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The King's Man

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Bilbo has been a slave for eight months.

The raiders caught him just outside of Hobbiton. It was stupid and he even knew that at the time, but it was late and it had been gusting wind all day. There was no one else available to go with him to check the exterior fences and while Bilbo might not run the farms himself –that job goes to the families of tenant farmers who have worked Baggins land since his grandfather’s day- he still feels the weight of duty owed to the families in his employ.

So he went out alone. In retrospect, that was a damn fool idea. Goblins don’t approach the core of Hobbit settlements and for whatever reason they aren’t much interested in hassling the livestock. He should have waited until morning. Now all those families who looked to him for guidance and charity when the harvest turns bad will be looking to Otho, who doesn’t believe in charity and has often accused Bilbo of ‘mollycoddling the sharecroppers.’

The raiding party took him from Hobbiton and two others from just outside Hardbottle. They were sold in turn to a foul-smelling Dunlending caravanner who chewed tobacco and spat constantly. He packed them into carts with mixes races of men, some few scrawny goblins who were too weak to cause the gentler races any problem, and one or two pale and wasting elves.

The Dunlending took them east skirting the Elven territory surrounding Rivendell for the elves there loathe slavers and take delight in killing them wherever they find any. There they were sold on to a slave monger in the markets of Mount Gundabad. That is where most of the elves vanished from the carts, save a few who were hustled into the same pen as Bilbo. Pale they may have been and thin, but they kept Bilbo pressed in between them and shielded him from the goblins’ sight.

Slaves were not encouraged to speak to one another, but one bit of gossip made the rounds no matter what the cost. Azog, the ruler of Gundabad and master of the slave pens, had a taste for Hobbit flesh …and not in the carnal sense either.

Bilbo know that he would probably be dead if it weren’t for those elves. His fellows from Hardbottle vanished from their pens in the night, but no alarm was ever raised. The elves murmured comfort to him in Sindarin when they realized he could understand and petted his hair to try and soothe him to sleep like he was a child –and perhaps to them he was. Bilbo was thirty-three that year, but he didn’t feel like much of an adult in the face of all his hardships.

It was many weeks –Bilbo cannot say how many, but he thinks is might have been nine or ten- before they are loaded back onto a cart and brought them through the Misty Mountains. Some of his fellows were sold to the Great Goblin there or given as tribute (men, mostly, and a few swarthy orcs) before they moved to head south through the bad woodlands of Mirkwood where even the elves who lived there did not go. How long they spent in suffocating oppression of Mirkwood and then in the relentless open expanse of the East Bight, Bilbo cannot say. The orcs who guarded the carts kept the slats nailed shut and only ever opened the door to shove in stale water and cram. It was difficult to keep track of the days.

Bilbo did not see the light of day until they nearly reached the end of the East Bight, where the trees began to grow again to provide some cover and the foreman set up a small temporary pen to let the slaves move about for a bit. There is where the slave monger made his fatal error for the lands beyond the blight still fall within the territory of the dwarves of Erebor.

Dwarves like slavers only slightly less than they like elves or money-changers who put lead plugs into their weights, which is to say: not at all. They like goblins even less and a goblin slaving ring is something they will go to any length to stamp out ---including setting ambushes outside the Bight.

The fighting never got very close to the pens. Bilbo thinks the Dwarves planned it very carefully that way, but he found himself squished inbetween men and elves as everyone huddled as far away from the clashing of axes and swords as they could get.

It perhaps explains something of the time they’d all had that it never occurred to a single soul among them, not even Bilbo, to jump the fence and run. Defiance had been beaten and starved out of them.

The Dwarves won the battle and eventually came to collect their dubious prize. At the time, Bilbo had no idea what to expect. One hears such conflicting stories about Dwarves and not all their clans number among the good folk of Middle Earth.

Still, the Dwarves pulled the nails out of the side-slats of the carts so that fresh air and sunlight could enter their dim interiors. They mucked the moldy straw and moth-eaten blankets out as well before loading everyone back up. Water and cram were still the order of the day, but in slightly large quantities supplemented by a thin pottage that was all a slave’s stomach could tolerate after months or years of privation.

All this seemed like heaven to Bilbo at the time and he slept deeply for the first time in a long while with a stomach that did not grumble at him. So deeply did he sleep that his first glimpse of the Lonely Mountain came not from the outside, but rather the inside when dwarves with long beards and blue hoods in a multitude of shades came to prod them out of the carts and into the warm and dark lower levels of the mountain.

This is how Bilbo came to the mountain, but not how he will leave it.

Bilbo’s group is taken to an open bathing chamber first where brusque dwarrow women (or perhaps men) strip them without a care for modesty, delouse them with a yellow soap that stings at the eyes, and scrub every single soul in their care with stiff bristle brushes that would be torture if they didn’t feel so heavenly on itchy filthy skin.

Some of Bilbo’s fellow slaves tolerate the treatment better than others. Most of the Men are Dunlendings, who have deep skepticism regarding unnecessary baths and object to them most strenuously as they believe excess bathing to be the root of disease. The Dwarves are less than impressed and tolerate the Dunlendings' objections about as well as can be expected.

Bilbo would have gladly washed himself, but by the time his turn comes in the water he is so tired and listless that he is only too happy to submit to the bathing women’s ministrations. Even so there are stains that linger on his skin that will probably drive him to distraction when he is able to care about them once more.

Someone hands out clean tunics and Bilbo’s fits on him like a night shirt. A dwarf comes through with a thick astringent ointment that he applies to every sore he can find, even if it means stripping a patient naked to seek them out. Afterwards they are fed again. It’s water with a little ale in it and thin porridge this time with shreds of some kind of meat in it. Bilbo cannot finish his and a Dunlending snatches the rest of it, only to be messily sick when his stomach overflows.

They are put in a room with pallets on the floor. Bilbo sleeps in a knot with the elves well away from the Dunlendings, who are prone to mischief when they aren’t distracted by hunger and fatigue. Nothing happens that night or the next morning when they are taken out of the room, fed again with a grain porridge drizzled with honey, and put to menial work of varying kinds. Bilbo is set to stuffing mattresses with wool and goosedown. It’s familiar work that he remembers from childhood and it isn’t long before he remembers the trick of it. Around noon a Dwarrow woman comes to fetch him and declares herself to be pleased with his work. She gives him an extra biscuit with his lunch of pea soup and cracks a Dunlending over the hand with her wooden spoon when he goes to steal it.

Bilbo ends up sharing the biscuit among the elves because his stomach is still too small to handle extra rations, but they are able to manage it by simply having larger stomachs to begin with. The Dunlendings, however, resent the preferential treatment and it isn’t long before Bilbo and his elves have to sleep in shifts to guard their fellows from a nocturnal thrashing.

It isn’t long before there’s a scrap; ordinary slave yard stuff that Bilbo has forgotten isn’t actually ordinary. The Dwarf guarding their room wades in and pulls the Dunlending who’s got Bilbo pinned off him only to discover Bilbo managed to get his teeth into the man’s arm and cannot make himself let go.

The Dunlendings are separated out after that. One of the elves has a job in the Arboreum and reports that they’ve been put to work in the fields of Dale, where they are carefully watched by the men who live there.

Slowly (very slowly) Bilbo remembers civilization. He begins to talk more and doesn’t flinch when startled quite as much ...although he still does when stressed or upset. His body fills out and he is able to eat at least one full sized meal a day. He’s lost his tolerance for alcohol, but at the same time he’s not sure he wants it back. The dwarves put him to new work in a chandlery where he does well enough. The candlemaker takes a liking to him and carves him a pipe. Tobacco is hard to come by, but the dwarves in charge of him have learned by now that it’s a safer treat than extra food so he has enough for one precious bowl an evening.

A month into his time at Erebor he is taken to speak to a gruff clerk who questions him closely about his homeland, where he was taken, how he was sold, and whatever else he can remember from his time with the goblins.

“You are perhaps wondering why we have not sent you on your way.” The clerk rumbles. He’s a great big dour creature with craggy white brows and a moustache so long that Bilbo cannot see his mouth except for the movement of his jaw. He stares at Bilbo with his one steely gimlet eye, but offers him pipeweed from his own pouch and water when Bilbo’s voice begins to squeak.

Bilbo doesn’t answer. Once he would have, but there’s still a part of him that looks at the Dwarves and only sees the Masters. You don’t question the Masters. You just do what they say or wait for them to speak.

 “The truth of the matter is that you are far from home.” The clerk tells him. “That you will not speak to me unless ordered tells me a great deal about your mental state. We have learned the hard way that turning freed slaves loose out onto the land to make their own way home only results in bandits and dead slaves.” He points at Bilbo with the bit of his pipe. “You require resources to return to your homeland and if I could, I would give you a bag of coin and a knapsack this very moment. However even Erebor’s vast wealth does not extend to paying the way of every poor soul we liberate from the goblins. You tell me that you are from the Shire. That is a long way from here. You will need to buy passage on a river barge and later a guarded caravan to make it there. When you arrive it is likely that there will be little waiting for you unless you are very blessed in your family. Are you so blessed, Halfling?”

“No sir.” Bilbo’s voice is an echo of what it once was. Otho and Lobelia have Bag End by now and evicting them will take all the lawyers in the Shire. His people in Tookborough would take him in, no doubt, and perhaps help with his legal fees …but not to the extent that it will take to seize everything back from the Sackville-Bagginses. “I am a little blessed, but not so very much.”

“Hrmph. Yes. Well.” The clerk shuffles his papers about. “Here is the deal I offer you. You will work within our mountain as an indentured servant. For how long depends upon what skills you have to offer. At the end of your agreed upon time you will be given a pony, a sack of gold, a satchel of supplies, and passage to your home. In the meantime you will receive four meals a day, a place to sleep with clean bedding once a week along with three suits of clothing, a pair of boots, and a sturdy coat per annum. You will only accept orders from the dwarf you are assigned to and only during the span of time between the morning bell and the evening bell.” He glances up and adds, “At the end of your indenture you will have the option to convert part of your pay into a small plot of land in Dale and a mule. It is not an option offered often, but the men of Dale like your kind. They feel you Halflings have a way with the earth.”

Bilbo musters a smile from somewhere. It’s thin and lopsided, but it’s voluntary and seems to please the clerk.

“Now, young one.” He dips his pen into the ink pot and holds it over a fresh sheet of paper. “Tell me of your skills.”

The clerk is pleased to discover that Bilbo has some basic mathematics and the knowledge every Shireling learns about green things. He already has reports from the seamstress and chandler that have had the benefit of Bilbo’s labor during his rehabilitation, but the old Dwarf seems happiest to learn that he can both read and write in several languages beyond his own.

“I can speak Sindarin as well as read and write it, but I cannot vouch for my accent.” Once Bilbo might have gone on to explain his mother’s love of elvish poetry and the slender volumes of it that she brought back from Rivendell in her youth. He might have mentioned his father’s trade dealing with the Elves. However he has learned to keep himself to himself and it is a difficult lesson to unlearn even in the most congenial of society.

“You will return to the service halls.” The clerk tells him when they are done. “Your work assignment will be decided within the next week and you will be notified in due course. Until then you will continue your work in the chandlery and report to the common sleeping areas. Do you have any questions?”

“No sir.” Bilbo murmurs.

“Come to me when you do.” The clerk says and not unkindly. He pauses. “If I may ---I cannot give you much advice that will do you good, but I will tell you this. You must begin to question your world once more. The slave collar exists in the mind as much as it ever did around your neck. Only one of those can be removed for you. The other you must exorcise for yourself.”

“I’m trying.” Bilbo sighs and shows himself out. “I’m trying.” He repeats to himself as he makes his way back to the Chandler’s warm and comfortable shop. There are candles make and the work is soothing in a way that words aren’t –and may never be again.

The week goes by faster than it has a right to. Bilbo’s elves start to vanish from the room. Some of them say farewell, but others don’t. They’ve all been ransomed by the Elves of Mirkwood or Lorien. Some of them will go home, but others (the ones who never said goodbye) are going West to the Gray Ships. Bilbo says his farewells to the ones who linger, who worry about him still, and tries to give them peace of mind.

He’s summons after the evening bell one evening back to the clerk’s office where another dwarf is waiting. He has a snowy white beard and introduces himself as Balin, son of Fundin. He tests Bilbo’s penmanship and translating abilities. He must be satisfied because Bilbo is given a room in the upper levels of the Royal Quarter that night. It’s a glorified closet with a bed and access to a nearby bath house, but it’s his.

It’s quiet, sleeping alone and Bilbo does not manage it very well anymore. His imagination turns every creaking door into a Warg and every shadow into a goblin come to take him away. He reports to Balin the next morning red-eyed and listless.

“Bad night, laddie?” The dwarf asks and seems to genuinely care.

“I’ve lost the habit of sleeping alone.” Bilbo says and shrugs. “I will get it back in time.”

“Aye.” Balin tilts his head. “If not, then come to me and I’ll have you put into the guards’ barracks. Twenty snoring dwarves ought to put you at ease if you need the presence of other bodies in the dark. There’s no shame in it.”

“Thank you, sir.” Bilbo is irrationally proud of himself for being able to say ‘sir’ and not ‘master’ now. “…but I would like to try it the other way first.”

“Good lad.” Balin praises him and gives him his first job, which is to translate some very rude letters one of the minor Royals received from an associate in Mirkwood. Bilbo translates it as truthfully as he can and submits it to Balin for approval.

Balin scans the contents and sighs. “I might have known.” He pinches his nose. “Gloin’s boy Gimli and Prince Legolas cannot be made to leave each other be. I cannot tell if they are friends or not. Copy the original and retain it for our records. Send along the original and translated version to Gimli. The fool boy is trying to teach himself the language out of a book and refuses all instructors. At least it keeps him out of trouble.”

Bilbo does so. It’s the first letter from Mirkwood that he translates, but it isn’t the last. He and Balin fall into a neat groove and it is surprising when at the end of his second week, Balin informs him that he’s being transferred.

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate your work, laddie. I want to keep you on, but working for me will add time onto your indenture.” Balin hastens to assure him when Bilbo’s eyes go wide with an irrational sense of betrayal. “This was only ever a temporary position for you ---a test, if you will, to see if you’d work well elsewhere and I believe you will. You’re fast, patient, and don’t shirk. You don’t take offense easily and know when to seek direction. There’s another who has need of your skills whose letters cannot go through this office.”

“Who will I be working for?” Bilbo asks dully. He made a mistake in becoming comfortable in this little office with all its books and its cheery hearth.

“A great man.” Balin says and his eyes are shining with pride. “A great man who will one day become a great king. The only one I will happily bend my knee before; you’ll be working with Prince Thorin.”

Bilbo feels a thread of trepidation in his guts. “Yes sir.” He says and does not repeat what he’s heard under the stairs; that Prince Thorin is a hard man who is intolerant of failure. They whisper about him, the prince who has been declared heir over his father, and very little of it is fit for decent ears. Most of it must be lies and pernicious gossip, but some of it… oh sweet Eru.

“You look like I just ordered you to jump into a thresher.” Balin observes. “I know he has a fierce reputation, but he is loyal to those who show loyalty to him. I would not send you to him if I thought you’d catch the sharp side of his tongue, laddie.”

“No sir.” Bilbo squeaks and Balin sighs.

“We’re back to ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’, are we?” He pats Bilbo’s shoulder. “Thought I’d broken you of that. Oh well, Thorin will just have to do for himself in this case.”

“Yes, sir.” Bilbo says and tries not to shake too visibly.

Bilbo’s moved to another room, which is a bit larger and has its own water closet. He has a wash basin that someone fills in the afternoons and when they come by to light the hearth. He no longer takes his meals in the big kitchens, but is informed that he will eat in the upper level servant’s hall. The seamstresses give him new shirts, several waist coasts, and let out his trousers with a sense of great triumph. One tries to convince him of the merits of boots, but Bilbo asks for a comb instead and uses it to tidy up the hair on his feet.

For all that he feared this position, it’s a fortnight before Bilbo even sets eyes on his ma… on his employer. He has a tiny office with a brazier for his feet where foot runners know to bring him his work. There’s a housekeeper who brings afternoon tea to all the royal clerks and who flirts relentlessly with Bilbo until he remembers how to flirt back without issuing an actual invitation.

He works from the morning bell through to the evening bell with a pause for luncheon. The cooks send him back with some scraps rolled up in flat-bread to bolster his afternoon tea now that he can handle that many meals in a single day again. The workday ends with a communal dinner that tends to be on the light side as Dwarves take their main meal at midday. In the evening he returns to his room and toasts sausages over the fire for his supper. Then he lays down in bed and stares at the ceiling until either the noise in his head quiet down enough for him to sleep or the sun rises, whichever happens first.

Bilbo’s first glimpse of Prince Thorin is at a distance and only because he’s risen from his desk to find out who it is out there shouting and slamming doors. The culprit is Prince Thorin, as it turns out, who is having a row with his father that Bilbo beats a hasty retreat from. Bilbo hides in his cubby for the rest of the day and sends runners out for whatever he needs, which the rest of the administration staff seems to be doing as well.

His second glimpse of the prince is a bit closer to hand when the man himself pushes aside the curtain shielding Bilbo’s workspace and drops a sealed letter on his lap.

“Translate that.” He growls. “Speak to no one of it. When you are finished you will deliver it directly into my hands and no others. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir!” Bilbo squeaks and sits transfixed under the weight of Thorin’s icy blue glare.

Thorin stares at him a while, evaluating him perhaps before he leaves without another word.

Bilbo translates the document and having seen the contents, can easily understand why they don’t need to be bandied about. He brings the original, the translation and a few discarded rolls of parchment that he’d been using as scrap paper. He’s stopped twice by some very official looking personnages who offer to accept his burden until he lets them look at his calculations and leads them to believe he’s just carrying some very boring accounting work. They become less helpful after seeing that.

He finds the Prince attending on his grandfather and lingers in the shadows of the corridor until Thorin is alone.

“You requested this.” He murmurs and offers up his double armload of papers only to remember too late that the Prince doesn’t actually need his trash numbers. “Oh, but not those…” He cries out, but too late. Thorin is squinting at Bilbo’s rough doodles and an equation meant to figure out exactly how many crates would be required to ship enough arms to supply four-score dwarves along with an accompanying list of the sheer amount of weaponry a single dwarf carries on his person on a good day.

Thorin looks back at him with a single raised eyebrow.

“It was camouflage, sir.” He drops his gaze and addresses Thorin’s boots. “In case I was stopped.” He reaches for his papers again, but Thorin holds them out of reach.

“Why?” He asks.

Bilbo frowns and finally explains, “Accounting is boring and no one can get rid of an accountant fast enough.”

He thinks (he’s not sure) but he might hear the prince snort suddenly in a poorly concealed laugh.

“Well done.” Thorin tells him. “Return to your post. I will have more work for you.” He doesn’t return Bilbo’s scrap paper until the next day and when he does the math has been corrected in places, the list of arms has been expanded to include two demi-axes and a boot knife, and his atrocious doodle of a Dwarrow soldier has had a longer beard with braids added onto in deep indigo ink.

There is indeed more work and he must do it well because he arrives to his cubby one day to find it gone.

“You will be working in my study.” Thorin informs him when Bilbo goes to ask about the whereabouts of his work. “You’ve been promoted to my personal servant. I only keep one and the last was a spy for a noble who opposes my policies on miner labor. I have no real need of a valet so you will serve as my secretary, but if you are asked then your duties involve helping me dress and attending upon me in the bathing chamber. You will sleep in my former valet’s room adjacent to mine. The hours will be longer and I may require your services after the evening bell. Your indenture will be shortened to reflect that extra duty. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Bilbo replies automatically.

Thorin looks at him with an expression Bilbo cannot fathom, until he says “I see what Balin meant now.” He shakes his head. “It is no matter. Return to your quarters and pack your belongings. Be moved in and ready to work by the afternoon bell.”

“Yes, sir.” Bilbo says and Thorin sighs.

Being Thorin’s secretary is not much different from being his clerk, except Bilbo no longer has the luxury of staying in his snug little cubby all day. Prince Thorin is all over the mountain and requires his secretary to keep track of names, dates, places, appointments, and to make notes about the things he discusses. Those notes are usually burned in the evening, but Thorin seems to take some perverse delight in letting his detractors believe they still exist. Often Bilbo doesn’t actually take notes at all. Unless Thorin instructs him otherwise, he just scribbles at random to make it look like he is.

The housekeeper no longer brings him tea as he takes that meal with his employer along with luncheon and sometimes dinner. Thorin did not lie when he said he often worked late, but Bilbo doesn’t sleep often anyway and develops an appreciation for being given enough work so that he’s exhausted enough to fall easily into bed when he is released.

It doesn’t always help the nightmares, but Bilbo’s learned not to make noise in his sleep …or at least he thought he had.

He has been working with the prince for three months when there is a lull in Thorin’s activities. He’s having a peaceful patch and it shows in Bilbo’s workload. It’s all right for the first few days. He has enough of a sleep debt to get him through the nights, but as his body recovers so too do the demons that plague the darkness.

Bilbo sleeps easily enough, having gotten back into the habit of it, but it’s not good sleep. He wakes up with the pillow between his teeth or the blankets clamped in his white-knuckled fists.

Still, the night when he wakes up thrashing with the Prince of Erebor kneeling by his bedside in a nightshirt comes as a surprise.

“I… I…” Bilbo tries to apologize, but his throat closes on the words.

“You were whimpering in your sleep.” Thorin says. “And begging. Is there aught that I should know?”

Bilbo sags back into the mattress and shakes his head. He has little to complain about. He was protected at every juncture of his journey. No goblin ever touched him or bit into him. The things he sees in the darkness are phantasms and not memory. “No.” His throat clicks around the sound, but doesn’t stop it. “Forgive me. I won’t wake you again.”

Thorin waves off his apology like it’s an insect …and not one that would have survived the encounter either. “You will tell me what it is that you need.” He says it like a general, like a man used to giving orders, and surprisingly Bilbo responds to it.

“I need…” He takes a ragged breath. “I need to not think for a while.”

Thorin is quiet and Bilbo does not blame him. After all, what is to be done? Except…

“Perhaps I can help with that.” Thorin says at last.

Bilbo sits up in bed to stare at his employer, but the dwarf doesn’t look like he’s funning with him or trying to lighten the mood. Rather he is watching Bilbo again with the peculiar expression he gets from time to time, usually in the evenings when he closes his doors to visitors and leaves his coronet on the mantelpiece. It’s a look Bilbo only sees on Thorin when he is in his shirtsleeves and barefeet. On anyone else it would look like hunger, but Bilbo has always fancied that it looked like a predator’s brand of patience.

“If you want my help then you will meet me in my chamber.” Thorin instructs him. “You will leave your clothing here and go to kneel before my hearth with your hands clasped behind your back. You will wait for me to come to you no matter how long I choose to linger.”

Bilbo swallows. He’s not entirely sure he heard that correctly.

“This is not a requirement.” Thorin goes on to say. “If this is disagreeable to you then remain in your quarters and we will not speak of it again. If you like I will transfer you to the authority of another and it will not impact your indenture. This has nothing to do with your debt to Erebor and is to remain strictly between you and I. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir.” There’s a new weight to those words somehow as Thorin stands and looks down on him.

He leaves without another word and Bilbo swings his feet down to the floor and stays that way for several minutes, wondering what it is he should do.

It would be madness to go and …do that. It would be every despicable thing and yet…

Bilbo would be lying if he said he had never looked on Thorin with desire. It has been months since he felt such things, not since he was taken from his home, but the Dwarrow prince is well-formed with stout muscles and a thick pelt of hair on his chest and arms that put Bilbo in mind of some of the farm lads he once fooled around with in his tweenie years.

The offer is compelling and Bilbo is curious. The idea that Thorin might be able to quiet down the sounds in Bilbo’s head, if only by drowning them out with something else, is… oh Eru. It’s temptation personified and the reason why Bilbo is already stripping off his night shirt and trunks.

There’s no one in the sitting room when Bilbo pads through it, shivering as the cool air brushes over his bare skin. It’s warmer in the bedchamber, even though the room is arguably larger. There’s two hearths there and Bilbo chooses to kneel in front of the larger one. Both are banked for the night, but the bigger one is giving off a little light and more heat. There’s also a plush fur rug in front of it that will be more forgiving to his knees than the stone floor.

Thorin as good as warned Bilbo that he would be kneeling for a while. There’s no need to be stupid about it.

Kneeling there is –it’s better than lying in his bed. There’s the feel of the rug under his knees, the low-level of concentration that kneeling requires without his hands on his thighs for balance, and then there’s the anticipation of what it could possibly be that is to come.

Bilbo isn’t experienced in these things or really in any bedsport at all beyond the normal sort of games that Hobbit tweens play with one another. He has some brutally acquired knowledge of what happens to slaves who meet the Masters’ eyes for too long or speak back, but it’s second hand knowledge that he has tried desperately to scour from his memory.

He kneels like that for –well, however long and falls into a sort of meditative silence as he concentrates on not falling over, not thinking about the bad things, and listening for the sound of footsteps outside the door.

When Thorin does arrive, Bilbo almost doesn’t notice until a broad and calloused palm cups the nape of his neck and coaxes him into tilting his head back to look up.

“You chose to come.” Thorin’s thumb is drawing a little circle on the sensitive skin below Bilbo’s ear. It make the Hobbit shiver and isn’t unpleasant. “I am pleased. Your reward…” He holds up a length of black cloth and guides Bilbo to look back down before he ties it over Bilbo’s eyes. It doesn’t really block out much. Bilbo can still make out vague shapes and light, but everything is blurred into a murky sameness. He can still sense Thorin’s presence in the heat of his body and the way the air moves around him.

A hand closes gently around his throat and drift upwards to cup his jaw. Thorin brushes his thumb along Bilbo’s lips and guides him to open his mouth a bit until Thorin can slide two fingers inside –his index and middle-finger, it feels like. He leaves them there to rest.

“There are rules for what we do.” Thorin tells him and his voice is richer somehow now that Bilbo cannot see him. “These rules will bind us both equally. Some rules only invite a punishment, but breaking others will mean an immediate end to this. Nod if you understand.”

Bilbo nods.

“The first rule is this; I will never harm you without your permission or invitation.” Thorin’s fingers are a reassuring weight on his tongue and settle Bilbo deep inside. It’s easier not to shake when there is someone there, holding him steady. “The second is that this will end the moment you no longer need or desire it. I will not punish you or blame you if you no longer desire my touch. Thirdly, I will give you a word to say. If I frighten you or harm you in ways you do not like, then you are to say this word immediately. Lastly, this thing between us only happens once the second evening bell has rung. The hours of labor will be reserved for work. The time between the first evening bell and the second evening bell are yours. You may invite me to touch you, but I might choose to not indulge you. Nod to show your understanding.”

Bilbo nods again.

“These are the rules than cannot be broken.” Thorin keeps speaking. “If I break them then you are free to leave my presence. Request reassignment from Balin. He will grant it immediately and without fear of reprisal from. If you break the third rule by remaining silent when you should not then I will no longer touch you, not even at your invitation. Nod your understanding.”

Bilbo swallows around Thorin’s thick fingers and nods once more. Thorin strokes the inside of his cheek.

“These other rules are different.” He says and his voice drops to a low rumble. “If you break them, then I will be forced to instruct you in the error of your ways within the boundaries of the first rules. You will obey my orders within the bedchamber immediately and without question. If I request a response from you then that response will be ‘yes, sir’, ‘no, sir’, ‘thank you, sir’, or ‘please, sir’. Unless I instruct you otherwise, you are forbidden to climax without my permission –in or out of my presence. You may touch yourself to your heart’s content so long as you do not come. I will remove my fingers from your mouth now and you may ask me questions about what we have discussed.”

His mouth feels empty without Thorin’s hand and Bilbo swallows on the saliva that collected on his tongue. “What if you’re away and I am left behind? Do I wait for you?” It’s a valid question. Thorin has been called away before for days at a time and rarely brings a secretary with him into the field.

“If I am gone for longer than two days, then you may touch yourself…” He pauses and a sardonic grin pulls at the corner of his mouth. “…on the condition that upon my return, you describe what you did to yourself in detail. If I am pleased with your efforts, I will allow you to renact them for me. If I am not, then I will instruct you in a better technique so I suggest that you not waste your time with a boring wank. Is that acceptable to you?”

Bilbo wets his lips. “Yes, sir.”

“I thought it might be.” Thorin threads his fingers through Bilbo’s hair and considers him. “Tell me of your experience.”

“…sir?” Bilbo frowns in confusion. Surely Thorin knows by now what skills he has?

“I mean…” Thorin sighs with an air of great patience before his voice sharpens with predatory interested. “Have you ever been held down and properly fucked by another man?”

The room gets hot as soon as the words leave his prince’s mouth. Even the tips of Bilbo’s ears feel like they could be steaming in the air. “N-no, sir.” He confesses softly.

“And yet here you are…” Thorin muses. “Kneeling naked at my feet and already more than half hard. One would argue that you know a nice fat prick is good for. Tell me. Who has touched you? Who have you touched?”

“I… I have kissed a few girls in the past.” Bilbo’s heart is going a mile a minute. “I jerked with some other lads in a hayloft and a friend once lent me the use of his mouth behind the party tree.”

“Hands and mouths then.” Thorin pats his cheek. “No intercourse. No penetration. I am pleased. I’m removing your blindfold. You will go to my bed and get down on your hands and knees. I want to see that pert little ass of yours up in the air. Do you understand?”

“Y-yes, sir.” The room in brighter than Bilbo recalls when the cloth comes away, but maybe his eyes have just adjusted.

Thorin pinches his ear to get his attention. “Get moving.”

Bilbo hastens to obey and listens to Thorin as moves around in the room behind him. It’s an awkward position that limits his field of sight, but his hearing is still sharpened by his time in the blindfold. He hears the hiss of a match and the darkness of the room recedes a bit. The bed dips under Thorin’s weight as he kneels behind Bilbo and there’s a touch of warmth against his backside as Thorin spreads his cheeks with the fingers of one and holds the candle closer to –to inspect him back there.

“Such a sweet little pink hole.” Thorin murmurs and Bilbo yelps at the sudden broad wet swipe of his tongue there. “…and tight too! Like a good little virgin. I’ll take my time when I open you for the first time. I’ll use all my fingers and my tongue before I take you the way you were meant to be. Would you like that, Bilbo? Would you like me to make you all sloppy and loose before I use you?”

The quiver in his voice surprises even Bilbo. “Yes, sir. Please, sir.” He has no idea what he’s getting himself into, but he can’t quite make himself care. The voices are fading; driven out by Thorin presence.

“Patience, my little one.” Thorin croons to him. “On your back first. There is something yet that I wish to attend to.”

Bilbo rolls over without question and goes all over hot when he realizes that at some point, Thorin has stripped himself down to bare skin. He steals a glance down and sure enough, there’s the thick and heavy length of Thorin’s penis hanging between them and hovering a bit above Bilbo’s own where Thorin has moved to cover him.

“Tell me the name of your homeland.” Thorin instructs him.

“Th-the Shire, sir.” Bilbo swallows. “I was born in the Shire.” His eyes flutter shut when Thorin passes a hand over his forehead.

“It is a good land.” Thorin tells him. “Should I hurt you or frighten you then I want you to call out the name of your home. Will you do that for me?”

Bilbo would do anything Thorin asked right now, anything at all. “Yes, sir.” He gasps. “Sir, please…”

“In good time.” Thorin kisses his way down the length of Bilbo’s torso, pausing to nuzzle the dense hair of his chest and stomach, before his breath ghosts across the tip of Bilbo now hard prick. “Now you will tell me how your friend used his mouth on you.”

“I… oh… he put it around me and suckled.” Bilbo gasps as Thorin licks a warm wet strip up from his balls to the tip of his leaking sex. There Thorin laps at the precome swelling from his slit.

“Is that all?” Thorin doesn’t lift his mouth away and tiny quakes ignite down Bilbo’s spine as whiskers tickle his prick.

“Seemed to be plenty at the time.” Bilbo moans and squeaks when Thorin pinches the inside of his thigh. “I mean; yes, sir.”

“Then erasing the memory of his touch on you will be easier than I thought.” He grazes the underside of Bilbo’s cock with his teeth making Bilbo arch up off the mattress with the shock of it. The cry that come out of his throat is nothing he ever expected to hear from himself. Thorin retreats and waits until he’s fallen back down. “If this is disagreeable to you then you know what to say.” He murmurs, watching Bilbo closely.

Bilbo lays still panting and trying to quantify whether that touch had been good or bad or caught so perfectly in between those two extremes that it was neither one nor the other. Finally he says “Yes, sir.” and nothing else.

Thorin puts his mouth on Bilbo once more and it isn’t long before all coherent thought leaves his mind possibly for good. The things he does are nothing Bilbo even considered, but now will never be able to forget. He nips. He licks. He sucks Bilbo’s balls into his mouth one at a time. He swallows Bilbo’s entire length and hums deep in his throat until it is all Bilbo can do to keep from flying apart right then and there.

“You’re close.” Thorin croons to him as he pulls Bilbo into his lap and cradles him there. “Tell me.”

“Yes, sir.” Bilbo pants and fights the instinctive urge to rut against Thorin’s hard thigh. It wouldn’t take much. He’s already so close and the feel of large hands cradling his backside is keeping him on the edge, especially when Thorin spreads his cheeks with two splayed fingers. “Please.” He moans. “Please, sir.”

“I’ll give you what you crave, little one.” Thorin presses a kiss below his ear and nips him there again to watch Bilbo shake. “Has no one touched you down there before? Have you never touched yourself?”

Bilbo is shaking too hard for words to come out so he has to settle for shaking his head while he clings to Thorin’s chest.

“Then we will go slowly.” Thorin bites him once more and lays him down face first onto the mattress. “Hips up.” He says and moves a cushion underneath Bilbo’s groin that levers his hips so that his backside is angled up and on display for Thorin’s gaze. Thorin pats his thigh and moves away from the bed. Bilbo counts his breaths until the mattress dips again and he feels those strong hands spread him open once more.

Thorin wipes him clean with a damp cloth and rubs gentle circles around the little ring of muscles holding Bilbo closed until it’s easier to relax into the touch. “There now. Perfect.” Thorin praises him. “Keep relaxed and I will put a finger inside.”

Something cool and slick trickles onto Bilbo’s hole and over Thorin’s index finger where it’s poised at the entrance. It’s fragrant oil, Bilbo realizes after a bit. It dribbles down his cleft and down his balls, leaving a warm wet path in its wake. He grips the sheets and keeps counting as Thorin presses that first fat finger into him.

It feels like an intrusion and Bilbo has to force his body not to clench around it. Thorin murmurs a stream of soothing praise into his ear as he hunches over Bilbo and pushes into him. The finger is in at last and Thorin leaves it in place until Bilbo’s body stops fighting him …then he begins to move. He uses more oil until there’s little to no resistance when he slides the finger in and out of Bilbo’s body.

“Is that good?” Thorin asks and Bilbo cannot answer because it… it… “Neither yet? Patience. I will give you another.”

The second burns a bit as the girth of it stretches Bilbo’s insides. Bilbo squirms and quiets when Thorin stills his hips. There is more oil, more slow patient pressure, and finally his body accepts that this finger is going to stay inside him too.

Thorin gives him a third that makes him dizzy when it presses against something inside of him. Then, oh heavens, Thorin gives him a fourth and Bilbo is shaking with fullness.

“Beautiful.” Thorin growls against the flesh of Bilbo’s shoulder. “I knew that you would be beautiful like this, stuffed all full of fingers. I cannot wait to see you full of something better. Would you like something better, pet?”

“Yes, sir.” Bilbo hasn’t whined like this since he was a fauntling, but his pride has run away somewhere and won’t come back. Nothing matters anymore except the wicked crook of thick Dwarrow fingers inside of him. Nothing matters but pleasing Thorin.

His head is finally, finally empty.

Thorin’s weight on Bilbo’s back is almost as good as the hot insistant pressure of his slick cock pressing into Bilbo’s open hole. Bilbo squirms and presses back into that delicious invasion, ignoring Thorin’s pleased chuckle in his ear.

“Patience, little one. You shall have it all.” He croons. “I will hold nothing back.”

“Please!” Bilbo gasps, trying to take in every bit that will possibly fit. “Please!”

Thorin pushes into him with one hard thrust and Bilbo keens with the stretching burn of it as Thorin’s testicles slap up against his own and stay there. Thorin runs his hands up and down Bilbo’s sides, soothing the Halfling as he pants into the sheets, and coaxing him to relax.

“You are beautiful, perfect.” Thorin groans as he eases cautiously back out and then presses back in. “You were made for this. I knew you would be. Balin had no idea… no idea what he was doing to me, sending you here. Tiny, clever, gorgeous thing. I thought to never touch you, but then… then!” He thrusts into Bilbo again. “You like this, do you not? Answer me!”

“Yes, sir!” Bilbo breaks off with a moan as Thorin hits his prostate. “Please, sir. More!”

“So sensitive, so eager…” Thorin obliges him with another thrust that is just barely short of too hard. As it is, sparks explode behind Bilbo’s eyelids and he moans like a wanton thing. “So demanding. You were made for this, for me. Not for fumbling ignorant farm hands. Say it!”

“I was made for you to fuck, sir.” The words slip out of Bilbo as he pushes back into Thorin’s thrusts and is rewarded by pleasure, thick and honey-sweet in his veins, as the dwarf loses his composure and slams into him again …and again …and then again. His thrusts turn shallow as Bilbo cries out and bites his lips, trying hard not to climax, but not quite remembering why he shouldn’t.

Thorin pounds into him with short hard thrusts until he tenses over Bilbo and comes with a grunt in a hot wet rush that Bilbo can feel pooling in his belly. Thorin stays that way, a warm damp weight on Bilbo’s back until his cock finally stops pulsing and he slides out, only to plug Bilbo’s damp hole with one finger.

“Clench down.” Thorin says, looking too happy and sated to be properly stern. “Hold my seed inside of you until I tell you otherwise.”

Bilbo obeys and Thorin rolls him onto his back. He guides Bilbo’s hands up above his head. “Grasp the sheets and do not let go.”

“Yes, sir.” Bilbo wets his lips and stretches out his spine as Thorin lifts Bilbo’s hips up off the mattress to settle them across his hard thighs.

“Keep your legs spread.” Thorin says, looking down on Bilbo’s weeping erection. The tip of it has gone a deep purple-red and a thick stream of precome oozes down the length of it. “Do you want to come?” He purrs, stroking Bilbo with the tips of his fingers.

“Please, sir.” Bilbo tries not to writhe, but his body isn’t entirely obeying him. He wants… he wants… “Please, Thorin. Sir. Please, I need… I need…”

“Shhh. You shall receive it.” Thorin closes his fist around Bilbo’s prick and it’s over embarrassingly quick; one jerk, then two, and Bilbo spills over with a wounded cry. Thorin holds him still through it all and guides Bilbo to shoot all over his own stomach so that’s he’s sticky and glistening with his own seed. “Perfect.” Thorin lifts Bilbo’s knees in both hands so that his trembling hole comes into view. “Now, relax and let it out.”

“Oh!” Bilbo gasps and can’t at first. If he does, if he does that then…

“Let me see you covered in our come. Let it out, Bilbo!” Thorin barks and that frees up Bilbo’s muscles so that it all comes draining out of him, sliding down the curves and cleft of his buttocks, pooling on Thorin’s thighs, and dribbling down onto the sheets in thin pearly rivulets.

“Would that you could see what I see.” Thorin says as he admires his handiwork and Bilbo shakes in his hands. “I will do this to you in front of a mirror. Then you will see yourself as I see you and never know shame again. Shhh, my Halfling. Peace.”

Bilbo’s breath hitches on a sob as Thorin lowers him onto the bed once more and kisses him slowly with a mouth that tastes a little of Bilbo’s pre-come. “You did well.” He murmurs into Bilbo’s mouth. “So well. I am pleased with you. Lay still now and let me tend to you. Submit to my care.”

“Y-yes, sir.” Bilbo groans. The truth is he thinks that he might never be able to move again. It’s too easy to let Thorin move him about like a ragdoll and wipe him clean with the damp cloth. He is expecting to be sent back to his room for sleep now that the sounds are silenced, but instead Thorin settles him underneath the thick coverlets on the big bed far away from their wet patch. The dwarf vanishes for a bit to clean himself. Bilbo can hear the splash of water, but cannot make himself turn his head to watch.

Thorin returns smelling of spicy soap with soft shirts for the both of them. He dresses Bilbo with care and tucks him underneath one thick arm. “You will not sleep alone after we do these things.” He says once the candle is extinguished. “I have no other servants in these chambers save you. There is no one to embarrass you.”

“Thank you, sir.” Bilbo tucks his face into Thorin’s shoulder and cuddles into the other man’s radiant body heat. His eyes are already drooping with the promise of sweet un-haunted sleep.

“Thank you, Bilbo.” Thorin murmurs in response, but perhaps Bilbo only dreamed that part.