Deep among the forges of Erebor, far below the wonderful little forge given to Kili for personal use, lay a great blast furnace. Burning with secret fuels and many spells, it used all the art and skill of the dwarves to heat metal to an impossible degree. Meant for massive projects like the creation of enough steel to build aqueducts, the entire furnace was now purposed to a single task. For three days and three nights, it burned.
A small door in the side of the furnace was outlined in glowing white. Kili knew that color well. It was the very hottest flame imaginable. Thorin opened the door with an iron rod. Just touching it to the furnace made the tip of the rod glow red. Gazing into the blaze was bright, but not blinding to dwarven eyes. Kili could see clearly. There, at the center of the furnace, the Ring showed some glowing elvish writing, but was completely unharmed.
“More fuel!” Thorin cried, slamming the panel shut. “Where is the liquid fire?”
On the scaffolding around the great furnace, dwarves sprang into action, adding more fuel to various chutes. Two dwarves, walking very carefully, poured a great vat of something into the furnace. Roaring and shaking in response, the furnace continued to glow. Unfortunately, there did not come a telltale snap or explosion to indicate the added heat made any difference to the ring.
Turning, Thorin beat the iron bar against the ground until it snapped in half. His face and beard were covered in sweat soaked soot, but Kili could see the furious red of his skin beneath.
“Very dignified,” he said. “Princely.”
“If you wish to play the prince,” Thorin growled, “go entertain your brother. If you stay here, you will be a smith. You can start by shoveling some of those Hearts of Coal into a wheelbarrow.”
“It is on my brother’s account that I am here,” Kili said. “He has not seen you for three days.”
“He saw me yesterday.” Thorin stiffened perceptibly. “When he reaffirmed his faith in my ability to complete this task.”
“Let me guess. He said something like, ‘Obviously you’ll be staying down here until the Ring is destroyed, since it’s clearly more important than your health,’ right?”
By Thorin’s lack of answer, Kili knew he was correct.
“And since you’re not an idiot, you know he was being sarcastic. Thorin! Bilbo is alive. Why on earth are you avoiding him?”
“I am not avoiding him.” Thorin said. “I have a job to do.”
“Doing it as well as anyone could expect, I suppose,” Kili said, and he meant it to sting.
Thorin’s eyes glowed with wrath, brighter than the furnace. “Speak to me again when I have destroyed the Ring. Not before.”
The young Baggins just sighed. “Gandalf doesn’t think this will work, you know. He’s said time and again that we ought not get our hopes up about it. Either way, the other smiths are working in shifts. They are eating, sleeping, and spending time with the people they claim to love. Balin says you refuse to do the first two things. And since I caught Bilbo moping this morning, I know for a fact you aren’t doing the last.”
Thorin’s face twisted into a snarl. “I am doing this for Bilbo! He has set me a hero’s task, and I will see it done. I could not save him. I can never—I have one purpose. I am the Hero of Erebor. Heroes are not given the luxury of rest when great deeds are at hand. I must do what he asked of me. That is what a hero is for.”
“You’re an idiot, is what you are!” Kili was shouting now. His father would be ashamed, but he could not reign in his temper. “You aren’t a hero! Bilbo is the hero! Bilbo is the one who found his way through the wild alone without help. Bilbo is the one who faced some great evil thing that terrifies wizards. Don’t you think for a minute that things there went as breezily as they did in his story! He found this Ring, snatched it from the baddie, and protected it all this way. He’s the hero! Just you be his prince!”
“His prince?” Thorin looked slightly nonplussed.
Kili waved a hand expressively. “You know, his prince. He gets to marry you now and rule half your father’s kingdom. Or maybe the whole thing but both of you together. I’m not sure how it works with a prince. Usually it’s a princess. It doesn’t matter! The point of you is to be his happily ever after. So get going with that, or I’ve very little use for you, Thorin Oakenshield.”
The dwarf stared at Kili for a long moment. A face covered in soot could be very difficult to read. Suddenly, Thorin burst into laughter, a loud, musical laugh that echoed over the roar of the furnace.
“I am not joking,” Kili said. “Not one word.”
“I know you aren’t,” Thorin said, still smiling. “Bilbo is your hero. He always has been.”
“He deserves better than you ignoring him.”
“By which I mean, you need to get cleaned up and come to dinner.”
Kili looked hard at Thorin, trying to read him. The dark cloud surrounding the prince seemed to have cleared. In fact, Thorin looked quite calm and collected, much like he used to in Kili’s little smithy back home in the Shire. As though all the steps were laid out ahead of them, Thorin seemed ready to follow the plan. It was too easy.
“Dinner tonight,” Kili pressed. “The fourth big feast your father has thrown for Bilbo since his arrival. You’ll come to this one, and sit next to him. Because you didn’t come to the other three.”
“I will,” Thorin promised.
“It’s only a few hours from now,” Kili said. “You’ll have to take a bath first.”
Thorin laughed again. This time it was his rumbling little chuckle with the huff at the end. Usually, only Bilbo managed to coax that laugh from him. “Then let us quit this place together, Kili Baggins.” Turning, he called up to one of the dwarves on the scaffolding. “Frar! You are in charge until I return. Keep the fires burning!”
Upon receiving acknowledgement from Frar, Thorin strode away from the blast furnace. He did not look back.
Leaving the prince to get ready, Kili went to join the rest of his family for tea. Bilbo had a habit of ordering Princess Dis little treats from the kitchens made especially for her. Usually, these were things Kili particularly enjoyed so that Dis might gain a better understanding of Kili’s childhood. Today, Bilbo had given instructions for a blueberry trifle. Kili had no intention of missing that on Thorin’s account.
In truth, he was a little late. To the surprise of no one, Fili, Dis, and Bilbo waited for him. Four places were set with generous helpings of trifle, but the tea remained in the pot at the center of Dis’s golden table.
“Sorry,” Kili said.
“You’re right on time,” Bilbo corrected warmly. “Princess Dis was just telling me about your first word. Apparently, it was no, which I find very contrarian of you. Although I am not at all surprised.”
So no one asked Kili where he had been or what had kept him. Instead, they drank tea and talked about things he couldn’t remember. Bursting with his news, Kili interrupted a silly story about some bath he took with Fili once upon a time. “Thorin is coming to dinner tonight!”
Bilbo went very stiff. “I doubt it. Of course, one could not blame anyone tempted to the table by Bombur’s suckling pork roast. I had a little chat with him about the courses while I was in the kitchen asking for our tea.” Then the hobbit was off, talking about all of the various food that would be served for their fourth feast running. He detailed each dish well enough that Kili could have replicated all the recipes. As though dwarven recipes were particularly complicated.
“Bookworm,” Kili said, completely exasperated, “he is not coming for the food.”
That made Bilbo eye his brother warily. “Well, he is certainly not coming to report the destruction of my little ring. Since that is the only thing he cares about, I should be very surprised to see him at all.”
“He is sorry about that,” Kili said awkwardly. “He’s going to make it up to you.” Though the young Baggins had no idea if that was so, or, indeed, if it was possible.
“I don’t see what he has to be sorry about.” Bilbo sniffed and took a sip of his tea. “We are not married yet, after all, and perhaps we never shall be. I always said our silly little romance would not last once we reached the mountain.”
Fili gasped. “You cannot be serious!”
“He is never serious,” Kili said, in quite a temper.
Dis laughed. “Good for you, Bilbo. Say exactly that to him, and don’t forgive him until he showers you with gifts. My brother is behaving appallingly.”
“Here now,” Kili said, trying to be reasonable. “Thorin is—it was a bit rough on him, thinking you were dead.”
“It was a bit rough on me, being left for dead!” Bilbo snapped.
Kili felt rather lightheaded.
“Sorry,” Bilbo said. “I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that. But really, Kili, you cannot take his part over mine in this.”
“I’m not taking his part,” Kili argued. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I should like nothing better. If Thorin cannot put this whole messy affair behind him, I shall find a handsomer fellow who snores less.”
“Good luck,” Fili said, mastering himself. “Thorin snores the least of anyone in the Company.”
Bilbo grinned at him, looking terribly grateful. “That is unfortunately true, though it can hardly be counted as a virtue on his part.”
“Someone more handsome should be easy enough to get,” Dis said. “My brother has some good qualities, but he was never particularly fortunate in his features.”
“And of course you don’t miss him at all,” Kili said, testily.
“Of course I don’t.”
“Bilbo! You braided lilacs into his hair!”
The hobbit went stiff again at the reminder. “That didn’t mean anything to him. He simply let me.”
“You should give him a gift,” Dis suggested. “Before he gives one to you. That would show him.”
Bilbo blinked at her. “I have done,” he said. “Why would that show him? I hardly think he deserves a present just now.” The hobbit sniffed. “Especially not a good one.”
Dis waved a hand. “Not your courtship presents. Fili told me about those. Very suitable, I’m sure.”
Rising, the princess went over to one of her many golden chests. This one had three sturdy locks upon it. The first, she opened with a key. The second, she opened by pressing four of the engraved runes in quick succession then spinning one of them three times clockwise. Finally, she took the third lock in hand, and muttered a password. It glowed with silver light, and the chest opened.
Within the chest were many treasures, all gleaming gold. Kili did not like the way Dis’s eyes gleamed in response. Slowly, she withdrew a crown. She held it solemnly in both hands for a long moment. Then, in a frantic burst of energy, she locked the chest once more.
“An engagement present finalizes matters before the wedding,” Dis said. “Thorin ought to have given you one the moment you arrived at the mountain. Traditionally, the first gift is the family claiming a spouse. The intended spouse then offers an answering gift. If Thorin had given you an engagement present when he should have, your marriage would bring you into the house of Durin. Instead, you should give him this. Make a Baggins of him, and teach him a little humility.”
Accepting the crown, Bilbo studied it carefully. Wonderful etching circled the band in an elaborate square labyrinth. Inlaid upon the gold was true silver, the glorious metal mithril that Kili was privileged to see rarely in Erebor. Before Bilbo’s return with the Ring, Thorin suggested he might show Kili how to work a small quantity of the silver. Of course there was not time for it now, but Kili admired the metal tremendously. It was a beautiful crown.
“What makes it different from a courtship present?” Bilbo asked.
“The value,” Dis said bluntly. “This was worn by Durin the Third when he ruled in Khazad-dûm; it is an heirloom of our house beyond price. To give this is to be engaged in truth. No one could receive it as a courtship present.”
“I see.” Bilbo ran a finger around the edge of the crown.
“Balin has not spoken to you about this?” Fili asked. “He ought to have prepared you to give an acceptance present already.”
“Yes, he mentioned something,” Bilbo said. “He said that Thorin would give me a present at that first feast with the king, and that he would arrange an appropriate response for me. I shouldn’t worry about anything. Only Thorin did not come.”
“Oh,” said Fili.
“How can giving him an heirloom of the house of Durin make Thorin a Baggins,” Kili asked.
Dis shuddered a little. “I give it to you now, Bilbo Baggins. All know this is mine. Part of my treasure. It belongs to me.” She cleared her throat. “But I give it to you now, and so it is yours. It is the perfect engagement present for Thorin. A crown shows that you admire his ability to lead, and that you will be a good steward to his kingdom when the time comes.”
“So there is symbolism.” Bilbo studied the mithril lines thoughtfully. “What would giving something other than a crown invoke? Say a sword, or a shield?”
“You’d have to give him something better than he’s got,” Fili said. “An engagement present is a once in a lifetime gift, so it must be spectacular. That elvish sword he found in the troll den is unbeatable.”
“A shield would do,” Dis said. “To show you still have faith in his ability to protect his people.” She frowned. “Actually, that’s rather romantic, Bilbo, given what happened and how the Oakenshield was lost.”
The hobbit bit down a smile. “I thought so. Any famous, irreplaceable shield would do, would it?”
“Yes.” Dis looked around at her treasure chests. “But I don’t have one. Shields are not often made of gold.”
“Not to worry!” Bilbo handed the crown back to her. “I’ll speak to Balin. We’ll figure something out.”
Kili knew the smile his brother was trying to repress. Bilbo was up to something. Good for him. He deserved to make as much mischief as he wanted, as long as he was not also making himself miserable.
“Do,” Fili said. “Hopefully he’ll give Thorin some warning about this.”
“I don’t see the problem with Thorin being a Baggins,” Kili said magnanimously. “I shall be happy to have him.”
Bilbo grinned at him. His eyes were twinkling and he seemed to have more than the usual number of dimples. Whatever he was planning would likely be very funny.
“It is a problem if I wind up being king before my time!” Fili looked genuinely upset. “I do not know if a Baggins can rule Erebor. No one has ever been audacious enough to offer the first gift to a member of the royal line.”
Patting him comfortably on the shoulder, Bilbo said, “I will wait to the end of dinner to make my presentation. He shall have every opportunity to go first. Does it matter which of the two gifts is more valuable?”
“It doesn’t,” Dis said. “Only the order in which they are given.”
“Good.” Bowing cordially to her, he took his leave. “I must have a word with Balin about the manner of presentation.”
Not three minutes after he left, Fili rose, looking about the room shiftily. “I’m just going to go—”
“Warn Thorin?” Kili asked.
“Someone has to.”
Dis laughed. “Go.”
When they were alone, Kili said, “Well, I’ve another new design for an arrowhead, if you would like to come to my forge and see, Amâd.”
Dis looked very much like Thorin, with her dark hair and blue eyes, but Thorin never looked quite so soft or warm. “Kili Baggins,” she said, “Nothing in the world would give me greater pleasure.”
And so, leaving the crown of Durin III on the table with the used tea things, they went.
Feasting in the Great Hall of Erebor was rather monotonous. For the fourth day in a row, dinner consisted of great hunks of roasted meat, potatoes in every form potatoes might be served, and an ocean of ale. All the dwarves seemed to like it. In truth, the food was very good. It just wasn’t what one would call a feast in the Shire. No one really feasted much in the Shire. Instead, one hosted a dinner at which it snowed food and rained drink. Part of that was variety, however, which did not seem to be a staple of dwarven cuisine.
At least Kili was seated between Bilbo and Fili. That meant he was very well entertained. Moreover, Thorin was on Bilbo’s right, just between him and the king. Finally, the prince was being properly attentive: serving Bilbo extra roast pork, cutting him a slice of bread from the large loaf, insisting he try a different kind of beer.
Flushed with both pleasure and drink, Bilbo seemed far more comfortable than he had sitting next to the king at the previous feasts. Kili even noticed Thrain smiling rather fondly at his son.
When all the serving dishes were down to bones, just before the cakes were wheeled out for dessert, Thorin rose from his chair. The hall went silent.
“Bilbo Baggins, I have a gift for you.”
“Do you?” Bilbo toyed with his glass for a moment, smirking up at Thorin. “It’s about time.”
Many around the hall gasped at this audacious response, but Thorin only grinned. “Long overdue,” he agreed.
With a gesture, he beckoned forward a guard in gleaming armor, holding a silk wrapped parcel. Taking it, he unwrapped the silk to reveal more mithril than Kili could have imagined existing in one place. The chain mail Thorin raised for all to see was like spun gossamer, shining with all the stars caught in a single garment. Nothing in the world could match it for beauty, except maybe Tauriel’s hair in the wind.
There was no wind in the feast hall, no noise, no breath. Not a single dwarf moved, for all were captivated by the beauty of Thorin’s gift.
“Will you accept this, Bilbo?” asked the prince softly, “And my desire to keep you safe forevermore? Will you plight your troth to mine, binding our lives together?”
“I will,” Bilbo said, taking the shirt in both hands, then letting Thorin help him into it. There was a beautiful pearl belt to go about his waist, making fit perfect and tremendously flattering. Kili’s brother looked like a jewel, or some star fallen to earth.
A cheer thundered through the hall, all the dwarves shouting their approval. Kili did not know if they approved of Bilbo, or only the gift, but it didn’t matter. His brother was flushed with happiness, bouncing up on his toes to kiss Thorin in front of all assembled. The cheers did not diminish, though a few hoots and whistles punctuated the roar of the crowd.
Balin stepped forward, and quiet filled the hall once more. The old dwarf had something wrapped in silk as well, but Bilbo waved him away. To the shock of the crowd, Bilbo disappeared quickly underneath the table. Murmurs filled the hall. Soon enough, he popped back up, holding something bulky. Technically, it was wrapped in silk. More accurately, it was wrapped in one of the silk sheets from Bilbo’s guest room.
“Many dwarves offered me heirlooms to give to you in this moment, Thorin,” Bilbo said over the hushed whispers of the crowd. “I’ve been told that only a sufficiently famous dwarven artifact would do.”
With eyes full of longing and consummate love, Thorin said, “I would marry you for a bent twig, Bilbo Baggins.”
“Oh, good.” Bilbo looked tremendously pleased with himself. “Because I only found this old tree branch in my travels.”
Unwrapping the bed sheet, Bilbo revealed the Oakenshield.
Stunned silence fell. The shield was not beautiful or captivating. It was shocking. The shield fell when Thorin did. It was lost. Lost when everything was lost on that desolate mountainside. Now, it was found with Bilbo. Kili hooted and clapped and danced in place, heedless of the thousands of dwarves all around him doing the same. The young Baggins barely even noticed the couple’s second kiss.
All was well.