…certainly, the role of suitor is one of great consequence and standing, but it is only determined by the initiation of courtship, as opposed to predetermined gender roles as seen in other races. It is the suitor's responsibility (to themselves, to their partner, and to both of their families) to woo their partner in the manner set down by our ancestors. Should the courtship be concluded favourably, the duty of supporting their life together shall then be shared by the suitor and their partner as they see fit. This may be contrasted with the traditions of the households of Men, who…
—Excerpt from Dwarvish Courtship, Preface: Pertaining to the History of Courting.
March, 2943 T.A.
The first of the oddness had started with Fíli and Kíli poking their heads around Bilbo’s doorway and staring at him.
When he’d smiled in greeting, they’d both just exchanged wicked smirks and disappeared. It was unusual, to be sure, but he’d long since given up on deciphering the reasoning behind the princes’ actions.
He did wonder what they were up to, and fervently hoped that it wasn’t some kind of elaborate and destructive prank. He had images of the entire mountain collapsing as a result of their carnage – and images of Thorin blaming it all on him.
So whenever he saw the princes and they chattered and giggled and snickered, thinking he didn’t notice, he pretended that he didn’t. Notice, that is.
And then there was Bofur. The recently married miner had stopped by unannounced after his day’s work. Bilbo’s happy invitation to supper had been declined, however.
“I’m expected home,” Bofur had explained, rubbing his cheek and smearing the soot on his skin. “Rorin’ll have returned wi’ the rest of the scouting party.”
A little disappointed, Bilbo had said, “Then you needn’t have come up all this way, my friend. We could have arranged to talk at another date.”
Bofur had shaken his head. “I wanted t’ show you something.” He’d pulled a knife from his pocket and presented it to Bilbo. The steel blade was simple enough (and sharp), but the twisting pattern along its wooden hilt – echoed in the sheath – had taken Bilbo’s breath away.
“This is for Rorin?” At Bofur’s shy nod, Bilbo had smiled and returned the knife. “It’s beautiful. I’m sure he’ll cherish it.”
A flash of Bofur’s dimpled smile and he’d stowed the knife again. He’d seemed to hesitate, then, before saying, “It’s a custom of our people to present gifts of our own making to our Ones. ‘Specially if a Dwarf wishes to court his Chosen.”
And, at the time, Bilbo had thought that Bofur was merely sharing a titbit of Dwarvish culture. He’d just been pleased that his opinion had been sought out. The matter was soon put out of mind in favour of the aforementioned supper (a sweet potato casserole with stuffed bell peppers and pork sausages).
Glóin was next to turn up. It lightened Bilbo’s heart to see his companion, especially since he was accompanied by his son. At the age of 63, Gimli already sported luxuriant whiskers (which he no doubt lorded over Kíli) and was extremely polite when introduced to Bilbo.
Glóin’s family had only just moved to Erebor, despite the mountain having been reclaimed over a year ago. He had clearly missed them. As they partook of elevenses in Bilbo’s rooms – a light meal of pancakes and bacon and eggs – Glóin waxed lyrical about his wife and son as well as the benefits of a loving family unit, enough that Gimli refused to meet his father’ or Bilbo’s gaze.
Bilbo, more than a little mystified, nonetheless agreed that it would be a nice thing, although he personally didn’t see it happening to himself. Yes, he’d been surrounded by Hobbit families most of his life, with their large broods, but he’d never before felt the urge to follow their lead or even get married. He said as much.
“Oh, but you must consider it,” Glóin pressed.
“I thought most Dwarves were more focused on their craft,” Bilbo commented mildly.
“They are,” Gimli said, relief evident in his tone. Though it was obvious that he’d been hoping for a change of subject, his father didn’t oblige.
“Most Dwarves,” Glóin said, frowning a little at Gimli. “But not all. At any rate you’re not a Dwarf at all, are you?”
Bilbo returned the smile. “Indeed not. I’d be forced to wear boots and be expected to forgo cutlery at the dinner table. No thank you!”
Glóin chortled. “One day you’ll realise that all you need is a knife for meals, lad.” He picked up a rasher of bacon and pointed it at Bilbo. “And one day you’ll realise you’ll need a family to keep you happy.”
They didn’t stay long after that, and Bilbo managed to secure an assurance that they would visit again in return for a promise to further reflect on Glóin’s advice on family and building one.
It certainly was an unusual request, but one easily enough fulfilled.
“And it’s not as if I have to act on it,” Bilbo told himself once alone. He shrugged, and went to clear the trays of food.
The next few days passed by as normal, or at least to Bilbo’s eyes. He quite happily went about his business, and let the Dwarves of Erebor go about theirs. This was probably why he didn’t notice his friends’ bizarre behaviour, even when Nori – the most straightforward Dwarf of the lot – turned up at the Library with his questions.
Intent on corralling Ori to have something to eat – as was his brotherly prerogative – Nori stopped by Bilbo’s table for a moment. “‘Ere, Bilbo, I wanted to ask you somethin’.”
“Ask away,” Bilbo said, sitting back to let his ink dry.
“Don’t you have any Hobbit lasses or lads in the Shire?” He thumbed the side of his nose absently. “Not meaning to be rude, o’ course, but it seemed to be the done thing, to settle down and have lots of wee Hobbitlings.”
Bilbo shook his head, amused. “No, no, nothing like that. Confirmed bachelor, you see. I’ve been staying here for a year, besides – no one should wait that long for anyone.”
“Does that mean you – aha!” Nori abruptly broke off as he spotted his brother and dashed between two bookcases.
Turning the page and managing another two paragraphs of translations, Bilbo serenely ignored the affronted yelling that emerged from said bookcases. Glerin, sitting at the other end of the same table, made a huffing noise and muttered about ‘youths’. The Head Librarian, Milonna, merely chuckled.
A despondent-looking Ori was dragged out by the back of his collar not moments later, complaining that he’d been about to head to the kitchens once it reached noon.
“Noon was many hours ago, Ori,” his brother replied, rolling his eyes. “Let me finish talking to Bilbo and we can let Dori know where you’ve been.”
“But I’m not hungry, honest!”
Disregarding this, Nori asked, “So, if you’d found your One in the Shire, then would you have stayed?”
Bilbo leaned back in his chair as he considers the answer. “If it’d happened before Gandalf ‘asked’ me to join the company, then I’d definitely have stayed in the Shire.” He crossed his arms. “If it’d happened when I went back to Bag End to collect my things… I honestly don’t know. I’m a changed Hobbit, Nori; I’ve found things here that grip me more tightly than anything I’ve known in Hobbiton.”
“Why did you decide to stay here, Bilbo?” Ori asked, only to be elbowed by Nori. “Ow! Not that we don’t like you being here, of course!”
A small, fond smile curled Bilbo’s lip. “Well, Thorin asked. And I do quite like it here. I’ve not got a proper garden anymore, but it’s my home, just like it’s yours.” He sighed a little before looking up at the two brothers, eyes crinkling as he smiled. “Does that answer your question, Master Ori?”
"It answers mine as well," Nori said, bowing a little, grip on Ori's tunic still firm. "If you don't mind, we'll be off so I can shovel some grub into this little 'un's mouth."
Bilbo laughed and waved the two of them off, Ori hotly protesting the use of the moniker. As glad as he’d been to speak with them, he did want to finish at least this chapter by dinnertime, and chatting with friends wouldn’t get it done. So he dipped his nib back into the ink, and worked the hours away, most definitely not thinking on the oddness of Nori's questions.
(And even if Bilbo was to wonder about such things, he'd have thought that Nori had just been curious about the customs of Hobbits, just as he himself found Dwarvish customs fascinating.)
So it was a very rude shock when Dís, after inviting him to her quarters, thumped a great big book on the table between them. She almost upset his bowl of rabbit stew, which Bilbo most correctly concentrated on righting before properly looking at the book and its title.
When he did, he almost choked.
"What is this?" Bilbo managed to ask, and Dís raised an eyebrow at him.
"You can read quite well, or so I thought, Master Hobbit. Are you not translating our Sindarin texts into Westron?"
"Only because it was the only compromise your brother would agree on," Bilbo grumbled. If Bilbo hadn't put his foot down, likely Thorin would have razed every Elvish text in the Library, heedless of the information contained within. He shook his head to dispel thoughts of Thorin’s stubbornness.
He cleared his throat and said, "That's neither here nor there.” No, the current concern was Dís and her book. “Why is this even in Westron?" He opened it and flipped through the first few pages, confused. Surely the Dwarves would have kept this part of their culture in Khuzdul, keen as they were on making sure others never learned their secrets.
"Ah, that was my work." She looked a little proud. "I translated it specially."
"Really? What for?"
"For you, of course." Dís obligingly thumped him on the back when he started choking on his untimely mouthful of stew. "Mahal's sake, Bilbo, you have not acted this dense before."
"Why –" he coughed a little, but gamely continued, "why would I need a book on, on Dwarvish courting?" His voice became a little hysterical towards the end, but Bilbo thought it rather justified.
Dís obviously didn’t. "Then what do you expect to do if you are courted by a Dwarf?"
Bilbo's eyes widened in alarm. "Y-y-you’re not –”
"Calm yourself, and don’t be an idiot." The princess shook her head, even if her eyes were amused. "I have had my time with my One, however short it was. I do not need companionship." She raised an eyebrow. "You, however… I think it would be good for you to settle down."
Her words reminded Bilbo of his conversation with Glóin. "I’m not your new project, am I?" He'd heard the horror stories from Fíli and Kíli (and Thorin) and didn’t relish the idea at all.
She looked even more amused. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
Dís insisted that he keep the book, and was gracious enough to let the subject lie as they continued on with their meal. Bilbo’s face flushed whenever he caught sight of the tome but he valiantly kept up his side of the conversation and eventually forgot about courting customs altogether. They had bread pudding for dessert (he was proud to say that he’d introduced that dish to Erebor) and talked about spectacles and whether Bilbo needed them.
(He most assuredly did not.)
After Dís’ third yawn in as many moments, though, Bilbo politely excused himself from her quarters. Neither had realised the lateness of the hour.
Bilbo made it back to his rooms with the ease and familiarity of long practice. The winding passageways and corridors of Erebor had been a challenge for many months, and he’d had to stop and ask for directions countless times. He still had to, now and again.
As he walked, he hugged the book close to his chest, compulsively checking every few moments that no one would be able read its title – not that anyone bothered him as he walked along. One or two Dwarves nodded as they passed, and he nodded in reply, but otherwise Bilbo and his burden were paid no heed.
When he pushed his door open, he was pleasantly surprised to find his quarters were not as dark or as cold as he’d initially feared. Someone had thoughtfully stoked a fire and Bilbo sighed at the warmth, his toes wiggling happily.
Placing his new book aside, Bilbo took a moment and stood before the fireplace, rubbing his arms. While it was true that living in a mountain meant less temperature variation, Bilbo still found the persistently cool air uncomfortable. It was supposed to be spring, but unless he ventured into open air, Bilbo wouldn’t have been able to tell.
He sighed and added another log so the fire wouldn’t die in the night.
Tomorrow he had no definite plans beyond returning to the Library for his translating. Really, it was lucky his mother had gotten hold of Sindarin texts via Gandalf, and had managed to teach Bilbo enough to actually have something useful to do in Erebor.
Bilbo tapped his lower lip absently as he glanced about. He wondered if he could badger one of the Dwarves into visiting Dale with him. Maybe one or both of the princes, they’d be most amenable to escaping their –
Bilbo took a proper look around the room, then paused. Frowned.
Now, how had he not noticed the box?
It was square and made of white oak, about half a handslength high and two handslengths wide. Hobbit hands, that was. The metal that was inlaid in the lid formed a surprisingly curved pattern despite its obviously Dwarvish make.
Bilbo frowned, and chanced a glance at the book Dís had given him earlier.
After a moment he shrugged. Only one way to find out, he thought practically.
The lid was smooth and cool to the touch, swinging back on well-oiled hinges. The first thing Bilbo noticed was the lack of a note from the sender and he wrinkled his nose. That meant that he wouldn’t be able to send a thank you, as was proper after receiving a gift. And what a gift it was…
Bilbo, with infinite care and awe, lifted the first of the handkerchiefs out of the box.
His toes twitched in appreciation of the fine linen, fingers smoothing over the hemstitching. Bilbo could tell the quality of cloth at a glance, and this was top quality work indeed. The stitching was so tiny it was almost invisible and in the corner in dark red thread were his initials: two spiky B’s, back to back and entwined.
He took his time inspecting every one of them, noting that each was monogrammed. Some were linen, others cotton, others even silk. All were utterly exquisite.
Still, emptying the box further cemented the fact that he didn’t know who’d sent it.
“Could this be a courting gift?” he muttered, and blushed at even considering it. Who would do such a thing? And why so conveniently on the night Dís had gifted him with the book? It couldn’t be pure chance, surely.
Bilbo sighed and closed the box, running his fingers along the pattern on its top. He would not get any answers tonight, that much was clear.
Trying to put the mystery out of his mind, he quickly readied himself for bed. After settling himself in, however, he found his gaze inexorably drawn to the latest addition to his book collection.
After a moment, Bilbo scowled. “Oh, very well!” he said to the empty room, crossly padding to the table and snatching the book up. “I’ll get started on it, is all.”
If he was entirely truthful to himself, Bilbo would admit to being more than a little curious about the whole situation. Hobbits didn’t have such things as courting rituals – they were an uncomplicated people. They announced their affections with flowers or a cooked meal, a shared pipe or simply a kiss – and then there were meetings with both families and a date set for the wedding.
Dwarves, as he kept discovering, were a completely different kettle of fish.
Settling himself against the pillows, Bilbo finally opened the book. Now that he was aware of it, he took the time to study Dís’ handwriting; its angular letters and definite slant so different from his own written Westron. After a few minutes of aimlessly flipping pages, though, he shook himself out of his reverie and started reading proper.
Pertaining to the History of Courting
Much has been written and taught in recent years about the problems of being wed and the substitutes to Dwarvish courtship or betrothal. Despite the fact that this seems to be a very novel and recent idea, its roots stem from a much earlier time. This tome endeavours to not only impart a comprehensive account of Dwarvish courtship, but also details the steps involved in such a noble undertaking.
It must be understood that meticulous and exhaustive investigation on these practices has been carried out, gleaned from the Libraries of the great Dwarven Kingdoms of Middle-Earth. The knowledge in this tome is to be treated as the language of the Dwarves and as every other cultural aspect of our people. It is a heritage that must be kept alive.
Bilbo skimmed the next page-and-a-half of detailed accounts of the references in question, (correctly) assuming that it was something he needn’t concern himself with. His eyes alighted on what looked like more promising passages.
The tale of Nalir Sunbeard and Broll the Adept has been told to every Dwarf, from when they were but Dwarflings in their cradles. It is the bedrock of our courting traditions, as it is the first of its kind according to Dwarven records.
We have included the earliest known account of this tale, as follows:
Nalir Sunbeard, so called for her flaxen braids and whiskers, was a Dwarf of great standing and considerable repute. The most formidable Dwarf of her time, she was quick with her blade and quicker to anger. It was often said that she would find no happiness outside of the battlefield, and this news suited her down to the ground.
However, once Nalir caught sight of the dark-haired Broll, she surprised all by declaring that she would have no other as her spouse.
Heedless of discouragement from friends and family alike, Nalir marched up to Broll's forge, admiring the way the light from the fire caught the silver clasps in his braided beard. When he finally deigned to glance at her, it was to curtly order her out of the forge, if she only planned on gawping like a frog.
When she informed him of her true intentions, he flatly refused.
Nalir went from his sight willingly, but returned to his door the next day and - when he sent her away again - the day after that. Broll made it clear that he only wished to concentrate on his trade. He would speak these same words every day when Nalir came to him, and she would nod, and bow, and take her leave.
Then came the day that Nalir did not visit Broll's forge at the usual time. Even he was surprised at this, but soon went back to the breastplate he was crafting. He was happy so long as he could continue on without interruptions.
It was only once the sun had disappeared past the horizon and Broll had set his hammer aside - it was only then that Nalir appeared with her gift in hand, and presented it to him.
Some say it was a great mithril box, studded with emeralds as bright as Broll's eyes. Others say it was a length of fine gold chain, thin as thread and impossible to break. There are even accounts of a great opal, the size of an egg, set into a silver filigree locket. All that is known for sure is that it was a gift that demonstrated enough skill for Broll to smile at Nalir, and to tell her that he would consider her offer.
At this point, Bilbo had to make a conscious effort to uncross his eyes. As much as he loved stories – and this was a good one – he simply couldn’t continue. With a sigh, he closed the book and set it on the stone bedside table. Wasn’t as if he needed to read the whole thing in one night, after all.
With that in mind, Bilbo blew out the candle and pulled the blankets up under his chin. He was asleep not minutes later.
Breakfast had been a straightforward affair of bread and a nice spread of cold cuts (although Bilbo had mourned the lack of fish in Erebor’s kitchens). Finding out that Fíli and Kíli were off with one of the many patrols, Bilbo shrugged and resigned himself to another morning in the Library.
He didn’t expect to find Thorin there.
“Well met, Mister Baggins.”
Bilbo set his ink jar on the table he returned the King’s warm greeting, smiling at Thorin. It’d been a while since they’d last seen each other.
Other than the fineness and the cut of Thorin’s clothes – dark grey velvet and the pelt of a great Hind – as well as the crown that sat on his brow, Thorin did not drape himself in ornamentation. His regal bearing was more apparent in the way he carried himself, every bit as straight-backed and proud as he had been when he’d appeared at Bilbo’s door.
To think that such an ordinary gentlehobbit as himself was worthy of the friendship of a King and his kin was astonishing – especially when this same King had sneered at him and called him grocer at their first meeting. Saving each other’s lives time and time again had obviously done wonders to change things.
“Are you well, Thorin? You look…” Tired, Bilbo wanted to say, but he wasn’t sure if he should voice the concern.
“My nephews saw fit to wake the entire East Wing this morning,” Thorin said, shaking his head. “Their mother was not pleased.”
“I can imagine not.” Bilbo laughed. “Is that why they’re out with the patrols?”
“I do not take kindly to my sleep being disturbed. Especially today.”
“Oh?” The Hobbit felt a little out-of-sorts; they were both still standing beside the table, Bilbo with his manuscripts and Thorin with his hands behind his back. It was a decidedly awkward meeting. “Is there something special happening today?”
“I… have something I must see to. Something important.” Thorin turned away, squinting at nothing in particular (or that was what it looked like to Bilbo). “You may be right to call it special.”
Bilbo nodded. “Well, I appreciate you stopping by. I hope it’s not caused any sort of delay, your coming to see me.” He paused. “If that’s why you’re here, of course. To, um, to see me.” Bilbo wondered at this sudden inability to speak normally. He put it down to not having conversed with Thorin for such a long time.
He’s levelled with a frown and feared that he’d misspoken – but Thorin only nodded and muttered, “Yes, of course.”
Shooting Thorin a smile (that went unreturned), Bilbo said, “Well, you’d best be off. Since you have that important thing to see to and all.” He placed the rest of his things on the table and pulled the chair out, seating himself. “Who knows, if you’re ever free you’re welcome to tea in my rooms.”
Bilbo snorted a little at this non-answer. Typical Thorin.
Some time after he’d found his place and settled into the steady scratch of his nib, Bilbo realised that the powerful presence of the King had not left his side and looked up from his parchment. He raised his eyebrows at Thorin, who only tilted his head, expression unreadable.
“I see you’re making good progress with your translations.”
Bilbo opened his mouth, not quite sure how to respond to this awkward statement (compliment?), but then closed it, frowning. “Aren’t you… going?”
His frown deepened. Hadn’t Thorin just mentioned needing to deal with something? Something special that put him in a tense enough mood to order Fíli and Kíli out on patrol for a silly prank? Did his continued presence mean that whatever it was would take place in the Library?
Or had Bilbo somehow missed Thorin’s requesting his company (unlikely as that was)? Well then surely he –
Then, and then everything pieced together – the book, all the unsubtle hinting of his friends – and suddenly Bilbo knew, just knew who had sent the box. The oak box, filled with handkerchiefs.
“So this is what the handkerchiefs were about? You wish to court me?”
Thorin nodded, once. He didn’t smile outright, instead looking infinitely pleased.
“Couldn’t you have left a note?”
“I thought I made it quite clear that I was the gift giver. You figured it out in the end, did you not?”
Bilbo sat back, unsure of how he should react. He took a minute to consider his feelings on the matter. There was shock, of course, and a healthy amount of self doubt. But there was also shy happiness and… anticipation?
He smiled wryly. His subconscious should probably be reined in a bit.
“But – oh, I understand. Since you have heirs already you’re able to do this, right?”
Thorin shook his head. “Even without Fíli and Kíli, I am free to choose my own consorts. We are not like Men, Bilbo. Our heirs don’t need to be direct descendants.”
Wisely refraining from pointing out that the lives of Men were so much shorter than that of Dwarves (and therefore that making sure their lines endured was more of a priority), Bilbo instead said, “I see.”
Thorin took a breath. He had an odd, pinched sort of expression on his face. “Am I to assume you’ve accepted the gift?”
Bilbo smiled. “Yes, and thank you for them. It was very thoughtful of you.”
The Dwarf still wore the same look though – one Bilbo belatedly realised was nervousness. With what looked like difficulty, Thorin met his eyes. “And am I to assume you have accepted my intentions to court you, as well?”
“Oh!” He hadn’t realised that he’d have to respond straightaway. Surely he should be allowed time to think? The prospect of being courted by Thorin was definitely not an undesirable one. Thorin was his friend, and a powerful, handsome, interesting person at that. Bilbo was well aware that it was unlikely that he’d find anyone as special as the Dwarf King. If there was anyone in all of Middle Earth that Bilbo could see himself marrying, it was him. Bilbo recalled Dís’ words and found himself imagining, for a moment, what it would be like to ‘settle down’ with Thorin.
His gaze lifted. “I accept. Of course I accept.”
The King actually sighed in relief, a huge gusty exhale of breath that accompanied the tension draining from his shoulders. Now he smiled properly at Bilbo and bowed a little. “Then I will leave you to your devices, Bilbo. Until tomorrow.”
At this Bilbo blushed a little and got to his feet. That was hardly a proper goodbye between two people who’d just entered a courtship. He had to tiptoe, of course, and raised his hand so he might cup Thorin’s cheek as they kissed.
Except Thorin took a step back, putting himself firmly out of reach of Bilbo’s fingers and – more importantly – lips. “Halfling. Have some propriety.”
Frowning mightily, Bilbo settled back on his heels. “Pardon?”
“We are in a public place,” Thorin said in a maddeningly reasonable tone of voice, gesturing at the hall they were in and seemingly unaware or uncaring of how few Dwarves were around. “And we are not yet betrothed, besides.”
“Betrothed – it’s just a kiss, Thorin.” He stepped forward, reaching out again.
Fingers grasped his wrist in a too-gentle grip, as if Thorin was afraid he might snap Bilbo’s bones. (Bilbo had a second to think that that was an entirely possible incident, and then he was back to his bewildered confusion.)
“Have you not been instructed in our ways of courtship?”
“Not instructed as such, no. Dís presented me with a book last night with the relevant information. Or I assume relevant.” Now he wished he’d made more of an effort with it.
The crease between Thorin’s brows disappeared. “Ah. Then I would advise you to make yourself familiar with its contents.”
Now it was Bilbo’s turn to frown. “Are you saying that there is a list of dos and don’ts?” There was no answer, but Bilbo didn’t need one, correctly reading the Dwarf’s expression. (And really, he should’ve expected it – what was the point of writing a book about courting if there weren’t rules to keep track of in the first place?) “There are! And kissing’s not… allowed?”
“Are you rescinding your decision, then?” Thorin asked quietly, eyes downcast.
“I –” Taken aback, Bilbo groped for words. “No. No, not at all. I just. I’m surprised, is all.”
“I will not force you.” His voice was gruff.
Bilbo touched his free hand to Thorin’s, prompting the King to meet his eyes. “You are not,” he said softly. When Thorin released him, Bilbo stepped back and let his hands fall to his sides. Tentatively, he tried for a smile.
Thorin returned it, and Bilbo felt more than a little relieved that he’d not somehow jeopardised the whole courtship before it had even started. It was with a swooping feeling low in his gut that he fully grasped what he’d just agreed to.
“I take my leave, Bilbo.” Thorin stepped backwards without turning, almost as if he was loathe to turn away from Bilbo’s face – and the mere possibility that that was true made Bilbo feel quite hot around the collar.
Once he was alone, the Hobbit let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding, and sat down heavily in his chair.
What have you gotten yourself into this time, Bilbo Baggins?