Of all the daily meals, the evening dinner was the grandest affair. The days' work done, all of the former Companions took the opportunity if they could to gather together in their favorite dining hall with a good fire laid on the hearth, to enjoy each others conversation and to break their bread (and sundry other fine accompaniments) together.
But this time it was a little different.
Bifur lifted the cover from his plate. "I think I have someone else's dinner," he said pointedly.
"Well, then I have it too," Bofur said, pointing at his own duplicate plate.
Dori and Nori lifted their covers and raised their eyebrows at one another. All of the servings matched.
"What is the meaning of this?" Glóin demanded. His own portion was the same, and just as meager. Each of them considered their small rolls and bowls of thin broth with shreds of carrot and cabbage floating in them. A pickle adorned the side of each plate.
Dwalin, who hadn't been party to the brief dieting attempt, frowned in confusion. "Has someone forgotten to pay the cooks?"
"Where's Bombur?" Bifur demanded, looking around the room as if his oversized relative had somehow been misplaced. "This is his doing."
"Bombur? Why?" asked Dwalin. "Has he eaten all the rest?"
Bilbo climbed up on his cushions, removed the cover from his own portion and began eating the roll without concern. The others looked at him suspiciously.
"You know something about this, don't you Mr. Baggins?" said Glóin.
"Perhaps," the hobbit said. He sopped the other half of his roll in the broth. "But it's not my story to tell."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Dwalin.
"Good evening!" Bombur entered, waddling forward in grand style with his arms full of food. Bilbo and Dori smiled.
"Bombur! There you are," cried Bofur and Nori together.
"What do you think you're doing?" Bifur growled. "What is the meaning of this?"
"And where's the rest of our dinner?" Glóin and Dwalin chorused.
Bombur ignored their questions, focusing instead on getting to the table with some kind of dignity while laden with plates of steaming meats, vegetables and what appeared to be a mince pie. He carefully set them down then seated himself and just as promptly began to eat. He apparently had no intention of sharing. Pulling off the cover of his small diet portion, he added it to his pile.
"BOMBUR!" hollered Bifur and Bofur together. Bifur was hefting his small roll as if he was considering throwing it at his placid cousin's head.
The cousin in question glanced up mildly, swallowed and took a sip of wine. "Yes? Is something wrong?"
"What have you done with our dinners?" Bifur asked in low and measured tone.
Bombur's cheerful face showed no concern. He took up a generous forkful of roast pork. "Why would I do anything to your dinner? I have my own." He stuffed the pork in his mouth and chewed expansively.
"This is ridiculous," Dwalin said. "Glóin, call for the cooks."
"You call for them," Glóin returned. "I want to hear what's going on."
"You're supposed to cut back!" Bofur said. "You promised."
"I said I would try," Bombur clarified. "And I allowed some of you to help me." He took another bite and spoke around it, his cheek bulging. "But you weren't helping me."
"We were too," Bifur protested. "We had to stop you ourselves."
"No, no you didn't," Bombur said, shaking his head. He pointed at them with his fork. "And that's what I understand now. You thought it was a matter for the family. You thought you were responsible for me. That it was your business to rule what I did and didn't eat."
"But…" Bifur began.
"It's not," Bombur continued. "Whether I eat or not is entirely my own business. And whether I fit into my clothing is too." The fork gestured at them and plunged into the mince pie emphatically. "I'll let you eat whatever you like, and you do the same for me." He scooped up a bite of mince pie which was mostly crust and happily stuffed it in, catching crumbs with his other hand.
"But your clothing…" Bofur said in a more subdued way.
"I ordered new clothes. Hang the expense!" said Bombur.
The Dwarves all gasped. A Dwarf not caring about an avoidable expense was almost blasphemous to them. They were especially shocked to hear it from one of their own. Bilbo smiled to himself and ate his pickle. This part had been his idea.
"Hang the expense?" Glóin and Nori both echoed in disbelief. The others stared.
"This," Bombur said, patting his stomach, "Is evidence of my treasure. What use is all my gold if I can't enjoy it properly? I have decided that what I enjoy is good food, and I intend to keep on enjoying it. Live and let live."
"But what if you get so fat you can't even walk?" protested Bifur. Bofur nodded with him. "You won't even be able to get to the table."
"Then I'll hire someone to carry me," Bombur said, dismissing it with a wave of his hand.
"I kind of like that," Dori commented quietly.
"This is Mr. Baggins doing, isn't it?" Bifur said, not quite able to subside without a fight. He waggled a finger towards the hobbit. "He put this into your head."
"On the contrary. If you recall, for you were there, it was Mr. Baggins' idea that I try missing a few meals in the first place," Bombur pointed out. "I am perfectly capable of thinking for myself. Besides, I commend him. He has a true appreciation for the value of a good meal."
"So you're just going to keep eating?" Bofur asked. "Until you can't move?"
"Perhaps he will. But if he does, it's still up to Bombur and not you to decide," Bilbo noted, unable to keep quiet any longer. Bifur, Bofur, Nori and Dwalin all opened their mouths to say something back at this, but none of them were heard.
"You," Bombur suddenly thundered at a grandiose volume, "may all diet on my behalf." He waved his arm in a gesture that took in the entire group and their meager dinners. "I shall appoint all of you my authorized proxies." Diverted from the hobbit, they all blinked at him.
"Proxy-what?" Dwalin asked, completely confused.
"Authorized? By what authority?" Glóin rejoined humorously.
Bombur smiled. "I have declared myself King of this Table!" He ate an entire sausage in three noisy, huge bites for emphasis. "For only I can conquer its inhabitants."
"You need a scepter," commented Nori dryly.
Bilbo raised his brows. "I think he ate it."
"Does Dáin know about this?" grinned Dori.
Bombur continued expansively. "But I shall share the great bounty of my admittedly rather small kingdom with all of you… if…" He gave a significant pause.
Their heads tilted in query. "If?" Bofur asked.
"If you apologize." Bombur smiled to take the sting out of the words. "No, no, not you or you or you... Just my well-intentioned cousins, insubstantial and thin though they be they are yet my family."
"Insubstantial?" Bifur bristled as the others laughed.
Bofur came over to him and stood beside his chair, elbowing his shoulder. "What do you think? Do we humor our esteemed relative?"
"Even though he's apparently gone mad?" Dwalin noted, tipping back in his chair with crossed arms.
Bifur was struggling for the moment, caught as he was between the insult, the rebuff and the lighthearted approach. "I… but…. " He looked up at Bofur unhappily. " Oh… all right."
Bofur turned back to Bombur and gave a little bow, then bumped Bifur with his elbow again until the other bowed also. It was plain they were both embarrassed by the turn of events and grateful to be able to hide it underneath the humor. "We do most sincerely apologize, oh great Bombur of the Table."
"I suppose we really did try too hard, didn't we?" Bifur added with a more sincerely apologetic tone.
"No harm done," Bombur said with a nod. "Well, not much. And that is and it is rapidly healed. It was an ordeal, but I shall make up for it tonight!"
"Ordeal?" smirked Gloin. "If I recall, you only dieted for two days."
"A day and a half," corrected Bombur. He gave a comically woebegone face. "And the hours hung so heavy upon me."
"That's not all that'll be hanging heavy," noted Nori.
"We'll see about that." Bombur clapped his hands and the door nearest the fire opened to a parade of cooks assistants bearing tray after tray of steaming meats, sausages, capons, sliced cheeses, assorted pies and hot loaves of bread. Others carried in tall mugs of foaming ale, bottles of wine and baskets of nuts and sweetmeats, soaked brandied fruits and small cakes brushed in honey.
"I am paying for this," Bombur clarified, "for someone, may the hair on his toes never fall out, gave me most excellent advice, that being that it would be a fine thing indeed for all of you to join me in my favorite pastime. Put a little meat on my poor starving relatives' bones, eh? I fully intend not only that your jaws will drop, but that they will remain that way quite contentedly for the remainder of this evening."
And so it was.
- Fin -