The book is too big for him, so he's forced to let it sit on the stone bench, while he sits cross-legged beside it. His terrace has great curved wings that swoop out and protect him from the wind, tapering down until he has his clear view of the valley below, a bad fall stopped by the stone wall that edges around it.
The beds have long ago withered and died from lack of care. He needs new soil, he knows that much, and the book says right away he's going to need wood ashes if he expects to grow anything in the mountain's natural soil. He'll need straw too, to keep the soil moist.
Well, there are stables in Dale, and he supposes he can use the ash from his fireplace and the rest of the royal apartments, if he can find a maid to ask. A maid who will talk to him, instead of looking at her shoes and bobbing up and down uselessly before scurrying away.
He twists the ring on his finger. It's too big, and it still bothers him a bit to wear.
A few vegetables and herbs wouldn't go amiss, he decides. He's missed a bit more variety at meals, and if he has his own supply, he can perhaps wheedle something a bit more complicated out of the cooks. Or they might even let him use the kitchens himself, if he can somehow make it sound more like an order than a question. The kitchen for the family isn't too busy, the boys and Thorin keeping to lunch and dinner with whoever is more important today.
Vegetables, he decides firmly, for the more protected beds in the sheltered area. The great big one in the centre though, that'll be a bit more tricky. Some hardy things like fennel and thyme and mint, that would be more practical for that one.
And for the bed that circles with the far wall, some ivy or hedges or both. If he's careful, he could start a few trees up here, once he gets the soil a bit more matured and steady. An apple tree, that would work well, once it had the shelter and warmth of other plants.
He likes the ideas of a few flowers as well, but he wants to consult the other book, the one the Men from Dale sent up, first. He doesn't want it to look like a hodgepodge after all. A garden needs to be planned, and planned carefully.
But he does like this plan, so far. He closes his book, and uses it as a desk, of a sort, for his paper, so he can sketch out the plans. Sugar-snap peas, he writes, in the bed by the wall, and imagines them climbing up it, getting to eat one fresh off the vine. It's not Bag End, he thinks, with a heavy heart. It will never be Bag End, with his green door, and his mother's flowers, no matter what he does.
He has to make the best of things though, he thinks, as he twists his ring. They all do.
He picks up his book with no small amount of effort, and takes it inside, where he drops it on a low bench by the glass-paned doors that lead outside. Frivolous, and far beyond his means, had he still been just a Hobbit from the Shire. But he wasn't anymore, and there was little that was beyond his means now. He scarcely had to express a desire, when it would appear.
His rooms, for example. They had not been meant as a living area, before Smaug. Dís had told him it was a receiving room, meant for family guests. But Bilbo had longed for sunlight, in Erebor's darkness, and had fallen in love with these ones. So Thorin had, without asking, had them refurbished and changed, until they were an acceptable set of apartments for Bilbo. What had been the receiving room was now his sitting room, and the room connected his bedroom. Thorin had likely made no small amount of threats to get it done so quickly.
It had occurred to Bilbo, at one point, that his father had built Bag End for his mother. And so he too has been given a home. It had a nice symmetry, when one looked at it that way.
He spent his evening drawing up his plans, and compiling a shopping list for himself. It would be a nice chore for himself, a good excuse to leave the family apartments and interact. He'd go down to Dale, he decided, and talk to the shops there, not the ones in Erebor. It would put him out in the sunshine, or even the rain, he didn't mind, and he'd have himself a walk down by the lake, if the weather was fine.
It was not Bag End, but he'd make the best of it.
It isn't as though he has much choice.
The morning dawns bright and sunny, so he rises early, and dresses with a smile on his face. To get to leave the mountain is a treat not often had, not with all the business lurking around every corner, demanding attention. Even the boys are caught in it, forced into lessons like schoolchildren on everything from proper dress for dinner to the correct and very different ways to address the head of the Jeweler's Guild and the head of the Miner's Guild.
So far, he's not noticed much difference in their behaviour.
His own presence is required far more than he's comfortable with, meant to entertain spouses and friends and minor royals when Thorin is busy, or Dís declares open and unending hatred for their continued grasp on life. He's been told by Balin that Kíli, being the second-born, is supposed to assist him with this sort of thing, but it's been by mutual agreement between the lot of them that that is perhaps not the best course of action for smooth diplomatic relations.
Uncomfortable he is, but not ill-suited. He's dealt with enough unpleasant relations with a smile and an offer of tea more times than he can count, and if he can sit through a dinner with Lobelia Sackville-Baggins at her worst, he's more than capable of handling some fussy wife of a high judge. Truthfully, even if he was ill-suited, he'd still do his best, for Thorin's sake, if nothing else. The whole situation has been awkward enough, he'll not make it any worse by being remiss in what little is asked of him.
He would prefer to make his trip alone, but he knows Thorin would be furious if he tried, and Dís would be worse, so he allows an escort. He's a young thing, some distant cousin of Dwalin's, but not Thorin's. He will never understand the family lines, he thinks, as he orders him to follow at a distance.
A distance becomes all of three feet, the lad thinking he's being sneaky about it.
Bilbo resolves himself to it with only a little disappointment, and finds what he needs in the markets. He has an order of straw put in as well, preferably from someone's stables, with written orders for the guards at Erebor's gates as to where they should take it when it arrives.
“Trying to garden up there?” the shopkeeper asks, an older woman tall even for her kind, Bilbo thinks. “You'll need some good soil, or nothing will take. Stuff up there is too thin for anything but weeds.”
“What do you suggest then?” he asks, eager for advice from a local, and she asks for the layout of the place. He's brought his favourite of his plans, so he rolls it out for her, and gives her an idea of the size and the shelter. “I could get some kind of irrigation system set up, from my chambers, you see, this sits right at my apartments, and the plumbing is working very well there,”
“Aye, that part was probably mostly untouched. Damned wyrm,” she sneers, like most still tend to. “You'll need a system of some kind. Can't rely on the rains in the summer, that far up, and it'll dry out faster up that high. I could take a look, if you like, and if you don't, I still have a good compost that'll do the trick for you.”
He's not sure how Thorin would feel about him having a Man in the family apartments, but he really doesn't know what he's doing with this system, and if he has two guards in the room, Thorin can't claim any kind of foolhardiness. Besides, it'd be nice to have a visitor who didn't have a political agenda of some kind that he could discuss roses with.
“I think that would work quite nicely,” he says, and they negotiate a fee and date while the guard at his back stares off in boredom. “A pleasure doing business,” Bilbo says, but before he can extend his hand to shake hers, she gives a small curtsy, inclining her head, and he remembers.
“As with you, your Highness,” she says, and he fidgets at the title just a bit, his hand reaching for the ring, to twist it just a little, as though he can forget it's there.
He takes his leave of her, awkward now, and unsure of what else he could possibly do down here. He always forgets that he's the only Hobbit here, so he can't be mistaken for anyone else. The Men of Dale are allies again with Erebor, but there's still a caution there that will take more than a few months to resolve, or even a few years. They want to appease Thorin, and Thorin wants to appease them, as much as Thorin ever wants to appease anybody, and it makes for a strained relationship between them.
It would have been better, he thinks sometimes, if Thorin had done as he should have, and married someone from the town like what had been suggested by Balin and the other advisers. Of course, everyone knew that Thorin and sensible were two words that did not go together, more often than not, and instead, it's Bilbo who wears Thorin's ring. An entirely insensible choice, and yet, it had been Thorin's plea to him.
He has ever been very good at resisting Thorin, not from the very beginning.
He makes a few other purchases, indulgent things like ripe, red strawberries grown in the hothouses, and fresh cream for them that he could likely get in the mountain if he asked. He misses cooking and baking, misses being able to flavour every dish to his own taste, misses sweets especially. He thinks of this, and indulges more, thinking of baking a cake, a small one. The thought of candied violets and roses has him longing for summer, and a full garden. It would take another year, but he could still have them, and he can settle for nasturtiums and Johnny-Jump-Ups in his salads until then.
By the time the sun tells him that it's noon, he knows he needs to head back. He can't risk being away for too long. However, he has a fine new set of gardening tools and his less practical purchases, so he still feels bright when he enters the darkness of the Gates. The guard carries his things for him, as he's been told is proper, and well, Bilbo sees no time like the present.
He spreads a few strawberries out on a handkerchief, and eats them in between tilling the earth in his garden beds, getting the air in and finding that they're deeper than he thought, at least two or three feet. Deep enough the plants he intends to grow can establish deep roots and hold themselves steady in the wind and stay alive in the winter, deep down. Yes, he thinks, as he reclines on the stone bench made for someone twice his size, filthy with dirt, this will work out. He'll at least have this place, in this great dark mountain, with the green and the sunshine and the sky and the earth.
He doesn't hear Thorin come in, nor does he hear him enter the terrace. Thorin makes his presence known by hovering over him with a raised eyebrow, arms clasped behind his back. “What are you doing?”
“Gardening.” Bilbo answers, sitting up. “Strawberry?”
“No.” Thorin sits beside him, his court armour creaking. “I hear you went into town today. What were you up to?”
“I bought seeds, and arranged for a master gardener to come help me build an irrigation system for this.” He waves his hands, then nods at his tools. “Bought those.”
Thorin frowns, and rises to inspect them, like any Dwarf. Whatever he finds displeases him, and Bilbo waits to see just what his protest is. “If you had only asked,” Thorin says, with that air of patience that was actually hiding his complete impatience. “I would have made you a set myself.”
Bilbo sighs. “You're a king, Thorin.”
“And you are my husband.” Thorin says, with that same air, the one that makes Bilbo lean back on his hands and wait for the inevitable wave of hurt pride. “Any tools you would use should be forged by me, and no one else.”
“Do you work at being this ridiculous?” Bilbo asks, swinging his feet. The bench is too high for him, even made at dwarfish height, but he's getting used to it. “You're a king, Thorin.”
“I'm a smith.” Thorin replies hotly. Bilbo's bruised his pride, and now Thorin's set on having his way.
“Then forge a set yourself, if it makes you happy.” Bilbo concedes. “What brings you to my rooms this evening, Thorin?”
Thorin visibly bristles. “Do I need a reason to visit my husband in his rooms?”
“It wasn't an accusation.” Bilbo says, wishing he had thought to bring his pipe outside. “It was only a question.”
Thorin sits back down beside him, sulking, but not badly. He's angry with something, but it's not Bilbo, so he tries to be a good husband, and asks, “What's bothering you?”
Thorin exhales heavily, and leans forward, his elbows on his knees. “Dáin is coming back.”
“Didn't he just leave?” Bilbo asks, standing, but only so he could walk the short distance to the table he kept his tin of pipeweed on, his pipe in its stand beside it. He packed it, and lit it, then re-joined Thorin, his king still staring moodily off into the distance. Bilbo sits beside him, then takes a puff, and offers it. He suspects Thorin has no intention of returning it, but he supposes he needs it. He's tense, now that Bilbo really looks. “Why is Dáin coming back?”
“He wants to negotiate for more of his troops stationed here in Erebor.” Thorin exhales a smoke ring, then, to Bilbo's surprise, he passes the pipe back to him. “I suspect that what his generals really want is to be back in Erebor.”
“Like everyone else?” Bilbo asks, taking a puff. They've had many Dwarrows eager to return to Erebor, pouring in through the gates in droves, all looking for their own houses, left abandoned all those years ago. He's seen many a tearful reunion since the re-taking of Erebor, of families lost to one another, finally back in the homes they had built. “Can you blame them?”
“No,” Thorin says, taking back the pipe. “But I do not like the idea of generals loyal to Dáin stationed here. I do not know them all. I do not trust them all.”
Bilbo nods. “I would say that you were being insanely paranoid, but I've had the unfortunate honor of meeting his advisors. They're not pleased with Fíli, or Kíli.”
“I don't blame them for Kíli,” Thorin says, shrugging. “Sometimes, that boy makes me wonder...”
“There's nothing wrong with Kíli.” Bilbo looks out at the setting sun, and settles back a bit more. “He's just young. He'll find his way, eventually.”
Thorin gives him a look.
“I did say eventually.” Bilbo winces when an unfortunate movement twists an overused muscle in his back unpleasantly. He's gotten a little soft, here in Erebor. He can already feel the blisters forming between the joint of his thumb and his index finger, but he'll callus quick enough. “And Fíli is a good choice. He's shown a good head for diplomacy, even if he dislikes it right now.”
Thorin just shakes his head. “I don't worry about Fíli. I worry about Dáin's aspirations.”
Bilbo tries to stretch his back a bit, but decides a hot bath will do the trick better. He'll draw one after Thorin is satisfied. “Does he have any claim?”
“He's a cousin, of some sort. Distant, but still a Durin, and he's proven himself a good leader. Some say I should name Dáin my successor and Fíli might be his, but...” He trails off, and looks at a loss. “Am I being stubborn?”
“You're always stubborn.” Bilbo reminds him. “It's why we're married.”
He means it in jest, but it rankles Thorin somehow. The ease of the mood is gone, and now Thorin stands in what Bilbo would call a huff on anyone not a king.
He's very regal, Bilbo thinks, in an absent sort of way he's never been able to repress.
“Is it?” he asks, imperiously. “Is that why we're married?”
Bilbo sighs, and pinches the bridge of his nose in frustration. “No. We're married because you wanted a Consort you could trust, not whoever they tried to force upon you.”
It's harsh, but it's the truth. In the days after the battle, they had hardly had a day of peace before the idea of Thorin marrying started to be thrown around by the Men and the Dwarrows, the idea that Thorin should secure their new alliances by choosing a spouse from amongst them. It had not taken long for the fighting to start, over where said spouse should come from, but before it had progressed much further, Balin had found Bilbo, and informed him that Thorin requested his company.
He had made the offer with still-shaking hands, clear-headed and in obvious pain. “I may yet die, my friend,” he had said, his breath laboured. “So perhaps I would make you a widower before long, if you accept the offer. Either way, the matter will be settled.”
There had been a foolish part of him that wished Thorin was asking because it was what he truly desired. A very, very, foolish part of him that he had quickly crushed, instead taking his friend's hand, and consenting.
The story had been industriously circulated by all, that the king had fallen in love with the little Hobbit during the journey, that he wished to spend his days with no other. That they had a bond no one could dare break. That Bilbo, of all people, was Thorin's One, a word they all spoke with a kind of awe Bilbo didn't much understand, at first.
He did now, of course.
He also understood it to be a blatant lie of the worst sort.
“Do you trust Dáin like you trust Fíli?” Bilbo asks, before Thorin can work himself up into a strop.
Thorin seems torn. “Dáin is an honourable lord,” he says, but Bilbo just quirks an eyebrow.
“That is not what I asked you.”
Now Thorin sits down heavily beside him again, his boots flat on the ground. “No. I do not.”
“Then Fíli is your heir, as he's always been, Mahal help us all,” Bilbo replies matter-of-factly. “Do us all a favour and try to stay alive for at least another fifty years. Preferably more.”
Thorin chuckles, deep and low, and it warms Bilbo to hear it. “You think it will take that long?”
“I'm hoping it will only take so little.” He gets another deep laugh out of Thorin, and he finally settles back beside Bilbo, relaxing at last. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, or so say the tales, and Bilbo has seen how true it is in his interactions with Thorin. He has no doubt Thorin tosses and turns at night, thinking of all he must accomplish in the day, all he has failed at. He is a good king, from what Bilbo can see, or at least tries to be.
“This is why I married you.” Thorin says, when the air starts to chill. “You provide me peace of mind when no one else can.”
It's a compliment from someone who rarely gives so much as a kind word, and the fact it's bestowed upon him makes it all the more pleasing. “Glad to know I'm of some use.”
“You are always of use.” Thorin stands, and shrugs off his outer layer, the coat lined with fur, and drapes it over Bilbo. It smells like him, and if Bilbo inhales a little, just a little, that's his business, thank you very much. “Ridiculous creature. You're too small for this weather.”
“It'll be warmer soon enough, and I'll have a proper garden to sit and smoke in.” Bilbo says, not bothered. Thorin's right, he is too small for this weather. He's too small for this mountain, this marriage. Yet he's made it work well enough so far, by waiting patiently for warmer weather. He's been rewarded so far, with Thorin's friendship, and he'll hopefully be rewarded with carrots and roses as well. “What do you think of tomatoes?”
“I like them sliced, with pepper.” Thorin shrugs. “Are you planning on growing tomatoes?”
“Of course. It wouldn't be right, a garden without tomatoes.” Bilbo clucks at Thorin's ignorance. “Like a king without a crown,” he goes on, teasing just a bit, and Thorin really is in a good humour now, because he smiles at it. “Oh yes, I'll have tomatoes and sugar-snap peas and some very nice flowers. It will be quite lovely, when I'm done.”
“You want no help?”
Bilbo scoffs. “I'm sure I can manage.” He hopes so, at least.
“The Consort to the King Under the Mountain, gardening. Do you ever go anywhere without causing a scandal?” Thorin asks, teasing as well.
“I'll have you know I was a very proper Hobbit before you, thank you very much.”
Thorin grins behind his beard, long enough now he's begun to braid it again. Finally, he has allowed himself out of mourning, and it makes Bilbo happy to see it. Thorin is healing at last, after all these years. “Then you have my apologies, my dear burglar.” He looks around the terrace, bare still, but not for long. “This pleases you? Your rooms? Your garden?”
Bilbo sighs, and wraps himself a bit tighter in Thorin's coat to ward off the chill. “It does. Thank you for them.” Thorin's coat is warm, and heavy, and wonderful, and it lulls him into a half-asleep state, his hard day finally catching up with him. “They were a kindness.”
“They were not given out of kindness.” Thorin says, and Bilbo snaps out of his comfort. Oh, yes. He'd almost forgotten, when they were sitting like this. Almost.
He stands, and gives Thorin his coat. “Forgive me, it's been a long day, and my back calls for my bath.” It's rude and abrupt, but Thorin says nothing about that. He takes the coat back with an unreadable look in his face, and nods his good-night.
Even in the bath, with the hot water run, he can still smell Thorin, from where the coat touched his clothing.
Oh, he is such a silly creature, he admonishes. He is a ridiculous creature indeed.