A/N: This is the last of the long chapters for this fic, so after this, things will be getting...well, shorter lol
Also, two little reminders: 1) This story updates on the 2nd Wednesday of the month, which is why it seems to take awhile between postings. 2) there is a chance future updates may get disturbed and even go on hiatus due to my mother's health. So far, things are looking a bit better than they did two weeks ago, but we're still being cautious in our optimism.
Bilbo let out a quiet sigh as he sat at the table, a cushion below him so that he didn't have to sit on his knees while he ate. With just two days left before they would be leaving for the mountain, he was more than a little thankful that he was feeling better, though his nose was still stuffed up and his throat a bit hoarse. With his fears that Baylee would catch a cold herself abated, he allowed himself to finally leave his room to rejoin the dwarves in the common room.
Around him, the mood was surprisingly quiet for it being the middle of the afternoon. The majority of the company was out and about in search for the various supplies they would need. The princes, Oin, Bifur, Baylee, and him were the only ones still at the inn. He glanced over at the table where Fili and Kili sat, his brows furrowing slightly; Kili had no trousers on, his lower half covered instead by a sheet while his leg was propped up on a chair as Oin looked it over. The younger prince also looked a bit flushed and didn't seem to have as much energy as usual; the room was quite warm, however, and it could make even the most energetic person feel cozy enough to take a nap.
'His leg doesn't seem to be getting any better,' Bilbo thought, taking a bite of his lunch—or, rather, his third helping of lunch. Baylee and Bombur had made quite a delicious fish stew that he seemed rather determined to finish off, despite there being half a potful left. 'In fact, it looks like it's gotten worse since I last saw it…Maybe Oin's dwarvish medicines are making it worse…? Or maybe there's still a piece of arrow in there that Baylee didn't get the first time around?'
He quickly looked away when Oin began draining some fluid from Kili's thigh. Seeing his daughter approach, he quietly chuckled; her hair was damp and her skin was a pleasant shade of pink. "Did you enjoy your bath?"
"For the most part." She pulled out a chair and climbed onto it. Unlike her father, she didn't use a cushion. "The tubs are a bit big for a lass my size and whoever filled it for me filled it a tad deep, but the warm water was enjoyable."
A quiet laugh left his mouth and his brow rose in amusement. "So, what you're saying is that you got to bathe in a warm pond?"
"It certainly felt that way, though I'm glad there weren't any fish in there," she laughed. Glancing across the way, her smile faded a bit when she spotted Oin tending to Kili. "His leg isn't doing any better, is it?"
"I think it might be getting worse." He kept his voice quiet, not wanting to be heard by the others. "A few days ago, Oin wasn't having to drain it of…whatever that stuff is, was he?"
She shook her head. "No, he wasn't. I wonder why it's not healing though? Oin has been quite diligent in caring for it and we've been making sure Kili doesn't do very much…" Her brows furrowed, concern on her face.
"You don't think…maybe the arrow might've been poisoned, do you?" Bilbo asked, his voice softer now. "I've heard the others talk about how orcs sometimes poison their arrows so that, even if they don't kill their targets right away, the poison will finish them off." He watched his daughter's eyes widened as she looked over at Kili.
She, too, noticed how Kili looked a bit flushed and lethargic, making her grow more worried. "…If—if it is poison, do you think Oin or one of the Laketown healers would be able to cure it?"
"To be perfectly honest, dear, I don't know." He rubbed the side of his neck, his gaze falling down to his soup.
"I think you should tell Oin your theory," she said, her brows furrowed somewhat. "I know dwarves are fairly resistant against illnesses, but I don't know whether or not Aulë made them invulnerable to poisons, too. Even if he did, though, there's still a chance Kili could be affected…"
Poking at the contents of his bowl, Bilbo sighed. "That's true. Everything has a weakness and dwarves are no exception." Taking a quick bite of soup, he slid down off his chair and crossed the room.
Baylee watched her father for a few seconds before rising up on her knees and reaching across the table. She was just barely able to hook her finger over the rim of the bowl, allowing her to pull it over to her side of the table. Glancing back at Bilbo, she found that he had pulled Oin off to the far side of the room and was quietly speaking—well, as quiet as one could be when speaking to a hard-of-hearing-dwarf—with him.
She took a bite of the soup and looked over at the two princes. Kili was taking a long drink from a tankard while Fili was fidgeting with a small knife given to him by one of the people of Laketown. The former still had his leg raised as he patiently waited for Oin to return and finish bandaging up his wound.
'Kili's hurting,' she thought, taking another bite. 'He's been playing it off that his leg doesn't hurt, but I've seen how badly he winces when he thinks no one is looking and we've all seen him trying to keep his limp to a minimum when he walks. By the end of the day, Fili's having to practically carry him to bed…' A quiet sigh left her mouth and she closed her eyes for a moment. 'Estë, please help him through this…We're so close to the mountain.'
"What are you doing with my soup bowl, young lady?"
Her eyes flicked open and she found Bilbo across from her, his eyes narrowed and a pout on his lips. An innocent smile came to her lips and, after stealing a third bite, she pushed the bowl back. "Just seeing if it needed anymore seasoning," she replied after swallowing the bite.
"After it's been done for an hour and a half?" he replied, tone dry. He wrapped his arm around his bowl, his pout now turning playful as he jokingly shielded his soup from her. "You really should be doing that before telling everyone that it's ready to eat, you know."
"Well, you never know—sometimes flavors mellow out or get stronger over time." She quietly chuckled and pushed one of her braids back over her shoulder. "What did Oin say?"
At that, Bilbo sighed. "He also suspects it's poison," he answered. "He's already brought it up with Thorin, but neither has wanted to let the others know just yet. They don't want to get them needlessly worked up if this turns out to just be a case of Kili's stubbornness to keep moving around preventing the healing from taking place."
She nodded slowly in understanding. "But what if it is poison?"
"Then…I don't know. They would have to consult the Laketown healers, I suppose."
A quiet sigh left her mouth; she didn't find her father's lack of an answer very comforting. If anything, it only made her worry more. If Oin hadn't told him what they were going to do if it was poison, then it meant they might lose the prince…Her stomach churned at the thought and she started to somewhat regret the bites of soup she had stolen.
"I'll ask Thorin about it when he returns," she told Bilbo. "For all we know, he may already be searching for a healer who knows how to deal with that sort of thing." Despite not feeling very optimistic about the situation, she gave her father a reassuring smile.
He nodded in understanding, having been in the middle of chewing a bite of food. "That's a good idea. Being that Kili is one of his heirs, though, something tells me that he's already been on the hunt for someone."
Baylee's brow rose slightly, though she said nothing; she hadn't liked how her father called Kili Thorin's 'heir' rather than his 'nephew'. Instead, she let out a soft sigh and moved to slide off of the chair.
"Where are you going, dear?" Bilbo questioned, his brows furrowing slightly.
"To get myself some tea." When her feet hit the floor, she looked up at him and smiled. "And maybe my own bowl of soup." Brushing her dress back into place over her petticoats, she started to make her way towards the kitchen.
Once out of sight of the others, she let out a sigh and leaned against a cupboard. 'I don't like this,' she told herself. Allowing her eyes to close, she brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. Her nose scrunched up ever so slightly. 'I wish I had hope that things will go well once we reach the mountain, but…the closer we get, the worse our luck has been getting.'
Opening her eyes, she shook her head and went over to check how warm the kettle was, holding her palm close to the metal to see if it radiated any heat. Finding that it didn't, she then tapped the metal with her palm only to discover that it was actually quite cold. She lifted it with a little grunt and carried it over to the hearth, where she placed it on the grate.
'That'll take a while to heat up,' she thought, putting her hands on her hips. 'I don't want to wait around in here—especially since I'm not terribly hungry anymore—and I don't want to sit out in the common room where I have to keep seeing Kili and how much pain he's in…so, I suppose I'll go to my room.'
Leaving the kitchen, she crossed the common room and climbed the stairs without anyone noticing her—or, if they had noticed her, they didn't say anything. She let out a small breath of relief when she reached her room and, after climbing up onto the bed, she allowed herself to flop down onto the pillows.
'I should think about what to make for dinner,' she told herself, letting her eyes close. 'Maybe some roasted meat? Not fish, though, if possible—I think we're all a bit tired of fish, even if that soup was rather tasty. Ooh, some roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy sounds quite yummy…It'd be nice to do a beef or pork roast of some sort. Especially a rack of beef rib…'
When she next opened her eyes, it was to the sound of someone knocking on her door. "Come in," she called out through a yawn. She propped herself up on one hand while the other rubbed her good eye. 'I must have fallen asleep,' she thought, a small pout on her lips. Hearing a chuckle, she looked up only to find Thorin standing in the doorway.
"Did I wake you, Mouse-Lass?" he asked, stepping into the room. He kept the door open so that, had anyone seen him walk in, they wouldn't get the wrong idea.
"I think you might have," she replied, a small smile coming to her lips. Sitting fully upright now, she let her legs dangle over the edge of the bed. "I had no intention of taking a nap, though." Then, seeing that Thorin was holding something behind his back, her head tilted and her eyes narrowed somewhat. "What've you got behind your back, Oakenshield?"
He smiled. "A gift," he answered.
"Yes. But, before I give it to you, I need you to close your eyes."
She gave him a curious look before doing as instructed. As she sat there with both eyes closed, she felt him step forward and wrap his arms around her shoulders, but when no embrace came, she couldn't help but feel a little bit disappointed. However, when she felt something come to rest against the base of her neck before slipping down a bit, she could surmise that he had gotten her some sort of necklace.
"There," he murmured, adjusting it slightly so that it was perfectly centered on the chain. "You can open your eyes now, Mouse-Lass."
Doing such, she blinked a few times before picking up the pendant and looking down at it. She felt her chest grow a bit warm when she saw that the pendant was a bronze medallion, its middle cut away to be the shape of a sunflower. The metal was warm as she ran her fingers around it, tracing the design.
"Do you like it?" Thorin asked, his voice soft.
"It's beautiful," she replied. Looking up at him, she smiled warmly at him. "I love it." Her eyes drifted shut when he pressed his lips against hers in a soft kiss. "And I love you," she murmured a moment later when they parted.
He set his forehead against hers and brushed his knuckles against her freckled cheek. "Soon, I will be able to give you much more than just this necklace," he murmured, his eyes locking with hers. "You'll have all the rings and bracelets and headpieces befitting a queen."
Quietly chuckling, Baylee tilted her head and stole a second kiss from him. "Unless it's jewelry originally meant to be worn by dwarrowlings, I'm not sure how much of it would fit me," she murmured jokingly.
A laugh left Thorin's mouth and he rolled his eyes at her joke. "Jewelry can be adjusted, Mouse-Lass," he told her, amusement in his voice despite its softness. He brushed his knuckles against her cheek once more, a quiet sigh of content leaving his mouth. "Though…I must admit, this gift does not come without a request."
Her brows furrowed slightly and she tilted her head to the side. "A request?" she repeated.
"Yes. I've…been doing quite a bit of thinking over these last few days." He reluctantly stepped away from her, moving to instead look out of the window and down at the city. "Kili is in no state to be traveling—We all know that by this point. Even he knows it, though he tries his best to show otherwise." His eyes closed for a moment and he let out a heavy sigh. "Oin and I are beginning to suspect that he may…" His voice trailed off at the unhappy thought.
"That he may be poisoned," Baylee finished for him after a moment of silence had passed. Thorin looked at her, confusion written on his face. "Da' and I were beginning to suspect the same thing. We remembered how Fili and Kili told us that sometimes, orcs poison their arrows." She bit her lower lip and looked back down at her necklace. "Is there an antidote to the poison?"
"I do not know this, Mouse-Lass. Even if we still had the arrow, there would be no way to tell what was in the poison to begin with." Once more looking out of the window, he let out a heavy sigh. "I went in search of a healer today. One who could possibly help us…but Laketown has none."
Her brows furrowed. "No one in this huge city knows how to treat orcish poisons?" she gaped. "Are there no healers whatsoever, or do they just never have to worry about being poisoned?!"
Thorin couldn't help but be endeared by what she considered to be a 'huge' city—Laketown was a bit large, yes, but by no means was it 'huge'. "There are plenty of healers, Mouse-Lass, but even the most skilled would have a great deal of difficulty treating a poison whose ingredients they don't know. And because Kili is a dwarf, it would affect him differently than it would a human, who they're used to treating."
"…What are we supposed to do, then? Just wait and see if he can fight it off on his own?"
He shook his head. "There is someone who can help, though she only comes to the city once a month," he told her. "The day she's expected to arrive here, however, is the same day as our departure, though no one knows what time of day she will arrive."
"…As such, you'd like for me to stay behind with him to make sure he gets the care he needs." When Thorin nodded, she gave him a small smile as a sense of relief washed through her. With this request, she had a reason for postponing her arrival at the mountain she had come to fear. "Oakenshield, you didn't need to butter me up in order to request such a thing from me," she told him. "I'll happily stay with Kili and wait for the healer with him. Will Oin be staying as well?"
"Yes, he will." Going over to her once more, he set his hands on her upper arms before leaning forward to kiss her forehead. "Once Kili's been cured of the poison, his leg will still need to heal and we don't know how long that will take…I have a feeling, though, that he'll try to leave as soon as the healer says he's cured. Which is why I was hoping you would watch over him."
As he spoke, Baylee felt like there was more to his request than just asking her to watch over Kili. She looked up at him, taking a silent moment to study his features. 'He's definitely hiding something else,' she thought, 'but for some reason, I feel like I shouldn't ask him about it—at least, not right now.'
She reached up, her fingers brushing a lock of hair out of his face. "I'll do my best to make sure he stays off that leg of his," she said at last. "I'm not sure how effective I'll be, considering he could lift me with his pinky finger, but I'll try." When Thorin's hand came to rest on the side of her face, she let her eyes drift shut and she turned her head, nuzzling into his large palm. "Have you told Kili that he'll be staying behind yet?"
"…Not yet, no," he quietly admitted. He let his thumb slowly caress her cheek before closing his eyes and resting his forehead against hers. "I first wanted to make sure that you were alright with staying behind. I don't think he would be quite as willing to stay behind and wait for a healer if Oin was his only companion. He is a good healer, but he's not very good when it comes to conversation, I'm afraid."
"That's true," she agreed with a small chuckle. "Though, I wonder how Fili will react once he hears that you'd like for Kili to stay behind."
Thorin sighed at that. "Admittedly, I'm worried about his reaction. You know how much he cares about his brother and right now is no exception. If he doesn't outright refuse, then he'll be, at the very least, extremely hesitant."
"Who'll be extremely hesitant?"
Baylee squeaked and Thorin quietly swore in surprise; both looked at the doorway to find Bilbo standing there, a steaming mug in his hands. The older hobbit cocked his brow, a hint of amusement tugging the corners of his mouth upwards.
"Am I interrupting something?" he asked. Looking down at the mug, he frowned and pulled his hand away from its bottom to pull his sleeve down over his palm. With his palm now somewhat shielded by the cloth, he let the mug rest in his hand once more.
"No," Thorin replied, reluctantly stepping away from Baylee. "I was merely asking her if she would be willing to stay behind with Kili and Oin. There is a healer due to arrive the day of our departure, but not until after we planned on leaving."
At that, Bilbo's brows furrowed. "Wh-what? We'll b-be leaving Kili, Oin, and Baylee behind?"
"It's not as bad as it sounds, da'," Baylee assured him. "Once the healer treats Kili, he'll need to rest his leg—something he can't do by making the big trek up to the mountain. Oin and I will be staying with him to make sure he stays off his feet and that his leg continues to heal as it should. A few days later, we'll head out and meet you lot at the mountain."
Bilbo swallowed hard as he nodded; at the same time, he finally stepped into the room. "I-I can't say that I like the idea of you staying behind," he admitted. He glanced at Thorin, concern written all over his face. "Sh-surely, we can spare to stay an extra couple of days to allow Kili's leg to heal up after he's been treated?"
"I'm afraid not," Thorin told him, knowing his words brought no reassurance to the hobbit. "But Mouse-Lass is correct: Kili will need only a few days to recover before he's able to travel once more. You will not have to be parted from your daughter for very long." Though he meant the words to be comforting, both hobbits couldn't help but feel as if he had meant to say something more, but had stopped himself.
"I take it, then, that I was the extremely hesitant person you two were talking about?" He looked down at the tea before a look of realization came over him. "Oh, here, dear—I brought this for you."
"Thank you, da'," she said, taking the mug with a smile. "And no, you weren't. We were actually talking about how hesitant Fili would be to leave Kili behind."
"Though, I suspect he'll outright refuse." Thorin let out a quiet sigh. "As a matter of fact, I should go talk to them. The sooner I get it done, the sooner the argument between the three of us will end." Taking a step back towards Baylee, he pressed his lips against her forehead. "I'd like to speak with you more later, if time tonight allows for it."
She nodded in understanding, a small smile coming to her lips. "Alright. Don't get too frustrated with Fili and Kili when they refuse your orders the first dozen or so times."
Both Bilbo and Thorin couldn't help but snort at that. "I can make no promises, Mouse-Lass," he half-joked. Then, turning away from her once more, he gave Bilbo a small nod before leaving the father and daughter alone.
Sighing, Bilbo climbed up on the bed to sit beside Baylee. "How do you feel about staying behind, dear?"
Biting her lower lip, she looked down into the mug of tea. "I…I'm quite glad about the decision," she quietly admitted.
"You are?" His brows furrowed slightly. "I would have thought you would want to stay by Thorin."
"I do, b-but…but at the same time, I don't want to get any closer to that mountain." She let out a sigh that was heavily laden with guilt. "Not until I know for a fact that it's free of any dragons and evil creatures."
An understanding expression came to his face. "You're scared of it."
She nodded and swallowed a bit hard. "I-I don't know why, but ever since I first saw the mountain after we escaped Goblin Town, I've had this feeling of dread growing in the pit of my stomach." She took herself by surprise; she had kept these fears to herself for so long, it was strange to be saying them out loud. "It's—it's what most of my nightmares are about. It feels like no good will come of reaching that place."
Bilbo's brows furrowed even more now; this was the first time Baylee had spoken to him about this. In fact, as far as he knew, this was the first time she had spoken pessimistically about the journey at all. Not really knowing what to say at first, he merely wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gently made her lean against him.
"Is it bad, da'?" she quietly asked when a few moments of silence passed. "Is it bad that I don't want to go near that place when I'm supposed to become its queen?"
"Not at all, dear," he quietly reassured her. "Throughout the duration of this adventure, we've been told time and time again that there's a very real chance that there's a live dragon hidden away in that mountain. If one of the dwarves claims that they're not afraid to approach that mountain, then they're lying through their eyeteeth." He kissed the top of her head, sighing softly. "I'm…I'm actually quite glad you'll be staying behind. I feel that you'd be safer here, staying in Laketown. Even if it turns out Smaug is long dead, I'd still want you to stay down here—at least until we're certain the area is safe. Then you can come join us."
She nodded slowly, finally lifting the mug of tea to her lips. Before taking a sip, however, she blew across the steaming surface. Part of her wanted to warn her father about the Dragon Sickness that Bard had told her about, but surely that had to have been nothing more than a rumor? Thorin didn't seem the least bit concerned about the gold laying inside the mountain; there was the Arkenstone that he kept mentioning, but she could understand his desire to find that again, as it was the symbol of his house…
Looking down at his daughter, Bilbo felt his head tilt somewhat when he noticed the pendant around her neck. "Where did you get that, dear?" he questioned.
"Hm?" Looking down as well, she ended up quietly laughing when she saw the pendant. "Thorin gave it to me," she said, lifting it up so he could inspect it. "He got it in hopes of buttering me up so that I wouldn't argue against staying behind with Kili and Oin."
"Well, he chose the right sort of flower, that's for certain." He smiled, letting the necklace slip back into place. "You've always loved sunflowers."
She smiled before taking another sip of tea. "They may not be the prettiest of flowers, but they're certainly the happiest." A soft sigh left her mouth. "I wish I could be happy like a sunflower right now…"
Bilbo kissed the top of her head again. "All flowers close their petals when the biting and depressing cold of winter comes," he told her, his voice gentle, "but when the spring comes, their petals will open again as they welcome back the warmth and joy of the sun. Just like how, when this is all over and we've managed to reclaim the mountain, you'll find warmth and joy again."
Elsewhere in the inn, things weren't going quite as warmly or smoothly. Thorin sat across from Fili and Kili, both of whom looked quite cross with him—and understandably so. He had just told them that Kili would be remaining behind so that the healer could see to his leg.
"You can't deny Kili the honor and glory of reaching the mountain with the rest of us, uncle!" Fili cried, speaking in Khuzdul. "If you're worried about him falling behind or slowing the group down, then I'll gladly carry him if I have to!"
Thorin let out a heavy sigh as he gave his nephew a pitying look. "Fili, you know I cannot allow that," he replied, also in the ancient dwarven tongue. "The state your brother's in—he needs medicine and rest, neither of which we'll be able to give him while we make our way to Erebor at speed."
"Uncle, please," Kili begged. "For years, you and mum raised us on the stories of your childhoods in that mountain and how, one day, you were going to reclaim it for our family. I can't let that happen while I just lay here all by myself, waiting for a healer that might not even arrive!"
"The healer will come," he assured the younger prince. "I was told she comes every month on the same day. And you will not be alone—Oin and Baylee will be staying behind with you."
Fili crossed his arms over his chest, staring his uncle in the eye. "As am I." He watched as Thorin opened his mouth to speak, but he cut him off. "I belong with my brother, uncle, and if he doesn't go to the mountain with everyone else, then neither do I!"
At that, Kili looked up at his brother, confusion written all over his face. "What? No—no, Fili you need to go!" he told him. "You're uncle's heir; you have to go with him."
"Not without you, I'm not." He continued to stare at his uncle; Thorin couldn't help but notice how similar he looked to his late father in that moment. "I'm not going anywhere without you. So, don't you worry about having to stay back on your own."
"Fili—" Thorin began, but he was once more cut off by the blonde.
"I understand why you're doing this, uncle," he told him, "but that doesn't mean I have to approve of or go along with it. Since this journey began, Kili and I dreamed of reaching the mountain together. Of defeating whatever evil lay within it together. I can't just abandon him here and go experience that awe and amazement without him. It wouldn't be fair."
Letting his elbows rest on the tabletop, Thorin let out a heavy sigh and placed his forehead against his clasped hands. "Mahal help me, you are so very much your mother's child," he quietly grumbled. "Fine. You can remain behind with Kili and the others." His voice was a mixture of exhaustion and exasperation. "I suppose this works in my favor, as if anything were to happen to us, the two of you would be spared, thus preserving the line of Durin."
Content with his answer, Fili eased up. "Exactly. Not only that, but if Kili has to take any medicine, I can be sure he drinks it—you know how much he hates taking medicine."
"You can't blame me for hating it," Kili argued, a pout on his lips. "No matter how much good it does me, it always tastes horrid." He shook his head and, reaching out, plucked up his tankard from the table before taking a long drink from it.
"Exactly," Fili dryly replied, brow raised. "I wouldn't doubt you're in for drinking a few doses of medicine in the coming days." Looking back at his uncle, he saw that Thorin now had his eyes closed and was pinching the bridge of his nose. "…There's something still on your mind, isn't there, uncle?"
"Of course there is." He lowered his arm as he gazed across the table at the two. "I was going to give Kili a task for when he was healed, but being that you're staying behind now, I'll place the burden on your shoulders."
A small feeling of dread suddenly filled Fili's stomach. "And what would that be?" He was so focused on his uncle, he didn't notice Kili switch their tankards around.
Glancing around the common room, Thorin found that they were still the only occupants. He let out a heavy sigh and straightened up as best he could in the man-sized chair. "You'll be keeping an eye on Baylee."
The brothers traded confused expressions.
"But isn't she going with the rest of you?" Kili questioned, his brows knitted together. "As the future queen, I'd expect you to take her with."
Thorin shook his head, releasing a heavy sigh as he did such. "I don't want her near the mountain for the same reason I didn't want both of you near it," he admitted. "I want to be sure it's safe before you three get there."
The princes nodded in understanding. "I thought as much," Kili told him, leaning back in his seat. "I suppose we can keep an eye on her, though with it being the beginning of winter, I doubt she's going to be going many places, aside from Bard's home."
Lifting his own tankard from the table, Fili chuckled. "If anything, once the healer's tended to Kili's leg, she'll be at Bard's home most of the time, making sure he and the children are well-fed." He went to take a long drink of his beer only to find that his tankard was empty. His brow rising, he looked over at his brother, who was struggling to not betray his guilt in the form of laughter. "If you didn't look like you were exhausted from losing most of your blood, I would punch you," he told him, voice dry.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Kili replied, his voice straining with the effort of keeping a neutral expression and tone. "Why would you even want to punch me when I've given you no reason to do such?"
"Kili, give your brother back his beer," Thorin ordered, pinching the bridge of his nose again. He glanced upwards and muttered, "Mahal help me and our people if these two don't mature by the time Fili takes the throne…"
"Are you sure this is a good idea? Having a celebration the night before we're supposed to leave?"
"O' course it is! The townsfolk are celebratin' because we'll soon have the mountain reclaimed an' any evil that lurks in these lands will be gone!"
Bilbo's brow rose as he watched Bofur take a long drink of beer—stronger stuff than what they had been drinking—before setting his tankard down. Around them, the room was filled with people dancing, laughing, eating, and (of course) drinking. He took a small sip of his beer; it had a much stronger and more bitter flavor than the beers back in Shire and he found himself not particularly fond of it.
"I just think it's a bit odd to be partying the night before we have to be early risers," he told his lover. "Don't you think? You all are going to be hungover and grumpy come time to leave—and that's if you're even willing to roll out of bed at all."
Bofur couldn't help but laugh as Bilbo's concern. "Bilbo, love, you've no reason t' worry. We're dwarves! The stuff they call beer here isn't even half as strong as what we're used t' drinking. None o' us will be gettin' drunk tonight, let along drunk enough t' be hungover come morning." He gave the hobbit a playful wink as he motioned at the food-ladened table they were sitting at. "Not t' mention, we've been eatin' some rather hearty food. That'll keep us even more sober."
Bilbo didn't seem at all convinced, however, and it was mostly due to the rosy hue Bofur's cheeks had taken on. "If you say so," he sighed. He took another sip of his beer, doing his best to not show his dislike for it. After all, it was being provided to them for free—and it was always a shame to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Looking around the room, he found it hard to see where the other dwarves were thanks to how many humans were now joining them. He could see Bombur, though it would be nearly impossible to not see the rotund dwarf, as he sat at the head of a table, taking large bites out of a meat pie. Gloin, he spotted, was sitting with Oin at a table near the window, using the dwarven sign language to converse with him, as it would be much too loud for his brother to hear him. Occasionally, he caught glances of Dori and Fili as they mingled among the people, though he couldn't see anyone else from where he and Bofur were sitting.
"Have you seen Baylee at all tonight?" he asked.
"Aye, I saw her hiding away in the kitchen earlier."
"The kitchen? That's a bit odd; she usually adores parties…"
Shrugging, Bofur slipped an arm around Bilbo's waist and brought him closer. "She's a wee lass, love, an' everyone in here is twice—if not thrice—her size. I'm not sure this is the sort of party she would enjoy. Anyway, she was keepin' herself occupied by doin' some baking. Something about wantin' t' make sure we had enough hard breads."
Bilbo couldn't help but chuckle at that. "She knows it's a short journey and yet she still insists on making sure we're well-fed…" He shook his head, a smile on his lips. "I think I should go check on her, though, just to make sure everything's alright in there."
A small pout came to Bofur's lips. "Do you have to? I just got you all snuggled up next to me," he said, nuzzling his nose against Bilbo's cheek. He grinned when he heard his hobbit lad laugh.
"I'll only be gone a few minutes, you silly dwarf," he told him. "And while I'm away, I can bring you some of those scones you were enjoying earlier."
Bofur's brows rose. "Ooh, that sounds agreeable t' me," he chirped. Before letting go of the hobbit, however, he kissed his temple. "Don't' be gone too long or else I might have t' start drinkin' your beer," he teased.
"Help yourself—I know where there's more." He slightly shook his head and laughed to himself as Bofur eagerly accepted this invitation by pulling the mug over to him. Slipping down off of the bench, he made his way through the crowd of people, his 'excuse me's going practically unheard in the din of the room. He somehow managed to make it to the kitchen without getting stepped on or jostled too much, however, leaving him feeling rather chuffed with himself.
Just as Bofur said, Baylee was in the kitchen, though she wasn't baking. Instead, she sat on the counter between a pair of washbasins. On her left, the basin was filled with steaming, sudsy water and dirtied dishes while the one on her right was filled with relatively clean—though steaming—water. Behind her and behind the water-only basin were a couple stacks of pots and pans and, in her hand, she was drying off a plate.
Clearing his throat, Bilbo watched as his daughter looked up, startled by the sound; that took him by surprise, as he thought it would have gone unheard thanks to the music echoing down from the common room. "I'm surprised you're not out front with the rest of us," he told her, clasping his hands behind his back. "There is a party up there, you know."
"I know," she chuckled, setting the plate behind her, "but it's not really the sort of party a little hobbit lass like myself would enjoy attending—not when I have to constantly worry about getting stepped on." She set the dishcloth down in favor of lifting a sopping wet washrag out of the sudsy basin so she could wash another plate.
"So, instead, you're staying back here, busying yourself with dishes."
"Very dull, I know, but at least I'm being productive." She dunked the scrubbed plate into the sudsy water a few times before moving to rinse it off in the other basin. "I made some hard bread for you all to take with you, as well as some soft pastries that you can eat in the morning as you cross the lake." The plate now rinsed, she used the dishtowel to dry it off before setting it atop the previous plate she had washed.
Quietly laughing, he shook his head and made his way over to her. "I think in this week alone, you've done the same amount of baking that you usually do in a year back home."
She let out a rather unladylike snort, her cheeks reddening just seconds later. "I assure you, da', I've only done half my usual amount of baking," she told him, starting to scrub another plate. "Though, I should be done for quite some time."
"You say that, but I know you well enough to know that doing all this baking has been your way of distracting yourself." His voice was a bit quieter now and there was an air of concern about his words. "You're worried."
Her smile faded as she rinsed the plate off before drying it. "How can I not be worried?" she asked after a moment. "Come morning, the company will be leaving for the mountain—the mountain that, quite possibly, houses a realm-destroying dragon inside of it." After adding the plate to the stack, she let her hands fall to her lap and she slouched somewhat. "And I have no idea how long it'll be until we receive word of whether things went well or ill for you lot. Let alone us having no idea if the healer that's arriving tomorrow will even be able to help Kili…"
A heavy sigh left her mouth and she closed her eyes. "I'm sorry for being so pessimistic, da', but…I'm scared."
"There's no need to apologize, dear," Bilbo assured her. Reaching up, he easily plucked her off the counter—almost too easily for his liking, as she had definitely lost some weight—and held her against him in a comforting hug. "We're close to the pinnacle of our adventure. If you weren't frightened of what is to come, I would have to call you foolish. Luckily, I don't have to do that, as you have inherited your sensibilities from your Baggins side and not your Took side."
She quietly laughed, returning her father's hug. "You say that as if neither of us blatantly ignored our Baggins side and, instead, listened to our Took halves by coming on this adventure."
Leaning back, he poked the end of her nose. "Yes, well, I never stated that we listen to our Baggins side all of the time," he told her, his voice a bit dry. Shaking his head, he let out a soft sigh and gave her an extra little squeeze. "Regardless, it's alright to be worried, dear, so long as you don't let it dictate your life—especially at this point in time." He kissed the top of her head. "Are you sure you'll be alright back here, all by your lonesome?"
She nodded. "Yes, da'. I'm actually thinking about making myself a mug of tea and sneaking my way up to my room after I finish up with these dishes."
"Do you think you'll be able to get any rest with all this racket going on?"
Her brow rose in amusement. "As if this any louder than being surrounded by thirteen snoring dwarves."
He nodded in acquiesce. "That is very true…They can be quite loud when they're getting some decent sleep, can't they?" Lifting her up once more, he set her back on the counter as she squeaked. "I'll let the others know you headed upstairs for the night. Be sure to lock the door to your room, though. With all these drunken Big Folk around, there's no telling what could happen. For all we know, one of the dwarves could accidentally start a drunken brawl…"
A stern pout came to her lips and she narrowed her eyes slightly. "They better not, or they'll get a strict scolding from me."
Bilbo let out a laugh, his brow rising. "Normally, I would say that a scolding from you wouldn't do much, but after hearing about how you not only scolded the town guards, but Thorin as well, I'm fairly certain that you would, truly, put them in their place and make them regret their wrong doings." Shaking his head, he continued to laugh, though it was quieter now.
"I'd make them stand in a corner, too, if only there were enough corners to house all their noses," she stated with a nod of affirmation. The sternness quickly left her face, replaced instead by mirth as she started to giggle.
Relieved to hear her laughter, Bilbo grinned. "Alright. I need to get back to Bofur before he starts fretting. I told him I'd only be gone a few moments—though, that reminds me. Are there any of those scones left?"
She nodded, pointing at the table across from her, where there was a plate covered by a clean towel. "Take as many as you'd like—just leave one for me, please."
"Not a problem, dear. I just promised Bofur I'd bring him a couple," he explained, walking over to the table.
Baylee glanced over at her father in time to see him putting a scone in both of his trouser pockets. She then looked back down at the dishes she was washing; luckily, there weren't very many left and, since they had been soaking in hot water, the bits of stuck-on food came off quite easily.
'I don't know how they can be partying on a night like tonight,' she thought, rinsing a bowl. 'Thorin wants them up quite early so that they can cover as much ground—and water—as possible before they have to stop for the night. If they're up all night, partying like this, I don't know how he'll be able to get any of them out of bed, let alone out the door and into a boat!'
Soon enough she had all of the dishes washed, dried, and stacked in neat piles. After making herself some tea, she tucked a scone into the pocket of her dress and started to make her way out of the kitchen. The common room, she found, was even fuller than it had been half an hour ago and, from what she could see, tables and chairs had been stacked along the walls, allowing for people to dance in the center of the room. Those who weren't dancing were crowded along the walls, laughing and clapping along with the music.
'Even if I wasn't trying to remain unseen, this would be quite the challenge,' she thought, biting her lower lip. 'I don't think I've ever tried to get through a crowd this thick…' A quiet sigh left her mouth. Shaking her head, she held onto her mug with both hands and, with a determined look on her face, she slipped into the crowd.
It was a harrowing experience for her, making her way across the room. Not only did she have to squeeze her way between people, but she also had to duck under a couple of tables and even skirted the edge of the group of dancers. She had no idea if anyone saw her or not, but given that no one had tried to stop her, she was pleased with herself.
Unbeknownst to her, however, she had been seen by someone, though they spotted her as she had scurried up the stairs.
Baylee was just starting to open the door to her room when she heard someone say her pet-name. Looking back down the hall, she saw Thorin walking towards her, a concerned expression on his face. She gave him a warm smile.
"Why aren't you down at the party, Mouse-Lass?" he questioned, stopping when he was just a few feet from her.
"Too many Big Folk," she admitted. "It's hard enough navigating a room filled with thirteen dwarves, but navigating a room packed with dwarves and Big Folk? That's darn near impossible." A soft laugh left her mouth. "Though, why aren't you down there?"
"Too many people in general," he chuckled. "That, and I don't find that having a party the night before we're supposed to leave to be a very sensible thing to do, but the others…" He shook his head. "Normally, I would have put my foot down, but this may be the last bit of fun they'll have for a while and I don't want to rob them of that."
She nodded in understanding. "They'll have self-inflicted punishments come morning, anyway, in the form of exhaustion and hangovers," she joked.
He couldn't help but snort. "That is very true. They're not going to be in the best of moods, come our early rising tomorrow. Perhaps they'll be able to get a little bit of a nap as we sail to the northern shores of the lake."
"Given that I've come to learn just how grumpy dwarves can be when they're exhausted, I can only hope they get some naps in," she smiled. "For your sake, of course." Pushing the door of her room open the rest of the way, she motioned for Thorin to enter with her.
Following her into the room, Thorin made sure to leave the door open—just in case someone were to walk by. The room was fairly dark, even with the bit of light spilling in from the hallway. Soon, though, he heard Baylee strike a match and, just a few seconds later, she was illuminated by the warm glow of an oil lamp. As she turned the wick up, he could see that she had set her mug of tea down on her nightstand and placed a scone beside it.
He walked over while she climbed onto the bed; crossing his arms over his chest, he leaned against the wall across from her. "So, tell me, Mouse-Lass: If this were a party filled with hobbits and dwarves instead of humans and dwarves, would you be more willing to partake in the festivities?"
"Yes," she chuckled. "I quite enjoy parties—so long as there's very little chance of me getting stepped on or accidentally pushed to the ground." Leaning over, she plucked up the scone and broke off a piece before popping it into her mouth. She broke off a second piece, offering it to Thorin.
"Thank you," he smiled, taking the piece from her. As he leaned back, he shifted his weight from his left leg to his right. "When Erebor is reclaimed and people have returned to the halls of the Lonely Mountain and the streets of Dale, I'm sure there will be many feasts and festivities that you could partake in without fear of getting trod on or shoved about."
"I certainly hope that'll be the case," she replied, her brow rising slightly in amusement. Breaking off another bit of scone, she popped it into her mouth before glancing over at Thorin. The warm glow of the oil lamp softened his features somewhat, making him seem almost at ease as he stood there.
'But he's not,' she thought, watching as he shifted his weight from his right foot to his left. 'He's anxious—Durin's Day is only five days from now and he wants to get to the mountain. With luck, he'll find only his home and the treasure…'
Thorin's head tilted when he noticed that Baylee's brows had furrowed slightly and it seemed that she was staring off into nothingness. "Mouse-Lass? Is everything alright?"
Blinking, she seemed to come out of her trance. "Hm? Oh, yes—yes, everything's alright." She gave him a reassuring smile. "Sorry. I was just thinking is all."
"About what?" Spotting some crumbs clinging to the corner of her lips, he stepped forward and gently lifted her chin before using his thumb to wipe the crumbs away. "You had some crumbs," he explained as her cheeks turned a bit pink.
"Thank you, then," she chuckled. She broke off another bit of scone and offered it to him. He took it and promptly put it into his mouth. "As for what I was thinking…I was thinking about how anxious you seem," she then admitted. "You wish you could have left for the mountain a few days ago, don't you?"
It was his turn for his brows to furrow. "How can you tell?" he questioned after swallowing.
"You keep shifting your weight from one leg to the other. Now, that can mean you're anxious or that you have to use the privy quite badly, but since you have yet to rush off towards the privy, you must be anxious."
He softly laughed. "You're becoming more observant, Mouse-Lass. But…you are correct. I do wish we could have left a few days ago; it wouldn't have been fair, however. The others needed the rest and the good, hearty food before we began the final leg of our journey. And we needed to figure out what to do about Kili." A heavy sigh left his mouth. "I wish he would stay off his feet, but he insists on pushing himself…"
She nodded in agreement. "I think…I think he's trying to not disappoint you," she said quietly. "He knows his injury is bad—poisoned, even—but he doesn't want you to think he's weak."
Thorin frowned. "Disappointed in him?" he repeated, shocked and confused by this revelation. "I could never be disappointed in him—or in Fili, for that matter. For all the grief they give me with their mischievous antics, they've grown into a fine young pair of princes and extremely skilled warriors."
"Then let them know that. Before you leave tomorrow, tell them that you're proud of them." Her eyes fell shut when Thorin leaned forward, pressing their foreheads together. "Not only will they be reassured that they're not burdens, but I think it'll make Kili more likely to follow whatever instructions the healer gives him—especially if those instructions are to stay in bed and rest."
He was quiet for a long moment, carefully thinking over her words; while he thought, his hand rose up, brushing a lock of her hair behind her ear. "I think I will do that," he finally spoke. "I already assured them that I'm leaving Kili behind for his health, but now I'm beginning suspect they may both worry that I'm doing it because I resent him getting injured…which couldn't be farther from the truth." A heavy sigh left his mouth and he let his eyes fall shut.
Baylee reached over and, lifting his hand, held it between her palms. "It will do all three of you some good," she told him, her voice quiet. "It will lift their spirits, hearing your reassurances, while bringing you some comfort."
A small smile came to his lips and he pulled his forehead away from hers in favor of kissing it. "I hope you're right, Mouse-Lass," he murmured. Wrapping his arm around her, he let his free hand rest on the back of her head as he lovingly held her against him. "'Ibinê abnâmul."
"I love you, too," she murmured, nuzzling into his shoulder. She released his hand and instead slipped her arms around his chest. "I'm going to miss you while we're apart."
"And I will miss you," he replied, his voice just as soft. "But I know this is necessary. Though Oin is a good healer, there's little chance he'd be able to keep as good of a watch over Fili and Kili as you would."
Baylee was quiet for a moment, making Thorin think she was just enjoying their closeness when she was, in fact, remembering how it still felt like he was hiding something from her. "Is…Is there any other reason why you want me to stay behind?" she finally asked, her voice quiet.
He paused, brows furrowing slightly. "Why do you ask, Mouse-Lass?"
"It…it just feels like you're trying to hide something from me."
A sigh left his mouth as he stroked the back of her head before he, surprisingly, chuckled. "Sometimes you are far too perceptive, my love," he murmured. "I will admit that I am hiding something from you," he told her, "and that something is fear."
"Fear? Of what?"
It was Thorin's turn to go quiet for a few moments as he debated whether or not he should tell her the truth. If he should instead tell her he was afraid they would miss their chance to find the door rather than his fear of possibly taking his friends to their doom. But why shouldn't he tell her? He had already told Fili and Kili part of his worries.
'But they're not Baylee,' he thought. 'They're strong, capable warriors and she's such a small, fragile little thing…' His brows furrowed at the thought. 'No,' he then scolded himself. 'No. Baylee is far from fragile. She's gone through the pain and tortures of the journey so far and still wears a smile while making sure we all get enough to eat. She is strong…she will be able to handle the truth.'
"I fear that I may soon be leading the others on a death march," he finally admitted, his voice quiet. "I…I try to be optimistic for them. I tell them that we'll soon have Erebor reclaimed and can restore it to its former glory. But if Smaug still sleeps within those halls…I don't know what will happen."
He swallowed hard, thankful his eyes were shut as they had begun to sting with tears. Though he knew he could be open with her, it was still hard confessing his fears to Baylee when all he wanted to do was to keep her safe from whatever horrors lay ahead. "And…that is true reason I wanted you to stay behind with Fili and Kili: To keep you three out of harm's way and, should something happen, give you enough time to get out of here."
To his surprise and confusion, Baylee pulled away from him. He thought she was going to hop off the bed and walk out, but she instead pulled herself further onto the bed. She changed her position so that she was sitting on her knees, giving her an extra five or six inches of height. Then, leaning forward, she wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him close to her.
"It's alright to be scared," she said, voice soft.
Once more his brows furrowed. "What was that, Mouse-Lass?"
"It's alright to be scared," she repeated. There was tenderness and understanding in her voice as she spoke. "To be afraid of a dragon of all things is perfectly fine. In fact, if you weren't scared of Smaug, I would have to wonder if there was something wrong with you." She unconsciously started to comb her fingers through his hair; part of her felt like she had no right saying these things to him given how afraid she was of getting nearer to the mountain. "And if any of the others are saying they're not scared, then they're lying through their eyeteeth," she told him, repeating the words her father had told her just a few days ago.
He quietly laughed, his brow rising. "I suppose you're right," he said, tilting his head into her touch. Despite his amusement, a heavy sigh left his mouth and he closed his eyes, his arms wrapping around her small frame. "Though, it is difficult. When you are a leader, everyone expects you to be and to appear fearless. Especially on a quest such as this."
"No matter what, so long as you continue forward despite your fear, you'll appear as unafraid as you need to be." Turning her head, she kissed his cheek; all the while, she continued to run her fingers through his dark locks. "But even if you show that you're scared, Thorin, the others are loyal to you. They will follow you, no matter what happens."
A smile came to his lips, though she couldn't see it. "I don't think I've ever heard you utter that name," he quietly chuckled. The combination of her words and her playing with his hair brought him more comfort than he expected.
"I use it mostly when you're not around." Now that she knew Thorin was also scared about going to the mountain, she felt far less guilty about her own fears. "But I'm serious: It's perfectly alright to be frightened of what lies ahead. Especially when it involves a dragon and the lives of your friends."
"With how you speak, one would think you weren't afraid."
"Well, they'd be thinking wrong," she admitted with a quiet sigh. "I'm…I'm terrified, Thorin. I have been ever since the eagles set us down on the Carrock."
"…You're terrified?" He felt her nod. "I knew you harbored some fear about reaching the mountain, but I didn't know you were terrified."
She felt him bring her closer to his body, his embrace more protective now. "The reality of this journey didn't set in until we were taken to Goblin Town," she told him, voice quiet. "Yes, even after getting tossed about by trolls, losing the use of my eye, and being chased by wargs, I thought they were just one-off occurrences and would be the only trouble we came across. But after fighting and killing all those goblins and hearing that Azog still lives—only to then see him in the flesh and you nearly die because of him?" She sniffled and used her free hand to wipe some tears away before they could fall.
He quietly sighed and comfortingly started to rub her back. "It seems that I wasn't the only one who was hiding something," he softly stated.
"I didn't want to disappoint you."
"You haven't disappointed me, Baylee. Far from." Turning his head, he kissed her temple. "If anything, I'm impressed by you. As scared as you have been, you've pressed on. Not to mention, you've grown bolder over the course of this journey. Using your small size to manipulate the guards into giving us more food in Mirkwood as well as convincing Bard to help us…Scolding the guards of Laketown and me when we were acting like asses."
"Someone has to make sure you behave," she told her with a quiet laugh. She buried her face into the side of his neck, sighing quietly. "Just…promise me you'll be careful when you reach the mountain, alright?"
He nodded slowly, still rubbing her back. "I promise, my Mouse-Lass."