The most shocking thing about it wasn’t finding out that Fili and Kili were apparently…involved with each other. Bilbo had always seen them as an overly affection pair of brothers and no one in the company had ever treated it as unusual.
Nor was it that surprising to learn that Fili was female. Bilbo knew there were dwarf women in the world, and Gandalf had even mentioned once that all dwarves wore men’s clothing and used masculine forms of address while travelling.
But hearing Kili growl about how he would give Fili children…well, that was a bit much.
Bilbo hadn’t meant to walk in on them, but what were they expecting when they decided to do…that…on a kitchen counter? Indeed, Bilbo’s first thought was that wasn’t very sanitary before his brain caught up to him.
Fili and Kili were brothers, even if one of them was female in body. And they were…
Bilbo beat a hasty retreat to go back to the rest of the company. Fili and Kili did not seem to notice.
When he returned to the area where the others had gathered, they must have noticed his pale face.
“Bilbo?” Balin asked kindly. “Is something the matter?”
Bilbo hesitated, casting a glance at Thorin before he said, “Um…just…” He struggled to find the words. “I saw Fili and Kili in the kitchen and…and it doesn’t seem decent, even if one of them is technically female…I mean…”
Dwalin rolled his eyes. “Are they still in their honeymoon phase?” he asked. “It’s been over a year! You’d think the novelty would have worn off by now!”
“Ah, but you know how it is,” Ori said. “He’s Fili’s first one and they haven’t been able to do anything since we left.” He threw a smirk at Nori and Dori. “And if they’re taking advantage of a comfortable house, maybe I should, too.”
Bilbo’s mouth fell open as Nori grinned. “Wouldn’t say no to that,” he said, throwing and arm over Ori’s shoulder and pulling him into a deep kiss. Ori accepted it willingly and then turned to Dori and kissed him the same way.
“Not here,” Dwalin muttered. “We don’t all need to see it.”
Balin chuckled and patted his hand. “Now, now, dear, don’t be harsh on them. I recall you were just as bad when we first started.”
Dwalin’s eyes softened. “Who could blame me?” he asked, his voice suddenly soft. “I’d landed the smartest, handsomest dwarf who ever lived.”
“I beg to differ,” Bombur said, curling into Bofur’s side and pecking him on the cheek. “You’d be hard-pressed to match mine, Dwalin.”
Bilbo stared at them all, aghast. “But…” He flushed as all eyes turned to him. “But I thought you were all brothers!”
There was a moment of silence before the dwarves all started laughing. “Oh, yes,” Balin said. “That.” He glanced at Thorin, who nodded. “I think you’ve earned the right to know our little secret, Master Burglar,” Balin continued. “You see, many centuries ago when dwarves and men and elves were just starting to interact with each other, they all had to start translating their own languages into the Common tongue, so they could communicate.”
Bilbo blinked. “Um…what’s that have to do with…?”
“Khuzdul is a very difficult language to translate,” Balin continued as though he had not been interrupted. “Especially since it’s kept so secret. The dwarves would not allow the scholars of elves and men to learn it, so they had to do all the translating themselves. There were quite a lot of mistakes, but one of the most glaring was when the word ‘wife’ somehow got mixed up with the word ‘brother’…and by the time the dwarves had realized their mistake, well, they had gotten too used to the words to bother changing it. So whenever we travel, our wives are introduced as our brothers, partly due to this mistake, but also because it’s safer for the tall folk to assume all dwarves are male.”
Bilbo took a moment to process all that. “So…you’re all actually married to one another?”
“Nearly two hundred years for us,” Balin said, smiling at Dwalin affectionately. “And a better wife I couldn’t have dreamed of.”
Dwalin grunted. “Stop your sweet-talking before we embarrass everyone else,” he muttered.
“And…” Bilbo looked to Nori, Ori and Dori, who were all getting rather cuddly. “You three are…?”
“Well, only one in three dwarves is born a woman,” Ori explained. “And not all of them marry, which means there are a lot of extra men about. It’s not unheard of for us to take two or three husbands to keep the birthrate up. Besides,” he added with a wicked grin. “I get the best of both worlds with these two.”
“So did you all just happen to have rhyming names?” Bilbo asked.
“Marriage convention,” Gloin said. “We change our names to match our wife’s.”
“So is Oin your wife, or are you his?” Bilbo asked.
“Neither,” Gloin said. “Remember Ori said that women take more than one husband? Our wife is back in Erid Luin with our son.”
“And…would those of you who are female prefer me to use feminine forms of address?” Bilbo asked, feeling very wrong-footed now.
Bombur shrugged. “If you like,” he said. “Though really, most of us prefer to stick to the masculine. Much safer that way.”
“Right,” Bilbo muttered. “Well, um…glad we cleared that up.” He glanced at Thorin. “Though I would appreciate it if you asked your nephews not to do it on the counter where we prepare food.”
Thorin sighed and got up. “I suppose I’d better,” he said. “Though Fili isn’t actually my nephew.”
“No, your niece,” Bilbo agreed.
“No,” Thorin said. “My daughter.” He raised his eyebrows. “Just because some prefer the word ‘sister’ in conversation doesn’t mean we got the translations right.”