He was not cut out for an adventurer's life, the hobbit. He was a small thing, beardless and soft, able to be lifted with one hand by even the weakest of dwarves. No, he was not cut out to join us, and yet the wizard had insisted that he was a perfect burglar. I couldn't see it; the Halfling was quick, I'd give him that, but he wasn't much else. Not cunning, not treacherous, but witty, kind. He was sure-footed, if overly cautious. Good conversation, perhaps, at least if one was particularly desperate. But an adventurer, a burglar? No, no, not in my wildest dreams could he have been either of those things.
He was but a grocer, as I'd said upon meeting him. A silly little grocer with small hands and large feet and a curly mop of honeyed hair. One who babbled on about propriety and handkerchiefs and yet walked around in that frankly indecent clothing. Not even the most lascivious of dwarves would wander about in his daily wear! It simply wasn't done. And yet he would not even so much as clap one of his party on the back for a job done well, for a good meal, a good fight! He called it improper, the way we consorted with one another. I called him a burden, and truly, he was. He could hardly ride even the smallest of the ponies, he distracted everyone with his talks of the shire, of his home, of himself and his relatives and his friends.
My nephews were especially bad for this; they'd walk beside him, each with an arm slung over his shoulder, their bodies hunched just so in order to allow them to all walk comfortably, and they would all just talk. Fili and Kili, each of them barely more than dwarflings, barely old enough to come along on this quest, would tell foolish jokes that made the Halfling's gently rounded face light up, his pale brown eyes flash, and the hobbit would do the same. It slowed us, the talking and the laughter, and it was dangerous; who knew what could hear it? It wasn't as if we needed help drawing the orcs to us.
Tonight, however, it seemed that things would be worse than was usual. We'd just made camp and gotten a fire set up, gotten food cooking, and Bilbo had gotten the remainder of the company settled around him whilst he told a story. I supposed, at least, it wasn't one about elves this time; he'd learned rather quickly that my kin had no fondness for such tales. Instead it was one about his own people, the single attack ever made on a hobbit village, the single time his sort ever went into battle. He smiled when he told it, his hands making wide gestures, and it was nothing like dwarven storytelling. In place of songs there were jokes, exaggerations. It was… a unique experience, I supposed, but I tried not to be drawn in by it.
He was such a foolish, weak little creature, made soft by years of living in his forgotten little hole in the ground in his forgotten little village. Hobbits knew nothing of the world, I decided, were innocent and naïve of it. They were not built for the current state of things, for dragons and quests. Yet here this one sat, among us as if he were one of us, as if he belonged. He never would, however; he couldn't. No matter what the wizard said. He was an old fool anyway, blurry eyed and slow. He'd not know a good burglar if one stole his gold.
The hobbit looked to me and smiled that brilliant smile, gently curving on his face. Such simple creatures, hobbits were, caring only for a full belly and a soft bed. They looked at gold as if it were worthless, at the craft my people excelled in as if it were a fool's errand. I bared my teeth at him for a mere moment, too quickly for it to be considered on purpose, and looked away. The little creature deflated a bit, and his story lost some of its pep. It was then that Balin stood and moved to me, his steps a touch slow, a touch hobbling. He had a particular reprimanding look on his face that reminded me far too much of days in the mountain long before, when I was hardly more than Fili's age.
"He's proven his worth already, Thorin, with the trolls. You must be a bit kinder to him, don't you think? Your nephews absolutely adore him, Kili especially. You could very well be seeing quite a bit more of him at journey's end, if something comes of that." He spoke softly so that only I could hear him. I at least appreciated that, I supposed. I took it a step farther, however, and spoke in Khudzul, as I'd heard before that hobbits had excellent hearing, like the elves whose ears they shared, and I didn't want to test how excellent it truly was.
"My nephews are children and they are fools. They find him interesting only because they've never seen such a soft creature before. Once the newness wears off they will see how idiotic it is to like such a thing." Balin sighed and shook his head, his hand heavy upon my shoulder. "As for the trolls, we'd have never had a problem if not for him. All he did was buy enough time for the wizard to save us. We'd have died despite his little trick if Gandalf were not here."
"Did anyone else think to buy time, Thorin? Did your nephews consider the danger when they brought none but the Halfling to retrieve the ponies? You are being stubborn again." Perhaps I was, but it made little difference. I did not like the hobbit, I didn't. I had no reason to. I turned to look at him once more and his smile was bright as mithril yet again. Fili and Kili appeared enraptured. I might've huffed a bit, I supposed; it was truly shameful for those of Durin's line to fall all over themselves in such a way, most especially for a creature as simple as a Halfling. I tensed my lips and whipped my head away.
"Just look at him, Balin. He's not at all like us, like any we've met. His clothes, his manner… have you ever met a self-respecting dwarf that would conduct himself in such a way?" Balin stared, mouth a bit agape.
"Do you think he does it on purpose, Thorin? It's only the way of his people, it seems. Cultural differences are of course difficult to overcome, but he certainly doesn't mean anything by it. He's the most innocent creature I've ever had the fortune to meet; you'd like him, Thorin, if only you gave him the chance to be liked." I did not grace that with a response, and Balin finally gave in and went back to sit in the hobbit's little circle. His story, it seemed, had ended, and Ori had begun one of his own, an old tale that he was forced to pause during periodically so that he could think of the proper word for something in Westron so that the hobbit would understand as well. I did my best to ignore it and keep watch even though the story was one of my own favorites, even though the hobbit with such fascination painting his face (for one of my people's stories, of all things, one of my people's tales) was a truly intriguing sight. I shook my head to free the thought; the little fool would look as so with any story, even one told by elves. He'd proven as much during our short stay in Rivendell, where he'd nearly eaten from the hands of the damned tree-huggers.
They'd found him sufficiently fascinating as well, however. Of course they had; he appeared a smaller version of them, after all, with those ears and the fair face. If not for the feet, he could've been a perfect miniature. I did rather like his feet, and his ankles. I coughed softly as if someone could have heard the idiotic stray thought, and instead directed my mind to more productive matters, such as keeping watch.
Such was the journey for some time; I'd watch the hobbit, think of all his wrongs and his silliness, watch my nephews pile atop him, pull his hair, beg for tales, all with increasing frustration. I truly wished that the little burden would just return to his fair Shire, to his underdressed companions and his simple life, far from me. He seemed quite unwilling to do that, however, no matter what suffering we faced. He clung to us, to adventure, he tried so damned hard, such persistence in his eyes, his letter opener thumping at his hip. He'd even expressed interest in learning to use the damned thing, and Fili had actually begun to show him.
At times it was a struggle to not involve myself, to correct the teaching, to strip my nephew's hands from the Halfling's body, but to do so would be to show interest, and I refused to do so. He wasn't worthy of my regard; he was simply a hobbit, and I was a dwarf. I was a king, if one without a crown or a mountain. I'd have it soon, however, and no time to worry about so trivial a thing as marriage, not time to worry over so trivial a thing as a hobbit. I cleared my throat once more and watched the training impassively.
It was what occurred a few days later that stripped me of my indifference, and I suppose that has given me but one more reason to despise Azog, as if I needed another.
We did not expect the attack, and I suppose that was foolish of us. We had but just escaped the goblin layer alive, found the hobbit still among us, when we heard the first of the Warg cries. The noise of it was piercing, as well as deeply chilling, terrifying. We tried to fight, but we were tired where they were fresh, our weapons damaged where theirs were whole, our numbers few where theirs were many. We had little chance from the beginning, but I had not thought… I had hoped for a less violent end, foolish as that may sound. Perhaps I had even hoped for victory. As we scrambled like frightened dwarflings up the tree, I realized how silly that thought actually was.
It upset me, though, angered me more than nearly anything. How dare these beasts harm my company, stand in the way of my quest? That orc had killed my grandfather, forced me to watch my father fall to madness and disappear, and now he stood there as if he had the right to deny me my crown, to block me from my mountain. I was a king and I would have my home back, for all of my people. The tree we clung to fell, but it was the anger that would've done me in, that moment I climbed from the tree to face my longtime foe, the vision of my nightmares that mixed so seamlessly with all the damned fire.
Azog was stronger than I, his Warg vicious and his men laughing as I was batted about as a child's plaything. I'd been too long without a good, hearty meal and a full night's rest. My sword was thrown from me and a branch no longer served me as well as it once had, so many years before. My head swam as it cracked against stone, the wounds on my belly that'd been dug in deeply by the white Warg's teeth bleeding warm upon my skin, and my vision flashed from clear to black. The pain was like nothing I had ever felt as I saw feet stepping towards me, the flash of a blade. I did not understand Orcish, yet still I was certain of what had been ordered; this was where I would die. And then came the hobbit, insisting on surprising me yet again, the little fool. Now, I supposed, he would die with me, would die helping me regain my homeland as he'd said he would barely hours before this cursed battle. The tiny creature fairly flew into the fray, and I was able to spare only the thought that I wished he'd stayed in his little hole before I fell into unconsciousness.
I awoke beneath the sun, the light of it hot against my face, but my body felt too weak to move. I supposed, as I drifted very slowly into awareness, that at least I wasn't in pain. It was then that I remembered why I'd have thought I'd be in pain, remembered the hobbit, remembered Azog's ambush.
"The Halfling," I murmured, and Gandalf hushed me.
"It's alright, Bilbo is here. He's quite safe." Good, that was good. I hadn't the slightest idea how the little creature had managed that, but it was good. I made as if I were going to stand on my own and was immediately swarmed with my kinsmen, their hands supporting me, but after a few stumbling steps, I waved them off. This was something to be done on my own.
"You," I breathed, my voice hoarse and thick, dry in my throat. Later I'd be scolded for speaking and moving around so soon after such a grievous injury, but at the time I hardly felt the ache. "What were you doing?" And that might've been the biggest question. Why had he been such a fool, jumping into a battle he was so ill-equipped for? What had possessed him to act as such an idiot? He was far from stupid, I knew; I'd seen his books, his maps, his culture. And yet he'd done this. He'd attacked a damn orc with a letter opener. I couldn't even imagine why. He stared at me with his wide eyes, confused and almost hurt, and I felt something in my chest twitch. I let out my breath in a huff before I began to speak again, bemusement on my face, shaking my head as disapprovingly as I could manage before it began to thump madly.
"You nearly got yourself killed!" Angry. I was angry. I had no reason to be; had I not told him that I would not be responsible for him? That if he died while on my quest it would not be my guilt to bear? But I was angry. "Did I not say you would be a burden?" Hurt him. There, yes, I was trying to hurt him. It seemed to be working, as well, for his eyes, his too-expressive eyes, continued to display his pain at the words. I felt a spark of scornful delight at that. Perhaps this would make him go back to his damn hole. "That you would not survive in the wild? That you had no place amongst us?" He could not look at me for the pain in his eyes, his throat working around a swallow as if to hold back tears. I heard my kin murmuring behind me, and I could only imagine the disapproving words. That is not what made me give in, however, not what made me drop the curtain I'd been so busily hanging about myself since meeting the hobbit. No, it was that hurt, that twist, in my chest, the pressure against my heart. I stepped closer to him, ever closer, and let out a sigh that held every scrap of regret I had towards the Halfling, all that I wished I had not ever said, all the falsehoods I had told of and to him. This was a sigh of giving in, even if only temporarily.
"I've never been so wrong in all my life." And the surprise on his face, the shocked happiness, was too much. I took him into my arms tight and hard, pressed his small, soft body against mine, my face against his neck. I was smiling, then, although perhaps I did not fully realize as much myself at that moment. I did not want to release him, most especially not when his own arms settled nervously around me, not long enough to meet at my back. Hobbits truly were small creatures, I noted, and Bilbo had been one of the larger I'd seen in his Shire. I stroked my hand once down his back as I pulled away. "I am sorry for doubting you."
"It's alright," he mumbled, seeming shell-shocked, "I would've doubted me too." And that, I supposed, was enough. I had shown all that I would show, all that I needed to show. He was interesting, for a hobbit, for a creature who had, before now, not set foot outside his verdant fields. That was all; he was interesting, and he was brave; I supposed it was not so terrible for my nephews to hold interest in him. I had been needlessly cruel, before that moment, but I would cease to do so, now, instead letting things go as they would. I clapped his shoulder absently as I settled myself upon the stone again, my newfound strength leaving me as my mission was fulfilled. I stretched back, into the light of the setting sun, and watched my mountain, my kingdom, loom in the distance. We were so close, and the thought made me produce another pale, half smile. Perhaps our impossible quest would not be so impossible after all, and even if we failed, we had gotten far. Perhaps that would at least show the others of my kind that it was possible, that we could reclaim our lost land after all.
The hobbit smile down at me, bemused but obviously pleased, and my nephews laughed in their bouncing, youthful way, and the chatter of my brothers filled the clean air once more, Gandalf looking over us all with detached amusement as was his wont. Yes, I had settled my guilt, done what I had to do, mended my bridges. The Halfling was more than he appeared, as much was obvious, and he deserved my respect. He'd have that if nothing else, I decided, as my nephews formed a small but hemming ring about him, chattering wildly. That evening, I listened to his stories as everyone else did, even if I didn't involve myself. Not much would change, I decided, but at least now Bilbo would know that I held no ill-will towards him, that he was as close to a Dwarf as any could be. That was all I, any of us, needed.
The hobbit was not cooperating with my resolution, not at all. No, rather than allowing things to stay as they had been (as they should be) he began to insist on being by me. He would walk beside me in the days and settle his bedroll beside mine at the camps in the evenings, all the time asking me questions and talking, and by the end of a week of it I knew far more than I'd ever wanted about Tooks and Brandybucks and Sackvilles, most especially about a particularly horrifying one named Lobelia who reminded me quite a lot of Dis. If the conversations made me bite back smiles and laughter, pleasure, if his quick, biting wit made me want to snicker in a most un-kingly fashion, no one really needed to know, did they? Certainly not. The little creature just needed to cease with his foolishness and pester someone else.
It was a day like any other when I finally told him so. He was gesturing widely about him, a joyful sort of bounce to his steps, his feet so light that they didn't even kick up a trace of dust as he walked, the sun reflecting on his tawny hair and flashing in his smile. He did not look like a dwarf; he did not look like anything so much as an untouchable sort of being, one who hovered far away, distant as all. And yet he walked in bare feet and acted as mortal as any, always within touching distance. I curled my fists into my cloak softly, carefully so as to not be seen, and bit the inside of my cheek hard, just once.
"Will you please leave me be, Halfling? You have trailed after me as a lost pup since the Carrock, and it has become quite grating. Go bother my nephews or Bofur with your tales; they always seem willing to listen to your silly ramblings." The hurt sparked in his eyes (and they were such a pretty color, yellow-brown, almost like gold in the way they shone) but I willed myself not to react to it again.
"I had thought-," he tried, but I stopped him with a hand.
"You saved my life, Halfling, and for that I am grateful. You have earned my respect many times over, and you shall have it, but I am afraid I simply cannot tolerate your excessive chatter." I enjoy it far too much, and such are not the thoughts to plague a king's mind. I had better worries to bother about than a hobbit's voice, a hobbit's kindness, a hobbit's conversation. Such simple, simple creatures. They did not warrant such total domination of thought, no matter how quick of mind or fleet of foot or stalwart of heart or smooth of skin they happened to be. I turned my face from him, but I knew that he did not leave. No, instead he caught me by the sleeve of my coat and forced me to pause in the road with the shock of his forwardness; I'd met couples who courted for years before allowing such an intimate touch in public. I jerked my arm from his grasp hard and took a step away from him.
"Thorin, if you respect me, have I not earned the right for you to call me by name rather than Halfling or hobbit? You've not seemed to excessively mind my company in recent days you know! In fact, I've caught you hiding smiles more than once! Is this some silly royalty thing I ought to know about? If it is, then quit it, would you? I've never been one to think that class should stand in the way of a friendship; Fili and Kili are princes, and they don't seem to mind me too terribly." He smiled just a bit, sweet and small, not even realizing how… affectionate he'd just been. Fools of creatures, hobbits were, flinging kisses and caresses as though they were nothing but, as I'd said before, balking at a hug between brothers or a good solid slap on the back for a job done well.
"Bilbo," I choked the name out, "tomorrow. Not today, not now. Tomorrow." He was too much, the little creature, persistence in his eyes, determination that must have matched that which was there the day he rushed to my aid. More than met the eye indeed; perhaps I'd one day learn not to doubt the wizard who walked behind us with eyes that were certainly sparkling with mischief. I was sure it was his age that did it, that made him so intent on meddling. Bilbo put his hands on his hips and gave me an expression that was close enough to, but not quite, a pout.
"Fine, fine, tomorrow. And if you try to brush me off again, I shall…" he seemed unsure of what he would do, "Why, I shall tell you the entire history of Hobbiton, including the family trees!" I was not sure if I should fear that or look forward to it, and so I simply waved him away and continued on ahead of him and the remainder of the company. For the rest of the day I was forced to suffer through hearing him show such devoted attention to others of the company, attention that should have been mine-. No. I refused to act as such a fool, pining for a hobbit, of all things.
And yet that evening I found myself by the fire (Bilbo's bedroll elsewhere, between Fili and Kili's I believed) considering marriage, of all things. I never had before, not even when I was young and prime for it, for some noble's daughter. Perhaps that is what I'd have been forced to settle for, had Smaug not come. It was a strange blessing, I supposed, in regards to a thing I always looked back on with horror, with disgust.
I had always wanted to marry for love, as Dis had, and therefore had decided that I would consider it only upon falling in love. It was a romantic notion, for a future king as I had been, and yet that had been what I'd wanted, my dream. Now, I thought of it truly, of what it would be like to wed and rule with another. It was poor timing for it, however; what did I have to offer, a king with no crown and no mountain, no gold and no real power? Little, if anything, to be sure. Yet I could imagine the little being, his brilliant smile made more brilliant by gems about his neck and in his delicate ears, by rings upon his fingers and silken robes draped over his shoulders to flow down to those solid, ever-bare feet. Braids in his hair, too, and a crown wrought with more delicacy than anything, delicacy to match his features. My court filled with happiness because he had skill at that, I'd seen, skill at making people smile even when a shadow hung like a never ending eclipse across the land. He'd go down in history as the finest consort my people had ever seen, he'd have statues in his honor erected throughout Erebor, and my halls would forever remember his footsteps and echo with his voice. The thought made me swallow as if my throat were closing, my place at the fire's head suddenly far too hot.
Yet again I felt as a young man again, as the simpering teenaged idiot I'd never been. The hobbit should've been ashamed, making me react in so unroyally a fashion. He did not have the right, and yet he had. And he didn't even know it, the little fool! He didn't even see! But still yet I felt eyes upon me, the most worrying being those of my nephews. My worry was not alleviated when they came and sat by me, one on either side. Wonderful; they had me surrounded. That was never good news, where those two were concerned. Suffice it to say that Dwalin (in addition to many of the other elder dwarfs) does not call them little shits for nothing.
"Does our Uncle have something he wants to get off his chest, Fili?" Kili asked, dark eyes looking far more dangerous in the light of the flame. Fili laughed, low; he had the makings of a king in him, I'd seen it many times.
"Perhaps, Kili. I wonder, will he tell his beloved nephews what troubles him so? I think he won't. Instead, brother mine, we'll simply have to guess! Does it have to do with a certain member of our company?" If only he would grow out of his childishness and his teasing.
"Perhaps a rather smallish one, with a very distinctive lack of a beard?" Kili added, the both of them now leaning towards me and whispering secretively.
"And just the nicest little bottom anyone's ever seen?" Fili pointed out, and Kili nodded thoughtfully.
"His ears, too. They're rather cute, for something so elfish."
"I think it's the rest of him that makes one able to look past such a similarity," Fili stated sagely. I could feel the makings of a headache exploding behind my eyes; I had never decided whether I was glad Dis' children were so perceptive or if the fact was bane upon my life. At that moment, I was leaning very heavily onto the side of bane.
"Might I ask what you two are doing speaking with me if you each find him so desirable?" Perhaps I snapped just a bit. Certainly I am justified, as it was to those two that I was speaking, and they are both notoriously frustrating.
"Oh, we just want to help you, uncle!" Fili said, "You see, we're not the only other ones who've noticed him. He is exotic, after all, and exotic can be… welcome, after so long on the road and so many sights of nothing but the same. We just wanted to tell you that you'd best get a move on, before someone else gets the nerve first. Worry over your reaction will only keep the rest of us at bay for so long, and after all, he's quite the morsel." I clenched my jaw, but I did not speak. Such silliness was not worthy of a response. No, instead I simply waited for the two of them to shrug and leave, at which point I lay upon my bedroll and gazed at the fire, too hot and uncomfortable in my travel-dirtied clothes, seeing Bilbo's impish face smiling at me through the licking blaze. Perhaps the hobbit was a burden after all, weighing on my mind as he was. I couldn't help but curse the thought of him as I finally managed to fall into an unrestful, sticky sleep.