At last...


This time Bilbo was woken by a muffled cry of shock, followed by a yell. "Kíli!"

He decided it was probably best to pretend he was still asleep. But he managed to shuffle over slightly so that if he just cracked his eyelids open a little bit he could almost see…

"Fíli! Are you alright?"

"You sneaky…"

"What? What have I done?"

Dwalin's rich throaty laughter rang around the camp. "You seem to have got tangled in a bush overnight, Fíli!"

"Tied. Not tangled. Tied."

"Would you like me to untie you?"

"Kíli, if you come anywhere near my head again…"

"What makes you think it was me in the first place?"

"Who else would it be?"

"Err… Bilbo?"

Bilbo squeezed his eyes tight hurriedly, just in case.

"Good try."

"Yeah, don't bring the burglar into it."

Bilbo couldn't quite see now, his view blocked by the circle of amused dwarves congregating round their stricken comrade.

"Do you want me to help untangle…"

"No! I can do it myself. Ow!"

"Don't pull it lad, it'll just get tighter."

"Good knot work, that."

"I told you, it wasn't me."

"I think you're going to have to cut it."


"No, it's the only way. Lop it off, you should only lose about half of it. It's either that or you go around all day with a branch stuck to your head…"

"Bofur, shut up!"

"So this is what I get then, is it, when I tell you all we are to be away by first light?" Thorin's voice cut through the tumult of catcalls and suggestions like a stone plunging through the dark waters of a well. "One of my nephews tied to a tree and the rest of you stood around smirking?"

Bilbo considered crawling further under the blankets, hoping no one would wonder why he hadn't made an appearance yet.



"Was this you?"

"N- Maybe."

"Right. Untangle that mess now, and we'll talk later. The rest of you, start packing." Thorin raised a hand to stop the twin chorus of 'but's. "Kíli, I don't care what he did to your beard. It wasn't holding us up then. Fíli, shut up and let him help you. Much as it might amuse us all to watch you trying to untie knots behind your head, it is not helping us get to Erebor."

The crowd scattered, and Bilbo quietly slid out of his bedroll, listening to the hushed bickering in the corner.

"Don't pull it so hard."

"You baby."

"Was it you?"

"Did you shave off my beard? My first beard?"


"Yes, I did, then."

"You like it really."

"Shut up."

"You do. It suits you. Ow! And I know you're keeping it that way."

"Am not!"


"It's easier for shooting."

"Uh-huh. Right. Ow!"

Bilbo isn't quite sure, but he thinks that as he turns round to pull on his coat he catches a glimpse of Thorin stifling a laugh.