After the battles, betrayals, and long days of healing and rebuilding, it seemed a miracle to stand upon the ramparts of Erebor with Bilbo Baggins. A miracle and a tragedy, for Thorin knew in his heart that this would be the last time he saw her. As her tawny curls blew in the winter wind, he tried to memorize every line of her face, every twitch of her nose. A store of memory to keep him sane when she was gone.
“Will you not consider waiting until the spring? The Misty Mountains will be easier to traverse then, and many dwarves will go to Ered Luin to bring their families home to Erebor. You shall have Bombur, Gloin, and likely my nephews for company as well.” Stay, he did not say. Stay with me. Do not go home to your comfortable hobbit hole, your garden, and your books. Choose the mountains. Choose the adventure. Choose me.
Bilbo did not look at Thorin. Her eyes were focused on the snowy mountainside, and the horizon. “I cannot delay,” she said softly.
There seemed nothing more to say. Thorin would not weep or beg. If this was to be the last goodbye, he would have her remember him honorably. Not a heartbroken dwarf, but a proud king. Someone who had once been worthy of her love.
“Thorin.” Her little fingers graced the stone wall before her, melting some of the ice and making tracks in the snow. Soon, the wind would blow, the snow would shift, and there would be no trace of the hobbit’s hand on the mountainside. “How much do you remember? Of the words we spoke while you were—ill?”
“All,” he said. “I remember all that I said and did to you. No apology can heal the rift between us, but time might. In time, you might see that I am well again. The gold does not hold me any longer. I would prove as much to you and regain your good opinion before you go home.” Think well of me, he did not beg. Imagine me a hero, as you once did, and love me. Only love me, and stay, and make your home at my side. I ask no more than that, and you shall be a Queen.
“Then, you remember my acorn?” Drawing the little nut from her pocket, she raised it in the palm of her hand. Cold sunlight glinted on the smooth surface like topaz.
Thorin remembered. He remembered finding her with the seed in the halls of Erebor. In his madness, he imagined she concealed something from him, but it was only an acorn from Beorn’s garden. Beorn’s garden held other, fonder memories for them both. Unfortunately, that moment in Erebor was not the gentle meeting of desire witnessed by tall oaks and bumbling honeybees. Bilbo spoke of seeds, children, and a future full of growing things which she doubted could thrive in the desolation of the dragon. In his sanity, Thorin now recognized her attempts to recall him from the depths of his greed. In his madness, it seemed to him that she wanted something other than gold.
He remembered. Oh, he remembered. He remembered kissing her in the middle of a sentence, stopping her voice with his lips. He remembered tracing the curve of her bodice with hands. He remembered how soft and supple hobbits were, so unlike the stone-hard flesh of dwarves. Even in the depths of his madness, a word from her would have stopped him. Instead, she said, “Thorin, this is serious.” She would have continued to speak, save that he found the place on her neck which made her groan deeply. “Fine,” she acquiesced. “Don’t stop. Please don’t stop. But we must talk after.”
They did not speak after. Yet another of Thorin’s broken promises. It was no wonder that she did not want him now. No dam would make a husband out of a dwarf who would behave in such a forward manner. Especially if he then refused to hear her counsel. The true mystery was why she had allowed him such favors at all. Perhaps her quick mind imagined that a reminder of the love they once shared could save him from his madness.
Perhaps, if it had been so, he would deserve her.
“So you see, I must plant my Acorn in the springtime.” Bilbo’s voice came from very far away. She stood at the peak of the mountain, even as Thorin was buried among Erebor’s roots. “That cannot wait, and thus I cannot. I must be home by spring.”
“Of course.” If Thorin’s voice was anything better than a harsh whisper, only decades of politics allowed him to manage it.
“Of course!” Bilbo laughed, though it was a little forced to Thorin’s ear. Her eyes seemed locked on the setting sun, already at home in the kindly west. “After all, I was always going to return to the Shire at the end of my adventure. That is where my family lives, and that is where I belong. The only way the story could conclude otherwise would be if I somehow found myself a husband, and I am too much the spinster to believe that plausible.”
“Indeed.” Thorin shut his eyes briefly, allowing himself a single moment of weakness. “What worthy husband could be found for one such as you?”
But she did not say his name. She did not take his hand. She did not propose to marry him. In the end, she no longer loved him, and that was no fault of hers. After a time, they returned to the mountain for a farewell feast. In the morning, she left.
Rebuilding Erebor, especially repairing relations with Dale and finding resources to feed a mountain without stores through a long, harsh winter, required all of the king’s focus. To make matters worse, Kili, the troublesome lad, eloped with an elf from Mirkwood and nearly caused another war. Only by renouncing his claim to the line of succession was the youth able to calm the situation. Thorin did not have time to pine for Bilbo, or spend his days staring at the western sky wondering if they would ever meet again. His love was gone, but the mountain was reclaimed. Personal happiness was not something he had ever expected, and the loss of it could not be called important. He had his companions, his nephews, and his kingdom. In truth, he was blessed beyond any right of hope or expectation.
Even so, when spring came and the ice began to melt, he called for the strongest of the ravens. Goräc was larger than any other bird in Erebor, and prouder still. She agreed to carry a letter from the king to distant lands, studying the map carefully before clacking her beak and departing. Four days later, he received a reply.
“Dearest Thorin,” Bilbo wrote. Long hours spent drafting and correcting his polite missive were rewarded by that salutation alone. Dearest, she called him. Of course, it was merely a colloquialism. He was the dearest — and only — Thorin of her acquaintances. There was no deeper meaning. Yet she could not hate him very much to open a letter in such a way. Time already began to soften her heart. Perhaps after a few years of correspondence she might consent to see him again someday. Nothing seemed impossible, if she called him dearest.
“Words cannot convey how surprised and pleased I was to find a raven of Erebor knocking at my kitchen window as I went to make tea. It is wonderful to hear from you and to know that all is well beneath the mountain, despite the fact that you now only have one heir. Dare I ask you to pass along my congratulations to Kili? I know his choice differs from the one you would make in his place, but I wish him every happiness with his new bride.
“Please do keep me apprised of our former companions, especially those who travel to Ered Luin to fetch their families. Naturally, I want to hear what everyone is up to. However, perhaps they should not stop off in the Shire to see me this time through. It will add nearly three weeks to their journey, and the truth is that I am only just getting my house in order.
“You will never believe it, but while I was away I was declared dead! As though half of Hobbiton did not see me leave with you. When I arrived home, it was in the middle of an auction. All of my belongings were being sold off, and a pair of my most dreadful relatives were about to take possession of Bag End. I have had a wickedly difficult time reclaiming all of my furniture. Moreover, I am quite certain that Lobelia Sackville-Baggins—who expected to be living in my smial—remains in possession of my best silver spoons. Being a dwarf, you will wonder why I do not simply take Sting around to her house and get them back. Suffice it to say, things are done rather differently in the Shire.
“My reputation is in absolute shambles after taking off with a bunch of dwarves and coming home with my souvenirs. The treasure helps a little, but far less than you would probably think. Still, I received an invitation to visit my mother’s family in Tuckborough. Although the Tooks are by no means respectable, dining at the table of the Thain will increase my stock somewhat. And it will be very nice to have a little rest while someone else cooks. I do not mind telling you that putting my house in order has been a great deal of work, and I seem to be exhausted five minutes after I wake up in the morning. A bunch of dwarves descending might not improve matters, delighted as I would be to see them in the normal way of things. And, of course, they would see my Acorn if they came.
“Thank you for asking about her. I did not know if you would care. Yes, I have planted her, and yes, she grows very well indeed. It was touch and go for a moment, for she is extremely large. I suppose oaks will always seem so in Hobbiton. Fortunately, I survived the journey home, and I could not be more pleased with the fruits of my adventure. Acorn is the most precious little sprout ever to grace the earth. Anyone who suggests I might be biased may keep their opinions to themselves, with my thanks.
“This raven of yours seems very strong, so I have dared to add a second sheet to this letter. It is a drawing of mine. Not very good, for I am not very practiced at the art, but it is a skill that I would like to develop now that I have a little time. In any case, I hope you like it. Thank you again for writing. I miss all of my friends in Erebor and think of you fondly, although I am glad to be home.”
It was a good letter, despite the fact that the signature was not as promising as the salutation. Being only “Sincerely,” it was not anything that offered love or service. Still, Thorin read the whole letter a second time, and a third, before turning to the second page to see her drawing.
Bilbo was correct. The drawing was technically proficient, but only just. Thorin suspected a master of the art would have much to teach her about sketching. The subject was strange as well: a baby swaddled in a blanket. Perhaps it was only an easy study to make, for the blanket could be expressed in a few lines with a little shading. Even so, it was the work of Bilbo’s hand. It was a gift of craft offered over a great distance. Thorin secreted both the drawing and the letter away to cherish. Such a response was promising. Placing his hope in perseverance, which always served him well, Thorin wrote her again the following month, and every month thereafter.
One day, with luck and care, they would see each other again. On that day, perhaps she would think well of him.