Chapter 26 - Planning for the Future

Now (1 F.A.)

Bilbo buried deeper into his coat, or tried to. He should have taken up Thorin on his offer of furs, but some of the dwarf's own stubbornness must have rubbed off on him, or maybe it was simply his Tookish side rearing its head. Not that it did anything else of late. Kli had remarked something along those lines only a few days ago. "You really aren't a Baggins anymore, are you, Uncle? Maybe you should change your name to Bilbo Took?" Bilbo had glared at the young dwarf, but he did have a point. Not that he was going to go and do it. It would break his father's heart, no matter how proud his mother would be. Kli had thrown up his hands as if to defend himself and had then made another suggestion. "Alright then, not Took. But how about Bilbo Oakenshield? You will marry Thorin soon after all." Thorin himself had looked rather intrigued then, grinning from ear to ear almost. And poor Bilbo had been forced to barricade himself in the kitchen and only came forth once he had made fresh scones to distract his beloved family.

The hobbit sighed. Why was it so cold still when today was the first day of spring? But what he saw there outside the great gates of Erebor made his heart beat faster with excitement. The dwarven city of tents was made to appear small by the white and silver tents of the elven craftsmen and architects. Turgon truly seemed set on his plans to see Gondolin as a twinkling jewel and a citadel of song once more. Right outside a dwarven mountain no less. And while that was already amazing enough, the sight that truly showed him just how far Thorin had come in his acceptance of the elves was seeing dwarven and elven workers sit together around a cooking fire and sharing stories and song. Though he did not like the sound of Bilbo Baggins, Hero of Erebor one bit.

Further up the road and towards the small hill that would eventually be the centre of the elven city, he could make out two familiar figures. Together again as well. He smiled to himself and made a mental note to tell his three dwarven co-conspirators of this most recent development. Quickly he walked up to them both and when they noticed him, Frodo waved. "Uncle! They are already trying to figure out where the walls will be. Although Turgon has decreed that there would be no walls this time. No walls but a moat instead. With beautiful bridges crossing it." Bilbo could picture it already. A white city rising from the plain, the hill crowned with a citadel. A strong and proud elven city, bustling with life. "How long do you think it will take to build? Erebor took all of eighty years after all and still is not completed."

It was Ori who replied with a chuckled, "Yes, but the Mountain is different. Apart from the natural caves and openings, we had to cut the city from stone, whereas building houses and palaces and the like should not take all that long. Not that it won't be beautiful in its own right, Tirion is after all. And the other elven cities. Or so I've heard. Dwarves aren't welcome everywhere so I couldn't see them all with my own two eyes..." There was an air of sadness surrounding the dwarf, and once again Bilbo felt anger at the one elf who had made things the way they were now. But the hobbit also knew that over time other elven rulers would join in with Turgon, realising that trading with Erebor would be too lucrative to pass up on it. And eventually Menegroth would stand alone. Though part of him was loathe to see what Thingol would do when that happened.

"They will be using the white marble from Erebor, right?" Ori nodded, smiling proudly. The dwarven mountain would provide the stones the elven city would be build with. That in and of itself was remarkable. "And also the coloured stones if I'm not mistaken?" The young dwarf positively beamed and Frodo smiled at him. Which in turn made Bilbo chuckle to himself; quietly, so the others did not notice. "They will be employing dwarven craftsmen and workers as well, or so Thorin says. And our king has grudgingly agreed to let elven stonemasons into the Mountain to beautify some of the guestrooms. I thought he was going to have a fit initially, but he calmed rather quickly." Especially once Bilbo kissed him sweetly, and... He still managed to blush whenever he thought of certain things he and his betrothed got up to in the privacy of their chambers.

Frodo, having seen his uncle's blush, groaned. "I am sure he did. Though I would rather not know how you managed to achieved such a feat." The younger hobbit had clearly spent too much time with Fli and Kli. They had taken to referring to...something...as Bilbo and Thorin having tea, and the halfling wasn't sure if he wanted to know what they were thinking about. However, he had an inkling and was rather sure that he was right with his guess. "But I am glad the king allows it. He was kind enough to sit with me as well so I could interview him for my book. He was very patient with me, answering each and every of my questions. Oh Bilbo, I would have loved to visit the dwarven halls in the Ered Luin. Though...maybe not. They probably are no longer as grand as they used to be when Thorin ruled there..."

Bilbo nodded sadly. His young nephew was right. Many realms that once had prospered had fallen into decay, and even fair Rivendell would eventually fade and be forgotten. But other kingdoms would rise and prosper, Dale and Erebor amongst them. There was hope yet for Arda. "I know what you mean, Frodo. I don't think I could have set foot into the Blue Mountains without..." Without yearning to be with the dwarf who had ruled there. And Frodo indeed seemed to understand him for he hugged Bilbo tightly, smiling sadly.

"It was nothing compared to Erebor, Master Bilbo," Ori explained. "The new Erebor I mean. There is laughter here, and song. And not the old song of the Misty Mountains and our lost home, no. They are songs of happy days and peaceful nights, of hope and dreams and their fulfilment." The young dwarf beamed at them both, his eyes lingering on Frodo for just a bit too long to be a coincidence before he averted them shyly. "I have also heard a new song...of the Saviour of Erebor and the Keeper of the King's heart." Bilbo groaned. Oh yes, that song. He had heard it, too, and wished he could forget. "I know you do not seek position or power, but Master Bilbo, you have them both. You didn't take them by force, they were freely given to you and it would be a terrible insult if you were to deny my kin the honours they wish to bestow upon you." He gasped then, his eyes going wide. "Oh dear, begging your pardon. It is not my place to lecture the future consort..."

The two hobbits exchanged a glance and burst out laughing. Ori's entire face turned red with embarrassment, and even his ears were flushed. By the time Bilbo was able to catch his breath, Ori was wringing his hands, his feet moving this way and that. "Oh Ori, forgive me but... I am still me, I am still your friend. We were both companions, were we not? If anyone can lecture me when I'm being insensitive where dwarven customs are concerned, it is you. You and Balin. The two of you were always a source of wisdom amongst the dwarves of the Company. Though, don't tell Thorin I said so." They dwarf nodded meekly before daring to raise his head again. "And please, call me Bilbo. The rest of the world may call me 'Master', but not my friends. Well, they may, but only in jest."

Ori nodded, brow furrowed as he processed the hobbit's words. "Very...very well...Bilbo." He smiled, shyness giving way to bravery and happiness. "I...I would like to ask a favour of you...if you do not mind that is." Bilbo nodded for him to continue. "I...I would like to speak to Lord Elrond. About Rivendell and the other elven realms of Arda. Master Erestor has promised to talk to me as well about it, but I would love to hear from one of the Ring-bearers." And while there were two of them currently residing in the Mountain, Bilbo understood that Elrond seemed more approachable than his mother-in-law. Galadriel...she sent shivers up and down the hobbit's spine, her eyes never simply looking, but piercing into his very soul. And that smile of hers was beyond disconcerting.

She had also taken an interest in Fli and Kli, which worried the hobbit. Whenever he saw her and Thorin's nephews...their nephews were around, she would follow them with her eyes, a wry smile playing around her lips. Had she seen something in her Mirror before crossing the sea? Or could she still look into the future? Whatever it was that she saw in regards to the young dwarves, it worried Bilbo greatly. So far he hadn't told Thorin about this, but the longer it went on the harder it got to keep it from his betrothed. "Uncle?" Frodo gave him a worried look and Bilbo shook his head to dispel the troubling thoughts. They were in Valinor after all. What was the worst that could befall the two rascal dwarves?

"I am fine, just...lost in thought is all." His nephew nodded and sighed as if that were nothing new. And maybe it wasn't. How many times had the old Bilbo lost himself in daydreams of a certain dwarf when Frodo had tried to talk to him in Bag End? Too often probably. Still, that didn't give the younger hobbit the right to look so long-suffering. "I believe I will have to speak to your parents, Frodo. You fail to show the proper respect to your elders." And what did Frodo do? He stuck out his tongue. Bilbo chuckled, "Oh, but it is good to see you so carefree again, dearest nephew." That shy smile made Bilbo wonder just how much time he truly spend around Ori. Ori...who had asked him something and he hadn't replied. Turning to the dwarf, he smiled, "I will speak to him as soon as I can. Though I believe he is currently trying to find reasons to not kill his Senechal and the Lord of the Fountain. They seem to know everything there is to know about constructing a city even though Turgon has placed Elrond in charge of the constructions."

Oh yes, Glorfindel and Ecthelion were once again in the process of endearing themselves to everyone around them. Bilbo was wondering exactly how long it was going to take until Elrond had enough and kicked them out. And as if the dwarf could read his mind, Ori suddenly suggested, "We could place bets, Master...I mean Bilbo. I'm sure Balin would join in, as would the king and his nephews. Bets on how long the Balrog Slayers will be allowed to stay anywhere near Lord Elrond's chambers. I believe even Master Erestor would join in. He looked rather miserable the last time I saw him." Poor Erestor had probably been subjected to Glorfindel's glorious ideas much more than his lord. Which would explain why he could be found so very frequently in Erebor's library.

It was testament to how very dwarvish he had become when, instead of complaining about dwarves and their betting habits, he reached inside his coat to withdraw a small purse. "A week. From today." Frodo gasped. "And I will let you know Thorin's opinion on the matter as soon as I can. As for Fli and Kli...they will meet us here soon, so we can run it by them." Ori nodded happily and Bilbo turned to his nephew. "And what do you think, dearest Frodo?" He smiled sweetly at the way the younger hobbit was staring back, all flustered and scandalised. Turning just his head towards the dwarf, he whispered in a conspiratorial manner, "I think Frodo here needs a little while longer to place his bet, let's give him until the morrow."

Frodo groaned, but before he could voice any complaints or argue his case, Fli and Kli had joined them. And quickly placed their bets. Fli, ever the tactician, placed a bet on the day before Bilbo's own bet. But Kli was more of a rascal. "I give them two more days. No more than that." Ori took their money and only then pointed out that they could not in any way attempt to influence the outcome. Kli's face fell. "I just want to go have a little chat with my good friend Ecthelion. And maybe mention some architectural features that would look really amazing in an elven city. Like a statue of Uncle." He beamed. Yes, Elrond would surely find that perfectly agreeable. Not!

"Now, shall we go and take a closer look? It is what we're here for after all, is it not?" He was not about to admit it, but he was freezing. And moving around would surely help with that. As they moved closer to the construction site, the hobbit thought longingly of the furs that were still lying on his bed...

---

Erestor had once again managed the impossible. He had escaped. And he vowed that if Glorfindel mentioned Gondolin, or stones, or construction, or any of another thousand words again, he would be sleeping on the floor that night. That night, and for as many nights as it took to make him stop talking about that subject, and that subject alone. They were no architects! Yes, they had lived in Gondolin, but Elrond had overseen the construction of Imladris. And yes, they knew how beautiful the city had been, but the former Lord of Imladris knew how to build a beautiful realm as well. There would be another kinslaying, Erestor feared, if the two Balrog Slayers did not cease their idiotic behaviour soon. Very soon.

He had just found a rather interesting looking tome on dwarven courtship...someone had simply left it lying on one of the tables in the library...when Balin found him. "Ah, Master Erestor. I've been looking for you. And you found my book." Wait? Balin had been searching for him? For him?! Why? And why would the older dwarf be interested in dwarven... Oh. It finally dawned on him. Oh no. "I was hoping you could assist me. As a friend of Bilbo's." Curse the dwarves. They never played fair and Balin was one of the worst. "I have been placed in charge of their bonding ceremony, the wedding that is. Our dearest hobbit's mother is going to deal with the festivities and the feast, but..." The dwarf's face fell. "I had only a short time with Bilbo. Always did I plan to go back to the Shire, to visit him, but I never quite worked up the nerve to do so. The pain in his eyes, and his desperate attempts to hide it; it broke my heart to see him like that."

Erestor nodded and sighed, pointing at the chair opposite his. "I know what you speak of. It was hard to see him try so hard to act jovial when inside he was bleeding, aching. It has been a privilege to win his friendship and trust, even though it never ran deep enough for him to confide in me. I knew though, I figured it out eventually. And felt helpless to ease his suffering. Ever we were able to put a smile on his face, yes, but if it reached his soul is another matter." Balin nodded sadly. "But that is a thing of the past, Master Dwarf. Our friend has found his happiness, and by the Valar, I never thought I would ever say this, but I thank King Thorin each and every day for putting this light back into Bilbo's eyes. He is changed, our hobbit, and it seems that his life is only now truly beginning. Even though I do not think he is likely to get over his aversion to being called a lord any time soon."

The dwarf chuckled, "Aye. Though it's gotten worse. There's a song in the camps, telling the story of the great King Thorin Oakenshield and the Hero of Erebor. I believe Thorin loves it, but Bilbo..." Erestor had heard the song Balin was clearly referring to, and he was certain that his hobbit friend did not appreciate the attention one bit. "Will you help me, Master Erestor? There are things I simply do not know about our future consort, and I cannot ask him outright. He would become very suspicious, and quickly too. I could quiz Thorin, I suppose, but I don't want him to know about the plans until the day of the great celebration. And it will be great, Master Elf, it will be. A festival not only celebrating their union, but also of the peaceful relations we now have with our hobbit neighbours and more importantly, after so long, with the Firstborn."

The dark-haired elf blinked. Had Balin truly referred to his kin as...as that? Dwarves were usually rather unwilling to acknowledge the fact that the elves were the firstborn Children of Ilvatar, and in a way, Erestor understood that. Aul had awoken the dwarves before the elves had opened their eyes to the light of the stars, incurring the wrath of Eru himself. They had been put back to sleep then, and lay in slumber under the mountains for many a long year until their time had finally come. To be called Firstborn by a dwarf was...unimaginable really and showed just how far the two races had come. At least some of their numbers. And so, with a beaming smile, Erestor got to his feet and bowed to the seated dwarf. "It would be an honour to assist you and to work alongside you. We will make their day one to remember indeed."