DISCLAIMER: Professor Tolkien's wonderful characters don't belong to me; I just get to think about them day and night.


As the party slowly descended from the lofty crag where the eagles had left them, all grateful for the rough-hewn steps Fili had discovered, Bilbo felt himself begin to tremble. He had never felt so spent, so bruised and battered and weary in all his days, and although he tried valiantly to keep walking, his vision suddenly blurred and he stumbled to his knees. Alarmed, Kili bent to help him.

"I'm all right," Bilbo said. He tried to rise on shaky legs, but suddenly there was a swish of grey robes and he felt himself being lifted up, up, higher than the heads of any of the Dwarves, and settled into strong arms.

"Gandalf," he said faintly. He clutched the wizard's robe with both hands, feeling quite faint. "There's no need, truly. I'm just…. a bit…. tired…." His hands loosened their grip, and with a sigh he spun down into a deep, exhausted sleep.

"You have earned your rest, my friend," Gandalf said. A chorus of "That he has," and Bofur's "Bear him gently, Gandalf," assured him that the Dwarves could now deny their burglar nothing that was in their power to bestow.

An hour passed, then two, and as the sun began to set the Dwarves marched solidly onwards, singing in good voice, each one eager to reach the ground and find a place to camp.

"Twilight is upon us," Thorin said, coming to Gandalf's side. "Give him to me and take the lead, if you will. If you made such flame as we saw this day, might we presume that you can also light our path?"

"I will do my best," Gandalf said with a smile. He settled Bilbo into Thorin's arms, then made his way to the front of the line.

"Where am I?" Bilbo murmured, stirring slightly.

"You are safe," said Thorin quietly. "Dream of your Shire, Bilbo Baggins, and the home you love." His voice dropped to a whisper. "As each night I dream of mine." He then began to sing along with his comrades, softly, glad to feel Bilbo slowly relax once more into slumber. Glad for the light from the wizard's staff which now blazed before them. Glad for the kindly fate that had brought this hobbit into his Company. Glad for the sight of the Mountain. Erebor! A new strength filled his weary bones, and his voice grew stronger and surer. His heart swelled with a feeling he had thought lost long ago, as for the first time in many years Thorin son of Thrain allowed himself to hope.