Disclaimer: I do not own the Hobbit
A nice long chapter this one with some juicy treats for you readers. Read, review and enjoy :P
The night air was beyond cold in Marie's mind, even her tough hobbit feet were going numb. It didn't help that she was being pushed along by Bofur at keep up with the sneaking dwarves. The poorly kept structures allowed for plenty of nooks and crannies for them to cover them, but all the same Marie followed along with reluctance she hadn't felt since the early days of the quest.
Something felt wrong about this, but Marie couldn't put together just what made it so. Either way she had been roped into another burglary attempt. It would have been simple enough to use her ring and sneak into the armoury, but two problems prevented this. One the armoury was locked as Bard had told them, two the dwarves were adamant that they would pull off this heist themselves regardless.
The company circled the armoury until they found an opening for them, a unlocked window three stories up.
"How are we going to get up there?" Marie grumbled.
Bofur heard her, "Aren't you the expert climber?"
"Trees allow for more than the side of a house."
"Quiet." Thorin growled at the two.
Marie rolled her eyes. They were making more noise than her with their breathing than she was whispering.
"Fili, Bomber, Dwalin. There." Thorin pointed to the base of the armoury wall and the three dwarves huddled against it, bent over like a game of leapfrog. But when Bifur and Dori jumped onto their backs and assumed a similar pose Marie understood just what they were doing. A dwarf ladder.
Odd, but not as odd as other things Marie had seen.
"Nori, you go first."
"Guards." Balin warned them and company ducked down behind the piles baskets stacked along the dock's edge. Two armoured men with spears strolled by at their leisure, one mumbling about his mother in law with a scowl.
"We're fortunate there's not a battalion on patrol." Balin whispered.
"Once we have the weapons, we'll make straight for the mountain."
Nori made for a run up at the pile of dwarves and leapt up their backs to grab the window ledge. Fili gave him a boost to get him up and over and Nori disappeared into the house. A few seconds passed before his hand shot up and gave them the all clear.
"Your turn Miss Baggins." Thorin's hand came up and gave her a little push, but it was met with resistances on Marie part. She got a baffled glare from Thorin.
"Give me a moment." She said, adjusting the heavy belt around her hips. The coat proved too heavy for Marie's liking and made her movements awkward. She wasn't quite sure she would make the window. She moved Sting to sit behind her and ran. Fluidly she moved up the pile and latched her fingers onto the window ledge but Fili miss timed and boosted her up too soon, sending her tumbling into the dark room.
"Oh bloody hell." She grumbled, rubbing her bruised behind as she stood.
"Shhh. Over here Miss Marie." She heard Nori whispered from further in. She followed his voice and came upon a row of axes and short swords. "Just what the doctor ordered this." The thief pointed at the weapons.
"I don't recall a man of medicine condoning sharp bits of iron on sticks."
"Someone is a tad cranky."
Marie spun around and saw Kili coming up from behind. "Kili, what on earth are you doing up here?"
The lad looked at her sheepishly. "Here to help carry the weapons. More hands make light work."
"Come on, move." Thorin slipped by from the shadows, startling both his nephew and burglar.
"Keep it down there." Nori hissed. The three of them were silent, and heard the audible ramblings of guards coining from another room.
Bofur joined them shortly after and the five of them began pillaging the armoury, hauling several swords and maces into Bofur and Kili's arms. Kili was looking much worse and seemed to struggle with the weight in his arms. Marie too struggled with a large war axe that stood as tall as she, but it was taken from her by Thorin who handed it to Kili. Marie turned her head to hide her frown. She was still upset with him, but he had a point to his harshness so she went along ... for now.
"Are you alright?" She heard Thorin say to Kili quietly.
"I can manage." Was all he replied with before moving on to collect more weapons.
"So you do care." Marie hadn't realised she had whispered that outloud. This seemed to be happening more frequently.
Thorin had been the only one who had heard as, as Nori and Bofur were too busy comparing potential maces.
"Is something upsetting you Miss Baggins?"
"Actually yes, this burglary is unsettling to me."
"You've had no qualms with your previous endeavours."
Marie rubbed her nose with the back of her hand, "I simply ..."
A loud crash made all the thieves stop and stare at where Kili should have been standing. He had lost his footing at the top of a staircase and tumbled down, the weapons scattering in a cacophony of sound.
"Kili!" Marie screamed before clapping her hand over her mouth.
They all froze. No one dared breathe until they all heard the sounded they dreaded. The alarm being raised.
It was all in a matter of seconds, a door bursting open and footsteps thundering towards them from all around and the voices of dwarf and men alike letting loss mild battle cries at the two parties collided. For once Marie had the sense to use her weapon and drew it out as the guards neared them, holding Sting up as best she could remember. But even with her sword out she remained still as cold iron was pointed at her.
Her opponent, a captain of sort by the red cloak draped over his shoulder, eyed her with a perplexed stare that bounce between her and Thorin, whom she had placed herself in front of when their cover was blown.
Marie raised Sting a little higher.
"Stand down." Thorin ordered.
Nori and Bofur dropped their stolen goods and lifted their hands, but Marie did not. It was unlike the dwarves to not try and escape and she was about to question why he would give up so easily from a fight, until she saw his reason. At the corner of the stair Kili had been pinned down with a brutish arm and a knife pressed to his neck. Dread swell in Marie's belly.
Thorin's hand came round and pushed down on her forearm. "Marie, put it down."
She complied and sheathed the blade in defeat.
"Round them up." The captain barked to the guards, "We'll bring them to the Master."
The ruckus made by the guards dragging the company through the town stirred the people from their homes, hoping to catch some the excitement of it all. The guards seemed more than happy to make a spectacle of it, probably the most they've had to do in awhile.
The dwarves and Marie however did not enjoy playing along with the show as the guard shoved them along with unnecessary force. Marie in particular was growing impatient with the guard pushing her, for he kept grabbing her injured shoulder. Every time he did she wanted to scream and hit him back just to take the edge of the pain, but luckily she was well practiced in keeping face and marched along beside Balin.
"What on earth happened in there Marie?" The old dwarf asked, "Sounded like a bull had been let loose back there."
"Not quite." Marie glanced ahead at Kili limping. Balin caught on quickly.
"The lad." Balin shook his head, "Thorin should have known better that to let him come with you."
"He should have. But I don't think he was aware of the circumstances."
"Would think you'd be defending his honor lass, after that little spat earlier."
"I'm defending no one Balin. I'm just say how it ... Ouch!" Marie lost her control for a moment when the guard's fingers dug into the hollow of her neck. Instead of simply pushing, he kept a firm grip and pulled her away from Balin and further up the line.
"Do you mind, I can walk." She seethed at him, but he wasn't listening. 'His helmet is probably muffling his hearing.' The pain in her shoulder and neck was unbearable now and her eyes began to sting with impending tears.
As they stopped before the Town House the guard finally threw Marie back into line. She collided with Thorin arm with a strangled groan.
"Marie." The dwarf picked steadied her as she hunched over clutching her shoulder. His arm came around her shoulders and she was very subtly pulled into Thorin's side. She did not want to be so close to him at that moment, but in lieu of some comfort and warmth she did not resist it fully.
The captain doffed his feathered helmet as the guards encircled the prisoners from the huge crowd that now gathered around them. The black docks of Lake Town were now glowing with torch light and Marie could at last see the flakes of snow falling from the sky. Thorin's protective arm tightened as the doors of the Town House pulled open and a large portly man stalked out, tugging an old fur coat on with great difficulty. "What is the meaning of this!?"
Marie curled herself into Thorin's side.
"Caught them stealing weapons Sire." The captain told the man
"Ah, enemies of the state eh?"
Marie felt an instant distrust towards this so called Master, and not for his ridiculous come over that did not cover his balding head or his sluggish voice. It was his beady eyes set behind the folds of fat that made his face.
Another man, dressed in oil black snuck out from behind the Master, taking the place of honour at his side. "Aye Sire. Grand theft and illegal entry to the town. Criminals the lot of them."
That voice, Marie had heard it before. When they first arrived in the barrels, someone had brought Bard's cargo into question and they had almost been discovered. Bard had called him Alfred.
"A desperate bunch of mercenaries if ever there was Sire."
"Hold your tongue!"
'Oh dear. Dwalin's angry.' Marie thought. But the dwarf did not start howling and cursing as she assumed is no common criminal. This ..." He pointed to Thorin, as the others parted to reveal their leader. Marie did the smart thing and took a step away from Thorin, but not before his hand fell to her wrist and gave it a light squeeze as he stepped forward.
"This is Thorin. Son of Thrain, Son of Thror!" His raised his voice with pride and a titter erupted from the crowd. The Master's smug turned pale and those beady eyes darted about the crowd, watching their reactions and not the king standing before him.
"We are the dwarves of Erebor, and we have come to reclaim our homeland." Thorin announced boldly. Another round of whispers came from the crowd. Once again Thorin's name proved to be more well known than Marie had even imagined.
"I remember this town in the great days of old. Fleets of bouts lay at harbour, filled with silks and fine gems. This was no forsaken town on a lake, this was the centre of all trade in the North." His words stirred the people on, many nodding and agreeing with him. Marie understood full well the power he commanded, and watched him seemingly stand almost ten feet taller before the crowd.
"I would see those days return. I would relight the great forges of the dwarves and send wealth and riches flowing once more from the halls of Erebor!"
A gleeful cheer broke out from some of the younger men. But not all shared in such promising ideals.
"Death! That is what you will bring upon us!"
Marie turned and to her despair spotted Bard pushing his way through the crowd. He passed Marie and Balin and squared off with Thorin before the steps of the Town Hall. "Dragon fire and ruin! If you awake that beast, you will destroy us all."
"You can listen to this naysayer, but I promise you this. If we succeed ... all will share in the wealth of Erebor. You will have enough gold to rebuild Esgaroth ten times over!"
Like flies to honey, the people were drawn further in by Thorin's tales of gold, and he knew it.
"Does he mean all of it?" Marie leaned in to Balin, her arms clutching her sides tightly. Balin had been nodding along with Thorin's speech, "A king's word is his bond lass." He told her.
'Is it now.'
"All of you! Listen to me! You must listen!" Bard silenced the cheering crowd. "Have you forgotten what happened to Dale? Have you forgotten those who died in the firestorm?" The cold air became tenser with the stand off, even the snowfall grew heavier. In Marie's eyes more was unfolding than just a battle of will. Bard's careful nature had given way to an anger that did not completely belong to him, as though the feelings of many channeled through one soul. "And for what purpose? The blind ambition of a Mountain King, so riveted by greed he cannot see beyond his own desire!"
Bard was not alone in his fight. Several older members of the town viced their remembrance of the destruction. The dwarves looked ready to pummel him to the ground.
"Now, Now!" The Master had kept his tongue to himself since Thorin's revelation, but no doubt the promise of gold sent it wagging. "We must not, anyone of us be too quick to lay blame." He smoothed over the doubters with a flustered tone and jabbed a fat finger at Bard. "Let us not forget, that it was Girion, Lord of Dale, your ancestor, who failed to kill the beast! Mmm?"
Marie ignored the hypocrisy of the Master's statement in light of this news. Bard was the descendent of kings, just as Thorin was. No wonder she could sense a higher cause in him.
"It's true Sire. We all know the story." Alfred said, directing his words to the people, "Arrow after arrow he shot, each one missing its mark." A sly grin worked its way across the man's face when he noticed the people's opinion changing back in their favour.
The hobbit shook her head, "This is getting us nowhere."
"That's politics lass." Balin shrugged.
Marie wasn't listening properly, only watching Bard step closer to Thorin. They each muttered something to the other before both turning to the Master.
"I speak to the Master of the Men of the Lake. Will you share in the great wealth of our people?" Thorin said. "What say you?"
The Master took in one last look around at the crowd, taking in the anticipation of the people. What would he do? Marie knew he had already made his choice.
"I say onto you ... Welcome!" He threw open his arms and the people broke out in thunderous applause. "Welcome and thrice welcome, King Under the Mountain!"
As glad as she should have been for a welcome, Marie felt this to be a hollow victory on their part. But she did admit that Thorin, standing high up the stairs of the Town House, looked every inch the conquering hero. And Bard turned his back, the defeated pariah. Marie alone bared the guilt of casting his help aside in favour for the Master.
"Bard," She tried to catch the bargeman as he walked back passed, mostly likely to return to his family. "I am sorry. Really I am ... that things turned out like this."
He looked down at her, his expression softening to let one loop sided smile through. But it was brief moment and then he was gone, swallowed up by the joyous crowd.
"He'll be alright Marie." Balin patted her good shoulder. "Come along, we're being summoned." It was true, the company had gathered closer together at the foot of the stairs, Thorin still stood on them looking up at the Master.
"It is my personal honor and sworn duty as Master to open my home to you and your company My Lord Thorin." The Master declared and Alfred hurried into the house, "You must be in need of food and drink, of which we have plenty to share."
"We would be honored." Thorin answered flatly.
"About time we were shown some respect." Marie heard Gloin grumble.
"Come come." The Master turned on his heels and entered him home, the dwarves following eagerly. Thorin hung back and made sure each of his men went in before him, but it did mean for a particularly awkward exchange between him and Marie. They both just stared at eachother void of a definitive emotion. It become too much and Marie hurried along, composing herself once more.
"Thank you this." Marie said with as much niceties as she could muster as the manservant Alfred led her to the third floor of the Town House.
"A pleasure ma'am." He did not look back at her when he spoke. "Are you quite sure you do not wish to remain at dinner?"
"Quite sure." Maire needed to escape the minor party going on down on the first floor. The Master had ordered meat and fish brought up and cooked for the thirteen dwarves and for the Master himself. Drink was also made available and none of the dwarves had had a decent drop since ... come to think of it not since they first tumbled through her door.
'How long has it been since I thought of home?'
Anyway, Marie was in no mood for merriment but for sleep. She craved some rest and solitude for a time before returning her focus to the quest. When she had inquired the manservant on where she could rest, he had run off to his employer's side to repeat the request. The Master took one look in her direction and had informed Alfred of a guest room that was vacant. She was glad to be out of the room and away from the portly man. She had caught him staring at her, with leering glint in his eye and a chuckle as he conversed with Thorin.
"This way ma'am." Alfred turned left at top of the stairs and led her down a narrow corridor with nothing but portraits of the Master. Or at least his family. The candelabra Alfred was holding flicked as a draft came down from a cracked window.
At the end of the corridor Alfred stopped and removed a set of keys. He unlocked a door and entered, with Maire not too far behind. The room was large, spacious enough for the whole company even with the large bed against the far wall. Other than that there was an ancient looking vanity tucked into the corner and a reading chair next to the window. The air was thick with dust and there was a smell of damp coming from somewhere.
"Sorry for the dust." Alfred said lazily and lit a single candle on the wall, "We haven't treated guests of such importance for a long time." His face made a horrible expression that started Marie. Maybe it was the dim lighting.
"It is more than adequate. We have had much more impractical on our travels."
Marie backed herself against a bookshelf and watched him cross back to the door. "Well, call if there is anything you need. I'm sure you'll have company soon enough."
"Ugh ... yes. I suppose."
He gave her a large false smile and closed the door with a loud creek.
'What was that about?'
At last she had some privacy and with no qualms she let loss an undignified sigh. She undid the belt and slid it and Sting off, dropping the sword at the foot of the bed. A cloud of dust rose and clung to her face.
"Right then." Marie spent a good long while patting down the blankets, coughing and choking as she did. Just how long had it been since anyone though to clean? Eventually the strain in her left side left her unable to finish dusting the bed and she had to stop.
'Wonder how bad this is? Some more light would be nice.'
After rummaging around all the drawers, her luck brought forth four small candles tucked behind a stack of sheets. Soon a light golden glow danced off the wall, making the room less ominous.
The mirror fixed to the vanity caught Marie's attention and she brought one of the candles over to it. It wasn't dusty, but a build up of some sorts obscured the surface. She rubbed the cuff of her sleeve over the mirror, slowly but surely removing the build up of grim to a point where she could just make out her reflection. 'Better than nothing.'
She removed the blue coat and undid the top two buttons of her shirt. The damage to her neck was easily seen now. The bruising had gone yellow in most places but patches of dark purple and green formed on both sides of her neck and continued down her shoulder. Marie skimmed a finger over a spot on the jugular. She was lucky her hair covered most of the injuries, otherwise the dwarves would be in fits.
The door clicked and Marie swiveled round to see it open.
It was Alfred again, holding the door open for someone. He didn't even see Marie or announce himself. "Here we are My Lord. You little bed warmer is waiting."
Marie blinked rapidly. 'What? Did he just...? What?' She took a breath to loudly inform the manservant that he had the wrong room, but lost the thought to exhale when she saw to whom he was speaking to.
Thorin stepped into the room with a blank expression.
"Enjoy." Alfred bowed and shut the door.
'What the bloody hell!?'
Thorin just stood there at the now closed door, staring at Marie. She did not let the silence hanging over them continue. "Did he just call me a bed warmer?" She pointed at the door, hand shaking from confusion and a little anger. Thorin dropped his gaze and moved slowly to the window. "Aye, you heard right."
"Where on earth did he get that idea?"
"The Master, more than likely." Thorin placed a hand on the window ledge and gazed out onto the town. "He was the one who arranged ... this."
"So the Master thinks of me as ..."
"As my woman." Thorin finished for her, rushing his voice to get it out.
Marie was stunned. "Your ... woman?"
"Yes. The Master inquired about you and made the assumption that you were the company's ... well ... shared property. But I told him you were mine and mine alone, just to try and keep you honor intact."
"My honor? Intact?" Marie scoffed.
"Don't worry, I will not do anything."
"That's not the point Thorin."
"It was all I could think at the time, I was ..."
"You could have told him I was a burglar."
Thorin turned to her."He wouldn't have believed it. Anyway we have to play to his ..."
"His what? Needs? Expectation? Oh yes, perfectly fine then. You just play along with his whims and let him, and probably the whole of Lake Town believe that I'm a common whore."
She wounded him with her words and whatever defence he had was now useless. "I understand you feel angry."
"I was angry, now I'm frustrated." Marie crossed her arms in front of her chest. "This day just keeps getting better and better."
"Yes, about you anger." Thorin had regained some of his fire, "Just what did I do to warrant you enmity today."
Marie raised an eyebrow. "Do you want the short list or the long?"
"Just one reason will suffice." Thorin said.
His lips became a thin line at the mention of the man. "What of him?"
"What of it?" Marie uncrossed her arms and placed her hands in her hips. At that point she remembered her shirt was still partially open but she hand an argument to get across, "You asked for help from a man already struggling to make ends meet but still agrees to it. Yet you threw his charity back at him and leave him high and dry before the town."
"He was against us the minute he knew who I was. What's done is done now, the Master will ensure we get what we need."
"For a price." Marie grumbled and lent against the vanity.
"For a price." Thorin repeated, "I seemed to recall your saviour gladly accepting our money before helping us." He turned his back and removed his own over coat, which he tossed onto the arm of the moth eaten chair.
Marie could be bothered fighting anymore and buried her face in her hands. She was tired, in pain, cold and just wanted a good night sleep. Who had she offended to earn such poor karma?
Her hands may have obscured her eyes, but she could still hear Thorin moving in about the room. 'Let him walk out his anger. That will work.'
His footsteps grew closer until Marie though she felt them stop right in front of her. She dropped her hands and found her fears to be right. She was barely two feet from her, with and hand outstretched and aimed at her neck. She was trapped between him and the vanity with no way out.
"What are you doing?" She asked incredulously.
"You're injury." He said, as if it was the most naturally thing in the world. "Is it bad?"
Her hand automatically shot up and clutched her shirt together. "Should Oin be the judge if that?"
"Well Oin," He took another step, now standing over her with only a foot between them. "Isn't here right now." Marie wanted to protest and yell, yet she didn't. She was sure she was making the most unattractive faces as she silently gave in. She dropped her hand and turned her face away, so she could not look at him. If she did her face may go even redder than it already was.
Fingertips brush along her cheekbone, were the minor scratches had closed over. They were cold against her face, but light, delicate. They traced down her jaw and down her neck, cooling the bruises. Marie winced every so slight when too much pressure was applied. Thorin's fingers paused at the hollow of her neck, resting on her pulse. He hooked them under the fabric of the shirt and pushed it back, his thumb trailing along the now exposed skin of her shoulder. Marie shuddered at how soothing it felt.
"When did this happen?" Marie almost didn't hear the question. His voice seemed so far away.
"The um ... orcs. They ... When they pulled me out of the river." She croaked. "Lucky my neck did snap."
His hand pressed too hard into her collar bone and she made a noise in the back of her throat. Thorin muttered an apology and moved his hand back to her neck. A tugging at a lock of her hair alerted Marie to him wrapping her hair around his fingers. She couldn't handle it anymore and pushed his hand away.
"It will be fine in a few days, provided I don't get knocked about again." She mumbled as she buttoned up her shirt, keeping her eyes down. Thorin hooked a finger under Marie's chin and lifted her head to look up at him.
The light from the candle lit up half his face, and Marie could swear there was almost something predatory in his stare. Something so dangerous it was alluring. He was too close, too close. His hooked nose brushed against her's lightly and warmth pooled in her stomach sending all sensible thoughts from her head. No man had even looked at her like this before, and no man had ever made her feel so many things all at once.
'Oh good God, I'm not in ...'
Just as quickly as he forced her to look at him, he removed his hand turned away. "Get some rest." He went back to the window and resumed his place there.
Marie couldn't move. Her whole body had frozen up yet her heart was pounding so hard it hurt her ears. She gathered her thoughts or what remained of them and quickly made for the bed, making sure she turned her back of the dwarf. She didn't want to be tempted to stare at him.
'No I am not,' Marie curled into the musty pillow and shut her eyes, 'Mariellena Baggins you are not in love with Thorin Oakenshield.'
The trouble being ... she was.