Chapter 25: And a Bit of Gemwork

Bilbo shifted his weight as he stood once more before the great throne of the Lonely Mountain, waiting for its glittering King to make his entrance - or at least he assumed Dáin would be glittery by the time he finished changing his apparel for a courtly appearance. Bilbo's own entrance to the hall had been almost as fussed over; his Companions had been at pains over the past hour to fluff and preen their own appearances as well as his though he had resisted most of the attempts. He had declined their offers of fur-trimmed hood and cape, small golden clips they thought might be becoming in his foothair (he did not agree) and various jewels to wear on his person for the occasion. Even now could see all of their own geegaws, ornaments and trim sparkling as they moved to either side of him. The magnificence which suited them so well would have felt most out of place on himself.

"You look a little worried." It was a question more than a statement, whispered by Glóin as the dwarf passed by to choose a seat on one of the benches.

Bilbo realized he was furrowing his brow and made an effort to relax his face. "Oh no, no. …don't mind me. Just thinking."

He was rather worried though, mostly about Dím. He hadn't seen the young dwarf since they had parted company more than three days ago, days which had gone by both slowly and quickly at once.

He realized some of his Companions had spoken privately to the young jewel-dresser in that time, personally reiterating their promises to bind all mention of revenge back to the past and regard it as fulfilled, but he hated having to rely on Dwarvish words of honor this way. Especially when it came to revenge. It would have very much helped his peace of mind if he could just know that the lad was well and not laying someplace in a dungeon or being tortured in some Dwarvish way in the bowels of this blasted Mountain; it was hard to imagine his friends doing such a thing, and at the same time disturbingly easy with what he knew of Dwarves in general.

Besides, he thought, Dím and his nameless sister were alone now, as far as he knew. With the death of their guardian uncle, Mizûl, were they somehow vulnerable? Demoted to some lowly status, relegated to some unhappy labor? Had anything dishonorable been done to the old smith after his passing, with their own youth and lack of wealth or prestige making them unable to stop it?

Remembering the hero's rune that marked Fili, Kili and Thorin, he imagined some sort of mark upon Mizûl's tomb, something big and ugly that had the equivalent of "He was a Nasty Old Fellow Who Stole Things." In spite of Glóin and the others assuring him that Mizûl had been laid peacefully to rest in his small family tomb with his tools in hand - his true tools, not the wooden ones that he had grasped in his illness - Bilbo was still a bit distrustful about it.

Thus it was when a summons had been issued for Bilbo to appear before the King, it had been a surprise that was not a necessarily pleasant one, well-seasoned as it was with suspicion and the unknown. Glóin and Dwalin had both been convinced that Dáin had somehow had wind of their misadventure with the Arkenstone and bore ill-wishes for their friend, or that Dím had somehow painted their hobbit (or themselves) as meddlers of tombs and treasured gems. They were by no means the only ones uncomfortable with the thought of this royal audience, Bilbo included. It had quickly been decided that although the summons was only for their Mr. Baggins, all of them would be gathered together in that throne room to await this audience with the King, even (to Bilbo's surprise) old Bombur, who would not be left out and had waddled in to take up one of the stone benches.

Bilbo could hear the dwarves all whispering back and forth to one another, and watched as a couple of curious lollygaggers were escorted out by a guard. The doors were quietly shut. He hoped this was only on behalf of their privacy and not to keep them in.

"He'll be here any minute," Bofur whispered.

"Taking him long enough," muttered Nori behind them.

"You know," said Bombur, "I was just thinking. After we're done here, we could have some of those sausage-stuffed cabbage leaves from last night. They taste even better after they've set a bit and there was at least two trays left from that batch."

"We haven't been here long enough for you to get hungry," said Bifur disapprovingly.

"And some sliced white cheese, with pickles," Bombur continued more softly. Bilbo smiled.

There was a long pause, and Bilbo shifted his weight from foot to foot again.

"How about that lamb, we could slice it thin," Dori suddenly put in from the side. "It would be good on those rye loaves, the seeded ones."

"Rye, with cardamom," nodded Bombur approvingly.

"I like rye," agreed Nori.

"Don't encourage him," said Bifur.

"We need all the encouragement we can get," Bombur said mildly, refusing let his cousin's words bother him. "And hopes of a fine meal boost the spirit considerably, don't you agree, Mr. Baggins?"

Bilbo did not get a chance to reply. There was a motion at the front and the curtains swept aside. As before, a heralding servant stepped forward to announce loudly "Dáin Ironfoot, King Under the Mountain will now accept audience!"

Dáin swept into the hall, sparkling and pompous as always, and behind him came a young dwarf with a thick chestnut beard deftly straightening his cloak as he went. Bilbo was so terribly pleased to see that Dim was whole and well and still in attendance upon the King that he broke right into the beginning of their dwarves' courteous phrasings.

"Your Maj…" started Dwalin.

"You're here!" Bilbo exclaimed before stopping himself with a brief flush of his cheeks.

Dáin, thinking the hobbit was referring to himself, frowned at this extreme lack of decorum and sat down in his throne rather harder than he had intended to, though Dím seemed pleased (silently) to hear him and smiled down at his boots. The jewel-dresser looked very tired, but otherwise wore no outward sign of the mourning that he must be in. Perhaps the mournings of lesser folk were not fitting to display when one stood before a King.

Dáin waited until his furs were carefully arrayed on his throne before carefully running his eye over the assembled Company. "I summoned only one of you," he noted.

Reclaiming his more usual manners, Bilbo stepped forward and gave a small bow. "My most loyal friends have chosen to accompany me, I hope you do not find this troublesome?"

"Nay. They may remain." Dáin flicked a hand, then paused as if weighing up his words. He toyed with the end of his mustache. "It could be said to concern them as well. It has been brought to my attention that our honored guest has worthy talents. That he is skilled in a way that I was not made aware of before."

"Talents? Skilled?" echoed several of the Company blankly. There was a subdued confusion of murmuring. "Do you think he means the burglaring…?" whispered someone before being stifled. "But we…" "Shhh!"

Dwalin was nudged forward by his friends behind him. He gave a deep, formal bow. "We have not withheld anything from your Jewelness…" he began hesitantly.

Dáin waved a hand at him again. "I do not blame you, Dwalin. Or any of you. If I held in my company such a worthy gem-master, I would also be tempted to keep his skill hidden."

"Gem-master?" blinked Bilbo, readjusting his thoughts.

"I do not know what title those of your training and skill receive in your land, or what honor they are given, but among Dwarves you will find we properly value those with such an eye. You have been found out, ah yes, I see you are surprised at this, but I will make it worth your time if you will graciously lend our Kingdom that skill during your I hope comfortable stay with us. You may have beheld the gems of many other kingdoms, but I assure you that you will find few to equal ours."

Behind the King, Dim risked one brief glance up to see Bilbo's reaction to this, then looked back down at his boots.

Ah, thought Bilbo, I think I know where that story came from. But a master of it? Many kingdoms? As much as I appreciate his enthusiasm, I hope my young friend didn't make it too much to live up to.

"A Gem-master? Mr. Baggins? What? Is he?" some of the Dwarves were whispering to one another behind him.

Dáin settled back in his throne, apparently quite pleased with himself. "Yes, I have caught you by surprise. You wonder how I came to know? Do not think your ruse was poorly wrought; it was cleverly hidden indeed. I might never have guessed, excepting that I have among those in my service the very best of gem-workers, and they know their own when they encounter them. You, no doubt, did not even realize you were being watched, eh?"

He gave a hungry sort of smile and leaned forward to waggle a finger at the group. "At last we understand one another, Dwalin, Glóin…all of you. I wondered greatly that you welcomed such a foreigner among you as you did, knowing you have treasures to guard and care for. I mistook his interest in our works as potential thievery and feared you were being blind to it."

His eyes turned to that foreigner among them. "I admit to ill manners at your arrival, Mr. Baggins. I did not know of your professional interests, and misjudged you. You shall not hold that against us now." It was and was not a question, even as it was and was not an apology.

Bilbo was still at a loss as to how he should respond to all of this. As confidently as he could would be his best guess, it being both a Dwarf and a King. He was pondering Dáin's expression, why it was familiar. I know what it is - He looks like a hobbit-lad who's just discovered the key to the pantry, thought Bilbo. And of all things, is he looking to me to help him improve his hoard? Well, I suppose I might pull it off… bluffing is something I've had to do a lot of around here.

"Eh…but of course!" he stumbled. "I mean to say, I see no reason to make it a problem, that is, to remember it. I hold nothing against you at all."

He heard some stifled chuckling going on behind him, and a grunt as one chuckler was elbowed into silence. The others had obviously begun to make the same connection, that Dáin had gained a 'much enlightened' opinion of Bilbo with his apparent expertise with gems from the youth who so deferentially stood behind the throne.

The King sat back in his throne again and considered the hobbit. "That is well. Now, if you will humor my wishing to take some small advantage of our hospitality to you, I have a mystery involving a bit of gemwork, and I wonder if you may be able to help me solve it."

Oh no, not another one, thought Bilbo, followed by the even more disturbing thought that Dáin was only toying with him and did in fact know about the recent episodes with the Arkenstone. But then why would Dím be appearing so at ease? He nodded once and gave the King his attention with some trepidation.

Dáin shifted thoughtfully. "Many years ago," he said, "When my Kingship here was first being established so that I could to restore this great Kingdom…"

"From Thorin," interjected Dwalin.

"Of course," Dáin continued after a small pause. "Only after my esteemed cousin Thorin Oakenshield had regretfully breathed his last. After the honored and victorious battles were over, I had brought before me all of those who had aided so valiantly in the rightful restoration of my Kingdom."

"Thorin's," muttered Dwalin, this time getting a significant nudge from Glóin.

"Don't start him up again…" he rumbled in a low voice. Dwalin gave Glóin a sharp look, but subsided.

Dáin ignored him. "Among those who were gifted with great and precious gifts to reward them, there was one among them who came from that far-off land known as the Shire. Do you recall what you were given, Bilbo of the Shire? Among the treasures you accepted from us, I gave into your hands a necklace of fine-wrought silver and pearls, each pearl perfectly matched, strands of silver with chasing as fine as the hair of my beard..."

"One question," said Bilbo.

"Yes?" Dáin pursed his lips at being interrupted in his small speech.

"Pardon me. Just wondering. You seemed to barely recall me at all when I arrived, in fact you had difficulty remembering my name. I find this surprising when now you tell me that you can perfectly recall a single necklace from over fifty years ago."

"Of course I do. Who would not? It was a very valuable piece and cunningly wrought. I recall it as clearly as if I had seen it only yesterday."

"Such are the memories of old age," offered Bifur from the side.

"I am yet hale," said the King dryly. "And the state of my mind has little enough to do with it." He turned and snapped his fingers at one of the servants standing by the doorway to his dressing-room. The dwarf hurried forward with a smooth, shallow wooden box and opened the lid. Dáin reached in and gently lifted up a strand of silver that glittered in the light of the torches. A low murmuring swept the hall.

"Why, that's the very thing!" exclaimed Bilbo, as surprised as any of them. He had almost forgotten about it, after all this time.

"Yes," said Dáin, letting it turn lightly in his hands so that it sparkled, as tiny stars of silver and pearl pouring from his fingers.

"But…how did you come to be in your keeping?" asked Nori, echoed by the others; "How did it? Whence came the necklace, Dáin? "Are you sure it's the same?"

Dáin raised his eyebrows and gave the hobbit a long look. "So, Mr. Baggins, can you tell me how my generous gift came to be presented back to me by the Men of Dale as a part of their annual trade taxes? It has been a mystery for some time. Did they steal it from you?"

"No indeed!" replied Bilbo quickly. "They would do no such thing. I presented it myself to Thranduil of the Woodland Elves that dwell in…"

"Mirkwood," finished Dáin with an impatient noise. "They forced you to give up your treasure? At what price did they do so? Just like those Elves to…"

"No, no! Not at all!" protested Bilbo. "They did not force me at all. It was given freely."

"You gave it up…"

Bilbo knew their opinions of those who did not appreciate the 'true' value of gems and metals. He hastened to assure all of them. "Not lightly, not lightly. No, no. I realized its great value, of course, but unfortunately at that time I had a great debt to repay to the Elven King for the time he, er, so graciously and, er, generously gave myself and my Company bread and…well, shelter when we were sorely in need."

Dáin lowered the necklace to his lap, seeming to forget it in ironic recollection. "Now this is a tale I have heard," he said. "But it was not bread and shelter that I was told was given."

"Anything but hospitable…" grumbled Glóin's voice amid a consenting growling and muted complaints from the rest.

Bilbo waved a hand at them, willing them to silence. "It was long ago, and there is more to the tale, yes, but for now let it merely be stated that I personally had a debt to honorably repay and I did so with the means that I had. Now, how it came to be in the possession of the Dale Men afterwards I cannot say, though I do know that the Elves often purchase wine and…and apples…"

"Poor Fili," nodded Bofur. "I recall that."

Bilbo nodded with a slight smile. "And the other fruits of their orchards and farms. Perhaps the Elves also had a debt that was in need of payment."

"Just like Elves to give something of such value and work into the hands of Men," snorted Dáin with disdain. Bilbo noted that the others were nodding along with this and had a flash of inspiration.

"Ah, but there you underestimate the judgment of the Men, O Dáin, King Under the Mountain."

Dáin opened his mouth as if to protest this, but Bilbo continued rapidly. "For they did have the wisdom to realize that it was a work of such amazing skill that it could only have come from the hands of their Dwarven neighbors Under the Mountain. No other could ever have produced such a necklace, and so they no doubt speedily sought to find a way to present it back into your hands with honor. What better way than requesting it as payment from the Elves, and then laying aside their humble coin and goods to bring this princely piece back to its proper home?"

"You think they would have done this?" It was apparently a new concept to the King. It was a new one to Bilbo too, but he didn't let on. Better to butter it up a little.

"I see this as the only reasonable answer to your riddle, your Majestic Jewelness. The Men are not as clever as Dwarves, but they do try their best when they can."

Dáin stroked his beard, toying with one of the gems that bedecked it's side braids. "Why, that is clever. Almost worthy of the stealth of Dwarves."

"They've no doubt only learned such valued lessons by dwelling near your own august presence for so many years." He gave a bow, partially to keep heaping on the courtesy, partly to hide his face as he was having a hard time swallowing his own story.

Inwardly he highly doubted it was the case, though it may have had a bit of truth. It was more likely that the Elves had sent it along when they were low on common coin, and the Men had no use for it, pretty though it was. They would have taken the first chance to be able to keep a significant amount of those "humble" farm goods for their own consumption instead. Trinkets like this warmed a Dwarven heart, but did little to fill the belly of a Man.

He half-expected Dáin would realize he was being strung along with something half-baked, but to his surprise, the King not only seemed to accept this, he even preened a little with the implied flattery. Pride was a marvelous force with Dwarves, and Bilbo inwardly shook his head over how their egos could be stroked like one might smooth the fur of a barn-cat.

The only moment of doubt that stole into his eyes came as he hesitated over laying the necklace back into its box. A furrow appeared between his thick, white brows. "Do you yet regard it as your own?"

Not having confidence in his facial expressions, Bilbo bowed low once more. "By no means, O King Under the Mountain, I do not." He slowly straightened as he regained control over his features. "And even if you were to offer to restore it to my hands this very day, I would refuse. As custom dictates, I have already sworn my treasures to my heir and he is many leagues from this land. It would be dishonorable to accept this treasure in his stead and not deliver it. I do not plan to return."

"Do you not want your rightful treasures?"

"No sir, I do not. Only the treasure of time with my Companions do I seek, rightful or otherwise."

"Then that at least you shall have." Dáin seemed to be almost cheery at this. He waved his hand to the servants and gave Bilbo half a smile. "You are welcome to remain on in our Kingdom for as long as you desire, and perhaps we shall have to see what your advice may be on some of our own jewels. I will be summoning you to instruct my chief jewel-dresser on the manner of gem-setting among the Shirefolk. This audience is ended."

The herald stepped forward from where he had been standing silently in the shadows beside Dím, who was still trying to not look at him. "The court of Dáin Ironfoot, King under the Mountain, is hereby dismissed!" he proclaimed. Dím stepped up to unobtrusively smooth the fur cloak as the Dwarven monarch climbed to his feet and the two of them disappeared into his curtained doorway.

The curtains swung back into their places. There was a long pause.

"Well, that was interesting," offered Bilbo softly. "I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I don't think that was it."

"Let's not start talking about it here," said Bombur.

"Do you think he is listening?" murmured Dwalin as the others looked around the room.

"No, I think I shall die of malnourishment if we have to keep sitting in this drafty, empty hall. It would be much better talked over with a well-filled plate and a pipe to follow, don't you think?"

Bofur rolled his eyes. "You would."

"I think it's a grand idea," said Bilbo. "Lead the way, good Bombur."

"Help me up," he said. It took three pulls with Bifur on one arm and Bofur on the other and Dori pushing from the back, but he finally came to his feet and good-naturedly began leading the way back towards the private dining-hall.

"I don't know what made him think you were a gem-master," said Dori to Bilbo softly. "But we know you aren't. What will you do if he asks you to select gems for shaping, or how to wear them?"

Bilbo had been considering this himself. "Is that what I would be doing? I figure if they don't like what I see in whatever jewelry and stones are around, I can just say that folks have different styles in the Shire and such. I doubt any of them will be all that eager to show their work to a non-dwarf anyway in spite of the King's ideas, especially that neighbor of yours - that unpleasant Master-jeweler fellow. We don't seem to take to one another."

"I don't think he takes to anyone, not even Dáin," Dori murmured back. "You did marvelously well in front of him just now."

"Thank you," said Bilbo. "Things do seem to be coming out all right. Maybe we can finally get back to visiting. You know, tea and talking and proper naps and all that, instead of all this running about we've had this past week."

"…A huge steamed pudding with plenty of currants…" came Bombur's voice back to them as they rounded a bend.

They both smiled, and walked on in silence for a bit.

"You know," said Glóin, coming up on his other side as they followed their companion's slow waddling through the passageways, "Dwalin and I had new seals put on the tomb."

"Thorin's?" asked Bilbo.

"Of course Thorin's, who did you think?"

"I was just thinking…oh, never mind."

"He will lie in peace now, his stone is where it belongs."

"Yes. Yes it is."

----- Fin ----