Chapter 38 - Past, Present and Future Entwined
Now (1 F.A.)
Warm light was welcoming them to Gondolin, and the scent of spring flowers permeated the air. Bilbo's eyes were sparkling happily, and Thorin's heart skipped a beat or two. His betrothed was ... beautiful. He recalled that day they first set foot into the Valley of Imladris, remembering a similar expression on that beloved face. He'd been a fool not to simply embrace what his heart was telling him ... and the hobbit, but to instead belittle Bilbo's love of the elves. He had learned, the hard way some might say, that it had been he who was mistaken. He had hated everything elven when his grudge lay with one elven ruler in particular. And even such a grudge was ... if not unfounded then at least somewhat ... well ... idiotic. Thranduil himself had been snubbed by Thrór, something his grandfather had admitted was a silly thing to do, and Thorin's expectations of help would have meant certain death for many soldiers of the Woodland Realm.
Thorin had paid a hefty price for his foolishness and dragged everyone around him with him. Especially Bilbo. He still remembered how haggard the hobbit had been in the dungeons of Thranduil's caverns. Thin and weak, and yet he had never blamed Thorin for what had happened. Never again would his betrothed suffer in such a way, he vowed in that moment, pulling Bilbo closer to him. Much to the delight of his nephews. Looking over his shoulder at them, the king grinned, "Are you feeling ill, dearest Fíli and Kíli? Too sick mayhaps to attend the festival?" The way their mouths opened and closed without any sound escaping their lips was marvellous to watch.
Until Bilbo elbowed him in the side. "You, oh great King under the Mountain, are supposed to set an example for them, not tease them within an inch of their lives. It is unbecoming, funny though it might be." Snickers could be heard, followed by grumbling. And the hobbit turned, a bright smile on his face, and addressed the two young dwarves as if they were dwarflings. "It is true. You are just as bad as your uncle. I know you don't want to know about tea and the like, but surely a kiss or two is preferable to how Thorin was before I joined you?" Kíli gasped at that, and Fíli looked contrite.
They both nodded as one. "We're sorry, Uncles. You are right of course, Bilbo. To see you two so happy ... it is more than we ever dared wish for while we were on the journey. And especially after all these long and lonely years, it is heartwarming to see Thorin smile again." Fíli explained. "I don't think he smiled more than a handful of times while you were still across the sea." The king's arm tightened around Bilbo's waist, and he glared at his nephews. But to no avail. "No Uncle. Bilbo deserves to know. And you have to give up this silly notion of maybe deserving whatever you suffered while you were parted. It is foolish." Fíli's eyes sparkled almost angrily, and Kíli nodded in agreement with his brother. "Bilbo, not a day went by that you weren't missed. By all of us. And to have you here with us ... at times it still seems like a dream. Our family, while still not complete, it feels whole again. The way it was on the journey to Erebor. You and Thorin, and the two of us. Family. And now it's growing what with Frodo joining, and Ori, too."
Bilbo had tears in his eyes by now, just as Thorin had feared. But he ... smiled? "I missed you, too. Oh Fíli, every day I wished I could bring you back. Every day I would take out the only things I had left of you all, the map and Thorin's ring and ... and I would wish for nothing else but to be given a chance to see you just one last time. And I know how my betrothed fared, even though he is a foolish dwarf and thinks he deserved such pain." He leaned closer to the dwarven king then, beaming up at him through the sheen of tears. "I promise you two that I will ensure that he is only happy from now on, and that he will never be lonely again." And with that he pulled Thorin's head down for a tender kiss, and the smile he bestowed upon the dwarf when that kiss broke could have melted the heart of Morgoth himself.
"That's all we want," Kíli murmured, leaning against his brother, a silly grin on his face. He turned to Frodo and Ori, who did their best to shield them from the many passersby that made their way up to the highest square in the city. Building work was still far from finished, and the king's palace was still only halfway to being completed. Still, the festivities would be held there. Outside and in the halls and chambers that were already open for use.
Thorin still felt slightly sick at the thought of attending an elven festival, but his hobbit had glared at him whenever he had raised an objection to them going. Especially the day when the king had pointed out the fact that they would, essentially, be celebrating on top and inside a building site. "Thorin Oakenshield! You are not wriggling out of this. But I shall talk to King Turgon to ensure that you will be nowhere that is unsafe. You know, like a mineshaft where explosives are being handled!" Then Bilbo had stormed off, leaving the dwarven king in an ocean of regret. Bringing up the whole accident business with his betrothed never worked out well. And Bilbo was right of course. He had acted like ... like an idiot. And he had never realised just how afraid the hobbit must have been.
When Bilbo had returned that evening, he came with assurances that the sites of the festival would be as safe as, if not safer than the mountain. Then he had disappeared to the library and by the time he had finally opened the large doors to their chambers again, Thorin had been riven with guilt. "Bilbo, I am sorry. I just ... it is hard for me not to think of that festival in Thranduil's Caverns when it comes to elven feasts. It's not an excuse, I know. Especially after all the work you put into bringing our two races together. I noticed, most of us have."
The hobbit had looked at Thorin warily, but had eventually nodded, sitting down next to the dwarf where he had been perched on the edge of their bed. "It is a great honour, and I am sure that Turgon didn't make the decision lightly. To not only extend an invitation but to make you his honoured guest and offering you a part in the ceremonies ... it is so much more. He is extending his hand to you not as your neighbour, but as a friend. He is neither Thranduil nor Thingol. He is your ally. No one will cast us into a dungeon this time. On the contrary. Though ... I do understand you. We were asking the wood elves' help and what we got was... But after all these years I would hope King Turgon has proven as much to you and our people. And I admit I am nervous as well. While I attended may feasts in Imladris, I was never the centre of attention. But with you by my side I know I can do what is expected."
And it was the hope in Bilbo's eyes that made Thorin's decision for him. He could no longer look to the past and ignore what his stubbornness was doing to his betrothed. "Then I better come along, right? And with you by my side I think I can endure." Taking the hobbit into his arms, he placed a kiss onto that unruly hair, whispering, "I can endure anything with you by my side. There is only one thing that would undo me, and that would be to lose you. And I won't. Never again. Just ... don't ask me to become friends with Thingol, alright? I think that would kill me." Bilbo had made a face then, grey eyes no longer holding anger or sadness. And after those words, there was no more talking for a while as the hobbit showed Thorin that he had been forgiven.
"Ah! Here you are," Balin's voice cut through the king's reverie, and maybe that was for the best as a festival was no place to think about ... that. "Thought you'd gotten lost. The festival is about to begin and you are needed. Bilbo as well. Come on, lads. Hurry." The grey-haired dwarf shook his head and smiled. "Really, you're behaving like two younglings, totally besotted with each other." Kíli groaned. "They've been making eyes at each other again, haven't they?"
"And worse," Thorin's younger nephew complained now that he'd found an audience who was not threatening him. "They stopped along the road and had one of their lovey-dovey little chats again. It's sickening, Balin." Kíli caught his uncle's eye then, and added quickly, "But also sweet and heart-warming. It's good to see our uncles reunited once more. Even though it's hard work at times." He stuck out his tongue at Thorin then and pulled his brother along. "We'll see you on the plaza. We'll probably be near the wine vendor." And with that they were off, running as if their lives depended on it. Which they did.
Balin shook his head, "They need to settle down. They're still like dwarflings at heart, and that simply will not do anymore. They are princes, even though they will never ascend to the throne. Besides, it can't be easy for them to see you both and to, essentially, be alone."
Thorin swallowed, eyes going to Bilbo. Who nodded, his face solemn. They both felt the same way about the two young dwarves. And Balin as well. "If anyone deserves happiness, it is them," the halfling whispered eventually. "And I know Kíli found ... well ... a lover, but it's not the same. I hope that, soon, there will be someone for them. Someone they can love and who loves them in turn. Maybe an elf or two..." The hobbit batted his lashes at Thorin, and the king groaned. Not that. Please not that. Anything but elves. "I mean, Kíli's special friend is an elf after all, so somehow it must work despite the height..."
"Yes, thank you, beloved. I won't be able to sleep for a week now." Bilbo chuckled, clearly amused by the king's suffering. "Balin?" Thorin turned to his old adviser. "Is it too late to call off the wedding and all that goes with it? I fear my betrothed is cruel and unkind." An elbow landed in his stomach. "And he's brutal as well. Abusive even."
"I'm afraid it's too late for that, laddie," Balin laughed. "Besides, you wouldn't truly want that, would you?" Thorin sighed. "See? I've never seen you as happy as you are now. Maybe Bilbo's cruelty is part of it, huh?"
"Uncle Bilbo isn't cruel, Master Balin," Frodo chimed in. "He's just holding his own, and I believe our king would have it no other way." The young hobbit was right, Thorin had to admit, if only to himself. "And King Thorin is the only one who can make Bilbo happy. There is no abuse, only love between them. The way it should be." And Frodo's words were confirmed manifold in those beautiful grey eyes that gazed up at the dwarven king.
"You're not wriggling out of this, Thorin Oakenshield," Bilbo smiled. "You all but asked for my hand in marriage on your death bed, and after eighty years... There simply is no way out." And then the hobbit reached up to touch the bead in Thorin's hair, and they were kissing again, much to the delight of Balin. And apparently also Frodo and Ori.
"I see your nephews were correct," the older dwarf eventually commented. "And while it is truly heartwarming to see you like this, we still have to hurry to the citadel. The sun is setting fast, and words have to be spoken before night falls." Balin was probably correct, but the hobbit in his arms rendered Thorin quite powerless. "My King? You can have your betrothed all to yourself soon enough once more, for tomorrow there are no meetings of the council and I have kept both your schedules, well, not free, but the only meeting you have is with each other. That way I did not lie to anyone who asked to see either of you." Bilbo pulled away and smiled at Balin in thanks. "And I also decided that you deserve some time alone, away from here. You will travel to Tirion in a month's time, and can stay at your cottage until you will have to return. For the last month before the wedding, you are required here. Not because I don't trust you to keep to our traditions, but to fend off Mistress Baggins at least somewhat while I make the last preparations for the big day."
"And you think I can stop my mother? Balin, I may have been able to riddle with Smaug, but ... no one stands in the way of Belladonna Baggins née Took. Least of all her son. But I will still try my best." And with those words, Bilbo took the king's hand. "Shall we? I don't want to be late." Thorin shrugged, but allowed the hobbit to pull him along. Bilbo's enthusiasm was infectious though, and soon the dwarven king began to appreciate everything his betrothed pointed out to him. Starting with the hobbit holes the halfling was obviously very excited to see. Very close to them though were buildings that were clearly of dwarf-make and could only be homes for Thorin's kin. Bilbo's little plan was truly working it would seem. Dwarves and elves not only worked together but were quickly becoming friends as well. Friends! If only those remaining in the Halls could see.
"I never thought I'd see the day, Bilbo." Thorin shook his head as if to clear it. "We've been working with them, yes. But there was always a clear line that neither of us crossed. And now ... now it is blurred and barely even there anymore. Where before we were helping each other, now we are living almost as one. I cannot help but think that it is mostly thanks to you." The hobbit blushed, and Thorin pulled him closer to kiss into those unruly curls, but kept walking. "My father and grandfather started it, but I was rather stubborn about it all, only accepting the help we truly needed and paying the elves back threefold. And in a way I did this because of you as well. Because the only way to ensure that ... that I was allowed to remain here in Valinor was to get along with the elves. Somehow."
Bilbo had heard about this so called 'choice' from Fíli and Kíli of course, but then Balin had informed him that the whole 'getting along' part simply meant that the dwarves were not supposed to kill their elven neighbours; nothing more, nothing less. But the old dwarf had also told Bilbo that there must have been a reason for Thorin's nephews to ... well ... lie to their uncle. And that Aulë must have had a reason as well to not allow Thorin to decide for himself. "I believe, laddie, that our dearest king might have stayed in the Halls simply because. And Aulë might not have been able to point out that there was a chance that you could follow him to these shores. So let's just assume it was all done for the best. And let us not trouble Thorin with it." Bilbo had agreed of course, though it did not sit well with him to keep a secret such as this. But he saw the merit of doing so, even though he dreaded the day Thorin found out about it. Fíli and Kíli would be dead dwarves, that was for certain.
And so the hobbit simply whispered, "I am very grateful that you did, for I don't fancy spending my days hammering at the doors to the Halls, and then trying to find my stubborn dwarf in their gloom. I've heard enough about them to last me until the end of all things from Lord Glorfindel. I don't recall him having one good word to say about them. Boring and dull and such. That was the least abrasive description he could come up with I think. You would have hated it, I'm sure. Besides, think of the days and maybe weeks we might have lost. Think of the bead you wouldn't have had to gift me."
"I don't regret a day spent amongst the elves, Bilbo. Not one." Thorin's voice was low, and the hobbit had to pay close attention to catch what his betrothed was saying. Clearly the king was willing to admit as much, but not to anyone but Bilbo. "You know my one regret, and that has nothing to do with the elves. And yet, it feels senseless now to dwell on it. I can see it in your eyes that whatever pain was in our past, spent together and apart, is no longer there. A mere memory that brings with it nothing but joy at how we are now. And I find myself drifting ... and a new regret taking over." The hobbit raised a questioning eyebrow, and Thorin chuckled, "Oh. It is nothing. Only the fact that you are still not mine completely. That it will still take months until I can call you my husband. And then there is the matter of that one month..."
"Which we will spend planning our future together. Don't think for just one moment that we will be awake enough in the evening to even think of doing anything but fall asleep in each other's arms. I have planned for it already with Balin. There is much to be done before we leave again for our honeymoon." Thorin had grudgingly allowed the hobbit to plan the four weeks they had been gifted. Four weeks that would be just for the two of them, with no work whatsoever. Unlike the month spent at their cottage. There would still be meetings to be attended at Tirion, and orders would need to be signed urgently by either the king himself or his future consort. But their honeymoon...
Bilbo smiled to himself. It would truly be magical. And the best part about it was that Thorin had absolutely no clue what was in store for him. Balin knew, of course, as did Fíli and Kíli. And Bilbo knew that soon the two young dwarves would begin teasing their uncle mercilessly with the knowledge they had, and he did not. But for now they were still here. And as they finally crested the last ramp, even Thorin gasped. The square before the royal palace was awash with candlelight, and those little lanterns Bilbo had first fallen in love with in Rivendell. Everything seemed warm and golden, the setting sun only adding to the effect. It barely touched the highest spires now, still encased in scaffolding. The hobbit turned to his betrothed then, whispering, "This will be a night to remember..."