11 December, T.A 2491
Thorin wished that they had relocated Bilbo to a bigger tent. From his usual, rickety, wooden seat beside Bilbo's cot, he watched amusedly as Bombur and Bofur waded their way through the over-crowded area, each holding a platter filled with assorted food. They plonked them on a sad spindly table amidst the Dwarves' loud cheering before grabbing handfuls of cheese, potato bits, and meat from both hands and tossing these to their hungry neighbours with great gusto. The Dwarves made a mad grab at the flying food with enthusiastic glee, roaring in laughter whenever one of them made a spectacular catch. Everyone was so engrossed in getting fed that nobody saw Bombur accidentally tumbling backwards and jostling a nearby support strut. The sudden, ominous shaking of the tent's canvas abruptly killed the noise in the room. All of the Dwarves looked around in frozen anticipation.
The tent wobbled a few more times and then stood still again. The Dwarves cheered and went back to their food.
Honestly, at the very least Thorin should have moved the Hobbit some place with the structural integrity to withstand the combined destructive forces of thirteen Dwarves. He regretted not having thought of that earlier.
"Watch out, everyone! Let Gandalf through!"
Make that thirteen Dwarves and one Wizard.
May Mahal have mercy on them all.
Maybe Erebor's war room? That should be sturdy enough, Thorin thought wryly.
Gandalf appeared as abruptly as he had left, as Wizards tend to do, on horseback wearing a new Elven-made sling and carrying a satchel filled with Lord Elrond's specially concocted medicine. His triumphant return was a sight for sore eyes and roused a mighty cheer among the Dwarves, Men, and Elves who were sympathetic towards Bilbo's plight. In the weeks after the great battle, stories of the Hobbit's heroic deeds had spread like wildfire among the different camps with each retelling getting more and more fantastical. The version that Thorin overheard from a group of Dain's soldiers featured Bilbo swinging dramatically from the ceiling and, according to the soldier, "punched the dragon right in his ugly, scaly, fire-breathing face. Hooyah!"
He valiantly tried not to laugh at that mental image.
Either way, the damage was done. Outpourings of sympathies and well-wishes came from every direction. This had not bothered Thorin all that much until the gifts started to make its way into the healing tent.
Piles and never ending piles of them. Piles that stacked up from floor to ceiling.
By the week's end, there was such a large accumulation of gifts that the Dwarven king had to employ Ori, who possessed exceptional organizational skills, to keep everything neatly stored away. The last thing Thorin wanted was for one of the haphazard piles of presents to topple over and smother Bilbo in his sleep.
He grimaced at the thought. The Hobbit would not appreciate the irony of death from get-well presents.
Gandalf slowly shimmied his way to Bilbo's cot with a lot more grace than his Dwarven companions. Following close were Kíli and Fíli, who struggled with the water pan, fresh bandages, and Elrond's potions they were carrying. Thorin pushed his chair back to make space for the three, moving out of the way when his nephews placed the heavy load in their arms on the nearby table. The Dwarf found himself half leaning on the bed, so close to the Hobbit that Thorin could hear every soft exhale of breath from Bilbo's slow and steady breathing. The king automatically brushed a hand lightly along his burglar's temple and cheek, his fingertips soaking up the warmth from where he touched his Bilbo. He hoped Gandalf would provide some good news.
"What did Lord Elrond say about Bilbo's condition?" Thorin asked once Gandalf made himself suitably comfortable. Judging from Gandalf's look of disapproval and the tell-tale twitch of his moustache, he had not been able to hide his distaste for the Elf in his voice.
The Dwarven king leaned against his chair, lifted his brow, and stared back in return. The Wizard would just have to deal with his dislike.
"Lord Elrond has generously brewed a month's worth of medicine to be administered once daily for our Bilbo." Gandalf waved a hand for Kíli to pluck out three different coloured potions from the side table among everything else that was brought in. "Two drops of the yellow potion, one drop of the blue, and one drop of the red. They are to be mixed together with a spoonful of water or broth before feeding it to him." The Wizard paused, stroking his beard slowly. "He has sent some of his healers over to Erebor, but it will take a few more weeks before they arrive."
Gandalf shot a pointed look at the rowdy group of Dwarves clustered tightly behind him. "Lord Elrond also suggested that in the meantime, we should give the Hobbit plenty of rest, preferably somewhere nice and quiet." He tilted his head to look knowingly at the group. "Somewhere without disturbances."
Everyone started to object. Loudly.
"We're here to provide support for Master Bilbo!" Ori cried out passionately in his thin, reedy voice before he was drowned out by a chorus of approval.
"We're also here for the food!" Nori garbled with his mouth full of potatoes from somewhere within the Dwarf pile, earning him a round of laughter and praise.
"I'm here to see what's so great about that ruddy Elf's medicine." Óin grouched bitterly from his corner beside his brother Glóin. Really, what could the Elves do that his ointment couldn't?
"Alright, alright, that's enough!" Thorin called over the noise and unexpectedly, everyone settled down quickly without further damaging the tent. He paused, slightly taken aback (and automatically suspicious) by the docile behaviour, then shook his head dismissively. There were more important issues that needed his attention at the moment, issues like Elrond's dodgy potions for example.
Turning to the amused looking Wizard, Thorin asked apprehensively, "Just a couple of drops here and there from the potions? Nothing else is required?"
"Those are the instructions that Lord Elrond has given me."
The Dwarven king nodded. Well then, might as well get started to see what this medicine could really do. "Can someone hand me some broth and a spoon?"
Several pairs of hands eagerly passed along a small, broth-filled wooden bowl along with the requested utensil from the back of the tent to where Thorin was sitting. The Dwarf took both items gratefully and carefully added the prescribed dosage to the spoonful of soup. Curiously, the vividly coloured droplets turned clear once in contact with the other liquids and Thorin narrowed his eyes at the mixture. He lifted the spoon closer and took a tentative sniff, not at all surprised to find it smelled only of the beef broth. The king frowned deeply at Elrond's sorcery. Colourless and scentless potions that were no doubt tasteless as well. How dangerous.
Elrond might be the most talented healer in the land, but that did not mean that Thorin would stop being suspicious of his seedy Elven ways.
"I assure you, if the Elves wanted you dead, they would prefer to use their bows and arrows rather than poison," Gandalf said dryly when Thorin looked like he was inches away from calling Óin to do further inspections. The Wizard was waiting for the king with an air of impatience, having already tilted Bilbo's head in position from the opposite side of the bed. "If everything is to your satisfaction, can we please carry on?"
The knot in Thorin's chest loosened, and he could breathe a little easier at the Wizard's words. He may have taken things a bit far with his suspicion. Feeling a bit shamefaced, the Dwarven king refused to dignify Gandalf with an answer (the Wizard's smug smirk was telling enough as it was). He turned to Bilbo and tenderly fed him the spoonful, making sure not to spill a single drop. The Hobbit swallowed the medicine easily enough, and all the Dwarves in the room leaned closer, watching with wide eyes and baited breath. A hush of unnatural, tense silence fell over the tent, and everyone stared expectedly at Bilbo's still form.
A few minutes passed. Thorin could hear the distant rumblings of a heavy, wooden cart and the muffled shouts of Khuzdul from outside of the tent.
They waited some more.
Absolutely nothing happened.
A cacophony of noise started all at once as everyone tried to speak over each other:
"Did you use the correct dosage? Did you feed it to him properly?"
"I knew we shouldn't have trusted those Elves. HA!"
"Maybe we should wait for Elrond's healers to arrive and ask them what went wrong."
"Mahal knows what we just fed the poor Hobbit."
"Shouldn't we wait a little longer? Maybe the medicine is slow acting. Really, really, slow acting."
"We barely saved him from being crushed by get-well presents only to endanger his life with this so-called medicine! The Valar must really like irony."
"EVERYONE QUIET!" Fíli bellowed out with his uninjured hand cupped to his mouth. At the ensuing silence, he continued more sedately, "Gandalf wants to say something."
"Yes, thank you Fíli," The grey Wizard cleared his throat. "Healing magic does not work instantaneously. Why do you think Lord Elrond supplied us with a month's worth of potions?" He shook his head at the Dwarves' loud groans of disappointment, and Thorin felt the buildup of hope since Gandalf's return slowly ebbing away. "Unfortunately, we can't rush results. The only thing to do is to wait."
Dwalin reached over and gave his despondent king a well-meaning pat on the shoulders. "Bilbo has been improving and will most likely continue to improve. We can count that as a blessing," the grim Dwarf mumbled, but the Dwarven king could hear the sincerity in his friend's voice. Despite his gruff demeanor, the warrior was surprisingly insightful and knew when to offer words of comfort, curt as they may be. Thorin could not find another friend whose advice he would listen to more, save for Balin.
The king nodded to Dwalin and turned to reach for Bilbo's hand again, seeking reassurance against the tendrils of disappointment and resignation that were creeping into him. He stared at his Hobbit's peaceful, sleeping face, at the bandages that were buried under the soft curls of his hair, and wished for the umpteenth time that there was something, anything he could do besides waiting. Thorin was a Dwarf of action; he always performed best with a clear goal in mind, whether this meant jumping into the heat of battle or trekking on a dangerous road to reclaim his lost home. This inability to do anything but to sit silently and hope for the best had worn his spirit raggedly thin.
Thorin absentmindedly traced circles along the warm flesh of the Hobbit's palm in a motion that was repeated thousands of times, running his thumb up to the base of Bilbo's short fingers. His thoughts derailed at the feel of several small calluses that were undoubtedly formed from sword handling, calluses that had no reason to belong in the hands of a gentle, respectable Baggins of Bag End. The Dwarf found himself unexpectedly warmed by that notion.
A proof of strength in a seemingly soft outward appearance, Thorin mused, the thought endearing Bilbo to him all the more, and it occurred to him that Dwalin was right: Bilbo was strong and he was healing. It might take some time and there might not be anything for Thorin to do, but the Hobbit was fighting his hardest to recover. For now, his faith in Bilbo would have to be enough.
"What happens if we run out?" Bofur asked meekly from beside the severely depleted food table. He shifted uncomfortably in place at interrupting the temporary lull of silence in the tent. "Will we need to travel to Rivendell for some more?"
"Couldn't we just ask the Eagles for a lift?" Glóin chimed in.
"The Great Eagles are a noble race. They are not to be used as mere pack mules or riding ponies!" Gandalf huffed, absolutely appalled on behalf of his Eagle friends. "Besides, the healers from Erebor should know how to brew more once they have arrived."
"I received a missive from the Blue Mountains this morning." Thorin released his hold on Bilbo and idly rubbed his temple with his newly freed hand, suddenly remembering that he had meant to tell this to his companions. "They are gathering all the Dwarves who are interested in coming back to Erebor. A caravan should be leaving by the month's end. We can ask them to stop at Rivendell as well, if need be."
Thorin looked up to see everyone gaping at him in surprise. He gave them his usual quirk of his lips and waited quietly until they digested what he just said. At the Dwarves' growing excitement, the king could feel his expression soften into a full-fledged smile. This was the confirmation they had all been waiting for; the Dwarves immediately broke out in loud whoops and fist pumps at the good news, rushing to give each other smothering bear hugs.
"We will finally see our friends and family again! It's been far too long!"
"I look forward to reuniting with my sweetheart. Did you know that she makes the most divine meat stew?"
"To think that I could finally see my beautiful wife and son! I wonder how much he's grown!" That was clearly Glóin. He was the only one Thorin could recognize over the sounds of laughter and chatter.
Meanwhile from beside the king, Fíli and Kíli brought their heads close together, trading wild grins and rapid whispered sentences with each other. It looked like they were already starting to furiously plan for their mother's arrival.
"Well, I think this is cause for a proper celebration!" Dori tightened his hold on Ori. The poor young Dwarf was struggling weakly to break free from his brother's one-armed hug. "A proper toast needs to be made to those who will soon be on the road back home"—His tone gentled as he turned to the cot—"and to our Hobbit, who is well on the road to recovery." A loud cheer rose from the Company members in unison.
"Come, my friends, I think we have made ourselves enough of a nuisance. Master Baggins needs his rest." Balin said calmly, though the twinkle in his eyes betrayed his excitement.
"Aye! We shall celebrate outside and leave our Burglar in peace. Besides, we need to spread this message to our kin from the Iron Mountain." Bofur grinned widely. He looked happier and lighter than he had in days. "And we need to find more ale!"
One by one, the Dwarves paused to bid their king, the Wizard, and the Hobbit good evening before carrying dirty cutlery and bowls out of the tent, in good spirits and talking happily amongst themselves. Bifur was the last to leave, and he broke away from the group to talk enthusiastically, in a rapid slew of Khuzdul and wild hand gestures, to Thorin. He finished with a flourish by slapping hard at his own chest then pulled a beautiful wooden carving from his pocket. Grinning, he shoved it into the king's hands, gestured to Bilbo, and walked off, whistling a jaunty tune.
Thorin looked down at what was handed to him.
It was a carving of a miniature Bilbo punching a dragon in the face.
"I don't think I will ever understand him, Uncle," Fíli squinted his eyes, peering at Bilbo's gift in confusion. "But his skills are unparalleled. Look at those details!"
"I wish I had a carving of me like that," Kíli said wistfully from behind his older brother. He paused briefly to think before adding in a rush, "While wearing a fur overcoat, of course. For extra levels of majesticness."
Fíli nodded enthusiastically at his brother as if what he had said made perfect sense.
It was comments like those that made Thorin worry about his nephews sometimes.
"What are you both still doing here?" the king asked, curious that the two Dwarves were still lingering. "You should be celebrating."
"Oh, we were planning to change Master Baggins's bandages. We wanted to help where we can."
And it was actions like those that reminded the Dwarven king how fiercely he loved his nephews.
"Leave this to me," Thorin replied kindly to Fíli and Kíli. "Go join the rest of the Company." He interrupted his heirs before they could protest. "I know you have a lot to plan for when your mother arrives, go have fun."
The young Dwarves grinned widely and with a quick goodbye, they dashed out the tent. Thorin called to their retreating backs, "Stay out of mischief!" He doubted they would listen but at least, he could tell Dís that he tried.
Gandalf chuckled at the spectacle. "Oh, to be young and full of life." He shifted his gaze to his friend suddenly, giving him a bemused, knowing look. Thorin could feel himself sweat a little at the Wizard's attention. "Now, what was it that you've been waiting to ask me?"
The king fought against squirming guiltily in his chair. When did he become this easy to gauge?
He took several, calming breaths, opening and closing his mouth a few times in speechlessness, then cleared his throat and started to ask, "I wanted to know if you had the chance to speak with Lord Elrond on the issues of…" he grimaced as if he was in great pain but forced himself to spit out the last of the sentence, "on the issues of Gold Fever." There, Thorin had said it, although he had gritted that last bit out through clenched teeth.
The grey Wizard smiled at him beatifically. This did not make the Dwarf feel any better.
Gandalf shifted so that his staff rested comfortably in the crook of his elbow. He spoke lightly, "Lord Elrond said that while Dwarves are more easily swayed by the love of treasure, Gold Fever can be prevented." Thorin listened to Gandalf with rapt attention, quickly brushing aside his wounded pride.
"Find someone you would willingly devote yourself to, someone whom you would gladly trade away all the gold and silver in the world without a second thought," Gandalf shrugged nonchalantly, but he smiled at the Dwarf like he held all the secrets of Middle-Earth.
"And never lose sight of your love for him."
There are some things that are worth more than all the treasures in the world.
Thorin realized that he might have found him already.
21 November, T.A 2491
The armies were right outside of their gates and Thorin would not do anything about it.
No, that's not true, Bilbo thought scathingly in frustration. Thorin did something about it alright. He fired an arrow at the messenger.
It was a lucky thing that the soldier had been warned about the Dwarves. He calmly blocked the arrow in a move that clearly suggested he was expecting to be fired at.
Then, he promptly declared, in a bored monotonous tone no less, that Erebor was officially held under siege by the Elves and Lake-town Men, and that had been that.
Thorin and the Dwarves had the audacity to laugh at the messenger's retreating back. Why should they worry? They had fresh water and a stock pile of supplies, they were well protected from the barricades at the South gate, and Dain was arriving in two days' time. Let's wait it out, they said. The Elves and Men can do us no harm!
Great, just great.
In the mean time, the Company members continued to frolic merrily near the treasure room and to celebrate what they believed to be their imminent victory. They had permanently set up camp right by the treasury's entrance and nobody, absolutely nobody, seemed to think that this was a terrible, horrible idea.
Nobody except for Bilbo of course, but then again, none of the Dwarves really listened to him whenever he brought this issue up anymore. The Hobbit had kept a close eye on his friends, trying to find some ways to curb the dark greed from utterly consuming his companions but to no success. How could one begin to help someone who, not only was completely uninterested in receiving help, but continued to revel, and quite happily so, in their addiction?
He did not want to admit it, but it was very clear that his Dwarven friends were a lost cause if the Hobbit continued to do nothing but talk to them about this issue. Bilbo had even brought this problem up to Thorin again, who at the very least genuinely cared to listen to Bilbo's feelings, but the king was insistent that there were no problems with the Dwarves.
And how would he recognize that there is a problem? Bilbo could feel his head hurt from thinking. He had been stuck on the same issues for weeks on end now with no solution in sight. Thorin himself is just as enthralled by the treasure, except in his case, he is specifically obsessed with the Arkenstone.
In the dark moments where he was surrounded by nothing but constant worry and anger, Bilbo felt perfectly justified in his decision to hide the gem. No good could come to giving Thorin the Heart of the Mountain and he was glad that he chose to keep this secret for so long.
If only Bilbo's resolve remained firm whenever the Dwarven king gave him soft, shy smiles to lift Bilbo from his foul mood. If only the Hobbit did not feel so soul crushingly guilty whenever Thorin wrapped his strong arms around him, pressing him close, so close, that the steady rhythm of the Dwarf's heartbeat became a soothing hum that threatened to chase away all of Bilbo's worries. Stripped from his blanket of self-righteous fury, Bilbo wasn't sure what to do about anything, whether it was about the Arkenstone, about the armies outside, about his loss of control over his feelings for one Thorin Oakenshield…
He did not think he had ever felt so helpless and terrified, but if he was honest with himself, what could he possibly do? He was an ordinary Hobbit with no special talents except the minimal sword handling skills that he gained very recently. If he ever had the misfortune of being in a genuine, one-on-one sword fight, Bilbo doubt he'd come out of it alive. He could barely parry!
He laughed humourlessly at that depressing string of thoughts. At the rate he was going, he could give Thorin a run for his money in brooding.
"What are you thinking that has got you wearing such a serious expression, my dear Master Baggins?" A deep, husky voice sounded teasingly next to his ear and Bilbo closed his eyes, focusing on keeping his emotions in check.
Bilbo was gently spun around by a pair of warm hands on his arms. When he continued to keep his eyes stubbornly closed, he felt Thorin's large palm brush delicately against his cheek, making him flush at the Dwarf's reverent touch. The Hobbit sighed, soaking up the warmth that was plastered along the side of his face as he felt the last of his anger drain away. His hands moved up to cradle Thorin's naked hand and wrist by his head, pleased that the Dwarf had forgone his bracers. Bilbo pressed a quick, light kiss against a patch of delicate skin on the Dwarf's wrist before opening his eyes and looking straight into the king's worried blue ones.
"Bilbo," The Dwarf repeated softly. The teasing tone was gone and in its place was concern. "What is it? Is something wrong?"
The sound of the rest of the Dwarves' raucous celebration drifted past Bilbo, along with the lively melodies of flutes, viols, fiddles, and drums. The company members had uncovered a pile of magnificently crafted instruments in the treasure hoard and were putting them to good use with utmost enthusiasm. Bilbo could not find it in him to join them even when the music was so beautifully played.
"I'm just," the Hobbit trailed off awkwardly and he swallowed heavily as he released his hold on Thorin's arm. He really had no idea where to begin answering the Dwarf's seemingly simple question. Many things were wrong, as far as he was concerned, but he had no way of making the Dwarves listen. "I just worry," he finished weakly.
Well, it wasn't the best answer but at least it was honest.
Understanding dawned on Thorin's face and his expression cleared. "Ah, I see," he said kindly. The Dwarf lifted his hand from Bilbo's cheek and settled against his tense shoulder blade, rubbing slow soothing circles that made Bilbo helplessly clutch on the king's fur coat and whimper. His other hand slid to the Hobbit's waist in a protective hold. "You're worried about the Men and Elves that are keeping us trapped." Thorin leaned in and pressed a kiss against Bilbo's brow that made him shiver lightly. He tightened his arms around the Hobbit and moved his lips to whisper possessively against his burglar's forehead, "They will not hurt you. I will not allow it."
A wave of disappointment crashed over Bilbo, cutting through the haze of pleasure. He frowned. That…was not as reassuring to him as Thorin had intended. The Hobbit was hoping more along the lines of not getting into any scuffles that would warrant protection against the Elves and Men in the first place.
Bilbo wrapped his arms loosely above the Dwarf's hips and moved back a little to have some more space to think, to breathe. "Is there no way we can make peace with the Men?" His voice did not waver once, but Bilbo asked with a level of confidence that he did not feel.
Predictably, the Dwarven king shook his head gravely without even taking a second to consider. "Not when those meddling Elves are there and even then, the Men wish to rob us of our treasure. I will not have my people suffer through another humiliation."
Again, what was with the Dwarves' belief that the Men were out to rob them? The Hobbit felt his temper flare and without thinking, he opened his mouth to protest –
"Oi, lovebirds! You'll have plenty of alone time afterwards. Right now, it's time to join in the celebration!"
Surprised, Thorin and Bilbo whipped their heads toward a grinning Nori, who was flushed and swaying slightly on his feet. Both of his hands were clenched tightly around a wine bottle's neck, and he raised a bottle to salute his king, completely ignoring Thorin's glare. "Look, we found the wine! Come on, join us before we polish it all off without you."
Just like that, the tension Bilbo had felt left in a violent rush and he was able to take a deep breath to compose himself. He heard Thorin grumble something unpleasant sounding in Khuzdul and fought down his smile. The interruption could not have come at a more perfect time and he really did not want to risk another argument with the king, not when his nerves were frayed and he might end up saying things he did not mean.
Pushing that thought aside, the Hobbit gave the Dwarven king a rueful smile. We should go peacefully before the reinforcements arrive, Bilbo thought resignedly. He had a feeling that neither of them would get a moment of peace unless they joined the rest of the company.
The Halfling leaned up, pecked the king on the lips one last time, and slowly detangled himself from his hold. Thorin sighed deeply and spoke so softly that only Bilbo could hear his long-suffering tone, "We might as well join them. I fear the damage they would do to themselves if we leave them alone for too long." He added a brief second later, "I also fear what they would do to us otherwise."
Bilbo really had to choke down a bark of laughter this time around. It seemed they both had shared the same train of thought.
With Thorin's hand a comfortable weight against the small of his back, the Hobbit and the Dwarf walked towards the source of music and loud chattering. Nori followed slowly, steadying himself on the wall and taking swigs from either one of his wine bottles along the way.
Predictably, the party was already in full swing when they reached the camp site. Great torches were lit, making the air just shy of being uncomfortably warm while the light from the flames cast a flickering, golden glow over the area. The Dwarves were lounging in disarray on a circle of thick, luxurious pelts that were liberally strewn across the dark, marbled floors. Wine bottles and food were generously spread around them and Bilbo's mouth watered at the tantalizing smell of cooked meat. Next to an unopened crate of wine, Bofur, Bombur and Ori were playing a spirited song with most of the other Dwarves joining in at random verses, laughing and mocking each other if they missed a beat or played off tune. A large empty space was made at the centre of the circle for what Bilbo guessed was dancing. The Hobbit paused to peer confusedly at Kíli's and Fíli's awkwardly flailing limbs and hoped that they were doing some kind of a dance as opposed to hopping around in excruciating pain. Bilbo continued to let his eyes wander until he spotted his travel pack, stacked with the rest of the supplies in a massive heap beside the Treasury's entrance. He felt his shoulders relax. The Arkenstone was still safely hidden.
"Look who finally dropped in! It's his Majesty and Master Baggins!" Glóin exclaimed unnecessarily loudly, his cheeks flushed from the wine.
All the Dwarves temporarily paused their playing to greet the newcomers happily. Thorin regally inclined his head in acknowledgement and led Bilbo by the wrist to a platter of spectacularly roasted game bird, to his great pleasure.
Goodness, he was starving. How had he not realized this sooner?
Bilbo attacked his food like a man who hadn't had a decent meal in years, or a Dwarf who hadn't had red meat in days. The first bite was absolute heaven; the succulent juicy meat and thin crispy skin were well seasoned and perfectly cooked. Bilbo quickly found himself devouring large bites of the bird, foregoing his usual table manners.
"Wow, Uncle. What did you do with Bilbo that has made him this hungry?"
Kíli and Fíli had plonked themselves uninvited to the right of Bilbo, shifting on the rug until they made themselves rather comfortable. Normally, the Hobbit would have happily ignored the two young Dwarves and continued feasting, but the twin mischievous grins they were sporting made him stop. It spelled trouble.
The Hobbit could also feel Thorin stiffen next to him.
"Not to mention, what were you doing with Bilbo that kept you both away from the party?" Kíli asked, false innocence colouring his tone.
Fíli smirked. "It must be extremely taxing, for Bilbo to be hungry like that."
"Probably involved a lot of stamina."
"And interesting positions."
"And a lot of sweating."
"And hot man-on-man action – "
"Alright, that's enough from the two of you!" Thorin's cheeks were tinted lightly and he scowled heavily at his nephews, "I thought I raised you both to be more decent than this, talking about such things over dinner while there is company present." He waved at the visibly flustered, shell-shocked Bilbo, who was clutching frozenly on a drumstick.
The two brothers blinked at Thorin in confusion; it would have been convincing if they did not look like they were ready to burst into laughter. "Whatever do you mean, Uncle? Fíli and I thought you were sparring with Bilbo again."
Without missing a beat, the blond Dwarf added, "I'm pretty sure Bilbo would agree that it's extremely important to know how to handle your sword."
The Dwarven king spluttered incoherently. His face was a matching shade of red with Bilbo's.
Fíli and Kíli looked at each other and broke down into loud, knee-slapping guffaws. They sprawled on the rug, arms clutching desperately at their sides.
Thorin pressed both palms against his eyes in a move that clearly screamed frustration and mortification. He looked like he was mentally counting to ten. Bilbo would have felt terrible for him if he wasn't so busy feeling mortified himself. "What do you two menaces want?" the Dwarf finally growled, having had enough of his nephews' braying laughter.
The two little hellions rolled themselves back into sitting position. They took some time to school their features, letting loose a few stray chuckles here and there until most of their manic humour had left them.
"Actually, we wanted to know more about Erebor." Fíli wiped the tears from his eyes and continued, "A story about its glory days would go well with our celebration."
"And who better to ask than our esteemed Uncle?" Kíli piped in. He was sitting cross-legged with his elbows on his knees, resting his chin on his fists.
"Well if it's a story you want, I've got plenty to offer!" Bilbo jumped as Balin seemingly materialized out of nowhere. The old Dwarf sat down heavily across from them, thrusting an opened bottle of wine at his king. Thorin grabbed it without hesitation and took a long, desperate mouthful. Probably trying to drown out those last few minutes with his nephews, the Hobbit thought, eagerly eyeing the wine as well because yes, he's been mentally scarred as well and would very much like to have some, thank you! Thorin saw his sad, longing look, quirked his lips into a half-smile, and automatically passed the bottle to Bilbo.
"Erebor was known across Middle-Earth, aside from being a great Dwarven fortress with unsurpassable wealth, for three things." Balin reached into his coat to fish for his pipe and pipe weed. "The pride of Erebor, as they were known. Care to take a guess on what they are?"
"The Arkenstone," Fíli was quick to answer, especially when this very same gem had been in the forethought of everyone's mind since they had arrived to the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo tried not to squirm guiltily from his seat.
"The great skills of our craftsmen," Kíli replied confidently. Metal work was something all Dwarves had to learn, regardless of station or gender. Naturally, they would openly boast in being the best.
Balin took a long puff from his lit pipe and blew a large smoke ring. Satisfied, he spoke again, "Yes, well those are two of the three. Very good!" Kíli and Fíli preened at the compliment. Balin continued, "The Arkenstone, also known as the Heart of the Mountain, was a symbol for the line of Durin's divine right to rule." Balin paused briefly, letting his words sink in. "As for our great ability to craft masterpieces with all things stone and metal, this is a skill taught to us by the great Mahal. To perfect it is one of the greatest honours a Dwarf can obtain." At this point, Bilbo noticed that all the other Dwarves had crowded closer to listen. Balin calmly took another puff from his pipe. "Now what about the third?"
"The Great Army!" Ori called out from his corner of the fur pelt. The older Dwarves gave a round of cheers, each of them lifting their bottles and mugs in respect.
"The Great Army of Erebor," Balin agreed. He took a slow breath then began to speak in his deep, slow voice, "King Thror recognized that the safety of his people was paramount. He dedicated a portion of Erebor's wealth to fund a great army." The Dwarf's voice was tinged with pride and his eyes had a faraway look to them. "At its peak, the King commanded 50,000 Dwarves strong, fighting fit and ready to defend the Mountain at any time. The soldiers took pride in upholding the values of a true Dwarven warrior and were trained rigorously until they became experts at using various melee weapons. Battle axes, battle hammers, long swords, short swords, maces, spears and flails; a captain of the army was expected to be proficient in all of these weapons."
Dwalin silently handed his older brother his bottle of wine and Balin took a sip. Licking his lips, he carried on with his story, "Needless to say, it took a years and years of dedication to rise in the ranks of the army. Years of hard work, discipline, sweat, tears and blood. Not a lot of Dwarves succeeded, but those who did were held in great esteem."
"The Great Army of Erebor gained a reputation for being strong and fearless. They refused to back away from their foes, no matter what kind of enemies they may face." There was a harshness to Balin's face that Bilbo did not recognize, but it sent terrible shivers down his spine. "Whether their enemies were waves of detestable Orcs and Goblins, who would ruthlessly pray on all manners of people but especially on the weak, or the brash Men, known for their unpredictable, reckless nature to cause the same amount of good as evil, and –"
"Elves! With their smug, superior attitude, who would rather see the world burn around them than to lend a helping hand!" Dori said bitterly, face flushed in anger and looking utterly disgusted. The other Dwarves cried out in agreement. The older Dwarves, especially, were getting more and more riled up at the memory of the fateful day when their supposed allies betrayed them. Bilbo could feel all the anger and hatred pouring from the Dwarves, ready to boil over at a moment's notice and he had no idea how to stop it from happening.
"The Elves who sat by and watched our children and women burn to ashes by Smaug the Terrible!"
"The Elves who turned away when we were begging for aid!"
"The Great Army feared no Orcs, Goblins, Elves or Men, and neither do we!"
"Yeah, least of all the thieves who were perched outside our gates as we speak!"
"Friends, you speak of the truth!" Thorin brusquely stood up, interrupting the others' tirade. His expression was so dark and murderous that Bilbo could feel the beginning of a cold sweat starting to form on his forehead. "Those thieves are trying to prey on us, now that our army is no more. But the Dwarven warrior spirit is strong in every one of us and we shall not be quelled!"
Thorin continued confidently with his back straight and his eyes unwavering from his adoring subjects. To Bilbo, he looked every inch of a warrior king. "And when our kinsman, Dain, comes, we shall once again show our enemies the glory of the Dwarven army!"
"We shall make them pay in a pound of blood and flesh for every coin and gem they thought to take from us!" the Dwarven king roared out among the jubilant cries of the company members.
"For Erebor!" The Dwarves chanted together as they raised their fists into the air, "For Erebor!"
And Bilbo looked despairingly around him, at the bloodthirsty hunger in the Dwarves eyes, at the sheer malicious intent that was dripping from their cries, and knew with a sinking heart that he had run out of time.
Gold Fever had completely stolen the last vestiges of hope for peace. He was too late to save his friends from a path of war, loss, ruin, pain –
Bilbo unexpectedly found himself locking eyes with his travel pack.
No, it's not too late. Not yet.
His mind was turning as a new plan began to hatch. If Thorin refused to carry on peace talks with the Men, he would have to do something drastic to force the Dwarf into it. Or at the very least, find a way where the Dwarf would willingly trade a portion of his treasure.
And he knew just the way to do it.
Bilbo looked up at Thorin with bright eyes and wearing a broken-hearted smile.
He silently said goodbye in his heart.
The Hobbit could only cling on to the desperate wish that the Dwarf would someday forgive him for what he would do next.
24 December, T.A 2491
The cluster of white healing tents stood out against the backdrop of the colourful army tents. It served as a spot of peacefulness among the noisy, bustling surroundings where a stream of Dwarves, Men, and Elves were constantly moving around on errands. Inside, the healing tents were kept warm, clean and sparse, with the exception of one, which was packed with all sorts of gifts and trinkets from well-wishers. Bilbo Baggins laid in that tent, on a cot draped in luxurious fur skins that kept him very comfortable for the past month since he had been brought there.
Thorin had long since become accustomed to the sight of that specific healing tent; he carefully side-stepped new piles of presents to take his place on a rickety wooden seat beside the cot. Ever so gently, he reached over to cradle the Hobbit's left hand in his own scarred ones like he had done every time he came in for a visit.
"You would be glad to know that Erebor's recovery is going well." He spoke softly as he shifted in the hard seat. Despite spending so much time there, he had failed to bring a better padded chair over or at least, a cushion to make himself more comfortable. The wooden chair would creak horribly whenever the Dwarf moved in the slightest motion but he paid it no mind. "We have finished burying those who fell during the Battle and Smaug's attack. The monument built in their honour is half-completed." Thorin traced soothing circles with his thumb along the painfully familiar surface at the back of the Hobbit's hand.
"We had another meeting with the Elves and Men today. The Dwarves agreed to help lay out the stone foundations of the buildings in New Dale. In return for our services, the Men agreed to provide food for us from the farms they have set up. The Elves will be joining in to help with the food situation as well." Thorin grimaced at the thought of Elves but it was out of habit rather than genuine anger. Still, he would rather not think about Thranduil if he could help it to avoid unpleasant memories from being dredged up. It would take him decades to let go of his old hatred, but the Dwarf was taking it one step at a time.
Thorin shifted again, trying to find a position that would put less strain on his aching muscles. He had spent the last few days putting in new support pillars in Erebor and he was paying the price for it. Wooden chairs were really unforgiving to those who have been sitting for a long while and he cursed himself for not bringing a cushion again.
"Rest assured, no one has killed each other yet. We are all too busy at the moment." At this, the Dwarven king smiled wryly. He suspected that Thranduil still carried murderous tendencies, but he was keeping that opinion away from his gentle Bilbo.
The Dwarf allowed his eyes to roam over the peaceful expression on the Halfling's face, at his head wrapped in white gauze, and at the curly hair that fanned across his pillow like a halo.
Bilbo Baggins did not respond. He had remained deeply unconscious for the past month.
Thorin Oakenshield sighed and carried on his daily report, refusing to let the wave of sadness bleed into his voice.
"Balin is working closely with Bard on Dale's new layout. Out of all the Dwarves, he remembered the most about the original city, so we thought it was fitting to get him involved in the planning. Bard also asked me to give you this." The king reached into his pocket and pulled a delicate necklace with a metal bow and arrow as the pendant. He placed it gently into the Hobbit's palm and curled his own fingers around Bilbo's. "Bard and the Lake-town Men did not have the opportunity to thank you properly for all that you have done for them. They hope that you will accept the necklace as one of their tokens of appreciation. I believe they have more plans in mind once you recover."
Thorin lowered his voice into a near whisper, suddenly feeling shy for what he was about the say next. "As do I, my dear Bilbo. I have many plans for us. The first thing I would like to do is to apologize profusely for all the grievances I have caused you." His voice broke and he cleared his throat before continuing, "And if you would have me again, I would like to officially announce my intention to court you in public, so that everyone would know how important you are to me."
The king released the Hobbit's hand to lay his palm against Bilbo's cheek. He caressed it slowly, all the while marvelling at the colour that returned to his Burglar's face. The bruises and cuts had faded away, leaving behind smooth, flawless skin except for the thin silvery line near Bilbo's right brow. Óin's salves had really done wonders on reducing the effects of scarring.
Thorin continued his original train of thought using the same soft reverent tone from before, "Finally, I would like you to meet my sister Dís, who is more than delighted to tell you embarrassing stories of my wayward youth." Thorin chuckled. His sister would make his life a living hell but if it meant that Bilbo was awake for it, then he would gladly endure it a thousand times over. He couldn't help but to add cheekily though, "Not that I worry of course. After all, I've been told that I was the shining example of decorum."
He smirked, remembering that fateful conversation at the balconies that felt like a lifetime ago, that meeting that had started it all, "In fact, a certain Hobbit was most confident that I was a virtuous child.
"And for the record, I stand by what I said. I was nothing at all like my two nephews."
Thorin sat in comfortable silence for a while longer, amazed that being in Bilbo's presence relaxed him to the point where he could no longer hear the constant buzzing of his thoughts in his mind. The king realized that he had already fallen into a comfortable routine where he would visit the Hobbit after a long day of work, unwind as he told Bilbo all about his day, and, on some occasions, shamefully whine about his problems, before departing with a kiss and a promise to visit again. It was all becoming horribly domestic, but Thorin found it all surprisingly enjoyable. He still had bad days when the crushing guilt in his heart was so strong, it took all of his will power not to grasp tightly at Bilbo's hand and beg him to wake up, but his faith in the Hobbit's recovery was holding up.
It would have to be enough.
Smiling fondly, Thorin leaned over to press a kiss over Bilbo's lips, then two quick ones over his eyelids and one on his left cheek. "Unfortunately, it's time for me to go." He spoke softly over the Hobbit's ear, wishing that he could shed his kingly duties and stay as long as he wanted, "but I promise I will be back tomorrow."
The Dwarven king straightened up and made ready to leave, only to be pulled back when his surcoat snagged on something on the cot. Frowning slightly, he looked down to see if he could tug his coat free and instead, saw Bilbo's hand clutching tightly at the fur. He blinked in confusion.
He whipped his head up and found himself pinned by a set of sluggish blue eyes, opened to half-mast. Frozen on his spot, Thorin watched, mouth suddenly dry and completely in shock, as Bilbo Baggins gazed blearily at him for a few seconds, before mumbling out tiredly, "Th'rin, rem'ber to bring a cush'n fr the chair."
A short bark of incredulous laughter left the Dwarf's mouth and all Thorin could think about was how it was so good to hear Bilbo speak again. He had almost forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful Bilbo's eyes looked, and he would die a happy Dwarf if he could spend the rest of eternity drowning in those eyes, so long as they continued to look at him. Please don't stop looking at him.
Thank you Mahal, thank you, thank you, thankyouthankyouthankyou.
Before he knew what was happening, he had already bent over and crushed his Hobbit in a fierce hug, his hands shaking, and he couldn't stop, wouldn't stop raining kisses all along the side of his beloved's face.
For the first time since the Battle, Thorin Oakenshield felt like he could finally breathe again.
"Is…is that a carving of me punching a dragon in the face?"
A/N: [EDITED by ArielT. Feb 20, 2013. Thank you!]
IT IS DONE! This bad boy took me 56 pages on Word. 56 PAGES! I was not expecting this kind of length for my first fanfic. (Honestly, I initially planned to cap it at 10 pages. Oh how very naïve I was…)
THANK YOU to everyone who oh-so-lovingly commented, kudo's, recced, favorite, bookmarked, placed this on alert! I do notice your efforts and I appreciate every single one of them. Also, a big thanks to the reviewers whom I cannot respond back. Your support means a lot to me.
On that final note – this has been a very entertaining experience for me and it taught me a lot about the art of creative story-telling. Thanks everyone for allowing me to play in your sandbox for a bit. I may or may not continue to write some brand new stuff in the future. Meh, we shall see :)
Notes about this chapter!
 Gandalf travelled halfway from Rivendell to Erebor by Eagle. He had to make the rest of his way on horseback because Eagles are not ponies. Like Loki, they do what they want.
 Fun fact: don't feed an unconscious person a large amount of liquid. It's a choking hazard. However, an unconscious patient can still ingest a few milliliters (~0.1 oz for you American fans) of fluid at a time either because of swallowing reflex or from the force of gravity when lifting the head up.
Of course, a much faster way would be to deliver medication via enema (which was used commonly in the past). I'll just leave you with that pleasant mental image.
 Bifur was the one to spread the story about Bilbo punching the dragon in the face. He did it for the lulz.
 Kili and Fili's innuendos took me a grand total of 1 minute to type up and was the easiest thing I came up with to date. Between this and my ease at writing violent scenes, I have come the conclusion that I am a horrible human being. D:
 The last segment of the fic was specifically written to mirror the first part of the first chapter, 'cause in my mind, I see the events in my fic like a movie and I like seeing visual symmetry. Hahaha I'm such a dork. :D