Bilbo put on a good show for his brother and the crowd in the feast hall. He loved a good show, after all, and he deserved the cheers. However, he wasn’t sure accepting Thorin was the right thing until the prince walked him to his door, took one look at it, and was immediately disapproving.
“This is the chamber you were given?”
“Yes. Is it not appropriate? It seems to be—er, a good neighborhood?”
Thorin frowned. “It is not the honor of the placement to which I object. This is the room for foreign royalty. Princes of elves and men have slept here with no insult to their kingdoms, but it is not the room for you.”
Thorin met his eyes steadily. “Do you like it?”
The prince laughed. It was that soft, huffing chuckle that shot straight through Bilbo’s core. As long as Bilbo could make Thorin laugh that way, he knew he could hold on to that feeling. But was that true happiness?
When the laughter faded, Thorin’s eyes settled into something soft and serious. “I have not kept my promises to you.”
“Oh, Thorin. I don’t give a damn about that silly old ring. Yes, it was quite frightening at the tower with Elrond and Gandalf and all those great, tall, proud folk, but it doesn’t matter here. I wish you wouldn’t let it matter here.”
Taking Bilbo’s hand in both of his own, Thorin brought it to his lips, kissing the back in a gentle, courtly fashion. “Not that promise. I pledged to make a place in the mountain for a hobbit to be happy. I spoke of a garden, and of comforts you would appreciate.”
“Thorin.” Bilbo took a step closer to the dwarf even though it meant craning his neck a little to look him in the eye. “I don’t care about comforts or gardens. I would rather sit on a wooden barrel in the wild with you than all the cushions in the world.”
Thorin nodded gravely. “That would be a very tall pile of cushions. Given your natural athleticism, you’d roll right off.”
The hobbit slapped his shoulder. “I’m trying to say something here, you know.”
“I know.” Thorin licked his lips. Bilbo had never seen him nervous before. “Kili told me. Fili warned me that I would be better off giving you a kitchen than a jewel, and he was right as well. You may have brought me the Oakenshield, but that was for its symbolism to my people. For my customs, not yours. Your own engagement happened with the braiding of hair. You will sit on a barrel with me, or you will not be mine.”
Bilbo felt rather sick to hear it said aloud, but he couldn’t argue the point. “That’s about the shape of it, yes.”
Surprisingly, Thorin smiled. “A dwarf is always most comfortable when he knows the terms. I would like you to know that my first instinct is to leave you now and build for you a proper home. Something with a kitchen, a garden, and a bed just big enough for two.”
“And I know now how unwise that would be. Instead, I ask you to join me in my own room this night. In the morning, we will see how industriously the dwarves of Erebor can turn my personal armory into a kitchen. I will need your help overseeing the work, to ensure it is to your liking.”
Kissing the prince was the only possible response to that particular proposal. “Isn’t it a problem if we share a room before marriage?”
“I don’t care,” Thorin said. “A kitchen in the morning, a garden the day after, and a wedding next week. If Balin is not already planning that, however, he is out of a job.”
Bilbo laughed. “I’m fairly certain he’s been planning it for three days.”
Thorin’s mouth twitched guiltily.
“Thinking of Balin, I am also fairly sure that it would be a problem for us to share a bed before that wedding.” Casting a significant glance to the guards in plate mail spaced evenly along the corridor, Bilbo raised an eyebrow at his prince.
Thorin flushed a little. “We are engaged to be married, and it does not matter.”
Bilbo kissed him gently. “I will see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”
“I choose you.” Thorin’s face was a picture of dwarven stubbornness. Bilbo had to laugh again.
“Show me tomorrow,” the hobbit said. “I have never asked you to choose me over common sense and social decency. I have no more desire to be a public embarrassment to you than I was to my family name in the Shire.”
Parting would have been much easier if Thorin continued to be stubborn. Instead, the prince had the audacity to look disappointed.
“We might have been spending our time together for the last three days,” Bilbo said firmly. “Good night.”
As he closed the door, he heard Thorin say, “Good night, my love.” So that was alright. Unfortunately, the wages of virtue were a big, empty bed with cold linens. Bilbo liked them not at all.
The morning was much better. Opening his door to request breakfast, he found Fili and Kili blinking at him with bleary eyes. Thorin was holding the breakfast tray.
“My royal nephews are sufficient chaperones,” the prince promised.
“Tea,” Kili begged, very pitifully.
“He’s made us stand here for an hour,” Fili groaned. “I don’t want tea; I want to go back to bed!”
Bilbo only laughed at them both, for they proved awake and animated enough around his breakfast table. Fili devoured more than half the sausages, and Kili had six blueberry scones. Meanwhile, Thorin sat next to Bilbo and poured tea for him, exactly as a good host should. When they were married, of course, they would bicker amiably about the privilege until one claimed it.
His mother always poured the tea at Bag End. And took the last slice of cake. And was the first to greet guests. Thinking back, Bilbo couldn’t remember any precedence given to his father during his childhood, but perhaps he was only misremembering. Perhaps it just seemed as though his mother was the one around whom the marriage revolved because of what he knew now about Kili and the major choice of his parents lives. Bilbo put it from his mind. To start, it was very pleasant to be welcomed into the home of one’s intended as a guest.
For the first time since the thrill of his daring arrival in Erebor, Bilbo actually felt welcome.
“I have a report from Frar, if you would like to hear it,” Thorin said diffidently.
“Oh?” Bilbo considered. Frar was the burly, red-bearded dwarf who had been seconding Thorin at that great blasting furnace which was meant to destroy the Ring. He seemed a decent fellow, but the hobbit found he did not want an entire report. There was only one question which needed to be answered. “Is it done?”
“Not yet,” Thorin said.
“Does Frar intend to keep working?”
“Then that is all the report I need,” the hobbit said.
“You need more tea,” Thorin observed, pouring again to fill his cup as Bilbo smiled receptively.
Fili frowned at the teapot. “Don’t you like to do that, Master Baggins?”
“And he shall again once they are married,” Kili said. “Don’t you think otherwise for a second. Just because Thorin is a prince, doesn’t mean Bilbo will be letting him pour the tea.”
Bilbo blushed. “I am sure Thorin and I will share the duty.”
Thorin smiled softly. “Hosts pour tea in the Shire,” he told Fili. “I will pour until we are married, and thereafter whenever Bilbo wishes me to do so.”
“Oh!” Bilbo had to kiss him for that.
After breakfast, they went to Thorin’s chambers. The rooms were even larger than Bilbo’s but less spacious and more comfortable in places. Serious dwarves were already milling about, taking measurements and moving furniture. Many, many questions about the size of the kitchen, the best location for the plumbing, and the benefits of granite instead of wooden countertops were asked. Bilbo answered all he could, growing more animated as certain efficiencies and amenities occurred to him. Apparently, putting up new walls and taking down old ones was no trouble; the dwarves were that eager to please. Thorin, especially, was extremely indulgent. He had only one request for himself, which was the instillation of something called an ice box in the second pantry.
“We bring ice down from the peak of the mountain regularly, it will be slightly colder than your cold larder at Bag End, but I hope you may find some use for it.”
“Some use,” Bilbo agreed, thinking of all the ways he knew to make ice creams and sweet, frozen sorbets. To have such treats in the height of summer would be luxury indeed.
Once the planning for the kitchen finished, they proceeded to the bedroom. It was entirely unfurnished, with only a bare mattress on a bed that was identical to his own in Bag End in every respect save that it was made of sturdy oak instead of golden pine.
Frowning at Thorin, the hobbit said, “I am quite sure that whatever furnishings you had in here were fine.”
Thorin only smiled. “My furnishings in my office will stay as they are, if you please, and you may have a study of your own as recompense if you like. I shall keep the second wardrobe for myself as well, for my clothing is sorted there in a manner that pleases me. However, this is our bedroom. We shall share it. And so, we should choose how to furnish it together. I like this blue silk for one set of bedclothes. What do you think?”
“I think silk can be tricky to clean.”
“You will not be doing the laundry, my love.”
Bilbo’s cheeks went hot. “Surely I must wash the sheets sometimes.”
The gentle smile playing across Thorin’s mouth turned knowing.
“I enjoy washing up,” the hobbit claimed.
Unforgivably, Thorin laughed. “Beloved, I cannot be a help-meet to you in the way a hobbit would. My own time is too dear to spend it cleaning, and so I hope your own will be one day as you learn the ways of ruling a kingdom. I would never take something you truly liked away from you. You shall have your kitchen and your books, but someone else must do the washing up to free your hours for our greater duties.”
“Thorin.” Bilbo looked furtively around at the many strange dwarves in what would be his bedroom. “Thorin, you must know—”
“There will be gossip?” Thorin’s eyes sparkled, but he did not laugh again. Instead, he took the hobbit’s hand. “There will indeed. Dwarves gossip more than any other people in this world, I am sure, when we are left to our own devices. Royalty is always a favorite topic. There will be gossip about the meaning of each and every jewel you wear on your person, what colors you choose for your clothing, especially if you care to dress in the Shire style. There will be gossip about who you spend your time with, and some of that will be cruel. Some of that is already cruel, Bilbo, for not all see the hobbits who raised a lost prince in secret as the heroes they were.”
“Yes, of course. I expect all that, but—”
“The gossip about our marriage bed will be happy. Only ever happy. Those who look after us will be pleased to know that you—” Thorin coughed and fell silent.
“Oh dear.” It was Bilbo’s turn to laugh, and he did. Quite loudly. “Is that one of my duties as your royal spouse? To keep you happy?”
“No,” said Thorin in a very firm, solid way which absolutely meant yes.
“It is!” Bilbo crowed. “What would they think of me in the Shire? A whole kingdom going around expecting me to please its prince every single night. Oh, how I shall please you Thorin! Don’t you doubt. We will find the time, my love, and quite a bit of it.”
“Bilbo!” Thorin looked around at the other dwarves, clearly embarrassed by this speech.
In answer, the hobbit ducked his head to look up at his betrothed through his lashes. “Fear not, Prince Thorin. You will do your share of the kneeling.”
If he’d been struck hard upon the head, the dwarf’s eyes could not have gone more vacant. His lips parted slightly, but he did not speak. Bilbo grinned.
“We’ll take the blue silk,” he told the dwarf with the bolts of cloth. “It brings out Thorin’s eyes beautifully. I should also like to see that red, however. Can you spread it out a little so that I might judge it better in the lamp light?”