22 Stoney Street, London SE1 1TU, United Kingdom. The Southwark Tavern. Saturday May 14, 1:30 p.m

Thorin Oakenshield sat on the stool sitting up straight, with a disdainful look for those around him. Balin had often noticed that swagger and seldom poked fun at it; when he had, Thorin had shrugged it off good naturally but still looked like he did not like to be told about it. It was an aristocrat's way of walking, he once had thought, but ignored his own remark. Right now, though, his scowl became less deep as he scrolled down his iPhone absently.

All while the Southwark Tavern screamed their heads off over an Arsenal game.

As soon as Balin approached Thorin lifted his head and smiled in welcome. "Balin. Did you call Fili and Kili?" he asked. Balin nodded. "Fili said no, Kili said yes, but I guarantee they will both come." "They has to come," said Thorin slowly, his phone now forgotten on his lap. "Not only would they be instrumental, it concerns them too," he added, and Balin nodded solemnly at this phrase. "Who else is on the list again, remind me?" said Balin. He was trying to forget his thoughts should the brothers not come. Why would they say no? They would be interested in the rewards, they would be interested in the adventure involved…

"To begin with the smaller roles: Oin and Gloin Groinson," said Thorin, and Balin suppressed a snigger. He had never gotten over those names when he had first heard them.

"Following them are Bofur, the ammunitions' expert; and his cousin Bifur…if we get him to come," sighed Balin. "Is he really impaired by that bullet-?"

"No. He was in a job in Munich six months after the shot, and in a few others, but got out of the game later. He doesn't speak much because of the bullet, but he can… sometimes."

"What about Bofur? Would he be willing?"

"Certainly. He lives in the same flat as someone else on the list," said Thorin.

"That bloke…the cat burglar…Nori?" asked Balin in surprise. He paced around his friend's seat.

"Of course. He'll agree to help us in an instant. I heard he got in trouble with the French authorities. He was smuggling these priceless paintings from an antique art gallery," explained Thorin gravely.

"Nori was Dori's brother, no?" thought Balin aloud. Thorin sighed.

"Dori used to fence for some, but those days are past since Nori got into the game," he explained, his words heavy. "Ori's at MIT and Dori doesn't want him to be involved in it."

"Ori? Ah, yes…the technology whiz kid," recalled Balin as he watched a particularly rowdy group of Englishmen boo at the screens vigorously. "He might be useful, too."

"He's been moonlighting, and Dori pretends not to hear about it; busy as he is with company," remarked Thorin solemnly as he returned to his phone.

"What about Bofur's brother, Bombur?" asked Balin enthusiastically.

"Ah, yes, but I wouldn't tell Bofur that," noted Thorin. "He'll come." Balin nodded, knowing that when Thorin ended a conversation, it ended. "Dwalin's in, you already told me that…"

"But exactly how are we doing the job? You've told me the basics. What about the sources?"

Thorin sighed, and gestured to the stool beside him, motioning him to sit down. "The source was, as you know, Gandalf." Balin nodded.

"Funny surname."

"That doesn't matter. He's given me the information needed to pull him out of his stolen nest, damn him," growled Thorin at the end, and Balin looked down, remembering their mark.

"How do we know it's not a trap? Smaug's clever enough to try and bait us into hitting him back," asked Balin rashly, his words angry.

He had been there when the deal happened, and the Durin family had been turned out their own doors. Their estate and their money had been swallowed by the greedy business partner, and two weeks before they were supposed to be evicted from their own mansion, Erebor, they had been ambushed with explosions and bombs out of their home. Thorin had been only fourteen, and his father and grandfather had died crushed by the debris. One group of detectives had died in the subsequent explosions, while the other one, led by DI Thranduil, had been neglectful of the case. Thorin had gone through a hard life, but he managed to build himself a life of commodity, mostly thanks to his cousins who had lived with him, Balin and Dwalin. Even his sister Dis had learned to survive and thrive, but they had learned other skills along the way.

"Because he has his own agenda against Smaug," explained Thorin. "I made sure of it. I'm not easily fooled, Balin."

"But it's impossible, Thorin. The first thing is, he's agoraphobic," pointed out Balin.

"No-everyone says he is, but that doesn't mean he won't come out," disagreed Thorin. "One thing Gandalf did tell me is that he is not agoraphobic, despite never having left our mansion once remodeled," grunted Thorin. His scowl deepened as he thought of their mansion remodeled by the filthy-

"Say he's not. He has literally the least accessible security system in the UK, which can only be accessed from two points inside the house, the master bathroom and the vault." The vault. That was the hardest part. In the explosions most of the house had been destroyed, but the vault was left untouched-until Thranduil's men had approached it a few hours after the incident and found it to be rubble, but not before noticing its contents were empty.

"Ori's work."

"What about

"Our crew are aspiring thieves, Thorin," whispered Balin to his friend, leaning to his ear. "We have some information on our side, yes, but if we are caught Smaug won't even bother with the police. I am the last person to let sleeping dogs lie, but why now, after all this time?" mumbled Balin.

Thorin looked at his friend kindly as the Liverpool team scored, and the roars of outrage shook the pub. "It is Gandalf, not some first timer, that is telling us we have a chance. We do have a lot to lose."

"Our lives, basically, our freedom if Smaug is kind, so not much," grumbled Balin sarcastically.

"We have to," said Thorin, decision in his every word. "Let's go over the list again..."