It was a most sensible idea. Everyone agreed that it was. Of course, there were some rumblings about it not being right because, what would a nature-loving hobbit do underground? That is to say, even more underground than Hobbits already were and surrounded by stone and gems and other dead things rather than trees and flowers and light. It wasn’t right, said some of the more conservative elders, to force a young, beautiful hobbit like Frodo to spend the rest of his life sitting next to a dwarf king as his consort. To spend the rest of his life in darkness. And weren’t there rumours of this king being very old?
‘157 years old?!’ cried Bilbo, the teapot in his hand still tilted above Fortinbras’s cup. The Thain calmly placed his hand over Bilbo’s arm and gave a small push just in time to save his saucer from certain flooding. The doily next to it was not as lucky, and it was only Bilbo’s reflexes that reduced the damage to a couple of brown spots on the white linen. Even in his consternation, Bilbo would not condemn his great-grandmother Berylla’s handiwork to the collection of dust cloths at the bottom of his closet. Maybe some vinegar would remove these stains…
‘Dwarves age differently than Hobbits, Mr. Baggins’, said Fortinbras. ‘At least that is what I am told. They can live to more than 200 years, and some tell of a female dwarf who reached an age of 302. You can imagine the family gathering at her funeral!’ A short, loud laugh burst out of the Thain at his own humorous observation but Bilbo did not join him. Fortinbras cleared his throat. ‘Anyway, Durin’s Line, of which King Thorin is a descendant, are especially long-lived. So he and Frodo should have a long and happy marriage in front of them.’ Fortinbras took a sip of his tea with the air of a hobbit, who had just pulled a particularly well-shaped carrot out of the ground.
‘A long marriage, maybe, but happy?’ said Bilbo. ‘Frodo is only 32, almost a year away from his coming-of-age, and you want to marry him away to a king nearly five times his age and force him to move away from his family and his friends to the other side of the Misty Mountains?’ Bilbo sat down heavily and tore a piece off of a scone. He held the bread limply in his hand while his mind tried to imagine a Dwarven kingdom several mountains, rivers and forests away from the Shire. Bilbo had only gone as far as Bree, and that was an adventure that still made his heart beat harder, when he thought of his daring to go there alone. It was surely only Yavanna’s favour that shielded him from harm. He sighed. ‘I don’t see why it has to be Frodo, when there are other hobbits available to forge this link with Erebor.’
‘Frodo is from a prominent family, he has no special attachment to any other of the young hobbits, and he is very beautiful. Far more lovely than any of the other available gentle-hobbits in the Shire, and the letter from King Thorin’s advisor did specify that his consort-to-be has to be a male. Apparently, the king has already chosen his heirs in his sister-sons, and now just wants someone to bring him…comfort in his peaceful years.’ Fortinbras helped himself to a third of Bilbo’s excellent scones, and silently debated on whether to make use of the blackberry jam or the raspberry.
Comfort. Bilbo felt sick. His closest nephew, who he had loved and raised for the last 20 years after his parents died, was now to be carted off to some dwarf to be his glorified lap-dog. Maybe even worse than that. Fortinbras had shown him the letter from Erebor and a very impressive letter it was, too. Thick vellum filled with bold lettering, containing every diplomatic courtesy and flattery, assuring Fortinbras of the sense of such an alliance between the Shire and Erebor. For one had the lush, fertile lands full of crops, greens and livestock while the other had gold and jewels, the beauty of which, even most of the nature-loving hobbits were not immune to. And with the new, safe trade route through the Misty Mountains, there had never been a better time for a closer relationship between the hobbits of the Shire and the dwarves of Erebor.
Bilbo’s tea had grown cold. Setting aside sensible diplomacy, it was still Frodo’s life and body that would form the foundation of this alliance. For who knew what this king’s intentions were? Maybe he especially wanted a hobbit to have a small plaything. A small body with which he could do whatever he wanted. Even in bed…
Bilbo’s hand clenched around his scone, dissolving the fine bread into crumbs on his mother’s porcelain plate. His Frodo, his sweet Frodo, who had spent all day yesterday, exclaiming about the tall rangers he had seen on the East Road and wondering where they were going. His Frodo, who still couldn’t abide mutton stew and would always disappear with his friends when he could smell it from outside the green door of Bag End, but would always show up again in time for dessert, especially if it was strawberry tarts. Would they even know how to make strawberry tarts in Erebor? Did they even have strawberries in that cold mountain?
‘I’m going with him.’ Bilbo’s cup clinked on its saucer and his eyes were wide.
Fortinbras finished off his fourth scone, wiping crumbs from his mouth. ‘Yes, of course you are. We’re not sending an underage hobbit alone to begin his courtship. You will be his chaperone, and will make sure he is never left alone with his intended. The very idea of it! I hope you don’t think that I have no sense of what is right and proper!’
Bilbo felt his body relax, but his heart started thumping in his chest again. He was sure that if he shed his jacket, his waistcoat, his shirt and his undershirt, he would be able to see the shape of that organ moulded against his pale skin. He would have to leave Bag End.
‘It will be no more than a year at the most’, Fortinbras continued, ‘I’m sure King Thorin will marry Frodo soon after his coming-of-age. Once he has seen the lad’s beauty and good nature, I think his Majesty will find it hard to even wait that long.’ The Thain chuckled lightly to himself.
‘And then I will be back in the Shire again.’ Bilbo whispered, hoping to reassure his heart that all would be well again. It didn’t work.
Fortinbras finished his tea, and started gathering his hat and cane. He moved towards the door, and Bilbo followed him.
‘Is that it?’ asked Bilbo, ‘Aren’t you going to stay until Frodo comes home to tell him?’
Fortinbras paused in front of a mirror, arranging his hat on his head and smoothing down his lapels. ‘I think it would be better coming from his uncle and guardian. And do try to give the news a bit of cheer! This is a great opportunity for Frodo! Do you think Drogo and Primula Baggins could ever have imagined their only son as a consort to one of the great kings of Middle-earth?’ Fortinbras turned and smiled at Bilbo.
Bilbo sighed. ‘When do we leave?’
‘I will write a reply to King Thorin’s advisor Balin, informing him of your journey. There’s a trade caravan of dwarves from Ered Luin coming along the East Road in a week, a fortnight at most. They will take you and Frodo to Erebor. If the weather holds and you encounter no unsavoury characters on the road, you will be there in time for the beginning of winter.’
Winter in a cold mountain half a world away. Bilbo shivered, as if the winds from the East had suddenly blown open the door and all the windows into his cosy little home.
Fortinbras clapped his hand on Bilbo’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes. ‘It will all be alright in the end, Bilbo’, he smiled. ‘Thank you for the tea.’, and with a twirl of his cane, he was out the door and down the path. Here he passed Frodo with a cheery ‘Hallo!’ and off he went along the lane into the centre of Hobbiton.
Frodo still had a grin on his face, when he turned again to his uncle, but it faded as he saw Bilbo’s weary eyes and crossed arms. Had he done something wrong?