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Taste of Home

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There was so much satisfaction in reclaiming Erebor — of reclaiming the halls of his forefathers, of bringing his people home — that Thorin felt churlish resenting the amount of work, time, and gruelling labour needed to make the mountain habitable again. After all, they had their fortress city, with its sturdy walls and warm stone halls, and both the dragon and the curse of gold madness had been purged from the mountain. The treasury was overly full of gold, enough to finance Erabor’s needs and restoration for a thousand years, enough to feed his whole clan and their descendants for ten and more lifetimes. Beneath his feet, Erabor was rich with deposits of ore, coal and minerals to occupy a city twice the size of the population who would resettle the mountain.

Too bad, it also seemed as if it would take those ten lifetimes to repair the unending list of damages, and a population three times the size of his clan, the majority of whom would not arrive until late spring at the earliest. Which left only Thorin’s Company, a hundred of Dain’s people from the Iron Hills, and two hundred refugees from Laketown to repair 200 years of neglect and an equal amount of dragonshite. In between surviving the winter together and finding ways to keep themselves fed.

If they starved or killed each other before springtime, at least Thorin could be confident his sister, Dis, would have the mountain under her control in quick order. The thought of Thranduil trying to bully Dis into anything was enough to keep him warm at night.

So, while Thorin tried not to be churlish, or let the hard work wear him down, even in his own head, it was hard not to focus on the impossibility of what needed to be accomplished at the end of another long day. Harder still when he had to climb up, up, up to the top levels of the city with aching limbs and a sore back after a day of shifting stones and bones and dragonshit. Or spending a day crawling along miles of pipes to find the breaks in the water systems that cooled forges and heated the city and brought hot and cold water and had been abandoned to run dry when Smaug attacked.

It was harder still not to resent that the only habitable section of the city was the highest one, the old Royal wings and noble quarter, which Smaug hadn’t bothered to smash and befoul out of lack of interest, or simply because he hadn’t fit down the corridors. Not when unattended mechanisms meant the pneumonic lifts were inoperable, and every level had to be climbed after another long, exhausting day.

He at least kept his misery locked behind his teeth, knowing he wasn’t the only one suffering. He might not be the youngest of dwarves these days, but he wasn’t the eldest, either, and he had a substantial advantage over most of the Men currently residing in Erebor. Men might have longer limbs, but his own were far sturdier.

“Home, sweet home,” Bard groaned when they finally reached the top of the last staircase. “Eru bless me, I’d take on another orc for a hot bath.”

“If we can get those pipes and the furnace repaired,” Thorin said, “We’ll not only not freeze when the snows settle in, we’ll have enough hot water for everyone to bath daily. Which will save us from suffocating on our own shared smell as well as from freezing.”

“Motivation enough for everyone, even without the shelter, food and payment for their labour.” Bard stretched, cracking his back. “I’m going to scrub a little of this filth off of me and find my children before I collapse.”

“Be sure to eat somewhere in there.”

“Sigrid would wake me up and force me if I didn’t.”

As Bard’s eldest daughter had followed in the wake of their hobbit, helping her take over the provisions and kitchens and ruling over all the various kitchen volunteers despite her age, Thorin believed it. The girl wasn’t full-grown yet, but she had all the determination of someone twice her age and more besides, something Bellamira Baggins only encouraged. Thorin was already looking forward to when Dis laid eyes on the girl and took Sigrid under her well-armed wing, something Thorin had no doubt would happen. The only real question was who would actually be in charge of Dale when it was rebuilt — Bard, Girion’s heir, or Sigrid, the daughter of Girion’s heir.

“At least some Men have some sense. I’m not surprised it’s your women and children,” Thorin told Bard.

The man snorted. “Try not to drown when you stick your head in a bucket to wash it, King Under the Mountain. Rocks are quite dense, after all.”

Cheered, they parted ways. The exchange of good-natured insults buoyed Thorin long enough to make it to his door, an ostentatious display of dwarven crafting and Erebor’s wealth. But then, they did lead to the King’s Chambers and never let it be said that Thorin’s forefathers were inclined to subtlety.

The yeasty scent of baking bread hit Thorin as soon as the door swung open, along with scents of cooked fruit, sugar and roasting meat. His mouth started watering immediately.

“What magic are you working, hobbit, and who did you raid for the supplies to do it with? Should I be prepared for angry mobs at the gate, demanding to know why a tiny female armed with a kitchen knife stole all their provisions?”

Bellamira Baggins turned from the fireplace and huffed at him. One hand on her hip, she shook the other in Thorin’s direction. “Did you just call me a thief, Thorin Oakenshield? I’m a respectable hobbit. Yavanna love you, you’re a mess,” she added with a sigh. “There’s hot water and soap for you. Take off those filthy clothes, and don’t touch anything until you’ve washed up. I spent hours scrubbing this room.”

Thorin grumbled for show but was happy enough to take off his grimy clothes. Left in just his small clothes, he went to work with the buckets of water heated by the fire, scrubbing the accumulated dirt from his skin and hair.

Bella made a face at the pile of clothes he’d discarded, pushing it aside with one toe. Thorin huffed, amused at the fastidious hobbit. Her regular complaints about how dirty adventures were had lightened the quest more than once.

“Don’t laugh at me, Thorin.”

“Would I laugh at you, Bella?”

She crossed her arms. “As opposed to shouting at me, hauling me around Middle-Earth like baggage, and ordering me around like one of your dwarves?”

“Point.” Thorin unwound his braids and set the beads aside so he could wet his hair. “I should have laughed at you instead of calling you a grocer when we met,” he added once he lifted his head from the bucket.

“Oh, you wretched dwarf.” Bella tossed a length of cloth at his head; Thorin caught it and used it to rub the excess water from his hair. “And I’m not a thief, by the by,” she said, stalking into the kitchen.

“Stealing from a dragon rather indicated otherwise,” he called after her.

“He stole it first!” she shouted back. There was a bang and a clatter. “Taking something that someone stole to return it to the rightful owner isn’t theft! It’s practically a public service!” Another bang. “And anyway, I’m a burglar, not a thief. I’ll have you know, Thorin Oakenshield,” Bella said, coming to the doorway and waving a long spoon at him, “that those are two entirely different trades and it’s unbecoming of the king of Erebor to not be able to tell the difference.”

“I’ll take that under advisement, Bellamira Baggins,” Thorin said seriously, working one of his braids into his hair. He held back the grin until Bella nodded firmly and turned around; then, he chuckled under his breath.

“I heard that,” she grumbled.

“Of course, dear.” He waited until she was back in the kitchen, making more normal noises. “So, where did the provisions come from? I smell fruit, and I would have sworn there wasn’t a piece of fresh fruit in the entire mountain this morning.”

“Do you really want to know the answer to that? Or do you want to trust me with the provisioning and all deals thereof on our behalf? Since you did ask me to manage our supplies, after all.”

Thorin made a face. “Elves?”

“Would you rather starve?”

“Ask me again the next time Thranduil shows up,” Thorin muttered.

“I heard that, too.” Bella returned with a tray, piled with things smelling of the scents that filled the chambers and more besides. Steam rose gently from the tray, and Thorin could see a pile of the small, soft rolls Bella had fed the Company back in the Shire and again at Beorn’s hall. His mouth watered.

“I know perfectly well that you and Thranduil get along as well as a pair of cats,” Bella said, setting the tray in front of him. “Wet cats in a sack, no less. Thankfully, your common sense outweighs your pride some of the time, as does your sense of duty. Which is why I’m in charge of negotiating for food, and you’re fixing the mountain.”

“How much did he want?” Thorin asked. In addition to the lovely rolls, there was a massive slice of meat pie, the flaky crust and rich gravy calling Thorin’s name. He didn’t even care how many vegetables Bella had added since they would taste of the meat they were cooked with. It was a superior method of preparing vegetables, in his opinion.

“Does it matter, if everyone in the mountain is fed?”

Even if Thorin was inclined to argue, he’d taken his first bite of the pie. Meat and gravy and potatoes and crust melting on his tongue and making his belly remember how empty it was after a long, hard day of work. He savoured the bite and finally answered once he chewed and swallowed. “Only in how it will affect relations between Erebor and the elves going forward.”

Bella picked up the braid he’d abandoned in favour of eating and began weaving the strands of hair. “You’ll be happy to know that Thranduil wasn’t involved today. Apparently, he’s finally been persuaded by Gandalf and Galadriel to deal with those dreadful spiders at their source. Legolas handled the negotiation, and he likes me even more than Thranduil does.”

Thorin made a face at that but said nothing. The general elven reaction to Bella wasn’t something he liked, but it also wasn’t something she could help. Hobbits were of Yavanna and nature, and elves had an abiding love of nature.

A thought occurred as he tore open a roll, steam and scent rising from the white insides. “Where was Kíli?”

“With me,” Bella said blithely. She tugged his braid a little too hard as she asked, “Why?”

“You know why,” he grumbled. “That pale elf princeling should keep his eyes — and his hands — to himself and away from my sister-daughter.”

“Your sister-daughter is a grown dwarrowdam who has her own opinions on what Legolas should or shouldn’t do with his hands, and enough sharp pointy things to enforce that opinion,” Bella told him, tying off the braid with a bead. “You’ve already lost this argument, Thorin, and since you’re sleeping with a hobbit — one with elven blood of her own, I should add — you’ve not got much ground to stand on in the first place.”

Thorin grunted, not ready to concede she had a point. “You aren’t an overly-tall, leaf-eating, elven princeling. And you certainly aren’t Thranduil’s spoilt child.”

“Legolas is not spoilt, at least no more than any beloved child. He could sit in his father’s halls on his bum all day, being waited on, but instead, he leads the Silvan army in defending his home.”

Thorin grumbled at that but said nothing. The damned elf was a fair hand at killing orcs and goblins.

Bella began another braid. “Besides, I’d wager some of my relatives are far worse than Thranduil — he’s hardly a Sackville-Baggins, after all. And I seem to recall you complaining I was too small and fragile, and being horrified to learn hobbits eat vegetables even without meat. You looked like I’d hit you with a dead fish when I told you we considered many flowers to be delicacies.” Her hands moved swiftly and confidently as she worked the braid, a far cry from her first, hesitant attempts more than a month ago. “You asked Gandalf why he didn’t just invite a hummingbird or a butterfly along on the quest while he was at it.”

Thorin filled his mouth with more meat pie, rather than open it and insert his foot. Bella laughed at him while he chewed, and knotted his craft bead into the braid while he washed down the food with wine. They’d recovered an assortment of wines and spirits from the lower caverns that had aged rather than spoilt in the years Smaug dwelled in the mountain. The ale, unfortunately, hadn’t survived as well.

“You know those scones of mine you loved?” Bella asked as she separated out more strands of hair for weaving. “The ones I packed with me, that lasted until the trolls? They were flavoured with lavender, you know. Which is a flower.”

“I have nothing to say on the subject of your food choices, particularly when you’ve got my pride in your hands.”

She laughed again and tugged on a lock. “One of them, anyway.” Thorin chuckled and continued eating. Bella’s response was a far cry from the blushes and squeaks of embarrassment she’d been reduced to at the beginning of the quest, whenever the fire talk had grown raunchy. Not to mention her reaction at the sight of his ‘pride’ when they’d first lain together.

“I’m glad to see the King Under the Mountain has learned a little discretion,” she continued. “Besides,” she added cheerfully, “you needn’t worry so much. Kíli isn’t interested in marriage any time soon. Not even with an elven prince. Something you should pass along to Dain and his son,” Bella added.

“That’s less helpful than you hoped, dear one,” Thorin grumbled, “considering the looks the two of them give each other. And Dain knows full well that if one of his kin tries to approach Kíli, they’ll have to challenge me to combat first. And then go through Fíli, and Kíli herself, in combat.”

“Dwarves,” Bella huffed. “Finish your dinner.”

With a choice of filling his belly with delicious food, or annoying his hobbit, who had her hands in his hair and provisions under her control — Thorin chose to finish his meal without complaint.

Bella finished working his braids before he took the last bite, including the newest one, which signalled their courtship. The bead, matching the pair braided into her golden curls, was carved by his hand from oakwood. He would have preferred to give his hobbit beads of mithril, the only metal as pure and resilient, yet light and strong, as Bellamira herself.  But such beads required the use of specific tools, and opening up those forges would have to wait until their needs were met. As it was, he’d settled for giving her a mail shirt of mithril, both to protect what was most precious to him, and as a promise of his intent.

The plans for the beads — and the crown and other jewelry he intended to make for his hobbit burglar — were carefully sketched out in the pattern book he’d carried throughout the quest. The hand-sized book was the latest in a series he had kept since first being apprenticed, containing his designs, recorded for future use. He’d also made a copy of the map that had led them to Erebor, and a translation of the moon runes on it, just in case. Such books were the mark of a good craftsman, and would one day enter the archives of his guild, as well as the royal archives upon his death.

Now his pattern book was full of sketches of beads carved with leaves and flowers rather than the angular patterns of his people’s designs. Plans for a crown wrought of twisted strands of mithril and gold, delicate and far smaller than the ones stored away in the treasury, made for harder dwarven heads. Small rings, earrings in the design of flowers and vines and set with tiny gemstones rather than oversized, heavy stones. Necklaces of fine chains and delicate pendants instead of ornate collars. All waiting for when he had the time and resources to put to making them, rather than seeing his people were warm and had enough to eat.

One day, once he had made the things he’d planned for her and more besides, Thorin would tell Bellamira when he had sketched out the first of those designs — a bead pattern and matching earrings. He would tell her it had been done late at night by the fire of her cozy home in the Shire, while the Company dozed off, and Bella, still in shock from their invasion into her comfortable world, slept in her own bed.

Before Thorin could rise, having scraped up the last drop of gravy and crumb of crust with the final bread roll, and take his dishes to the kitchen where Bella had wandered back to, she returned carrying more dishes. One of the plates she set in front of him before sitting beside him with her own.

Laid out on the plate before him were two golden brown half-moons of pastry, flaky and fragrant. The hand pies were more like art than food and were warm and rich with the scent of apples and spices.

“Mahal bless you,” Thorin groaned. “Never fear your acceptance by my people, Bella,” he said, knowing it was something that concerned her. “One meal from you, and they’ll sooner depose me than you. The Shire may face an invasion when my people start trying to acquire hobbit foodstuffs — and cooks.”

Bella giggled and took a bite of one of her own pies, chewing neatly. Thorin was far less delicate and groaned again with pleasure when the taste exploded on his tongue.

“Who knew dwarves were so easily bought,” Bella said once she’d swallowed. “With food rather than gold, no less.” Thorin glared at her but didn’t speak. He knew better than to talk with his mouth full in front of Bella as it was a lesson she’d taught even the least refined of the Company by deploying a wooden spoon and withholding dessert.

Besides, he was more interested in eating pie than in refuting her.

“You can slow down, Thorin, we have plenty of pies. We made them as an experiment, both sweet and savoury,” Bella continued, somehow managing to speak while also making quick work of her hand pie. Hobbits. “It’s faster to bake enough of these for everyone than it is to bake off enough larger pies to feed the same number of people, and it’s a more efficient use of supplies — and saves on the washing up. Plus, everyone can carry a few wrapped in cloth for lunch and dinner while working throughout the. Hobbits carry them while working farms and gardens, or while out foraging or fishing. We call them tuck-pasties since you tuck them in your pockets, and because the bakers in Tuckborough were the first to sell them. And also because the Tooks of Tuckborough can tuck away a dozen in a sitting,” she added thoughtfully.

Thorin swallowed the last of his fist pie and picked up the next, studying his hobbit. She looked healthier than she had towards the end of the quest, no longer pale and wane. Her hair was neatly pinned up, and her dress was clean, despite the subtle signs of being repaired — a change from how bedraggled she’d looked while they’d been on the run from Azog, or after confronting and killing Smaug. It probably contributed to her good mood as the dirt and dust and dishevelment of being on the road, without time to stop to repair cosmetic damage to her clothes, had distressed her a great deal.

Apparently, torn cuffs and fallen hems were as thoroughly unhobbity as only two meals a day.

But Bella had yet to put on the weight the quest had stolen from her, and Thorin had a better understanding of hobbits now than at the start of their journey. As much as hobbits ate seven meals a day out of pleasure, regular meals were also a necessity, and winter was just about to start.

“Are you getting enough to eat?” he asked quietly. “I know I complain about dealing with the elves, but I’d invite Thranduil into the treasury before I’d have you, or anyone else here, go hungry.”

Bella gave him a soft look and patted his hand. “I’m fine, Thorin. I need to eat regularly, but the quantity of food so many in the Shire eat is because we can, not because we need that much. And I won’t go hungry, though I’d rather miss a meal than let one of the children or elderly in the mountain go without. I’ll steal gold, or even the Arkenstone, right out from under you before I’d let people go hungry out of pride or ancient feuds. And we’ve laid in a modest supply of lembas as an emergency stock. You can thank Kíli and Legolas for that, by the way.”

Thorin made a face but didn’t comment on that, as he could swallow a lot of pride to ensure no one under his care went hungry. He’d missed plenty of his own meals in the years after Erebor fell, but he’d never once let his sister-son and daughter know real hunger, nor any other child of his people. He’d even defied the instructions of his grandfather and father at times, just to make sure of it. He couldn’t blame Kíli for going behind him and making a deal with an elf for food when he’d done the same in the past.

“We have something similar to this, called hand pies or mine pies,” he said instead. “It can be a long trip back from an active mineral vein just to take a lunch break, so miners carry their meals with them. The pastry is nothing like this, though,” Thorin continued, breaking off a corner of crust. “It’s much tougher and less tasty, more for containing the filling than anything. Some don’t even eat the casing, just the contents.”

“Hobbits never waste an opportunity to add flavour and food. You’ll like the savoury ones. We did two kinds — one with the same filling as your dinner, and the other with that chicken, the one with rosemary and thyme, that you like.”

Thorin adored the chicken with herbs, along with the roasted potatoes and carrots that accompanied it. It had been the first thing he’d eaten at her table when he’d shown up at Bella’s door all those months ago. She’d made it again in Rivendell when she’d taken over Elrond’s kitchen to make provisions — and to cook a meal for the Company in the spirit of preserving dwarf-elf relations.

He’d never said as much out loud, though, which said a great the attention Bella paid to his preferences. Or maybe it wasn’t him, but anyone eating her food, that Bella observed that closely.

“Forget Royal Burglar,” Thorin said. “You’ll be the Baker of Erebor.”

Bella swallowed her last bite — he hadn’t even seen her eating the second of her own hand pies. “I suppose it’s better than a grocer.”

Thorin huffed. “I apologized for that. Twice.”

“Reluctantly,” Bella said brightly. “I even forgave you for it. Doesn’t mean I can’t hold a grudge — something you ought to understand,” she added pointedly.

“I do not hold grudges —” she snorted, “ — I have a long memory of past grievances.”

Dwarves. I’d rather be known as the Baker — another honourable profession, I’ll have you know — than whatever ridiculous titles you lot are going to call me.” She pointed a finger at him. “If ‘barrel-rider’ ends as part of an official title, Thorin Oakenshield, you’ll regret it for years.”

It was charming how she thought Thorin had the final say in that. Thorin resolved to speak to the Company and squelch that particular part of the tales they told of the quest. He judged his odds of success as middling, at best. “Once they taste your cooking, they’ll call you anything you want.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, then stacked the empty dishes. Thorin regretted that there wasn’t more pie, but reminded himself there would be more for tomorrow. “If I become the Baker of Erebor,” Bella said, pushing the plates aside, “does that mean all of Erebor should get an equal share of my sticky buns?”

Thorin frowned. “Never mind, you can be the King’s Baker instead.”

“Is that above, or below, the rank of the king’s wife?”

Thorin reached out and tugged her from her seat and into his lap. She settled there as if it was exactly where she belonged — which it was. “That depends, entirely, on how hungry the king is. And what he is hungry for.”

A blush spread across her cheeks, but she frowned at him playfully. “I’m hearing a great deal of talk about what I get to do for you. I’m expecting a lot of gardening space out of this bargain, Thorin.”

“I’ll turn every balcony in the mountain into gardens for you. You can plant tomatoes and carrots and potatoes to your heart’s content, or just cover the outside of our mountain in a blanket of flowers if you wish.”

That would be a sight,” Bella laughed. She tipped her head and hummed. “Actually, it would be very pretty,” she said thoughtfully.

Thorin shook his head and kissed her until she sighed. He foresaw a great many vegetables and flowers in his future, and he was looking forward to watching the mountain, and the land around it, grow green and fertile once again.

He had his people’s home back, regardless of the years of hard work ahead to restore it, and a lapful of hobbit who was rosy and smelling of yeast and herbs from the kitchens. It was a pleasant change from her state during the quest, as was his own full belly, and the aches in back and limbs from hard work rather than battles.

Bella curled against his chest, head on his shoulder and Thorin exhaled, all the stress of the day and more leaving him. They weren’t done yet, facing a harsh winter dependant on what they could barter and trade, with only a few souls to do the work needed to keep them safe and warm.

But Thorin could anticipate the day when Erebor was full of the sounds of mining and crafting, celebrations and laughter, rather than echoing hollowly with the footsteps of so few people. A day when, rather than the must of disuse and the lingering odour of dragon, the mountain was filled with the scent of forges and home fires competing with baking bread and hearty food and ale, the signs of his people’s labour and security.

And he would still have his hobbit burglar — and her cooking — to come home to after a long day working on behalf of his people. For that day to come, Thorin had endured much hardship. The current circumstances were positively pleasant in comparison.

Even his sister-daughter and a leaf-eating elf princeling making eyes at each other.

Bella tugged his braid and slid from his lap. “If you’re going to brood, let’s go to bed.”

“I’ll show you brooding.” Thorin scooped her up in carried her, laughing, to bed.