Thain, son of Thorin, son of Thráin, Heir Under the Mountain, and prince royal of the magnificent line of Durin the Deathless, hated shoes.
Truly and profoundly hated shoes.
They bit his toes and squished his heels, and he couldn’t understand why people were so determined to make him wear them. They were awful, terrible things, and Thain didn’t care that other Dwarves fretted over his bare toes when he roamed out into the snow, or that they tried to carry him around the forges to keep his soles from burning, he wasn’t going to wear shoes. (And the last Dwarf who’d picked him up had gotten a kick to his bulbous nose for his trouble.)
No matter what Thain said on the matter, Dori—who called himself Thain’s valet, but was really a poorly disguised bodyguard—still brought out a pair of boots every morning which Thain then kicked off sometime during breakfast.
The first time his adad had caught him trying to cut apart the quadruple knots that Dori employed to keep the boots on his feet, Thorin had laughed and laughed like there weren’t tears welling up in his eyes. Then Thorin had taken the dagger and snapped the laces himself. Thain had snuggled into his adad’s lap and let Thorin trail rough fingers over the furry tops of his feet while Thorin told him all about Hobbits. It was the first time his Adad had deliberately told Thain about his Papa. About the Shirefolk and their always-bare feet covered in curls.
It wasn’t the first Thain had heard of his Papa, he’d been paying attention during his carving after all.
During the months his Adad had spent crafting him from marble, Thorin had shared with his stone son every story of his ancestors, every trace of his own life, and every last memory he had of Bilbo Baggins. After all those words, Thain woke knowing everything his Adad knew about Hobbits. But still, it was nice to hear again, and to hear when Thorin knew he was listening.
There were no books on the subject of carving, just in case someone should happen to learn Khuzdul, break into Erebor, find their way to the library, get through the invisible doors guarding the library, and find the right book, they still wouldn’t be able to learn about this most sacred secret of Durin. But between inborn knowledge and the legends passed through the generations, it was understood that Dwarflings weren’t supposed to hear things until after their parents said the prayer to give them breath. Before that, they were nothing but stone.
(Thain had fretted once he’d learned that, but Balin said Thain was always meant to be special, so those rules didn’t apply to him.
Thain had put his hands on his hips, hunched his shoulders, and demanded to know why—if he was special—they kept insisting that he wear shoes?
Balin didn’t have an answer for that. But the endless stream of shoes did stop.)
Every night after the shoe-cutting incident, Thorin came back to their rooms and pulled Thain up into the great, fluffy chair before their fire and retold him all the tales that Thain had heard when he was eavesdropping from the stone. He snuggled in to the spot at his father’s side, burying his feet under the heat of Thorin’s thigh and letting his father swing a heavy arm around his shoulders. The fire’s glow and the blanket’s fluff were enough to warm his body, while the words warmed his soul. (Just because Thain hated shoes didn’t mean his feet didn’t get cold in the frosty north of the Lonely Mountain. After all, he’d been carved with a Dwarf’s feet and a Hobbit’s soul, which made for some difficulties.)
Things might have gone on like that, happy and easy with Thain’s cousins at his side, the Company as family, and stories of his Papa at night.
But then Wolum arrived.
It wasn’t that Wolum was a bad Dwarf. He was quick with a smile and a steady hand in battle, two of the essential characteristics for any good member of their species. (The third being a high alcohol tolerance.) He just tended to prefer the more traditional side of Dwarven life. He thought the Company were good chaps, but they had served their purpose and Thorin should rely on those born to rule rather than those born to tinker. He thought nobility was it’s own special breed, and while having your people’s trust was absolutely essential, it was an entirely different thing to let every Thom, Dik and Húry roam around calling you Thorin.
Wolum had left Erebor to tend to his returning family, with a promise to escort back those who wanted to come home to the Lonely Mountain. Upon his return, he expected to find that things had settled into the way an honorable Dwarven kingdom was meant to be run. Imagine his surprise that instead, the heir apparent to the greatest of all Dwarven kingdoms had been carved out of stone and hated shoes.
Thain loved his Adad, make no mistake, but he could be a bit of a dunderhead when it came to politics. The whole Company had warned Thorin that Wolum was up to something, but Thorin had written off his behavior as nothing more than an homeless Dwarf oddity. Thorin had assumed the best of his Lord, right up until Thain burst into a council meeting, crying about how he didn’t want Hagaa to be his mother.
“Don’t you want your father to marry?” Wolum cajoled to the bright grins of the rest of the council. He tried to slip Thain out of his father’s arms like he had any right to comfort Thorin’s son. “You don’t want your Adad to be alone, do you?”
Thain kicked out at interloping hands with his clodhopper of a Hobbit foot and snapped, “We don’t need your Hagaa! Adad has me, and someday we’ll have my Papa!”
Bard was under the mistaken impression that Thorin had gotten a common Darrowdam pregnant, abandoned her, and then taken her son away when he became king.
Since Men like Bard believed you married the mother of your child, no matter her birth, it made for tense relations between Erebor and Dale. Rather than make his objections clear, Bard just glowered at Thorin through their negotiations and made heavy-handed comments about the spree of marriages occurring in Dale thanks to the post-Smaug celebrations.
Most of the Dwarves assumed Bard was being his usual, disagreeable self, but Balin and Thain knew better. (Balin because he was smart, and Thain because Hobbits understood people better than Dwarves did. At least, that’s what Balin said when he was mad at Adad.)
Balin tried to explain things to Bard in the same sort of elusive terms that the human was using, but that just made things worse. By the end of it, Bard thought the whole thing was some tragic tale where Thain’s mother had snuck into Dain’s army to defend her beloved from Orcs, and Thorin had used it as a chance to abduct her child. (It didn’t help that the beloved and sneaking parts of that story were accurate, just not about her.)
Things might have been a bit less complicated if Wolum hadn’t been spouting vagaries about outdated paternity rights and implying that Thain was his grandson. It also didn’t help matters that his daughter, Hagaa, had taken to wearing mourning white and buying gifts from Dale to send to the Mountain every other day. After Hagaa had tried to manipulate Thain into calling her mother (and thus convince Thorin that a marriage was what his son wanted), Thorin had Wolum and every last Dwarf allied with him thrown out of the mountain. Of course, because Wolum could never make things easy, he’d gone straight to Dale and started moaning about broken families and Thorin’s pride.
For their next, painful meeting, Bard brought Wolum along as an advisor. The whole mess devolved into shouting the moment they stepped through the door.
Thain let the grownups struggle along until his father started to turn purple, and then he decided it was time to save Thorin from himself, just like his Papa did in the stories. Thain stomped up the Human king and declared, “Did you know that Dwarven smiths don’t have children by accident?” Bard glowered at Thorin, refusing to look down at the Dwarfling at his feet, but Thain continued. “It’s impossible. The metal’s ash makes it hard for a Dwarf to have babies. It’s something every Dwarf has to decide before they learn to smith. Whether working with the most precious of metals is worth maybe never being a parent.”
Bard dropped to a knee before Thain and rested massive hands on his shoulders. Thain tried not to sigh. Only Bard would decide it was his place to tell an ally’s child that his father was a cad. At least, until Bard noticed the Dwarves around the room nodding in agreement with Thain’s words. “If Dwarven smiths want children they have to take herbs and offer up prayers,” Thain explained before Bard said something unpardonable. “And my Adad has never taken any herbs.” His argument would’ve been stronger if he’d said that Thorin had never prayed either, but that would’ve been a lie, and Thain was doing his best to imply all kinds of things without being outright dishonest.
Bard flinched at the implication of Thain’s words, and Wolum stormed forward. “Are you accusing my daughter of drugging Thorin?”
Thain turned his best Durin glower on Wolum. “And my Adad doesn’t remember taking her to bed.”
“You would dare—”
“You’ve sworn to everyone in Dale that your daughter gave birth to me, and that I’ve spent my whole life in the Iron Hills.” Which every pinch-lipped Dwarf knew was untrue, but they couldn’t explain that in front of Humans. Thain wasn’t above using Wolum's lies to his own advantage. “That means I know better than anyone what you did, and what you’d hoped to get from me existing.” Thain put his fists on his hips and declared, “I can tell them all of it if you’d like. Or you can leave my Adad be.”
“There is nothing to tell you wretch!” Wolum advanced on Thain like he was going to attack, but Bard put himself between the two.
“You will let the child speak, Lord Wolum. I haven’t gotten a straight answer from either you or Thorin.”
“What makes you think you deserve to know the details of my life?” Thorin growled, to irritated to stay out of it.
“When you would have me pay tribute to you as did my fathers of old. A false king brought a dragon down on our heads, and I would rather remove my people from Dale than experience such a thing again!”
Thain reached up and grabbed Bard by his tunic, dragging the Human down until they were eye to eye. “It doesn’t matter where I came from. All that matters is what comes next.”
“Prince,” Bard sighed, like he was dealing with one of his own children and they were being stubborn.
“Do you love your children, King Bard?”
The Man started in surprise at the turn in conversation, but replied, “Of course.”
“And that’s what makes you a father, isn’t it? Loving your children?” Bard wanted to say things were a bit more complicated than that, but still he agreed. “And if you only loved your children because of how useful they could be, would you still be their father in any way that counts?”
Bard pinched his lips and let understanding flicker across his stoic face. He wasn’t the kind to prod for something more, especially when he was certain he understood already. Wolum fingered his axe, but he’d already lost Bard’s allegiance to the half-Hobbit who curled his toes against the stone and looked up at Bard with innocent eyes.
The book was exquisite.
It was leather, dyed the blue of midnight sky and tooled with the seven-stared seal of the House of Durin. The book had come clothed in fabric, wrapped in paper, bundled in hay, and tucked into a locked box that Bilbo was almost certain was mithril.
He’d known that something was strange when an Elf turned up outside Bag End with a package he’d been charged by King Thranduil to deliver. “It is a gift to commemorate one’s birth.”
Bilbo had stuttered, “Th-thank you, but it’s not my birthday.”
Mirkwood Elves were not subtle about their irritation. “The gift is assuring the delivery of this package to you, not the package itself.”
“But—” The Elf didn’t wait for Bilbo’s questions. He’d left Bilbo alone to roam into his kitchen, put on his kettle, and go about opening this present that wasn’t his, but was. Bilbo had slipped his way through the endless layers of packing and found himself with a ringing in his ears and a book marked by the Royal Line of Durin in his hands.
After long minutes of bewildered gaping, Bilbo snapped closed his slack jaw and straightened out his vest. He was Bilbo Baggins, Lucky Number, Stinging Fly, and Dragon Thief. There was no book, no matter whose kingdom it might come from, that would stun him. (Though, if the book was from Thorin’s people, why in the world had it come with Thraunduil’s guard?)
Bilbo forced aside his fretting over Thorin and how things might be back in Erebor. If Thorin wanted him to fret, he would’ve sent along a letter like a decent sort of chap rather than leave Bilbo to wonder. No, Thorin had made it perfectly clear that it wasn’t Bilbo’s place to worry about their goings on, so Bilbo would just be grateful the book had made it to him at all and not spare the time to wonder about the why.
Bilbo turned away from the book and plucked up his shrieking kettle. He ought to leave the book right where it was and go do his shopping instead. Then he ought to make dinner, invite over some guests, and leave the book to sit on its own until at least tomorrow, ignored on behalf of more Hobbitish pursuits. Bilbo told himself that all the way through settling his steeping tea back on the table and reverently easing open the book’s cover.
Tucked away in the nook between leather and paper was a letter, tri-folded and bound with a wax seal that bore the same sigil. Bilbo popped the seal, doing his best to keep the waxen image of seven stars intact.
Some part of him had expected the looping script of Balin, or even Ori’s tight, picturesque writing. But no, the lines were an angular hodgepodge, like a child using all their skills at Runes to try and write in Elvish for the first time. Bilbo spared a moment to wonder if Fili and Kili’s education in all things non-Dwarven had really been that deficient, but then he read:
Master Bilbo Baggins,
(The ‘Master’ was preceded by a mad scribble, like the writer had wanted to be sure that the mis-written word would be illegible to even the most diligent of readers.)
I am writing to you on behalf of the Company. They
shouteddebated about whether you might want to come home for our spring rites. They didn’t want to impose on you after your long journey back to the Shire, and nobody is sure why you decided to leave in the first place. Hammers were throne (misspelled), and goblets were shattered, but in the end they decided not to invite you this year so that you could have some peace.
But, I still want you to come. So consider this an official invitation to join us in Erebor for the beginning of spring. According to Ori, our spring comes at the beginning of your month of Astron, and since the chill of winter has just begun to fade, I thought it still might be enough time for you to make the journey.
And in case the thought of the Company is not enough, I thought this book might lure you home. According to my Adad you love books, and I thought you might find this one interesting.
--Thain, son of Thorin, son of Thráin, Prince Under the Mountain
P.S. I would very much like to meet you. My Adad tells stories about his Hobbit all the time, and my cousins say you are the best of them, and no Dwarf’s life is ever complete until they’ve met a Hobbit, and Bilbo Baggins in particular.
Please, if it’s at all possible, please come.
He’d been invited back to Erebor.
He’d been invited back to Erebor by Thorin’s son. By a son that in months of travel neither Thorin nor a single one of his Dwarves had ever mentioned. Since never once in all their years did Bilbo think the boys had ever kept a secret, that meant that they didn’t know a thing about a cousin.
Mindlessly, Bilbo flipped to the book’s next page and found himself looking at a picture tucked away in the crease between pages. It was a Dwarf child, though only the scantest trace of fuzz at the outside corner of his jaw told Bilbo so. His hair was a mess of black curls that didn’t fall quite long enough to be Dwarf-ly, though he could see from the gentle inking that the boy’s eyes were the same as Thorin’s.
That sent a stab through Bilbo’s chest, aching at even a fraction of an image of him.
He Bilbo was going to go, there was no point in pretending he wasn’t. He had to, because this image was done by Ori’s hand, and Ori didn’t make mistakes. Which meant this child -- this child a whole world and species away -- had a Baggins nose.
And Bilbo wanted to know how.
AN: Fun fact, Tolkien constructed different calendars for each of his species. Dwarves divided their years into four parts according to seasons, but instead of having their seasonal celebrations at the beginning of each seasonal quarter of the year, they celebrate at the middle of the season. So, Durin’s Day is the rough equivalent of a Human celebration of the Autumnal Equinox, but instead of celebrating the end of September, it falls somewhere around the end of October. So, six months from Durin’s Day and the Battle of the Five Armies would be around the end of April, first of May. The Hobbits in this story celebrate the far more civilized May Day (think May pole, flower crowns, and Lark Rise to Candleford), while the Elves and Men celebrate Beltane, and the Dwarves celebrate Walpurgis Night.
“Little brother!” Kili’s shout echoed through the library. (Only one Lord had dared question what the boys called their cousin. They’d just laughed, while Thrain had proven himself his father’s son with a spectacular loss of temper. After that even the most idiotic of Dwarves accepted that to Thorin, all three of them were sons.)
Ori had sent the boys a note saying that Thain had received a letter, then squeaked and darted deep into the bowels of the library, and now it was getting near supper, and could they please come find him?
The boys were not ones to ignore the cry of a Dwarf in need -- especially when that cry meant getting out of a meeting. So, Kili darted under tables and around bookshelves, checking all the spots he would’ve hidden, while Fili strolled down the center aisle, wondering aloud if perhaps they should get Thorin to come help them look. Fili didn’t mean it in the slightest, but a tiny hand shot out from underneath the nearest table and grabbed his ankle. He would’ve teased a bit more, but for the broken sound that came from their cousin. Without exchanging a glance, both boys dropped to the ground.
Thain was curled up tight, with his face pressed to his knees and his hand gripping the fabric at his shins. As the smaller brother, Kili belly-crawled to Thain and tucked the boy into his lap. “What happened, little brother?” Thain keened in lieu of an answer. The Dwarves exchanged a terrified look, and Kili prodded, “We can’t help what we don’t know.”
Thain tipped his head ever so slightly to the side and groaned, “I’ve done something naughty.”
Fili gave a helpless laugh. “Pray tell, how is that different from every other day of our lives?”
“It’s different.” Thain unwound just a little.
“Well lucky for you, my brother and I are excellent at getting ourselves out of mischief. And I do believe we would be able to do the same for you.”
Thain licked his lips and finally met his eldest cousin’s eyes. “In Mirkwood…”
Fili cast a precautionary look around the room and shimmied under the table so Thain could whisper to him. “Oh, this can’t be good.”
Fili had meant it to tease, but the moment the words crossed his lips, Thain burst, like the words couldn’t stand to be bottled up anymore. “I sent a letter to the Shire.”
“You, you what?” Fili croaked.
“I sent a letter to my Papa.” The stupefied silence just hung there for a moment before Thain added, “And, I may have lied to Ori.”
Kili put a hand on his brother’s wrist to keep him from saying something he might regret. “And how did you lie to Ori
“I-I asked him to draw a picture of me. I said I was going to give it to Adad, but I sent it with the letter. I didn’t say who I was, but…”
“Oh merciful Mahal, what else?” Fili croaked.
“I might, just might, have sent along a book on where Elves think Dwarves might come from.”
Fili managed to find a way to thunk his head to ground, abandoning Kili to ask, “Thain, please, for the love of all that is sacred, tell me that you didn’t find an Elvish book that talks about Carving, and instead of reporting it, or destroying it, sent it to the Shire?”
“Not, technically, no.”
“Just how ‘not technically’?” Fili groaned, his face still against the stone.
“The Elves only suspected things.”
Kili dropped his hand to the back of Fili’s head and kept his face smushed into the ground. “And what did they suspect?”
“That Dwarves had a different way of making babies.”
Fili started to curse in low and harsh Khuzdul syllables. “It’s not like they could help it!” Thain tried to explain. “I mean, the book said it’s just math. He said that if only one third of Dwarves are Dwarrowdams, and we have all have small families, that means we should’ve bred ourselves out of existence by now! He said that meant there were either scads of Darrowdams we had hiding in our mountains, or there was another way to create Dwarflings. He didn’t know how, he just suspected.”
Kili pushed Fili’s face a little harder. At this point they knew without a doubt that Thorin was going to kill them, and making Thain feel about that wasn’t going to do any good. “And do most Elves have this suspicion?”
“Thranduil did. And I didn’t ask about anybody else.” Thain sounded so terribly broken that Fili couldn’t stop himself from shoving aside his brother’s hand and trying to smile at the boy. Thain slipped out of Kili’s arms and climbed into Fili’s lap, murmuring his apologies, and “I didn’t really think he’d write me back!”
Fili pressed a kiss to the boy’s black tangle of hair. “Ah well, what’s done is done. Now why don’t you tell us what Mister Baggins said to you in your letter?”
With his face pressed to the warmth of Fili’s chest, Thain slipped the letter from the inner pocket of his jerkin. The envelope was bent and wrinkled from its journey to the Lonely Mountain, but Thain handled it like it was the most precious of gems. He passed it over his shoulder to Kili, so Fili wouldn’t have to unwrap his arms from around Thain.
Kili favored them both with a soft smile and opened the letter with the same amount of care. Fili watched his brother’s eyes skim the words, the corner of his mouth ticking up at Bilbo’s sense of humor. But then, his gaze stuttered to a stop. They tracked back to the beginning of the line and slowly roamed over the words to make sure he had them right, then he looked up at Fili with the same astonishment he’d had when Uncle told them they were allowed to come on his quest.
“Bilbo is coming to Erebor.”