Chapter 1: Breakfast
Chapter 1: Breakfast
"You know," said Bilbo charitably, "You could stand to lose a bit of weight."
The fireplace popped as if in reply. He looked over at his lone table-mate, Bombur. The other Dwarves had already finished their breakfasting and gone to their own errands, leaving their hobbit in the company of their largest relative. The two had been companionably finishing off the rest of the food, but now even Bilbo was getting quite stuffed and Bombur showed no sign of slowing.
"I disagree," retorted Bombur. "Dwarves pack away their treasures and then are forever fearing they will lose them. No such thing for me."
"What do you mean?"
"I pack it all away; the very best and the most tasty treasures. I keep them safely too. Here!" He patted his impressively expansive paunch. "See these rolls? They are a banner of courageous eating! Why would I want to lose them?"
"So you can keep walking?" Bilbo suggested with his own mouth full of buttered roll.
"Walking? Why should I? I've already seen more paths, rocks and trees than I ever should have. None of them can compare to this." He held up a bright spoonful of jelly. "Hah? I remember nothing but short commons while walking. No more gritty cram for me, tasting of old, damp packs. No, no more of that."
"I didn't mean a walk clear to the Sea," Bilbo said with slight irritation. "I meant, well, just… walking. Going out and about, getting bit of air."
"I have air," Bombur replied, adding an additional spoonful of jelly to his own roll. He smiled and breathed loudly for emphasis.
"Perhaps. But not fresh air."
"It's fresh enough."
"Shouldn't you miss the sky?"
"Perhaps you should miss the sky," he grunted. "I'm a Dwarf, friend Bilbo. Or hadn't you noticed? I am quite content where I am. Pass the butter."
The hobbit pushed the dwindling block of white butter across to him. "It's going to get mighty difficult to keep at your treasure-gathering when you can no longer get at the table."
"Mmh?" Bombur swigged a gulp of beer.
"Unless your arms are going to grow longer with the rest of your expansion. You must realize that eventually your own appetite will outgrow your reach." He leaned back and waved his arms at his plate as if it were too far away.
Bombur snorted. "I can reach."
"Now you can. But think on it. When you make bread and leave the dough to rise in a small bowl, what happens?"
Bombur looked at him blankly.
"Don't you ever bake?"
"Only when the forges are too hot."
There was a pause and Bilbo digested the idea that such an obvious gourmand had not tried his own hand at producing the food he ate. "All right then… let me tell you. After you make up the bread sponge, you pick a warm place and let it rise. But if the bowl you put it in is too small…"
"How big is small?" Bombur interrupted curiously.
Bilbo held out his hands to measure. "Say, like so. Like a salad bowl, or an egg bowl. You need a big one, like so! But this time let's say you weren't thinking and put it in your egg bowl. A smallish one, for about a dozen eggs."
"Do you have one of those?" Bombur ate some of his own eggs.
"I did. But that's not the point. The point is the dough is now in a small bowl."
"No, it isn't. That's what I'm saying. It puffs up. It grows! And after a while, the dough will overflow the bowl and hang down off the edges. It might even stick to the table."
"And then you call yourself a fool for putting it in a small bowl, scrape it up, punch it down and knead it."
"Except that part isn't what I was talking about."
"What were you talking about?"
"Bread. I mean, your weight. Size."
"You outgrowing your, er, bowl."
Bombur laughed and picked up a large forkful of eggs, popping it in his mouth for emphasis. "So…mmyom, You'll punch me down? Haw!"
Bilbo rolled his eyes and gave it one more try. "If you grow too far out, you not only won't be able to reach the table, you won't be able to leave your bed to even come to the table."
"Then I'll sleep right here!" Bombur said with good humor. "Under a blanket of pancakes, with my head upon a lump of butter. Just like any good hunk of dough. Pass the pepper."
Bilbo sighed, passed the pepper grinder and went back to finishing up his own meal.
Chapter 2: Lunch
Bombur waddled over to the luncheon table and after briefly greeting his cousins who had been talking while they awaited him, he slowly seated himself in his favorite chair.
"Pass me that teapot," he said. Bofur reached over and moved the cozy-covered pot closer to him.
"You've always had ale with lunch," he commented. "Taking on hobbit tastes?"
"No, no," Bombur chuckled. "It's not the tea I want."
Bifur and Bofur watched curiously as he plucked the cozy off of the pot then rotated slightly to one side to drop the warm cover down towards his feet.
Bofur raised a brow. "Why are you doing that?"
"My feet are cold."
Bifur leaned over and took a brief look beneath the table. "So put on some boots. In iron's name, why are you barefoot?"
"What's wrong with being barefoot?" Bilbo asked. He'd just entered himself and was climbing up on his cushioned seat. He'd found Bombur's appetites to bring a more regular appearance of good food than any of the other Companions and had taken up the habit of eating along with him when he could. Plus, being of a more amiable nature than some of them, he was always willing to share.
"I couldn't find my boots," Bombur said. "And then when I did finally find them it was almost lunch time and it would have taken far too long to find my feet."
"To find your feet?" Bifur and Bilbo echoed at the same time. Bifur said it in disbelief, Bilbo in amused sympathy.
"I knew a hobbit like that," he said, unfolding a napkin for his lap. "Though he never needed boots, of course. His daughter had to comb out his foothair for him, and when she took to doing it up with ribbons and bows he never even knew the difference."
Bofur shook his head. "One of these days…"
"What? Someone will decorate me with ribbons?" Bombur said, scooping a helping of steaming sausage-and-cheese from a dish.
"No, you'll end up so fat you won't be able to fit your boots or anything at all." Bofur grumbled lightly.
Bombur roared with laughter at this one. "I hate to think what an appearance that would make at the table," he finally chortled. "Nothing at all! Hahaha!"
"I didn't mean…." Bofur looked at his brother helplessly.
"Ghastly thought," laughed Bifur, who nonetheless tried to offer support. "Pass that this way, will you, if there's any left. What will you do if you outgrow everything?"
"Grow my beard out longer," Bombur said, still jiggling with amusement. "Haw! It would be warm anyway."
Several moments passed in silence as each turned their attention to their own meal. Bifur and Bofur finished up their sausages and each had a bit of bread and soup then pushed back their chairs, well filled.
Bilbo neatly cut up his second helping of the sausages and waved a slice around on his knife-tip to cool it. He still had one more round to go before he would feel up to the hours that remained before supper, though he didn't hold a candle to Bombur's capacity.
"What does the day hold for you, Mr. Baggins?" Bofur inquired politely. "More writing?"
"I was hoping to get some translating done," Bilbo said. "Not of anything important, mind you, just a bit of verse…"
He was interrupted by a loud ripping sound.
They all turned to find Bombur turning an odd shade of red. "I… um," he offered by way of explanation. He had apparently been reaching for the bread-basket and something had given way. No one wanted details.
Bofur opened his mouth and then shut it. He opened it again and took a breath.
"I know, I know," Bombur interjected. "I know. I'll go get some new… well, never mind." He began hoisting himself up from the table but then sat back down. He made another attempt only to sink back again.
"Are you stuck?" asked Bifur in a disbelief.
Bombur didn't reply, but his face was turning redder. He tried hoisting himself up again, squirming from side to side until he quite suddenly stood up with his chair falling back to the floor with a thump.
Bilbo sat with his sausage still in the air. He met Bombur's eyes, raising his brows significantly.
"Well," Bombur mumbled. "Perhaps I do need to miss a bite or two, just a little…I'm willing to try…"
Chapter 3: A Meager Dinner
3. A Meager Dinner
"What is this?" Bombur said. "And where's the rest of it?"
"That," Bifur said, "is your dinner. We've arranged with the servers to help you in restraining your eating a bit."
"You agreed to miss a bite or two," Bofur clarified from where he was stirring the pot of gravy to break up the lumps.
"A bite or two. Not most of my meal, thank you. This would hardly be enough to keep a starving miner on his feet."
"You are hardly a starving miner," Bifur pointed out and began cutting up his own portion of fowl.
Bombur looked doubtfully at the plump roasted chicken that lay on a platter before him and pulled the whole thing over with a snort. "Scrawny. Must have been starving itself…" he mumbled as he expertly pulled it apart. He stuck one of the drumsticks entirely in his mouth and pulled it back out sans meat, as a child might eat a plum. "Where's the soup?"
"It's in front of you," Bifur said.
"One bowl of soup? You're jesting with me. "
"One bowl is sufficient for most."
He considered this for only a moment then looked around the room. "Where'd the rest of the pot go?" It had been his custom to keep it close at hand so he could dip into it frequently, often til he reached the dregs.
Bofur poured a soft mound of gravy over his own chicken and bread, then passed it to Bifur, who also poured a small pool and set it aside.
"Hey now! Pass the gravy," Bombur said, beginning to look quite disgruntled about it. "I said I was willing to cut back a little bit, not to cut back to nothing. What's a meal without gravy?"
Bifur and Bofur looked at one another.
Bilbo, perhaps moved by a shred of sympathetic pity, decided he would speak up on his friend's behalf. "I must admit the chicken is a bit dry, I'm sure just a smidgen of gravy wouldn't make much difference, would it?"
Bifur sighed and reluctantly passed the gravy to Bombur who promptly poured the entire remaining contents over his chicken. Ignoring his cousins' small sounds of dismay, he broke a loaf in half and began mopping the gravy up with it, pausing only to grumble when he noted that there was only the one loaf.
They resumed eating in unusual silence. It appeared getting Bombur to miss a few bites was going to be more of a struggle than they had originally thought. The platter in front of him was rapidly converted to no more than a stack of bones, an empty soup bowl and a very clean gravy boat.
Bombur looked down at his plate with a doleful expression. "I'm still hungry."
"Don't worry," Bofur said and clapped for the server, who quickly brought in two covered silver dishes and set them on the table, whisking away the dirty dishes as he did so. Bombur truly smiled for the first time that evening. "Dessert!" he said.
"Well, not exactly…" Bofur said cautiously as his large cousin eagerly lifted the lids.
"Carrots?!" Bombur looked horrified.
Bilbo, who was trying to harden his resolve to help keep the hefty dwarf restrained looked with interest at the dish heaped with slices of the steamed orange roots. "I suppose if you added a bit of pepper and butter they might not be so bad…" He rather liked carrots himself and considered offering to eat them in Bombur's stead if he didn't want them.
Bombur turned with a sort of growing desperation to the smaller dish. "A…pickle….?" He poked at it with his fork.
"They're supposed to aid the stomach," Bifur said, "or so I've heard. For digestion."
Bombur glowered at the pickle then turned back to the carrots. Bilbo needn't have worried they'd go to waste; in spite of his complaints, short work was made of inhaling the carrots. Gathering momentum, he even ate the pickle.
"Worst meal of my life," he said.
Bilbo was sympathetic, but didn't want to undermine the efforts. He tried to be positive. "Just think of all the money you'll save!" This was usually a strong motivator for any Dwarf.
"Oh yes!" Bifur and Bofur chimed, wishing they'd thought of that angle themselves.
Bombur's only reply was a drawn-out sigh. "How long does this take?" He looked down dolefully at his own belly.
"I've no idea. I've never tried it myself," Bilbo said. "At least not voluntarily. But I'm sure it won't be that long. Considering how often meals come and go if you just miss a few here and there, it shouldn't take long at all."
Chapter 4: A Midnight Snack
4. Midnight Snack
A growling sound awoke Bombur in the middle of the night. He shifted and tried to go back to sleep only to have it growl again. His stomach was most upset with him for leaving it unfilled and growled its displeasure. His mouth felt tasteless. Visions of cake and jam and steaming, juicy roasted pork rolled behind his eyelids. He scrunched his eyes and tried to think of something else but still couldn't sleep. He shifted again, not an easy task with his own weight wrapped around him like a giant rubber blanket.
It would be easier to sleep once he was thinner, he told himself. He could turn over without it being a major effort. He wouldn't spend so much on food. He would fit his favorite gold belt again, the one with Erebor worked in onyx and silver on the buckle. Bifur and Bofur wouldn't nag him.
"Grararrrrrararglglglglllllgrooo," his stomach reminded him.
"You had dinner," he told it.
"Gaaaarrglweeeee?" it whimpered, ending on a long high note.
What was a Dwarf to do? Surely one small snack wouldn't make any difference, and his stomach would be appeased so he could sleep. After gathering himself for a moment, he heaved to his feet, dragging a blanket around his nightshirt for warmth.
"Groooooo," his stomach grumbled impatiently.
"Yes, yes," he whispered. "I hear you. Now be quiet or we'll wake someone up. You'll have something soon enough."
Walking as quietly as he could he made his was across the bedchamber and into his parlour, then around the corner towards the pantry. He'd had the generously sized walk-in pantry added to his rooms decades ago "just in case" - after all, one never knew when some new calamity might befall the Mountain to interrupt food supplies. It was well-stocked and familiar. The pitch dark didn't even make him pause.
Snuggled deep into his covers in Glóin's suite, Bilbo had been dreaming he was back home in the Shire, walking and walking as he went up and down the strangely endless stone hallways of what he thought was Bag End. There were an inordinate number of Dwarves visiting this time, he thought. Dwarves in every room, boots all over his floor. He was going to need a lot of provender to feed them all. He went looking for a pantry to tally up what he had on hand but there was a strange noise in the darkness. He suddenly realized a fat Dwarf was in his pantry, eating everything up.
'No, no, no!' he cried out in his dream. 'If you eat all that, I'll have nothing to serve them for breakfast! Put that down…!'
Nuh…nuh…," he mumbled against his pillow then suddenly sat up with a snort, blinking around the darkness of the curtained niche his bed was tucked into. "A pantry!"
He was certain a gourmand like Bombur must have one, maybe more than one, and close at hand to wherever he would spend his time. That would include his bedroom. The more Bilbo thought about it the more certain he was. Shaking away the last threads of his dream, he pondered whether it was worth doing something about, and whether to wait until morning. No, he thought, Bombur would hide any evidence. All their efforts to trim back on his appetite would be for naught if he simply filled back up in the nighttime.
He slid out of bed to the cool floor, pulling a woolen blanket throw with him as a shawl. Somewhere in the darkness he could hear Glóin's son, Gimli, breathing deeply in his sleep. He carefully padded out of the suite and slid out into the main hallway with all the stealth he could manage. Grateful he had paid attention to a brief tour his friends had given him when he arrived, he silently slipped along the corridors and steps to Bifur's rooms, where he carefully whisked inside and followed the sound of muffled snoring to Bifur's own bedroom.
The curtain that kept the chill from the room was a heavy one. He hesitated one more time, then firmed his resolve and pushed through it, sidling up to the thickly blanketed bed. He stood by Bifur's head and considered, trying to decide how best to wake the old Dwarf up.
Bifur snored and then shifted to face Bilbo, smacking his lips briefly. The hobbit leaned in closer and lifted a hand, intending to give his friend's shoulder a little shake.
"Gaw-wah-ha!" gargled Bifur suddenly and they both jumped. His eyes wide, he flailed at his bedcovers, struggling away from Bilbo in only partly-waking fear. "Gah…ah… uh?"
"Bifur, it's Bilbo. Bilbo Baggins. So sorry to wake you, but I've had a thought…."
"Uh." Bifur said, smoothing his wild beard with a hand and still clutching his blankets. He wasn't listening. "Guh…What were you doing, sneaking up on me like that? Thought you were a ghost!"
"…a ghost?" Bilbo frowned at the interruption. "Don't be ridiculous. Now…"
"Your hair is all white, you know, and so is your nightshirt." Bifur continued defensively.
Bilbo gave him an impatient look. "Well, look here, yours has a fair bit of white in it too these days. What was I supposed to do, wear a wig just to wake you up?"
Bifur patted his chest as if to check that his heart was still beating and returned to his first question. "What are you doing here? It's the middle of the night, and you're floating around like some kind of apparition…"
"I don't float." Bilbo crossed his arms. "And if you would listen, I was telling you. I have reason to believe that Bombur has food stashed away in his rooms, most likely in a pantry of some sort. It won't do us a bit of good to work at keeping him off meals in the daytime if he eats all night long to make up for it. You need to go check up on him."
Bifur scrubbed at his head, making his hair fluff up. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Bilbo waited. Bifur took in another breath then gave the hobbit a nod. "All right, all right. But you come with me."
The pantry was cool, expertly cut into the rock. Confidently his plump fingers felt their way across the polished marble shelves, settling on a generous bowl of boiled eggs and the soft floury feel of a tray of baked goods. He paid well to have this pantry always kept full and fresh, something he was certain his well-intentioned cousins had forgotten about. He was determined to put up with their restrictions during the day, which would surely be more than was needed for the purpose, but who could be expected to sleep without a proper dinner for ballast?
He sniffed at the soft crust he'd pulled from the shelf, finding oversized currant tarts. The scent that made his mouth water even more. Most of the goods he bought from the bakers were oversized, often custom-made just for him, and tarts kept especially well. He started to lift the entire tray, then guiltily settled for stuffing one tart into each of the pockets on his nightshirt. Eggs would be harder to carry, he rationalized as he toted out the entire bowlful.
"Grarrrgarrgaraaaaaaaabblblblbl," rumbled his midsection in anticipation. He carefully turned around in the pantry and navigated his way back out. Normally he would have plumped down on the nearest chair and finished off his nighttime snack, leaving the cleaning up to his housekeeping staff, but imagining his cousin's castigation if he were to be discovered made him hesitate and waddle back towards his bedroom instead.
He didn't waddle quite fast enough. Quite suddenly he realized there was someone else in the room and they were moving to block his way.
"Bom-bur!"came the warning voice of his cousin. Bifur, clad only in his nightshirt with a furry robe wrapped over him, stood before him. "What do you think you are doing with that food?"
"I'm hungry," Bombur said pulling his arms, still holding the bowl of eggs, in front of himself in an attempt to hide the pies. The lighting was quite dim, being only the embers of the fire faintly seen through the doorway to his parlour.
Bombur clutched his bowl guiltily. "I said I would cut back on my meals, I never said anything about my little bedtime snack…"
Bifur stepped forward and took the bowl from his hands. "Eggs," he noted.
"They're my eggs," Bombur pointed out. "I paid for them."
"Then I'll keep them safe for you," Bifur replied firmly. "You may have some of them for breakfast in the morning."
"What, only some? But Bifur…" Bombur was strangely caught between being indignant at this invasion of his privacy and being guilty about what they both knew had been a sneaky cheat on his agreement. He opened his mouth to argue but closed it again as another thought came to him. "If you say so," he finished, suddenly meek and agreeable.
Bifur cocked his head at him, suspicious. "Are there more eggs?"
"Only what you took from me," he sulked.
"Very well then. Go back to bed." He stepped aside and indicated the way to the bedroom. Bombur waddled past.
"I assume you can show yourself out," he grumbled at his unwelcome visitors. He turned the corner into his room and hurried towards his bed, fishing in his pockets for the tarts. Glancing back to be sure Bifur hadn't followed him, he pulled one out and bit off the corner triumphantly.
"Hullo, care to share?" Bilbo asked, popping up from where he was leaning on the bed. Bombur almost choked as he realized the hobbit had probably been rummaging around in the room while Bifur was confiscating the eggs. Sure enough, his generous hidden rations of dried apples, raisin-cakes and biscuits sat in the middle of the room, still in its bag.
"Mff! What are you doing here?"
Bifur spoke dryly from the doorway. "He's a smart one, our Burglar."
"Former burglar," Bilbo clarified quickly.
"He figured out you had a treasure-trove of food stashed away. Good timing, too."
"The pie," Bilbo said, holding out his hand. Bombur grimaced and reluctantly handed it over. Bilbo gave him a small bow and leaned down to scoop up the woven handle on the bag. "I have it," he called to Bifur. "And his hidden stash as well. I think our beloved friend can sleep peacefully now, knowing all of his foodstuffs are in safe hands."
Bifur grunted from the doorway and turned to go. Bombur was surprised to feel the hobbit's hand quietly slipping the bitten pie back into his. "Trade you for the unbitten one," Bilbo's voice whispered.
Bombur's face turned to a smile and he quickly pulled the other from his pocket. "Gladly," he whispered back.
"Grooiiig," his stomach added in gratitude.
Chapter 5: Not Enough Breakfast
5. Not Enough Breakfast
The overcast morning's muted light shone through the high windows upon the remains of a sleepy breakfast gathering in the private dining hall. Glóin sat heavily in his chair, turning a last bit of bread on a toasting fork over the fire, which cheerily snapped and popped, giving the hall a resinous scent. Bifur and Nori sat side by side, having finished breaking their fast and pushed aside their plates. They peered at a set of worked gold and garnet jewelry, talking in low voices as they turned and poked at it.
Across the thick wooden table, Bombur sat glumly, flanked by Bofur and Dori while Bilbo looked on.
"Isn't there any more?" He ran a finger around his empty plate and examined it for crumbs, then stirred the pile of eggshells with it.
Unconcerned, Bofur finished his last bite of eggs and pushed his plate aside in favor of a mug of strong tea. "You had the same as us."
"I don't think I did. Only one fish…"
"Two poached fish."
"Well, they might as well have been one. Hardly big enough to call a proper fish…"
Dori raised his eyebrows. "You had your roll, and mine as well."
"You shouldn't have let him have it," Bofur muttered.
"I was hungry. Dori showed kindness, unlike some other people I shan't mention with reproach in spite of the fact that they are related to me," Bombur grumbled.
Bilbo wisely didn't mention there had also been a good, fat venison sausage, as he was finishing off his own third helping of the same. At least he wasn't a relative, he reflected.
Glóin pulled the browned slab of toast off of his toasting fork and began spreading it with dark apple butter from the crock on the table. "So," he began as if continuing a former conversation. "What exactly is this I hear of? Planning on finding your way back into your old travel-clothes, Bombur?"
Bombur pulled a woebegone face. "They want to starve me."
"You agreed to it," Bifur noted from across the table. "You said you wanted us to help."
"But these are such miserable, scrawny helpings! Surely I will perish, or faint!" he cried melodramatically.
"If you do, I'm not volunteering to carry you again," Glóin said with reasonably good humor.
"Nor I!" "Definitely not!" "Never again!" came the comments from around the room.
"Would you like a pickle?" Bofur offered.
"No, I would not." Bombur said firmly, though his stubbornness had been tempered by their joke. He sighed and cast a longing eye at Glóin's toast as the latter picked it up and took a large bite, carefully shielding his immaculate white beard with his other hand.
Dori offered him the teapot, then turned to Bombur thoughtfully. "The only time I ever knew you to truly shrink instead of grow was when you had to walk."
"That was quite a walk," commented Glóin.
"True, but we don't want to wear him all the way to a shadow. I'm not saying we need to walk him to the Blue Mountains and back," Dori continued.
"We only want to trim him down enough to fit his pants again." Bifur didn't look up from the delicate gold piece he was tweaking with a small tool.
"Stop talking about me as if I weren't here," Bombur complained.
Dori tried again. "I think we should take you out walking. Just along a path or two outside, don't you think so, Nori?"
Nori glanced up at the hint, but shook his head. "I'm busy."
Bifur set aside the other piece of jewelry in its box. "I'll come. Between us we can keep you moving."
Bilbo nodded. "I'll come along too. Nothing like a bit of a walk and fresh air to get your mind off your troubles. Keeps you healthy."
"You're joking, right?" Bombur asked. "Me? Walking? I haven't been out walking since….since…. I'm not sure since when. I'm perfectly healthy. I don't need to walk."
"Let's just fetch our boots," Dori said. "We'll be right back." He and Nori left the hall.
"Hoy, Bifur!" Nori called. "You didn't finish it! What, am I supposed to do this all by myself?" He gathered up the small tools and jewelry and scooped it all neatly into its box, then without further comment tucked it under his arm and stumped out of the room.
"Wait a minute!" Bombur said. "Isn't anyone listening to me? I don't want to go on a walk!"
"I heard you," Glóin said, unperturbedly finishing his toast. He stood up and brushed the crumbs from his hands. "I, however, don't give it much weight as I'm not a part of this project. My son and I have something to finish up at the Northern forge, I'll see you this evening, no matter what size you are. Good day." He went out.
"Oh, do just come along with us, Bombur," Bilbo wheedled. "It's a fine idea and a fine sunshiny spring morning."
The heavy Dwarf turned a jaundiced eye towards the window above. "I don't see any sunshine."
"Well, a fine cloudy one then. Look, I'm going to fetch my walking stick from Glóin's. Tell them not to leave without me." He slid down from his cushion and trotted out.
Bombur looked around and suddenly realized there was no one in the room with him except Bofur. They looked at one another.
Bombur reached out with great dignity and took up the small crock of apple butter. He then ate the entire remaining contents with a spoon, giving Bofur a look that dared him to say anything about it. Bofur just rolled his eyes with disgust and walked out.
Chapter 6: Exercise
In spite of Bilbo's earlier optimism about the weather, it was slightly too chilly outside to be comfortable without some kind of coat. The light breeze that lifted from the valley ruffled the new leaves on the trees below and made them shiver along with them. A very determinedly overcast sky carried darker patches fading down in veils in the distance where it was raining. The three dwarves and one hobbit came out from underneath the sheltering rock entrance and all of them immediately tilted their heads up to give the sky consideration before squinting in the breeze that lifted and waved their loose hairs around their faces.
Dori led the way down one of the gentler paths that wound along the side of the mountain. Bilbo walked along beside him, swinging his walking stick at the tips of the dry grasses that clumped among the rocks and sipping at a mug of tea he'd carried along. The steam lifted and quickly wafted away in the cool wind.
"Rotten weather," Bombur commented, waddling slowly along after them.
"Nice and brisk," Dori corrected cheerfully over his shoulder.
Bifur, bringing up the rear, sniffed at the wind and tucked his beard in at his belt. They made their way down one leg of the path and around a bend but found Bombur was already beginning to pant. Dori looked down at Bilbo, who gestured to a nearby ornamental coloured gravel-and-ground cover patch with a Dwarven sun-dial sculpture in the center of it. It's small, neat paths looped out and back again in a compact cloverleaf. Dori nodded.
"How much further?" Bombur asked.
"We only just left," Bifur muttered.
Bombur stopped and turned to him. "Look here," he directed with reasonable good nature considering the situation. "How many feet do you have?"
"What?" Bifur frowned at him uncertainly and even glanced down at his boots.
"Two," Bombur continued, answering his own question. He began laboriously walking again. "Same as me. But how much Dwarf are your feet carrying? Only a bit! A snippet! A nibble! Now mine… Phooo! How much farther, Dori? I'm tired."
"Not far at all," Dori said. "Look. We've reached the garden. You can go around the paths as long as you're able, but we won't have too far to go when it's time to go back."
Bombur considered this. "All right," he said reluctantly. "Anything to make you happy…" He maneuvered onto the graveled path and slowly ambled along it.
Bilbo sat down on a low rock wall, propping his stick up and swinging his legs. It was fascinating to watch Bombur walking, how his amazing bulk would all sort of jiggle, flow and lunge to one side and then to the other like a giant jelly in a bag. He'd seem some enormously big hobbits in his day, but he couldn't recall any that ever achieved this degree of noble fatness. Perhaps because nearly all of them still did at least enough walking to get them to the nearest inn for their ale. Considering the size and shape he personally thought Bombur was doing quite well.
He finished his tea with a long swig, before it could go cold.
Bombur bobbled around the corner and came back towards Bilbo's perch, panting slightly. He looked at the hobbit hopefully. "Did you bring along anything to eat? I'm famished."
"You don't need anything to eat," Bifur cut in from where he stood at the edge of the paths, his arms folded over his beard.
"I need to keep my strength up if I'm to keep on with this sort of thing," Bombur explained reasonably.
"You have plenty of extra strength hanging about you already," Bifur replied, unmoved.
Dori was still walking, though slowly, around the looping paths to keep him company. He gave Bifur a warning look and turned towards Bombur with a smile. "Every time you think about eating, just do a bit of exercise instead!" he suggested in an overly optimistic tone.
"Every time I think about eating I eat. It's much simpler," Bombur replied. He went back to the path, turning another corner in a way reminiscent to Bilbo of one of the big bobbing barrels they'd ridden in the water, perhaps a full one when it is turned by a pole, all tipping and sloshing.
As if on cue, the leading edge of one of the rain clouds reached them and it began to rain.
"Now can we go in?" Bombur asked unhappily puffing.
"Yes," Dori said, not wanting to press their luck with his cooperative nature. "I think we made an excellent effort, don't you?"
Bombur didn't comment so Bifur replied on his behalf. "Yes, I think we did. Come along, Mr. Baggins. It looks like it's going to be wet!"
They shambled back up the path towards the entrance, raindrops spattering around them, ducking back into the shelter of rocks as it began raining in earnest, churning up the smooth eddies of the river into a froth that matched the rapids.
"Just in time," Bilbo observed.
"I told you it was rotten weather," Bombur pointed out.
"We really weren't out very long. Maybe we could keep going, just inside," Dori suggested hesitantly. "Up and down some stairs, maybe."
"What you need is some time at the forge," Bifur postulated from behind him. "Swing a few hammers, work the bellows. That'd do it."
Bombur gave a little groan. "Now look here, isn't it bad enough that I'm being half-starved? I've had quite enough for one day. How about a snack, to hold us until lunchtime?"
"Bifur," Dori said politely. "Would you be so kind as to fetch our friend a healthy snack? I believe Bofur had something ready for him." Bifur took a side-hall without comment, leaving Bilbo to follow Bombur into the smaller dining hall. The fire felt welcome after the coolness of the outdoors. The hobbit chose a low bench, scooting back as the heavy Dwarf shambled past him to a large chair and flumped down into it, leaning back his head and breathing. After a moment, Bifur returned bearing a small covered tray.
"Would you like a snack also?" he asked in a courtly manner, addressing Dori first.
"Oh no, I'm still quite full from breakfast, I don't need it," Dori replied formally with a bow.
Bombur rolled his eyes. "Enough already! Just give it to me, will you? Then go away. I don't need you hovering around watching me."
Bilbo scootched back off the bench and retrieved the tray from Bifur's hand to prevent any more bickering, taking it to Bombur's eager hands. Bifur and Dori shrugged at one another, then as the cover came off the tray they slipped out the side-door.
"CABBAGE?" hollered Bombur after their retreating backs. "I'm starving, I walk halfway to the hills, I'm wasting away here and you bring me shreds of cabbage?!" He looked half inclined to throw it, but after a moment lowered his hand and started grouchily eating it instead. Bilbo considered this and decided to take the way of wisdom - he tiptoed out, leaving Bombur alone to groan over his cabbage.
Chapter 7: Lunch Revisited
7. Lunch Revisited
Bombur was miserable. Left by himself, he ate the miserable cabbage that his miserable relatives had sent for his snack, then miserably dragged himself to his own rooms. Out of habit when he was miserable, he found himself standing in front of his pantry door. It wasn't locked, but it was empty. This was Bofur's doing, no doubt, done while the others kept him out and busy. It had been a horrible day and he desperately wanted some comfort food, so badly he could literally taste it. The empty shelves stared back at him, and the phantom pies floating before his eyes made him even more miserable.
He was turning away when something caught his eye. Something was on one of the lower shelves at the back. No one being around to watch, he lunged forward with little thought for dignity and pulled out a single currant seed-covered loaf. It was small, he thought, but no golden treasure could have looked more sweet to his eye. He fought his own inclination to inhale it in one bite and instead carried it over to his hearth to savor it as long as he could manage.
Three bites turned out to be what he could manage. He wished there were more. He wished it had been bigger. It was just a little loaf, the kind that…
Mr. Baggins, of course.
It was exactly the kind of loaf the hobbit favored as a portable sort of in-between-meals; he must have been here after Bifur and Bofur had cleaned out his pantry. No doubt the loaf was one of Bilbo's own. Bombur had to smile at that, though his normally humorous spirit had been flagging badly without his beloved meals about him.
He briefly gave himself over to a good round of self-pity, fuming about the lost food (he's paid good money for that food, they'd better not have eaten it themselves!), about the so-called exercising, about the meager rations of cabbage and carrots and pickles. About how hungry he was. He couldn't stop thinking about food.
There was a knock at his door and Bilbo pushed his way in, his hands holding a tray.
"I've brought you some lunch," he said. "I thought after all that walking you might not want to walk back to the hall." In truth, he'd decided to carry it up to keep the others away. After the way these past two days had been going, he figured a meal apart was a good thing.
Bombur visibly brightened, between the good company and the prospect of more food. "You are most welcome, Mr. Baggins. What have you got there?" He shifted to one side, clearing a place on a cluttered side-table for the covered tray.
"I'm not entirely sure, it was just handed to me when I asked. Let's have a look, shall we?" Bilbo set it down carefully, guided by Bombur's hands. Bombur lifted the cover and his cheerful face fell. Bilbo looked at it and shook his head.
A bowl of broth with a some shreds of carrot floating in it met their gaze, a small roll with a single slice of cheese, a piece of sausage and a pickle sat beside it.
"This wouldn't feed a mouse," Bilbo noted.
Bombur looked at him, the very picture of a victimized innocent. He gazed back towards his empty pantry. "They even took my pies, Mr. Baggins!"
"Yes, well. I told them that was a bad idea. I think the trouble is they've taken all of this far too seriously. In fact, they're taking it personally, as if some sort of family honour were involved but it isn't." He sat down on the footstool and poked his friend's overlapping stomach gently. "When in truth, it isn't them at all; it's you."
Bombur pursed his lips, then sighed. "But now what do I do?" He picked up the roll, cheese and sausage and popped it into his mouth in one big bite. "I meaff, I ffaid I wu twy."
Bilbo nodded. "You did try." He leaned forward and steepled his fingers on his knees thoughtfully. "So…do you want to continue?"
Bombur swallowed. "But I don't fit my belt."
Bilbo looked up from his fingers with mild consternation and surprise. "You have gold, don't you? I know you do. Have a new one made, with growing room this time. It's just a belt." He waved his hands impatiently. "Consider it paid for by the money you've saved in food these past couple of days. Look, I apologize for my own part in this, I should have kept the idea to myself, and you can even blame me if you like. I'm not even related, so your family honour doesn't matter to me."
"Eh?" that made Bombur stare at him.
"That is, it isn't that it doesn't matter, but rather that I'm technically not one of you, not a Dwarf that is. It won't hurt me if it's impugned like it would hurt you, if you know what I mean," he rattled on. "In short, blame me for the mess and be happy. I brought it up in the first place, so I accept it."
Bombur picked up the bowl of broth and drained it while he sorted this out, wiping his mouth with his sleeve for lack of a napkin. He gave a little grunt and considered the empty bowl. "I agree... and I think I see what you mean, though you could have said it better." He nudged the hobbit humorously. "No blaming of you, though, relative or not. Still, if I'm to have any peace at all with my cousins, what can I do now?"
Bilbo helped himself to the pickle. "I've an inkling. I'm not sure what a Dwarf would do, but I can tell you what a Hobbit would do…."
Chapter 8: Turnabout
Of all the daily meals, the evening dinner was the grandest affair. The days' work done, all of the former Companions took the opportunity if they could to gather together in their favorite dining hall with a good fire laid on the hearth, to enjoy each others conversation and to break their bread (and sundry other fine accompaniments) together.
But this time it was a little different.
Bifur lifted the cover from his plate. "I think I have someone else's dinner," he said pointedly.
"Well, then I have it too," Bofur said, pointing at his own duplicate plate.
Dori and Nori lifted their covers and raised their eyebrows at one another. All of the servings matched.
"What is the meaning of this?" Glóin demanded. His own portion was the same, and just as meager. Each of them considered their small rolls and bowls of thin broth with shreds of carrot and cabbage floating in them. A pickle adorned the side of each plate.
Dwalin, who hadn't been party to the brief dieting attempt, frowned in confusion. "Has someone forgotten to pay the cooks?"
"Where's Bombur?" Bifur demanded, looking around the room as if his oversized relative had somehow been misplaced. "This is his doing."
"Bombur? Why?" asked Dwalin. "Has he eaten all the rest?"
Bilbo climbed up on his cushions, removed the cover from his own portion and began eating the roll without concern. The others looked at him suspiciously.
"You know something about this, don't you Mr. Baggins?" said Glóin.
"Perhaps," the hobbit said. He sopped the other half of his roll in the broth. "But it's not my story to tell."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Dwalin.
"Good evening!" Bombur entered, waddling forward in grand style with his arms full of food. Bilbo and Dori smiled.
"Bombur! There you are," cried Bofur and Nori together.
"What do you think you're doing?" Bifur growled. "What is the meaning of this?"
"And where's the rest of our dinner?" Glóin and Dwalin chorused.
Bombur ignored their questions, focusing instead on getting to the table with some kind of dignity while laden with plates of steaming meats, vegetables and what appeared to be a mince pie. He carefully set them down then seated himself and just as promptly began to eat. He apparently had no intention of sharing. Pulling off the cover of his small diet portion, he added it to his pile.
"BOMBUR!" hollered Bifur and Bofur together. Bifur was hefting his small roll as if he was considering throwing it at his placid cousin's head.
The cousin in question glanced up mildly, swallowed and took a sip of wine. "Yes? Is something wrong?"
"What have you done with our dinners?" Bifur asked in low and measured tone.
Bombur's cheerful face showed no concern. He took up a generous forkful of roast pork. "Why would I do anything to your dinner? I have my own." He stuffed the pork in his mouth and chewed expansively.
"This is ridiculous," Dwalin said. "Glóin, call for the cooks."
"You call for them," Glóin returned. "I want to hear what's going on."
"You're supposed to cut back!" Bofur said. "You promised."
"I said I would try," Bombur clarified. "And I allowed some of you to help me." He took another bite and spoke around it, his cheek bulging. "But you weren't helping me."
"We were too," Bifur protested. "We had to stop you ourselves."
"No, no you didn't," Bombur said, shaking his head. He pointed at them with his fork. "And that's what I understand now. You thought it was a matter for the family. You thought you were responsible for me. That it was your business to rule what I did and didn't eat."
"But…" Bifur began.
"It's not," Bombur continued. "Whether I eat or not is entirely my own business. And whether I fit into my clothing is too." The fork gestured at them and plunged into the mince pie emphatically. "I'll let you eat whatever you like, and you do the same for me." He scooped up a bite of mince pie which was mostly crust and happily stuffed it in, catching crumbs with his other hand.
"But your clothing…" Bofur said in a more subdued way.
"I ordered new clothes. Hang the expense!" said Bombur.
The Dwarves all gasped. A Dwarf not caring about an avoidable expense was almost blasphemous to them. They were especially shocked to hear it from one of their own. Bilbo smiled to himself and ate his pickle. This part had been his idea.
"Hang the expense?" Glóin and Nori both echoed in disbelief. The others stared.
"This," Bombur said, patting his stomach, "Is evidence of my treasure. What use is all my gold if I can't enjoy it properly? I have decided that what I enjoy is good food, and I intend to keep on enjoying it. Live and let live."
"But what if you get so fat you can't even walk?" protested Bifur. Bofur nodded with him. "You won't even be able to get to the table."
"Then I'll hire someone to carry me," Bombur said, dismissing it with a wave of his hand.
"I kind of like that," Dori commented quietly.
"This is Mr. Baggins doing, isn't it?" Bifur said, not quite able to subside without a fight. He waggled a finger towards the hobbit. "He put this into your head."
"On the contrary. If you recall, for you were there, it was Mr. Baggins' idea that I try missing a few meals in the first place," Bombur pointed out. "I am perfectly capable of thinking for myself. Besides, I commend him. He has a true appreciation for the value of a good meal."
"So you're just going to keep eating?" Bofur asked. "Until you can't move?"
"Perhaps he will. But if he does, it's still up to Bombur and not you to decide," Bilbo noted, unable to keep quiet any longer. Bifur, Bofur, Nori and Dwalin all opened their mouths to say something back at this, but none of them were heard.
"You," Bombur suddenly thundered at a grandiose volume, "may all diet on my behalf." He waved his arm in a gesture that took in the entire group and their meager dinners. "I shall appoint all of you my authorized proxies." Diverted from the hobbit, they all blinked at him.
"Proxy-what?" Dwalin asked, completely confused.
"Authorized? By what authority?" Glóin rejoined humorously.
Bombur smiled. "I have declared myself King of this Table!" He ate an entire sausage in three noisy, huge bites for emphasis. "For only I can conquer its inhabitants."
"You need a scepter," commented Nori dryly.
Bilbo raised his brows. "I think he ate it."
"Does Dáin know about this?" grinned Dori.
Bombur continued expansively. "But I shall share the great bounty of my admittedly rather small kingdom with all of you… if…" He gave a significant pause.
Their heads tilted in query. "If?" Bofur asked.
"If you apologize." Bombur smiled to take the sting out of the words. "No, no, not you or you or you... Just my well-intentioned cousins, insubstantial and thin though they be they are yet my family."
"Insubstantial?" Bifur bristled as the others laughed.
Bofur came over to him and stood beside his chair, elbowing his shoulder. "What do you think? Do we humor our esteemed relative?"
"Even though he's apparently gone mad?" Dwalin noted, tipping back in his chair with crossed arms.
Bifur was struggling for the moment, caught as he was between the insult, the rebuff and the lighthearted approach. "I… but…. " He looked up at Bofur unhappily. " Oh… all right."
Bofur turned back to Bombur and gave a little bow, then bumped Bifur with his elbow again until the other bowed also. It was plain they were both embarrassed by the turn of events and grateful to be able to hide it underneath the humor. "We do most sincerely apologize, oh great Bombur of the Table."
"I suppose we really did try too hard, didn't we?" Bifur added with a more sincerely apologetic tone.
"No harm done," Bombur said with a nod. "Well, not much. And that is and it is rapidly healed. It was an ordeal, but I shall make up for it tonight!"
"Ordeal?" smirked Gloin. "If I recall, you only dieted for two days."
"A day and a half," corrected Bombur. He gave a comically woebegone face. "And the hours hung so heavy upon me."
"That's not all that'll be hanging heavy," noted Nori.
"We'll see about that." Bombur clapped his hands and the door nearest the fire opened to a parade of cooks assistants bearing tray after tray of steaming meats, sausages, capons, sliced cheeses, assorted pies and hot loaves of bread. Others carried in tall mugs of foaming ale, bottles of wine and baskets of nuts and sweetmeats, soaked brandied fruits and small cakes brushed in honey.
"I am paying for this," Bombur clarified, "for someone, may the hair on his toes never fall out, gave me most excellent advice, that being that it would be a fine thing indeed for all of you to join me in my favorite pastime. Put a little meat on my poor starving relatives' bones, eh? I fully intend not only that your jaws will drop, but that they will remain that way quite contentedly for the remainder of this evening."
And so it was.
- Fin -