Ellethen managed to stifle her cries of pain as Bert the troll dangled her upside down from her injured leg.
"Tie it up, we can have it for dessert," Tom suggested.
"Or we could just eat it now, nothing wrong with raw," William chimed in.
She pulled a dagger from its sheath at her waist and using all the strength she could muster, reached up and stabbed the troll's hand. With a loud cry, his grip loosened and she fell hard to the ground. Before she could get up and try to run, Bert stepped on her with his huge foot, pinning her down. Again she tried to maneuver the dagger and stab him, but she was face-down and in too awkward a position to reach him.
"Try ter stab me, will ye," Bert said to her.
All of a sudden, William shrieked. "Look what's come out o' me 'ooter!" The other two dwarves stopped immediately to look.
Ellethen managed to turn just enough to see what the commotion was about, and breathed a sigh of exasperation when she saw Bilbo in his hand, absolutely covered in troll bogies. William seemed terribly uncomfortable with the idea that something living could have come out of his nose; he dropped Bilbo. The pressure on Ellethen's back eased off as Bert's curiosity for Bilbo apparently outweighed his anger at her. The most she could do, however, was slide back against a tree and clutch her wounded leg. She thought of calling out to Serin; maybe she was hunting nearby. The passing thought diminished as the trolls went after Bilbo. They began to circle him, asking him questions about who he was and where he came from. She could see the fear in his eyes, shining bright in the firelight as he answered their questions.
"I'm a burglar- uh-um, hobbit."
"A burglarobbit?" William repeated, confused.
"Can we cook 'im?" Tom asked.
"We can try," William replied, all confusion forgotten. Then they lunged at him; he was quick and small, so he slid easily between their legs and around their grabbing hands, trying to get away. It wasn't long before they caught him and were dangling him upside down as they'd done to her.
"Are there any more of you little fella's out there hidin' where you shouldn't?" Bert asked. Bilbo shook his head in response and gave a little yip that sounded vaguely like the word no.
"He's lying," William suggested. "Hang his toes over the fire. Make him squeal." Bilbo started to wriggle around as they moved him toward the flames, but to no avail.
Sooner or later, she knew they would remember her as well. Why not sooner rather than later? Gripping her knife by the blade, she summoned whatever strength she had left and threw the knife at an unsuspecting Tom, knowing it would be more of a distraction than anything. It flew straight and true, though not as far or strong as she'd have hoped. Nontheless, it struck his thigh, creating a huge gash in his thick flesh.
With a yelp, he rounded on her, "YOU STOP THAT!" and picked her up by the neck. Her breath was cut short as his grip tightened around her throat. She clawed at his skin, fighting for air. "I'll squash ya ter jelly. Or better yet, I'll break your flimsy little neck and suck the marrow from your bones bit by bit."
Stars shone bright before her eyes, colourful and blinding. Her limbs went numb and she stopped fighting. Please let it end soon… she thought to herself. But it didn't. The troll's grip on her loosened just enough so she could draw in a big long breath.
Though she could not see who had stopped him, she could hear the familiar voice that belonged to them. "I said, drop them!" Stupid arse, took you long enough!
A mass of shouts sounded all around as more dwarves burst into the clearing, or at least she assumed it was the dwarves. One of them hit Tom hard in the knee and he doubled over, but not before throwing Ellethen nearly halfway across the clearing. She collapsed into a fit of rough coughs and desperate gasping as the fighting ensued around her. Axes and swords were swinging, the trolls grabbing at their attackers and throwing punches, but they were outnumbered. At one point she heard the retreat of horse hooves. The hobbit had finally managed to free the ponies.
Ellethen tried to get up, but the coughing got her again. Her lungs felt as if they were on fire, and every breath seemed more painful than the last. She didn't even notice the small hands pulling her back away from the commotion. The stars had faded by then, and she saw Bilbo standing over her, a look of the sincerest concern on his round little face. Behind him, she could see the battle, but more importantly, she saw Bert coming toward them in a fiery rage, his eyes fixed on the Halfling.
She tried to shout a warning, but the words wouldn't leave her lips. She reached for his hands, but he was ripped off his feet and away from her before she could get a grip on him. Again she found herself being lifted off the ground, this time by William. She watched as Tom and Bert held Bilbo up before the dwarves by his arms and legs.
"Lay down your arms, or we'll rip his off."
They had no choice but to comply.
By the time the trolls had stripped each of the dwarves (there were thirteen in total, she counted) of their weapons and armor and wrapped them in dirty potato sacks, Ellethen had regained much of her strength. She was able to breathe easily again- though not without an irritating pain at the back of her throat- and even her leg felt somewhat better, though it still stung something fierce. She could not move, though, since she was also bound and tossed in among the potato sack dwarves. The few that lay closest to her she did not recognize, save the young one, Kili, and they were all too involved in their own whispers to each other to bother with her. The trolls had taken a handful of the others and wrapped them on the spit over the fire to cook rotisserie style. They were now discussing spices and arguing over the cooking method.
"Why don't we just sit on 'em and squash 'em into jelly?" William asked.
"They should be sautéed and grilled with a sprinkle of sage," Bert stated, turning the spit.
"Well, do it fast. It's nearly dawn. I don't fancy being turned to stone," Tom said.
Ellethen had forgotten about the morning; dawn couldn't be more than an hour or so away.
"Wait! You're making a terrible mistake!" Bilbo suddenly yelled as loud as he could, managing to draw the trolls' attentions away from the rotisserie dwarves.
"Bilbo, you can't reason with them!" one of the dwarves on the spit cried out, "They're halfwits!"
The hobbit struggled to his feet and hopped toward them in his bag. "No, I meant about the seasoning."
Bert leaned towards him, "What about the seasoning?"
"Well, have you smelt them? You'll need something a lot stronger than sage before you plate this lot up."
Outraged cries erupted from the dwarves, calling him "traitor" and "coward".
"Oh, come on, what do you know about cookin' dwarf?" Tom asked, taking Bert's place at the spit, and continuing to turn it.
"No, hold on. Let the flublubruhobbit talk," Bert interrupted, kneeling down to Bilbo's level.
"Well, the secret to cooking dwarf is um…" She could see now that he was struggling to find something that would keep them distracted.
"Yes? What is it? Tell us the secret!"
The frustration was written plain and clear on his face as he spoke to them, "Yes, yes, I'm telling you the secret. The secret is to….um…skin them first!"
This brought on even louder shouts of disbelief from the dwarves.
"Get me a filleting knife," Bert called over his shoulder to William.
"What a load of rubbish," Tom interrupted, "I've eaten plenty with their skins on. Beards, boots and all!"
A movement through the trees caught her eye, Bilbo's as well. The dwarves apparently remained ignorant, given that they were still shouting insults at the hobbit.
"He's right," William stated, "Nothing wrong with a bit of raw dwarf." He approached the pile and picked up one of the dwarves from the bottom end, what looked to be the largest of the bunch too. The poor dwarf's thick braided beard dangled down as William held him up above his head, mouth open, tongue out, ready to swallow.
"No! Not that one! He's infected! He's got worms in his…tubes!"
William let out a sound of utter disgust as he immediately dropped the dwarf back into the pile.
"In fact, they all have! They're infested with parasites! I wouldn't risk it, I really wouldn't."
Ellethen couldn't help but smile. This Halfling was proving to be an impressive and clever sort.
Unfortunately, the dwarves still didn't seem to understand Bilbo's strategy. "What? We don't have parasites! You've got parasites!" She recognized Kili's voice above the rest of the furious dwarves and rolled her eyes. From underneath the pile she felt a hard kick and they all went silent for a second before continuing on a different tangent.
"I've got parasites as big as my arm!"
"Mine are the biggest parasites, I've got huge parasites!"
"We're riddled with them, we really are!"
"So what would you have us do then?" It was Tom who approached Bilbo this time. "Let 'em all go?"
"Well…" the hobbit tilted his head contemplatively.
"Don' think I don' know what you're up to! This little ferret is takin' us for fools!" He went back to the spit.
Well, it was worth a try.
"THE DAWN WILL TAKE YOU ALL!" A deep voice sounded loudly, echoing all around the clearing. Ellethen's heart lurched as a familiar tall figure clad in grey stepped out onto the boulder behind the trolls. The sky had begun to brighten behind it. The figure lifted his long staff and brought it down with a crunch against the huge boulder, cracking it right in half. Sunlight spilled into the clearing, falling on the trolls, who started to convulse violently. They attempted to cover their faces with their hands to fight back the blinding light of dawn, but it had already begun to do its work on them. Before long they were frozen in place, having become nothing more than statues. Cheers erupted from the dwarf company, and from Bilbo, who seemed rather pleased with himself and altogether shocked at the same time.
Gandalf climbed down from the boulder to help them out of their sacks. Bilbo was the first to be free, and he instantly ran over to Ellethen, loosening the tie at her neck and pulling off the dirty bag.
"Sorry it took so long," he stated.
"Ah, don't worry," She ruffled his hair, "Thank you, my heroic hobbit." That made him smile.
"It'll heal." The gash in her leg was still bleeding, the fabric around it drenched in red, and she was still bombarded by sharp stabs of pain when she tried to move it.
"Ellethen?" A huge grin spread across Gandalf's face when his gaze finally landed on her.
"Gandalf!" She smiled brightly, as a small child would to a parent.
"What happened?" He knelt down to inspect the injury. A few of the other freed dwarves had gathered around, curious of the newcomer.
"A tree landed on me. Twisted it and cut me open."
"You always did have a knack for hurting yourself…"
"It has to be braced." A taller dwarf in dark blue armor and fur approached and knelt down beside Gandalf, taking her leg. "And covered to stop the bleeding." He looked up at her, meeting her gaze with those bright eyes she'd seen over and over again in her mind since that day, haunting her dreams almost every night. An uncontrolled anger filled her, mixed with a rush of fear and uncertainty. She could see it happening again in her mind. She was there, watching her mother fall to the ground, the life leaving her eyes. Her world ripped apart in a single moment. She remembered the look of contempt he'd given her, this prince she'd once adored; now all that was left in her for him was a terrible memory and a loathing she'd sworn never to relinquish. In less than a second, she was out of his reach, her back against a tree, but as far away from him and his stormy eyes as she could get at the moment, though she did not look away. Her heart beat so fast she thought it would burst out of her chest at any moment. There was nothing else, nobody else but him in that moment. The dagger in her hand shook uncontrollably, but her voice was strong and sure when she finally found it.