Bilbo Baggins scrambled to stand beside Bofur, doing his best to straighten his borrowed dwarven tunic. The entire company had gathered around the dais of the throne, preparing to greet a delegate from the Iron Hills.
“Good of you to join us Bilbo,” Bofur teased, elbowing the hobbit.
“I got lost again,” he sniped back. “Honestly, why do you insist on creating so many tunnels?” He looked towards the entrance of the throne room. “These guests must be very important,” he said, lowering his voice. “I shouldn’t think all of us would be called for such a meeting otherwise.”
“Quite right laddie,” Bofur replied. “The way I hear it, Lord Enokur is a distant relative of Dain’s wife. He was one of the few nobles who provided financial aid to the exiles after the Battle of Azanulbizar.”
“Do you mean to say that others refused?”
Bofur shrugged. “Well, that battle cost so many lives, and many viewed it as a waste. Naturally, Thorin’s family took most of the blame for leading such an expedition.”
“Ah,” Bilbo nodded. He refrained from probing any further, as the stone doors were beginning to open, and a formal procession made its way forward.
The dwarf at the head of the group was tall (for his kind) and young; if Bilbo had to guess based on what he knew of their lifespans, he would say about 120 years old. His hair was dark, not unlike Thorin’s, however, his beard was a bit longer, about the same length as Dwalin’s, and plaited into a single braid woven with strands of gold silk. He wore sweeping robes of crimson and gold trim.
“Hail Thorin, King under the Mountain! It is an honor to see you in your birthright at last!” Lord Enokur stopped at the foot of the dais and bowed, an amiable grin upon his face and his dark eyes sparkling with excitement.
Thorin stood and greeted the noble amicably. Kisses, handshakes and headbutts were exchanged, and then the king gave the group a long speech of welcome that Bilbo tired of after a few moments. He cared for Thorin deeply, but he often said more than necessary to make his point, especially during ceremonies. By the time Bilbo’s attention had returned from its wandering, he found that the topic had moved on. Thorin was seated upon his throne once more, and the members of Company were now taking turns introducing themselves with a brief description of their roles and accomplishments in the quest.
“Dori, my lord, at your service. I am the eldest son of Lady Dagna. I am a weaver by trade, but if I may be so bold, I may be counted the strongest of the Company. In the Battle of Five Armies, I slew sixty-four orcs and three trolls.”
There were murmurs of impressed appreciation throughout the assembled guests. Enokur nodded and took a slight step back, away from the intimidating ‘Ri brother.
“I am Nori, my lord,” Dori’s sibling continued, sounding characteristically bored. “I am the second son of Lady Dagna…”
So it went on down the line until Bofur was the last dwarf to offer introduction and service to Lord Enokur.
At last, it was Bilbo’s turn. He glanced at the others, hoping for a hint of whether or not he was truly meant to take part in this decidedly dwarven ceremony. His eyes met Thorin’s, and he recognized the affection shining there, accompanied by an encouraging smile.
Bilbo cleared his throat and stepped forward. He resisted the urge to clasp his hands behind his back, as he usually did when making any sort of proper speech. “Um, g-greetings, Lord Enokur. My name is Bilbo Baggins, son of Bungo and Belladonna, at your service.” He bowed.
“You are not a dwarf,” observed Enokur, not unkindly. “What exactly are you?”
“Few east of the Misty Mountains know of us, my lord,” Bilbo said, feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the curious gleam in the noble’s gaze. He had grown weary of the celebrity that his mere existence as something other than a dwarf seemed to bring. “I am a hobbit of the Shire. I was hired by the Company of King Thorin to assist in the quest. Upon its conclusion, I was invited to remain here in Erebor.”
“Is that so?” Enokur asked, glancing at Thorin. Without waiting for additional confirmation, he said, “Forgive me, but I have never seen one of your kind before, though I have heard rumors of such creatures.”
Bilbo held back an offended scoff at being referred to as a creature in such a tone, as if he were an exotic pet.
“Permit me to ask - may I approach you? I should like to look at you better.”
“Uh….” Bilbo’s gaze darted back and forth as heat crept up his neck at the odd request, but he did not see the frown that pulled at Thorin’s lips. “I - I suppose there’s no harm in it.”
Enokur grinned and stepped closer. He looked down at the hobbit, scrutinizing him as if studying a newly mined gem. He progressed his observation by circling Bilbo in a very similar manner as Thorin had at their first meeting (though Enokur seemed far more impressed by him than Thorin had). He was talking to himself, muttering things like “remarkable” or “how unique”.
Having taken his fill of simply looking at Bilbo, Enokur ceased his pacing and stood to face him again. Then he took one more step forward, placing himself obscenely close. A thick hand adorned with a large, engraved ring rose to touch one of the golden curls that had strayed to veil one of Bilbo’s eyes.
“I hope you won’t think it too forward of me for saying so, but you are one of the most beautiful beings I have ever had the privilege to meet,” he said in a low voice.
“Oh - I - what?” Bilbo sputtered, uncertain about this sudden turn. He could feel his cheeks grow warm when Enokur brushed his hair to rest behind his ear.
“Lord Enokur!” interrupted Thorin, his voice booming in the grand hall. “You must be tired from your long journey. My nephew,” he motioned to Fili, “can show you to your rooms.”
Fili came forward and bowed, but it was obvious that he was trying to suppress a mischievous smile. “It would be an honor, my lord.”
Enokur dropped his hand and nodded to him. “We would be most appreciated, Prince Fili.” He looked back to Bilbo. “I presume the Company of Thorin Oakenshield will be present at the Winter Celebration tonight? After all, I have yet to hear the tale of the hobbit’s exploits.”
“All within the mountain will be in attendance,” Thorin growled. A cracking noise revealed that he had curled his hands into tight fists.
“Excellent!” Enokur reached down to take Bilbo’s hand. He raised it to his lips. “Then I shall look forward to seeing you later, my jewel.” He kissed the tops of Bilbo’s knuckles, his beard tickling the soft skin, and winked.
Bilbo’s face reddened further.
Dwalin moved the stand next to Thorin, a restraining hand on his shoulder.
“This way, my lord,” Fili instructed. He led Lord Enokur’s group across the walkway and out of the throne room.
As soon as the doors closed, the rest of the Company burst into jeers and jibes.
“Well, well! Aren’t you the charmer!” Bofur laughed. He slung an arm around Bilbo’s shoulders and poked him in the stomach.
Bilbo sputtered and wiggled to extract himself from his friend. “I didn’t - what just happened?”
“Lord Enokur has never been shy about his interest, but that was bold even for him,” Balin mused.
“Do I hear wedding bells?” Nori chimed in.
Behind the cackling Company, Thorin hopped to his feet. “ENOUGH!” he bellowed. He glared down at the hobbit. “Bilbo, I would speak with you alone. The rest of you, leave us!”
All those assembled, including the guards at the doors hurried to exit, some of them glancing at Bilbo in worry and sympathy.
As soon they were by themselves, Thorin approached Bilbo, arms crossed and fixing him with an intense scowl. “Is there something you wish to tell me?”
Bilbo coughed once into his fist. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
Thorin’s frown increased. “Do not play games, Bilbo. Enokur is obviously interested in you. Is it reciprocated?”
Bilbo’s jaw fell open. He blanched and shook his head. “What? No, of course not!” He dropped his voice to a whisper, just in case there might be eavesdroppers near at hand. “You and I are courting; I’ve no feelings for anyone else, and certainly not for someone I’ve only just met.” He resumed his normal volume. “I haven’t got the foggiest clue why Lord Enokur would act that way. I have not done anything to encourage his actions. Besides, I’m not exactly a vision of beauty according to dwarven standards.”
Thorin’s expression softened. He dropped his arms, only to take both of Bilbo’s hands. “You think too little of yourself. Do I not tell you every day how lovely you are? Have I not said how your eyes shine like the sun through the forest trees? Or that your smile is brighter than the clearest diamond?”
He kissed each of his hobbit’s fingers, taking extra time with those that were so recently touched by Enokur.
“You have,” Bilbo said, a shy smile touching his mouth and a blush returning. “But you are rather biased. No one else has ever said as much.”
“That is well,” Thorin decided. “I do not mind that others acknowledge your value or your beauty, but I would prefer to be the only one who demonstrates just how desirable you are.”
“You’ve nothing to worry on that note. But we have not announced our courtship to others; you cannot blame Lord Enokur for overstepping a boundary he is not aware of. Without any outward sign or knowledge of our status, misunderstandings are bound to occur.”
Thorin grunted his agreement. “Perhaps you are right. Maybe… it is time to do something about that.”
Before Bilbo could ask what he meant, the entrance doors reopened to admit Balin. Thorin let go of him, and Bilbo sighed in disappointment.
“Forgive my intrusion, but Lady Gunna of Enokur’s court wishes to speak with you.”
“Very well. Tell her I will come to see her shortly.” Thorin waved Balin back out. Once he was gone again, the king touched Bilbo upon the shoulder. “I’m afraid I will be indisposed the rest of the day. I will see you tonight at the celebration.”
Bilbo nodded. “Of course, your majesty. I look forward to it.” Without waiting for dismissal, he headed down the path to exit the throne room.
Later that evening found Bilbo sitting in a corner by himself, pushing the remaining pieces of a crumbly confection around on the plate in his lap, the Winter Celebration in full swing all around him. The rest of the day had been uneventful as far as his normal duties were concerned, and he had found it difficult to keep his mind away from Thorin and their secret courtship.
They had begun to explore their relationship not long after the Battle of Five Armies, once it became clear that the gravely injured king and his heirs were going to survive their deadly wounds. Thorin had called the burglar to his beside and begged for forgiveness for his words and deeds upon the wall. Bilbo tearfully gave it, and apologized for his part in the whole Arkenstone debacle. With the matter behind him, Thorin confessed his fondness for him, and asked permission to court him.
Bilbo had readily agreed, but Gandalf - the only person who knew of it - cautioned them to be discrete. Tensions between the races that had participated in the battle were high, and Dain’s army, while a welcome reprieve, complicated the political landscape for Erebor. Until a firm foundation for the kingship had been accepted, especially in light of Thorin’s Dragon Sickness, it would be prudent for him to focus on establishing stability in all areas before presenting a hobbit (and a burglar) as his probable consort.
Bilbo had been more than understanding, and did not wish to place any more of a burden upon his friend than necessary. He had always valued privacy, and was not keen to have his relationship status known and remarked upon either.
However, that was over a year ago. The returning exiles of Erebor had already rebuilt much that had been damaged by Smaug, and there had been no major concerns regarding Thorin’s right to rule or the choices he had made for his kingdom thus far. Bilbo had been hoping for a while that they could make some sort of statement regarding the nature of their relationship, if for no other reason than to stop the Company from prying or making offhand comments (which made him suspect that they already knew).
“Why so glum, Bilbo?” Out of nowhere, Fili and Kili dropped into the chairs on either side of the hobbit.
“I’m not glum,” he protested.
Kili rolled his eyes. “Of course not. There must be another reason you haven’t fought Bombur for the last pie yet.”
“He’s probably just upset that Lord Enokur hasn’t asked him to dance yet,” Fili speculated. “After that little display in the throne room this morning, he's probably hoping for wedding ring already.”
“What? No! That’s not it at all!” Bilbo insisted. “I barely know Lord Enokur!”
“Well then! We’ll have to do something about that, won’t we?” said a cheerful voice.
All three of them looked up to find the very noble in discussion sauntering towards them, an irritated-looking Thorin trailing in his wake.
“There you are, my pet! I’ve been looking for you for some time.”
“Really?” Bilbo wondered, trying to hide his annoyance and embarrassment at the bold endearment. He had tucked himself away from the main dining area, but he wasn’t exactly hiding. “I’ve been here the whole time.”
Enokur glanced sideways at Thorin. “Have you now? I’ve been asking our dear king that we find you, but he has been steering me away from this area. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was trying to keep us apart.”
“Oh come now, Lord Enokur!” Kili laughed. “Uncle wouldn’t do that!”
“Not at all,” Fili added. “After all, he has no reason to do so. Also, it would be rude of him to prevent you from talking to Bilbo, especially since you obviously find our hobbit - um - interesting , at least.”
“Interesting? I believe the word you’re looking for is beguiling.”
Bilbo ducked his head and bit his lip. “Y-you’re very kind, Lord Enokur.”
“Then perhaps you might show me kindness in turn?” Enokur held out his hand. “Dance with me, my dear hobbit, and grant me the opportunity to sweep you off your feet.”
“He’d be delighted!” Kili answered for him. He snatched the plate from Bilbo’s hands before he could give his opinion on the matter.
“Wonderful!” Enokur grasped Bilbo by the wrist and pulled him to his feet. “Come along, love!”
“Oh! Wait! My lord…” Bilbo was dragged unceremoniously out to the area designated for musicians and dancers.
“Enokur!” Thorin shouted after them. Bilbo was sure from the look on his face that he might run off to fetch Orcrist.
Enokur found a spot near the middle of stomping, spinning couples and whirled to face the stunned hobbit. “Here we go!” He shifted his fingers to take Bilbo’s hand instead and placed the other lightly on his waist.
“I-I’m afraid I don’t know that steps,” Bilbo mumbled.
“Oh, there’s nothing to it, really. Just follow my lead.” Enokur flashed him a wide grin. “Ready?” Without waiting for a response, he swung their upper bodies to one side and took three hopping steps in that direction, pulling Bilbo along. Then he took one small step back to change direction, leaning them in the opposite direction and taking three steps that way.
“W-whoa! Not so fast!”
“You’re doing fine! Just keep moving!”
Bilbo huffed, his pulse quickening with the uptempo pace, but it caught in his throat when Enokur’s hand drifted from his hip to his lower back, urging him closer.
“So,” Lord Enokur began without ceasing their movements, “I’ve been informed that not only are you gorgeous beyond compare, but you are also brave and fierce in battle. Your great service to the sons of Durin were explained in great length by… what was his name? That little scholar…”
“Ori?” Bilbo supplied. He flushed at the embellished praise.
“That’s the one!” Enokur said. “I must say, had I not been smitten by your looks alone, your prowess would have won me over.” The hand holding Bilbo’s squeezed. “Yet it is a shame that these hands have had to see battle. A gem such as yourself should never have to wield a blade.”
“That is nice of you to say, my lord.”
The fast song concluded; the couples around them stopped dancing to applause, but Enokur did not release him. He waited until the next began. It was much slower, and had a more romantic tone to it.
“Perhaps we might sit down for this one?” Bilbo asked.
Enokur laughed and shook his head. “And lose a chance to hold you? I think not.” He brought his entire arm around Bilbo’s waist and pulled him flush against his chest.
“L-lord Enokur! I can not claim to be an expert on dwarven traditions, but for my kind, such forward acts are highly inappropriate for those who have just met!”
“I cannot help it!” Enokur declared. “You have had me entranced since first I laid eyes on you!”
A third hand fell upon Bilbo’s shoulder and pulled him roughly away from Enokur. Bilbo was relieved to find Thorin glaring at the noble.
“If you don’t mind, Lord Enokur, I would like to cut in.” He smiled down at Bilbo and raised his brows in an unspoken question.
“Thank you,” Bilbo mouthed, smiling back. He could take care of himself if need be, but he also didn’t want to be rude. Enokur was being pushy, but he hadn’t done anything to hurt him yet.
“Must you?” Enokur whined.
Thorin placed himself between Bilbo and Enokur and fixed the noble with the same expression he'd perfected for Azog. "You will not lay another hand on him," he snarled.
“But this song is one of our culture’s most sensual ballads; the hobbit will surely fall for me if we dance to it.”
Thorin lunged for Enokur, seizing him by the front of his robes. He roared something in Khuzdul that drew concerned looks from the other dwarves near them.
“Thorin, stop it!" Bilbo grabbed him by the arm, his flustered demeanor shifting to outrage. “You are both acting ridiculous! Let him go!"
The king reluctantly let go, but he neither moved away nor ceased trying to kill him with his glare alone.
"That's better. Now, if you'll let me speak for myself..." He turned to Lord Enokur. "My lord, I am flattered by the attention you have paid me, but you must not be so presumptuous. Did it not occur to you that I may be not be available? That I might already be in love with another?”
There was a sharp intake of breath. “Bilbo,” Thorin sighed.
“What? Is that not something one might think to ask before they make such bold moves?” When he didn’t answer, Bilbo moved his focus away from Enokur. “Thorin? What’s wrong?”
Thorin was gazing at him in complete awe, like he had been given a gift from Mahal himself. “You - you love me?”
Bilbo glanced at Enokur, who seemed equally stunned. Thorin didn’t seem upset that their secret was uncovered, so he pressed on. “Of course I do. We’re courting, aren’t we?”
Thorin swallowed and nodded. “Yes, but we have not exchanged confessions of love before.”
“Oh, right.” Courting did not necessarily mean that a couple was in love. As Balin had explained to him once, couples may court or marry for gain or for procreation; love did not have to be a factor. And while both of them professed having feelings for and caring for one another, they had never named it love before.
Bilbo bit his lip and nodded, making the easy decision to finally say what he had long felt. “Well then, I think we’re overdue, don’t you?” He stood up on his toes and kissed his silly dwarf. “I love you, Thorin. I always have and I always will.”
Perhaps it was a bit plain and cliche, but it felt right to Bilbo, and Thorin didn’t seem to mind the absence of an adamant declaration. “I love you too,” he whispered.
Ignoring all around him, Thorin wrapped his arms around Bilbo and crashed their lips together. Bilbo grinned against the kiss, and they only broke apart when those near them began to clap, the noise increasing in volume and intensity as every dwarf in the room hooted and cheered for their king and his love.
Enokur had vanished.
Bilbo blushed, but he couldn’t stop smiling. “I guess the secret’s out, huh?” he said.
Thorin laughed and kissed him again.
Lord Enokur made his away off of the dance floor, strolling towards the nephews of the king. He was oddly exuberant for someone who had apparently learned that the person he had been flirting with was already spoken for.
Fili and Kili waved him over.
“So, how’d I do?”
Fili smirked. “Well, Uncle’s making out with Bilbo with the entire mountain watching-”
“Which I did not need to see, by the way,” Kili groaned.
“-so I’d say, mission accomplished!” Fili punched Enokur in the arm. “Thanks; we owe you one. I thought they’d NEVER come out with it.”
Enokur shrugged. “My pleasure. And by that I mean I had a lot of fun messing with Thorin. Nothing like jealousy to move things along, eh?”
“I would have been nice if he had just handled it on his own, but uncle’s never been good at expressing his feelings to himself,” Kili said. "That goes double when telling others about it."
“Well, at any rate, I truly hope they’ll be happy together. Thorin certainly deserves to have some joy in this world, and from what you’ve told me, Bilbo will give him just that.” Enokur smirked and then put an arm around each brother. “Now, about that favor you owe me…”