Part IV

Their future included a thorough wash of their tingling bodies. Thorin took extra care to soothe all her tender areas, whether caused by the battle or their ardor for each other. Óin was going to reprimand her something fierce. However, in her mind it was very much worth it.

After being dried she was carried to their bed. She could hardly keep her eyes open to see him settle in next to her. A heavy arm around her waist pulled her snugly into his hot body. She distantly felt Thorin drop a kiss on her mob of hair, which would curl and frizz something awful tomorrow, she was sure.

The next morning she sported indeed a frightening resemblance towards a bird's nest. However, Thorin came to her rescue; with a patience she could never hope to have he brushed and stroked it before braiding it with several small and thick braids, all adorned with beautiful beads, clasps and other Dwarven metal hair ornaments for which she had no names.

"I hope you are up for a day full of discussion, followed by negotiations, followed by preparations."

Bilba, half asleep due to the sinful attention to her hair and head, could only barely rouse herself to mutter an intelligent "Wuh?".

She heard the grin in his voice. "Yes, I have no doubts that by now everyone in the Mountain knows we have celebrated our-" The last word was in Khuzdul and unfamiliar to her- "So now it is time for our public declaration thereof and consequent feasting."

"What was that?" She asked him, referring to his slip up in Khuzdul.

His eyes crinkled in a smile. "It means smelting in our language.

She blushed prettily. "Erm, yes, I guess we did some smelting last night, but what do you mean, precisely?"

"It is our word, our definition of when two dwarves celebrate and confirm their love for each other by entering into a lifelong bond."

"So, how did we do that? By sleeping with each other?"

"In our case we did; we shared more than our bodies, didn't we? I will have no other in this life or the next... I hoped you feel the same?"

"Of course. I love you." That earned her a passionate kiss and an even more profound hug; he seemed to never want to let her go. She was all right with that, as she didn't want to let him go either. She was turning in such a sappy hobbit!

"So Smelting is your term for marriage?" She asked, just to be sure.

"Exactly, though to us Dwarrow smelting is so much more than the 'institute' Men call marriage. Smelting is unbreakable, irreversible. It transcends death, yet we hope for a long life on this Earth before we find each other in the Halls of our Maker."

"Yet I am a hobbit." She said in a small voice.

"I am certain the Valar will make an exception for you. Besides, I doubt they will want to deal with an enraged Dwarf stalking them for however long it may take until the world will be unmade."

She didn't say anything, just turned around in his arms to cling to him tightly. His familiar smell of pipe smoke and evergreen soap soothed the harsh memories of him in life-threatening situations that had bubbled up when he spoke of death.

"Trust me on this. I would not be satisfied with only a lifetime with you, my dearest Bilba. If they think to separate us, they will have an uprising in the Halls of Death on their hands. And as the inhabitants of the Halls are already dead quelling such a rebellion will be a difficult task indeed." He sounded far too satisfied with himself. "Besides, you are a honorary dwarf already, you belong with us; that also means after death."

"Why are we talking about death after such a lively night?" She asked him softly, rubbing her face in his beard. She played with one of the small braids in his long hair. Dwarven hair looked so coarse, but it was so silky soft to the touch.

"Indeed. Silly of us! Let's get ready to face this day. Balin, Dori and who knows else will soon be descending on us." She looked up at his face and saw a rather amusingly put-upon expression on his face. He raised his brows at her and she giggled.

"You make it sound like we're about to go into some sort of battle."

"Well, yes. A Dwarven wedding feast for the public means a great deal of preparation. In our case, the public is the public. It will be the best excuse to throw the biggest feast imaginable. Most auspicious, I already have been told too many times, to have Erebor retaken and a royal marriage at about the same time. Such good fortune is a gift from Mahal."

"Isn't it?" She wondered softly.

"It certainly is." He gently tugged on one of her braids, smiling such a tender smile she felt even more warm and tingly inside. "And no one could be more grateful. But like I said, it will be an excuse for busybodies like Balin and Dori to throw a party without comparison. Which means lots of speeches, dancing, parading, eating, talking, joking, fighting -yes, a good brawl is as much a part of a dwarven feast as dancing or drinking is- while I would rather spend that time with you, here in our rooms."

"Do you already resent the duties your Kingship brings with it?"

"No." He grumbled good-naturedly. "I only hope these duties will not be too much for you. I don't want you to come to resent them."

"Well, I want to help you. And like you said, I am a honorary dwarf now, and I want to help rebuild my- our home. I like putting my nose in someone else's business and getting things done just as much as cousin Lobelia... Yet where I like thinking up ways to solve problems, dear Lobelia only seems to want to cause more trouble! Truly, she knows how to drive a hobbit around the bent! Someone should tell her you catch more flies with honey than with the vitriol she's spewing!"

"I guess we won't send her an invitation to the wedding feast then?"

Bilba blinked. "If you want to keep your more precious heirlooms safe, no." She pulled on the braid she was holding. "Are you trying to distract me? Because weren't we supposed to hold a wedding feast before we... well, smelted together?!"

"No." Thorin had the gall to look rather condescending. "We don't hold with such silly customs. The smelting is first and foremost a matter between the two dwarrow. Their closest family might have something to say, but in the end, the choice is up to the dwarrow themselves. Only after they have consented to and celebrated their smelting, then they host a public feast where they can share their newfound happiness with their families, kin and friends."

"I guess there is something to say for this."

"Yes." Thorin gently swept a runaway curl behind her ear, making her shiver. "Maybe it is incorrect, but we dwarrow sometimes get the impression that marriage for other races, mainly Men as we have most interaction with them, is more of a bargain between two families than a union between two individuals."

"Well, amongst Hobbits there is a lot of matchmaking by well-meaning family members, though if a couple doesn't match, no one is pressured to do something he or she doesn't want to do. However, fact remains that the families' consent is quite important, for it will make a smooth courtship and marriage. Though there are enough stories of headstrong Hobbits defying their families' suggestions." Bilba tapped her lip with one finger, not noticing Thorin's half-lidded gaze. "My father was a good example of a Hobbit disregarding his family's wishes. They didn't think a Took would be a good partner for a Baggins. My parents did prove my father's family very wrong."

The soft smile on her face made Thorin trail his rough fingers over her expressive face. "I would love to hear more stories about your parents. However, they will have to wait until this evening, as I can almost hear certain dwarves pace back and forth outside our door."

"You can?!" Bilba asked, surprised. Thorin chuckled. "Not really; I just know my friends very well."

"I would also like to speak with Gandalf, before he suddenly ups and leaves us."

Thorin's face grew somber and serious. "Yes, the ring."

Bilba nodded, just as grim. "Exactly. I hope he knows what we should do with it. We don't want to keep it, but it doesn't feel right to me to just throw such a strange item away. Invisibility is not an everyday magic, I would imagine, though very handy. If it falls into the wrong hands, who knows what mischief can be achieved with it?"

Thorin softly butted his head against hers. "I agree. You put it away in the place I told you to?"

"Yes, and hid the key too. I know no one outside our Company knows, and none of them will spill my secret, but I just want to keep it buried far, far away."

"It needs to be the problem of someone who knows what he's dealing with. I will send a message to Gandalf to have supper with us."

zzzzzzzz

Gandalf was all smiles and dancing eyes as he graciously set himself down for dinner in the King's private dining room. He bestowed a laughing glance at a knackered, shell-shocked Hobbit, who was threatening to fall asleep in her soup.

"Though I am very honored by your invitation to your private table, Thorin, I can't help the feeling that there is something weighing on your mind..." He turned from the King back to Bilba. "On both your minds, actually."

Bilba had suddenly lost all sleepiness when forced to think about the item they had Gandalf over for. She would be happy to get rid of the thing; every time she had used the ring, there was first this sense of allure and desire. However, at the same time a sense of uneasiness crawled down her spine to settle in the pit of her stomach. After having worn it during most their stay in Thranduil's dungeons she had never felt so wretched, so cold and lonely. For a long while not even the sun and fresh air had managed to get rid of the creeping sensation of... decay; she had no other word for it.

She stood up to retrieve it. The ring glimmered innocently up at her, its glow soft and attractive. She snorted. Right. Like there wasn't gold enough already in the Mountain.

Deftly she picked it up between her thumb and index finger, as if she was carrying a spider to be evicted from her smial. She walked back into the dining room and decisively placed it down on the table in front of Gandalf, strangely relieved to give it to someone else.

Gandalf frowned. "What is this?" He asked carefully. Bilba and Thorin noticed he didn't try to pick it up.

"A magic ring I found underneath Goblin Town. The strange creature I had this game of riddles with? He had dropped it and I found it on the floor." Bilba answered simply.

"A magic ring, you say?"

"It turns me invisible when I wear it."

Gandalf hummed. "Invisible... that is indeed no small feat." He fell silent, and seemed oddly entranced by the small object in front of him.

"Take it out of my sight!" He suddenly thundered, almost sending Bilba's heart into palpitations.

Gandalf had jumped up from his chair, Thorin following after. The King grabbed his Hobbit by the arm and pulled her protectively behind him.

"What is the matter with you?!" Thorin snarled, one hand lowering to the ornamental dagger in his belt.

Gandalf seemed to deflate. He took a few steps back from the table. "I... I don't know." The wizard said slowly. "For a moment there..."

"Gandalf, please, could you take the ring and do whatever wizards do with magical object with the potential for great mischief?" Bilba asked earnestly. "I found it, but I don't think I should keep it."

"Maybe not, maybe not." The wizard muttered. "However, I don't think I should keep it either... I will have to look into this matter... a magical ring is not an everyday occurrence."

"That is the first smart thing you have said so far." Thorin said lowly. "You should know, as a Wizard."

"Indeed, indeed, yet..." The wizard took another few steps back. "Until I know what kind of magic ring we're dealing with, I deem it the safest option for you to look it up." He turned suddenly on Thorin and Bilba, his eyes alight and penetrating. "Who knows about this ring? Who?!" He demanded.

"Only the Company." Thorin answered tersely. "And we have all decided that it was wise to keep the thing a secret. We all swore to Bilba to keep it a secret. In our experience magical rings have the tendency to attract trouble."

"Very wise, indeed. And I don't doubt the loyalty of any member of Thorin's Company. Keep it secret and keep it somewhere safe."

"But Gandalf!" Bilba protested. "Don't you understand, I don't want it here! Thorin and I, we don't like the feel of this thing."

Gandalf looked sharply from dwarf to hobbit. "Neither of you feels... attracted to the ring?"

Bilba answered honestly: "In the beginning I couldn't stop looking at it. It was quite pretty for such a simple ring. Yet the more I used it, the more I started to dislike it; it made me feel uncomfortable. Now, it feels like a burden."

When the wizard looked at Thorin, the dwarf stared straight back. "This ring to me doesn't differ from any other; on the contrary, I have seen much more beautiful ones. However, it makes Bilba uncomfortable and that's enough for me: this ring needs to go. I will not have a potentially dangerous artifact in the Mountain. Not when we're still trying to ascertain the worm didn't hoard anything perilous."

"I see. This will sound strange but I think this ring will be safest with you two. Lock it up, most of all: don't use it! I will be back as quickly as possible when I know more. Only with the proper knowledge we can make a sensible decision what to do with it."

"Gandalf!" The King under the Mountain was growling, clearly angry. "We are not the eight people to care for a magical object! We're not wizards, or mages or any other magical folk. If you don't want to take it, we'll give it to the Elves. Undoubtedly they will know what to do with it."

"No!" Gandalf seemed to suddenly suck all the light out of the room, suddenly towering (even more than he already did) over the surprised couple. "You will not take it to the Elves, nor will you take it anywhere else or give it to anyone else! You will keep it safe until I return!"

Bilba started to nod, yet Thorin was not so easily intimidated. Gandalf stomped his staff on the ground, a crack appearing at the point of impact. He bit out a few words in Khuzdul to an enraged Thorin, who answered back just as hotly. However, the King inclined his head just a fraction.

"We will keep it for you, until you return. You will take it with you when you return."

"Undoubtedly." The wizard sais shortly. "Now, if you will excuse me. I better start preparing to leave tomorrow at dawn."

"But Gandalf, our wedding feast will be held soon, I want you to be there. Without you we would never have met!" Bilba pleaded, torn on the matter.

Gandalf's weary face lifted and he smiled at her. "I would not be so sure of that." The wizard stroked his beard and looked torn. He glanced over at Bilba. "I would think you wanted this matter to be solved as quickly as possible."

"That may be so, but I think I will survive the few weeks it will take to organize and hold our wedding feast. Please stay."

"All right, then. I guess I can start with the library here, anyway. It was held in high esteem back before Smaug."

"And it will be so again." Thorin arrogantly assured him. "Ori has reported that almost all books have survived Smaug in such a way that the knowledge they hold is salvageable."

"Good! Well, then, off to the library I go."

"But, dinner?" Bilba said, askance.

"I'm afraid I have lost my appetite. You enjoy your meal. Oh, and lock that away, please." The wizard gestured faintly to the inconspicuous-looking ring. Without further ado, he left the King's quarters.

Bilba quickly put the ring away, at least assured that no one outside her and Thorin knew about its location.

She returned to the table, dipped her spoon in the soup and brought it to her mouth. "Oh! Just the right temperature to eat! I was afraid it had gone cold!"

She didn't understand why Thorin suddenly started laughing deeply. It would have been a shame if their food had gotten cold!

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Gandalf hurried back to the Lonely Mountain, his heart heavy and his mind going over and over what he had learnt. He had had his suspicions, of course, but now that almost all of them had proven true, there is only a single, simple test to confirm...

Once he finally arrived, absent-mindedly noting the staggering amount of repairs and rebuilding done to both Dale and the Mountain itself, he was immediately shown to the private quarters of the King and Queen.

Evening had fallen and he found one Monarch sitting at the table.

She jumped up. "Gandalf!"

The wizard smiled tiredly. "No need to get up for me, my dear Bilba." He took a deep sniff of the tantalizing aromas coming from the spread of food on the large table. "Could I...?"

"Of course, sit!" There were several plates around the table, and he took a chair facing Bilba on the other end of the table.

The wizard looked around. "I assume Thorin will be here too? I would like to report what I've found out when both of you are present."

"Of course, of course. He should be here any moment."

Gandalf took a bit of roast, some grilled taters and glanced carrots.

"There's wine in the bottle to the right of you."

"Thank you dear. Might I say you look absolutely wonderful?" And he didn't exaggerate. The hobbit was radiant, more beautiful than he remembered. She didn't seem to have aged a day, while he had been away for years!

"Thank you." She smiled a deeply happy smile. "There is so much to feel wonderful about!"

"Well, tell me!" The wizard said, genuinely interested. He would love to hear happy tidings for a change.

"Where to start? Well, Thorin and I-" She was interrupted by thumping coming from one of the rooms connecting to the dining room. A door was thrown open and in raced a little boy. He sported dark curls and inquisitive bright blue eyes. The eyes alone were enough to tell his heritage, yet his nose was also quite reminiscent of his father's.

Hot on his little heels was an even tinier girl, also dark haired but with mischievous hazel eyes. Just like her mother, Gandalf noted.

"I am hungry!" The tiny girl exclaimed. She and the boy both stopped short when they saw they had an unexpected visitor.

"If you sit yourself down nice and quiet at the table I might decide to feed both you and your brother, Lís." Gandalf blinked as the King under the mountain stepped inside the room. He didn't seem to have aged a day either, though he was a dwarf and only just now working on the second half of his second century.

However, that was not the reason why Gandalf was regarding the dwarf with something akin to amazement. Nor was it the sense of peace that seemed to emanate from the stately King.

It were the two small bundles, so incongruous to the large, muscled arms they were nestled in, that had the wizard speechless.

Bilba had stood up again but was quickly commanded back into her chair again. "Let me come to you, Bilba. Take it easy, for once! Gandalf, greetings." Thorin quickly moved to his wife to put one of the bundles into her arms. "Lís and Frerin woke them up, but they don't seem hungry. Yet."

"They will be soon, though. Little gluttons." The warmth in her voice moved the wizard deeply. He was distracted by a tug on his robes. "Hello." The little girl, Lís, looked up at him. Gandalf smiled.

"Hello there."

"Are you really Gandalf, the wizard?" Her brother was next to her, looking no less curious.

"Indeed! And who might you be?"

However, the introduction was rudely disturbed when the door slammed open and a small army of dwarves tried to squeeze through the door.

"Gandalf!" The King's nephews were still their jovial selves. They were followed by a regal dwarrow dam, who gave him a deathly look. Instead of introducing herself, she moved to Thorin to pluck the baby he was still holding out of his arms before seating herself next to Bilba.

Thorin moved closer to the wizard to whisper in his ear: "My sister decided to blame you for all the dangers her sons went through due to the Quest."

"Ah." Gandalf said, a bit uncomfortable with the stink-eye he was getting from the majestic dam.

Thorin smirked at him. "Better you than me."

Gandalf watched as more dwarves were trooping in. Balin greeted him politely and took the chair next to him. Dori appeared to pour wine in his goblet. His two younger brothers were already claiming chairs close to Bilba, which got them into a loud argument with Bofur and Bifur. Bombur appeared followed by a trail of dwarves who were unknown to Gandalf. They all carried trays and pots and dishes and were directed by the rotund dwarf to place everything on the giant table. Good luck finding empty places to put everything, Gandalf thought. Good thing it was a solid dwarven table to carry not only the weight of the food but also the combined weight of many heavy metal dishes and cookware. And leaning dwarves. Maybe even dwarves dancing on the table; Gandalf feared he would never forget the spectacle at Elrond's table- or was that on Elrond's table.

Bombur's helpers quickly left after everything was settled to Bombur's exacting demands, but not before bowing deeply to their King and Queen, sneaking peeks at the children and babes, smiling while they did so.

Gloín came in and took the other seat at Gandalf's side. He was accompanied by another pretty dam and a miniature version of him. Gimli was his name, if Gandalf remembered correctly. The dwarrow dam nonchalantly pushed Nori from the seat next to Dís, and Gimli made his way over to the two Princes.

Last were Dwalin and Oín. The latter hurried to the Queen, exclaiming loudly that so many loud dwarves were not beneficent to the little ones' rest, or to that of the Queen, for that matter.

"Honestly!" Bilba snorted. "I feel wonderful! Just like I did the other three times! Hobbits are blessed that way!" Bilba smirked at Gloín's wife. "Maybe Áfrídr could use your assistance."

"No!" The dwarrow dam said quickly, loudly, but it was too late as not only Oín but also Gloín started to ask whether she was all right or tired, hungry, nauseous, energetic, tender or- The badgered dam shot Bilba a dirty look as she tried to get the two brothers to give her a rest!

So commenced a very loud, very long but most of all a very happy dinner. Thorin had his two older children seated between himself and Bilba, so both parents could keep an eye on them and help them out whenever a dinner roll, piece of meat, tater or vegetable was giving them trouble.

At some point Dís helped to drape a cloth over Bilba's shoulders so she could breastfeed her babies. She explained laughingly to Gandalf that this had more to do with Thorin's jealousy than her modesty; in the Shire no one even blinked an eye when faced with a nursing mother. Thorin gave his Queen a simmering smile but didn't say anything.

After the meal, the children were put to bed, despite loud protestations from the oldest two.

When Bilba and Thorin had returned to the table, the Company as a whole turned to the wizard.

"Now, out with it." Thorin commanded plainly. "Tell us what you have found, as you took your time finding it!"

Gandalf looked around the room. "Maybe we could move somewhere more... private?"

"These are our Company, Gandalf, and every soul in this room is trustworthy. And they all know of the ring already."

Gandalf was hesitant, no doubt about it. However, Thorin wouldn't budge on this matter, as far as he could see.

"Very well then." And he proceeded to explain his findings, and what he thought the ring was. Everyone turned solemn.

"This is... Are you certain, Gandalf?" Bilba asked, clearly frightened. Thorin, who was now sitting next to his wife, wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

"If you would get the ring, I know the way to make certain."

Icy silence reigned in the room when the ring was confirmed to be indeed the One Ring.

"That thing has to leave here, as quickly as possible!" Thorin said lowly, fervently, and all the dwarves nodded in agreement.

"Who knows it is here, besides us? Who knows it's been found?!"Balin suddenly looked all of his years. "If the Enemy knows and plans to march on us, we will be able to hold out for a very long time... Yet that is not the answer. Who else will fight the Enemy? Will anyone come to our aid?"

"That's why it is best to get rid of the thing." Thorin slammed his fist on the table.

"Indeed." Gandalf agreed. "However, 'getting rid of this thing' will prove to be no easy matter. There is only one solution in my mind, and that is to destroy it. To destroy it, has to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom. However, I am not the only one with a say in these matters. Tell me, who is coming to the 20th anniversary of the Reclamation of Erebor and Dale?"

Thorin looked up sharply, as did the other dwarves. "Do you have something to do with every Elvish nation accepting our invitation?!" Thorin was turning red, Bilba consolingly patting his shoulder in a reversal of their earlier roles.

"I suggest you ready the best guest chambers you have. I think you can expect not only the royals from Mirkwood, but also the Lord of Imladris, and the Lady of Lothlorien as your guest, as well as many important ambassadors from the Kingdoms of Men."

"Oh dear." Bilba sounded taken aback. "We thought to make this celebration a big one, but I guess we need to upscale!"

"Indeed." Gandalf leveled a solemn look at the Company. "I have your oath that nothing of this will leave this room?!"

"Of course." Thorin answered gravely. "You have our Oath."

"Good." Gandalf was visibly pleased. "And I know the Word of a Dwarf is more precious than gold and more durable than mithril."

"Exactly."

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Gandalf sat quietly in the roomy nursery in the Royal quarters, watching Bilba sing her children to sleep.

"Tomorrow we leave." He said softly to Bilba. She didn't stop singing, but she nodded to show she heard him.

Finally, the twins were asleep and Gandalf followed Bilba into her sitting room.

"Will you take good care of my cousin? This is her first great adventure." Bilba couldn't seem to sit still, slowly moving through the room, touching this and straightening that.

"I will as much as I possible am able to." The wizard promised her.

"My adventure has given me much pain and grief, though it was very much worth it, in the end. I hope she will feel the same way, at whatever end it will have..." Bilba smiled hesitantly at Gandalf. "Though I maybe should not compare. The weight of the world didn't rest on my shoulders."

"Maybe not. Or maybe you just didn't know it was."

"We will do all we can to help you."

"I know." The wizard sighed deeply. "Goodbye, dear Bilba."

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Thorin and Bilba watched the small fellowship leave Erebor in the predawn light, their forms seeming mere shadows over the grounds.

"They're off on their own adventure." Bilba squeezed Thorin's hands, his arms wrapped around her expanding waist from behind.

"Jealous?" He only half joked.

"Not at all. Worried, though, for my cousin." He pressed a kiss to her cheek, clutching her tighter to his body.

"Besides..." She turned in his arms to press a kiss to his chest . "Our adventure is far from over, isn't it?" She took his hand to press it against the faint fluttering just barely discernible under her skin.

"I don't think our adventure will have an end." He promised her.

And that was that, as hobbits use to say.

zzzzzzzzzzzzz

So, I wanted to translate smelting in Khuzdul, but despite several good online Khuzdul dictionaries, I couldn't find a translation for '(s)melting' and/or 'alloy', 'fuse', 'amalgamate' or some such. And looking into terms that came close, I wasn't sure about the grammar needed to combine several Khuzdul words, so I refrained from using actual Khuzdul. Actually, for such a mining and smithing obsessed race, I had expected there would be many different words just for 'mining' or 'ore' or 'smith' for example but if I don't think that's the case.

Anyway.

Thank you all for reading, leaving kudos and commenting on this little fic. I hope you all enjoyed! This last chapter was maybe a bit too fluffy, but I felt/feel that these two deserve a happy ending. I also wanted to deal with the ring, irritating little thing it is. And I made Thorin a bit younger too, as he should be almost starting on his third century if you stick to the timeline of the book. In the movie, they were more ambiguous about it. I just run with it.

I am working on two more fem!Bilbo/Thorin fics, and hope to post something soon. Thanks everyone!