The guild masters were tiresome.
They were tiresome, irksome, quarrelsome, and every manner of colourful expletives Thorin could manage in the three languages of which he was currently fluent. This included the unspoken language of Iglishmêk, which had its own satisfying array of offensive signs. Truth be told, his patience was at an end, and he was tempted to do something quite rude (verbally or physically), and it was only through his majestic and kingly training that he was able to stay his hands; otherwise Thorin II Oakenshield, King Under the mountain, was certain he could give these kakhuf inbarathrag a gestural dressing down so thorough their braids would smoulder and spontaneously ignite in wild, wicked flames.
On second thought, perhaps filling the hall with the acrid stench of burnt hair might grant him a stay of a day or two.
As it was, it was no great surprise that he’d been sat in the Hall of Durin now for more than half a day, arguing over the same contracts the masters managed to come to an agreement on just the day before. This type of circular negotiating – agreeing, disagreeing, agreeing but only on article three, and ready to agree on the whole contract if not for subject sixteen – put his teeth on edge and threatened serious harm to his mental wellbeing, tenuous as it already was.
Unfortunately, long, protracted contract negotiations did nothing for a guild master save feed some sort of compulsory dwarven fear that he or she was getting the shite end of the deal.
So here they were again, once more haggling over mineral rights between the Jeweller’s guild and the Weaponsmith’s guild on who should be allowed the most gold and silver ore, the most gems, the most refined iron, etc. Mahal above it was tedious in the extreme.
Despite his mental vexation, Thorin did manage to appear engaged in the proceedings. It was a gift, a certain stiffness of face he’d perfected when he was just a prince and forced to sit in these same types of exhausting sessions with his father and grandfather – and most of the other dwarves were none the wiser, intent as they were on bickering, red-faced and bristle-bearded till they barely had breath left in their bodies.
“Masters, masters all, please, if you will,” Balin, Mahal bless his just heart, finally raised a smooth hand to quieten the masters before continuing, “would I be correct in assuming this particular disagreement comes from the allotments from the mithril vein found recently? Or are we once again quibbling over the gold ingots gifted from the Iron Hills?”
“Don’t be daft Fundinson, the mithril of course,” Beldwer Hirsson insisted, sat to the left of Thorin and veritably doused in an overabundance of glittering jewellery, “I already agreed, quite graciously if I do say so myself, that the gold could go to the Weaponsmith's on the condition that any additional weapons decoration, gilding, and jewelcrafting be approved by my own masters.”
“Approved by your guild? What utter nonsense! I’ll have you know my smiths are just as knowledgeable and nimble-fingered as any of your mincy-bearded jewellers –”
“They aren’t and it’s a known fact! I will not have my guild shamed by dodgy quality craftsmanship!”
“How dare you –” Nâdin, the heavily pregnant headmistress of the Weaponsmith’s guild, swung her hefty skirts above her knees, which was no mean feat, and hefted herself atop the table before any could catch her. She was halfway across the stony expanse before Dwalin, faster than even Thorin previously thought possible, grasped her about the shoulders and heaved her to the side as she screeched, “I’ll show you dodgy craftsmanship you son of a tree-shagger! I’ll have you eating those beads in your hair before you have a chance to say goat’s bollocks! A pox on your whiskers!”
The entire room, save Thorin and Balin, erupted in an uncontrollable milieu of flying hair, flinging braids, throwing knives, and curses upon family names.
And so it went on, and on, and on.
If not for Balin and Dwalin, he’d have long ago declared a blood feud with each and every one of these guilds purely for aggravating his already high-strung sensibilities. But alas, one does not start century’s long disagreements with a number of dwarven clans merely because they prove to be unreasonable.
That kind of behaviour belonged to the elves.
And during moments like this, when he looked across the Hall and saw fists swinging and spittle flying, he reminded himself to think of Bilbo.
Bilbo Baggins, his only rock in the raging river that was ruling Erebor. It had been entirely too long since he’d spent any quality time with the mountain’s only resident hobbit. As such, Bilbo was seen as quite the exotic creature, leaving his social calendar somewhat bereft of free time, and bartering for a place in his busy schedule proved to be difficult on more than one occasion. Thorin’s irritation and moodiness could easily be offset by a simple hour or two with Bilbo’s soft presence, quick wit, and delicious shire-grown pipe-weed.
Yes, a visit with Bilbo would be most welcome, sooner rather than later.
With the decision made to visit his hobbit as soon as dwarfly possible, he looked up from his thoughts to find the Hall much calmer than before, thanks to Dwalin and his retinue of eager guardsman. Beldwer and Nâdin had put aside their differences, apparently, and were currently canoodling under the table – they were married, of course, and very much in love even while expecting their fifth child. Balin had expertly calmed the rest of the rowdy crowd with a well-placed platitude or compliment, and that seemed enough for the time being.
Thorin slammed his hands down on the marble table, the resounding thud resulting in all eyes alighting quickly upon the king.
“Are you all quite finished?” The master dwarves balked at his tone before looking amongst themselves as their king, who’d been unusually morose the entire meeting, suddenly decided to chime in on the situation with gusto. “Beldwer and Nâdin, this disagreement is yours, and as such, I expect you to have come to a fair conclusion before next we meet. This meeting is over.”
Thorin left no room for argument, the narag around his lids darkening his gaze, endowing his clear, blue eyes with an otherworldly menace many loathed to have turned upon their person.
Dwalin approached him when the hall finally emptied and the sounds of squabbling dwarves faded away into the grand stone corridors of the mountain. Balin had taken his leave as well, muttering about ‘diplomacy’ and ‘a pox on your whiskers, indeed,’ before gathering his parchment and utensils and finding his own way out through the carven doors.
Thorin leant back into his chair, a hand trembling over his weary brow. “Well what?”
“Somethin’ on yer mind?”
“It would be easier to tell you what was not on my mind, my friend; it is burdened with many thoughts.”
“Ach, go see ‘im then,” Dwalin waggled his eyebrows, his tattoos undulating atop his bald head like a particularly lecherous den of snakes, “I’m sure he can cure wot ails ya.”
Smiling in spite of himself, his kingly countenance be thrice damned, Thorin removed the heavy Raven crown, letting it lie bold and burdensome upon the marbled table. “He has other, more important ways to fill his time than to suckle a surly king like some nursemaid.”
Dwalin choked on his own saliva before coughing loud enough to give Thorin pause. “Ehm…apologies yer Majesty but…you did say suckle.”
Dwalin laughed even harder as Thorin pulled a face that was most unamused. It turned into a full-bellied guffaw when Thorin then decided to turn as red as a boiled beetroot.
“I have had dwarves imprisoned for less!” Thorin straightened, his meaty hands gripping the scrolled wooden sides of his chair.
“Aye, ye have now, but I’m thinkin’ I will not see the inside of a prison cell this day.” Dwalin’s laughing lessened as he wiped a tear away from one eye, his expression finally settling into one of truest and deepest affection.
Thorin huffed and stood, stretching his aching bones. “Indeed, I must say you read my mind.”
“And when’s the big day then? When will ye finally ask?”
Expression sharpening, Thorin frowned. “My closest friend you may be, yet you still presume too much.”
Dwalin seemed unconcerned and only shrugged his massive shoulders. “You will lose ‘im if ye wait too long, mark me words.”
And like some great portent of doom, Dwalin’s statement echoed in the chamber, taking on weight and growing heavy. Thorin did not like the sound of it at all.
“Jus’ an opinion,” Dwalin began to saunter away from the King, walking backwards, almost swaggering, “based on me own observations.”
“You try my patience.”
“Only your patience? I mus’ be losing me touch.” He laughed out loud once more as he left the room, pushing both of the heavy oak doors away from him in a display of cockiness that rankled on Thorin’s nerves.
What did Dwalin mean he would “lose” Bilbo? Lose him to what, to whom? Not another dwarf, surely.
The idea was preposterous – absolutely outside the realm of belief.
For the rest of the morning, Thorin’s thoughts remained troubled. Dwalin’s words echoed in his mind, replaying over and over even as the beginnings of paranoia sparked from a flicker to a flame. Was he foolish to think that Bilbo was his hobbit and his hobbit alone?
Of course, Thorin knew Bilbo was a free-thinking creature full of ideas, fire, and spirit; to think that he belonged to any one person was infinitely selfish and reminded him of the dark days he’d spent wallowing in Goldsickness and greed.
But, there was truth in Dwalin’s words, Thorin had to admit. His love for Bilbo was only known to a precious few, and Thorin had never truly thought to make his feelings clear to the hobbit. Perhaps it was fear of rejection – or maybe it was fear of acceptance – either way, the very thought of spending his remaining years with Bilbo at his side left an ache in his heart akin to hottest forges of the mountain.
Maybe it was time to break his silence – maybe it was time to stop this soul-deep pining.
Thorin smiled as he replaced his crown upon his head and strode head up and gaze high out of the Hall of Durin.
He had a plan.
Yes. It was time. He would profess his love for Bilbo Baggins and together they would rule Erebor, happy and beloved by all.
“Is it not the most glorious thing you’ve ever seen?”
Bilbo veritably danced around the table, one hand hovering over a small, simple, coppery cube that rested directly over his mother’s favourite doily.
“It’s ehm – it’s not much; just a gift, a simple gift, Master Baggins,” and though these words were directed at the small hobbit quivering in unconcealed excitement, Faern only made eye contact with Thorin II Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain.
Thorin occupied a corner across the room, lurking, a borderline tyrannical presence ever since he’d been invited into his hobbit’s quarters only to find a young, and rather underserving, dwarfling obviously vying for Bilbo’s affections. The – the usurper!
“By Yavanna, don’t be silly! It’s lovely. More than lovely! How do I get it to work again?” Bilbo looked up from the contraption, shining eyes beseeching Faern, and then Thorin, in turn.
Thorin remained where he was, silent, and was extremely satisfied when Faern hesitated a long moment before moving towards the curious hobbit.
Good, he was afraid. He should be afraid. Thorin was his king. Thorin could take this mangy intruder and have him thrown of the highest peak of the lonely mountain, he could –
No…no, too much. Bilbo would never approve. Thorin knew he was not schooled in what one would call subtlety; perhaps he’d have a quick discussion with Nori concerning this so-called Faern’s place in Erebor later.
“I designed and crafted it myself, you see. It’s simple. Just a touch here,” Faern grazed his thick fingertips softly over the edge of the cube, pressing gently on a button so cleverly hidden it would take a jeweller’s glass to see it clearly, “and you have it.”
The cube rattled just a bit, vibrating and clicking in place before one long metallic tube, like a stalk erupting from the soil, extended from its lateral surface. It grew upwards towards the rounded ceiling of Bilbo’s little adopted hobbit hole, rather much more dwarven nowadays than hobbitish, before branching off into several smaller coppery shoots. Each shoot ended in an elegantly tapered tip from which one papery thin curl of metal twisted outwards, shimmering as it unfurled and flattened as leafs painted with shimmering emerald dust.
From the main shoot, curl after curl of pinkish leaflets unfolded and glowed ruby red, catching the light from Bilbo’s hearth in a heart-stopping array of shining metalwork that, even Thorin had to admit, was worthy of Yavanna’s gentle children.
It was a rose, Thorin realized, a clockwork rose that bloomed with only a gentle touch, and it was…exquisite.
Bilbo, enthralled and eyes big as the saucers he so fancied during tea service, finally turned towards Faern and gushed, wringing his hands before him.
“Truly, I…I cannot – oh bother! I cannot accept a gift such as this! Why – why it’s worthy of kings and great lords and…and I’m just a hobbit, really,” he reached out with a small hand, delicately gracing one sparkling rose petal with the tip of his finger, eyes still wide with awe. Thorin noted several of the petals were heavily inlaid with clear, glistening diamonds, faux dewdrops perhaps, and his mood became that much worse.
Mahal above, this Faern was good.
Faern cleared his throat and stepped forward, visibly mustering his courage, though Thorin knew he was well aware of his king scrutinizing his every step.
“You deserve much more than this Master Baggins,” he motioned towards the clockwork rose as it began to curl up within itself, resetting and disappearing into its coppery base, only waiting for Bilbo’s gentle touch to come alive and bloom once more, “had I more skill I would fashion you a garden of eternally blooming flowers, if only to earn a moment of your time.”
Well, that was laying it on a bit thick, wasn’t it? Surely Bilbo wasn’t interested in this…this child? Why his beard was shamefully scraggly and barely long enough to be braided, and his hair was woefully bare of beads. This Faern was aiming rather high to think that Bilbo Baggins, Dwarf-Friend, Advisor to the King, and Saviour of the Realm would even entertain spending any time with –
“How about tea next Dursday?” Bilbo offered, a wide, pleased smile upon his face.
Faern answered with his own cock-sure grin, glowing with pride and self-satisfaction.
For a moment, Thorin’s mind blanked out completely, then – explosions.
Explosions, the sound of a thousand barrels of black powder charged through Thorin’s mind, roiling from deep in his gut and across his chest to settle inside his head, a companion to the rush of blood suddenly pounding in his ears.
Dwalin was right.
He was right.
Then he heard Bilbo say his name, the hobbit rather closer than he remembered, and he was pulled viciously back to reality.
“ – don’t you think?” Bilbo and Faern appeared to be waiting for him to respond in some way, but truth be told he had no Middle-Earthly idea what exactly he’d just been asked.
“Er, um, yes. Yes, of course. After the next moon. Yes.” He babbled. Mahal wept, this was not kingly or majestic at all. He was off-balance, thrown for a loop, and all because he’d been too much of a coward to admit his feelings to his hobbit when he’d had the chance. Now – now this blasted dwarfling was standing in his place and looking entirely too pleased with himself.
“Thorin?” Bilbo said gently, concerned and confused enough to place a small hand on his formal blue robes. “I was only asking –”
“Apologies, Bilbo, but I must take my leave. Thank you. Enjoy your dinner and have a lovely evening. Good night!” He ripped his arm away from Bilbo’s touch, prompting a startled sound from the small creature, and turned on his heel, stomping with extreme prejudice out of Bilbo’s quarters back to his own royal rooms.
It was only after he slammed his door behind him, his room servants startling to his side, that he realized what a fool he’d been.
Good night indeed! It was only just past midday. He groaned in frustration, too embarrassed for words.
What would he do now? What could be do? King or no, answers to particularly difficult questions such as these never came easy, and experience of the battlefield did not equate to experience in matters of the heart. As it was, Thorin was woefully deficient in the courtlier, romantic arts, as dwarves were inclined to be straightforward and not hide behind flowers, poetry, and cleverness.
No. That kind of behaviour belonged to the elves.
But, was that what Bilbo wanted? He surely seemed entranced by Faern’s gift, and Thorin admitted, begrudgingly, that it was quite a gift…a courting gift even. Why, Bilbo had even responded to his advances! With an invitation to tea no less!
By Durin’s great twining beard, the mountain was falling down around his steel tipped boots!
He needed counsel – he needed a logical mind to offset this maelstrom of emotions currently coursing through his braids. He rushed across his room to his study, ripping a scroll of parchment from his great stone desk and hurriedly scribbling a missive to the one person he could think of when he found himself in such dire, confusing situations.
To my dearest sister D ís…
“Well,” Bilbo huffed, displeased and disappointed down to the downy tufts of his toes, “that was rather abrupt, don’t you think?”
Faern appeared unconcerned, and stood just an arm’s length away, hands clasped behind his back. “Our king has many things on his mind.”
It was a platitude, Bilbo knew, and it did not help his state of mind. He padded over to the table, the same which held his gloriously crafted gift, and plopped unceremoniously into one of the chairs.
“I suppose he didn’t want to share our tea after all?” Bilbo had had tea with Thorin many times, and it was unusual to think that Thorin would suddenly develop an aversion to one of Bilbo’s favourite, and traditionally hobbitish, pastimes.
“Regardless, I very much look forward to sharing your afternoon tea with you, if you still wish it Master Baggins.”
Bilbo regarded the young dwarf for a moment, leaning back and twisting the brass buttons on his waistcoat in his fidgety grip. Faern was handsome, as Bilbo thought most dwarves were, a fine specimen of dwarfhood with broad shoulders, a stout bearing as if carved from the mountain itself, and hair the blue-black of raven’s feathers caught just so by the sunlight. His beard was modest, he was still young, but promised to grow into a thicket of hair any dwarf would be proud of. Indeed, he was most handsome.
He was not, however, the one dwarf Bilbo had long ago set his Tookish heart upon, wild and foolish thing that it was.
Bilbo couldn’t help but feel he had offended Thorin somehow, and the feeling churned under his breastbone, alive and fierce, saddened by his king’s swift departure. Finally, he sighed and straightened, forcing a smile, cheeks dimpling, and nodded. He was a Baggins as well as a Took, and he couldn’t neglect his company over his own internal misgivings, especially since said company had been so kind to give him such a wonderful gift of friendship.
“Yes, alright Faern, Dursday it is. And please, call me Bilbo.”