Balin sighed softly as he considered the Thain of the Shire.
He could understand their unease, he truly could. These people were not warriors, while all of those in his guard had seen many battles. The, failed, battle that had lost them one prince and had the other take up a Mantle to go with his name, had nearly driven Thráin mad in his grief, had it not been for Erebor, though most of his healing had come from Prince Kíli, who was so like Prince Frerin that it physically hurt some days.
Balin could understand their nervousness.
“I may have a solution, but first I must send a message to my king. Could I trouble you for more time for myself and my men?” Balin questioned and the Thain smiled warmly.
“Not at all! Please, I can understand why you have come, and terrible business it is, but we’re quiet folk, and you can understand our nervousness over sending such a large supply of our food so far East,” the Thain responded and Balin nodded in agreement.
The Shire was so far from Erebor, from Dale, and Balin was sure other alliances were being made elsewhere, but this was the most important.
The Blue Mountains could always, omitting two years, buy surplus from the Shire. They had the fertile land to help support a distant kingdom.
But being so far away had disadvantages and Balin could only hope that his idea would work or they would only get one shipment from the Shire.
And it would not be a big one.
Thráin frowned as he read the letter that had come with Balin’s raven and tapped it against the desk.
The letter suggested a marriage union between one of the denizens of the Shire and Thorin.
Fíli was already spoken for (and his courting was going well), Thorin had been stuck in a limbo and was free, and Kíli was too young. The outlying problems were given to Thráin and he considered.
There were trade agreements that he had set up with the others and he contemplated the political implications of offering a marriage contract with the Shire when he offered it to no others, even if some of the possibilities were outlined by Balin. He thought over the trade agreements and admitted that they were closer, and were not as important.
And they had no qualms about being paid in gold for the food.
A few of the trade agreements had been smoothed out by Dale offering a marriage agreement, and Thráin considered it all. He thought it all through, considered everything, and turned to the doorway.
He stepped out and focused on the page boy, one of many who sat outside his chambers. “Find Prince Thorin and tell him I need to see him,” he ordered and the page boy took off.
Thráin nodded a bit and immediately offered Balin’s raven some dried meat.
Hopefully Thorin would not prove too difficult.
(As always, Thráin was proven wrong by his stubborn son.)
The resulting argument took two days and Dís coming forward to hit her elder brother, once, on the head.
And then Thráin asked if Thorin would prefer a female or a male.
It amused him greatly that Thorin turned so very red at the question while Dís laughed at him until she couldn’t breathe.
Thorin has agreed to such a marriage. I believe you know his preference.
I trust you to pick someone who will be good for Thorin.
Thráin son of Thrór, King Under the Mountain
When Balin relayed his king’s words to the Thain, though in a far more diplomatic manner, the Thain took a moment of thought for the idea. He frowned for a moment and then nodded. “We Shire-folk rarely like leaving our borders. But there might be a few. For a Prince it would be best to see if there’s a lad from one of the three Main Families who will do it. Closest thing to nobility, let alone royalty, that we’ve got in the Shire,” the Thain explained.
Balin smiled warmly. “We can only hope,” he responded.
Balin kept to himself how hopeless this all seemed. Very few Hobbits wished to leave the Shire, even the most adventuresome of them.
Even less wished to marry the Thorin he described, which Balin was, mostly, honest but kept some of the worst of it out. Thorin's pride was a large part of it.
Balin was sure he was not quite pleased with the fact he wasn't going to be marrying a Dwarf. He was going to be even less pleased when he learned that Hobbits were peaceful and few were warriors.
And it didn't help that, despite the fact that those who were agreeable on both parts, in that they wanted to leave and were willing to enter a political marriage, Balin did not, and could not, see them as good partners for Thorin.
They would not balance him and would only encourage his worst aspects.
As they walked up something called ‘Bagshot Row’, the Thain suddenly paused and turned to Balin. “I don’t know if this next Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is his name, would be an acceptable…consort for Prince Thorin. However, from what you tell me of Dwarf aging and what I know of Hobbit aging, the likelihood of one out living the other is quite low, in Bilbo’s case. He’s forty-one, so he’s got about sixty years left on life, maybe some more, and you mentioned that Thorin was nearing two-hundred,” the Thain explained.
Balin frowned slightly. “What is wrong with him?” he questioned.
The Thain actually flinched. “Oh, if Belladonna was still alive to have heard that question, she would have come after you with her pig-sticker, Dwarf or no,” he stated and he sighed.
“Belladonna?” Balin questioned and the Thain nodded with a small, sad, smile.
“We’re going to visit my nephew. My deaf nephew, specifically. Belladonna died some time ago. And she was very proficient in a boar spear. She called it her pig-sticker. Bilbo didn’t keep it up, but…well, he used it. Once,” the Thain explained and he stared up.
“Deafness is not a reason for disqualification,” Balin answered, but he was already dreading this and hoped, desperately, that Bilbo was as poor of a choice as the rest.
There was only a faint clinking, almost chiming, sound that seemed to echo throughout the smial as the Thain tugged on the doorbell cord. The Thain then seemed to settle back on his heels to wait and Balin took the time to admire the craftsmanship.
“Dwarves made that,” Balin stated and the Thain nodded in agreement.
“Bungo, Bilbo’s father, gave three Dwarves run of his smial for the day, explaining what he needed. A doorbell used to be up there too, but when it broke, no one could fix it, so Bilbo just carried it inside,” the Thain responded.
They waited a few more moments before the Thain pulled the cord again, once more a soft chiming and clinking could be heard in a gentle echo until Balin could no longer hear it. This was followed by an angry pounding somewhere and the Thain chuckled. “Ah, that’s Bilbo yelling at me. He probably thinks I’m a Sackville-Baggins.”
Before Balin could ask, the door was wrenched open and he found himself staring down, slightly, at a Hobbit with honey curls and glaring hazel eyes. And then they widened and his hand flickered before his eyes flickered to Balin.
He then smiled at Balin and gave a small bow.
“Bilbo Baggins, at your service.”
The voice was thick and muffled. It stuck in some places, but it was decipherable.
When he stood, Balin smiled. “Balin, at yours,” he answered, noticing the Thain’s hands move in unfamiliar gestures.
Bilbo smiled and immediately stepped to the side, eyes locked on them both. “Please, won’t you join me for tea?” he questioned, and Balin gave a nod and a smile.
Bilbo was the perfect host.
He was also polite, well-mannered, and when a female Hobbit that Balin sincerely loathed by the end of the third minute in her company by the name of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins showed up, Bilbo proved that he was, most likely, the politest Hobbit in existence, despite the fact she insulted him the entire time.
He was also the perfect person to balance Thorin, to make him better.
Balin thanked Bilbo for his hospitality and walked out with the Thain. “That is all of them?” Balin questioned softly.
“Yes. Most are married by this time,” the Thain answered and Balin nodded.
That night, Balin’s raven left the Shire again at a blistering speed, carrying a small letter.
A week later, bedraggled and exhausted, the raven returned with a smaller slip of paper, obviously ready to fall over.
He shall suffice.
The next morning, Balin returned to Bag-End with the Thain.
And Bilbo agreed to travel to Erebor and marry Prince Thorin, for the Shire.
Bilbo Baggins would never tell anyone that the Thain said it all resided with him, that of all the possible Hobbits of the Shire, Balin only returned to Bilbo.
He would also never tell anyone of how he cried that night, realizing that he would have to leave the last connection to his parents behind, most likely to never return again.
That he would have to leave his father's quilting and garden, along with his mother's books and maps, and the bell-pull system that had crystals hanging from the archways and windows, all connected through sturdy Dwarven craftsmanship.
How he had realized that he would need to find someone to care for it, even if he never set eyes on it again.
And when the dawn came, it was dreary and bleak.
No, he never told a soul any of that.
(But Balin guessed.)