine are the ones we just passed at the end of the hall. Frerin’s are the ones right across from mine and next to yours. My sister’s are directly across from yours. There are three other chambers that are empty currently.”
They finally came upon a set of double doors, which Balin opened for them. The doors swung open easily and silently, in spite of them being thick and made of both wood and stone.
Bilbo stepped inside and down the short entry hall, and his mouth dropped open as he took in the view before him as his new home opened up to him. He barely noted that the others had taken what he carried from him.
He likely could fit all of Bag End into the main room, with some room left over to spare. Three large chandeliers lit the entire room, much like the ones in the entrance hall. There was an enormous fireplace in the center of the far wall, so big that Bilbo himself could stand inside of it without hitting his head. There was a fire crackling merrily in it, warming the room.
In front of the fireplace was the main sitting area, consisting of several chairs, two sofas, and a large stone table. Underneath the sitting area was a massive rug, the design obviously Dwarvish in nature, with its geometric shapes, but it was beautiful and complemented the furniture well. There were two other smaller sitting areas in the room. All of the furniture looked plush and comfortable.
To the left side of the room, there were two doorways. To the right, a bright light shone through the open doorway that led out to the balcony Thorin had spoken of. On either side of the fireplace were two open doorways that seemed to lead to halls.
“I will show you around the suite, but first, come outside. This is why you have these rooms, after all,” Thorin said, taking Bilbo’s hand again and tugging him toward the doors.
Bilbo stepped out onto the massive terrace that dwarfed the main room inside. Not only did it jet out far from the doors, but it meandered to the right and left, covering a great distance.
There were no growing things, all of the beds having been cleaned out long ago, but there were so many areas where he could plant, some of them large enough for a series of crops. He could plant potatoes enough in one of the larger beds to last him all winter and into spring if he so chose.
There was room enough to put benches and garden furniture outside, as well as picnic tables, with so much room to spare. And as Balin said, there were four large greenhouses, two on either side of the terrace. Between each set were smaller stone buildings that Bilbo presumed were for equipment and supplies. He could see where the greenhouses were missing or had broken panels.
Balin pointed to various disks located above the terrace. “When you’re ready to plant, we’ll re-adjust the top mirrors. It will allow more sunlight onto the terrace than it normally gets.”
“Wonderful. This is…there are no words,” Bilbo said, walking over to the edge of the balcony and looking out on the view and enjoying the feel of the sun on his face.
“So you like it?”
Bilbo laughed and reached up so he could pull Thorin down into a kiss. “I love it. This is magnificent and I look forward to all I can do with it.”
Frerin groaned. “Can you not be cute in front of me? It’s traumatic.”
Balin laughed and nudged him. “Let them alone. Soon they’ll have to follow courtship protocols. They can get away with it until they announce it officially to your father.”
Bilbo grinned and slid an arm around Thorin’s waist. “Come, now show me my new home.”
Thorin guided him inside and down the hall to the right of the fireplace. “This is the dining room,” he said, reaching to the right of the door and pulling on a set of strings.
A large set of draperies lifted from another chandelier, which lit the dim room fully. The room was long, lined on one side with glass-front cabinets that held fine china. The centerpiece of the room though was the massive dining table, which filled the center area. There was space enough for twenty people to be comfortable, and could probably fit thirty in a pinch.
Thorin dropped the draperies again and led him further down the hall. “These to the right are your storage areas. Not for food, mind you, but for cleaning supplies or whatever else you might wish to put inside them. And this is the kitchen,” he said, pushing open another set of double doors, though these were much smaller and simply swung open, with no lock or latch to hinder movement.
The kitchen was much more than Bilbo dared dream about. There were two large stoves, several ovens, at least four of what Thorin called cold boxes, two of them quite large, and blocks of ice were already stored inside. There were pantries and cabinets scattered throughout the large space. There were two large sinks, each of them sporting running water, both hot and cold.
“Oh, I am so going to spoil you with this once I get it all situated,” Bilbo said, peering into one of the pantries, surprised to see how deep it went. “When this king made these rooms for his bride, he really went all out, didn’t he?”
“A Dwarf will do anything to make his One happy,” Thorin replied. “Come. Let me show you the master bedroom and the bath.”
They made their way down the left hallway, where he briefly showed him two large bedrooms, which were intended to be rooms for children. Then he opened the door to the right.
It was the bathing room. At the center was an enormous sunken tub, so large that eight adult Dwarves could fit easily. There was a large cabinet for towels and linens, and two toilets, each having their own separate rooms, blocking them off from the main bathing area for privacy.
Four sinks lined the left wall, and a mirror spanned the area above them. Next to the one furthest to the right was a door, which Thorin was leading him to.
“I am definitely taking advantage of this room later tonight,” Bilbo said, eying the tub thoughtfully. “You are not invited.”
“That would be most scandalous if you did invite me. Adad would not approve,” Thorin said, smiling down at him. “And this is your bedroom.”
“Oh, my,” Bilbo said, his eyes going straight to the bed, which could hold five adult Hobbits easily with room to spare. It was canopied, with deep purple drapes tied back with golden rope. The blanket covering it was a lighter shade of purple. There were three different wardrobes, two doors that led to closets where lines of hangars waited to be used, and what his mother called a vanity. There were also bookshelves that Bilbo planned on lining with his new books and the trinkets he’d purchased.
“This door leads back out into the hallway,” Thorin said, escorting him back out to the main room where Frerin and Balin were starting to sort through their purchases. “This door is to an office, and the other to what could be a third bedroom, or whatever you choose to use it for. It’s unfurnished, but once you decide what to do with it, we can order the appropriate furniture.”
“This is… These rooms are far more than I ever expected, Thorin,” Bilbo said, looking up at him. “They are truly magnificent, but are you certain it’s appropriate for me to have them?”
Thorin guided him to one of the sofas in front of the fire, sitting down and pulling Bilbo onto it, settling him practically on his lap. “No one will object to you having these rooms. For one thing, no one is using them. If anyone of the royal family had an interest in creating gardens or cooking, they would have moved in by now. My sister loves to cook, but she has a kitchen in her own chambers for when she gets the urge.
“For another, you yourself said you need the sunlight. This is the best room for that to happen. There are a few other rooms with balconies, but they are rather small and are not in the royal wing,” Thorin told him. “And I would not have you so far away from me at any rate.
“And considering I am the one who got you into this predicament, you deserve these rooms and more.” Thorin sighed and leaned closer, nuzzling his face in Bilbo’s curls. “I am also finding myself quite fond of you, Master Baggins. You are delightful, unlike anyone I have ever known. I find your candor refreshing. Very few ever speak to me the way you have in a few short days, and I know even fewer who would be willing to put royalty from two different kingdoms in their place with so few words. And with scandalous, highly inappropriate words, no less.”
“The two of you were behaving rather ridiculously,” Bilbo replied, turning his head and tilting it upwards so he could kiss Thorin. “I find myself rather fond of you as well. I would…” Bilbo huffed and screwed up his courage. “If you are amenable to it, I would like for our courtship to not simply be a way to keep you from horrible Dwarves you don’t want to marry.”
“You wish our courtship to be real?” Thorin asked in a whisper, though Balin and Frerin had lugged crates of kitchen supplies down the right hall as soon as they’d sat down.
Bilbo took a deep breath and nodded. “I would like that if you are also willing. But if you aren’t, I won’t stop the ruse. I think of you as a friend at the very least, and would not want to see you marry someone you cannot stand.”
Thorin swooped in and took Bilbo’s mouth in a slow, deep kiss, taking advantage when Bilbo moaned and opened his mouth, delving inside, tasting him and coaxing his tongue into moving against his.
Bilbo chuckled as they finally pulled away, each of them panting slightly. “I will take that as a ‘yes’.”
“That was most definitely a ‘yes’, my lovely Dwobbit,” Thorin said, pressing their foreheads together.
Just as he leaned in for another kiss, two throats cleared and they looked up to see Balin and Frerin eying them with amusement.
“If you’re quite done being inappropriate and traumatizing your brother,” Balin said, “we should probably sort through all this.”
“I didn’t realize we’d purchased this much,” Frerin murmured as he began looking through another crate.
“It wouldn’t have been so much if this one hadn’t gone purchase happy with the yard goods,” Bilbo replied, pointing to the tall piles of material bought by the bolt.
Frerin snorted. “We should probably put all of that in one of these side rooms until we can get the tailors to come down.”
Bilbo nodded as they all began picking up bolts and piles of packaged material. “I’ll sort through this later and remove the ones I bought to work with myself.”
It took them the better part of an hour to get through everything and just place it in the general rooms Bilbo wanted his things in. Finally, all four sat down and Balin called for tea.
Frerin waved his hand between the two. “Right, then. What’s going on with the two of you and this courtship thing? Because from Adad I got the impression that Bilbo here was the closest person available to you that you could hide behind when he found you in Dale, and that this One business was some half-baked scheme you’d come up with to get out of marrying Dorwina.”
Bilbo snorted as he took Thorin’s hand and entwined their fingers. “It was less than half-baked. Positively raw, I’d wager. Snatched me right away from my shopping and shoved me right in the middle of his drama, but he was pretty so I decided not to punch him in the face right off.”
“And after he heard my whole, sad tale, he decided to take pity on me and help me out,” Thorin added, brushing his finger against Bilbo’s now exposed ear. He chuckled when Bilbo shivered. “Sensitive ears?”
“Yes, very. I’d refrain from doing that often. It’s practically an invitation to take a romp in the sheets,” Bilbo told him, grinning when Thorin blushed. “I think that’s probably not allowed. It’s not in the Ered Luin courtship rituals.”
“Alas, it’s not,” Thorin said with a put upon sigh.
“So this is a ruse, then?” Balin asked, looking at them. “Because to be honest, the two of you look rather enamored with one another.”
“And by the way they keep sucking face every chance they get, you wouldn’t think it’s a farce at all,” Frerin added.
Thorin ignored his brother and smiled at his friend. “We thought to go through with it as a ruse in order to either wait for Adad to gain his senses, or possibly until Amad got home and knocked him senseless and set things to rights, but over the last few days we’ve come to realize that the attraction between us is very real.”
Bilbo shrugged. “He’s beautiful and charming, and I find myself quite fond of him. Certainly, I feel more of a draw toward him than I have anyone my family has thrown my direction or that I’ve met on my own. So we’ve decided that we’re going to follow the courtship in earnest and see if we are indeed compatible and wish to follow it through to marriage.”
Balin hummed. “I wonder how Thráin is going to react to a non-Dwarf for a son-in-law.”
“Well, if it helps, my great-grandfather is King Moran of Ered Luin. He’s married to a Hobbit. My grandfather, Gerontius, was the Thain of the Shire until he handed it over to his son a few years back. That would be the equivalent of a king if we actually had royalty. He’s Grandfather Moran’s second-born. My mother was his first-born daughter, who came after her eighth brother.”
Frerin’s eyes grew wide. “How many children did your grandparents have?”
“Gerontius has thirteen, of which my mother is ninth. He ended up with ten sons and three daughters,” Bilbo told him, smiling a little when Frerin’s mouth dropped open and Balin choked on air.
A knock on the door signaled the arrival of tea, and Thorin got up to let them in since the other two were frozen in shock. By the time they came back to themselves, Bilbo and Thorin had already served themselves and were sharing a plate of biscuits and cakes between them.
Bilbo eyed Thorin while the other two worked on making their own tea. “You remember that ridiculous competition my idiot relatives are engaging in?”
“Yes. Isumbras is on nine currently, is he not?” Thorin asked as he plucked up a ginger biscuit.
Bilbo nodded and then waggled his eyebrows. “This works out, you want to work on decimating whatever his record ends up being?”
Thorin hummed, wide-eyed but obviously pleased. “Well, for him to beat Vongar, he’d have to reach seventeen. Which means we’d have to go for eighteen, at the very least.” He nodded as bit into his biscuit and chewed thoughtfully. “Father would definitely be amenable to that.”
“What are you two talking about?” Frerin asked.
“Children,” Bilbo told him. “Currently in the ‘which idiot can have the most children’ competition, Uncle Vognar, the heir to the Belegost throne, has sixteen children and holds the record in the family. Isumbras, my cousin, is trying to beat out our uncle on the number of children. He’s always wanted a large family.”
Balin’s eyebrows furrowed. “I thought you were male,” he said to Bilbo.
“I am.” Bilbo grinned. “Hobbits are incapable of having children in the way that Dwarves do. They grow their children in the ground. Dwobbits, in turn, can do the same. The female Dwarves of Belegost are incapable of having children the way Dwarves do if they have a Hobbit ancestor no matter how far back, which as far as I know all do by now so the problems they had with having children is in the past.”
Balin tilted his head while Frerin gaped at Bilbo stupidly. “What do you mean, in the past?”
Bilbo shrugged. “There’s not a Dwarrowdam left in Ered Luin that anyone knows of that doesn’t have a Hobbit back in their family line. I doubt there are many males who don’t at this point, either, and those are likely very old. While they don’t look much like they have a Hobbit back in their lines, the ability to plant their children in the ground doesn’t dissipate. The Dwarves constructed beautiful terraces specifically for this purpose, and they prefer this way of procreation. In fact, I don’t remember the last time there was an actual body-borne pregnancy in Ered Luin. I don’t know if anyone is capable of procreating that way anymore, male or female.”
“What are the mortality rates for children created in this way?” Balin asked him.
“Unless there is an outside force interfering, we don’t lose any children through this method. There was a time about twenty years ago that we had a horrific winter. The river froze over, and we ended up with starving wolves and some Wargs and Orcs coming into the Shire. We lost some children that way, as they destroyed the gardens there, causing such trauma to the cradles that the children died of shock.”
Bilbo squeezed Thorin’s hand when he made a distressed sound. The others looked horrified. “We managed to get them out of the Shire before they could get too deeply into our lands, and Grandfather Moran sent guards to help protect the borders until spring. After that, they constructed walls and hedges on the other side of the river to ensure that they couldn’t get in that way again.”
“I take it the terraces of Ered Luin are well guarded,” Frerin said hoarsely, still looking horrified at his story.
Bilbo nodded. “He has a special guard whose sole purpose is to watch the terraces, as there are usually at least a dozen or so children being grown at any given time. It’s considered a great honor to protect the children of Ered Luin, even though in reality it’s quite boring. A distant cousin is one of the guards and he says they take books to read or wood to whittle while on duty. They’re there for the just in case scenarios. The terraces are truly very well protected in the way they’re built.”
Balin sat back with a huff. “Well, how about that. I presume there’s no risk to the parents either.”
“No,” Bilbo replied. “There’s no stress on the body, which is why the size of the families are so much larger than they had been before they started mating with Hobbits. Don’t misunderstand, gardening is hard work. You have to tend to it daily to ensure everything is healthy and thriving, and there’s enough water, and so on. And often the parents can be found reading or talking to them.”
Frerin frowned. “While I’m glad that you can give Adad grandchildren, I wonder if this will save me from the matchmaking or make him more determined to wed me to a Dwarrowdam of his choice.”
“Well, we could do a preemptive strike before he turns his head in your direction,” Thorin mused.
“What do you mean?” Frerin asked him, sitting forward.
“Protocol dictates that family from both sides should be present for a courtship to occur unless one of the participants no longer has a family. That is not the case for either of us. Also, I’m sure Bilbo would like his belongings to be transferred to Erebor.”
Bilbo nodded. “I have family heirlooms and things that belonged to my parents that I would like to have. Not to mention my books and clothing, and so on.”
“We can send on ahead messages to King Moran in Ered Luin, and he can take care of what needs to be done and help decide who is to come to Erebor, and in the meantime, we can send an envoy to Ered Luin to escort the family coming and Bilbo’s belongings to Erebor. And it can be led by you.”
Frerin grinned and nodded. “That would get me out of the line of fire, and I can maybe get lucky and find a Hobbit or Dwobbit of my very own.”
Bilbo laughed. “They will certainly like you. They’ll take one look at you and become twitterpated tweens in a second flat.”
“Well, I am quite the catch,” Frerin commented as he preened.
Thorin rolled his eyes and he and Frerin began to aim hand signals at one another that Bilbo knew were vulgar and insulting.
Ignoring them, Bilbo turned to Balin. “Is there a raven available to make a trip to Belegost?”
Balin nodded. “Yes, I know of one that can make the trip easily. If you write your initial letters tonight, we can send them off first thing in the morning. I’m sure Frerin can make plans to leave right away so that we don’t have to put off the courtship for too long. That is if he and Thorin can stop with the rude gestures before they devolve into a slap fight on the floor!”
The two stopped mid-gesture and stared at Balin for a moment before they completed the gestures, only this time aimed at him.
Bilbo laughed and shook his head. “Honestly, you two.” He stood and grabbed his lap desk. “I have letters to write before dinner, so if you’re going to be distracting, go away.”
Thorin sighed and stood. “I may as well go and see if there’s anything that needs my attention. Frerin, go and make plans for the envoy. You should leave in the next couple of days. Horses only, as it will make the trip faster to get there.”
“If you take the lower passes, they’re clear and well-patrolled by both Thranduil and Elrond’s people,” Bilbo told them. “We didn’t have any problems. You can also take it on the way back, as it’s designed specifically for wagons. It will cut off quite a bit of travel time.”
Frerin hopped up. “I’ll see you at dinner, then. Don’t tell Adad about anything until I’m there!”
Balin shooed them both out. “I’m going to compare notes with Bilbo on the courtship protocols he knows and see how they differ from ours, if they do at all, in case he needs something he wouldn’t think of otherwise.”
Bilbo pulled out parchment, ink, and quills while Balin got settled across from him. “We should speak with King Thráin about the possibility that some of my people may consider settling either here in the mountain or create homes in the hills around it with his permission.”
He sighed. “It’s truly beautiful here, and to be honest the hills surrounding the mountain are ideal for our smials. Already much is done to maintain the land, but there’s also plenty of space for fields, animal pastures, and large gardens, both of the child and food varieties. It would give your people additional food stores for winter, and there is the potential that there would be many who would wish to find partners among the Dwarves of Erebor, as most would likely be young and unwed Hobbits, Dwobbits, and Dwarves. The Shire itself has slowly been spreading out toward Ered Luin as our population grows to stave off the overcrowding that would happen otherwise.”
“If it were to benefit us the way it has those Dwarves, I doubt Thráin would have an issue with that possibility,” Balin told him. “You should discuss it with him at dinner, so we can amend letters if necessary before they’re sent off.
“Now, let’s talk courtship protocols.”
Bilbo nodded and stood. “I’ll be right back.” He headed into his bedroom and searched through his belongings for the things he needed and headed back to the table they were sat at. He set everything down and then picked up a small, tied bag.
He opened it and spread out a set of nine beads. “I brought these with me, as Grandfather Moran gifts each of his great-grandchildren who reside in the Shire a set of courtship beads. This kind of smithing is not within my capabilities, as I don’t tolerate the heat well. My gifts align more toward the creation of the light-crystals.”
“May I?” Balin asked, plucking each of them up in turn as he examined them. “Mithril and sapphire. They’re exquisite work. I didn’t realize that they had mithril to work with.”
Bilbo blew out a breath. “I’m not really at liberty to discuss his allies without his permission.”
“Say no more,” Balin said, holding up his hands. “I will say Thráin will likely be curious, but he can sate that curiosity by renewing the outdated alliance he has with your grandfather and discussing it with him.”
Plucking up one of the beads, he said, “These are based on my designs, though as I said, I didn’t make them myself. This one is the marriage bead. The others can be given in any order, for the eight stages of the two-year courtship.
“In Ered Luin, each stage lasts three months, and while overall the idea is to get to know your intended and learn how best to merge your lives, each section has a specific purpose.”
“It’s the same here, laddie,” Balin agreed. “As per our protocols, intercourse is not allowed at any point during courtship. That has to wait until after the marriage rituals, but the rules aren’t as stringent for other forms of….affection as time goes on.”
Bilbo nodded. “It is similar to ours. We do, however, allow more leeway after the first year of courtship, as those participating cannot have children in that manner. I am willing, however, to follow the Erebor protocols. I wouldn’t want to scandalize anyone.”
Chuckling, Balin sat back. “The first stage is Confirmation and Introduction. The two intending to court confirm this with both sides of their families, first beads are exchanged, and the families come together and get to know the other side and the intended of their family member. Chaperones are also decided upon and schedules created so that each knows when they may be needed and can plan their own schedules accordingly.
“It’s also the most stringent stage regarding affections. Hand holding and a hand on the back to guide one about is allowed out in public, and kisses are allowed in private. No embarrassing the chaperone, though.”
Bilbo laughed. “Each stage is ended with the presentation of a gift with a specific theme, though small gifts are allowed.”
“It sounds as though our protocols are quite similar,” Balin mused. He nodded to the other package. “What’s that?”
“The second stage is punctuated by a gift of weaponry, acknowledging the other’s ability to protect the other. Like the beads, I cannot make weaponry, but when I was headed toward Rivendell, I ran into three trolls. I managed to trick them until they were rendered to stone in the sunlight, and I explored their cave. I found many weapons in them, this one among them.”
He opened up the wrapping and revealed the Elven blade. “I asked Elrond about the weapons I discovered. I gave him one of the swords that was much too large, and he told me about this one. Its name is Orcrist, the goblin cleaver. It was created in Gondolin in the Second Age, carried by King Turgon himself. It’s one of the most feared weapons among the Orcs and Goblins, who know it as Biter. It will glow blue when enemies are near.”
“It’s beautiful,” Balin said, running his fingers over the Elven script. “A worthy weapon for a Prince of Erebor. He’ll love it, especially the part with it glowing and being the sword of an Elven king. I’m surprised Elrond didn’t want to keep it.”
Bilbo snorted. “He has foresight. He said that I would require it, that the one it’s meant for would be someone I would meet in the near future.”
Thorin was working on rebraiding Bilbo’s freshly washed hair when Frerin walked into Bilbo’s rooms, smiling cheerfully. “Are you ready to venture into the lion’s den?” he asked.
Bilbo raised an eyebrow. “Yes, but before you decide to be too cute about anything, just remember that I can remind your father that while Thorin is now taken, he still has another son that could be an ideal match for dearest Dorwina,” Bilbo said giving Frerin, who had a look of abject horror on his face, his brightest smile.
“You are an evil, evil Dwobbit,” Frerin said with a pout, glaring at Thorin who was now laughing into Bilbo’s hair. “You’ve already tainted him with your evil ways, brother.”
Bilbo snorted. “Trust me, if anyone is to do any corrupting, it’s going to be me.” He inspected the braid and then turned, pushing Thorin upright. “Let me do your braid and then we can go.”
“Stop pouting, Frerin,” Dwalin groused. “You’re goin’ to leave for Ered Luin in less than two days. And after the fit that woman threw I doubt he’s going to be inclined to wed her to anyone in Erebor and risk having her anywhere within earshot.”
Thorin snorted. “Everyone I’ve seen today has informed me of the whole spectacle. I have never been so glad that I chose to flee.”
“Hold this for me,” Bilbo said, pressing the first of the courtship beads into Thorin’s open hands while he plucked a section of hair from his intended’s ample mane and began combing it.
“Where did you get this?” Thorin asked. “It’s beautiful work.”
“Grandfather Moran makes them for his grandchildren’s courtships,” Bilbo told him. “Most of us cannot create our own because we’re not inclined to that kind of craft.”
“Do you have a craft?” Frerin asked.
Bilbo nodded as he began separating the section of hair he’d selected. “I can craft the illuminating crystals. I’ve already gained my mastery for it. I also have a mastery within the Tailor’s Guild, though I do prefer to work with more Hobbitish clothing and leave the more Dwarvish to those inclined. My cousin, Flambard, has the same masteries as I and he’s more inclined to Dwarvish tailoring than I am.”
Balin hummed as he plucked a parchment from the pile next to him and began writing. “What languages do you speak, laddie?”
“Hobbitish, Westron, Khuzdul and inglishmek, Sindarin, and Quenya. I do speak some Gondorian and Rhovanion, as I’ve picked it up from the Dunedain who help with the patrolling of our borders and have their own town between Belegost, the Shire, and the Grey Havens.”
Balin laughed softly. “Well, I can cross languages off your studies list.” He hummed. “I think we’ll be good with Ereborean history, our etiquette and court practices, and getting you educated on what will be required of you as the Prince Consort and then King Consort when his royal pain in the arse eventually takes the throne.”
Bilbo snickered at the rude gesture Thorin sent Balin’s way and plucked the bead from his hand to thread it into the braid before finishing it and tying it off. “All right, you’re done,” he said, pressing a kiss to Thorin’s temple before moving back. “Let’s go and beard a lion.”
Thorin guided Bilbo down the hallway toward the dining room, Frerin and Balin chatting behind them and Dwalin bringing up the rear. Balin and Dwalin veered off at the junction and the three walked into the dining room to find Thráin already at the table, looking over a few parchments.
“Are we late?” Thorin asked as he guided Bilbo into the seat next to his and sat down himself, while Frerin took his own.
Thráin shook his head and passed the parchment papers to the servant standing there. “Nay, I was simply going over a few requests from the Rhûn Dwarrow. Apparently, they had heard of your need for a mate and are offering up two of their finest princesses for you to choose from.”
“As I have found the one I will bond with for life, you can tell them thank you but no thank you,” Thorin said, taking Bilbo’s hand and smiling at him.
Thráin waved off the servants and waited for them to leave before he focused on the two of them. “So you two truly are planning on going through with this farce? You don’t truly believe that I believe you found your One by stumbling across him in the market at just the perfect opportunity to keep you from marrying Dorwina, do you?”
“Think what you like, Adad, but we are entirely serious about our courtship,” Thorin replied as he let go of Bilbo’s hand and began serving himself, Bilbo doing the same. “We plan on doing a proper courtship, having our wedding ceremony, and then we will begin thinking of starting our family. I will not be marrying Dorwina or anyone else other than Bilbo, so you can send her on her way.”
“And how, pray tell, do you plan on having this family? Unless Dwobbits do things very differently, that is a male sitting next to you,” Thráin said, motioning toward Bilbo with his fork before he reached out and stabbed a slice of ham and plunked it onto his plate.
Bilbo bit back a laugh, because he now knew exactly where Frerin and Thorin got their brooding pouts from. When he was certain he wasn’t going to laugh in Thráin’s face, he said, “Dwobbit is a term coined long ago, done so when the Dwarrow of Belegost first began courting and marrying with the Hobbits of the Shire. When the first love match between two of these peoples – the Dwarf in question having found his One in a Hobbit lad of the Shire – occurred, it was discovered that children were just as likely between the two races as staying within their own.”
He scooped some mushrooms onto his plate. “You see, Hobbits cannot have children as your women-folk do. We grow ours within the ground, in gardens specially created and tended just for that reason. The sex of the pairings matters not. Two males, two females, one of each. Hobbits have always loved who they loved.”
Thráin stared at him. “You’re telling me that you grow your children in the ground, like root bread?”
Bilbo gave him a flat look as Frerin strangled back laughter and Thorin groaned beside him. “I was grown in the ground and I hardly think I look anything like a potato or a carrot, thank you. But yes, we grow them in the garden. And that first couple had adorable little half-Dwarf, half-Hobbit children. The first set were twins, but they had ten altogether, I believe.”
“Mother would be cooing right now if she were here,” Frerin piped up, grinning at his father when Thráin gave him a look.
“I’m sure,” Bilbo said. “At any rate, once the Dwarrow realized that it was a viable option, as their numbers were dwindling and they were really hurting for population, they looked to the Hobbits for an alliance for trading and for love matches for those who hadn’t found their Ones amongst their own people. Honestly, I think the lot of them were just bloody lonely for companionship.”
“And little Dwobbits starting popping up like daisies?” Thorin asked, smiling when Bilbo looked at him.
“Yes. And those Dwobbits grew up with the younger Dwarrow and found matches with them, and then it was discovered that they could only have children in our way. As I told Thorin, there are likely very few who don’t have at least one Hobbit in their distant lines. They may seem to be full Dwarf, but at this point, they can only reproduce in our way.”
Thráin leaned forward. “So you’re saying that if any Dwarf here married any Dwarf from Ered Luin, or one of the Hobbits or a Dwobbit like you, they would be able to create children in the manner in which you speak.”
“Yes,” Bilbo said as he cut his ham. “If you wish, you can write to Grandfather Moran and ask him all about it. He himself is half-Dwarf, or well, five-sixths Dwarf, and has many children. There are several Hobbits who live in and around Belegost, and Dwarrow who live within the Shire if their crafts permit it.”
Thráin choked on his wine. “Your grandfather is King Moran of Belegost?”
Bilbo nodded. “My great-grandfather actually. My grandfather is Gerontius Took, his second-born. I am the son of Belladonna, Gerontius’ first daughter though she was ninth in order of birth.”
Thráin stared at him. “How many children does this Gerontius have?”
“Thirteen. Uncle Vorag, the Crown Prince, has sixteen. I have a cousin trying to break that record currently. Thorin and I figured we’d work on decimating that one just to be contrary, so at least eighteen for us.” Bilbo took the time Thráin spent frozen in shock to eat while Thorin and Frerin watched their father’s reaction gleefully.
When Thráin said nothing for over a minute, Bilbo studied him for a moment. “Oh, dear. Did I break him, Thorin? I’d hate for you to end up on the throne before we even managed to complete our courtship.”
Thorin laughed softly. “It’s a lot to take in at once. Give him a moment to process the possibility of eighteen grandchildren.”
Shrugging, Bilbo went back to his food until he heard Thráin clear his throat. He looked up to see the king’s gaze flitting between him and Thorin before finally settling on his son.
“He speaks the truth?” Thráin asked, a light in his eyes appearing that hadn’t been their prior.
“He does. As he said, King Moran is his great-grandfather and he has many other relatives who are wed to Dwarrow in Belegost or who live within the Shire.”
“I was actually hoping, Adad, with your permission, to lead an envoy to Belegost and then the Shire,” Frerin said to him. “Though his parents are gone, Bilbo has many relatives, and we require that at least one of them come here for the duration of the courtship between the two.”
Bilbo nodded. “Also, I need to send more detailed missives to various relatives, including the Thain, with regards to my businesses and properties within the Shire and have my belongings brought here. Also, I thought I might bring up the idea of some of my people, Dwarf, Hobbit, and Dwobbit alike, possibly moving into the area with your permission.” He went on to explain the population issues to the king, who listened attentively and he thought rather eagerly.
Thráin nodded. “I would very much welcome any who would wish to make their home in and around Erebor. I will write to Moran directly, so that he may get with your Thain and think on what they wish to do.” He turned to Frerin. “We will need a few days to discuss contingency plans, as you will be my voice to Moran. I would go myself, but I fear the retribution I may face if I’m not here when your mother returns.”
Frerin laughed. “We had hoped to leave tomorrow, but we can postpone our departure. I’ll make sure they know once I leave here.”
Thráin gave him a look. “You were going to sneak off even if I opposed, weren’t you?”
“Of course,” Frerin replied, grinning cheekily. “Better to ask forgiveness and all that rot. Besides, I didn’t want you getting any bloody ideas about marrying me off to that woman. I plan on going to Belegost and the Shire and seeing if there isn’t a lad or lass as charming as Bilbo is that might want to take me on.”
Sighing, Thráin shook his head and looked at Bilbo. “Have you met Balin?”
Bilbo nodded. “I have, Your Majesty.”
Thráin waved his glass as he spoke. “None of this ‘Your Majesty’ business in private, lad. You’re going to be family. I doubt you’d wish to call me Adad like these two tossers, but you can feel free to call me Thráin.”
Laughing slightly, Bilbo nodded. “Thráin, then. But yes, I have met Balin. He greeted us when we arrived and has spent the day with me.”
“He will likely take care of your education. Have you spoken about it?”
“We have. He’s determined that my weapon’s training is adequate though he’s spoken to Dwalin about keeping up my sparring so I don’t get rusty. He’s deemed my language skills excellent, and we’ve decided that our focus is going to be on a more detailed history of Erebor and Durin’s line, etiquette I need to know as the future King’s Consort and as Prince Consort, and the duties I will have as both.”
“Which version of the courtship have you decided upon?” Thráin asked them.
Thorin answered. “The two year. I do realize it will be longer as we cannot truly start the courtship until his relatives arrive, but we thought that it might be best so that our people will become familiar with him, and then with the others before he officially becomes one of the royal family.”
“A good idea,” Thráin murmured as he speared a potato. Then he sighed. “Though none of this is going to help me with the problem of Dorwina.”
“I realize that she’s disappointed that she cannot marry Thorin, but I don’t understand how it’s an ongoing problem. It’s not like there was a contract or anything, and she’s hardly the first you’ve presented to him and he’s refused, from what I understand,” Bilbo said. “Why is she behaving so differently than the others?”
Thráin grimaced. “I truly am at a loss with regards to her. She presented herself to me as a delightful, lovely Dwarrowdam up until the point when I told her that Thorin was planning a courtship with his One.” He huffed and looked at Thorin. “You remember that time that Dís’ cat fell into the river and the only way we could get it out before it drowned was with the bag on the hoop?”
Thorin snorted. “Who can forget it? That was one pissed off cat.” He turned to Bilbo. “That thing hissed and yowled and flailed about inside that bag like someone was trying to kill it. And then once he was out, he tried to attack the lot of us. Some had bites, others had scratches that needed stitches. That cat remained pissed off for a week, even though his ending up in the water was his own bloody fault.”
Thráin cleared his throat. “Yes, well, Dorwina reminded me strongly of that cat when she discovered you would not be courting her. It made the tantrum Dís threw when we would not allow her to go hunting with you when she was but ten years seem like a docile little pout.”
Frerin howled with laughter. “Oh, I remember that.” He turned to Bilbo. “It was a horrific display. She is seventeen years younger than Thorin and thirteen years younger than me. We were all set to go on my first hunting trip when I was twenty-three, and she was at that age where she thought she could do anything we could do, and her not being able to do it because of her age was nonsense.”
Humming, Bilbo nodded and laughed softly. “Yes, I know the age. Dwarrow are not the only ones who fall to that.”
“What did come as a surprise was the reaction,” Frerin said, laughing. “It was like a badger with its foot caught in a trap.”
“I’d never heard language like that even while marching with our soldiers,” Thráin said, shaking his head.
“And everybody within half a mile heard her loud and clear,” Thorin added. “It was mortifying.”
“I don’t know. I was rather proud,” Frerin said, coming very close to bouncing in his seat as he grinned at no one in particular.
“Unfortunately for Dís, my mother heard her,” Thorin said, and he chuckled. “She was about the only one who could strike fear into Dís at that age.”
“That’s because she was one of the rare females born into the line of Durin, and we doted upon her,” Frerin said, reaching for another dinner roll.
“Spoiled her rotten, you mean,” Thrain said, rolling his eyes. “I was as guilty as you two and your grandfather, and we rarely if ever attempted to check her behavior. It was Marís who disciplined her, and so she rarely listened to any but her.”
“She grew out of it eventually, but that day was definitely one for remembrance.” Thorin smirked. “Of course, now she’s mortified by it.”
“And will likely kill us in our sleep for telling Bilbo about it,” Frerin said, reaching for his ale. “Good thing I plan on being across the Misty Mountains by the time she returns.”
“That simply means we will have to wait until you get back to tell her that you helped tell me about it. I’m certain she will be most pleased that you likened her to a badger in a trap,” Bilbo replied, grinning when Frerin sent a wounded look his direction.
“Thorin, are you certain you do not want to trade this one in for a different Dwobbit? This one’s got a rather mean streak in him,” Frerin said as he eyed Bilbo warily.
Thorin laughed and took Bilbo’s hand in his. “No, I am rather pleased with the one I have. Anyone who can hold his own with the likes of you and Dwalin is more than good enough for me.”
Thráin shook his head. “At any rate, since Thorin’s trip to Dale where you two met, Dorwina has been extraordinarily difficult, and her father is being just as difficult as she is.” He snorted. “It’s my own fault, I suppose, for assuring the match before I took into consideration the personality of my eldest.
“At any rate, your choice in a life partner, Thorin, has my approval, and I will deal with the unpleasantness that comes along with my error in judgment. And you have today and the next two days free so that you may get your intended settled into the Mountain and begin showing him around. After that, I expect you to return to your normal duties, though I will make allowances in time for your preliminary courtship.”
“Thank you, Adad,” Thorin said, bowing his head slightly.
“Yes, thank you, Thráin,” Bilbo said, also bowing his head. “I look forward to having a look around the Mountain. What little I’ve seen already was magnificent.”
Thráin puffed up a little at the compliment. “It is rather impressive if I do say so myself.” Then he sighed. “I have heard Thranduil will be here in the morning for a visit.”
Bilbo frowned and looked at Thorin, who looked just as confused. “We just parted with him this morning.”
“We did,” Thorin added, “and he was on his way back to Greenwood and the delegation sent by Elrond for some trade negotiations.”
Thráin snorted. “Apparently he received a missive from his son who told him that there was a wizard wanting to speak with him, so he turned tail and has decided that coming here to hide was the appropriate reaction to that news.”
Huffing a laugh, Bilbo shook his head. “I know Gandalf all too well and know that where he goes, trouble is sure to be discovered. Radagast is…well, he’s a good person but he’s more than a few bricks shy of a full load at the best of times. But I don’t see them being a reason he’d run away from his own kingdom.”
“Ah, no, it wasn’t either of them. Was someone named Saruman.”
Bilbo scowled. “Thranduil can come and hide in my rooms until that bastard goes back to where he belongs.”
Frerin’s eyebrows shot up. “I take it you don’t like this Saruman.”
“Not at all,” Bilbo muttered. “He is not a good person, and I would very much prefer him not to know I’m here. He personally has a grudge against myself and some of my family, and I’d just…much rather not have to deal with him.”
Thráin frowned. “Is he a danger to you?”
“At the moment? Not really,” Bilbo said with a shrug. “A cousin and I destroyed something he desired to have for himself and he didn’t appreciate it, especially since he found himself unexpectedly weakened by it. Gandalf says it will be some years yet before he can cause any true problems for anyone, but it doesn’t stop him from being a bothersome arsehole.”
“If he could prove to be an enemy in the future, the whys of it are something we’re going to need to know,” Thráin said gently.
Bilbo scrunched his nose and rubbed at his neck. “It’s just not something I like speaking of, and I ask that it go no further unless absolutely necessary. People tend to look at me funny when they find out.”
Thorin squeezed his hand. “What is it?”
“Flambard, a couple of Dwarves, and I kind of found the One Ring of Sauron when I was in my mid-tweens while fucking about the Misty Mountains with a couple of Lorien Elves, and with Gandalf’s help and the help of the great eagles, we kind of succeeded in getting it into Mordor and throwing it in Mount Doom?”
Bilbo slunk down in his chair and made a face while the other three stared at him. “See, people look at me like that.”
Thráin cleared his throat. “And Saruman had an issue with that. He wanted the Ring for himself.”
Nodding, Bilbo sat up straighter. “Apparently a couple of years before we found the Ring, Sauron settled into Dol Guldur. From what Gandalf said, after he came back from the East Saruman always felt off. He fears that Saruman has delved deeply into the black arts of Morgoth and Sauron, but he has little proof of how deeply he may have fallen. We do know he tried to keep us from destroying the Ring, and when we did, it caused him some sort of damage. Gandalf thinks he stupidly linked his power to Sauron for some reason, whether by design or by accident while learning about what Sauron had done.”
“And he can’t do anything about him?” Thorin asked indignantly. “Is he not a wizard himself?”
Bilbo shrugged. “I truly don’t know what he can and cannot do here, particularly with regard to other wizards. I know he’s been keeping an eye as he can on Saruman, but he has specific duties he has to tend to and can’t babysit the arse.
“At any rate, Gandalf has assured me that he’s not a real threat to anyone at this point in time, and won’t be for some years yet if ever. I just…don’t like him and don’t trust him around me personally. He doesn’t have to be magically powerful to cause me physical harm. He’s much bigger than I am and not actually an old man as he presents himself.”
Thráin hummed and nodded. “There’s no reason to alert anyone that you’re here at present. We’ve never had dealings with Saruman before, and neither has any other Dwarf kingdom that I know of. I doubt he’d hear about it before the wedding was to occur, if at all unless someone told him.”
“I doubt it,” Bilbo replied. “None of the Elves trust him at this point.”
Thráin made a face. “I suppose we should finish dinner since I’ve got to ensure the visiting dignitaries quarters are ready and that the kitchens are prepared for Thranduil’s arrival.”
Bilbo bit back a smile at Thráin’s disgruntled tone while Thorin and Frerin laughed at him outright.
Later that evening, Bilbo hummed softly to himself while he puttered about his new kitchen. He jumped about a foot in the air when he turned and saw Thorin leaning in the doorway. “For the love of Mahal, Thorin, you startled me half out of my wits.”
Laughing, Thorin pushed off the doorway and walked in, pulling a stool over to the island. “I’ll try better to startle you out of your full wits next time.”
Giving Thorin a look, Bilbo went back to inspecting the pans he bought in Dale. “I thought you and Balin were going over some paperwork.”
“We did. He’s currently at your dining table working on the schedule for your education and making book lists and whatnot,” Thorin told him as he eyed the pan in his hand. “You do know we sell pots and pans here in the mountain.”
“Yes, I’m sure, but I liked the look of these. They’re perfect for making the candied fruits I want to store for winter baking.”
“Is that why you bought all these bushels of lemons, oranges, and cherries?” he asked, motioning toward the baskets lining up on the far counters and on the floor.
Bilbo nodded. “And the carrots as well. Candied carrots do well for carrot cake.”
“Can’t say I’ve ever had carrot cake,” Balin said as he walked into the kitchen. He picked up one of the large bags of sugar. “Where do you want this?”
“The pantry on the far left. I already put the other three bags in there.” Bilbo slid his pans into the cabinet closest to the stoves. “I’ll have to make you lot carrot cake once I get the kitchen in order and have the ingredients I need.”
“Sound appalling. I’m looking forward to it,” Thorin said, grinning when Bilbo threw him an affronted glare.
“Just means there will be more for the rest of us,” Bilbo said with a sniff as he filled a bowl with cherries and set them in front of Thorin. “Here. I noticed how much you like them. But savor them, because you’re not getting any more from my lot.”
Balin laughed. “That’s for the best, or you’ll not have any left. Good thing too that Frerin is leaving soon. Otherwise, you’d find yourself being eaten out of house and home, at least in regards to the cherries.”
“No kidding,” Bilbo said with a huff. “Between him and Frerin, they at half a bloody basket in a day. At least it was one they purchased for themselves, or I’d have been really cross.”
“Just don’t let Adad know, or he’ll be sneaking in here and before you know it, there will be nothing left,” Thorin told him.
Bilbo laughed and turned to Balin. “Thorin said you were working on my schedule?”
Balin nodded as he sat down next to Thorin and plucked a cherry from his bowl, ignoring Thorin’s grumbling. “Aye, laddie. I’ve decided to work on the history and general culture of Erebor first since your duties as Consort won’t apply to you until you’re actually married. I plan on showing you the library in the morning and getting you signed in there so you can check out books yourself, and get you the books you need to start reading and taking study notes from.”
“I look forward to it,” Bilbo told him as he gathered a bowl of cherries for Balin if only so Thorin would quit looking at Balin like he’d committed the ultimate betrayal. “I’d also like to talk to the librarians there, see what they might like as far as books from Ered Luin and The Shire go. That way I can send the list on ahead with the raven.”
Balin nodded. “With waiting on the letters from King Thráin, we can wait until the day after tomorrow to send the raven on its way.
“As to your studies, I have a detailed list of which order I want you to study, and I’d also like to set up a time for after Thorin returns to his duties to get a more detailed idea of what you do know so we can fine tune our lists. No need for you to study what you already know. That way, we can have most of this done by the time your family gets here and then we can move on to you learning your duties as the future Prince Consort and later as King Consort.”
“Sounds like fun,” Bilbo said cheerfully, ignoring Thorin’s snort.
The next morning, Balin arrived bright and early in spite of them having a very late night as they discussed all manners of things, including the latest gossip about people that Bilbo had no hope of knowing but found entertaining nonetheless.
“Up and at ‘em, Bilbo!” Balin said cheerfully as he dragged the blankets off his body.
Bilbo groaned and turned his head enough so he could glare at the menace next to his head with one bleary eye. “You’re one of those people, aren’t you?”
“One of what people?” Balin asked as he walked over to the closet and peered at Bilbo’s few clothing options.
“One of those early risers that get up with the roosters, all perky and ready to face the day.”
“That I am, laddie, that I am.” Balin turned to look at him. “You don’t have much in the way of clothing. I’ll send a note to have the tailors come in the late afternoon.
“Now up with you. You can lay about all you want in a few days, but today we’ve got much to do, especially if you want to check the marketplace to fill your larders.”
“Ugh.” Bilbo rolled over and stared at the ceiling, shooting Balin’s back a rude, Dwarvish gesture for laughing at him, before climbing out of bed and making his way to the bathroom, grumbling about early risers all the way there.
After going through his morning routine and dressing, he stumbled into the main room and found Thorin there with Balin. Thorin was half-asleep on one of the enormous chairs near the crackling fire.
“Morning,” Bilbo mumbled as he flopped down next to Thorin, curling up under his arm when Thorin raised it. Bilbo pressed a kiss to his cheek and rested his head on Thorin’s shoulder. “We need to kill Balin. He’s too perky. He needs to die.”
Balin laughed and held up a parchment. “You have breakfast this morning with King Thráin, who I’m sure wants to complain about having Elves in Erebor. Then we need to head to the library so we can get you all sorted there. After that, we’ll bring back the books you need, and we’ll need to head to the throne room to welcome Thranduil.
“After those niceties are done, we’ll head to the marketplace. I have detailed maps of Erebor and the marketplace that you can study at your leisure. They’re in your dining room. I thought we can focus on what you want for your kitchen, at least until you decide what you need for the rest of your chambers.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Bilbo said, not bothering to move.
Balin laughed and got up. “I’ve got some strong tea brewing that will perk you up a bit.”
“Still too early,” Thorin grumbled before peering down at Bilbo. “Did you sleep well?”
“What sleep I managed to get. I may have stayed up a couple of extra hours last night, sorting through my books and reading a bit,” he said, blushing when Thorin laughed. “I lost track of time.”
“I can imagine. The tea Balin is brewing will help. It is very strong, however. You may want to put in some honey and milk to smooth it out.”
“Mmmmm.” Bilbo sighed as he snuggled closer to Thorin. “We miss anything interesting?”
“Only Dorwina throwing a truly unbecoming fit in the dining halls last night when your presence in Erebor was confirmed. Made a huge scene from what Balin told me when he dragged me out of bed.”
Bilbo made a face. “Why is she so determined? I just don’t understand. If it’s wealth she’s after, there are other wealthy Dwarves around. You said yourself that she doesn’t seem to like you.”
“I don’t know, and I honestly couldn’t care less,” Thorin murmured into his hair. “I only hope she leaves sometime soon and leaves us in peace.”
Bilbo nodded and closed his eyes, letting himself drift while they waited for Balin.
The trip to the library and the meeting with Thranduil went off without a hitch, and all too soon the three had headed into the marketplaces.
“Now,” Balin said with a tone that Bilbo had already come to associate with an educational lecture heading his way, “the marketplace takes up four levels. The bottom level here is the largest and houses all the temporary or seasonal merchants. You’ll find stalls for just about anything and they’re often run by Elves, Men, and Dwarves from Erebor who have stock they compile until they decide to sell their goods or Dwarves who travel here from other kingdoms to sell their wares. It’s very fluid, so what you may find one week will be gone the next.”
Bilbo nodded, making a mental note to purchase anything he might find interesting right away on this level, especially in regards to long-term foods.
“The levels above us are where you’ll find the permanent stalls and stores. The one directly above us is where you’ll find food and housewares. The third level is where you’ll find all the pre-made wares that don’t fall under housewares. Off the rack items, so to speak. Clothing, jewelry, furniture, weaponry and such already made. The clothes can be tailored to fit better. The fourth level is the smallest and houses the specialty stores, usually headed by guild masters. That’s the level you go to for clothing tailored specifically to you, or where you go to commission works. Some of the stores on the second and third levels do offer commissions on a limited basis, but your best bet will be on the fourth floor for the true masters.”
Thorin pulled a mithril chain with some kind of medallion on it out of his pocket and he fastened it to Bilbo’s wrist. “If you press this into the wax on any bill and sign it, the funds will be taken from the family’s treasury account. Father already had your name placed on the royal family’s ledger.”
Already having heard the lecture on who should be paying for what, Bilbo simply nodded. “Remind me that I need to have the funds I have added to the treasury. It’ll be safer there than sitting around my room.”
“We’ll take care of that tomorrow,” Thorin told him. “Where do you wish to go first?”
Bilbo raised an eyebrow. “You will learn soon enough, that when it comes to anyone with even the slightest amount of Hobbit heritage, the answer is always ‘food’…always.”
Laughing, Balin pointed to their left. “This way. We’ll start with the temporary stalls and then head upstairs.”
After the better part of an hour, Bilbo found himself at an Elvish weaponry stall and bored out of his mind. When he realized that Balin and Thorin were actually going to start haggling with the Elves there, Bilbo tapped Balin on the shoulder.
“Yes, Bilbo?” Balin asked him.
“I’m going to look around the stalls across the way there,” Bilbo told him.
Balin nodded and waved him away. “We’ll come and find you when we’re done.”
Shaking his head, Bilbo walked over to the stall where the Lorien Elves were selling quite a few surprising items. “I didn’t think you’d be selling gardening supplies here of all places. Dwarves aren’t exactly known for their gardening abilities.”
The Elf laughed softly. “True, but there are some who work on the second level who appreciate our wares. There’s a tea merchant who particularly likes to buy from us, as he achieves better yields with our soil.”
“Plus the men of Dale often come here to purchase things, and here we have no worries about rain,” another said. “We only come here once a year.”
Bilbo nodded and began looking more in-depth, discussing various items. He ended up purchasing a great deal, including all the remaining soil and seeds they had, as well as the books on gardening and recipes they had.
By the time he was done with that stall and then another two nearby, he thought Balin and Thorin might be done, but they still seemed to be in deep discussion with the Elves there. Rolling his eyes, he headed off toward the next set of stalls on the other side of one of the major archways that led into the market.
A hand grabbed his arm and yanked him out of the marketplace and into a hall in such an abrupt manner, Bilbo didn’t have time to squeak or even think about defending himself, it was such a shock. Then his head slammed into the wall he was shoved towards and he blinked in a daze as his head radiated an intense amount of pain from the impact. “What?”
He blinked a few more times and the face of a furious Dwarrowdam swam into focus. “What is your problem?” he asked, only then noticing there was a knife to his throat.
“You stole what was mine!” she snarled with such a vicious hatred that it instilled a deep, sudden fear into him.
“I didn’t steal anything from you,” he said gently, attempting to remain calm. He had no idea what Dorwina would do to him and he was in no position to defend himself, what with the dizziness overcoming him and the knife at his throat. Not to mention that she was far stronger than he was, in spite of them being of similar height.
“Thorin was mine, and then you came along and ruined it all! I should slit your throat and hide your body in the deepest parts of Erebor,” she muttered, her cold eyes glittering with malice. “He would think you lost your nerve and ran back to where you came from. Then he would be free to marry me, and all he has will be mine.”
“You don’t love him. Why would you marry him? Don’t you want to marry someone you love, who will make you happy?” Bilbo asked her, keeping himself pliant in the hopes she wouldn’t run the knife across his neck.
“Of course I don’t love him. What’s that to do with anything? It hardly matters to my father! He, after all, murdered the one I loved.” Fear filled her eyes as she moved closer and whispered, “He threatened to do the same to me, even as he stood over Marin’s body. His debts are beyond what anyone would imagine. The things I’ve had to endure to keep his debtors from killing him outright would drive you mad.”
And clearly it had driven her mad, and it filled him with pity for the woman before him, who was in a seemingly impossible situation. “I can help you. I can talk to Thorin, to Thráin. We could help you and your family.”
The cold, hard glare returned. “You would do nothing of the sort. Don’t lie to me. You simply want me to spare your life. If I let you go, you will speak of this to everyone and they will imprison me. Who will then save my mother? My brother and sister?” Dorwina pulled the knife away from his throat as she spoke, waving it around a bit. “It is better if you just die. Then I can do what I must, and everyone will be happy. Father will be happy.”
A glint of steel flashed behind Dorwina, who suddenly found herself with a blade to her neck even as a hand pulled the knife from her own. “I would not make another move if I were you,” the Dwarf who had the knife to her throat murmured. “Let the Prince’s One go, or I will slit your throat here and now.”
Dorwina backed away from Bilbo slowly, releasing her hold on him. He barely managed to keep himself standing, wincing as he reached his hand back to touch his head where it had connected with the wall. He pulled it back when he felt the wetness and was unsurprised to find blood covering his hand. He could feel it trickling down his back as well.
The two Dwarves produced ties from their pockets and used them to secure her hands behind her body. They were both young, looking to be around Frerin’s age. One had his hair tied back in a clasp, and the other had his hair in a star-like pattern that Bilbo was certain took some time to achieve. “Thank you both.”
The Dwarf with the tri-lobed hair bowed slightly. “Nori at your service. This is my cousin, Lani. Are you well?”
“She slammed me into the wall. I think my head hit a rather sharp protrusion. My head’s bleeding and I feel a bit dizzy.”
Nori let loose a sharp whistle and two more Dwarves came running down the side tunnel and took Dorwina with them after a few words from Nori.
“Come,” Nori said, he and Lani taking one of Bilbo’s arms and helping him to walk back toward the markets. “We’ll need to find Thorin and alert them to what’s happened. How did she manage to get to you?”
“Last I saw them, they were at an Elven weaponry stall,” Bilbo murmured. “I was looking at other stalls and she grabbed me just as I was crossing the entrance to get to another stall. Happened so quickly, I doubt anyone really noticed. I didn’t see her at all.” He saw Thorin and Balin up ahead, looking around worriedly. “There they are.”
He waved and caught Thorin’s attention, and the two rushed up to him. “Where were you?” Thorin asked, frowning when he saw the blood on Bilbo’s hand. “What happened? Who did this?”
“Dorwina,” Bilbo said. “She grabbed me and threatened to kill me. The back of my head has some damage. I think I hit a sharp protrusion when she shoved me into the wall. Hurts.”
“Come, let’s get you to Óin,” Thorin said. “I cannot believe she went this far.”
“She’s quite mad, Thorin. She rambled a lot at me. From what I gathered, her father murdered the one she loved right in front of her, and he’s been using her in a most dreadful manner in order to waylay the enormous debts he owes to some rather unsavory people. She was ordered to marry you so he could have your money. She didn’t want to marry you, but she fears what will happen to the rest of her family. She’s got a mother and siblings depending on her doing what her father wants.”
“She should have come to us,” Thorin murmured as he looked at the back of Bilbo’s head.
“She didn’t believe you would help her and that her family would be killed.”
“Why would we kill her family?” Thorin asked.
Bilbo shook his head. “Not what I meant. She thinks that those her father owes will kill them, not you. My head hurts.”
“Óin!” Nori shouted as he ran on ahead of them, making Bilbo wince.
“Coming, lad!” a voice called out from a back room as they entered the healer’s offices. “What have you got yourself into this time?”
“Not me,” Nori replied. “Tis Prince Thorin’s intended. He was attacked and has an injury to the back of his head. Probably some bruising too. She shoved him into the wall. Also looks like the knife he had to his throat might have nicked him a little.”
Bilbo sighed in relief as Thorin and Balin lifted him up onto the examining table while Nori spoke. He watched tiredly as a Dwarf came out of the back and peered at Bilbo curiously. He looked to be around Balin’s age. His long, dark-reddish hair was twined into an elaborate braid and his long beard was braided and coiled into loops that fastened into his hair, likely to keep it out of his way while he worked. Bilbo knew from his experiences in helping his grandfather’s healers that poultices and other medical concoctions could be messy work. Interesting, but messy.
“Well, now, who would be stupid enough to try and harm your intended, Thorin?” Óin asked Thorin as he moved toward Bilbo.
“The Dwarrowdam Adad wanted me to marry,” Thorin replied. “Bilbo says she’s quite mad.”
“She is,” Bilbo murmured as Óin walked around and brought over lit lanterns for better light. “I’m not certain if she’s beyond hope or not, or whether she’d take help if offered.”
Balin hummed. “Thranduil is here in Erebor, as are Elrond’s sons. They may be able to ascertain how far gone she is, or who to confer with in order to have her properly examined.”
Óin made a face but nodded. “They may be weed-eaters but they’re the best at healing arts, including mind healing.”
Bilbo rolled his eyes at the weed-eater comment and immediately regretted it. “My head hurts.”
Óin nodded. “I’ll need you to undress so I can check you over for any damage to your upper body. Also, you’re bleeding through on your clothing.”
Balin made a face. “I’ll go up to your rooms and get you some new clothes. I’ll also postpone your being measured until we’re sure you can stand long enough for it.”
Thorin cleared his throat after Balin left. “Nori, if you will go and inform my father of what happened. And find Dorwina’s father. Have him placed in an interrogation room and guarded until we can get to the bottom of this. And have him send the Elves to see Dorwina.”
Nori nodded and he and Lani left to do what, while Óin went in the back room and came back a few minutes later with a bowl of hot water and some towels. Then he returned with a small cup.
“Drink this. It will help with the pain.”
Bilbo took it and downed it in one go, knowing well what it was and how bad it tasted.
“Good lad,” Óin said, taking back the cup. “We need to get his clothes off and the blood removed so I can see what we’re dealing with. You’ll have to help me, Thorin.”
“Of course,” Thorin said, standing in front of Bilbo and huffing a small laugh as he began undoing the buttons of Bilbo’s shirt. “This was not how I envisioned the first time I undressed you.”
Bilbo snorted and then grimaced. “Well, reality rarely lives up to the fantasy. I am, however, regretting foregoing the vest and jacket today.”
A few minutes later he was stripped to the waist and he was lying on his stomach on the examination table while Thorin gently removed the blood and Óin examined the damage to his head.
“This is definitely going to bruise,” Thorin said. “He also has several places where the jagged parts of the wall tore through his shirt and cut or scraped him, particularly his shoulders. I’m going to tell Adad we need to have that area checked. The walls shouldn’t be that jagged.”
“Likely on the endless list of things that need to be done, but keeps getting pushed back because of more important things,” Óin mused. “Well, you’re definitely going to need some stitches, and you’re going to need to take it easy for at least a week. I think you’ll be well enough to sleep in your own bed, provided you have someone there to look out for you, wake you up every couple of hours to make sure you’re well.”
“I’ll stay with him,” Thorin said. “Balin and Dwalin can stay with us and help me with it. I don’t want him alone until we’re sure that Farlin is in custody.”
“You think he’ll try to bolt?” Óin asked.
“If he hears about his daughter’s attack on Bilbo before Nori and the others can find him? Yes, most definitely, especially if Dorwina is speaking the truth in spite of her madness.”
A knock sounded on the door and Bilbo opened his eyes to see a familiar Elven head peek through the door. “Legolas,” Bilbo murmured.
“Honestly, Bilbo. Barely in Erebor a full day and already causing chaos in your wake,” Legolas said, stepping in with a bag in hand. He nodded to Thorin. “Elrohir and Elladan are on their way down to see the Dwarrowdam who did this. My father is writing a missive to Lorien. The best Elven mind healer is from that land, though Elrohir has studied under her, so he’ll be able to do an initial assessment to send with my father’s letter.”
He handed the bag to Óin. “There are two herb pastes in here that Elladan sent. The one in the blue jar is for numbing an area so you can work on it with minimal pain to Bilbo, and the one in the red jar is made with athelas. Once you do whatever you need to do, spread some on his injuries. It will help aid in leaching out any poison or infection, and it will also help him heal faster.”
Óin nodded. “Thank you, Prince Legolas. Your aid is much appreciated. Now, if you’ll sit there and distract him while Thorin helps me. I’m going to have to shave the area around the wound, laddie.”
Bilbo hummed. “Don’t care. It’ll grow back. Have someone help me trim it up so it doesn’t look too bad after I’m healed up.”
“Don’t fall asleep on us,” Óin told him.
Legolas pulled over a stool and sat down near Bilbo’s head. “So tell us about your Shire. I’m entirely certain you and Prince Thorin haven’t been able to have an in-depth discussion about it, and he has to be most curious about it.”
“It’s lovely,” Bilbo murmured. “Full of green, rolling hills. Full of life of all kinds. Flowers and trees and planted fields as far as the eye can see. Pretty little streams and creeks that you can sit or play in, that eventually feed into the Brandywine River. In the hills, you can see our round little doors and windows, and little chimneys poking out of the tops of the hills.
“All around the little homes in the hills are white picket fences and lovely gardens tended by their inhabitants. There are also many above ground buildings, especially where the farms are. Lots of animals: pigs, cows, chickens, goats, and sheep. Cute little baby animals in spring. I always took my youngest cousins to some of my tenants’ farms for their educational outing to see the babies in spring.”
Bilbo whimpered softly as Óin rubbed gently around the wound, sighing softly when it numbed. “Then there are the cradles. Hundreds of cradle gardens, many of them filled with the young ones in any given year. Takes a year for them to grow properly, you know. Then they climb up out of the ground. Pop up like daisies,” he said, laughing a little.
“Is he well?” Thorin asked, sounding both amused and concerned to Bilbo’s ears.
“He’s fine, Thorin. Just a little light headed from the knock to the head and the pain medication he drank a few minutes ago. It’s really not serious. I’d be more worried if he weren’t part Dwarf. He’s got a hard enough head. There’s not even a fracture of his skull,” Óin told him. “The skin is split, which is why I need to stitch him up, and why he’s bleeding so much. Head wounds always bleed a lot. You know that.”
“I need to make my list for the Shire,” Bilbo said after a few moments of silence. “Oh, and I need to wrap my birthday presents before Frerin goes. He can’t go, Thorin, until I have my presents wrapped and he can take them.”
“I’ll make sure Frerin knows,” Thorin assured him.
“Why would you send presents for your birthday?” Legolas asked him curiously. “Are you not supposed to receive them?”
Bilbo blew a raspberry. “No, silly. Well, I mean yes, but no.”
“Well that’s as clear as mud,” Óin said from behind him.
Bilbo scrunched his nose for a minute while he thought about it. “Hobbits give presents to friends and family on their birthday. But we get them too because Dwarrow give them on their birthday. And we all adopted each other’s tradition and we give and we get. But I won’t be there to give, so Frerin has to give them to Grandpa Moran and my uncle so they can give them to who they go to. I already bought them and the wrapping!”
Legolas hummed and nodded. “How about I help you do that tomorrow afternoon after you have rested some and do not look as though you have spent all night face first in a mug of ale?”
Bilbo grinned. “I’d like that.” He closed his eyes for a moment and then snapped them open when he was poked. “Hmm?”
“No sleeping,” Legolas told him. “Now, tell me what you found in the markets before you nearly had yourself done in by a crazy woman.”
“Food!” he said, grinning when Legolas laughed. “But I found all kinds of lovely things for my family and friends and some pretty paper for wrapping. And I found some stuff for myself.
“Oh! And I found some wonderful things for gardening from a stall where the Lorien Elves were.” He hummed. “I wonder if my grandpa is still there. Can you ask your father to ask Gala… Gala… What’s her name again?”
“Galadriel?” Legolas asked, looking like he was moments away from bursting into laughter.
“That’s it,” Bilbo said, pointing at him. “If he’s there, then we won’t have to wait so long if he’ll come up and be my family. At least until my family comes from The Shire. Thorin, my grandpa can be my family, right?”
A rumbling laugh sounded from behind him. “Yes, Bilbo, your grandfather can be your family.”
“I hope he’s still there,” Bilbo mused to himself. “I know he wanted to go look for walking tree people.”
“Maybe he’s back from his Ent search,” Legolas said. “Master Óin, is the pain medication supposed to hit him this hard?”
“He’s a little more punch drunk than most usually are, but it could just be because of his Hobbit nature.”
Bilbo blew a raspberry as he rubbed at his nose. “I’m always extremely loopy on the tea. I’m fine. Grandpa Moran says me on pain teas is the best thing he’s ever seen.”
“You know a great deal about my intended considering he’s been here just over a day,” Thorin said.
“That’s because Dwalin came over last night and told myself and Glóin all about it,” Óin replied. “He left nothing out.”
“He’s such a gossip,” Thorin muttered.
Óin hummed. “Alright, laddie, I’m going to start stitching ye up, so don’t be moving around.”
“I’ll be good,” Bilbo said, exhaling softly as he felt Óin begin tugging at his skin. It didn’t hurt, so Bilbo was glad about that.
“What kinds of things did you get from the Lorien stalls?” Legolas asked him.
“I found some seeds and some soil. They said there’s a tea shop that uses their soil for growing their plants and trees.”
Thorin appeared in front of him and sat down next to Legolas on a stool he pulled over. “That would probably be Dori. He’s working on his Mastery in the Tailoring Guild, but he took over his family’s tea business after his mother died a couple of years ago. He’s also raising his youngest brother, who is only about eight years at the moment. Nori is his brother.”
“I’d like to meet Dori. I like tea.”
“I know you do,” Thorin said, smiling at him. “Once you’re feeling better, I’ll see if Nori will take you there and introduce you to his brother and you can get yourself a stock of teas and coffees. He has many blends.”
Bilbo continued to ramble on about what he’d bought for several minutes until Óin patted him on the shoulder. “I’m all done, lad. Wasn’t a big cut, just a bit tricky because of the placement and the hair in the way. I put the athelas paste on it and a small bandage. Don’t go sleeping on your back tonight.”
“I’ll make sure he stays on his side,” Thorin told him.
Óin nodded. “Take the athelas paste and the bandages I give you. Clean the wound and re-apply it before he goes to bed tonight. Wake him up every two hours and ask him a few simple questions he should be able to answer easily. You know the drill. Redress the wound in the morning. Bring him to see me tomorrow afternoon. If he doesn’t have trouble tonight or tomorrow, he can sleep on his own tomorrow night.”
“I have his clothes,” Balin said, walking into the room.
Óin took them from him. “I’ll help him on with these. Balin, you help me. Thorin, out. There are some things you’re not allowed to see yet.”
Thorin lifted Bilbo’s hand and pressed a kiss on his palm. “I’ll be right outside.”
Balin snorted as soon as the door was closed.
“What?” Bilbo asked sleepily.
“Oh, yes. There’s no way you two are each other’s Ones. Not at all.”
“But we’re not,” Bilbo told him.
“Keep telling yourself that, laddie. You both look at each other like a couple of besotted fools. I have never seen a Dwarf get that twitterpated that fast with someone who wasn’t.”
“But we never saw each other before he grabbed me,” Bilbo said, letting Balin and Óin maneuver him out of the rest of his clothes.
“Mahal must have been guiding him then because he has never had any interest in anyone prior to this.” Balin chuckled. “If you two want to pretend otherwise, far be it from me to burst your bubble once you’re not drugged up to your ears. But that doesn’t change the fact that I know I’m right.”
Óin snorted. “Dwalin saw it too, you know.”
Bilbo made a face as they cleaned off the rest of the blood on him. “I’ll think about that later.”
“You do that, laddie,” Balin said and then helped him into his clothes.
The morning that Frerin was to leave, Bilbo was allowed to attend breakfast with the rest of the family.
“Feeling better, Bilbo?” Frerin asked him as Thorin served Bilbo and then himself.
“Yes,” he said softly. “I’m not dizzy anymore, and Óin has me on a less potent tea to moderate the headache I have. That should be gone in a few days.”
Frerin nodded. “Good. I have everything packed and I’ve secured your gifts and your letters.”
“Thranduil has sent on ahead a letter to his son, so they’ll be ready to see you through Greenwood,” Thráin told him.
“Legolas said with them showing you the best path through the forest, you’ll reach the other side four days sooner than you would going on the main road,” Thorin said.
Bilbo nodded. “The Old Forest Road is best used when you have wagons. If you’re just using horses like they are, the Elven paths are quicker. The main road does some winding out of the way of some big growth areas, from what I’ve heard.”
“It does,” Thráin said. “Plus, the road is about fifty more miles south from the Elven path, and the lower passes are nearer to Elven path. You come out a little more north of Rivendell than with the high passes, but the lower sections are quicker to travel through.”
“Legolas believes that if you keep a good steady pace, you should be able to arrive in Rivendell in a little over six weeks,” Bilbo added. “It will take about a month to get to Bree, and about a week to get to Belegost if you go along the Greenway south to Sarn Ford. There’s a town called Redwater just over the Ford. There will be signs that tell you which road to take to get to Belegost, and which to get to the Shire from there.”
“I’m certain we’ll be able to find our way. Stop fretting,” Frerin told him.
“Fretting is what I do,” Bilbo replied, pointing his fork at him. “Don’t take away my thing.”
Frerin held up his hands and laughed. “Whatever you say, future brother-in-law.”
Bilbo hummed. “Has Dorwina’s father said anything yet?”
Thráin shook his head. “Nothing. I’ve sent a warning to Náin regarding what we got from Dorwina through her ramblings and what she told Bilbo. Hopefully, he’ll be able to get the rest of the family under guard and sort out just what the hell is going on there.
“At any rate, we’ve placed Farlin under house arrest, so to speak, until we can get some proof of what’s happening,” Thráin told him.
“I’m not surprised. If he’s found to have allowed others to violate his daughter for his debts, he’ll be put to death,” Thorin said. “It’s in his best interest to keep his mouth shut and hope that no proof is found.”
“And Dorwina?” Bilbo asked.
“She’s in a set of room similar to those her father is in,” Thráin told him. “I’m hoping we can get her family here to see if that helps her at all. She seems to have calmed once I was able to get through to her what we were trying to do. Luckily those involved, according to her, aren’t high in Náin’s courts.”
“Hopefully we’ll hear from Galadriel soon as well,” Bilbo murmured, jabbing Thorin in the side when he started laughing. “Hush, you.”
Frerin snickered. “I wish I’d seen you babbling at everyone in Óin’s office. I’m sure you were adorable.”
“He was,” Thorin confirmed, dodging Bilbo’s elbow. “My favorite part is when he asked if his grandfather could be his family.”
“You know, it’s not too late to find a different Dwarf,” Thráin told Bilbo.
Remembering what Balin had said, he shook his head and took Thorin’s hand. “I’m good with the one I have.”
Thorin smiled back at him and kissed his knuckles before letting go and they returned to their meal, chatting amicably and enjoying the last moments before Frerin would have to leave.
This hadn’t been what he expected when he left the Shire a few months ago, but he was certainly glad he had.