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Winter is Coming (Continued)

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The council were convened in the Southern Hall, in full session for the first time since the coronation of Thorin as King Under the Mountain.

Bilbo sat on one of the high dwarven chairs, large feet swinging freely, hands on the arms of his chair. He sat next to Ori and Bombur, who were both quietly arranging documents in front of themselves on the massive stone table that overwhelmed the center of the room.

Despite how much time he had spent among them, more intimately with the company, and now on a much larger scale during the... Renovation of Erebor, Bilbo still never could get over the little tickles in conversation which has him stepping on Dwarven toes--or boots rather--with surprising regularity. Balin called it a part of his charm, Nori said Bilbo was just being stubborn. And Thorin, Thorin actually just... Smiled. Every time. Each blundering anecdote would be met with that grin, a show of camaraderie and good feeling if ever Bilbo saw one. Thorin sometimes even said that he was pleased that Bilbo tried so hard to make the mountain his home.

Clearly there were no hard feelings on Thorin's part about the whole Arkenstone business. Bilbo would have hated to lose him as a dear friend over an act meant to protect his friends.

"Order, please, I will call you all to order!" Balin thumped his gloved fist on the table from where he sat beside Thorin. Fili was opposite Balin, to the right of the King, the heir's seat, or so Bilbo had been told. And Kílí sat to Fili's right.

The other dwarves quieted and the room focused on Thorin. "My friends, this day has been long in coming. Many thought we might never see it come, but here we are, standing together in the halls of our fathers. Erebor is rebuilt!"

Thorin did always have a knack for making grand, majestic speeches.

Cheers followed for several minutes, and Bilbo enjoyed the richness of the dwarven joviality that seemed to pour out of their passionate hearts. Givers in all things, dwarves emotions could not be contained within their bodies: their rage, their grief, their shame, and most especially, their joy. Each one poured out of them like a room full of overflowing jugs of mead, coloring the room into a buzz of giddy delight.

"Thank you! My friends, our business calls to us today, Dwarves of Erebor. Our people have come home. But Winter is fast approaching, and my Lord Bombur of the Royal Kitchen and Pantry Guild, has intimated that our stores are not sufficient for the fell winter that will strike against our newly recovered kingdom."

Bilbo's blood ran cold.

"The reports, My Lord Bombur, if you could." Thorin's arm was outstretched towards Bombur who lifted a section of his stack of papers and walked over to the head of the table and laid his stack of papers on the empty space on the table between Fili and Thorin. The rotund dwarf cleared his throat as he turned to address the council properly. His soft voice sounded deeper, more profound in this echoing stone chamber.

"My lords, as His Majesty introduced, our predictions for the winter are harsh, and snow will soon close all the passes. Dale is still not bountiful enough to provide us too much more in the way of stores from their fields on the renewed Desolation."

Bilbo's heart was in his throat, and his fingers had gone white as they gripped the arms of his seat.

"Our stores, upon delivery of our final shipment, will be sufficient to see us through the winter, but the food will need to be rationed, and there can be no Yule feast. The celebration may continue, but we will not have enough for even a roast dinner for His Majesty's family."

Bombur folded his hands over his large belly and turned to bow to Thorin.

The King Under the Mountain stood to address his council, who had started talking amongst themselves. "My lords," Thorin called for silence.

"My lords, Lord Bombur brought this to my attention and we have a plan we should like to put into place: I will need members of this council to administer the Guild with Lord Bombur. His focus will be on the running of the kitchen and the meal planning. I will need a second lord to be instituted as his equal to be in charge of the pantries, rationing out the stores and coordinating the menus with my Lord Bombur."

Bilbo found himself on his feet, and speaking before his mind caught up with his body, "I can assist Lord Bombur. I," he shifted his gaze from the table to the assembled dwarves, "I know I'm just a simple Hobbit from the Shire," he paused as protests rose up, most notably from the members of the Company, which made him smile.

He lifted his hands to request silence, and after a moment, it was granted. "We Hobbits know a thing or two about food: stores, recipes, and rations. We've... Weathered a few harsh winters before, and I will make sure we never go hungry."

He exhaled deeply as calls of support echoed up and down the chamber, and her turned his gaze to Thorin. There was a small smile on the King's face as he lifted his own hands for silence. "I support the motion of Lord Baggins, DragonRiddler, as Lord Bombur's Master of Stores for the duration of this winter, and the following length of time to move out of rationing."

"Seconded," Balin spoke clearly, just a breath after Thorin had finished his declaration. Other members of the Company also chimed in, along with a few Council members.

"It is done," Thorin declared. "Lord DragonRiddler, you and Lord Bombur will perform an inspection immediately after this council session. Bring a master scribe and apprentice with you, to note anything that must be recorded or discussed at the next council session."

Balin cleared his throat as Bombur returned to his seat beside Bilbo, "The next matter on the agenda is from the Southern Mine Shafts."

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Once the council session had finished, Thorin and Balin stepped aside to speak with Bombur and Bilbo.

"Bombur, Bilbo," Thorin greeted. "I couldn't trust any two more than I do you with the needs of our people this winter."

Bombur blushed and bobbed a shallow bow, as the Company had been very vocally informed that the king would not brook any deep obeisance from the members of his company. Bilbo simply smiled and nodded, mind already spinning ahead of him to the lists he would need to make.

"And, Bilbo," Thorin added, "I am. I am pleased to see you taking such an interest in Erebor."

Bilbo stammered, "O-of course, Thorin. It. Erebor has become my home as well."

Without further ado, Thorin and Balin left the hall, leaving Bilbo and Bombur to approach the Scribes for assistance.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Bilbo knew he wouldn't sleep well that night. Thoughts of winter and rationing always brought back memories. But he would damned if he didn't use every trick in his book to make sure that his dwarves never went through a fraction of what the Shire suffered.

He and Bombur spoke with the scribes for several minutes, asking a variety of questions, including: "We'll need a census. How many scribes would it take to coordinate a full census of the population, by family so we can be certain each family has its needs met?"

The Master Scribe, a golden-haired, flat-nosed Iron Hill Dwarf named Kefur, passed his silver gaze over the assembled apprentice scribes. "Four of them should be able to tally the work. One must also cross-reference the records from the Battle of the Five Armies, to verify that the two sets of information agree with each other."

"Splendid," Bilbo said, rubbing his hands together. "so, if you could choose the five scribes for that work, whilst you and at least one apprentice join Bombur and I down in the stores to begin our work."

Kefur grumbled out names as he nodded to the dwarves to whom they belonged, "Ignid, Brami, Orfor, Qwerl, and Fint. You shall need to report to Lord Balin before you begin." Kefur scrawled out a short note and signed it. "Bring this to him and set about your tasks. Orfor, you work on the records. The rest of you, take a compass-quarter of the mountain. Ensure that your regions share no overlap. Spend today working on the maps and lines and such. This note asks Lord Balin to diminish the work load for your two days of the census. We may need to add the list of miners last, if they aren't put of the deep mines sooner."

With five deep bows, beards to knees, the five apprentices turned and left to seek out Balin.

"My Lord DragonRiddler, My Lord Bombur, myself and young Mith here shall accompany you to the stores." As he said so, Kefur gestured to a dwarf with hair the color of Shire soil, a nose that resembled a specked goose egg more than a nose, and a beard braided securely in a netlike fashion, containing the inner bulk of hair. Bombur sighed dreamily as he stared at the short apprentice, and Bilbo felt his eyebrows raise without his permission.

Despite the severity of the situation, he was delighted for his friend.

"Shall we?" Bilbo asked gently, leading the way and starting up a conversation with Kefur over his concerns and the paperwork that ought to be completed with the tasks, allowing Bombur and Mith to follow side by side.