The Shire was full of life once the first rays of Spring started to fall upon the land. The hobbits who resided there were full of celebration for they delighted in things that grew. The flowers were blooming in the gardens and fields and the busy bees flew about to gather pollen and nectar from the flowers to further the fertility of the land. Many young hobbits took this time in the season to not only plant their crops, but their own seed of love upon a fair lad or maiden. Spring was the time of courting the Shire and all from young child to adult enjoyed the splendor of it all. Every family looked on in pride as their young people gathered around together to participate in traditions and rituals of their local lore and homeland, but no family could ever match the boldness of the Took’s family traditions of the courting rites. A whole week before the Beltane Celebration was spent in the halls and lands of the Took’s preparing for weddings and holding small personal family rites of love.
Bilbo Baggin’s letter arrived from the Took’s head, only known to the hobbit as Grandma Took, and the golden haired hobbit held the letter in his hand for a while now. It was the color of lavender and he could smell the fresh herbs that had been mixed within the parchment. Of course the Tooks loved to overdo many things and such an occasion called for splendor and magnificence. His trembling fingers broke open the seal on the letter and looked over its contents carefully.
My dearest Bilbo Baggins,
You are cordially invited to Tuckborough in the Westfarthing for the annual Took Spring Gathering for a week of courting and fine food. It is my honor for you to join us, your family, and aid your search for a suitor for a hobbit of your age should not be living at Bag End all alone. I know it has been hard since your mother, Belladonna Took, was laid to rest years ago and your last, yet very few attempts, at gaining a lad or lass for marriage has been futile at best. I know picking the right boy or girl is a hard thing to do, but I assure you this shall be the last time I beg for you to join in the Mummer’s Dance this year. If you do not find a suitable mate for your home, I shall bother you no more. But I believe this year you shall find the one you have been seeking, so please come post haste five days before the day of Beltane.
I forgot to inform you that you shall wear the carnation in the Mummer’s Dance this year. Be sure to prepare for the role.
Bilbo’s cheeks burned hot at the thought of the Took’s gather every spring for it was five days filled with hobbits dancing around drunk off of the scents of the air and the wine in their glasses. Touching and laughing through the halls of the Took family home and the opportunity to find a person to fill the empty life made the golden hair hobbit truly excited, but also filled with dread. His many attempts, as it was stated in the letter, had gone very bad. As much as he tried, Bilbo was truly lost when it came to the flirtations of the lasses, and even worse from the many lads that wished for his hand. Worst of all, Bilbo had to be a part of the Mummer’s Dance.
The Mummer’s Dance was the most favorite and old tradition of the Took Family. Each available lad and lass wore flowers or herbs in their hair and clothing to signal who they were in the odd ‘play’ that they put on in front of the whole Took clan. Each flower meant something and everyone knew it. The bluebell represented constancy of the heart and humility while acacia meant secret love. Each hobbit knew what type of player the other was, but did not choose solely based upon that alone. There was a part of the tradition that made Bilbo’s whole body flushed at the thought and quickly pushed back the thoughts of what had happened last year.
He had no choice, but to go to the Took gathering for his kin did say she would leave him be if he could not find the one he wished for. Bilbo put the letter down on his table and looked over at the closet. Yes, he would have to look very presentable this year for this may be the last time he ever participated in this tradition ever again.
~ ~ ~
The Blue Mountains were home to the dwarves that had fled from Erebor when the dragon Smaug took over their home. Thorin Oakenshield was a prince without a kingdom or home and had taken his people away from Lonely Mountain to create something new. It was a hard road ahead and the building of a new kingdom was slow, but the dwarves took what had been given to them. Their wills were as strong as iron and their king was even stronger. The dwarf’s father, before he had passed away, had made many friends across the neighboring lands and even found strange friendships among the folk known as hobbits. Thorin had heard stories of the strange hobbit that had the family name of Took and heard of tales of a land of growth and fertility. It was in this year, as work had begun to progress easier, that the said Took clan sent Thorin a letter of welcome.
Hail King Thorin,
My greatest joy to learn that your people have been prospering well in the Blue Mountains and I have come to offer you an invitation to join us in the Shire for a family celebration for the spring and fertility of the land and body. In the land of the Westfarthing is my home at Tuckborough where my whole kin is gathering for our age old traditions five days before the day of Beltane. We welcome you and any of your company you wish to bring. There will be much food and merrymaking I assure you! Be warned, this gathering for the tradition of courting and will allow any young dwarf who desires to take upon a lad or lass if he so wishes to participate in our Mummar’s Dance. We hope to see you soon King Thorin for I have a feeling that you may find what you desire upon the eve of Beltane.
Grandma Took, head of the Took Clan
Strange indeed that this letter should arrive and Thorin felt a stirring in his bones to travel to this wonderful green country of the Shire. From his father’s tales, he had only ventured there once in his life and found it the most beautiful, and untouched land upon Middle-Earth. He had strongly suggested to Thorin to visit one day when he felt the need to enjoy himself. That need was great for Thorin longed to come away from the Blue Mountains and explore this land. Now that many of his people were settled and the money was good for a time, the dwarf king took it upon himself to pick dwarves that would go with him upon his journey for it would be rude to deny a friend of his father’s.
To journey with him to this new land, Thorin took his close friend Dwalin, as well as Ori, Bofur, and his two nephew’s, crown prince Fili and Kili. Together they set forth upon ponies towards the South to reach the Shire before the gathering was over with.
~ ~ ~
The grand home of the Took’s was not a normal hobbit hole, but a whole cavern. Under a large hill in Tuckborough, the clan had dug and built a home that was the envy of the entire Shire. There was a large dining hall that had enough room for tables to be pushed aside for everyone to dance. In the lowest point of the home was their cupboard (if one could call it that) filled with many different kinds of food and barrels of ale and wine for all of the guests to come. Upstairs there were many spare rooms for hobbit couples to stay in with their children while most set up tents on the lawn in front of the hill. It was truly a spectacle to behold for Bilbo even if he had been there several times in his life.
All about the halls hung many different types of flowers and ivy for the coming celebration and many of the Took family wore bright colors making their themes. The lasses wore their prettiest dresses to make sure to catch the eyes of wandering young hobbit lads who passed by. Even the tents were decorated with flowers and had the family banner of the Took clan waving in the wind. A large pole was set up around the circle of tents for the day of Beltane for the couples to dance around with ribbon as a rite for the fertility of the earth and soil as well as their own relationships.
From all over the Shire, Tooks and their extended families arrived and greeted one another with smiles and embraces. Only Bilbo stayed away from such greetings for he was shy about what had happened last year during the first night. The whole family had seen his tragedy that befell him that fateful night and he did not want to face any one of them knowing the stares and whispers he would be getting. But a few lasses batted their eyelashes at him as he walked with his pipe in hand and even a few of the lads gave him a wink or two. Ah, spring was in the air and every hobbit was flirting with one another.
Bilbo had made sure he wore his best clothing and had looked at himself in the mirror a few times to make sure he looked presentable. He wore a white button shirt under a golden vest with leaves and flowers embroidered upon it with a pair of dark green trousers that tied the outfit together nicely. His golden curls were combed as neatly as he could, but still had this way of looking wild about his cheeks. The young Took children ran to greet Bilbo when he arrived that morning and crowned him with a garland of carnation flowers as his part in the Mummar’s Dance. The white flowers shone brightly in his hair and a few heads turned as Bilbo walked about minding his own business.
He had not seen Grandma Took anywhere and soon gave up on the endeavor. She would talk to him when she was very well pleased. Besides it was far too soon for private chats since everyone was starting to file into the grand hall for food and the opening ceremony. This was the day Bilbo hated the most about the traditions, but he could not refuse to be a part of them now.
Everyone was seated in long tables and the room was filled with noise of conversations and merry making. There were stories, mothers hushing their whining children, young hobbit girls giggling about the boys across from their table showing off to them. It was a regular Took reunion to be sure. Grandma Took, and the other heads of the clan sat at the high table in honor, but Bilbo noticed that one table was empty as well as a place next to Grandma Took. Was someone really late? The Took Spring Gathering was the talk of the Shire and no one would dare come late to it if they were invited.
Just then, the doors of the hall burst open and the whole room hushed as the group walked inside. There were whispers and gasps out of everyone, even Bilbo Baggins, as the figures turned out to be a group of dwarves. Bilbo had never seen a dwarf before and the one in front walked very kingly if he ever saw one. He was dark with two long braids hanging from the side of his head and wore a blue and silver tunic and trouser with boots. For a moment their eyes had locked with one another before passing Bilbo’s table. The two that followed him earned the giggles from most of the hobbit girls for they were no less handsome as their leader. One was golden while the other was dark and their faces matched the leader. They must be kin to him of some generation, Bilbo mused. Behind the two brothers were three others. One was large and scary with no hair upon the top of his head. The second wore an odd cap that turned up from the corners and wore a playful grin upon his lips. The last dwarf seemed shy with alburn hair and his outfit consisted things of yarn that was knitted.
The strangers stood before the high table of the Tooks and bowed low to them. Bilbo could not stop staring at the leader, the dark kingly one with eyes like a raging storm. About him, boys and girls alike stared in awe and desire. Were they invited and asked to join in the celebration? Bilbo started to hope that it were true.
Grandma Took grinned wickedly at the dwarf and stood slowly, arms extended towards her strange guests.
“King Thorin Oakenshield, I bid you welcome to our family home,” She said with a loud voice that was odd for an old hobbit maid, “And I also bid your companions and kin welcome. Come Lord Dwarf, sit with me by my side and your companions have a table set up for their own.”
Thorin smiled and had his dwarves sit down at the table that was ready with food and drink before taking his seat at the high table. He could not help but chuckle at the reactions of these Halflings to their presence and found himself glad that he decided to join them for the week. There were looks of lust and desire from many of the hobbits sitting before him, but he had found the one wearing the crown of carnations the most lovely out of all. When their eyes had locked during his walk up the hall, he found the lad’s eyes as blue as sapphires and his hair as golden as honey. His thoughts were cut off by the old hobbit next to him giving thanks for the bountiful meal that had been given to them and that these next five days would be a blessed one.
“Honored guests, and my most beloved kin!” She yelled happily. “I know it is strange for our invitations to strangers of our family, let alone another race, but I had asked these dwarves to come this year to hope to extend blessings to their own lives. King Thorin of the Blue Mountains and his nephews crown prince Fili and Kili have come to grace us with their presence and may even take part in our Mummar’s Dance this year as well as his many fine companions.”
The hall erupted with cheers (many from the female hobbits) and Bilbo found himself thrilled deeply that maybe this Thorin would be a part of the tradition.
“I have known Thorin’s father and the one time that old dwarf was here, he himself participated in our small family ritual.”
“Small! That is a laugh!” Someone called out and the group laughed. Grandma Took just waved her hand at them with a grin.
“There for, Lord Thorin, I invite you to come join us in our rites and rituals of courting. It is not finding a bride or groom unless both parties are willing to marry, but it is a great round of fun. We would all be greatly honored if you would join us.”
Thorin stood up and smiled at the hall of happy faces of many families. Hobbits were very lucky folk indeed to have so many kin and children around. He could not help but want to be a part of their happiness. His blue eyes found the golden hobbit upon a far table in the back and he smiled more.
“I, Thorin, will accept this.” His voice rose thundering over the cheers and Bilbo stood up with the rest of his kin in applause.
“Yes! Make him the Ivy King!”
“I second this!”
Bilbo stared in awe as Grandma Took held the crown of ivy that was the most honored partner of the Mummer’s Dance upon Thorin’s head and found it most fitting. The Ivy King was the part that many of the suitors ran after in hopes of marriage or love. The hobbit that the Ivy King chose would dance a ritual dance around the pole with him on the night of Beltane. He had watched many dances and was told his father had been crowned the Ivy King so he could win Belladonna Took’s hand in marriage.
When the applause had calmed, the food was brought out to the hungry guests. There were pies of fresh fruit, meat that would fall off the bone, fresh salads from the spring gardens, and soups of many different kinds. The dwarves thought they had died and entered the halls of Aule. They ate and ate piles of plates and drank more wine and ale then any hobbit thought possible. Grandma Took had made sure to keep the store house stocked with food, more than normal this year since she knew that the dwarves had come.
“Lady Took-“ Thorin leaned over to speak to her.
“Just call me Grandma Took, my Lord.”
“Alright, Grandma Took. That young hobbit there,” Thorin’s finger pointed out the hobbit crowned with carnations sitting quietly as he ate the food on his plate, “What is his name?”
“Oh goodness me.” Grandma Took grinned wickedly, “My grandson Bilbo Baggins of Bag End. He will be playing the part of the carnation flower this year. It is going to be his last year.”
“Ah, yes. Tis’ a shame.” There was a sigh, but something under her breath was almost mocking this notion. “He is such a beautiful lad. If only he could find the right person. You know he lives all alone at Bag End. A scandal! A home like that should be filled with children and a wife, or even a nice young suitor with a handsome face to greet him.” She winked at Thorin and watched as he blushed.
Fili and Kili watched from their table and could hear the words being exchanged between the head of the family and their uncle. It seems as if a pretty hobbit wearing carnations had captured Thorin’s attention and it had been far too long since their uncle had been with anyone he really was interested in. The two looked at each other before setting their sights upon Bilbo.
“Oi’! You two.” Dwalin growled at Fili and Kili watching them stare at the poor hobbit. “You two better not be up to something.”
“We are never up to something, Dwalin.” Kili grinned.
“Yes, we are as innocent as lambs.” Replied Fili.
“Innocent my arse! You two look like two foxes in a hen house.” The old dwarf eyed the two brothers. “What are you planning?”
“Thorin has his sights set upon that hobbit wearing the carnations.” Bofur said suddenly and the table of dwarves looked over at him. Had it been so obvious? But they all turned their attentions to Thorin who was staring at the golden haired hobbit as he stirred his spoon in his bowl. It seemed as if the hobbit wasn’t so happy about the events going on about him, and when he did look up his blue gaze would settle upon Thorin for only a few seconds before looking away.
“The feeling is mutual!” Ori exclaimed in delight. “Has our king found love?”
“I have to admit,” Dwalin huffed, “I am surprised he would find it in a hobbit, but he is a very pretty lad and if his flowers are true, he might be the one for Thorin.”
“But we do not know the traditions of these funny folk.” Fili sighed knowing these must be a courting system that the Tooks followed strictly.
“Leave that to me.” Was all Bofur said before standing up and making his way to another table of giggling hobbits. If he was good at anything, it was sweet talking the pretty lasses who were more than happy to fill in the charming dwarf on the rituals of the Took gathering.
~ ~ ~
It had come and Bilbo was dreading this hour more than anything. It was the court dance and it would last most of the night until sun rise the next day. The problem wasn’t that Bilbo did not like dancing, far from it that was his favorite thing to do, it was choosing a partner and how the Tooks made a game of it. The flowered lasses and lads were put in the middle one by one and blindfolded. They would reach their hand out and feel for their random partner until they touched someone. That person would be their dancing partner all night. It was rather embarrassing and the last time Bilbo had played this game, no one had allowed him to touch them. It ended up being a complete disaster and the hobbit stormed out into the night to be alone. He did not understand why for the evening before he had many complements and wanting looks his way.
The young hobbit girls giggled and twirled one by one and a few lads were lead out as well. It was like a game of hide and seek and the ones who wanted the blinded hobbit only had to come near so he or she could grab hold of them. They all looked so happy and when one was picked, they took their place together in line to wait for the dance to start. Thorin was across from him in the circle and he could see how amused he was by this little game but he would move away if one of the blinded hobbits came too near. Maybe he did not wish to dance tonight? Bilbo’s heart sank and he waited for his turn.
The young crown prince Fili was the next one to take his turn and he was blind folded before quickly being spun in a circle. When he stopped, he staggered about laughing and waving his arms about to keep his balance. What surprised everyone is when Kili, his brother, came out from the circle and as if they had always known where the other was, clapped onto each other tightly. A few people around Bilbo whispered at how odd it was that the brother would wish to be his dance partner, but no more was said before someone grabbed hold of Bilbo and wrapped the blind fold around his eyes.
Throin laughed at his nephews and shook his head. He had always known there was a special bond between the two and the other would never allow someone else to dance even if it was just for fun. The hobbit known as Bilbo was thrust into the middle of the circle and was spun around wildly. A few hobbits backed away while others just laughed at their kin. The king did not understand why they had avoided Bilbo, but someone caught his attention. It was a handsome young hobbit with dark features that were rare in his race. He was watching Bilbo with his brown eye gaze and the jealously boiled in Thorin’s blood. The way he watched the golden hobbit was like he was a piece of meat ready to be devoured. He saw the twitch of his body as he was about to make his move.
Before he knew it, Thorin was pushed out in front of the hobbit and caught his arm with his hand. Bilbo turned up and placed a trembling hand upon his chest. Silence once again filled the room as they watched the pair. Bilbo looked about still blinded not knowing why everything had gone so quiet until Thorin’s hand lifted to pull at the tie of the blindfold. The piece of fabric fell from Bilbo’s face and he gasped as their blue on blue gaze locked.
“My king…” Bilbo bowed his head shyly before Thorin placed two fingers under his chin to lift his head back up.
“At your service Master Baggins.”