“You’re up late.”
Bilbo looked up from his book, and wrinkled his nose. “Well, so are you. I couldn’t sleep, anyway.”
“What are you doing in here?” Thorin gestured around the audience-chamber as he approached, his half-smile obvious even at a distance. “I mean, my throne is yours if you want it, ghivashelê, you know that, but in the middle of the night?”
“You were with Dáin and Glóin and Dwalin. I knew you’d be simply ages about getting back,” Bilbo said, a little peevishly, and he closed his book and laid it on his stomach, fixing Thorin with a reproachful look. His feet, bare as always, were hooked over the arm of the throne. An empty cup and saucer lay by his head. “I was restless and bored stiff, so I went for a walk.”
“And ended up here.” Thorin crooked his neck, stretching it out, before he slumped at the foot of his throne and leaned back his head so that it rested upon Bilbo’s belly. His limbs felt heavy and loose, tired from the long day. “My apologies for keeping you waiting, then.”
“Tcch,” Bilbo said, waving his hand in dismissal. “I know what you’re like when you’re with your cousins. Are you drunk?”
“No, but they are,” Thorin said, and he laughed, low and comfortable. “Glóin was challenging Dáin to a drinking contest, last I saw. I beat a hasty retreat. Few have defeated Dáin in either battle or bottle.”
“Battle or bottle, that’s a nice little set of words there,” Bilbo said, and he bent his head and scribbled at a loose leaf of his book with a stub of graphite. “Suggests a song…”
“Is that your own work?” Thorin tipped his head back. “Would you read me some?”
“No, it’s an old journal of my mother’s.” Bilbo showed him the cover: adorned in purple bell-shaped flowers and little black berries surrounded by shiny dark leaves. The word ‘Belladonna’ was inscribed upon the lower corner. “She hasn’t written much – such a waste of paper! But what there is, is very interesting. Some notes about her adventures. She wasn’t choosy about her directions, it seems: East, West, North, South: didn’t matter, she just liked the wandering. She got to Rivendell at least once, I believe. She made it nearly up to the Blue Mountains, met some of your lot on the way, she says.”
“Hmm. I hope they treated her kindly.”
“They did indeed. Taught her a dance, apparently.” Bilbo flipped back a few pages. “See? She describes it.”
Thorin took the book carefully – it was rather small in his hands, and the decorated cover was quite old – and let his eyes skim over the words. Then he said slowly, “I think your mother must have inadvertently wandered her way into something a little… private.”
“Hmm?” Bilbo’s hand had landed in Thorin’s hair, and was scratching at his scalp. “Oh, do tell. She was terribly fond of being so scandalous: it’d please her no end to have outraged more than one people.”
“Like mother, like son,” Thorin murmured. Then he lifted the book. “This is a wedding-dance, love. She came across it and made herself part of the party.”
Bilbo’s fingers paused in their scratching. “Oh my word,” he said, faintly. Then his voice sharpened. “Wait. We never did a dance at our wedding.”
“It’s more a Firebeard tradition than a Longbeard one,” said Thorin. “They wouldn’t have expected us to. But the dance is still alive enough, in families with a strong Firebeard strain in it.”
“Glóin and Óin,” said Bilbo.
“Oh my.” Bilbo’s belly jumped as he began to chuckle. “So my brazen, bold little mother waltzed in without a by-your-leave, and made herself one of the wedding guests without even knowing?”
“It appears so.” Thorin smiled and handed the book back. “The dancers wouldn’t have been offended, or she’d have been told to leave in no uncertain terms. You know Firebeards. You know when they’re offended.”
“True enough.” Bilbo sniggered. “Oh, Mother! She really did take the cake and all the trimmings at times. I wonder whose wedding it was. I’m glad they welcomed her, at any rate. That was kind of them.”
“You paid it back one hundred-fold, did you not?” Thorin caught up Bilbo’s hand and kissed the back absently, before slumping back down against the edge of the throne. There was a yawn building in his throat, but he was too comfortable and tired to move. “That and more.”
“Eventually. You do take some getting used to.” There was a smile in Bilbo’s voice. “So, what is this dance like then?”
Thorin rubbed one eye. “Eh? Oh. It’s slow. The newly-wedded stand in the centre of a circle of guests, all arm-in-arm together. The steps are very small… it’s not like their other dances, the athletic ones with the axes.”
“And the shouting,” Bilbo nodded. “Don’t forget all the shouting.”
“Nobody ever forgets the shouting, sadly,” Thorin said drily. “Who could? No, this one is very slow and gentle. It’s a dance of welcome. Anyone could do it.”
It took a moment for Thorin to process that, and then he craned his head around to look at Bilbo. “What, you want me to dance?”
“I never got a wedding dance,” Bilbo said, pointedly. “I feel that it’s unjust in the extreme that my mother gatecrashed some grand and ancient traditional one, and I, who married a Dwarf, didn’t get even so much as a brief polka around the room. And if anyone can do it…”
“Do Hobbits place so much importance on dancing, then?”
“We do at weddings.” Bilbo prodded him. “Up you get, you great lump. Urgh, why are you wearing your armour, you’re all hard and chilly.”
“Perhaps I have had a little too much after all…”
Thorin pushed himself to his feet with a groan. “It’s the middle of the night, Bilbo. Can’t we go to bed?”
“Certainly we may. After my dance.” Bilbo slid off the throne and stood before him with an expectant look. “So how do we do this, then?”
Thorin sighed and resigned himself to the inevitable. Once Bilbo got an idea into his head, it was nearly impossible to dislodge. He was easily more stubborn than any Dwarf in the whole mountain, in that regard. “Hands upon my shoulders, both of them. Apologies in advance for the cold armour, but it’s expected.”
“Expected, my foot,” Bilbo muttered, but his hands gripped firmly at Thorin’s shoulders nevertheless. “We’re at peace now, nothing’s going to harm you here, and besides, Dwalin and Dáin and Glóin would demolish whatever it might be before it could even come within breathing distance.”
“The only thing they’re demolishing is my store of Dalish brandy,” Thorin said, and he placed his own hands on Bilbo’s shoulders in return. “There are seven beats to the music, you must try to feel them. Step forward with your right, kurduh, for two, then your left for two counts, and then three faster steps together. Then you repeat the sequence backwards. It is not difficult.”
“No, wait, explain that again…”
Thorin thought perhaps that demonstration might be the better path to understanding, and he took a step back. Bilbo followed easily, his brow furrowed in concentration, as he followed Thorin’s footsteps.
Silence reigned in the empty audience chamber, save for the whisper of Bilbo’s bare feet and the dull thud of Thorin’s, and the shared sound of their breath.
“Now you have it,” murmured Thorin. “Ready for the second and fourth beats?”
“What, you mean there’s more?” Bilbo said, watching their feet move with avid focus.
“Look up at me, âzyungelê.”
Bilbo shook his head, his braid bouncing behind his ear. “I need to see what I’m doing, particularly if you’re about to complicate it further.”
“Look at me.” Thorin slid his hands around Bilbo’s back, drawing him closer. Bilbo’s eyes flicked up, and then his mouth crooked in a little grin.
“If I must, though heavens knows you’re hard on the eyes. What do I do?”
“Just…” and Thorin carefully took the first step again, before tapping his free heel gently against Bilbo’s opposite one. “That happens on the second and fourth beat. Can you feel the rhythm of it?”
“Oh!” Bilbo’s eyes went wide. “Like…” and he repeated the action after another step.
“Yes, that’s it.” Thorin smiled at him. “We take our steps from Mahal, the saying goes. He gives us our land, the earth beneath our feet. But in this dance, we take guidance from each other. We do not look at Mahal’s earth, but at the one we choose. Our feet may find purchase not only in things of stone and rock, but in the constancy of love.”
“That’s… actually rather beautiful,” said Bilbo quietly.
“I’ve always thought so.” Thorin carefully led Bilbo around the last three quick steps, before repeating the sequence.
Step one, tap together. Step two, tap together. Walk, walk, walk.
“We press our heels into the ground when we speak of Mahal,” Thorin murmured. “But in this dance, we ask for the faith of another.”
“And the outer circle?” Bilbo was watching him with dreamy eyes, rather flushed upon his cheekbones. “What do they do?”
Hold the beat, was the answer, but that breathless look upon Bilbo’s face was stealing all of Thorin’s words. “Uh.. they don’t… tap their heels together. Just kick that foot out, and move the circle around.”
“Mmm.” Bilbo’s hands curled down from Thorin’s shoulders to grip his waist firmly. Pressed together, they moved in concert alone through the echoing room.
“I think I’m quite satisfied with my wedding dance,” said Bilbo, after a time.
“Does that mean I can take you to the wedding bed now?” Thorin leaned down and let his breath ruffle the hair over Bilbo’s ear. “Again?”
Bilbo shivered. Then he pulled back and gave Thorin an arch look. “I thought you were tired.”
“I find myself inexplicably rejuvenated, Master Baggins.” Thorin stroked the back of his fingers against the sharp jaw, and let his thumb trail over those clever lips. “If you have a mind to make use of me, I am entirely at your service.”
“Finally.” Bilbo grabbed his wrist and made as though to tug him away, before he stopped short. “Oh! Mustn’t forget my book.”
“No, mustn’t forget your book,” Thorin said, as Bilbo scurried back to pick up his mother’s old journal. “Bilbo, my heart. You do realise that you’re at least twice as scandalous and brazen as your mother ever was?”
Bilbo gave him an impish little smile as he returned and wormed his way under Thorin’s arm. “I know, and she would be terribly, terribly proud.”