Chapter 4: The Would-Be King
The Would-Be King
"He is here."
...Hang on a minute, who?
Bofur looks positively disappointed, his hat, moustache and braids seeming to droop.
"Well, there puts an end to the night's craic," he muses, setting his knife and fork neatly down on the table. Dori clears his throat and fusses around, rubbing down his younger brother's shirt front and turning to the two brothers.
"Brush yourselves up, Lads," he says to them, "Kili, get that sauce out of your beard, and for Durin's sake, Fili, remove those crumbs from your mouth! Hardly appropriate for a future king... I doubt your uncle will want to see the pair of you looking like you were raised by Wargs."
Uncle, I note; whoever has just arrived is a relative of the two brothers. If he's related to this pair, he's bound to be a laugh, I think. Unfortunately, the solemn reactions of the previously bonny Dwarves would say otherwise. I dwindle in the silence a moment longer before humming,
"So, uh... who is it?"
All but Bilbo look at me as though I am the densest creature on the planet.
"Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór," Balin proclaims proudly. "Our Would-Be King."
"He is our King," Dwalin interrupts, "crown or not."
Balin nods. "We best not keep him waiting any longer; after the journey he has had, I doubt he will be in the most patient of moods."
"He's never in the most patient of moods," Fili mutters with a smile, absently straightening his younger brother's tabard to make him presentable. The two check each others teeth for any food which may be stuck between them, nodding in succession and giving one another a friendly jab in the arm.
Bilbo stands to head for the door, utterly defeated by the influx of maddening guests, but Gloin, with his impressive necklace of braid and beard, raises an arm to stop him.
"Hold up there, little Hobbit. Thorin is not as keen on Hobbits and the like as he is on our own kind. I shall go to the door."
Dori nods. "A new face might irritate his delicate disposition."
"No," Kili proclaims, jumping to his feet with a little too much enthusiasm, "I'll go."
"Sit, brother," Fili offers, "I will answer it."
Gandalf booms, "I shall go, and I'll hear no more of it. Enough, all of you."
The Wizard stands and makes his way to the hall, with the rest of the Dwarven party following out after him; naturally, I do the same.
"Hang on a moment, Miss Lavender." Fili advises, his hand across my shoulder, "I think it best if you stay here with Mr. Baggins."
"Why?" I ask, as Kili hurries excitedly past me to the hallway, almost knocking me over in his flourish.
"Thorin is not the most hospitable of our kind," Fili says. "I feel your unexpected presence might grate on him a little, particularly given your muliebrity. Perhaps it is best if you hide in the kitchen, prepare him a drink, perhaps-"
"Slow down there, sonny boy," I scald him, "hide? In the kitchen?!" I sense sexisim here. Alert, alert... "If has a problem with me being a girl, he's just going to have to deal with it."
By the look on the Dwarf's face, it's pretty clear that my sort of talk is not often heard out of the mouth of a woman. Fili purses his lips to speak, but then shakes his head hopelessly and goes to meet the others in the hallway. Bilbo follows through moments later, fussing about the newest of the group possibly using the glory box as a doormat in the same way that Kili had. I sit down at the head of the table, alone for all but a discarded glass of wine. Trying not to think of who might have been sipping on it before and the subsequent crumbs and oils which may have been caught within the beard of said Dwarf, I swig down the rest of the glass, washing away my nerves behind the mask of the floral alcohol and reminding myself that none of this is real... none of it can be real.
It is then that I am introduced to one of the most misogynistic, jingoistic and down-right brilliant men I have, or probably ever will meet in all my life. Thorin Oakenshield is a masterpiece; nothing more, nothing less, make no mistake. He walks into the tiny room, all slick oil-black hair and brooding eyes, long hooked nose and heavy brows, and he fills it with his sheer... Thorin-ness. I've never seen someone bloom into a room like that before, just bring the atmosphere to its knees with his stride and a gloomy glance.
Lots and lots of forehead, I note. And lots of nose.
He glares at me, the disapproval in his face at a woman being present shining clearly through his cool, handsome visage. With a voice that sounds like gravel tumbling in a blender he says,
"There appears to be a girl in my seat."
Girl, I note. That doesn't sit well with me; it suggests with all immediacy that he thinks himself above the likes of myself, which he probably is- just look at him, he's down-right majestic- but still. Not a great start. I stare blankly like the idiot I am, utterly deflated and utterly intimidated, and in utter awe. That is when I notice Kili. He stands to the side of the aggressive Dwarf, a look of sheer horror on his face... Damn, he has a nice face. But what he's doing with his face snaps me out of my day dream (night-dream? Dream within a dream? Give me the kick, Arthur-)
Move, Kili mimes, dark eyes wide and pleading. Get out of his seat, they say, quickly.
I look to the other side of the would-be King, to find that his tawny brother is standing with the same horrified expression, shaking his head wildly. Their faces hold the suggestion that if I do not get out of the seat that all-mighty Thorin has claimed as his own within the next two seconds, the stern-looking Dwarf before me will bite my head off; literally, I wouldn't be surprised. And so I stand... and like a fool, do the one thing that any sane person would completely avoid doing: I smile.
Thorin Oakenshield frowns like thunder. So much for good first impressions.
The Dwarf shakes his head and moves around the head of the table where I was sat; like prey being circled I move in the opposite direction, and take Fili's initial advice by hiding away in the kitchen. Way to stand up for women's rights there, Alice...
Lavender, I remind myself. I wonder how long it will take until my real name slips from my lips.
I sit alone in the kitchen, burying myself in my shame, and sip away on more of the fruity wine that Dori acquired earlier. It tastes better and better with every sip. Bilbo's pantry has been stripped to the bone, all but a sprig of grapes, which I find I cannot help but munch on, peeling back their papery skins and scraping at the fruit inside with my teeth. After twenty minutes or so of listening to the Dwarven clan, the old Wizard and the tiny Hobbit ramble on about some imaginary quest involving dungeons and dragons and caverns and cavalcades, I find that my confidence has been boosted enough by the robust liquor to make my re-entrance. I do so, this time ignoring the disdained stare from the leader of the Dwarven group, and reclaim my seat beside Fili.
I dreamt you up, Oakenshield. My brain made this world, this house, this chair, and if I want to sit down in it, I'll do just that.
Kili sits the other side of his brother, and whispers something in his senior's ear. Fili, who has clearly drank more than enough himself, turns his gaze to me with sanguine cheeks and bares me a wry, wine-induced grin. Between the pair of us, we smell thickly enough of alcohol to pollute the space between our faces to a rancid level.
"My brother," he purrs quietly, leaning close to my face,"is wondering whether or not the young lady is drunk."
"Well," I drawl, throwing him a lazy smile, "you can tell that beardless brother of yours that I am certainly not drunk. I may have had a drop or two, but... well... yes. I might have had a little too much. But this is my dream-" I point a finger up at the sky proudly- "and I'll do as I damn well please... we are the best, so screw the rest... we do as we damn well please..."
"Until the end..."
"Saint Trinnians... sorry, I... I think I am a little on the tipsy side, afterall."
"A lady ought not be drinking in such a manner," Fili says, taking my own cup from me and downing its contents much in the same way he did to his younger brother earlier before heaving out a long belch; the others join in, and whilst they are distracted, I snatch the closest mug to me and shimmer the thick liquid down my throat. It burns, but it's worth it.
"You'll be under the table before the night is out," Kili calls over to me, face hidden behind his own tankard and a smirk playing in his dark eyes. I raise an eyebrow and return the half-attempt at a smile.
"Care to join me?" I say, raising my glass; the vague thought crosses my mind that that may in some way have been interpreted as suggestive, and I grimace. "I'll be waking up soon enough," I tell him quietly. "Don't you worry about me."
There is more talk of quests and dragons and mountains and contracts, which I completely blank over due to the fact that my head has begun to pound wildly and it's all a lot of imaginary hogwash anyway.
"Oin has read the portents, and the portents say it is time. Ravens have been seen flying back to the mountain, as it was foretold; 'When the birds of yore return to Erebor, the reign of the beast will end.'"
Bilbo seems startled. "Uh... what beast?"
Bofur grins broadly. "Well, that would be a reference to Smaug the Terrible, chiefest and greatest calamity of our age. Airborne fire-breather. Teeth like razors, claws like meat-hooks... extremely fond of precious metals-"
"Yes," Bilbo intrudes, "I know what a dragon is."
I make a tiny amused huffing sound, and one or two of the Dwarves direct their attention to me for a moment; I wave them away with an expression which I imagine to say, 'oh, don't mind me, I'm just along for the ride', before Ori jumps from his seat and proclaims loudly,
"I'm not afraid, I'm up for it! I'll give him a taste of Dwarfish iron right up his jacksie!"
"Good lad, Ori!"
Dori frowns and pulls his younger brother. "Sit down!"
I zone out again, the pounding in my head heightened by the proclamations of the Dwarves. When I look up again, I find that Bilbo Baggins has fallen to the floor unconscious.
"Alright, own up; which one of you scratched the china?" I muse drunkenly, and notice that the sour-faced Thorin is looking even more sour-faced than usual.
"Was it you, Nose?" I say jokingly through my intoxication; Thorin stares back, the frustration clear in the way he holds himself, knuckles curled on the table before him. Maybe I shouldn't have called him Nose. I give a drunken giggle and call, "oh, lighten up, your highness... holiness... whatever you are."
"Forgive the lady," Gandalf chuckles to the Dwarven King, "I think the Hobbiton wine has started to take its toll on her."
"That is right," I say, lurching myself upwards and heading back towards the kitchen, "I apologize, my liege. Would his royal highness and his loyal subjects like a cup of tea as an apology for my boisterous behavior? I'll make my special tea... my specialty. Special... tea."
Thorin gives a sharp, disinterested nod, and gestures down to the unconscious Bilbo. I wander into the kitchen with an exaggerated bow, and try to figure out how on earth I'm supposed to make tea out of the ingredients left in Bilbo's house... also, there is no kettle. Hot-water-over-the-fireplace is a little too old school for me... I grimace hopelessly again, returning with no tea and a rushed apology.
"Perhaps we should revive the Hobbit," Thorin suggests, ignoring me, "he cannot sign the contract in such a state, after all."
I barely register the word 'contract' in my inept state, but am aware of Bilbo being carried through to the living room by the bald-headed Dwalin, and the rest of us follow suit. The tiny sitting room is as equally beautiful as the rest of the house, draped in rich plum-coloured velvet and dotted with dark mahogany furniture. Tiny rich candles sit like pomegranate seeds dotted across the tables, and vials of incense sit huddled in the welts of the windowsills, dark red jewels bringing a musty smell in amongst the heavy scent of the pipe smoke which has been floating around the house ever since the party arrived. I sit in the corner, my head against the cushioned wall drowsily, as a few of the others discuss something with the Hobbit.
Ori crouches beside the fireplace and sets the coals alight with a tuft of hair cut from Bombur's mountainous beard. I am bequeathed a tiny stool to sit upon, pushed to the corner and as far from the brooding Dwarf King as possible; I find, regardless, that I can't take my eyes off him. He is captivating, in every sense of the word, the glow of the fire lighting his skin like candle-wax.
The Dwarves gather around, all having left the cold of the dining hall, and light their ornate pipes. Sat to my left, the two young brothers puff away on theirs, and the eldest notices me watching; he offers me the pipe, and I reject it politely. By the looks of a couple of these Dwarves and the look on Thorin's now softened face, I doubt it's just tobacco they're smoking.
And then, their solemn leader begins to sing. Quite wonderfully, I might add.
Yep, I think. They're definitely smoking grass if Tight-Arse McGee over there is loosening up.
The music is haunting, beautiful, and soothes my aching head beyond measure; or perhaps it's the wacky-baccy smoke that's doing it. Either way, as I lie back and listen to their enchanting, sleep-inducing song, my concentration on the ache in my skull lulls, and I feel my eyes begin to close.
"Far over the misty mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away ere break of day,
To seek the pale enchanted gold.
The Dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells,
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.
For ancient king and elvish lord,
There many a gloaming golden hoard,
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught,
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.
On silver necklaces they strung,
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung,
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire,
They meshed the light of moon and sun.
Far over the misty mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To claim our long-forgotten gold.
Goblets they carved there for themselves,
And harps of gold; where no man delves,
There lay they long, and many a song,
Was sung unheard by men or elves.
The pines were roaring on the height,
The winds were moaning in the night.
The fire was red, it flaming spread;
The trees like torches biased with light,
The bells were ringing in the dale,
And men looked up with faces pale;
The dragon's ire more fierce than fire,
Laid low their towers and houses frail.
The mountain smoked beneath the moon;
The dwarves, they heard the tramp of doom.
They fled their hall to dying-fall,
Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.
Far over the misty mountains grim,
To dungeons deep and caverns dim,
We must away, ere break of day,
To win our harps and gold from him."
I'm not sure if the song actually ends there, or if my senses are so inhibited by the wine, the smoke and the singing that that I can no longer hear it. The sudden pull to sleep hauls me in by my navel like an anchor...
I am awake. Like, actually awake. My eyes snap open as that horrid hypnic-jerk-falling-feeling washing over me. It causes my heart to race, my breath to quicken, and I find myself snapping up straight in my own bed. I sit up and stare into the darkness, making out the outlines of my vanity desk and wardrobe, my television and bookcase. I feel a sudden longing for that lost dream, the madness of it... I remember it vividly, far more vividly than I've ever remembered a dream before; names, faces, places. Bilbo, Kili, the Shire. But more potently, I find that my head is burning with a horrid, hollow sensation. My fingers are tingling, and it feels as though my brain has nestled in the corner of my head.
...Have I got a hangover?