Chapter 15: Escape route to the next dinner opportunity
The first part of their escape actually went of without a hitch. It was when they had gathered the make-shift weapons and were well on their way to their escape route that things turned ugly. Bilbo felt his ears twitch as a horn was blown and he and the whole company stumbled to a halt. It was a long, drawn out sound that echoed through the whole fortress or city or whatever the elven kingdom actually was. For a moment nobody moved. Then Bilbo turned to Nori, his teeth worrying his lip before he whispered in the otherwise dead silent corridor "That... was that a horn for the celebration?" The grim looks of the dwarrows surrounding him were answer enough, even before Thorin made some harsh gestures and growled out a quiet "Move!" to them. Abandoning their attempt at stealth Bilbo sprinted ahead, since he was the only one that actually knew the way. He could hear footsteps, the dwarrows stomping heavily behind him but even further away he could hear elven armor clatter as they seemed to gather themselves as well as their light steps that Bilbo had grown used to hear and avoid.
Some guard rotation must have found the empty cells and sounded the alarm. Bilbo could only hope that they would still have enough time to actually reach the trapdoor. Maybe the elves wouldn't realize that there was another exit out of their realm. Or at least only think about it once the company had already passed through.
Together they tumbled down the few stairs to the wine-cellar, the dwarrows cursing and readying their poor-quality weapons against the sleeping elves while Bilbo just ignored them as he moved to the empty barrels.
"Get over here! They are drugged, leave them!" he practically ordered them and gestured to their barrels. For a moment the dwarrows seemed reluctant, still watching the elves with suspicious eyes, but Bilbo had already clued them in on the plan and they finally climbed inside them one by one. They grumbled and shoved each other but Bilbo was relieved to not they didn't dilly-dally around needlessly.
If the situation had been any different, Bilbo would have found the sight of dwarrows peaking out of the barrels rather amusing. Right now he just hoped everyone would get out alive because he had never had the chance to look below the trapdoor and see how deep it actually went. Sure, the barrels usually seemed to survive the drop to float down to Laketown. But usually they didn't have dwarrows weighting them down either. The thought of sharp stones at the floor of whatever river seemed to flow beneath set his heart fluttering in anxiety.
"Take a deep breath." He said, trying to sound more confident than he felt. He could hear the elves come closer and knew there was no time to delay any more. Using his whole body weight he rammed himself against the lever and watched with churning feelings as his friends dropped into the dark pit below. The door to the wine-cellar was slammed open and Bilbo took a running leap to follow his friends to freedom as elves burst into the room, shouting at his disappearance.
。・゜゜・ ✿ ・゜゜・。
He missed the barrels by several feet and splashed into the icy cold depths of the river. Of course he had known there was a river. He had just thought he would be in one of the barrels himself, but during the rush he had not had the time to think his plan completely to the end, intent on getting everyone out of the wrenched place as fast as possible. The cold was a shock to his system, making him open his mouth in a stifled scream that stole the rest of the air from him in a steam of bubbles. With flailing limps he managed to break to the surface once more. Immediately afterwards he was pulled under again, the strong currents tugging him around like a leaf in the storms that sometimes sweep over the Shire in late autumn.
It was after several seconds below the water that Bilbo started to panic, already going dizzy from the lack of air. Beneath the water it as strangely silent, the only sound being bubbles that played to an odd melody. He had planned it out with Thorin, as best as he could. He had told the oaf that someone needed to pull the lever, thinking he would be able to leave one of his friends to the task.
He might have forgotten to mention he could not swim. At all. Like any hobbit Bilbo was more prone to sink like a stone and his desperate flailing limps were not stopping that from happening.
...-nd on -is tomb is Orcrist la-...
...-n -ven blade forge -n -der Days...
The weak sound of Yavanna's Song – how had he not noticed the strange silence since entering the woods? - sounded oddly broken off. As if it came from far away. It was enough that for a moment Bilbo stopped his struggles and strained to listen, even though his situation was precarious at best.
It was still the same. The same melody and sad, sweet voice that sang about Thorin's death. Had he changed nothing yet?
...- warn of f- and -ing orcs...
Orcs? What orcs? Was it orcs that killed Thorin? The voice made no sense and Bilbo could only hope that Yavanna would repeat herself once he was safe – if he survived. Dark spots flickered in front of his eyes and a few precious bubbles of air escaped his mouth as the pressure to breath grew too strong. Bilbo was sure he would die, he would die and he wouldn't even have changed anything for Thori-
A hand closed around his limp wrist and pulled him up, enough that Bilbo could cough and splutter as he tried to get the water that had clogged in his nose and throat out while at the same time trying to get as much air in as possible. Desperately he reached around to grab at something to keep him above water. Something tick and warm was wound around his chest and he dug his nails in, ignoring the cursing of the voice behind him.
"Stop struggling, Hobbit!"
Bilbo had not even been aware that he was still fighting but the voice had him going limp in an instant, making Thorin curse for an entirely other reason, since the sudden movement made the barrel dip dangerously to the side. Instead Bilbo scrambled to get a hold on the barrel, his knuckles turning nearly white as he attempted to cling to the surface of the wood with all the strength he had left.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Thorin growled as they drifted down the river. They were already picking up their speed as the current grabbed hold of them and dragged them along.
"…" a moment Thorin stared down at the hobbit in speechless horror.
"…" Bilbo would have looked away but that meant facing the water.
"Do you have some kind of death-wish?!" he dwarven king growled, his arm that was wound around Bilbos chest tightened as if he was frightened Bilbo would dissolve on the spot.
Thorin made a teakettle-like sound and looked like he was just about to throw his arms in the air in exasperation. He might have if it didn't mean dropping Bilbo back into the current and possibly loosing him.
"How can one forget not being able to swim!" Bilbo winced as a barrel rammed into him, ignoring the frantic apology of the dwarf in it. It sounded like Bifur since Bilbo only heard the strange dwarrow language. He just assumed it was an apology
"Do you think right now is the right time to lecture me?" Bilbo didn't care that his voice went high with bordering hysterical sarcasm. He was scared to death of losing his grip again.
They drifted out of the caves and Bilbo blinked as sunlight, warm and bright and beautiful evolved and nearly blinded them. Bilbo needed a few seconds to adjust his sight to the new light but was just so relieved to finally see the sky again. It had been far too long.
His breath hitched as in the distance he could see the gate of the kingdom open and elves spill out onto the grassy plains. They were in plain view and the elves quickly took note of them. Another sound of a horn being blown split the air and Bilbo whimpered. This was not going as he had hoped. Frantically he looked around, so far the elves were far away but their arrows were far reaching and Bilbo could see the company readying themselves with their wooden planks to defend themselves against a hailstorm of the deadly projectiles just in case.
His gaze swept past Thorin and towards the watergate in the distance. And the elves patrolling it.
"Oh. Oh no." Bilbo whimpered as he saw them turning and pointing at them. Thorin's head whipped around and Bilbo could see in the corner of his eyes how Thorin grimaced as a heavy frown settled once more onto his features. Splashing sounds drew his attention to another barrel as Nori tried to get closer to him, only to be derailed as Bombur's barrel cut his way off. The indignant expression on the thiefs face almost made Bilbo snort, if their situation had not been as desperate as it was. Their barrels were already swiftly speeding their way through the rapids, so there was no chance to get to ground without the guards catching them, nor for a better ability to fight or run.
"They are closing the gate!" Kíli cried out and Bilbo cursed, looking back to the gate that was getting closer by the second, and also closing more and more in the same amount of time.
"No!" Thorin cursed, the arm around Bilbo's chest was now almost painfully tight and Bilbo could practically feel the desperation of his soulmate. Without further ado they reached the now closed gate, the barrels piling against the obstacle with them trapped inside. Bilbo groaned as several barrels slammed into his body but was far too busy trying to search for a solution to notice the pain.
And then the body of an elf fell in their midst. Bilbo stared at the face of the elf, eyes blank as the ethereal grace that seemed inherent in the immortal beings seemed to leave once he was dead. An arrow with black fletching protruded out of the breast, blood already seeping through the clothes ans armor where the elf had been struck.
"Oh." Bilbo muttered faintly, blinking in a daze as the body slipped between them and drifted in the water, slowly sinking due to the weight of his armor. He felt sick. As if from afar he could hear the commotion break out, not only between his companions but also among the elves.
"Watch out!" Dwalin bellowed warning snapped Bilbo out, making him fumble for his sword as best as he could "Those are orcs!"
And indeed it was. Bilbo could see shadows jumping from over the arch they were hidden beneath. Some were engaging the elves while others seemed resolute to keep to their goal and get to the dwarrows as quickly as possible, without any thought of their own companions or the elves closing in on them.
But within the barrels there was not much space to defend, not with the unsteady 'ground' they were on being moved by the current sloshing against the sides of the barrels, trying to push them further than the gate allowed. Bilbo held Sting in his hand but it was impossible to reach beyond his companions without risking to harm them too.
Dwalin and Kíli were some of the dwarrows that had been pushed last into the water lock and thus were the dwarrows that were now doing their desperate best to defend the rest of them.
"My sword! Take my sword!" He called out and by some miracle, the dwarrows heard him and the little letter opener found it's way to the front line. Kíli – while not mainly wielding a sword himself – could certainly hold his own with it well enough, while Dwalin had resorted to simply using his firsts and elbows, and sometimes even his head to knock his enemies senseless.
And then Kíli jumped out of the barrel and onto dry ground and Bilbo nearly died of a heart attack as he saw the youngest of their group rush recklessly into battle, his brother crying out but unable to help his younger sibling.
He could feel how tense the body holding him afloat became as Kíli disappeared from their sight to the bride above. Bilbo held his breath as he listened to the sounds of struggles going on and fights beginning and ending. Clashes of weapons and the all too familiar whistling of arrows streaking through the air, as well as the sound of water splashing against their barrels and water falling...
Bilbo twisted around and tried to get a good look and nearly felt himself faint at the sight of a waterfall just beyond the gate.
"Thorin-" he didn't get to finish as with a start the gate begun to move upwards again, not that his faint voice could be heard over the cheering of the dwarrows. His insistent tugging at Thorin's soaked tunic also didn't prove fruitful, despite Bilbo's tries getting more and more desperate as the water gate slowly raised above the surface of the water. But Thorin's gaze was locked worriedly on his nephews injured form that had tumbled from above into the barrel.
"Thorin! Thorin!" The barrels started to move just as Thorin looked at Bilbo. For a moment their gazes locked. Then the world tilted.
And then they went over the edge and Thorin lost his grip, the water ripping them apart with its natural strength.
。・゜゜・ ✿ ・゜゜・。
Bilbo didn't even truly have time to panic. One moment Thorin was holding on to him, the next he wasn't and the falling water pressed Bilbo under the surface of the continuing river with a strength that pushed the hobbit down to the floor of the riverbed, and the rest of what little air he had before out of his lungs. Then the new current dragged Bilbo this way, then that, like a tug of war between invisible water-spirits. It was sheer luck that the hobbit managed to break to the surface a few times, swallowing about as much water as he got air.
Distantly Bilbo recognized that Yavanna's voice seemed to get stronger and stronger the further they drifted away. The words she said didn't really register to his mind in this instance but something in Bilbo relaxed at the familiar sound. Exhaustion – from his stressful time in the dungeons and from fighting against the rivers strength with all he had – slowly filled his limps with lead. More and more often he almost didn't have the strength of getting back to the surface, his flailing limps growing heavier by the second and slowing down. Sometimes he collided with heavy objects. Barrels? Stones? The river floor? Most of the time Bilbo couldn't differentiate between up and down anymore.
Just as Bilbo thought he couldn't go on anymore, something heavy collided with him again and pulled roughly at him. Coughing Bilbo broke to the surface again and clung to... Thorin. Thorin in the river. Not safe in a barrel. Thorin was struggling about as much with the river current as Bilbo, but had one hand curled around the rim of his barrel, holding on as hard as he could since the barrel would probably be their lifeline if they wanted to survive. Bilbo was sure that if Thorin had simply tried to get him from inside the barrel, he would have failed and Bilbo would have drowned.
"I've got you." Thorin ground out as he pulled Bilbo to him. Weakly Bilbo grabbed at the barrel too, still trying to expel half the river from his lungs. All the while Thorin didn't let go of him, his grip stark white as he fisted the material of Bilbo's clothing, one arm curled around the hobbits back in an almost protective embrace.
Shivering Bilbo tried to smile at Thorin even though it probably resembled a grimace more than anything.
"T-t-thank-" Bilbo stuttered out, shivering and still trying to get as much air into his lungs as possible.
It was only then that he realized that Thorins protective stance was not only to hold on to Bilbo... but also to shield him from the still ongoing battle. Orcs swarmed at the riversides, trying to keep up with them and attack them at the same time. He could see the rest of the company fight to keep them at bay.
And to keep them away from their very vulnerable king and helpless hobbit. They needed to get back into the barrel to be able to defend themselves. But Bilbo also realized that it would be next to impossible to actually archive that while they were still in the river themselves, and exhausted too.
The battle probably only lasted a few minutes, but for Bilbo it felt like hours while he watched anxiously for any weapons heading their way. At one point two elves had interfered and Bilbo was thankful they had sort of helped, even if it had probably been unintended.
Finally the Orcs fell back and the dwarrows continued down the river by themselves.
。・゜゜・ ✿ ・゜゜・。
Bilbo crawled away from the water without any dignity left. He didn't care about that. He was cold, shivering from both the rough ride and the temperature and his wet clothes. He felt sick and had swallowed a lot of water that was settling uncomfortably in his otherwise empty stomach. The dwarrows could fend for themselves, Bilbo thought as he let himself flop onto the ground and refused to move any further. Land. Strong, steady earth.
His attention wandered back to where Kíli was climbing out of his barrel, before he went face-first into the water. Bilbo huffed in exasperation, before he grew concerned when the young dwarf didn't immediately sit up again. Scrambling to his feet he splashed through the water, ignoring his sores and the bitter taste that was crawling up his throat at the sudden movements. He could feel water he had inadvertently swallowed slosh around in his stomach. Once he reached Kíli he grabbed him by his scuff of his shirt and pulled him up, barely managing to get the dwarf above the surface again.
Kíli blinked groggily at him, water was running down his face in small rivers and plastering his hair to his ashen face. He looked dazed, but a tiny bit of colour returned to him as he heaved in a few lungful of air. Bilbo huffed at the unrepentant dwarf that had nearly given him a heart attack.
"I swear, if you weren't Thorin's nephew I would seriously contemplate leaving you to drown." Bilbo muttered as he heaved at the dwarrows almost limp body. His own body arched all over, but sometime during this path of hell of a quest he had actually grown fond of his companions. And Thorin's nephews had somehow wiggled their way deep into his heart. Bilbo grimaced at the thought.
"Y' love me." Kíli panted out and threw Bilbo a pained sidewards grin, mischievous as ever, if a little tired and waterlogged.
"Yes. Yes, I do and I have no idea how that happened. Or when. Yavanna's Grace, my mother must be laughing at me..."
He managed to drag Kíli and himself to the shore once more. Then he crawled just a little bit further and bowed over a bush to emptied his stomach.
After getting rid of most of the water he became aware of a warm hand rubbing soothing circles on his back, while another tried to keep his slightly longer hair out of his face and relatively puke-free. A glance to the side showed Thorin frowning at him, but it was not the you-have-done-something-that-displeases-me frown, well, at least not entirely. No it was an stop-doing-that-so-I-can-pretend-not-to-be-worried-frown. It was a slight but important difference. Another hand appeared in his field of vision and he followed it up to Nori, who was holding the waterskin out to Bilbo, which the hobbit gratefully took. He completely missed Nori giving Thorin the stink eye and the rather obstinate stubborness as Thorin's hand settled at his neck in a small, possessive display that went completely over Bilbo's head as he was too distracted by the skin-to-skin contact.
"Step aside, step aside!" Óin hollered as he elbowed his way through the company. For a moment he frowned down at Bilbo, clearly unhappy with what he was seeing. Maybe it was the way he was still shivering in his wet clothes – it was in the middle of autumn and it was getting cold, never mind that he had spend ages in the frigid water.
"That's it. We're getting him a leash." Óin muttered as he knelt besides Bilbo, his hands slowly searching for any wounds that might be hidden. It's no wonder the healers face looked like a storm cloud, because after the rough river ride Bilbo was black and blue, from barrels bumping against him or stones jutting out of the river. It would only get worse as the bruises blossomed later on.
What Bilbo didn't expect where the murmurs of agreement that spread through the company. Nori was already searching through their meager belongings for some rope. Bilbo scowled up at them, not that it was very intimidating when he looked like a half drowned rat himself.
"Don't you dare." his voice cracked a little. Meanwhile Óin was looking him over, hands patting him down carefully and muttering stuff like "Not broken at least" in between.
Finally he leaned back and stared at Bilbo, then frowned at the king at his side like he wanted to yell at him to find some other place to be. Seeing the stubborn set of Thorin's jaw the healer huffed in annoyance and turned back to Bilbo "Ye need to warm up. And ya need ter get a good, warm meal int' ya. Yer have lost weight laddy, a lot more than the rest of us."
Thorin's frown deepened "We do not have many supplies..." the dwarf said in clipped tones. At one point Bilbo would have thought Thorin was dismissing Óins words, now he felt like he detected concern and frustration. Concern for Bilbo's well-being and frustration at not being able to provide help, even when the healer recommended it.
At the same time Thorin pulled Bilbo towards himself, drawing him between his legs and into his arms. It was like the dwarf had not been stuck with him in the water as he was still as warm as a forge and Bilbo couldn't help a groan of appreciation escape him as he went boneless in the hug, eyes slipping close out of their own accord.
"It's fine, khajmel." Thorin rumbled behind him, voice low that probably only Bilbo could hear him "Rest for a moment. We can't stay for too long but a short rest..." he trailed of and Bilbo huffed lightly. The thought of moving at all was not appealing, especially not now surrounded by warmth and Thorin's smell. Leather and a soothing smell of something warm and woody, a lot like cedar wood in Bilbo's opinion, as well as the hint of metal and fire that Bilbo thought was nearly inherent in dwarrows. It was relaxing and Bilbo found himself drifting off slightly, despite his previous decision to stay awake. His shivers abated a little as Thorin's warmth seeped into his body and slowly warmed up his numb body.
。・゜゜・ ✿ ・゜゜・。
It seemed like no time at all had passed when Bilbo was gently shaken awake and helped to his feet. He still felt drowsy, his clothes still damp and he was missing Thorin's warmth before he had fully untangled himself from the dwarf.
Looking around he could see that the company had been tended to. Kíli had a make-shift bandage wrapped around his leg and was supported by his brother, a sight that tugged painfully at Bilbo's heart as he remembered that their youngest companion was likely hurt from when he had pulled the lever. Reckless beyond measure, but without it they would have either died to the orcs or been recaptured by the elves. The others thankfully only had a few scrapes and bruises.
Blinking Bilbo was left standing behind, looking at Thorin's back as the dwarf gathered the company and went about ordering them to different tasks. They needed food, so everyone was supposed to keep an eye out for prey. Apparently after being tended to they had taken stock of their things. While Bilbo had gathered some necessary things, a few weapons and shields, as well as flints and medical herbs and bandages, there was very little food. Mostly because the hobbit had rarely found the kitchen unmanned.
Now they were trying to decide which route to go, since there was an orc pack on their trail and a lake blocking their way. Their weapons – Bilbo was shamed to agree – were not good enough to face the orcs in battle. Never mind that they had lost their armor and most of their provisions, with only the basic needs Bilbo had been able to hold onto. His tiny sword was returned to him by Fíli and he settled down to rest a little more before he would be forced to walk for hours on end again. He felt tired to the bone and cold was beginning to settle in again, despite trying to huddle into a small figure to preserve warmth.
Instead of thinking about the way ahead he found himself watching Thorin, his eyes following the dwarf as he gesticulated while speaking to his adviser.
He cared about Thorin.
Not just as his soulmate.
Not just as a friend.
He might be falling for Thorin for real. Or he already had.
"Damn..." Bilbo muttered. He had been prepared to get to know his soulmate, and yes, he had always wanted a romantic bond with his soulmate, not just a platonic one. How could he not, after having his parents as an example?!
Once he had gotten to know Thorin, he had been resigned to simply keep the dwarf alive, but had quickly lost hope to actually be seen as a lover.
Yet here he was. Falling in love with a rude, stubborn, oblivious dwarf. He had followed Thorin out of the Shire to keep him alive, because he had felt obligated to do at least that much for his soulmate, unwilling to let half of his soul die if he could do something against it. He had kept following him with that reason in mind, never stopping to doubt if that was the right course of action, because of course it was! Even if Thorin had not been his soulmate, it was just the right thing to do. To help them regain their home.
So when the hell had this happened?
"What the hell am I getting myself into..." staring at Thorin who just removed his boot to empty it from a little left over river-water, he uneasily felt like he was gearing up for some rather serious heartbreak. This was not what he had wished for. Rubbing a hand over his face, Bilbo couldn't decide if he should keep trying to catch Thorin's interest or try to bury the feelings before they blossomed into something stronger and more devastating than his starting crush.
When he looked up to see Thorin beaming at something his nephew had said, he rather thought that it might already be too late for denial and avoidance.
Ok. I hadn't planned to update so soon but I have some time in between jobs and decided not to travel too much, so I thought I would get this story a little closer to it's end! I had actually planned to get further but I thought this would be a good point to end this chapter.
I've written some parts of the end of the story too. Laketown, then Erebor and the final battle. We are getting close and I'm really excited.
Would you prefer me concentrating on finishing this story, or alternating between this one and my other hobbit story (Shapeshifters for Beginners)?
Actually... I'm thinking of stopping updating on this site. I might simply continue on AO3 for several reasons. For one it's much easier to edit than this page. For another I get a lot more reaction from my readers where here I often wonder if anyone is even looking at it. Maybe I will continue updating it randomly but not as fast as on my other page.
It's also much easier to reply to my readers and have short conversations, something I really enjoy a lot.
Sorry on ending it on that note. I might post a bunch of chapters once I finished the story, or whenever I'm bored enough to do it. But I don't really feel motivated to keep this going regularly here. For anyone interested in following the story to the end, You can find the stories under the same name on archives of our own. My account name is RavenShira there.
Khajmel = Gift of all gifts