DISCLAIMER: SAME AS BEFORE, SEE EARLIER CHAPTAHS. DANKE.
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"Bilbo!" Noeg coughed, waving his hand in an effort to banish the thick dust from the air about him. Slowly, as the dust settled down Noeg peered into the darkness he was able to make out a shape. The Dwarf gasped as he beheld a pile of old wood, stone, and rubble. What had he done?!
"Mr. Baggins!" he shouted, dashing to the pile and digging furiously as he tossed pieces of wood to the side. Of course he hadn't been exactly sure whether the lever would work in the way it had been meant to, but to collapse the trap entirely? What had his forefathers been thinking when they built it? These things were supposed to last!
Finding a hairy foot he was able to uncover a bruised and battered (but very much alive and annoyed) hobbit. Bilbo coughed and shook his head sharply in an effort to relieve his itching face from the dirt. With a strong heave, Noeg was able to pull the Hobbit to his feet, and dusted the dazed Halfling off very politely. Bilbo however, was too irritated to be grateful.
"There!" Noeg grinned, "Good as new! I knew you were a tough one, moment I clapped eyes on you!" The Petty Dwarf appeared very proud of his rescue.
"What-" Bilbo wheezed, "w-were you thinking?! Pulling random things?!"
"Well don't blame me!" The Petty Dwarf retorted, "It isn't as if it's my fault! I can hardly be expected to keep this place in tip-top condition!"
"You nearly killed me!" The Hobbit barked, rubbing his now very sore head.
"I could have killed you with less difficulty by just shooting you with a single arrow, then risk my entire home! Anyhow, if I had wanted you dead you would be right now!" The Dwarf glared up at the tall Hobbit, scowling with a surprising fierceness for his size and daring Bilbo to disagree. Bilbo glared back with equal fierceness, he was now very tired of Dwarves in general, Petty or otherwise.
But what was perhaps even more surprising, was that Noeg began fighting a smile that was beginning to turn the corners of his mouth, and then began to laugh out loud. Bilbo watched the Dwarf with confusion written upon his face. What was it playing at now?
"Dear me!" Noeg chuckled, "You've made me lose my reputation now!"
"What?" Bilbo was completely bewildered by the Petty Dwarf's mirth.
"My reputation." Noeg explained, "I've not had a single argument in a good many years, probably the least quarrelsome creature in these parts. And here you come, blundering along and making me lose it! Now I'll have to start all over again eh?" He slapped Bilbo on the back, with an unexpected strength that nearly knocked our tall (at least when compared with the Dwarf) Burglar over.
A rumble sounded ominously through the room, causing both creatures to look up nervously.
"Eh..." Noeg began, "I think we ought to be leaving. Tea wasn't it?"
"Hm-" Bilbo began, "oh! Oh yes!" he hastily nodded his head in agreement. He did not like the looks of this room now anymore than he had when he first entered. The collapse of the trap had very likely weakened the structure. At any rate, neither creature fancied the idea of staying.
"Come on." said the Petty Dwarf, turning suddenly and walking very quickly towards the exit, leaving Mr. Baggins still staring at the roof. With a start Bilbo realized the Dwarf was leaving.
"Hey!" Bilbo called, "Wait for me!" He ran after the Dwarf, tripping once on a stone but catching his balance before he could fall. Bilbo could hear the Dwarf's amused chuckle at his clumsiness.
"Come on snail legs!"
"Snail legs?!" The Hobbit demanded, but this was only followed by more laughter.
The Hobbit and the Petty Dwarf traveled for many long hours down the corridors in a very confusing pattern. They were deep under the earth, and many of the passages had become treacherous with age. There were a few passages that the two came to, but something did not seem right to the Dwarf, he would soon stop them. Testing the ground and listening carefully as the Hobbit watched in partial fascination. If the Dwarf was satisfied with whatever it was he found, they would continue. If not, then they would discard that particular way in favor of another. It was a long and tedious process, and the rejections of certain tunnels did nothing to make Bilbo at ease.
Noeg was a talkative fellow, and would only become silent when deciding which passages to take. He would speak on any topic, and Bilbo discovered a good amount of information in this way. It seemed that Noeg had been the youngest son of a family of five, accompanied by his bachelor uncle who had a rare interest in pocket watches, and had had quite an extensive collection. Arguably the finest collection in all Middle Earth.
Besides talking about himself, Noeg was interested in Bilbo and his country. He expressed great interest in the sleepy little Shire, and asked many questions. Questions about Hobbits, their customs, and anything obscure such as what they did for a quiet Sunday afternoon. As many questions that Noeg asked however, Bilbo had double the amount. The Hobbit was somewhat pleased that finally, he had found someone who was not easily irritated by his many questions. In fact Noeg seemed to enjoy them.
"One thing that puzzles me," Noeg said, "about Hobbits that is." The Petty Dwarf glanced down at Bilbo's feet, causing the Hobbit to shift uncomfortably. Was there something wrong with them? True, he had been unable to brush them for a long while, but then again he had not really had a moment to tend to it.
"Beggin' your pardon, and hoping I cause no offense. But curiosity's got the best of me as they say." Noeg continued.
"What's wrong with my feet?" Bilbo asked, somewhat worried that they appeared ghastly.
Noeg coughed, trying to think of the best way to word his thoughts. "Well..." he began slowly, "couldn't help but notice..." He whispered as if it was a private matter between the Hobbit and himself, "But your feet. You don't wear boots. At all. Of any kind."
Bilbo nodded slowly, "Yes, that's so." He was partially relieved that there was evidently nothing wrong with his feet, but the Dwarf's question puzzled him all the same.
"But-well...running around all the time, over hill and stone and goodness knows what else...don't they.." Bilbo raised an eyebrow as the Dwarf searched for the words, "Don't they ever bruise or hurt or anything?" It was a legitimate question, although the fact was commonly accepted without question by most.
"Oh." Said Bilbo, caught somewhat off guard, "Uh, no. I don't suppose they do. Not yet anyways. Too tough I guess." The Hobbit chuckled, he had not exactly thought of it before that it might seem odd to others.
"Must be nice." Noeg mused, "Ah! Here we are!" He pointed to an oak door in the wall of the mountain and little distance away.
"Unfortunately, from the place you fell, we have to take a long route to get back up to the upper level. Through my home. Other wing has become a bit dangerous of late. This here is the safest place in this entire settlement. We can grab a bite to eat I suppose, and I can get what I need to help your friend. I don't know about you but I'm famished."
Reaching for his belt, the little fellow pulled out a ring of keys, fumbling with them until he found the desired key. Placing it into the lock on the door, he turned it. The gears in the lock creaked loudly, but gave a satisfying click as it opened. Pushing open the door he gave another queer bow to Bilbo, beckoning the Hobbit to enter.
"Welcome Mr. Baggins, to my humble abode."
Meaning that the Hobbit should make himself at home, Noeg gestured to one of the twin seats by the merrily burning logs in the fireplace while he trotted off to his larder. Bilbo sat down with a grateful sigh. Granted, the chair was meant for someone smaller than he was, but he found himself still able to fit in it comfortably. Between the two chairs stood an old marble table, small enough to set a cup of tea or a pipe on and still be able to read comfortably. The house was of a plain sort, but of a cheerful nature. A few ancient roots grew through parts of the wall, and had been cunningly twisted in order to hold numerous objects. From what Bilbo could see, there were many books of all sorts in great, dark, oaken shelves. Clearly this Dwarf enjoyed many pastimes that Bilbo himself enjoyed. The Mantlepiece was a deep black, having ornate edges and columns reaching from it to the floor in a most elegant manner. there was no object on it save for a pipe and a small black case of leather. The walls were ancient, but well cawere well cared for and as clean as any Hobbit could wish.
Bilbo's sharp senses could hear Noeg running back and forth in his kitchen, most likely wondering what it was that Hobbits liked to eat. Within a few moments he came out bearing a tray with tea and numerous edibles upon it, setting it down on the small table between the seats.
"I'm afraid I don't have milk, bit hard to come by round here. But I have a good supply of sugar." The Dwarf apologized.
"Don't apologize." Bilbo said, "I don't take milk in my tea anyway."
"Oh?" Noeg chuckled, "Well that's good. 'Cause I don't either."
Bilbo could not help but wonder at the food on the tray. Where on earth did Noeg come by it?
"Noeg?" he began.
"Hmm?" The Dwarf answered between a sip of tea.
"I can't help but wonder...The food, the tea, how do you come by it? I mean, living on your own, it must be difficult to get it."
"Oh well, I gather most of it from the woods. There's enough to support a good many out there. I hunt, gather, the usual. I also have a hidden garden of sorts," The Dwarf shrugged at this, "Not very pretty to look at, but it does the job. I'm able to support myself, so I doubt I could ask for more."
"Must be a lot of hard work." The Hobbit mused.
"Aye. It is. But it keeps me busy. And it keeps my mind off of other things. Thinking too much 'round here," the Dwarf shuddered, "Isn't that good of a thing."
Before Bilbo could answer he yelped as he suddenly felt something warm and hairy crawl along the edge of his neck. Jumping up with surprising agility, he turned to see who or what had invaded his personal space.
A small creature with great amounts of black hair, curiously resembling a badger, sat on the back of Bilbo's chair. Large chocolate eyes gazed back at the Hobbit. It slunk down and settled itself comfortably among the cushions in Bilbo's seat, giving out what sounded like a cross between a purr and a squeak. The creature had little to speak of for a tail, but seemed to be oblivious to what it lacked. Large blunt claws for digging decorated its paws, and a sharp snout stuck out from its face. It stretched its dark body, yawning to reveal many pointed and yellow teeth in its mouth.
"Is, is that a badger?" Bilbo asked nervously, he had heard tales of the ferocity.
"Aye, that's a badger. Although its a type that doesn't come up to the surface often, so few see it. Don't worry, he's friendly. Hangs about hoping to earn some scraps. Bit like a dog actually." Noeg answered, getting up and dumping it out of the chair and shooing it into another room.
Bilbo then sat down carefully, afraid that more of the creatures kin might be about. Noeg sensing his discomfort chuckled.
"Don't worry Mr. Baggins. They don't bite, I only let the friendly ones in. That one there was one I raised myself. So I can vouch for his good behavior." The Petty Dwarf settled himself back in the chair.
"Are there," Bilbo began, "A lot of creatures like that underground?"
Noeg laughed at this, "Are there? I should say there are! But you have to know where to look. They don't like strangers you see. There's a lot besides them living 'round here. So they have a good right to be cautious. Anything that has sense is in these parts."
"Like what?" Bilbo asked eagerly. It had never crossed his mind that there might be actual creatures that lived underground save for Goblins and Dwarves. This was a completely new idea that fascinated him.
With an amused smile, Noeg launched into a vivid narrative, telling of the different creatures he had run into on different occasions. The Hobbit listened with deep interest, oblivious to everything else as Noeg told of life beneath the Earth. The Dwarf spoke of wondrous sights and marvels that were the stuff of dreams. So brilliant were the Dwarf's words and descriptions, that the Hobbit almost wished to see them for himself.
What followed was perhaps one of the most enjoyable hours that Bilbo had experienced on the entire journey. Noeg proved himself to be one that enjoyed a good conversation, although this was possibly because he had been without one for so long. At any rate, it was not until the hour had passed that Bilbo remembered Thorin.
"Sorry, but how long have I been here?" Bilbo asked, shifting in the chair.
"Oh, about an hour." Noeg replied, "Odd though, that one fairly flew by didn't it?"
"An hour!" Bilbo squeaked, as he realized that if Thorin had not been awake while he had been in the trap, then he was definitely awake now. If Bilbo in any way knew Thorin, he could bet that the Dwarf would very likely be looking for him.
"I'm sorry!" Bilbo jumped up from the chair, "But I really have to find my friend!"
"Alright, alright!" Noeg said, getting up as well, "Just let me grab a few things will you? Then we'll be on our way."
The Petty Dwarf trotted off once more into the back, leaving Bilbo pacing nervously by the fire. Of all the stupid things! Why hadn't he paid any attention to the time?! Thorin might be dead for all he knew, looking for him, and it would be all Bilbo's fault.
"Thorin, for goodness sake stay where you are." Bilbo muttered anxiously. "I only hope we can find you, and soon. Blast it all, I've messed this up terribly, yet again."
"Gandalf!" Fili exclaimed, "Look! More blood! And no orc's I would guess!" The young Dwarf pointed to a number of the crimson drops that had fallen lightly on the leaves. The older wizard came to Fili's side with a huff, muttering quietly as he bent the stalks of the surrounding plants back in order to get a better view.
"Quite right Fili." The Wizard said quietly.
Kili came striding into the glen, having gone on a little scouting expedition of his own a short distance ahead. Finding nothing, he had decided to return to his comrades.
"Gandalf. Fili." He nodded in greeting. The other two however, ignored him. Or rather Gandalf was too deep in thought and Fili was watching the wizard think.
"What's so interesting?" Kili asked, cocking his head and striding over to see what the commotion was about.
It was not until Kili's large boots crunched in the leaves next to them that the other Dwarf and Wizard noticed his presence.
"Ah, Kili." Said Gandalf looking up, "I thought we had agreed to no more wandering off?" The wizard raised a bushy eyebrow, expecting an answer from the dark haired Dwarf.
"Uh-yes. That..." Kili stumbled, thinking of an excuse, "Well I heard something you see..."
"You heard something?" The Wizard stated incredulously, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
"And-uh, I had to...had to-investigate!" Kili finished.
The Wizard merely raised an eyebrow in answer, turning back to Fili and muttering something.
Kili's curious eyes glanced over what Fili had found, and gave a loud gasp as he realized what it was. Fili turned with an annoyed look and frowned. Gandalf did the same.
"You don't suppose they're badly wounded do you Gandalf?" The young Dwarf questioned the Wizard.
"Oh no, I don't think so Kili," The Wizard replied sarcastically, "Or else we might have found numerous such signs, which you might have noticed had you been paying attention and not investigating sounds!" The wizard barked out the last bit sharply, causing Kili to jump.
"I'm sorry Gandalf!" Kili said in a small voice.
The wizard frowned darkly, but relented with a sigh. "I forgive you Kili. But for goodness sake stay sharp! Bilbo and Thorin's lives could well be at stake!"
Kili nodded, "I promise I shall do better Gandalf."
"Very well." The Wizard said, "Let us hope so."
The Wizard then beckoned to Fili as he began trudging forward once more, leading them farther into the woods.. The Dwarf came and walked beside Kili, nudging him with an elbow and giving him a friendly grin which Kili gratefully returned.
"So what did you find?" Kili shouldered his pack, looking at his older brother.
"Nothing good." Fili said grimly. "Blood. But not an Orc's. Which can only mean one thing."
"That either Bilbo or Thorin have been injured, and bad enough to leave tell-tale signs." Kili finished solemnly. "Is there anyway of telling how bad exactly?"
"Not that I know of," Fili answered, "I'm just starting to get the hang of this whole tracking business."
"Well I hope they're alright. I really do." Kili could not keep the anxiety from his voice. "Uncle's not well...you know...as young as he used to be."
"Ooh, he'd skin you alive if he heard that!" Fili chuckled.
Kili grinned mischievously, "Well he's not here. That's the whole point. I can say what I want."
"Oh no you can't!" Fili grinned, slapping the side of his brother's head playfully, "I promised mother I'd keep you in check. And I intend to."
"Ow!" Kili rubbed his head and smirked, "You're always hitting me you know that?"
"Or saving you." Fili finished. "Think the count's up to fifteen times so far."
"That last one doesn't count! We saved each other there." Kili protested with a chuckle.
The two Dwarves laughed long, but soon fell silent after this, following the grey clad wizard before them. The sun had begun to set, and yet another day was nearly over. The scene was quite a peaceful one, with the sunbeams falling softlyd upon the leaf covered forest floor, with particles flowing in and out of them like pieces of gold. A Raven screamed at the travelers, startling all three with its throaty cry. With a screech it rose and flew far away into the distance.
"I hope they're alright." Kili whispered worriedly to Fili once more.