The winter that followed, according to Balin, was the worst to descend on the Lonely Mountain in recent memory. Nature was ever-merciless, and did not care that those who huddled in the relative shelter of the mountain had few provisions and even fewer time to prepare for the harsh, dark months, the weather so cold and so bleak that the Dwarves had little other option but to hide away in the belly of the mountain while the blizzards howled and tore at the barren ground outside. But the Dwarves endured, and Bilbo endured alongside them. The Men of Laketown took shelter in the shadow of Mirkwood, waiting until the cold weather broke so that they could, perhaps, begin work on Dale, their Elven allies retreating back into the welcoming eaves of their forest. Any ideas that Bard might have had to rebuild Dale and petition Thorin for the right to carry out the work were put on hold, but a tentative truce was made between all races out of sheer necessity for their desperate situation.
As if in apology for the freezing winter, spring returned to the lands of the East in a sudden burst of golden sunshine, thawing ice and snow in the space of a week and gracing the worn-out citizens of the Lonely Mountain with a series of glorious, perfect spring days. The front gates - newly repaired - were thrown wide open, and even the dark-loving Dwarves took the opportunity to stand in the sun, if only to begin trading with the Men of Laketown.
But for two particular denizens of the Lonely Mountain, the ending of winter signified something else altogether, for, at long last, they could hold not one, but two celebrations.
The day had finally come for Thorin and Bilbo’s wedding, and for their coronation.
Thorin had decided – in that ever-practical way of his kind – that his coronation could be put on hold until such a time as it could be celebrated properly, with all the pomp and circumstance that Erebor deserved. The Dwarves agreed - they had had other, more important things to think about over the course of the winter, and few resources with which to celebrate anything, let alone the marriage and crowning of their king.
Erebor was recovering, albeit slowly, her Dwarves working tirelessly to restore her to her former glory. Food had been exported to the mountain at great expense while they waited for Laketown’s farms to recover enough to provide for them, but much to Thorin’s consternation, they still did not have enough for the three-day long celebrations that would normally follow a Royal marriage.
‘Three days,’ Bilbo had all but squeaked when Thorin had told him this.
‘Yes. And then we would be crowned on the fourth day, and two more days of feasting and celebration would follow.’
‘Well then,’ Bilbo had said, because Thorin’s had begun to look withdrawn and tired, as he often had during the darkest days of winter, ‘we shall just have to make a day of it then, won’t we?’
As he spoke he reached out to brush his fingers over Thorin’s brow, trying to ease the deep furrows that worry and the strain of rebuilding a Kingdom had put there.
‘Yes,’ said Thorin, attempting to smile for Bilbo, ‘one fine day.’
It strangely reminded Bilbo of the Shire – it just seemed so normal, and bizarre, too – a King, having to think economically for his wedding day. Their family and friends would be there, though, and that was all that mattered to Bilbo. The eagles had returned to the mountain after spending the winter at the Eyrie – there was nowhere for them to roost and shelter from the harsh winds in Erebor’s foothills, and they refused to enter the mountain; it was simply too strange and unnerving for them. They had winged back to Erebor one cloudy morning, and the foothills had echoed with their happy, heralding cries. Now they waited and were content to hunt in the lands around the mountain while all the necessary preparations were made for the big day.
Two weeks after their arrival, a date was set. It was a fine spring day, with a gentle breeze to temper the warmth of the golden sun. A cloudless day - a day meant for Thorin and Bilbo both.
Bilbo stood before the gilt mirror, tugging nervously at the edges of his waistcoat. He was not usually vain, but today he seemed to be making an exception. His heart was skittish and was beating too fast in his chest, and his mind was racing with self-conscious thoughts. Was his necktie straight? Was the hair on his feet neat enough? Would Thorin think him strange in such bright, soft clothes, so at odds with the tunic that he had worn for most of their journey?
The polished surface of the long mirror reflected a Hobbit in very fine clothes indeed. He had elected to wear a pale cream waistcoat, intricately decorated in its entirety with tiny golden flowers that budded and bloomed in turn. A stark white shirt sat underneath this, with an emerald green necktie tucked carefully into the waistcoat, and a lightweight dark red jacket and a pair of simple, stone-coloured trousers to complete the outfit. Not content with straightening out his clothes for the fourth time in as many minutes, Bilbo picked up the flowered wreath that sat on the side cabinet, if only to have something to hold.
‘I think you look very handsome indeed, Bilbo,’ said Dís.
Bilbo did not shout, but it was a narrow miss. He had barely heard Dís’ approach, and he frequently suspected that Dís did it on purpose, just to make him jump.
‘Oh, thank you, Dís,’ Bilbo said, replying to her reflection in the mirror, ‘it’s, it’s not too much, is it?’
‘Not at all,’ she assured, and Bilbo half heard her mumble something that sounded very much like, ‘just wait until you see your other outfit,’ but he was too nervous to pay much attention.
‘Besides, I think my brother would think you handsome even if you were wearing rags – or troll snot,’ she said with sharp-toothed grin, stepping closer to brush something from his shoulder, ‘but I think this is much better, don’t you?’
Bilbo tried not to fiddle with his courting braid. Dís rested her hand on his shoulder comfortingly. ‘It’s your last chance,’ she joked, ‘are you sure you want to be a part of this ridiculous family?’
Bilbo took a deep, deep breath and raised his eyes to meet Dís’. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Lead the way. Before my legs give out on me.’
In deference to the eagles, a large, open-sided gazebo had been set up just outside the front gates for the sole purpose of holding the wedding. Thankfully, Bilbo had been told that the Dwarves of Erebor did not need to be in attendance for this particular ceremony – Bilbo and Thorin could instead enjoy a much more private affair with those they valued most to bear witness to their union. But this did not mean that it would be a small gathering - the entire Company were likely waiting in the tent, alongside all of their spouses, their children, seven great eagles, and one Wizard.
It was probably to be the strangest wedding Erebor had ever hosted.
Bilbo had, after a great deal of wrangling and bickering, convinced Thorin of the merits of a small wedding, with the focus entirely on their joining. That meant no armour and few ostentatious decorations. Such things would come later, Bilbo had said. But Thorin had insisted on just one thing – that they would walk to the gazebo as the front gates of Erebor opened – all three of them, one after the other. The Sun and Moon gates had been restored during the long winter, and Thorin intended to use them to full effect.
Bilbo could just make out the outline of his soon-to-be husband standing at the foot of the Moon gate. He tightened his grip on the crown, his stomach slowly turning over. Thorin was talking to another Dwarf – an advisor to one of his Lords, perhaps. He seemed to have so many. He had his back to Bilbo as he made his approach, but as Bilbo drew near, the advisor was dismissed, and Thorin turned to see him.
He had stayed true to his word. Thorin was not wearing armour, not even vambraces, and it was strange to see his hands and wrists uncovered. Bilbo drank in the sight of him, eyes raking over the Dwarf’s deep blue long tunic, high-collared and carefully fitted to his frame, a dark charcoal grey – nearly black – sleeveless jacket over the top. His hair had been neatly braided with the twin beads of Durin’s Line, his courting bead sitting happily behind one of them, incongruous compared to the precious beads of his family.
‘Bilbo,’ he said, an easy, warm-eyed smile lighting his face. He reached out to take Bilbo’s elbow, drawing him near so that they could touch brows gently. ‘You look very handsome indeed.’
‘So do you,’ said Bilbo in a hushed whisper.
Dís very pointedly cleared her throat. ‘If you would both be so kind,’ she said, ‘now would be a good time to exchange crowns. We must keep to some manner of schedule today, after all.’
‘Mahal forbid we enjoy ourselves today,’ said Thorin dryly, but he stepped away nevertheless.
‘Your enjoyment has not been scheduled,’ sniffed Dís. ‘The crowns, Thorin.’
Thorin ignored her, but held out the fine circlet of flowers in his hands regardless. ‘May I?’ he asked.
‘Of course,’ replied Bilbo, bowing his head. A crown made of Bright blue Glory-of-the-snow flowers, woven together with almond-shaped leaves, and large white and yellow flowers with delicate petals that Bilbo did not recognise was placed atop his curly head. Thorin’s right hand brushed over the tip of Bilbo’s pointed ear as it made its way back to Thorin’s side, causing Bilbo to shiver.
Thorin bowed his head, but Bilbo still had to stand on his tip toes to place his own crown of pink, pale orange and deep red-purple flowers, threaded through with daisies, on top of Thorin’s dark hair.
‘How very fine you both look,’ said Dís, and for once there was no hint of teasing in her tone. She turned and gave the signal up to the Dwarves who were waiting by the gates’ mechanisms, high above them.
‘Ready?’ said Thorin, offering Bilbo his hand.
The clank and click of well-oiled and mighty machinery was so loud that Bilbo had to raise his voice a little reply. ‘I am,’ said Bilbo, holding Thorin’s endlessly affectionate gaze. He felt far more at ease now he was at Thorin’s side.
The colossal Moon gates slid open, the surface of the gates polished to perfection and living up to their name. As the opened, Bilbo could see the Sun gates beginning to open, their golden brilliance rivalling the Moon gates, and, finally, the solid outer doors folded inwards. The blue sky was starkly framed by the dark doorways, and beneath it lay their wedding. It was the first time Bilbo had laid eyes on the finished gazebo, and he saw with no small amount of amusement that Thorin had not been able to resist a touch of pomp, but with the kind of flair Bilbo could approve of. Flags in rich jewel colours flapped in the breeze atop long poles, lining the way. At the end of the path the flags had created lay the massive yellow-gold gazebo, big enough to be a palace in its own right, waiting for their entrance.
Bilbo took Thorin’s hand, Bilbo gave Thorin a nervous, faltering smile, and together they stepped from the cool shadows of Erebor and into the sun.
What a fine thing, thought Bilbo, feeling steadier with every passing metre. What a fine thing to walk with your intended in the sun and feel the grass under your feet, to know that before you is all that you hold dear.
With the sound of the flags flapping in the breeze, Bilbo and Thorin stepped into the tent, only for Bilbo to find that things were not quite as he had expected.
‘What,’ croaked Bilbo when he had caught sight of their assembled friends and family. For a good, long moment, he was utterly speechless, his mouth moving but no sound coming out. He blinked and said, loudly,
‘You’re not all supposed to be wearing flowers, you dimwits!’
‘But Bilbo,’ said Fíli, his eyes sparking with mischief, ‘I thought this was a Hobbit tradition?’
‘Just for the couple!’ Bilbo spluttered, ‘not for everyone else!’
‘Oh,’ said Kíli, attempting to frown but missing by a wide mark. His grin was simply too wide. ‘Maybe we misread that part.’
‘Easy mistake to make.’
‘No harm done, eh?’
Bilbo’s eyes darted around the tent. Gandalf was leaning on his staff, unbothered by the circle of daisies sitting in his hair. Every single member of the Company, along with their spouses and children, were wearing crowns of flowers. The sight of Dwalin crowned with pretty primroses was not something that Bilbo was about to forget quickly. Bilbo chanced a glance to the left, only to find that someone had heroically tried to put flower crowns on the eagles, too, though Tuit’s was slowly slipping off, and Luaithre and Gwaihir had both elected (very wisely) to wear theirs around their necks. King Grumach was actually managing to wear his with dignity, if such a thing were possible.
Bilbo glanced behind him at Dís, hoping to find some measure of sanity in Thorin’s sister, only to see she had managed to pull a crown of flowers seemingly out of thin air, and was wearing it with an expression of deeply dignified amusement.
Bilbo became aware that Thorin’s hand was shaking in his own. He turned to his soon-to-be-husband to find that the Dwarf’s shoulders were shaking with suppressed mirth, his face hidden behind his free hand. Well, thought Bilbo, if you looked at it a certain way, it was rather funny.
‘Yes,’ said Bilbo with a sigh, now attempting to fight off giggles of his own, ‘no harm done. But I would like you all to know that you have reached new heights of ridiculousness.’
They approached the head of the assembly, coming to stand before Balin. A ripple of laughter ran through the crowd when Thorin attempted to cover his chuckles with a coughing fit upon seeing that Balin had woven flowers into his beard.
‘Well, then’ said Balin, eyes twinkling, ‘shall we begin?’
They were completely at the mercy of the Schedule, and as such Bilbo did not have as much time as he would like to enjoy his newly-married status. They had had perhaps an hour’s grace between being wed and the inevitable hustling away by Dís – enough time to toast their union, and for speeches and much merriment, but not much more.
Still, though, they’d had time for some things. Bilbo suspected his lips were swollen, and it would likely be obvious to anyone with eyes that he had been thoroughly and most enjoyably kissed. He didn’t much mind, though. There was a gold ring sat on his finger, and a new courting bead braided into his hair. Chuckling, Bilbo recalled the way in which Thorin had struggled with the concept of having a simple, unadorned gold band for a wedding ring.
‘Not even a small gem? It would not even need a fancy setting,’ he had often said in the run up to their wedding. ‘Or some subtle engraving, at least?’
But Bilbo had persisted. He had wanted rings like the ones his mother and father had worn, and when he’d told Thorin this, the Dwarf had at last relented. Compromise by its very nature goes both ways, though, and so Bilbo’s requests for simplicity had been matched by Thorin’s insistence on grandeur for their coronation.
Unfortunately for Bilbo, this meant that while he had argued for simple clothes for their wedding, Thorin could argue for the exact opposite for their coronation. A change of costume was therefore necessary - Bilbo’s softly threaded waistcoat would be put aside in favour of hard armour. The Dwarves of Erebor had heard tell of his exploits on the journey. They considered him a warrior, and as such they expected him to dress like one. It was not something Bilbo felt he could refuse; this was a thoroughly Dwarvish coronation, and appearances were everything. It was something he knew he would have to get used to.
This would be the first time that Bilbo had laid eyes on his coronation outfit, and Bilbo was very curious as to what Thorin had picked out for him. The Dwarf had been extremely secretive over choosing what Bilbo would wear, and as Bilbo knew little about armour, he had been content to sit back and let Thorin decide his outfit. He just hoped it wasn’t dripping with too many jewels.
As soon as she had been able to, Dís had quickly and efficiently hustled Bilbo into the Royal living quarters so that he could have some privacy while he changed. She led him to a spacious, richly decorated dressing room, and Bilbo’s curiosity was sated at long last.
A wooden mannequin stood in the middle of the room. On it rested a long, sweeping, crimson-red cloak, clasped at the neck with a broach of jewelled flowers. And underneath – underneath it sat the most beautifully engraved breastplate Bilbo had ever seen. Bilbo could not guess at the metal it had been crafted from, but its colour was an old gold, carefully and intricately engraved in parts, inlaid with a lighter colour in others to convey overlapping feathers that flowed over the shoulders and torso. Bilbo’s breath stuck in his throat. He knew Thorin’s handiwork when he saw it.
‘My brother has spent many an hour on this,’ said Dís from the side, confirming what Bilbo already knew.
‘Dís,’ Bilbo said, but found that he had no idea what to say. He reached out with one hand to trace the lines of a feather sweeping over the right shoulder of the breastplate.
‘He wouldn’t even let me help,’ Dís smiled at him. ‘Come, Bilbo, let’s get you dressed. We wouldn’t want you to be late.’
The gazebo had been moved further away from the gates and numerous long tables set up next to it for feasting, along with other, smaller tents. More brightly coloured flags had been raised alongside coloured-glass lanterns, emphasising the pathway that had been created out of a bright purple fabric, leading the way up to the two thrones that stood on the line between light and dark, on the threshold of the front gates. Dwarves had begun to pore from the mountain and into the spring afternoon, wearing their finery, and they were joined in short order by men, women and children from Laketown. Bilbo had been told that there would be many a foreign dignitary in attendance from distant lands, all here to witness the crowning of the King Under the Mountain. Among them would be Bard, whose presence Thorin was tolerating, if only for the chance of peace in the future. But harder still had been deciding if Thranduil should attend. Bilbo and Thorin had discussed this at great length through the winter, until they had finally decided that it would be best if Thranduil was not to attend. In his stead, they invited Legolas – a far less inflammatory figure to the Dwarves, and known to be a friend of Bilbo’s. The deep rifts between the races had not yet been healed, but Bilbo hoped that their coronation would be the first of many steps on the road to becoming allies once more.
Bilbo, dressed in his armour and crownless once more, hurried along the back routes of Erebor towards the gates. He and Thorin would need to make their entrance before the crowd at any moment, but for a few precious minutes, they were actually alone.
Thorin laughed when he caught sight of Bilbo, breathless and disbelieving.
‘I have tried to imagine you in that for many, many months now,’ he said, hands immediately going to Bilbo’s armoured waist, eyes raking over Bilbo, ‘but you look better in it than I could have ever imagined.’
‘It’s beautiful, Thorin. Thank you,’ said Bilbo, tilting his head upwards to meet Thorin’s mouth with his own, loosing himself to the press of lips and the heated exchange of breaths.
When they parted, but only by a few millimetres, Bilbo could hear the sounds of the crowd waiting for them outside. How much longer did they have before they would be called out, to stand before the Dwarves of Erebor and take on the mantle of King and Consort? Taking his chance while he still could, Bilbo turned his head towards Thorin’s ear and said, with as much clarity as his tongue could shape,
Bilbo would truly treasure Thorin’s resulting stunned expression for the rest of his life.
‘What did you say?’
Bilbo licked his lips and repeated, ‘Ashimnemshêk.’
Bilbo was suddenly and without warning swept up in Thorin’s arms, Thorin claiming his mouth in a wildly passionate kiss. He was all but lifted off his feet when Thorin tightened an arm around him, pressing them together, hand on Bilbo’s neck, thumb on the hinge of Bilbo’s jaw. Bilbo could do more than be happily carried away in it, and all thought left him for a good long minute.
‘How?’ croaked Thorin when he had to pause for breath.
Bilbo opened his mouth, let out an indiscernible noise, closed his mouth, swallowed, and tried again, ‘you know I’ve been taking Khuzdul lessons from Dís,’ he said, ‘which helped, but I couldn’t say your Name around her. I’ve been practising on my own. In secret.’
Thorin’s eyes were bright with happiness, and Bilbo felt breathless just looking at him.
‘I take it I pronounced it the right way, then?’
‘Bundushathur,’ murmured Thorin.
Bilbo mock-scowled at him, ‘don’t think I don’t know what that means! That’s-‘
But his words were lost in another kiss, Thorin turning from his lips for a moment to press a series of butterfly kisses along the line of Bilbo’s jaw.
‘Thorin! We’ll be late for the coronation,’ said Bilbo, chuckling even as he said this, his hands finding their way underneath Thorin’s fine, layered clothes.
‘I do not care,’ rumbled Thorin, having reached Bilbo’s ear.
‘I think Dís will, and the Schedule-‘ a shock ran through Bilbo’s entire body as Thorin did something that caused him to gasp.
‘Bilbo,’ said Thorin, ‘I am King. I cannot be late for my own coronation.’
‘But you’re not King yet-.’
‘Will you ever stop talking?’ Thorin said, titling his head to look at Bilbo once more. And oh, if the Dwarves of Erebor could see him now, his eyes sparkling, colour splashed across his cheeks, a silly grin blooming across his face.
Bilbo answered Thorin’s question by diving forward once more, intent on making Thorin gasp as he had just done.
Needless to say, they were late for their coronation.
Gandalf, as promised, was there to crown them both. Bilbo didn’t think that they could actually stop him, had they wanted to.
Before the multitudes, before Lords and Ladies, princes and princesses and would-be-Kings, Thorin was crowned as King Under the Mountain. The crown sat easily on his head, and finally, finally, Thorin was granted the title that he had long fought for, and had longer still deserved.
Then, it was Bilbo’s turn. Gandalf eye’s had drifted to Bilbo’s slightly rumpled collar, but he passed no comment save for a slightly raised eye brow and an amused look. With the upmost solemnity, he placed the Consort’s crown on Bilbo’s head.
Gandalf turned to the assembled, silent crowds and said, in his loudest and most booming voice,
‘Hail, Thorin, Heir of Durin, King Under the Mountain...and his Consort, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire and of the Eagles of Manwë.’
The resulting cheer was a wave of sound, hitting Bilbo like a physical blow in the middle of his chest.
Gandalf continued, slightly quieter now, gaze hopeful as he spoke as if to Thorin alone.
‘May your reign see peace and plenty, at long last.’
The crown of flowers had been so light that Bilbo had barely noticed it at all. The crown that currently sat on his head was another matter entirely. It was much lighter, certainly, than Thorin’s, but even so the winding gold crown was a weight that Bilbo could not ignore. He felt conscious of it at every moment, and it was a strange feeling that he could not shake. Bilbo hoped that he would get used to it – he would be required to wear it at court. It would not do to appear uncomfortable before Thorin’s Lords.
There had been songs, and rites, and rituals. He and Thorin had stepped down from their thrones to walk the lined path, and all of the Company had bowed as they passed. Kíli and Fíli had been the first to bow low in deference to their King, looking very handsome indeed in their fine clothes, with a crown decorating each of their brows as befitting their status. Thorin had favoured them with a glance that Bilbo knew meant that he would put a stop to such behaviour, as soon as he was able.
With the ceremony completed, the celebrations could truly begin. It was late afternoon by the time the crowds began to feast and dance and sing, glorying in the fine day and the sense of happiness that pervaded the entire gathering. There are so many, thought Bilbo, and still more to come. Not all of the Dwarves had been able to return to the mountain before winter had truly sunk its teeth into the lands of the East. Many more were on their way even now, as Bilbo drifted through the crowds. He and Thorin had parted briefly – Thorin was required to speak to the Dwarven Lords, and Bilbo would be fulfilling his first duties as consort by doing what Thorin could not – seeing to the Elven delegations.
Legolas, it would seem, was happy enough to oversee the argument currently taking place between Kíli and Bard, occasionally chipping in with his own assertions, stoking and calming their bickering in equal measure. Bilbo could quite clearly hear strains of their conversation even from where he stood.
‘I’m telling you,’ Kíli was saying, ‘your arrow might have wounded Smaug, but it was mine that finished him off!’
‘From that distance?’ scoffed Bard, ‘come Kíli, you know that’s unlikely.’
‘He dropped dead immediately after I fired my shot!’
‘But he may have been mortally wounded. He may have died even without your well-aimed arrow, Kíli,’ said Legolas smoothly.
‘Don’t you start-‘
Trying to repress a smile, Bilbo turned to the high table set a short distance away from the crowds, in its own tent to provide more privacy to those who sat inside. It was here that Bilbo was surprised to see a familiar face.
‘Lord Elrond!’ said Bilbo delightedly. Time and distance had given him cause to remember Rivendell and its Lord very fondly indeed.
‘Master Baggins,’ said the Elf-Lord, smiling congenially. Unlike his kin he had elected to remain standing, hands clasped behind his back, surveying the merriment taking place before Erebor. ‘What a delight it is to see you well and safe, here at the end of your journey.’
‘You honour us with your presence,’ said Bilbo, ‘I wouldn’t think you’d travel so far from Rivendell!’
‘Of course. Erebor has not known a King for many years. It is a momentous occasion, one that has been made all the more unusual by the Consort he has chosen,’ said Lord Elrond with a kind smile.
‘Yes,’ said Bilbo, thinking back to his time in Rivendell, and couldn’t help but smile, ‘last you saw us we were at complete odds with each other. The whole thing must seem very strange indeed.’
‘Not quite as strange as you would expect,’ corrected Lord Elrond, ‘though, I must admit, I did not expect your journey to be as successful. It is an astounding achievement, what the Company of Thorin Oakenshield has accomplished. But your relationship with Thorin...’ amusement flashed through Elrond’s warm grey eyes, ‘that, in comparison, was not so implausible.’
Bilbo shook his head with a snort. Had they really been that obvious, even then? Even to the Elves, as far-sighted as they were? Bilbo supposed that he and Thorin had been circling each other, drawn together again and again, against their better judgement...but Bilbo’s line of thought then took a different turn as he alighted on one particular memory and began to wonder how far sighted Lord Elrond really was.
‘Did you foresee something, that day?’ said Bilbo, smile gone, a frown in its place, ‘in the library – what did you see?’
Lord Elrond turned his gaze towards Bilbo. ‘I foresaw it all,’ he said, ‘I saw great sadness in your future. I saw pain, and hardship, and heartbreak, and the shadow of death.’
‘Why?’ asked Bilbo plaintively, voice a ghostly whisper, ‘why didn’t you say something?’
‘Because I also saw happiness. I saw love,’ answered Lord Elrond simply, ‘and I ask you, Master Baggins, was it not worth every second of darkness on your journey here?’
Bilbo let out a whisper of an exhale, looking out over the happy crowds, imagining Thorin out there, somewhere, irritated at having to stand on ceremony for his Lords, but alive. Kíli and Fíli, were out there, too, likely up to a great deal of trouble – they were his family, now, and Dís alongside of them.
‘Of course it was,’ sighed Bilbo, ‘of course it was.’
‘There was a chance that you would die here,’ said Elrond, turning to look out over the rolling foothills covered in green grass. ‘Your blood would seep into the grounds of the mountains and your body laid to rest in Erebor’s hallowed halls, deep at the centre of the mountain. But there was also a chance that you would live. I had to hope for the latter, that day in Rivendell.’
‘Well,’ said Bilbo with a laugh, ‘I am certainly glad it was the latter.’
‘As are many here today.’
A stretch of companionable silence passed between them before Lord Elrond said,
‘There are those who will be watching your reign with great interest.’
‘Yes, I can imagine we will be quite the talk of Middle Earth for quite some time. A Dwarf and a Hobbit is quite an unusual paring, to be sure.’
‘I am not just simply referring to foreign lands, Master Hobbit,’ said Elrond with a glance and a tilt of his head.
Bilbo caught his meaning quickly. ‘Ah, yes. I’ve been worrying about that,’ he confessed, ‘court intrigue is foreign to me, but I know that there are many Dwarves who are still waiting for me to just...trip up, and prove them right.’
He shook his head, at a loss. ‘I am made for the rolling hills of the Shire. I became a Hobbit of the Eyrie of the Misty Mountains. But I am unsure if I can be a ruler of Dwarves.’
‘Many think the same, when they begin their reign,’ said Lord Elrond, ‘and all of them have gone on to become great rulers. There is no reason why you could not do the same.’
‘You have done much that is surprising during your life, Bilbo,’ said another.
Lord Elrond and Bilbo both turned to see King Grumach approaching on foot. ‘When I first met you, you were a wide-eyed Hobbit, weak and frail. Look at you now.’
Lord Elrond bowed his head in acknowledgement to Grumach, and Grumach returned the gesture. Bilbo hastily bowed in turn.
‘We are all of us capable of great things,’ said Grumach, ‘all that is required is for us to be tested. This is just another test, another rock to jump from. Just imagine Deas is shouting at you to keep moving, and you will be fine,’ he said wryly.
‘Thank you,’ said Bilbo, ‘I’ll be sure to remember that. I hope that Deas himself will be around to shout it himself.’
‘I imagine you couldn’t keep him away, or my sons, or any of the fledglings,’ said the King with a long-suffering air, ‘but this is the nature of younglings, is it not, Lord Elrond?’
‘It is indeed,’ agreed the Elf, ‘my own children are just as far-ranging, and as troublesome. Woe betide they ever sprout wings! But, of course, I would not ask for them any other way.’
King Grumach hummed. ‘But a discussion of my children is not what I came to speak to you about, Bilbo. I have a gift for you on your wedding day.’
‘You do?’ said Bilbo, eyebrows bouncing upwards in his surprise, ‘there’s no need, your highness – it’s enough that you’re here.’
‘Ah, but this is needed,’ insisted Grumach, ‘though I will surely irritate you thoroughly by giving you this, for I will not tell you what it is, and I know how much unsolved mysteries annoy you. But you can only know that it is the most precious gift of all, and that I am merely calling up a wind to turn a spark into a blaze.’
If Grumach had meant to ignite Bilbo’s curiosity, they he had certainly succeeded. What a riddle he had presented Bilbo with. He had not an inkling of what Grumach’s gift could be, but he trusted the King. Whatever it was, it would be for Bilbo’s benefit.
‘Do you accept this gift?’
Bilbo glanced at Lord Elrond, who shrugged delicately at the unasked question. ‘Yes, I do,’ said Bilbo with great bemusement, ‘though I have no idea what I am accepting.’
‘You will know, in time,’ said Grumach. ‘Here, turn your head towards mine.’
Bilbo obeyed, and Grumach simply bent his great head low to gently tap the curve of his beak against Bilbo’s forehead, Bilbo’s crown making a quiet chiming sound when Grumach’s beak connected with the metal. Grumach stepped back, and Bilbo opened his eyes.
‘I don’t feel a different at all,’ said Bilbo, utterly baffled, ‘am I supposed to?’
‘No – you will not be able to sense my gift, Bilbo.’
‘Do you not even feel a touch of difference?’ asked Elrond, smiling at the exchange.
‘Perhaps,’ said Bilbo, ‘but mostly, I’m just hungry.’
It was no small achievement, to make an Elf laugh, but Lord Elrond did just that, his rich, full-bodied chuckle filing up the tent, causing his kin to turn and try and see the source of his merriment.
The day was drawing to a close, but no one minded at all. Darkness meant fireworks, and Gandalf bested himself once more, setting off a series of rockets that showered all manner of coloured sparks on the crowds as the sun began to dip below the horizon. Several more were set off in quick succession – rockets that formed great constellations in the canvas of the sky with glittering stars, fizzing fireworks that formed a flock of blue birds that danced through the air, delighting the shrieking children, and many more wondrous sights besides, including fireworks Bilbo recognised from his childhood.
There were Dwarves and men and women dancing in among the lanterns, a large band keeping time with a fast-paced melody. Bilbo could clearly see Dwalin and Dís in amongst the revellers, laughing as they tried to keep time with the furious beat, Fíli not far from them and attempting to teach the jig to a young female Dwarf. Elsewhere the eagles rested, conversing with the Elves or, in the case of the fledglings, letting the young children of Dale and Erebor inspect them. For Gwaihir this meant having his feathers tugged by tiny hands and bearing it all with the upmost dignity. For the others, it meant nudging the children into some semblance of order, or opening their wings to hear the little ones ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ in wonder at their feathers.
Bilbo, laughing, saw that Tuit had grown bored with his crown of flowers and had decided to present it to two very young girl Dwarves, who took it with the upmost care, despite the fact that they could barely carry it between them.
Bilbo tried to fix it all in his memory so that he would not forget even a moment, willing his mind to absorb it all. But the day was not done yet – there was still one last gift to be given.
He and Thorin had secreted themselves away from the main crowds. They had taken their turn at dancing, both with each other and the rest of their family, but were now content to sit on the grassy hills and watch the celebrations, and the fireworks. Their lovely coronation clothes were likely getting grass stains, but neither of them cared.
They were sat so close that Bilbo could easily turn his head slightly to the right to brush noses with Thorin. He thought of what he was about to do. He savoured the mountain air, fresh and clean with a hint of lit fireworks, his heart picking up speed with little prompting.
‘Thorin,’ he said, and his husband turned to him, ‘I have something to say to you.’
‘Hmm?’ said Thorin as he put out his pipe, laying it aside. ‘Oh, it must be something serious indeed, for you to frown like that.’
‘No, no, it’s nothing like that. Well, it is serious, but...’ he huffed and started again. ‘Thorin. It’s time for me to tell you my Name.’
Whereas before Thorin had looked almost drowsy with contentment and likely a little mead, too, Bilbo saw his whole attention sharpen, every inch of his focus turning to Bilbo.
‘Are you sure?’ he said, urgently.
This drew a startled laugh from Bilbo. ‘Am I sure?’ he said, incredulously, ‘of course I’m sure. I don’t know why you insisted on waiting so long-‘
‘I would not have been right,’ said Thorin, ‘I had to-‘
‘Earn it - I know, I know,’ completed Bilbo. This was an old and much-used argument. ‘But you could have heard this months ago. I could have just blurted it out one day – no need to stand on ceremony – good morning, dear, oh, and my Name is...’
‘I would have stopped you. Somehow,’ Thorin said, a smile tugging at the edges of his mouth.
‘And taken great delight in it, I’m sure,’ said Bilbo with a pointed look.
‘Of course.’ There was a hint of teeth in Thorin’s grin. Bilbo had to carefully ignore the resulting hot flush of heat low in his stomach at the sight of this.
‘Well, I suppose you can consider it a gift, on this, our wedding night.’
‘Not the only gift I’ll be getting, I hope,’ said Thorin with a healthy leer.
‘Oh, for goodness sake!’ exclaimed Bilbo, putting a hand to his face and laughing. He was fairly sure he had knocked his crown askew in the process. ‘Can’t you be a little more serious? I’m giving away my soul here, after all.’
He had intended it to be a joke, but Thorin purposefully did not take it as such. His smile – but not his evident happiness – slipped away, to be replaced by something tentatively and achingly hopeful. Bilbo took heart at this new expression. It gave him courage, to know that he was trusted enough to see Thorin with his guard so completely dismantled.
It really did feel like he was giving his soul away, now. But Bilbo didn’t mind. He had given Thorin everything months ago. This would simply seal the deal, like the ring on his finger and the bead in his hair.
Bilbo clasped hands with Thorin, met his gaze, and said,
‘All that I am, I give to you. I am The-Hush-Before-The-Storm.’
Thorin sucked in a breath through parted lips. His dipped his eyes down and brought Bilbo’s hands up to his mouth so that he could kiss his knuckles.
‘Thank you, Bilbo,’ he said.
‘No, you idiot. Thank you.’
‘But you’re the one that just gifted me-‘ began Thorin, but Bilbo cut him off with a kiss, just because he could.
‘And you say I’m the talkative one,’ he said, smiling into Thorin’s mouth, heart singing in joy at the way Thorin put a hand to the nape of his neck to pull him in close for another kiss, noses bumping, breathless with happiness, fireworks bursting into colour above their heads.
Bilbo had known exactly why he had felt the need to thank Thorin. But even if Thorin had asked why, Bilbo knew he could not fully answer the question. He found himself unable to put into words the feeling that had been building inside his chest ever since he had woken in the aftermath of the battle. It was simply too much, too big a concept for him to confine it to a few simple words.
Because there, between earth and sky, Bilbo finally felt at home.