Stone of Erebor

by Primula

Chapter 3: No Company Forgotten

Supper with his former Company was a treat he had long looked forward to, and his delight as he greeted each old friend was beyond his ability to tell.  By the time the seats at the table were filled, his heart was also.  His stomach growled a request to join in.

The table they were all seated at was huge to Bilbo's eyes. Rendered of a single, thick slab of polished stone it stood on arched legs, each as big as the footbridge across the creek back home.  At least it was properly low to the ground, he thought, only slightly higher than his own tables had been.   He had been seated on a fat cushion near the center and left to gaze longingly at the centerpiece, a realistically carved rendition of a wreath of nuts all done in amber and tigers-eye stones, wishing for even one real nutmeat.  Judging from the appreciative noises from the others he was not the only one pleased when the meal began to arrive, borne in the capable hands of his friend's servants.

"Now our esteemed Mr. Baggins will finally have the reward for his patience!" said Bofur. "He has waited long, for a hobbit." 

"The first portion to Bilbo, hurrah for good old Bilbo!" nominated Nori from the other side of the table, gesturing the serving staff towards him.  "The little fellow! He gets the choice cuts."

Bilbo blushed slightly as a platter was set before him and the topmost slice of roast tweaked onto his waiting plate. A second one followed it.

"Just don't eat all of it," said Bombur from his place at the end. "My plate next. I'm famished." Bilbo smiled at him. His beard was almost as fluffy as his torso, nearly obscuring the fine jade and serpentine buttons he had all down the side of his light green tunic, but the rounded folds of his bulk shone as the fire crackled merrily behind his shadowing bulk.  The plate of roast was passed his direction.

"Famished?" laughed Nori. "You hear that?"

"I heard, and I believe it," agreed his cousin Dori who sat beside Bilbo. "With a tub that size to fill he must be famished often."

"You've grown since I saw you last," commented Glóin, who sat on Bilbo's left. Bilbo looked over at him, a bit surprised by this.

"I don't think I have at all," he replied. "I quit growing quite some time ago. Though I do note all of you seem to think I've shrunk; time seems to have swelled me to Dwarven size in your minds."

"No, no," corrected Glóin. "I meant Bombur! I haven't seen him for a while, we've all been so busy of late. He's grown."

"Ah. Sideways." said Bilbo.

"More to the front, I'd say," put in Dori from Bilbo's right. "If he grows too much more, he shan't be able to reach the table."  Dori's sparkling amethyst gems winked in the light as he chuckled.

"Well, that would solve the problem then, wouldn't it?" asked Bilbo logically.

Those that heard all laughed. "Aye, that it would - did you hear that, Bombur?"

Bombur, who had heaped roast on his plate and then gone on to scooping up a large spoonful of chopped fruits from a bowl paused to give a mock glower then good-naturedly went back to assembling his repast.

Bilbo had a fat slice of white cheese and a mince tart added to his plate. Glóin took one also and handed it down to Dwalin, across from him. 

"Is that my old hood?" asked Dwalin suddenly.

Bilbo fingered the folds that lay around his shoulders and smiled.

"It is!" exclaimed the dwarf, who was still dressed in a dark green though of much richer fabrics, studded now with emeralds.  He gestured toward it excitedly. "It's my old hood, the one our hobbit borrowed from me back when we snatched him from his hobbit-hole. I can't believe you still have it."

"I've treasured it," said Bilbo simply. "And besides, I wasn't sure if you might want it back so I thought I ought to bring it along."

"Did you bring a hat?" asked Dwalin.

"Well, yes..."

"Is it with you now?"

"No... it's in my pack..."

"Then you'll have to keep the cloak a bit longer, and my blessings go with it. I am honored."

"A fitting thing to wear to this supper, I think." said Glóin. He lifted his cup. "To the Company!"

"To the Company!" replied the others, amid the clatter of their grabbing at their cups and drinking from them heartily.

"And to Bilbo Baggins, Hobbit Extraordinaire!" added Dori. "As long as he bears his own weight while he's here. I'm not as young as I used to be."

"To Bilbo!" they chorused and drank again as the subject of that toast protested the implication.

"I think I shall stand on my own feet this time." he said.

"Not if you drink too many of these toasts," said Dori. " Glóin, what wine is this? It's very strong.  If you lose your legs in the wine, I will offer you transport to your bed, once, for old time's sake."

"I didn't choose the wine," said Glóin. "I thought it was Nori's."

"Nay," said Nori. "I paid for the pies, not the wine. Was it yours, Bofur?"

Bofur barely glanced up from the mashed turnips and butter he was packing away. "I paid for the fruit."

"Bifur? Did you bring the wine?"

"I paid for the roast," said Bifur. "but the wine is rich and strong, isn't it?"

Dori turned to Dwalin. "Wine?" he asked.

"Yes, please," said Dwalin holding out his cup for a refill.

Bilbo sipped at his; it was rich, warm and sweet. "Maybe it was Balin. Where is he, anyway?  And Ori, and Óin? Will the others be along later?"

The sound of forks upon plates stilled suddenly. There was an awkward silence for a moment, and Bilbo had a sinking feeling that he'd suddenly hit the wrong note with his friends.

"I'm sorry," he said in a small voice. "I didn't mean to mis-inquire. Has something gone amiss with Balin, Ori or Óin?"

There was a breath as they all began moving again, glancing around silently for a spokesperson.  Dwalin sighed. "No, no fault of yours. How could you know, living off in another part of the lands and all.  It is Dwarven business, where they've gone and I am not at liberty to tell you, you understand..."

Bilbo nodded. "I understand. But are they all right?"

Dwalin suddenly looked older. "We don't know. My brother would not be dissuaded from this... this journey that he's taken. Ori went with him..."

"And Óin," said Glóin. "And they sent us letters at first so we knew something of their... journey." he glanced over at Bilbo. "But then the letters stopped."

"Stopped?" asked Bilbo. "Was it very long ago? Maybe it's just been a slow messenger or something? Mislaid, perhaps?"

"Ten years." said Glóin, with a hollow voice. "Nearly ten years, since we've heard. From any of them, and there were others that went also."

"Oh." said Bilbo feeling both out of his element and dismayed together. "Oh. I'm so terribly sorry. It must be very hard, not knowing if they are all right then. That's such a long time... I had so looked forward to seeing dear old Balin too, he came all the way out to the Shire to see me, you know, he and Gandalf came... " he felt like he was on the verge of sounding like babbling and stopped.  Instead he held up his cup.

"Well. To Balin, then, and Ori and Óin, wherever they may be. May they be safe, and prosperous." 

The others looked at him, seeming slightly hesitant and surprised by his toast, but lifted their cups in return. "To Balin, Ori and Óin " they intoned, and drank.

The mood had been rather dampened by this turn of subject, but soon began to lift again. Whether it was wine, or their determination to not have a good meal go to waste by any spoiled appetites, Bilbo didn't know. 

Perhaps I am just an optimist, he thought, as they turned to small talk and complimenting the food and one another's jewels, but I do hope they are all right.  They probably went mining, or treasure seeking again, seeing as the others won't speak of it. Dwarves are always so reticent about where their treasures are, as if I would go mining... Well, if they don't want to, that's fine, though it is disappointing. Dear old Balin...

His jumbled thoughts turned to the earlier days, when he had known the dwarves who now sat about him in glittering clothing, when he had known them under very different circumstances indeed. His were not the only thoughts turning to those long-ago years, for it wasn't long before the entire table was discussing their past adventures and narrow escapes.

They ate heartily and toasted Bilbo's resourcefulness in Mirkwood,  his cleverness in their escape from the Elves, and his courage in venturing down to see the dragon. They toasted each other, they toasted Gandalf and even Bard of Laketown. Then, with the last of the wine they toasted Fili and Kili, and Thorin Oakenshield himself "for without him and his vision of a kingdom restored, none of us would be where we are now." intoned Glóin.

"And where are we now?" asked Bofur rhetorically, setting down his cup with a thump.

"Fabulously wealthy, and filled with good cheer?" offered Bilbo. He was nibbling slightly on the crust of a tart, filling up the corners.  He felt warm, full, rested and well content.

"Ah, but that Thorin could have shared in it," said Dwalin. "I wish he could be a part of this merry gathering." He carefully wiped his beard with a silk napkin.

"Why can't he?" asked Nori suddenly.

"Eh?" said Dwalin. "Because he's gone, of course. Down in the tombs, may he rest peacefully with our fathers."

"May he rest peacefully," agreed Nori, "but suppose we visit him. I think it would be a pleasure to him and his memory, to think that we included him in our merriment by at least paying some respects to the one who started it all."  

Bilbo wondered at this, especially as there was a murmur of assent and they all began standing up and pushing back from the table.

"I haven't been down to the tomb for years, " reflected Glóin, pulling Bilbo's chair away from the table for him so he could get down. "It was marvelously made. The new one that is, not that simpler one they placed him in back then."

"New one?" said Bilbo.

"We all paid for a new tomb for Thorin," explained Bofur. "Many years ago. A fine memorial. You'll be quite impressed with the workmanship, I think."

"Tomb?" asked Bilbo who was now feeling slightly bewildered. He had deliberately only sipped at the wine, but his head felt a little floaty in spite of it. The dwarves had been unreserved in their imbibing but seemed to be perfectly coherent if a little moody.

"We're going to visit Thorin," said Dori with a wistful smile at the hobbit. "Something we haven't done as a Company for many a year."

"And something I've never done." said Bilbo. "Not since, well, since he was laid there."  He wasn't quite sure what he thought of the idea, but it appeared they were all going so he would not be left behind.  Perhaps it was the way of Dwarves, to pay visits upon their dead.  He couldn't decide if it was uncommonly neighborly or a bit morbid.

He soon found himself filing through the side-door of the dining hall along with the rest of them,  into a long hallway where the stairs went downward to the sides. All but Bombur, who said he had no intention of going down so many steps much less back up again and to please tell Thorin a hearty hello for him.  He promised to keep some dessert for them.

They turned to the right and started down a flight of cool stone steps lit at regular intervals by well-filled lamps.

My goodness, this really is starting to feel  like old times, thought Bilbo. Here we go underground into tunnels again. At least this time there's nothing nasty at the end of them. At least I hope not.