A Dwarf's Pride

Disclaimer: I own nothing but a great respect for Tolkien.


The Elvenking

There were no shackles, and no ropes, but the dwarves were very aware that, were they to try and escape, there would instantly be a significant amount of arrows pointing their way, and quite possibly an even greater number of them running through their arms and legs.

Not that any of them was thinking about running away, anyway; some of them, such as Bofur and Balin, were still suffering from the spider venom. As for the others, the violent tussle with the eight-legged abominations had drained whatever energy they had left. They were all struggling to keep up with the elves' long legs through the forest, and an unfriendly shove awaited those who happened to stumble over roots and rocks.

Thorin was probably given the hardest time in the group. Each of his arms was firmly held by an elf, and they were walking at such a brisk pace that he swore his heavy boots left the ground once or twice. It was highly unpleasant, and the inability to quench the urge to wipe the remaining spider webs from his eyes wasn't helping. His dark mane was damp and some strands were glued to his nape in a sticky mess; if the violent pounding at the back of his skull was any indication, his head was bleeding from somewhere.

Kili's weary voice came from behind Thorin in a panicked whisper. "Uncle, where are they taking us?"

Immediately followed by a whacking sound and a very dwarvish grunt. "Be silent, dwarf. Where we are taking you is of no concern to you."

The fact that Kili didn't bite back any smart comment spoke volumes about the young dwarf's exhausted state. The dwarven king felt worry over his nephew's health swell in his chest and, not for the first time since leaving Ered Luin, wondered just why he had allowed his sister's sons to accompany him on this quest. Should all three of them fall, the line of Durin would forever fade to nothing.

They walked for what seemed like days, but were probably no more than a couple hours. Long enough, though, for Bombur to faint and end up being half-dragged, half-carried by three elves – whom, to Thorin's satisfaction, were turning quite red in the face from the huge dwarf's weight. And long enough as well for the dwarven king to notice his company was missing its burglar. The light-footed hobbit was nowhere to be seen, and while Thorin knew he had his own fate to worry about, he couldn't help but wish Bilbo hadn't been killed by the spiders.

Though Thorin had made it clear to Gandalf that he would not go out of his way to ensure Bilbo's safety, he was beginning to doubt his own words. Far from being the burden the dwarven king initially thought he would be, the hobbit had proven not only that he was able to take care of himself, but that he could be of great help to the company. Ever since that fight with Azog, ever since Bilbo put himself between Thorin and certain death, the black-haired dwarf found himself caring more about the hobbit's well-being than before. He made sure to always have the smaller fellow in his eyesight, be it while walking, during dinner or before sleep. He was, after all, the leader of the company, and looking after its members was something to be expected of him.

Let us hope he is only following us from afar, hidden in the shadows, Thorin thought to himself before a particularly nasty pull on his arms drew a low growl from his throat.

His musings about Bilbo were interrupted when they came to a very high and carved door, befitting of a palace, which Thorin instantly recoiled from. Pieces of the puzzle were finally clicking into place in his mind; the blond-haired elves, south of Greenwood, the one that the others had called "Legolas"… they were being taken to the foulest, the most detestable elf king known to Middle-Earth.

King Thranduil.

Thorin's step back earned him a harsh tug on his worn-out arms and a swift hit to the back of the skull, which made his already throbbing head spin and almost wrenched a pained grunt from his lips. But he bit his tongue and walked through the doors as they opened, if only to get the whole company inside and away from the vile beasts in the forest.

Once they were all inside the palace, the heavy doors closed behind them and mild darkness engulfed them. Instinctively, the dwarves stepped closer to one another, seeking reassurance in their kin's proximity, and Thorin soon felt Kili's shoulder digging into his back. He couldn't blame his young nephew, really. When the elves released his arms and went to speak to a few guards, Thorin reached back and gave Kili's elbow – or what felt like his elbow – a comforting pat.

"Where in Mahal's name are we?" Bofur whispered from somewhere to the left.

"Those are the elves of Mirkwood, the ones Gandalf told us about, I reckon," Balin said from the back of the group. "They are probably taking us to their leader."

Before Thorin could tell the others that Balin was right, they were once again searched by the elves, but this time they were divested of each and every piece of armor they owned. After a lot of weak but indignant cries of protest, the dwarves were left in their dirty shirts and dingy breeches, and watched on sadly as their weapons and their supplies were taken away by elven guards.

They were left to wait in the dark hall, huddled together like frightened cattle on a stormy night. Thorin could hear his companions whispering behind his back, he could feel their pain and their frustration. He wanted nothing more than to punch their elven guardians in their hairless, unblemished faces and barrel through the main gates to freedom. But he felt so powerless…

As his eyes became accustomed to the lack of light, he recognized the elf called Legolas coming through a door on the left side of the hall. He hadn't even seen the blond-haired menace leave.

Legolas strode purposefully over to his kin and blabbered some elvish words which meaning were lost to Thorin, but seemed to surprise the others. A heated conversation followed, and although the dwarven king strained his ears and dug deep into his memories for any elvish vocabulary he might possess, he understood none of it.

His lack of control angered him and when Legolas approached him, he crossed his arms in a defiant posture. "Are we to even know what you intend to do with us, or are you not brave enough to speak a language we can understand?" he growled fiercely.

Muffled noises of approval echoed from the company of dwarves as Legolas' eyes narrowed dangerously. "If you must know, dwarf, my father wishes to speak with you." His cold gaze ran over the rest of the group. "All of you. Get moving."

It took a few shoves but the dwarves started walking again. They left the hall and travelled deeper into the palace, led by half a dozen elven guards.

The entire structure looked like it had been carved inside an enormous tree, yet the walls were for the most part made of rock. Small bridges criss-crossed over abysmal depths and allowed them to go from one room to another. The dwarves may have been weary and frustrated, yet most of them were awed by the palace's beautiful conception. Ori was even outwardly gawking at the otherworldly lanterns hanging down from the high ceiling, shining soft white light upon them.

If Thorin found the palace interesting, he never let it show. No, his blue eyes were trained ahead, searching for their destination, until they fell on a very large, very high wooden seat with giant antlers sitting on top. And a face he had last seen staring down at him from the top of a hill, as a dragon reduced a dwarven kingdom to ashes.

A face he would have been glad not to see for another century.

Although he knew fairly well that he couldn't be seen, Bilbo took extra care not to touch anything or anyone as he followed the dwarves deep into the palace. He nervously fingered his ring as he stalked the company, hoping his padded feet weren't making any noise. If the loud ruckus made by the dwarven boots was any indication, sounds had a tendency to bounce off every wall, making a burglar's job ten times harder.

Bilbo's poor hobbit heart ached as he studied his dwarven companions – friends, he reminded himself, I'm fooling myself if I think they are any less than that, now. While Bombur had regained some of his balance, it was now Fili's turn to have treacherous legs. Indeed the blond-haired prince staggered from left to right and was all but leaning on his younger brother. Bilbo remembered Kili being stung by a large spider with green patterns adorning its abdomen, before Dwalin punched its horrible head off.

Bofur's beaming grin was nowhere to be seen, and Bifur's mad gibberish remained in check. Even Dwalin's shoulders were slumped, a posture which was completely unbecoming of the great warrior. Gloin was holding his older brother's arm to keep him from slipping and plummeting down to the palace's depths, and Oin kept half-heartedly telling him he was fine while swatting at him weakly. Balin, his white beard wrapped up in dirty spider webs, was panting heavily, and his old legs were visibly shaking even from where Bilbo was standing. The hobbit noticed that, thankfully, the elf walking beside Balin didn't shove the old dwarf or bark at him to hurry up. Quite the contrary, as the elven guard's hand shot up a few times to steady Balin when he almost tripped.

As for Nori, Dori and Ori, they looked like they were in good shape, given the circumstances. All three brothers were staring around them in wonder and Bilbo had no trouble at all deciphering their respective thoughts. Dori was probably estimating the time it took to build the high pillars supporting the palace, and how many elves had taken part in it. Ori, judging by the crestfallen expression that overpowered his features every now and then, was more than likely mourning the loss of his sketchbook, for nobody back in Ered Luin would believe him should he try to describe the palace to his friends. And Nori, well… the thief's eyes were restlessly darting back and forth, from the elves' golden brooches to the silver lanterns. An open book.

Eventually, Bilbo's eyes rested upon Thorin, who was leading the way. The hobbit cringed at the blood coating the back of the dwarf's shirt; there must be a wound somewhere in that dark mass of hair. Still, the rightful king of Erebor walked with his head held high, his chest puffed up with pride as if he was standing victorious on a battlefield in full armor, and not being held prisoner in nothing but a worn-out shirt.

Bilbo had to give him that; Thorin was a stubborn, brooding kind of a king, but a king no less. And when the dwarf came to stop, his blue eyes were glaring ahead defiantly, an unspoken challenge palpable in the cobalt orbs.

Stop? Why did he stop?

Bilbo was so engrossed in his observations that he hadn't noticed the group had come to a halt, and that he was well on his way to collide with the elf bringing up the rear. His eyes widened and he brutally stopped walking, thus avoiding a disaster.

Bilbo Baggins! You are the only hope this company has left, don't you dare mess it up!

Willing his knees to stop shaking from the dreadful mistake he had almost made, Bilbo looked up to see what had caused the dwarves to stop walking, and his breath was stolen away.

Atop the sumptuous throne, all draped in silver-lined white robes, sat the most beautiful elf Bilbo had ever seen. A pair of icy blue eyes was staring calmly down at the company of dwarves from an unmarred face, and though the elf's golden hair looked impossibly long, it was neatly tucked behind finely-shaped ears by a crown of berries and autumn leaves weaved together. Flawless hands were softly stroking an oaken staff, silver and pearl rings shining as they caught light from the lanterns above.

The Elvenking.

"Thorin Oakenshield."

There was some agitation as Thorin was pulled from the group to stand alone in front of the Sindar, and the rest of the dwarves were made to wait a respectable distance away from the throne. Bilbo debated whether or not he should try to get closer, but a patrol of elves coming from behind him stole the decision from his hands. Quiet as a mouse, the hobbit clambered over rocks until he was crouching on a boulder, his back resting against a pillar, midway between the dwarves and the throne.

Softly sighing in relief, Bilbo then strained his ears and listened to the conversation going on between Thorin and the Elvenking.

The elf had risen from his seat, leaving his wooden staff behind to circle the dwarf, much like a wolf would a sheep. "I wasn't expecting you so soon, Thorin, son of Thrain," the Firstborn said, and his voice was like velvet to Bilbo's ears. It was hard to think of this beautiful being as an enemy, but Bilbo's loyalty to Thorin could not be swayed so easily.

So when the dwarven king's shoulders tensed and his arms crossed, Bilbo knew he had to be wary of the Elvenking.

"You speak as though you knew we were coming," Thorin said, refusing to follow the elf's movements with his eyes as the Sindar walked around him.

"Indeed." The Elvenking held his arms behind his back as he paced, his blue eyes almost amused as they travelled from Thorin to his twelve companions. "I knew there would be a time when we would meet again, Thorin Oakenshield. I know all about your purpose here."

Thorin snorted, a sound Bilbo had long acknowledged was the equivalent of a mocking laugh coming from the dwarf. "I do not believe you, elf."

But the Elvenking ignored him, choosing instead to stare at the immensity of his palace as he resumed talking. "Some may imagine that a noble quest in at hand. A quest to reclaim a homeland… and slay a dragon."

The golden-haired Sindar chuckled under his breath and Bilbo saw Thorin's eyes widen for half a second before the dwarf's customary scowl settled back on his features. Behind the hobbit, the other dwarves were whispering among themselves, surprised that the Elvenking knew of their quest.

"I, myself, suspect a more prosaic motive. Attempted burglary, or something of that ilk." The slender elf leaned in and for the first time met Thorin's eyes, seeking surprise and bewilderment in the cobalt pools. But when he found nothing but defiance and pride, the Elvenking frowned slightly and once more stood tall, looking down at Thorin with contempt.

When he spoke again, his voice had lost its silky edge, and Bilbo instantly found him less enchanting. "You have found a way in. You seek that which would bestow upon you the right to rule. A King's jewel."

"The Arkenstone," Bilbo whispered as the elf said it out loud.

It was a good thing Thorin had steeled himself, for the King of the Woodland Realm's next words would have caught him off guard. "It is precious to you beyond measure. I understand that."

The elf stopped walking to stand before his throne as Thorin blinked and visibly tried to decipher the words that had just been uttered. With a soft smile, the elf pursued. "There are gems in the mountain that I too desire. White gems of pure starlight. Which is why I offer you my help."

Understanding dawned on Thorin's face as the Elvenking finally revealed himself. He smiled then, what Bilbo really hoped was a sincere smile, should the mocking edges of the dwarven king's mouth pass unseen.

"I am listening," Thorin finally said in his deep, baritone voice, which sent Bilbo's hopes even higher.

"I will let you go, if you but return what is mine."

Fair enough. If the gems were his to begin with, parting with them shouldn't be that much of a bother to Thorin.

But it was the black-haired dwarf's turn to pace, turning his back to the King as he swept his eyes over the throne room. "A favor for a favor, then," he pondered out loud.

"You have my word. One King to another," the Sindar nodded.

It wasn't going to be as hard as Bilbo thought it would be, getting the dwarves out of the palace. The hobbit almost giggled with glee; soon their weapons would be returned and they would be on their way again. Surely a few gems meant nothing in comparison to the endless riches of Erebor the company had spoken about.

But then Thorin chuckled darkly, and Bilbo's smile faltered.

"I would not trust Thranduil, the Great King, to honor his word, should the end of all days be upon us!" By the end of his sentence, the dwarf warrior was shouting, and he whirled around to face a very surprised Elvenking. "You lack all honor! I have seen how you treat your friend! We came to you once, starving, homeless, seeking your help. But you turned your back!" With his teeth bared, Thorin was more warg than dwarf to Bilbo. "You turned away from the suffering of my people and the inferno that destroyed us!"

There was a pause as Thranduil was left speechless, but Thorin wasn't quite finished. "Imrid amrad ursul!"

There were anguished cries from the other dwarves at this, and Bilbo tried to remember Khuzdul lessons given to him by Bofur to understand Bifur. There was something about death, and flames… whatever it was, it didn't sound very nice at all.

Thranduil, as for him, probably understood Khuzdul for he strode up to Thorin with an angry snarl on his perfect features. "Do not speak to me of dragon fire! I know its wrath and ruin."

Bilbo's eyes widened in surprise and it was all he could do not to gasp out loud when the left side of the Elvenking's face seemed to melt away, revealing badly burnt skin and a missing eye. If Thorin was moved by the rather ugly injury, he never let it show, for he was still positively seething.

"I have faced the great serpents of the North," Thranduil growled as way of explanation and stepped back, his face thankfully returning to normal. Quite upset, the Elvenking returned to his throne, reminding Bilbo of a miffed bird with ruffled feathers. The insult seemed to have angered him badly, yet when he spoke his voice was dangerously calm. "I warned your grandfather of what his greed would summon, but he would not listen."

Thranduil sat once more on his throne, seizing his oaken staff in one hand as he fixed a cold stare on Thorin. "You are just like him. Arrogant. Simple-minded. Unaffected by others' pain, as long as you get what you want."

"Do not speak ill of my grandfather," Thorin growled, "or Mahal help me, I-"

"And what exactly do you intend to do, King Without a Mountain? You are here alone, without weapons, and surrounded by my kin. Now this is a situation I quite remember being turned around not so long ago…" Thranduil gave his carven staff a soft stroke. "Your grandfather took great pleasure in humiliating me in front of my people, all those decades ago…"

Thorin looked like he was making an effort to remember, then he frowned further. "Those gems were never yours to begin with, you had no right-"

"Do you have any idea of what it feels like to be shamed in front of your kin, and be powerless to stop it? No, of course." Thranduil sighed. "Then I shall endeavor to show you. Legolas!"

Bilbo turned his head in time to see the elf who had been walking beside Balin stride past him and up to the throne. A few elvish words were exchanged and in a heartbeat, the two armored elves standing guard on either side of the throne marched over to Thorin and grabbed his upper arms.

"What is the meaning of this?" the dwarven king hissed, struggling to free himself but to no avail. For all his bravado, he was just as worn out as the rest of the company.

"While revenge is not something I hold dear, I deem it quite useful at times. Times such as this one." Thranduil settled down comfortably in his wooden throne and gestured to the one called Legolas. "I believe you have met my son, dwarf. Through him I shall teach you a valuable lesson: never anger an immortal, for we hold everlasting grudges."

Another word from the Elvenking and Legolas drew forth a knife. The blade was short but looked like it could cut through stone if need be. Bilbo's breath caught in his throat. What do I do now? How do I save Thorin? Oh, stupid Took blood, where are you when I need you most?

The other dwarves too seemed to have caught sight of the knife, for growls and shouts were erupting to Bilbo's left. The princes' voices were the loudest, laden with threats and promises of death if any harm was to come to their uncle.

"Kill me, and see the only hope of ever seeing Smaug destroyed die with me," Thorin seethed from between his captors.

"Oh, but it is not my intention to kill you, Thorin Oakenshield. See it rather as a lesson of humility, something you seem to lack terribly. Legolas, proceed."

Slowly – almost reluctantly, Bilbo noted – the younger elf walked over to Thorin. A long, uncomfortable staring battle was engaged then, as dread and apprehension weighed heavily on every onlooker.

It wasn't until the first clump of hair hit the ground that the Elvenking's purpose became clear.

Bilbo could only watch helplessly as Legolas cut away at Thorin's hair, and the outraged scream that barrelled through the dwarven king's lips mirrored the one the hobbit wished he could let out.

Everything dissolved into chaos from this moment on; the sounds of the silver beads from Thorin's braids hitting the ground was covered by howls and roars from all thirteen dwarves. While Thorin tried with all his might to escape the offending blade, Kili and Fili pushed their own captors away and rushed to their uncle. They didn't make it very far, however, as two more guards kicked them to the ground.

Those of the dwarves who had enough energy, such as Dwalin, Gloin and Nori, were shouting threats at the top of their lungs, verbally hacking off every appendage the Elvenking might possess, both in common tongue and in Khuzdul. The others were simply avoiding looking at Thorin, as if his mere sight would hurt them.

Bilbo's heart nearly broke when he caught sight of Balin. The old dwarf had fallen to his knees and was staring at the scene in front of him, mouth slightly agape and eyes filled up with tears. On the ground next to Balin, Bifur was curled up, eyes tightly shut and hands clamped over his ears.

When the knife moved from his hair to his beard, Thorin's rage increased tenfold and he snarled as a rabbid warg would, feet lashing out to kick at Legolas, but a well-placed punch to the ribs from an armored fist had him choking.

It was over before long. When Legolas slipped his knife back into its sheath, all that remained of Thorin's grey-streaked black mane lay in clumps haphazardly distributed on his skull. His beard had suffered the same fate, and fresh cuts, a result of the king's strong struggle, were slowly oozing blood down his cheeks and onto the ground.

But his eyes… his eyes were no longer holding pride and defiance. They were shining with anger, hate… and terror.

"Stay here if you will, and rot," Thranduil spoke up, almost bored, and gestured for the guards to take them all away. "A hundred years is a mere blink in the life of an Elf. I am patient. I can wait."

"Ishkh khakfe andu null!" Thorin yelled as he was dragged away, almost foaming through bared teeth as his boots stepped over grey and black locks that once stood proud on his head.

This only made the Elvenking smile. "I would love to see you try."

It took some time and a great deal of stealth, but Bilbo managed to collect all the beads that had been cut away from Thorin's hair before an elf came to clean the throne room up. Some were still attached to bits of braids, but Bilbo stuffed everything in his pockets to be sorted out later. He then scampered out in search of his dwarven friends.

It wasn't very hard, really. All he had to do was follow the loud ruckus that the company had the tendency to leave in its wake, and he soon found himself down in some kind of dungeon.

Each dwarf had his own cell, carved directly into stone, with bars as wide as Bilbo's legs. But this did not seem to deter the dwarves, for most of them were throwing themselves against their doors to try and break free.

"Again!" Gloin yelped as his bruised shoulder hit the iron bars with little success.

"Leave it!" a tired, broken voice that once belonged to Balin snapped. "There is no way out! This is no Orc dungeon, these are the Halls of the Woodland Realm. No one leaves here but by the King's consent."

"And it is very unlikely we're going to get that, brother," Dwalin grunted, leaning against a wall. "We're going to rot in here for the next decade or so, if not more."

"Did anyone see where they took Uncle Thorin?" Kili asked timidly from another cell sitting atop a few steps. "Is he nearby? I can't hear him."

"He is not with us, lad," Balin answered sadly.

"Then what is going to happen to him?"

"I wish I knew, lad. I really do."

"Thorin shouldn't have insulted the King," Dori moaned from the ground of his cell, where he sat propped up against the wall. "Our only hope was to strike a deal with the elves. Now, only Mahal knows how much time we are going to remain stuck in here!"

As his curiosity was peaked, Bilbo checked around for any guard before he took off his ring. "Only until I find a way to get all of you out of here," he whispered, stepping out of the shadows.

When the dwarves cheered and called his name, Bilbo quickly shushed them, raising his hands. It took a while for them to calm down and keep their voices low, lest they attract elves to the dungeon.

"We thought we had lost you to the spiders!" Ori said quietly, happiness shining in his eyes.

"No, I followed you from a distance, I was never too far away."

"Mister Gandalf was right, you are a remarkable burglar," Bofur grinned, his head nestled between the bars of his cell.

"Have you seen where Uncle Thorin was taken, Bilbo?" Kili asked under his breath.

The young dwarf's voice was heavy with hope, and the hobbit sighed sadly. "No, Kili, I'm sorry. I could only locate the twelve of you, mostly thanks to the racket you were making. I don't know where your uncle is."

Kili nodded slowly and slid to the ground, leaning his chin on his raised knees under his older brother's defeated gaze.

Bilbo's tongue was itching with a thousand questions, yet he chose to give the dwarves a moment of peace before he asked the first one. "Why did Thorin reject the Elvenking's help? I mean… I know he's not exactly in Thorin's good books, but wouldn't it have been simpler to just say yes?"

Balin snorted. "Thorin is a good lad, better than most. But he often mistakes pride and arrogance. He couldn't bear to accept help from someone who once turned their back on him."

"So, that's it? It's not even about the gems Thranduil wanted?"

"That." Balin sighed, for once betraying just how old and tired he was. "That's an even older story. Back when Thror was still King Under the Mountain, dwarves and elves used to trade goods. When we only lacked food, as the Lonely Mountain didn't have much to offer in terms of hunting grounds, the elves would often buy gems, precious stones and on a few occasions, jewelry. Thranduil especially fancied the white gems from the northern side of the mountain."

Bilbo sat on the ground in front of Balin's cell, listening intently. If he tried hard, he could just pretend that they were back on the road, and this was just another story told around the fire.

"Nobody remembers what went wrong first. Dwarves say Thranduil refused to pay his tribute to Thror. I've been told Elves accused Thror of stealing what was rightfully theirs. No one really knows what transpired then."

"I'll tell you what happened," Dwalin growled. "Damn elves wanted to have the gems for free, that's what."

"No one really knows," Balin repeated firmly. "Still, Elves of Greenwood and Dwarves of Erebor never spoke much with each other after that. Thranduil felt humiliated, and Thror… well, my guess is that gold-sickness already had a strong hold on his heart, and he just took little interest in everything else."

"Refusing to give the damn gems was not enough, Thorin had to go and insult the elf," Nori grumbled. "Maybe he wouldn't have thrown us in cells if our dear King had watched his tongue."

"Well, wishing for someone to die in flames isn't exactly considered polite, even by dwarvish standards," Dwalin shrugged, giving Bilbo a pointed look.

"Were I in Uncle's boots, I would have said much worse," Fili said.

"Is that what he said? I knew there was something about fire in there…" Bilbo mused. "Your language is kind of unique, I wish I had more time to learn… And that other thing he said, before he left? I don't think I ever heard it before."

There were a few chuckles among the dwarves, and Bilbo wondered what he had said that was this funny. "Of course you've never heard those words, my friend," Bofur grinned weakly. "Thorin basically said that he would… how can I put it… well, that he would gladly empty buckets of excrements over Thranduil's ancestors' heads."


"And I am giving you the polite version here, Thorin was quite understandably shaken after they… well, after he was…"

"After they cut his hair and beard you mean?" Bilbo asked innocently.

The hobbit almost jumped when Bifur howled, curling up against the bars of his cell. The mood grew dark once more as every pair of eyes turned downwards to stare at the polished ground. Uncomfortable silence settled, broken only by Bifur's uncontrolled whimpers and the occasional shifting from the other dwarves.

"Is it… that bad?" Bilbo asked tentatively, feeling that it was possibly a sensible topic. But he had to know.

"A dwarf's hair and beard are his greatest pride, mister Baggins," Balin supplied. "To rob a male dwarf of both is highly disrespectful, and causes great distress and dishonor."

"But I don't understand, Thorin keeps his beard rather short, I've seen him shave more than once," Bilbo said, frowning.

"The meaning is not the same when a dwarf chooses to cut his beard himself. Thorin shaves because he never wants to forget Erebor, where many dwarves lost their own hair and beards to dragon fire. It is an act of penitence that is respected amongst our people. But when the act is openly carried out by another person, it is merely a display of power, to ascertain dominance of one person over another."

"Long story short, master burglar," Dwalin growled out, "it's almost as if they raped Thorin in front of us."

The words flew and slapped Bilbo hard in the face. He had never expected… well, he had figured out that it had to be something of high importance, since it seemed to set the dwarves on edge. But this… "You can't be serious," he whispered, astonished.

"This is very serious, Bilbo," Gloin muttered from his cell. "Especially for Durin's folk."

"And other clans as well," Bofur piped in, frowning for once. "Us Broadbeams value our beard and hair as much as you do. Why, when Bifur and I were younger, we ran into some orcs in the woods and-" The black-haired dwarf winced when another wail came from his cousin's cell, hardly muffled this time. "Well, he won an axe to the forehead in exchange for his lost braids that day."

There were voices coming from the passageway on Bilbo's right, and his mind went alert once more. "I have to go," he said hurriedly, already fishing his ring out of his pocket. "I'll find a way to get you out of here, all of you, I swear."

"Please Bilbo, find Uncle Thorin," Kili pleaded softly. "Tell him we do not think less of him!"

"We are not leaving without him," the hobbit promised. "Hold on, all of you. Before you know it, we will be back on the road and gazing at the Lonely Mountain."