It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least in Eriador, that a unmarried king in possession of a kingdom must be in want of a spouse. However little known the feelings of such a king may be when ascending the throne, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding countries, that he is considered the rightful property of their unwed progeny .
“My dear Mr. Baggins," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Erebor is taken back at last?"
Mr. Baggins replied that he had not. It was not Bungo Baggins’s habit to pay attention to the outer world. The inner world of Hobbiton and in a small part, the Shire, was enough for him.
However, he had married a Took, and this came with certain expectations. In other words, a larger view of things.
"But it is," returned Belladonna Baggins née Took; "for the Dwarf traders have let us know all about it."
Bungo regarded his missus with an evaluating stare over his morning’s first pipe and a sheaf of papers having to do with the contested ownership of a pregnant sow.
He had fallen for Belladonna because of her red-haired beauty and her Tookish spirit. Even now, that flame in her warmed all of him. All the rest flowed from that, but it didn’t mean he must like it. So Mr. Baggins made no answer and waited for the rest.
"Do you not want to know what this means?" cried his wife impatiently.
Bungo smiled despite himself. "You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
This was invitation enough. "Why, my dear, you must know that the Dwarves say it is finally Thorin who has been crowned King under the Mountain, after a slaying of a dragon no less! He has two unmarried nephews - princes, mind you! - just as he has no spouse. There will be a public ceremony in the spring. All the dignitaries must be there, including our Thain of course."
"What is his name again?"
"Thorin II, my love."
"You say he is single?"
"Oh! Yes. There are not many Dwarrowdams, even in plentiful times. A tragedy for the Dwarves, no doubt, but how fortunate for Bilbo!”
A pause followed as Master Baggins tried to recall what a Dwarrowdam was. His wife’s green, silent glare seemed to indicate that she had translated that term for him in the past, and being less than interested in the topic, he hadn’t quite attended. "How so? How can it affect him?" he inquired genially, hoping to circumnavigate this sad gap in his knowledge of Dwarves.
It was a fortunate thing that Belladonna was as beautiful when exasperated as she was in everything else, for she was often in that state with the sort of Hobbit she’d fallen for. "My dear Mr. Baggins," she replied, "how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of one of these unmarried king or princes marrying at least one of our Bagginses, and why not my Bilbo? He’s the prime of the lot."
Bungo choked, nearly dropping his pipe. It was saved with deft reflexes but his papers slid every which way like so many leaves from a shaken tree. "I applaud your ambitions, Wife,” he coughed, “but I fear a Dwarf king should have very little use for a Hobbit … er… consort?”
"Nonsense, how can you talk so! Dwarves are not so different except for unfortunate softness of foot, and I’ve been told the Durin Dwarves are especially comely if a little tall. Why not a handsome, accomplished Hobbit spouse for either the princes or the king? So you see, our family must be part of the Thain’s dignitary train, for surely one of the Dwarven nobility may fall in love with any of our available Shire boys and girls.”
Bungo paused. Belladonna was not prone to flights of fancy, and the more he thought on it, the more the idea of his immediate family tied to the very rich nobility of Erebor began to sound, if not plausible, profitable. He did appreciate her loyalty to his family; she could easily be supporting her maiden family, the Tooks. However, the thought of such a journey gave him a shudder of dismay. "I see no occasion for that . You and the youth may go, or you may send them by themselves with the Thain, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as pretty as any of them, this King Thorin may like you the best of the party."
His wife gave him a flirtatious smile and tossed her long, curly hair in return for his clever flattery. "My dear, even Thorin Oakenshield will not want a matron such as myself, even if he himself is no longer so young. No, my adventuring days are over. We must send our children with their best clothes and in their fine looks, and you must write to the Thain to insist they go with him. They are, after all, gentlehobbits everyone.”
Even Bungo could see some holes in this plan. “Now, my dear; you forget. Only one of our next generation is ours… and even though our Bilbo would snatch any chance at traveling beyond the Shire, others may not be so …”
She sniffed contemptuously and in a cutting tone rejoined: “As if Camelia Sackville-Baggins wouldn't lob your nephew Otho with a trebuchet straight at the Lonely Mountain at the mere scent of a rich son-in-law.”
Bungo sighed, allowing for the truth of it; his sister-in-law was frightfully money-grubbing. It wasn’t a trait Bagginses in general admired. He had never understood why his younger brother had married the girl, except for a stab at rebellion.
“So you see, you must write to the Thain right away before he sets up plans without them.”
Bungo sighed. “It is more than I wish to attempt, truthfully.” He hated politics and he could envision a long period of self-effacing with an uncertain outcome.
“Consider our son, my love. You know Bilbo will never be content here until he’s seen the world, and if he should win the favor and hand of royalty, so much the better. Gold will flow again from the Lonely Mountain. Would you want the Tooks to have all the opportunities, and deny our only son?”
His wife’s hands were on her hips and she stared at her husband; Bungo appreciated how the pose accentuated his wife’s curves, and eventually he began to mull over her words.
The front door opened and closed and their son came in from the hall, cheeks pink from exertion, but auburn hair impeccably tamed in sedate waves, only a few strands of summer honey catching the light now that it was approaching autumn. There was a fresh wildflower in his lapel and a book in his hand.
He raised his eyebrows at his parents’ stance, and went to the counter to make himself a cup of tea from the service there. “Should I ask?” he asked over the rim of his cup, his dark green eyes surveying them wryly.
Belladonna tapped her cheek and he leaned obediently and kissed it. She took the book from his hand and glanced at its title, then turned its cover towards her husband with a triumphant look. “Reading up on Dwarves, are you?” she asked mildly.
“There’s not much here unless I go down to Michel Delving, but I thought about learning the writing system at least. There’s news from Erebor; there’s a new King under the Mountain!”
Bungo hung his head in the face of his son’s enthusiasm. “Looks like I’ll be starting that letter to the Thain now,” he said, rising and taking his papers with him.
“Whatever is the matter with Da?” Bilbo asked, bewildered, his teacup half-raised.
“It seems he heartily consents to whichever Dwarven noble will marry you.”
“Pardon?!” Bilbo’s outraged cry echoed down the halls of Bag End.