Bilbo Baggins watched the tall dark-haired young man walk slowly up the road in the direction of the village square. Bilbo had first seen him a couple of days before and therefore presumed he was with the delegation which had recently arrived, even though the young man’s walk lacked the sense of purpose Bilbo had observed in the other delegation members.
Bilbo was curious about the delegation, who had arrived in their well cut suits, with their expensive luggage. His father had been happy at their arrival, for he had one of the contracts to provide the cakes and pastries which would be needed for the many meals to be consumed over the coming weeks. The additional income would finance an extension to the family home, which, his father had hinted, would mean Bilbo could move in with his new bride.
His mother, although pleased at the idea of her son marrying and carrying on the family business, was less than happy some of the delegation was staying in the village. Bilbo’s father had explained that following the floods earlier in the year not all the accommodation which was normally used for the delegation’s annual visit was available, and therefore a number had been given lodging in their village.
Bilbo’s thoughts about the delegation were interrupted by the bakery foreman calling out, “The van’s all loaded and ready to go.”
Bilbo shouted his thanks and climbed into the van. It was filled with pastries for morning coffee and sweets for lunch time. His father would follow later with the cakes for afternoon tea and desserts for dinner. The bakery was now working double shifts to cater for the higher demand.
As Bilbo drove through the village square he was forced to brake suddenly. The young man he had seen earlier had been having an argument with one of the delegation members and had stepped back into the road without looking. The van brakes squealed and the young man glared at him.
Bilbo waited for the man to return to the side of the road, and when he remained where he was Bilbo wound down his window and called out, “Could you move over, please.”
At that moment, two smart cars drew up and the delegation began to get in. The delegation member who had been involved in the argument said, “Hurry up, Thorin, we won’t wait for you.”
The young man turned and said, “Don’t. I’ll go in the baker’s van.”
With that he walked round the front of Bilbo's van and hopped in.
“What makes you think I’ll take you where you want to go?” Bilbo asked.
The other shrugged. “I’m not bothered. You can take me wherever you want. But I doubt anywhere else is going to pay for a van load of pastries.”
“True enough. I’m Bilbo Baggins, by the way.”
“Of Baggins & Son, bakers and confectioners, I presume.”
“Indeed. And you are, um, Thorin?”
“Thorin Oakenshield. And that was my uncle, who has been tasked to begin my education in the ways of diplomats and other slimy individuals.”
“Tasked by whom?”
“My grandfather. He thinks I should be prepared to take over my father’s role, since he is no longer capable of doing it.”
“And you don’t want to?”
“I can’t think of anything worse. But apparently I can’t be allowed to enjoy my holidays at home, so I’m sent down here, where I don’t ask awkward questions.”
“I can’t imagine what it must be like to be forced to follow in the family line when you don’t want to. I’ve always known I was going to be a baker, like my father and his father before him. The ‘Son’ in Baggins & Son is actually my father, not me.”
“So you’re happy to continue the family tradition?”
“Yes, and no.”
Bilbo noticed Thorin’s eyes sparkle when he expressed his own reservations, so added, “I enjoy baking and when we’re not as busy Father lets me experiment with making different pastries – there’s no time at the moment, of course. But my parents are expecting me to marry soon and settle down, which is unfortunate, because I have no-one in mind. They’ve hinted at various girls who would be suitable, but I’ve avoided their suggestions so far. The pressure is mounting though.”
Thorin grunted. Bilbo wasn’t sure what that reaction meant, so he changed the topic of conversation. “How long are you here for?”
“Until the winds change.”
“Traditionally the delegation would arrive with the last of the south winds, and stay until the north winds began. Nowadays they don’t travel by sailing boat, but by motor vessel, but they still keep to the same timescale. Originally it was all to do with trade and the bargaining to agree prices and quantities, but now it’s as much to do with alliances and deals with other states. And socialising. And eating vast quantities of cakes and pastries.”
“There is nothing wrong with our cakes and pastries.”
“I didn’t say there was. I just don’t see the point of coming all this way and spending all this time just to eat your, admittedly delicious, pastries.”
Bilbo laughed. “You have a point.”
He drew up close to the main door of the guildhall where the meetings were taking place. “You’d better get out here,” Bilbo said, “unless you want to go in through the tradesman’s entrance.”
Thorin laughed. “Thank you. How long before you go back?”
“A good couple of hours. I have to unload the van and then stock up on ingredients from the wholesaler’s.”
“Any chance of a lift?”
“Yes, if you want. I’ll pick you up at midday by the clock tower.”
Thorin nodded and waved, before disappearing inside the guildhall. Bilbo smiled to himself. He was looking forward to having a companion on his drive home.