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Of Sugar and Spice

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By the time it came for the young dwarrows to choose their weapons, Kíli unconsciously decided that he much preferred the skill, range and versatility of the bow over the brute strength and closeness of the warhammer, axe or sword.

His uncle, Thorin, reluctantly allowed this on the condition that Kíli at least learn to use the sword – the lightest of the three close-combat weapons – in the event he was bereft of his bow and had to fall back on another weapon. Kíli agreed, equally reluctantly, only because he knew his older brother would be training with the sword as well.

Training with the blade was under the strictest supervision of his uncle and Dwalin. Training with the bow, however, left Kíli much to his own devices.

Archers were few amongst the mountain-dwelling Dwarves who mostly used them for hunting when out journeying away from home. Fewer still were those archers who had the time and willingness to train a dwarfling beyond procuring a bow and arrows for him and teaching him the basics in terms of stance, draw and aiming, and making new arrows. Skill came with the individual, they said, and with constant practice.

So it was that Kíli found his own practice space – a small clearing in a valley just a stone’s throw away from the last Dwarf house in the settlement.

At first it had just been him and the birds and the wind, as he practiced shooting his arrows at the first line of a small copse of trees just beyond the clearing. Then word got around that the young Heir of Thorin Oakenshield had favoured the bow as his chosen weapon. Such a thing had not been heard of in the royal family since… well… no one really talked about that now.

Older dwarves wisely held their tongues.

Younger ones however had yet to learn better….

} – {

Bombur, brother of Bofur, knew that aside from being a fairly good cook, there was nothing else all that special about him aside from his impressive girth – a consequence of being a fairly good cook; he often liked to eat what he made. It did not mean that he was greedy, selfish or a glutton. Not at all. He found no greater joy than sharing with others the one thing that made him happy.

It began simply enough: staying home and cooking for his brother, and his cousin Bifur, while they were out selling their wares – impressive toy-making it seemed ran in the family, except when it came to him. The cousins would often share any food they took with them out to work with whomever they felt was worthy of being a friend of theirs.

This led to orders for lunches and dinners on special occasions, followed by Dwarves stopping by the house to see if there was a little of this left over, or some of that remaining, as they’d enjoyed it so much the previous night or week ago.

Eventually Bombur decided to open a little shop where he might make and sell food on a daily basis to the various Dwarves – miners, merchants and others – who came by. The extra coin wasn’t a bad thing, after all, especially on days when few toys sold and Bifur still needed medicine for the headaches the axe in his skull sometimes gave him.

It also meant he wouldn't have to leave home too often and be subject to whisperings out in society that he was not supposed to hear, but did.

After a time, one of his most frequent customers was none other than the younger Heir to the Kingdom of Erebor. Bombur knew Thorin of course, though it was strictly on a business level – the exiled King sometimes bought food from him to take home to the family, and he himself had sent up food at no charge, upon learning of the death of the boys’ father and Thorin’s brother-in-law.

Young Kíli’s frequent visits lately however had been a welcome surprise. Three days a week the prince would stop to buy something to eat either on his way to or from the field that lay just a stone's throw away down from his house.

Bombur knew of Kíli’s plight of course. His kitchen window looked out over the clearing where Kíli practiced with his bow and arrows, and often while waiting for the stove to heat or soup to boil, he would watch the younger dwarf shoot, noting the slow improvements to his aim the longer time went on.

Sometimes he heard the catcalls and cries of ‘elf-spawn’ from young voices just beyond his field of vision. On those days he would prepare something a little extra to give to the lad as he made his way back home, the bright smile he got in return being payment a-plenty.

He knew well enough how cruel people could be to those who were different from them.

If only the younger ones could learn better….

Chapter Text

He was but a mere lad of 35 when he first got the taste for it – literally…

The day was rather overcast.

Both Bombur and Kíli looked up at the grey clouds brushing the peaks of the Blue Mountains as they made their way eastwards. Kíli was the first to look away, fishing in a pocket for the right amount of coins to pay for the hearty soup he’d just bought. Bombur looked down as Kíli handed him the money, then pressed half a warm loaf into the prince’s hand.

Kíli blinked at him.

“Comes with the soup,” was all Bombur said, with a twinkle in his eye. “Eat it while it’s warm.”

“Thank you.” There was gratefulness in Kíli’s voice as he accepted the addition. He knew better than to offend the cook by trying to pay for what was a gift. Instead he vowed today to try and bring down a rabbit or pheasant that he could give Bombur in return.

Smiles were exchanged before Kíli went on his way down to the field and Bombur returned to his kitchen. He waited, watching from his window, till Kíli sat down in the grass to eat, before turning to spoon himself some soup for a quick snack. No sooner had he washed his bowl once he had finished when a knock sounded from the front and he hurried to attend to his next customers.

He busied himself the next few hours with business, selling what he had and quickly preparing some last minute requests for those Dwarves whom he liked who were in a bit of a hurry to get home ahead of the rain. It was only when he went to shut the front windows where his counter was that he noticed the drizzle.

And Kíli still hadn’t passed by. Of course a light drizzle had never stopped the young Dwarf from his shooting, but Bombur could tell that this shower was only going to get heavier, and he knew Kíli knew it as well.

The echoes of shouts reached him before he reached his kitchen and he frowned. Surely those rascals had more pressing things to see to before the inevitable downpour rather than heckle a solitary dwarf who was minding his own business. He had half a mind to bring up the matter to Thorin, but knowing the surly dwarf like he did, he knew Kíli wouldn’t thank him for it.

The sound of flesh meeting flesh made Bombur snap his head towards the window. Surely they wouldn’t dare strike a prince of Durin’s House?!

Before he realized what he was doing, he grabbed a heavy ladle and dashed out of the house as fast as his legs could carry him.

} – {

Kíli dodged the blow aimed at his stomach and turned his head right into a punch that hit him square over the cheekbone. He staggered back before regaining his senses and kicking back a third assailant in the thigh while swinging his elbow back into the jaw of the first. He brought his other hand around and punched the second square on the nose before pain lashed up and down his back.

He heard the sound of wood breaking before he found himself level with the grass the broken halves of his bow landing on either side of him.

“No!!”

He rolled onto his throbbing back in time for the fourth to plant a foot in his stomach and hold him down as the other three surrounded him.

“You’re a disgrace,” said one

“You should run away and join the Elves, if they’ll have you.”

“No proper Dwarf hides behind a bow.”

“Unless all he wants to do is shoot rabbits and squirrels.”

Kíli fiercely ignored the tears that stung his eyes and threatened to spill over. He would NOT cry in front of these bullies and give them even more satisfaction. He narrowly dodged a gob of spit aimed at his face. One of them grabbed him by the hair and pinned his arms down with his knees so the other dwarf could try again and Kíli shut his eyes tightly.

“Leave him alone.”

The young dwarf’s eyes snapped open at the fifth voice and he saw a familiar shape slowly crossing the clearing towards them.

“Look, it’s the lard ball.”

“I think I know what happened to your cousin’s goat.”

“Roll away, fatty, this does not concern you.”

Bombur approached, letting the words slide off him like the rainwater, heavy iron ladle in hand. Kíli struggled, but the grip on his hair was vice-like and he didn’t want to risk damage to his scalp by forcibly pulling away.

Leaving the two who had Kíli pinned down, the other pair advanced on Bombur, sneering.

“Let him go.” Bombur’s voice was soft, but clear enough to be heard.

The two laughed. “Or you’ll do what?” one of them asked and lunged at him.

Bombur swung the ladle and smacked the dwarf on the same spot on his jaw that Kíli had elbowed earlier in the fight. The dwarf dropped with a groan as the other tried to tackle Bombur to the ground. All he got for his trouble was a solid whack to the back of his head that knocked him clean out.

Kíli would have laughed, but instead used the momentary shock to kick his legs and trip the dwarf with the foot on his stomach while Bombur, with surprising speed, crossed the rest of the distance and yanked off the dwarf that had him pinned, brandishing the ladle in one hand as he stood protectively in front of the prince.

“Pick up your fellows and leave.”

Not liking the odds now that they were even, the remaining two dwarves hauled up their downed companions and fled, but not before dropping some choice remarks about troll spawn and Bombur’s heritage.

“Don’t listen to them,” Kíli grunted as he rolled to his side and pushed himself gingerly to his knees.

“Merely orc-speech,” Bombur replied as he finally turned to face him, having made sure they would have no further trouble from the four troublemakers.

“Thank you.” Kíli reached to gather the two broken pieces of his bow and a shaky sigh escaped him that made Bombur’s heart ache a little at the sound of it. “I’m grateful for your help.”

The older dwarf bent to help the younger to his feet, noting how he favoured his back at the movement. “You could use a little more of it.”

“I’m alright.” Kíli tried to smile and took a step forward to prove it, only to wince and pause as his back and now his head protested the movement. Bombur could see a bruise starting to color on his cheek. “Mostly. I’ve had aches before.”

“I doubt from vicious actions.”

Kíli had no answer to that.

“Let me help you.”

The younger dwarf still hesitated, but Bombur was as stubborn as the best of Durin’s House and started to gently nudge him along gathering up his quiver of arrows as he did so. Kíli figured not protesting took less effort and relented, picking up what pace he could so they could both be out of the worst of the rain that had started to come down harder.

} – {

Chapter Text

They were still damp when they reached Bombur’s house and he ushered Kíli to a chair by the fireplace, stoking the flames up again to warm the room as he set down the quiver next to the broken bow that Kíli tossed onto a nearby table. Bombur thought he looked like someone had just killed a beloved pet.

“Take your shirt off and let it dry in front of the hearth,” he said. “I’ll bring you some soup.”

He bustled off to the kitchen before Kíli could protest.

Kíli only let out a resigned sigh before unlacing his shirt and laying it on the floor before the fire. Outside, the sound of the rain intensified and he cringed as he gingerly straightened himself in the chair again. He looked around while he waited, trying to get an idea of his host’s home.

It was a simple stone-hewn dwelling much like his own in terms of furniture, only this one had shelves along one wall that housed a variety of wooden toys in various stages of completion that the child in his heart longed to pick up and examine. He and Fíli owned a few of them as dwarflings, of course and he still had a pair of horses that he refused to part with. Bifur and Bofur’s toys were some of the best this side of the Misty Mountains, and to see them in their construction stage was something of a treat for him.

A long table stretched beside the shelves scattered with tools and brushes and pots and splashes of various colored paints. Kíli longed to take a look at what they were working on now, but he figured it rude to pry into what was none of his business. That, and getting up to look actually required moving – something his bruised body was protesting at the moment.

He almost started when a big towel was draped over his head and shoulders, and Bombur appeared with bowls of delicious-smelling soup, a warm loaf of bread and mugs of cider. Kíli wrapped himself in the towel and looked up at him, hesitating about accepting food that he wondered if the dwarf could replace.

“You did not have to…”

“It will warm you up. You look cold.”

“What of your family?”

The dwarf only smiled. “We have enough. Please, eat.”

Kíli relented. The soup did help to lessen the cold chill of the rain, and the warmth in turn reduced some of the ache in his body. The rich smell of lightly spiced bread stole through the house and he inhaled deeply. The scent was earthy and warm and reminded him of his mother’s hugs when he was little.

“That smells lovely,” he found himself saying. “What is it?”

“Bread, of course,” Bombur replied, having polished off his ‘snack’ in minutes. “Today is my bread-baking day.”

“Must be your favourite day of the week.” Kíli devoured the half loaf he held, mopping up the remnants of the soup with the last few pieces.

Bombur chuckled. “I much prefer cooking to baking, but baking bread is simple enough to do. I could show you if you like, if your mother hasn’t taught you already.”

Kíli perked up. “Mother doesn’t bake.” He smiled a little. “It’s why we buy your bread and cakes, Mister Bombur.”

“Just Bombur.”

A nod. “Anyway, Fíli and I, we barely have any time to spend in the kitchen, and even if we did, I’m not sure Uncle would approve. He’d much rather have us out training with our weapons and learning history and politics… ‘for when the time comes’ he says,” Kíli went on, not sure why he was sharing all this. “We’re his heirs after all, and Fíli tries so hard to do right by him. I don’t want to ruin all the progress.”

The older dwarf looked a little thoughtful. “What would you rather do?”

Kíli paused and blinked… like no one had really asked him that before. “I… never really thought about that.”

Bombur nodded, as if he’d decided on something, then picked up the empty bowls and walked back to the kitchen, leaving Kíli to ponder on the question he had just asked. He returned with a shirt of deep green and handed it to the younger dwarf, who looked just a little bit puzzled.

“Put this own till your own dries, then follow me.”

Curiosity winning out, Kíli did as asked despite the shirt being a little bit big – probably one of Bofur’s, he figured – and stood slowly. “What are we doing?”

“No kingdom was ever ruled on an empty stomach,” Bombur replied as he led the way to the kitchen. “I’ve still got one more batch of loaves to make before the others come home.”

Kíli figured there was no harm in learning something new. After all, Thorin didn’t have to know about it, nor anyone else aside from himself and Bombur for that matter.

} – {

The warmth in the kitchen was considerably nicer than the one out in the living room, mostly because it came with a multitude of nice smells that immediately put Kíli more at ease. It looked a lot like the kitchen in his own home, only slightly larger to allow for the amount of cooking Bombur did on a daily basis, was what Kíli surmised.

And of course there was the large brick oven in one corner that Kíli’s own kitchen did not possess. His parents – his family line for that matter – had not been all that renowned when it came to matters of food. Great warriors, yes, but someone else always had to go through the trouble of feeding them all.

Kíli startled when Bombur set down a bowl of flour in front of him and stared at the various other items around him.

“What is all this?”

“I’m sure you’ve seen milk, sugar and oil before, have you not?” Bombur asked with a chuckle.

Kíli colored a rosy pink. “Of course I have, but what do I do with them?”

“You’re going to make my last batch of bread of course.”

“M-me? But… I’ve never cooked or baked anything in my life!” Kíli turned to look at him. “What if I ruin it? You wouldn’t be able to sell it! I’d be depriving you of coin and that is something I could not do to someone who’s shown me nothing but kindness!”

Spoken like a right prince, Bombur thought. “This is not for selling; it is merely for our dinner.”

“That’s… that’s worse! If it does not turn out well, then you and your family will starve tonight.”

The older dwarf laughed merrily. “Worry not, my prince,” he said, noting how Kíli cringed slightly at the use of the title. “There is plently of other food we may yet eat if we cannot have bread for our supper. Now come, let me guide you.”

Kíli could see the rain coming down harder outside the window, and so gave in, washing his hands before following Bombur’s instructions and adding various bits of this and that to the flour mixture, even popping a few raisins in his mouth as he added them in at the last.

“This is rather fun,” he admitted as he stirred the mix so it became pasty.

“You might enjoy this next part then,” Bombur said as he dusted the board with flour and dumped the dough onto it. “It is called kneading. Do it often enough and you will build up enough strength in your arms that drawing your bow will soon feel like you’re pulling yarn from a mitten.”

At the mention of his bow, Kíli’s smile faded a little as he remembered that it was currently broken and he wasn’t at all sure how to fix it. He certainly wasn’t going to ask Thorin to help him get another, his uncle disliked the archery enough as it was.

“Drawing my bow might not be an issue any more if I don’t have one,” he murmured.

“Here now!” Bombur took his hands, chancing the risk of touching one of Durin’s Royal Line without his permission, and placed them on the ball of dough. “Despair does not suit you. My brother is quite skilled with wood-craft; he may yet be able to save your bow.”

Kíli lightened up a little. “You really think so?”

“We can ask him when he gets home. Now, knead.”

The younger did as instructed, and despite his initial apprehension that the motions would further hurt his still-sore back, he soon found that he liked the feeling of the semi-soft dough under his hands and the familiar ache in his arms. In fact, he had just decided he liked the activity when Bombur told him to stop and put the dough into a bowl he produced.

Kíli did so, a little disappointed, and watched as Bombur covered the bowl with a damp cloth and set it aside, all while he rinsed his hands and dried them on a dish-cloth.

“It needs time to rise,” Bombur said by way of explanation. “Meanwhile, I believe my other loaf is ready. Would you like to remove it?”

Rather pleased at the chance to help out in return for the food he’d been so generously given, Kíli grabbed the large skillet and thrust it into the hot oven to remove the freshly baked loaf. The smell of it made his stomach rumble in spite of the small meal he’d just eaten, and he turned red.

“I’m sorry. I must sound rather greedy.”

“Do not apologise for having a good appetite. It is nothing to be ashamed of.” He started gathering up cups and plates.

“All the same, I should be getting home. My family might wonder what has happened to me, and worry.”

Bombur inclined his head. “It is not my place to stop you, young Prince,” he said, noting again with some amusement this time how Kíli cringed at the use of the title. “But you are injured and it is still raining, and my heart would rest easier knowing that you were indoors where it is safe and warm.”

Kíli studied the rotund Dwarf a little more, reading something in his eyes that belied his outwardly jolly appearance. He realized he’d seen it before, in very fleeting moments, usually as he would reach the dwarf’s home to buy his lunch; it would be gone by the time Kíli reached him. This time, however, Kíli could see it quite clearly.

The ginger-haired dwarf was lonely, and why wouldn’t he be? He was usually all alone once his brother and cousin left to find work, with only customers to stop by every now and then to buy food. No wonder then that he found solace in cooking and eating – if it not only helped to while away the time till his family returned, but also allowed him to interact with others.

This was probably one of the rare times he had company in his house that wasn’t Bifur and Bofur.

Kíli grabbed some cutlery. “Then at least let me help you.” He smiled when Bombur looked to protest. “It gives me something to do rather than sit and focus on my back.”

The older dwarf relented and Kíli followed him to set the table for when the other two dwarves would return, and was only mildly surprised when Bombur set a fourth place at the table.

“You are welcome to sup with us. In fact, I insist.”

Kíli didn’t argue this time, knowing the company made Bombur happy. That, and an idea had come to him that he wanted very much to put into practice. “Very well, but on one condition: you teach me more about baking; I want to be your apprentice.”

} – {