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A Courtship Most Confusing

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Kili came running into the library, ignoring how he was frowned and whisper yelled at by several of the dwarves working there. He hollered, "Ori, Bella, where are you?"

He was hushed again but heard Bella calling faintly, "Back corner, Kili. Now shut up!!"

He raced through the stacks to find them bending over a table, carefully restoring a manuscript that looked like it dated back to the founding of Erebor. Bella didn't even bother looking up from where she was working, "What is it now, Kili?"

He all but danced impatiently as he replied, "You have to come, amad's caravan is almost at the gates."

Bella finally looked up, setting aside her tool with a frown, even as Ori stripped off his gloves and set about capping the inkwells and tidying the surface. She said quietly, "I don't know why I should be there, it wouldn't be proper."

Kili frowned at her, gently snagging her arm and towing her through the library, "What nonsense are you saying, Bella? Of course you should be there. You're one of the company, we wouldn't have managed to do all of this without you." Ori quietly seconded that and Kili added, "See, Ori agrees too. Amad is going to love you. What in the world could possibly be improper about you greeting the caravan."

Fili joined them and Bella felt her heart speed up slightly. He asked Kili, "What's she fussing about now?"

Bella hid the hint of hurt that she'd felt at that while Kili replied, "She thinks that it's not proper for her to greet the caravan for some reason. Either that or she thinks that it's not proper for her to meet amad. I haven't figured out which one yet."

She said tartly, "She is standing right here and can hear both of you just fine. And yes, it is not proper for me to greet your mother with you, for two reasons. One. It's a family moment and I shouldn't be intruding. Two. Your lady mother and both of you, as well as your uncle, are all royalty. It is not proper for me to be amongst all of you. People may get the wrong idea."

All three dwarves scoffed and Kili rolled his eyes, "You are one of the company, Bella. That makes you practically royalty as it is. Not only that, but you faced down a dragon, alone. I dare any dwarf to argue your suitability when that little fact comes up. Also, amad is dying to meet you, she's said so in her letters."

Bella stopped walking but Ori gently nudged her until she was back in motion, "You told your mother about me?"

Both Fili and Kili shrugged, "We did and I'm sure that the others have sent reports to her as well."

She shook her head fervently, "Nope! Definitely not! If that's the case, I can definitely not meet your mother."

Fili grinned at her, causing her heart to flutter slightly again, "Too late, we're already here."

She looked around and blinked, inwardly cursing the fact that they had managed to drag her outside without her even noticing. Before she could protest again, they ushered her over to where the rest of the company was gathered. Thorin nodded warmly to her, so she shut up and accepted the fact that she couldn't get out of this with grace and would just have to endure it.

She looked around at the rest of the company and was surprised to find Bombur almost dancing with impatience, his eyes sparkling. Making her way over to Bofur, she asked quietly, "What's Bom so excited about?"

Bofur grinned at her, "You've got a smudge of ink on your nose, lass. Bombur's wife and littles are in that caravan. He's missed them something fierce while we were gone."

Bella sighed and dug into her pocket for a handkerchief. Swiping at her nose, she prayed that she wasn't just smearing the ink further. She said softly, "Do you all have kin coming?"

He must have caught the hint of wistfulness in her voice, because her turned and studied her. He replied slowly, "Most of us do, that or close friends. All those that we left behind on the quest. I know that they swung by the Shire, did no one?"

She shook her head and offered him a bright smile, "No, none felt comfortable traveling so far from their kin. However, they sent word that they sent seeds and cuttings, enough that Erebor will be green with life shortly."

Sympathy entered his eyes, so she turned away before he could say anything. She hadn't really expected anyone to come anyway, so it shouldn't have cut her, even though it did hurt a little. Still, she had tasks to keep her busy and occupied, tasks that would have made her much too busy to visit with anyone who had visited anyway. Because that's what it would have been, only a visit, because no hobbit would ever choose to voluntarily leave the Shire and settle inside a mountain. No one besides a fool of a Took and a Baggins.

She huffed out a sigh but it was lost in the cheers as the caravan rumbled to a stop. She hung back as the others rushed forward, letting out joyful cries as they were reunited with their loved ones. She wrapped her arms around herself and sighed again. She should be used to this by now, excluded from the group. She started wandering down the line of wagons, searching for the one with plants. They would need care and tending after such a long journey. She had almost reached the end of the line of wagons when she was stopped by a strange dwarf, one that had apparently come with the caravan judging by the amount of dust on him.

His hand on his belt ax, he asked suspiciously, "Who are you and why are you snooping through the wagons?"

She crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently, "I'm Bella and I'm looking for the seedlings that were supposed to be with this caravan. Who are you?"

He straightened, "I am Kun, son of Kur, caravan guard. At your service."

She was about to ask again when Fili found her, "Bella, there you are! Why did you run off?"

The other dwarf's eyes widened comically and he bowed hastily, "Your highness! Kun, son of Kur, at your service."

Fili nodded regally, "Much appreciated. If you'll excuse us?" Without waiting for him to reply, he grabbed her arm and tugged her away, "Now Bella, why did you run off?"

She waved to the guard before turning her attention back to Fili, "I didn't run away, I was looking for the seedlings and saplings. They'll need extra care after traveling so far."

He grinned at her, "They've waited this long, they can wait a bit longer. Kee was brokenhearted that you weren't there to introduce to amad."

She rolled her eyes, "I'm sure that Kili and your mother are both just fine. I'm no one of note anyway." He frowned at her but before he could reply, Kili was there, tugging her excitedly over to a dam that so strongly resembled Thorin that it could only be the Lady Dis, "Amad, this is Bella."

Quickly freeing herself from Kili, she dropped into her best curtsy, "Pleased to meet you, Lady Dis."

Dis beamed at her, urging her to stand up, "What lovely manners. I've been dying to meet you, with everything that my brother and sons have told me about you, not to mention the rest of the company."

Bella flushed at that but offered her a warm smile, "That is very kind of you. I've been looking forward to meeting you as well, my lady."

Dis waved that aside and looped her arm through Bella's, "Just Dis, if you please. Now, you simply must tell me everything about the quest, my silly boys always leave the important things out, think that they're protecting me, bless their hearts."

Fear crept over all of the Durins expressions and Bella felt mischievousness sweep through her, "Everything? Well, that will take quite a bit. If you'd like, there are refreshments available in the company's quarters. I'm sure that you are starving from your trip and we can get better acquainted while you refresh yourself."

Dis turned and started walking into the mountain, arm still linked with Bella, "That would be lovely. Why don't you start with how all of you met."

Both princes froze, their faces turning pale, before racing after the two swiftly moving ladies in what would prove to be a vain attempt at damage control.

* * *

It was late afternoon by the time that Bella managed to free herself from Dis's clutches, leaving her alone with Thorin, Fili, and Kili to catch up on all the family events that had happened while they had been parted. She slipped out and made her way towards her workroom, praying that all of the crates had been delivered there by this time. The last of the crates were being placed there when she arrived, along with the dwarf that she had spoken with briefly earlier.

Moving towards them, she called, "Kun!"

The dwarf turned, frowning as he wondered who was calling his name. His expression lightened when he saw who it was. "Mistress Bella. Looking for the seedlings? They should be all here."

She moved into her workroom and moved over to one of the specially marked crates, opening it and pulling out a list. She asked absently, "Would you happen to know who cared for them on the way here? I have some questions for them."

He shuffled nervously, "That, uh, that would be me and a couple of others, ma'am."

Focused on carefully uncrating some of them, she said, "You might as well stay and give me a hand then, unless you have people waiting for you."

He shook his head, "My kin came with me. I can spare an hour or so. Tell me what to do."

She offered him a small smile, "Start opening the crates but don't remove anything from them. While you do that, you can tell me what care you've provided for the plants over the course of the journey."

He grinned back at her, "I can do that."

* * *

Nori made his way slowly down the hall, in search of their errant hobbit lass. The rest of the company had started gathering for the evening meal, the first that they'd all be there together once more for. Only it wouldn't be complete without the lass that had become part of it, no matter what she thought. Ori had pulled him aside and spoken with him about her odd words, about how it wouldn't be proper for her to greet the lads' mother. That and the look of resigned wistfulness every time she saw the crown prince, as if he was just out of her reach and always would be. He had reassured his baby brother that he would handle it and sent him on his way. Nori then set out to do what he did best, gather information. He had learned a few interesting things, but most of it would be wait and see, until he could say for sure.

The sound of laughter caught his attention and he looked around in surprise for the sound. To his bemusement, it seemed to be coming from Bella's office, her familiar sweet laughter mingling with a deeper dwarven laugh, although one that sounded unfamiliar to him. He sped up, making sure to keep his footsteps silent. She had great hearing after all and he didn't want her prepared for his arrival.

He poked his head carefully around the corner, surprised to find her elbow deep in dirt as she re-potted some plant or another, her face dirt smudged and her eyes shining brightly with a mirth that had been absent for much too long. She was speaking to a dwarf that he didn't recognize, although it was probably one of the caravan guards judging from his appearance, "Oh, I would've paid good money to see that. She must've been furious when she found out. I pity the one that had to tell her though."

The dwarf chuckled as well, "I'd only ever seen that color on an amethyst before, never thought a living person could achieve that shade."

Now, this situation was much too chummy for Nori's taste, especially with a dwarf that he had no idea who they were. For such a tough little hobbit lass, she could be naive at the oddest times. Pulling back from the door, neither one had noticed him, he tucked his hands in his pockets and whistled a tune nonchalantly as he made his way into her workroom. They both looked over at him curiously and he grinned at Bella before giving the other dwarf a brief once over, memorizing him carefully for later, "Thought I'd find you here, lass, with your plants and growing things. Figured that you had lost all track of time. And who might this be?"

She swiped a stray hair out of her face, managing to smear yet more dirt on her face, "This is Kun, son of Kur. He's the one that tended the plants on the journey here. And time for what?"

Nori shook his head in mock disappointment, "Why dinner, Bella, of course. Bombur wants to show off all of his littles to you and Gloin can't wait for you to finally meet his wife and son. Although you could probably pick them out of a crowded hall by now without trying, as many times as he's described them to you on the quest."

The other dwarf gaped at her, "You were on the quest?"

She nodded absently, "Yes, I was the burglar. Well, this is as good as a stopping point as any. Thanks for your help, Kun. If I have any more questions, I'll make sure to seek you out." Turning to Nori, she said, "Give me just a sec to wash my hands and then I'll come with you."

He grinned at her, "Might want to do your face as well, lass."

She laughed at that, "Guess I was having a little too much fun playing in the dirt, thanks, Nori."

She scurried into her inner office to get tidied and Nori turned his attention to the other dwarf. Pulling out a dagger, he started walking it absently over his hand as he studied the other dwarf carelessly, "Kun, was it? Tell me, Kun, how did you end up taking care of all the plants and such?"

He fidgeted, trying not to meet the spy-master's probing gaze, "Luck of the draw, really. There were several of us that didn't have secondary duties, so we ended up splitting the task of caring for them between us. It's a miracle that they reached Erebor alive, growing plants is most definitely a hobbit thing. They make it look so easy, with their green Shire, but it's blasted hard work. Nerve wracking, too. The Thain entrusted these plants to us for his granddaughter, whom I still need to find and turn them over to."

Bella returned at that moment and laughed, "You already have. I mean, really, how many hobbits do you think that there are in Erebor?"

The dwarf flushed bright red and searched desperately for something, anything to say. Bella took pity on him, "Thank you for your help, Kun, but I can take it from here. I've kept you much too long as it is, you still need to settle in, I'm sure."

Kun nodded, bowed, and then all but ran from the room.

Nori sheathed his dagger and asked cheerfully, "Ready to go, lass?"

She rolled her eyes at him, making her way out of her office and waiting until he had exited to lock the door behind her, "You didn't have to scare him, you know. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself."

He grinned at her as they made their way to the company common room, "Aw, you're adorable, like a wee kitten that thinks it's so fierce with it's teeny claws and larger than life attitude, but is simply really too adorable for it's own good. Speaking of which, when you said that you had connections in the Shire, you failed to mention that the Thain is related to you."

She muttered under her breath, "I'll show you kitten." She tucked that away for later when she could retaliate properly and shrugged, "You never asked who my connection is. Why does it matter anyway?"

"What, that the Thain is your grandfather?" She nodded. "It's important because you're part of the ruling family of the Shire, a beloved part of it, it sounds like."

She laughed at that, "In a way, yes. However, it's in a distant relative sort of way."

Nori asked curiously, "But you're the Thain's granddaughter, that's a direct descendant."

She nodded, "Ah, I understand your confusion. You see, my mother was one of twelve faunts, nine lads, three lasses. I am his granddaughter, but I am far, far away from the line of succession, such as it is. So, there's nothing for you to worry about."

He frowned at her, "I thought that we were friends."

She stopped, propping her hands on her hips, "What are you going on about now, of course we're friends. What in the world would make you think otherwise?"

"If you didn't want to tell me about your family, that's fine, but you don't have to lie to me."

She huffed an impatient laugh, "Oh for the love of Yavanna, I'm not lying to you. Listen." She started walking again and he followed as she carefully started listing off all of her aunts and uncles, their children and relatives, and how it worked out that she was either the forty-second or fifty-seventh in line for the Thainship depending on which way one counted.

By the time they reached the room, Nori was flabbergasted and completely lost, wondering how in the world she could keep all of that straight in her head. Holding open the door for her, he muttered, "You lost me, lass, but you definitely convinced me. Tell Ori all that sometime so that he can write it down. We need to get your genealogy written down anyway, for the records, since you live here now."

Beaming at having managed to outwit Nori, a rare thing indeed, she asked cheerfully, "Now, why in the world would the genealogy of a simple hobbit lass matter?"

It was Balin that answered her, clearly having been about to head out and look for them, "For when you wed, of course. You'll need to join your family's lineage with that of your spouse, of course."

She turned bright red before glaring at the snickering Nori, "That's not funny."

He grinned warmly at her, "You look like a ruby, lass. Of course it's funny." Noting her distress, he sobered, asking softly, "Why isn't it funny?"

She swallowed hard, hating to have to spell it out yet again, "It's not funny to mock a spinster about marriage."

Before either Balin or Nori could reply, Gloin was there, sweeping her away to meet his family. Nori turned to Balin and asked incredulously, "Was she serious about the whole spinster thing?"

Balin frowned, concern etched on his face, "I think she was. Maybe we've been sheltering her a little too much, if she thinks that no one wants to court her."

It was Nori's turn to scowl, "None of those dwarves were fit to court her."

Balin sighed, "Aye, no one will ever truly be good enough for her. But apparently our selectiveness has caused her to question her suitability. Maybe we should inform her of the courting offers that she gets."

Kili chose that moment to join them, scowling, "Who wants to court Bella?"

Balin sighed and Nori looked troubled, "Many dwarves, Kili. We've turned them away, of course."

Kili nodded firmly, "Good, so why is this a problem?"

Nori said slowly, "She seems to have gotten it into her head that she's a spinster and no one will ever want to court or wed her."

Kili was torn at that, his sister was undoubtedly highly sought after, not that he would approve of any of the courtship requests of course. On the other hand, all that he wanted was her happiness and if she was unhappy that no one wanted to court her, that was a whole separate dilemma. Finally he ground out, the admission costing him greatly, "Well, then we'll just have to find a dwarf who is worthy of courting her. There has to be at least one dwarf out there that is suitable."

The other two looked at him doubtfully and he had to bite his tongue to keep from voicing his own doubts. Bella deserved to be loved by someone who truly loved her in return. Still, they had to find someone suitable Finally both Balin and Nori sighed and agreed, unable to come up with a better idea. This was going to be a nightmare of a task all around.