*Takes place after “The Hobbit” book events, although no spoilers and everybody lives.
Thorin was in worst mood he could harbor since they took back the mountain. The meeting was not going the way he had hoped and when Bofur’s laughing reached his ears again, it was too much to bare. The dwarf lord was supposed to be watching his back, but oddly each time it was his turn, after few hours Thorin could hear bursts of laughing coming from behind the door. It never happened to his face or when the Honor Guards were standing behind him, but leave them on the other side of the door and the laughing began again.
It had bothered him for weeks now and it didn’t seem to disappear, even after countless warnings, so this time,feeling rage building up in him again, he got up, dismissed his council and while they left, grabbed Dwalin from his shoulder and kept him behind. The door was open, other council members were still leaving, and Thorin knew his guards would hear them, but that was his point – he wanted one especially dumb one to hear every word he was about to pass to Dwalin.
Thorin often kept him back to discuss the matters of security or weaponry, so he was surprised by what Thorin said next.
“Are you sure Bofur is taking his duties seriously?”
Dwalin frowned, taken back by his King’s question. Why would he doubt in Bofur all of a sudden?
“What do you mean?”
“He’s always laughing, distracting others with his jokes and singing.” He said thoughtfully, eyes fixed on the backs of the guards standing outside the door. They were stiff, especially Bofur’s, whose head had suddenly bowed to his chest. Thorin smirked, seeing how his words were making its way through his guard’s hollow head.
Dwalin flipped his eyes between the two, frowning hard. He found it hard to comprehend, why hadn’t Thorin just taken Bofur aside to tell it to himself. Or why he would require him to do it, when it was obvious Bofur could hear them.
“I’ll see to it that he behaves according to his status.” He bowed and left, eyes on the slumped shoulders of Ori and his shy glances towards Bofur, whose eyes were fixed on the stones before his feet. Unblinking, he looked like one of the statues raised in honor of the fallen in the war. He continued walking, not hinting them, when he would take up scolding them. He sighed knowing he had no reason to take Bofur aside for the little chat. Not later or ever. Thorin had done it pretty well himself.
It was Bofur’s nature. He couldn’t help trying to lighten the mood, when they sat through long tiresome hours of staring at the closed doors. It was his way of coping. Silence was the enemy of warriors; Dwalin knew this better than anyone, and for a dwarf, who had never seen so much horror than they had in their journey silence would make a bad company. He was miner and toymaker. What possessed Thorin to make him one of his High Guards was lost to Dwalin or anyone, who knew Bofur.
But that was it – Thorin didn’t knew him before Balin had offered them to join in. They had met the two brothers long before leaving, but as the only ones, who were not Thorin’s kin, he got most tedious tasks.
After Dwalin left, Thorin was left pleased at first. The laughing bursts had ended and he could spend his day in silence. But the joy was gone, when he wished his men good night like he had become accustomed and Bofur wouldn’t meet his eyes or respond at all. Polite nod accompanied with light bow was all he got. He nearly shouted at him to stop this act before remembering he had caused it himself.
He watched them leave with Ori and saw younger dwarf stepping closer and poke their friend, but was lightly pushed away, leaving Ori looking rather taken by it. Thorin shook his head and thought he’ll get over the scolding in few days and would be back to his tricks and taunting jokes in no time.
He couldn’t be more wrong. In his next shift Bofur was stiff and dead silent. He followed Thorin and when before he would nod happily to acquaintances, then now his eyes were fixed solely on the floor under king’s boots and he raised his look only to scan over any none-dwarf they met on their walks. No more jokes that would lighten the mood.
Thorin realized suddenly that without him disrupting him, he had much less interaction with them too. Bofur’s solemn posture and seriousness somehow forced others follow his example. And it always ended the same way – slight bow and nod and the duo walked away as if his scolding had happened on just that day.
When it happened once, then second and finally tenth shift he realized Bofur wasn’t taking it as lightly as he had guessed. It ticked him off each time he did it and he found himself pacing before the fire in his room, angry how personally the toymaker was taking it. He had started referring him toymaker the second time he pissed him off with his polite respect. Damn his politeness! Why couldn’t he just get drunk, speak his mind to Balin or whoever of the Company happened to be getting drunk with him and get over it? But no!
He decided to get this over with on the feast he had planned in honor of his Company on the end of the next week. He hoped the change of atmosphere would do Toymaker good while he quietly inquired others on why his punishment had gone so wrong. Hopefully referring the entire incident in past tense by then.
He deliberately didn’t let Bofur and Gloin go on that evening and had them walk in the great hall with him. He wanted to be sure they came with him. He let them go there, but the moment he did, the toymaker gave him light bow and left with Gloin to change. He felt cliff build up in his chest, when he only saw Gloin return. Only after an hour, when the rest had eased in conversations with others did he walk over Gloin, Dwalin and Fili with mind set on smoking that toymaker out of his cave.
“Where’s Bofur?” he asked them after greetings. It was meant for Gloin, he’d seen him last. He watched his friends stiffen in his scrutinizing stare and wrapped his arms to hide his palms forming into fists. “Let’s have it!”
“He said he has to check on the miners. Promised to come after that.” Gloin said, clearing his throat hit the dry note.
“All the miners are here. I gave them free night so everybody could join in.” Thorin announced with serious threat toning his voice. They looked aside, wincing.
He pulled Dwalin aside. “Bofur is lying to us. I want to know what he is up to!”
“Thorin, I don’t think Bofur is up to anything, he’s just…”
“Check him over!” he insisted again, hissing the words in his ears before walking away to join the group, where Balin was expressing his joy over good drink and smiling as if nothing was wrong.
Fili walked over to Dwalin, drinking his beer. “Better do it, master Dwalin.” Fili never cared to call him lord, even after they received the titles.
“He knows well what’s wrong with him!” Dwalin growled.
“We all do. But if he needs it on paper, put it on paper for him!”
“And then what?” Dwalin took new beer from Gloin, who joined the duo, “He’ll accuse him of deceiving the crown and make him leave, disgraced?”
“We’ll see that it doesn’t get that far, I promise. Bofur has been loyal friend in our Company, he will remain as one!”
“If we can convince Bofur in it!” Gloin added grimly.
Filis eyebrows curled up in surprised. “What do you mean by that?”
“Well, he is nearly speaking with any of us, now is he? Since he and Ori heard Thorin make the complaint to Dwalin it’s been breakfast-duties-dinner-washing-sleep!”
“He’s upset, that’s all,” Dwalin tried to ease the situation, but it came out rougher than he expected.
“Upset doesn’t mean sewing up his lips, so to say!” Gloin retorted.
“You make Thorin that report!” Fili finished his drink, his eyes on Thorin’s fur coat. “We’ll find the way to raise his mood again!”
Thorin was still near enough to hear what they were discussing, dismissing Balin’s chitchat completely. He thought he was angry at first, but now he wasn’t sure if it was worry or guilt instead. His mind refused to make up excuses for himself. But friend in despair or not – he couldn’t have any of them lying to him! It was disloyalty and if it came out he allowed it, he would be forced to use far severe methods to stop it than sending Dwalin to deal with toymaker’s mistake.
Dwalin arrived with his report two days later. He was standing grim as usual facing the fire and stalled with starting. After Balin left, realizing why his brother hadn’t opened his mouth so far, Thorin discard his current guards, Bifur and Gloin to stand further away before joining Dwalin next to the fire. He wanted to be sure they didn’t hear them this time.
“How is he, my friend?” he asked him quietly.
“I’m not sure…” Dwalin sounded serious.
It didn’t promise good news, Thorin shook his head once. He didn’t ask further though, giving time to Dwalin to find his words.
“Nori says he leaves his quarters for breakfast, return to change, then goes on his post, skips lunch – for weeks now as he noted – finishes his work, joins the last group for dinner and then locks himself in his quarters again.”
Thorin frowned, images of Bofur standing behind him with fixed eyes on the floor. “And what does he do in his quarters?” He asked, dismissing the memory.
He left out what Nori had told him – how he stared in the fire for hours. Or how he tossed his flute in the fire, only to get it out moments later and clean it and then set it aside again.
“Sleeps?” he shouted, disappointed. In his heart, he was delighted. But he was worried now. Bofur could be found anywhere else – on a party, in washing rooms, singing or playing flute to children. Or whistling tunes while he hopped past others towards the mines. But sleeping?
Dwalin wasn’t about to repeat himself. “He isn’t fine, that much I’m sure. In all the years I’ve known him, I have never seen him act like that.”
“I know.” It slipped out of his mouth before Thorin realized he had even thought it.
Dwalin frowned and looked up. “You know?”
“He hasn’t looked me in the eye since that evening and now he’s making up excuses not to join in the party? You could practically always find the nearest pub by his flute play, wasn’t that how you described him? Clearly something’s not right!”he shouted, before adding in whisper: “He’s not coping with his new position, is he?”
“For someone, who isn’t born in the position, he is doing better than I expected. But he doesn’t understand the rules yet. He is making mistakes and the more he makes, the less he feels confident he can pull this off. Chiding was the last straw.”
“I don’t care if he makes mistakes! As long as they are bending down with the wrong knee or which side he should wear his sword! He has earned his place! He has the right to get it wrong!”
“He doesn’t see it that way.” Dwalin didn’t spear him. “He has good heart, but he hasn’t been in position, where people look up to you.”
“That doesn’t explain why he is suddenly lying to us.”
“He is trying to follow your wishes – take his position seriously.”
“He is overdoing it!”
“Should I have a word with him?”
“No.” Thorin didn’t look up, but he knew Dwalin’s eyes were on him. “He is probably pondering over his current punishment. If we try to tell him he got it wrong, it will only add to his…” He couldn’t even find the proper word to describe it. “We need to do it quietly, somehow get him off that idea that he is not allowed to make mistakes anymore.”
“You miss him disrupting your meetings?”
He let out a snort. “I’m that obvious, huh? Toymaker gave me reason to come out and take in some much needed fresh air. Now his pestering mood is flooding my meeting room!”
If Dwalin even allowed himself to think that Thorin had fallen on his own trap, he didn’t show it. The Toymaker, as Thorin so fondly had called him, had cut their King’s heart out and locked it up with him in his quarters.