Stone of Erebor

by Primula

Chapter 2: Dáin Ironfoot

Bilbo was still agog over the beauty of the new gates when his heart quickened at the sound of rumbling dwarven voices calling his name. It was with greatest delight that two grey-bearded dwarves cried out their greetings and hastened from the gate to his side, glittering in the waning sunlight as they came, stout and cheery.

"Bilbo! Hobbit!" waved the first, with golden adornments shining in his neatly braided beard.

'Bilbo Baggins!" chimed in the second, who likewise shone with gold in his beard and precious stones set in his belt besides.  Bilbo suddenly felt under-dressed but smiled so wide he felt his face would split. Was it really?  Yes!

"Bifur! Bofur!" he called back, his high hobbit-voice sounding out of place amid the rumbles of the dwarves.  Completely forgetting about his escort from Dale, he broke into a trot.  The two dwarves did likewise, lumbering towards him so that it seemed for a moment they would all collide, but instead he was swept into an embrace and clasped with such warmth and gentleness that there was no harm to him at all aside from possibly smothering in their beards. 

The two cousins were talking to him at the same time, a jumble of words that he didn't really hear at all. He found he was feeling rather dazed, it was unreal that he was here in the entrance to the Mountain, here with his dear companions once again. 

"Are you well, Hobbit? He looks a little glazed over, Bofur. Are you well, hey?"

"Bilbo! We've been watching for you all day, taking turns. Come out of the sun. Why, you've aged well I must say."  Bofur laughed, leading him out of the slanting sunlight and settling him down on a bench within the entrance.  He was dimly aware of the stares of the handful of other dwarves nearby, though his companions were ignoring them entirely.  Where the Men had gone he didn't even know.

"Yes, yes. I'm well. I'm just a bit overwhelmed!  But this is splendid! Really! I can't begin to describe to you how I feel seeing you again, seeing what you've done with this mountain, and Dale and everything.  It's just, just beyond my words right now."

"But give you a bit of time and you'll be at it, eh?  You never did lack for words." smiled Bifur. "If you feel up to it, let's go inside. The others will want to see you also. We've all been waiting."

"And you're supposed to see Dáin, once you arrive," put in Bifur. "He was particular about it, that he was to see you first. He doesn't seem to recall you too clearly from before."  The dwarf stroked his beard apologetically.

"All right." replied Bilbo, standing back up, though his feet and legs protested that they hadn't sat nearly long enough. He stretched them briefly. "I can understand that. He certainly had enough on his mind when I was last here, and it was long ago."

"He's curious what hobbits are like, especially you." explained Bofur. He led the way, the two of them flanking their smaller companion as they strode down a wide hall then turned and took a short flight of steps.

"What we're like? I seem to get a lot of that. The men in Dale were a curious lot too - not that I'm really a very good representation of my people.  I had rather hoped I would be among those who already knew what I was like once I was up here."

"We do!  Of course we do. And glad we are to be reminded of it." said Bifur. "But we've many more dwarves here than just our old company, you know.  Expect a bit of goggling." They came out into another wide hall, high windows glowing with the pale afternoon light above them.  Bilbo goggled a bit himself at the pillars that lined the opposite wall, all carved like trees; their leaves of silver and gold-veined marble so realistic he half expected them to rustle in the breeze of their passing.

"This is beautiful!" he breathed. "You've all been very busy, I see."

"That we have." agreed Bofur, smiling proudly. "That we have. The building has been exceptional."

"Where's Bombur?" asked the hobbit as he struggled once more to keep up with their rolling pace. "Or rather, has anything happened to him?  I haven't had much news..."

"Bombur? Ah, while some of us are slowing down and feeling our age in small ways, my brother's appetite has not dwindled over the years at all." Bofur quirked his eyebrows. "He's gotten so fat it's difficult for him to walk the distance from his chambers all the way to the main gate. We'll see him later...."

"Yes, at supper!" finished Bifur. "He wouldn't miss getting to see you, though I daresay he wouldn't miss a meal either."

"Supper?" said Bilbo. His heart lifted at the thought of a good hot meal.  "I couldn't have asked for a better suggestion. Are you sure it will  be anytime soon?"

Both dwarves laughed. "He's a hobbit, all right!" said Bofur. "He's a hobbit."

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The chamber that they entered at last was one Bilbo only dimly remembered, but it had made an impression on him even then when it lay in shambles.  It had once been the throne room for Thrór, and it lay before them now most impressively shining with gilded carvings and cleverly placed gems that caught and reflected the bright lamps.  A large fire crackled on the hearth with logs nearly the size of Bilbo himself, and an elaborate throne-chair stood on a slight dais at the far end from the great doors.  Beautifully worked banners were interspersed with elaborate weapons mounted along the side-walls.  He couldn't help but feel that only someone very important would inhabit such a place.

They themselves had not entered by the large and ornate doorway, but by a smaller side-door, emerging to one side about halfway down from the throne.  There were no guards, which he wondered at, but then he realized there was no-one in the room either.

"Where is Dáin?" he asked, voicing the thought as it came.

Bifur indicated a comfortably carved bench near the front of the room and Bilbo seated himself on it. "He should be along shortly.  They've the fire and everything ready for him.  He's not as young as he once was either, you know. We're all moving a bit slower, eh?"

"Speak for yourself," muttered Bofur. "I'm not slow."

"You were already slow," retorted his cousin. "So now you're just catching up with the rest of us."

Bofur opened his mouth to continue this exchange, but stopped as the doorway nearest the throne sprouted a stout guard from its alcove.  "Here he comes. Shouldn't take long, I'd think," he said instead.

Bilbo watched the doorway expectantly, sliding down off the bench so he could be ready to bow.  He didn't expect pleasantries, for he knew how dwarves loved titles and pomp. To be a King would be quite a lot of pomp, even for them.

He was not disappointed. Another dwarf dressed much as the guard began to beat a small silver drum, and to that sound, Dáin Ironfoot entered his throne room with a lifted chin that made his generous silver beard seem all the fuller.  He sparkled with gems at his belt and rings on his hands, and his cloak was furred and embroidered with a pattern reminiscent of the Lonely Mountain itself. Bifur and Bofur both immediately stood, flanking the hobbit who stood also.

Bilbo looked at him curiously. His face was more wizened by his years and deeply creased, but his eyes showed little of that age, shining both shrewdly and with life.  Moving a touch stiffly, he carefully ignored those waiting in audience and mounted the steps to his throne with the smooth, measured paces of a dignitary who knows he is being watched.  A young, chestnut-bearded dwarf that had come out behind him quickly went to his side, ready to help arrange his thickly furred cloak along with his movements and to smooth it as he sat down.

The younger dwarf stepped forward and announced loudly " Dáin Ironfoot, King Under the Mountain will now accept audience!" as if there were a crowd, though Bilbo, Bifur and Bofur were the only ones in the room. He stepped back into the shadow of the doorway, leaving them facing the King in his mound of fur.

Dáin let them stand for a moment, eying them carefully.  He cleared his throat and spoke. "So. This is the hobbit."

"Yes, this is Mr. Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, O mighty King." said Bofur.

"Only lately arrived, and glad to be of service to you and to your family...and your kingdom as needed, also," added Bilbo, bobbing a little bow.  He hoped that last part was acceptable. He hadn't thought to ask what sort of changes in greeting might be required when one was addressing a Dwarven monarch.

Dáin frowned slightly, looking down at him.  His white beard, heavy with the gem-studded decorations on the braids, swung forward from his chin as he leaned out from his chair to examine this diminutive visitor.  "No larger than a stripling. Smaller in fact. You have gained quite a reputation for one so small, Mr. Baggins. I understand that you are the same hobbit that traveled with the esteemed company of Thorin Oakenshield, in the days of the Dragon."

"I am, your...er...Majesty."

"And you've come alone? No others of your kind with you?"

Bilbo was surprised at this thought. He couldn't really imagine bringing a company of Hobbits on such a journey, much less into a nest of Dwarves.  It was ludicrous.

"Of course not!" he blurted. "I mean, no, my people are not the, er, traveling kind, if you understand. They rarely leave their own towns much less their country."

"Bilbo is most singular," offered Bifur.

"So." said Dáin, sitting back and plucking at the fur on his cloak, which had caught in his beard. "Are all of your kind given to thievery then? Or are you singular in that respect also?"

Bilbo didn't know what to say. He was astonished, terribly offended and flabbergasted by the comment all at once.  He gaped a bit like a fish.  Bifur came to his rescue.

"Your Majesty, may you reign forever, Mr. Baggins is a most honorable hobbit. He was hired by Thorin as a professional treasure-hunter, because, if you recall O great King, we were hunting a treasure at the time. He was most efficacious at his employment and after affairs were settled no longer pursued that, er, line of work."

"There is nothing to fear," added Bofur. "He's here as a friend, to visit. He won't be burgling anything. We, his former companions, will vouch for him in this."  He nudged Bilbo, who managed to splutter.

"No! Most certainly not, your Kingship. I wouldn't dream of it! I must say, to find I am thought of as a common thief is a bit disheartening after I've been saying so much good about you and your marvelous works and terraces and towers and such. Begging your pardon, but it is hardly courteous to accuse your guests, is it?"

Dáin shifted in his chair and seemed slightly amused at Bilbo's righteous reply. He leaned back. "Is it? This is my kingdom, and I shall speak as I wish.  You were the one who took the Arkenstone for your own, then had the audacity to allow mere Men to handle it, gave it to them, my cousin's and family's own heart, all for your own ends. Should I speak courteously to you or trust you among the treasures of my realm? Answer me that."

Bofur spoke once more. "Your Jewelship and monarch of this mighty realm, is the foolishness of youth to be held against the elders?  That was long ago..."

"And Thorin himself forgave me." put in Bilbo righteously.  "Would you negate the forgiveness that was extended by the senior member of  that branch of your family line, the one that was the first victim of the offense?  His retribution comes before all others in your family line, and his formal forgiveness of my actions nullifies any part you have to play in any revenge. If you act against me now for the past appropriations I had to make, you are out of turn and my own family line will have something to say about it. You shall owe formal hospitality to any and all Hobbits of my line for the duration of the world, for we shall not forgive this slight."

All of the dwarves had a communal raising of eyebrows. They looked at Bilbo as if he has suddenly sprouted a second head. Or a beard.

"What is this?" demanded Dáin. "Who taught you that?"

"I have been the companion and friend of Dwarves for most of my living years, which are several," said Bilbo, and could not quite keep out a hint of smugness. He had just pulled the dragon's claws and he knew it. "I am no stranger at your gates, in spite of my difference in appearance. Having been formally forgiven I am counted as faithful to my word.  I claim hospitality in the name of my most esteemed companions, and in the memory of my faithful service to your kin."

There was a long pause. Bifur and Bofur each took a deep breath and held it.  Bilbo kept eye-contact with the King, not backing down an inch.

Dáin blinked. 'Very well then," the King replied.  There was a small whoosh of relief on either side of the hobbit. Dáin looked as if he were torn between anger and amusement. "I permit it." He waved his hand in an official motion. "But."

The two dwarves looked at him trepeditiously. Bilbo tilted his head inquiringly, ready to counter whatever was said if needed.

"But," he repeated, pointing a finger at his diminutive guest, "I will hold you and the present members of that Company responsible if anything goes awry while you are among us, master Hobbit."  Bifur and Bofur were nodding, so Bilbo assumed this was acceptable and held his tongue.  The King suddenly smiled. "Now - be off. You have many old friends to meet. I like your spirit. Perhaps I will see you again before you leave."

He waved his hand again, and the young dwarf came forward from the shadows to loudly proclaim "The court of Dáin Ironfoot, King under the Mountain, is hereby dismissed!" as the elderly monarch hefted up out of his throne and departed by the same door he had entered.  Bilbo found himself wanting to follow, but promptly quashed the notion and turned to go out with Bifur and Bofur. 

"I say," he half-whispered as they exited back into the tree-carven hall, "What was that all about? Does he truly think me a thief?"

Bifur looked unhappy. "He was most discourteous to you, Bilbo, I was not expecting that. I am sorry.  You deserve far better! But you were most surprising yourself!  You, away from your own home and alone, aren't afraid to speak back to a King in his own halls and on Dwarven law at that! Hoho, you caught him by the beard there.  It was well done."

"But I'm not alone." pointed out Bilbo. "I have several good friends here. And I happen to know they are the wealthiest and most influential Dwarves in the Mountain. That's got to count for something."

His companions chuckled. "True, true!" said Bofur. "It will make a good tale over supper. Which we're going to have very soon.  Very soon. Come along this way - after you've had a chance to wash the dust from your beard.... Oh, heh heh. I mean wash away your weariness, we shall have a grand feast."

"Now that," said Bilbo, "is the most promising thing I've heard yet."