IMPORTANT! PLEASE READ, DO NOT IGNORE!
Hi there friend! In case if you haven't noticed, I posted two new chapters (Chapters 11 and 12) at the same time, so please feel free to read Chapter 11 first if you haven't had the chance yet. ;) Many thanks!
Part XVI: Everyone, the continuation
Bilbo had spent his childhood exploring the gentle rolling hills of the Shire with his pack of Took cousins, getting into all sorts of mischief in the market and in the farmlands. As with all fearless, energetic fauntlings, they would take turns devising many elaborate make-believe adventures where they would battle monsters, uncover lost treasure, and save beautiful princesses all before supper time. If anyone were to ask Bilbo however, they would learn that the young Hobbit particularly hated the adventures where they had to save princesses, and it was not because he disliked them and would rather leave them to the mercy of their captors.
It was because he would almost always be chosen to play the damsel in distress.
The reason behind this was a simple one – Bilbo was the smallest Hobbit among his group of older, burlier cousins, and as the smallest of the group, he was given all the less desirable roles. If they were pretending to be knights, he would be the tagalong squire. If they were playing pirates, he would be the cabin boy.
If somebody needed rescuing, he was that person.
Being a princess was definitely not very fun at all. What he would inevitably end up doing was waste a good portion of his play time pretending to be bound and helpless. He would watch his cousins fight off whatever malevolent creature they conjured up in their imagination, and generally have a much better time than he was having.
When I grow up, I will be too big to be the princess and someone smaller will get play her instead, Bilbo had thought with the wisdom of a child.
Now, thirty to forty years after the fact, Bilbo found himself living through one of his imaginary adventures from his youth. He was actually bound, gagged, and being forced into riding at the front of the saddle by his towering, Mannish kidnappers at knife point. To add insult to injury, they were riding back to the very same location that Bilbo had just escaped from.
Bilbo would have found this coincidence to be funny in a sad sort of way if he was not feeling so miserable from the cold and from his newly acquired set of injuries.
"We should not have partnered up with those two idiots. Can't believe they almost lost our captives. Where the hell was Haldan when they ran?" Mallor grumbled angrily. He purposely tightened his grip on the bleeding gash on Bilbo's shoulder. The Hobbit winced at the sharp pain that ran down the length of his arm.
"Who knows!" Galion answered beside Mallor as he shifted in his own saddle. His posture was loose and relaxed, obviously smug from his success in catching Bilbo and Ori. "I'm starting to think that Haldan's no better than those two. His disappearing act got all of Bard's men in a searching frenzy! Did you see how they've swarmed Lake-town today?" He did not pay any attention to the limp, unconscious Ori that he had in front of him, or at the way that the Dwarf's dangling left arm was bent at an unnatural angle, broken.
A gust of icy wind blew through the trees and Bilbo shivered violently at the cold that clung on to his wet clothing. There wasn't much he could do to keep himself warm from his trapped position on the saddle except to lean into Mallor for body heat, but Bilbo would like to believe that he has not, and will not, lower himself to that level. Discreetly, he tried to at least shift into a more comfortable position, but a sudden throbbing ache from his lower back stole what little breath he had left in his body.
Bilbo hated to admit it, but these past two days were officially the worst ones he had lived through in his entire life, minus the events that lead up to the Battle of the Five Armies. The only thing that could make it marginally better was if he could wipe the blood off his face, a task made impossible with the way that his hands were tied behind him. He hoped he had not sustained any serious head injury aside from the bleeding, but he hadn't had the chance to check after Mallor had given him what felt like the beating of his life.
At least they did not find the ring that Bilbo had carefully hidden on his body, though the item was useless in his current predicament, not when his bound hands could not reach it.
"Didn't he have a better plan than to disappear like that? What happened?" Bilbo heard Mallor ask as if he was speaking through a great haze. He closed his eyes and forced himself to concentrate on his captor's words, pushing against the odd, floating sensation that were growing in his head beside the dull, throbbing pain.
"He pushed our plan ahead of schedule and didn't have the time to set everything up for his initial escape plan, that's what happened! It's downright sloppy work!" Galion answered back, sounding very much affronted.
"Obviously, we're clearly the smartest people on this team of dead-weights," Mallor turned towards Galion and the sudden movement jostled Bilbo's back again. The Hobbit bit down tightly on his gag to stifle his gasp of pain. "Which begs the question – why are we still working with them?"
"Can't exactly run off and do this on our own. Maybe we can ask for a larger portion of the ransom since we're the ones who salvaged this situation." Through his watering eyes, Bilbo saw Galion roughly grab Ori and reposition him on the saddle before he could slip off. "Besides, we're going to need all the help we can get to retrieve the gold. Bard's men are crawling all over the place and it's going to be hard not to get spotted by them if we manage to get to the drop-off location."
"You honestly think they would agree to give us a larger portion of the gold?" Mallor sounded extremely sceptical. Bilbo did not need to see Galion's expression to know that he was scowling heavily in response. "And I can think of a way to kill two birds with one stone. Depends on how much you like our fellow team members though."
Shivers ran down Bilbo's spine, ones that were not caused by the pervasive cold. Mallor's dark tone was enough to cause a spike of fear to travel through the Hobbit's body, and he knew that something bad was going to happen.
"Let me put it this way," Galion purred out, "if there is a way for us to keep all of the gold, I will take it, regardless of what I have to do."
Mallor's answering laughter was full of delight, and Bilbo shivered again. "Glad to know you're on board. I've been thinking about this for the whole day. From my understanding, Bard is looking for Haldan and he won't call off his men until he finds him. I say we offer the king a helping hand." As Mallor bent forward to adjust his hold on the reins, Bilbo snapped his eyes shut at the new wave of agony that licked up his spine to the base of his neck. He bit down on his gag reflexively, worrying away the dirty fabric between his clenched teeth until the pain started to abate a little.
He must look completely incoherent to his surroundings for his captors to openly talk around him like that. Bilbo couldn't blame them; he felt like he was ready to keel over any second.
"What, you mean we just write a note to the king to tell him where to find Haldan?" Galion's confusion was palpable.
Mallor let out a deep suffering sigh. "No, you idiot, I'm saying that we let the king find Haldan's body." At his friend's answering silence, Mallor sighed again and began slowly, "We kill Haldan, plant the body somewhere away from our gold retrieval site, and send the king an anonymous tip to let him know where it is. It would at least get him to stop sending any more invasive search parties."
Bilbo felt his heart clench in fear. Wait, what?
"Ah," Galion made a noise of understanding, "but what about Beren and Aldor?"
"Oh I haven't forgotten about those two idiots," Mallor replied, pleased. "We pin the crime on them. It's easy enough. Plant something that belongs to them on the body and make sure that it's obvious. When Aldor and Beren make their trip to Lake-town, they'll be walking straight into an arrest. In the meantime, we grab the gold and run."
Bilbo's heart was pounding away in his chest as his two captors continue to openly plot the murder of their team member. Was there anything that they wouldn't do for the sake of gold? Haldan at least was honourable to an extent; he had treated Bilbo somewhat with dignity and had promised that no harm should fall on either him or Ori. (That's probably not the case anymore given what you did to his two team members, a little voice whispered in his head).
Still, at least Haldan proved himself to be the lesser of the (many) evils. It was definitely in Bilbo's best interest to keep Haldan alive, but how?
They may be working together but clearly, they don't all like each other, Bilbo thought, trying to think back on all the times he had spent with any of his captors during his imprisonment in his basement cell. He did not have much to go on to definitively determine who is loyal to whom, but if he were to hazard an educated guess, he would think that Haldan and the tall, bear-like Beren formed their own faction, while Mallor and Galion only liked each other. The drunk Aldor was nobody's favourite and would most likely follow the one with the most power.
Maybe Bilbo could use this information somehow. For the time being however, his mind was drawing a disappointing blank.
A violent shiver wracked the Hobbit's body, interrupting his stream of thoughts as all the aches and pain from his injuries flooded back in a vengeance. His heavy, waterlogged clothing only made things a thousand times worse with the way it rubbed against his bruised and cut skin. He moaned quietly into his gag, shivering hard a second time.
His mind turned to Thorin, his brave, stubborn, beautiful Thorin, whom he missed now more than ever. It just occurred to him that this was the longest time that they had spent apart since the Dwarf had showed up to his doorstep a year ago, and already, Bilbo felt completely unease by the separation. Any plans to return back to Bag End were well and truly out the window at this point, not when Thorin Oakenshield had ruined him for any other life except the one by his side.
Bilbo hoped that wherever Thorin was, he will find them soon.
Although Fíli and Kíli's initial message from the Ravens bore good news, the ones they had received immediately afterwards were significantly darker:
Bilbo and Ori were severely beaten for their attempted escape. Both are hurt but alive for now.
Bilbo and Ori are being forced into riding westward away from Lake-town at knife point.
Bilbo and Ori are kept in an abandoned cabin under half an hour's ride towards the west of Lake-town. Both are kept in the basement. They are alive but badly hurt.
They had also received a message from Nori:
Found the identities of the last two attackers, (see attached profile sketches). I've also discovered the location to where the hostages are held and have included a map to it. Turns out the property was recently purchased by one of the captors. Amateurs. How shall we proceed?
Thorin looked up from this newest set of notes to see Balin, Dwalin, Dori and his nephews silently stare back at him, their expressions ranged from grim to thunderous. Dori and Dwalin, in particular, looked like they were ready to strike out on their own, but even at their angriest and most desperate, they were willing to follow his command. Their loyalty was humbling and Thorin could not ask for better men.
He wasn't going to disappoint them either.
"Gather the Company," Thorin ordered as he reached for his armor, "and send a message to Bard and Nori. We are meeting in Lake-town. The time to strike our enemies is now."
His men's enthusiasm to seek their revenge was unparalleled. In record time, the Company had not only assembled with their horses and their weapons ready, they also found themselves riding fast across the flat, grassland valley to Lake-town with the same, desperate urgency reserved for escaping Orc packs.
"You lot showed up quick," Nori said from his saddled horse in a way of greeting when they reached the newly reconstructed bridge to Lake-town. "Where's Lord Dáin?"
"I asked him to stay and watch Erebor in my absence," Thorin replied as he brought his pony closer to the thief. "He was most disappointed. He rather liked Bilbo and was looking forward to the fight." He frowned, "Where is King Bard?"
"Still in the process of getting ready. He'll be meeting with us near the west-end of Lake-town instead." Nori gestured towards the town, "But before we proceed, I would suggest for everyone to pull their hoods up. Wouldn't want any tongues to wag if any of you is recognized."
They traveled at a sedated pace in a single-file, their horses clip clopping against the wood lined platforms that make up the streets. It was the first time that Thorin, or any of the Dwarves save Nori, had been back to Lake-town after its devastation, and Thorin could see just how much of the area had been decimated by the dragon. Most of its buildings were charred, leaving blackened remains of its gutted, crumbling skeletons standing on both sides of the road in a macabre display. The smell of smoke was still heavy in the air and the unpleasant scent stung Thorin's nostrils. The people around the Dwarves seemed completely nonplussed by all of this, however. They were traversing through the empty spaces where the buildings once stood, happily using them as a shortcut to get to the nearest road.
Although the Dwarves were dressed inconspicuously, their Company still drew more curious looks than Thorin would like. Carefully, he pulled his hood further over his head until his face was shielded away from prying eyes. He remembered what Nori said and he did not want to be recognized, not if it meant that he would be delayed from rescuing his Bilbo.
They slowly reached to a cluster of smaller and surprisingly undamaged houses near the fringe of the city. Thorin's eyes were immediately drawn to where Bard and half a dozen archers were milling about.
"I have brought my best archers with me," Bard waved to his men and explained after they had exchanged their greetings. "Although their number is small, their skills are unparalleled. I also assumed that you wanted to have a more covert operation."
Thorin nodded, "You assumed correctly. I have learned that Bilbo and Ori were kept in a cabin to the west of here. It would be much too easy for the kidnappers to discover us and to use them as shields if we were to charge in a large group. We have a better chance at succeeding if we catch them off guard, and a small number of men is conducive to this strategy."
"What else do we know about the captors' current situation?"
"All four of them are currently on site but I have no idea if they hired any other mercenaries to do their bidding," Nori answered smoothly. "We will need to find a way to draw them out first though." He added in a sheepish tone, "We might have to improvise on that, but the general strategy that I liked to use if I wanted to get someone to mindlessly run where I want them to run is to get them angry."
He exchanged glances with both kings and repeated, "Very, very angry."
The clearing was deadly quiet save for the rambunctious sound of drunken merry making that came from the sad little dilapidated cottage at the middle of the field. Under the cover of the dense trees and bushes, Thorin kept his eyes on the house, waiting impatiently from his crouched position. Another bout of loud laughter had him gritting his teeth as his hands clenched tightly around the hilt of Orcrist until his knuckles were white.
Dwalin and Dori shifted beside him, equally angry and anxious to wipe the grin off of those kidnappers' faces. He nodded to them both and signed in Iglishmêk: 'Soon. For now, we wait.'
Just as he had delivered that message, he saw Nori, Bofur, and Bifur quietly sneak their way into the clearing, keeping their footsteps as light as possible on the dry, crumbling grass. They made a wide berth to avoid any of the windows of the house, an extra precaution even when most of these windows had been boarded up, and they slowly crept towards the wooden pen where the horses were kept.
Then, they proceeded to knock over every single bucket and crate that was within reach with great enthusiasm and with the single-minded goal to create as much ruckus as possible.
Instantly, the sound inside the cabin stopped, followed by a very audible and confused, "Did you hear that?"
The three Dwarves grinned widely before shifting their attention to work on the ropes that tied the horses to the posts. They carried on their task even when the front door of the house slammed open and the small, skeletal looking man, Aldor, stood gaping at them, flabbergasted.
Bifur looked up briefly to throw an obscene hand gesture at the newcomer. The man spluttered in indignation. From their hiding spot in the bushes, Thorin heard Óin snort.
"Horse thieves!" Aldor finally screeched out after opening and closing his mouth a few times, "Help! Help! Thieves and they are stealing our horses!"
Pounding footsteps echoed loudly from the house, followed by a muffled shout, "You idiot! Don't just stand here, stop them!"
"I can't just march up there and stop them! There are three of them and one of me!"
"Well then, by all means. Do continue to stand there and watch them steal our horses, you useless sack of shit!"
In the meantime, the Dwarves had successfully untied the last horse and were ushering them towards the open gate. The frightened herd did not need much encouragement to bolt from the premisess.
"Stop thieves!" a new voice cried out, and Nori, Bifur and Bofur spun around in time to see all four captives out in the open with their swords drawn. Thorin frowned at the sight. Was that it? Did they only have four people at the house? Somehow, he had expected...more from the people who gave him so much grief.
Nori apparently had the same train of thought.
"Is this it? Just you four?" the thief taunted in an especially aggravating sing-song voice that made the four men bristle. "And here I was looking forward to a challenge. I'm rather disappointed, really."
"We may be four but that's still one more to you three!" Aldor shouted back heatedly as his face flushed into an unattractive bright red. "Besides, we – "
Galion reached over and smacked him in the back of his head. "Idiot!" the blond hissed, "Stop talking!"
"Well, this has been great fun but we really must dash," Nori drawled out, unimpressed. He folded his arms over his chest. "I hope you don't mind, we helped ourselves to some of your, er, things." Bofur held up a bulging leather pouch and gave the men a happy little wave with his free hand. "Anyway, so long and thanks for the horses!"
With a final, sloppy salute, Nori, Bifur and Bofur turned and bolted after the horses as if the demons themselves were after their tail. A split second later, the men followed with their swords swinging, hollering death threats. Thorin watched anxiously as his three companions led the captors across the clearing in a merry chase, ducking and dodging projectiles that were thrown at them while whooping all the way in delight. Bifur, in particular, stunned the captors by spinning around just in time to neatly catch a small knife aimed for his head. He laughed raucously and shouted his response back in Khuzdûl.
"He said, thank you for the knife! It will fetch a pretty penny in the market," Bofur translated helpfully, if not a bit too cheerful. The collective answering roar of anger from the men was like music to their ears.
Thorin kept his gaze on the captors until they ran into the forest, making sure that their backs had disappeared behind the wall of dense trees, before making his move. "Now!" he ordered quietly, and he emerged from his hiding spot with the rest of his Company behind him.
Quickly, they dashed towards the cabin as a synchronized unit, the fluidity of their movement reflected by their familiarity with each other that could only be forged through shared battle experiences. Thorin was the first to reach the small building and he immediately pressed his back against the weathered wooden wall, crouching below the windows to avoid detection. He motioned for his companions to do the same.
Somewhere in the forest, Nori's insult echoed loudly, "Is that the best you can do? Even my old crippled mother can swing harder than that!"
Dori muttered somewhere to Thorin's right, barely audible, "I wish he wouldn't say that about our good mum."
Thorin ignored him. Frankly, Nori had free reign to say whatever he wanted so long as he was successful. According to the plan, Nori, Bifur and Bofur were just about to lead the men into an ambush where Bard and his archers lay waiting, and if the thief wanted to cajole the kidnappers to make it work, he can go right on ahead.
'Dwalin, Dori and Óin, come with me,' the Dwarven king signed in Iglishmêk once he caught everyone's attention. 'The rest of you, spread out and guard the exits: the door, the windows. If anyone surrenders, let them. Kill only those who resist.'
At his companions' collective nods, he pushed himself off the wall and headed for the front entrance, all the while keeping low to the ground and his ears perked for any unexpected visitors. Their surroundings stayed eerily silent and Thorin was beginning to suspect that a nastier surprise might lie in wait for them once they were inside, but this was hardly the time to be afraid, not when he was this close to finding Bilbo and Ori.
They reached the door and true to prediction, it was left ajar by the kidnappers in their mad rush to stop the supposed horse thieves. Thorin leaned forward to peer through the crack. He could see what looked to be a dim sitting room with large, but boarded up, windows, and with wooden, rustic furnishings.
There weren't any movement inside.
Slowly, he drew out his sword and he nudged the door open so that the space was large enough for him and his men to pass through. He shuffled into the room, unnerved by the silence but he was too stubborn and proud to show it. The musky scent of dust mixed with the stink of alcohol and sweat was heavy in the room, and it reminded the Dwarf of the inns in which he frequently boarded whenever he took up smithing jobs in Mannish settlements. They were a miserable place laden with all manners of filth.
Thorin frowned deeply. This place was no different.
'Spread out,' he motioned to his small team. 'Find the basement. Stay quiet, stay alert, and do not leave out of sight.'
Thorin's initial glimpse of the room was pretty much spot on. There wasn't much to see in this dingy space aside from two possible entry ways, one of which had its door closed. Thorin walked up to the door, diverting his attention on keeping his footing light, and pressed his ear against its surface. When he heard no sound, he lightly pushed against it to see if it will budge.
It did not move. 'Probably locked,' Thorin concluded, annoyed that he couldn't give into his usual method and kick the damned thing open. He made a mental note to revisit this door if their other exit options were exhausted.
Feeling a light tap on his shoulder, he turned around and raised his brow in surprise at a smirking Óin. 'Found a door at the end of the hallway beyond this room,' the healer signed quickly but deftly despite his obvious excitement. 'It leads to a set of stairs that go down. I think that's the basement.'
Thorin swallowed hard and he felt his heartbeat spike. 'Lead the way,' he responded before he waved Dwalin and Dori over from their respective corners.
'Any sign of life?' Thorin asked his other two companions.
Dwalin and Dori both shook their heads. 'I find it odd and rather disturbing,' Dori added as he casted sideway glances at the dark corners of the room, suspicious that something dangerous might be hidden away from sight.
'Then again, they weren't very good hiding their trail to begin with,' Dwalin offered with a shrug. 'Perhaps we were dealing with amateurs like Nori had suggested. If the place was more heavily fortified, surely we would have encountered the guards by now.'
'It could be,' Thorin allowed. 'Best keep our eyes out just in case.'
The Dwarves dutifully followed Óin out of the room and down the short, dimly lit hallway until they reached a small wooden door that was left partially opened. 'In here,' Óin gestured. 'It looks like there is only a door at the end of the staircase and nothing else. It should be safe to go down – '
Óin had barely finished his sentence before Thorin threw caution to the wind by dashing down the staircase, skipping two steps at a time. If anyone even dared to show up right then and there to stop them from entering that room, Thorin will not hesitate, not for one single second, to slice them open from navel to neck, and that's assuming that Dori and Dwalin hadn't killed them first. Reaching the dark, wooden door, the Dwarven king wasted no time in pulling hard against the handle, desperately trying to wrench the door open to no success.
Locked, of course.
"Bilbo?" he cried out, his voice thick with emotion as he rammed his shoulder against its wooden surface. Still, it wouldn't budge. He tried it again, harder this time. "Bilbo? Beloved, if you can hear me, please answer."
"Move aside, I got this."
Thorin sidestepped just in time to avoid Dori's round house kick to the door, sending it, along with a good chunk of the wall where the latch was connected, flying outwards in an impressive shower of wooden splinters. The door swung open fully and hit the opposite wall so hard that it loosened a cloud of dust from the ceiling.
"See? I told you I got this." Dori said dryly as he brushed the fine layer of dust off his coat to the incredulous stares of his peers.
They did not dwell on Dori's impressive physical prowess for long. Thorin nodded a quick thanks and swept into the dark, dank room with Dwalin and Dori nipping at his heels and –
His heart broke at the sight.
"Oh, Mahal," he choked out. In front of him were Bilbo and Ori on the floor, bloodied, bruised, and curled on their side so that they were facing each other. Their clothes were ripped with large gashes that ran along the sleeves and the pant legs, and Thorin could see more blood staining along the ragged edges of the torn cloth. Both were unconscious and deathly pale.
He moved closer, he must have, because the next thing he knew, his shaking hands were gently cradling against his Hobbit's bloodied and bruised face, and his knees were pressing against the damp floor planks. Slowly, he carded through Bilbo's soft russet curls, taking extra precaution to avoid the areas that were caked in blood, as he began to catalogue every wound that his beloved had suffered through.
Bruised at the back of his skull, bruise at the temple, a cut near the forehead, bruise along the right cheek...
He let his fingers traveled back to his soft, chilled cheeks, and across his face, only sighing in relief when he could feel Bilbo's soft exhale through his nose.
Hurt but alive. Thank the Valars.
"But you're as cold as ice," he heard himself murmur distantly. He automatically ripped off his dark hooded cloak along with his prized fur surcoat without caring if he tore the fabric. "We need to get you warm, love."
Just as he was about to bundle Bilbo in his makeshift blanket, he noticed something glinting around his neck. Frowning deeply, he reached for the mysterious item. "What's this?" he questioned, fingering at the cold band – metal, his mind whispered – and his eyes widened in shock.
The faint, delicate sound of a metal chain rattling nearby only provided further proof to what he suspected.
"A collar," he said loud enough for Dwalin to look up from his protective hold of Ori with red-rimmed eyes. "They collared them to this cell like they were animals."
Beside Ori, Dori made a choked, keening sound in his throat and Óin cursed loudly. "No, Dwalin." Thorin heard the healer bark out, "Let go of the chain, you old fool. You won't be able to tear it out of the wall and you're jostling him too much. I need to finish binding his arm."
Thorin tuned them out to focus on tending to his Bilbo. "We'll need to get you out of your wet clothing once we're home," he said softly as he finished wrapping Bilbo in his coat. "Can't have you catch a chill like you did when we escaped Thranduil's prison. You're miserable when you're sick."
We'll also need to find a way to get that horrible contraption off of you, he thought, but he hadn't dared to say that out loud, not if it could potentially scare Bilbo.
"Your Majesty." Thorin looked up to see Óin kneeling from the other side of Bilbo. His bottles of salves were neatly laid out on the ground. When did he get here? "I'm going to check on his wounds now," the Dwarf said soothingly and Thorin dimly realized that he was using the same tone to calm his patients in shock. "I'm going to start with the head first, then I will have to ask you to peel away the blankets. Please nod if you understand."
Thorin nodded mechanically.
"Good," Óin replied with a small smile and then, he went to work. "Cuts to the head often look worse than they are because of the amount of bleeding," the Dwarf gently explained as he pushed back Bilbo's hair, exposing his forehead. He hummed, uncorked one of his bottles, and poured a liberal amount over his finger. "I'm going to spread this liberally over his cut to stop any potential infections. Once we return to camp, we will clean his injuries properly and reapply a different kind of ointment."
Thorin latched on to the healer's words, letting his instructions wash over him in a calming wave. He had a feeling that that was Óin's intention and he could not begin to express his gratitude.
"The head is done, your Majesty, and the good news is that his injuries are not too severe." Óin pressed his fingers against Bilbo's skin and frowned. "It's his temperature that I'm worried about. He is entirely too chilled. You acted correctly with providing him some blankets but we're going to have to remove his wet clothing immediately. Anything that is too waterlogged, nothing that will cause indecency," he added quickly when Thorin gave him an affronted look.
They managed to peel off his coat and his tunic when Bilbo stirred with a weak, pained moan.
"Bilbo?" Thorin asked, hopeful. He tucked the make-shift blanket around Bilbo again before leaning forward to press his warm hand against his cheek, his thumb rubbing small, soothing circle against the delicate skin.
"Thorin," the Hobbit breathed out as if he could not believe that the Dwarf was beside him. His bleary eyes struggled to focus on Thorin's face. "Thorin, is that you?"
"That's right, I'm right here," the Dwarf said, his voice cracking. He pressed a gentle kiss over Bilbo's cheek, on his forehead just below the cut, and finally, over his pale lips. "I'm here, Bilbo, and I'm not going anywhere," he whispered, leaning in for a sweet, lingering kiss.
Finally, his mind whispered. He had felt the sharp, hollow ache of Bilbo's disappearance so deeply that he nearly felt overwhelmed from just being able to hold him, kiss him.
However, Bilbo's choked sob was enough for Thorin to pull away despite that was the last thing he wanted. "Bilbo, love, what is the matter?" he asked, alarmed.
Bilbo opened and closed his mouth wordlessly before snapping his eyes shut, shaking his head. Thorin felt his heart hurt all over again and he never felt so helpless, but more than anything, he wanted to fix this. "Shhh, it's alright," he brushed away the tears that were streaming from his beloved's face, "it's alright. It's alright."
"No, no it isn't," Bilbo shook his head again and rasped out. "I couldn't stop them. I tried – " he choked off and swallowed heavily before continuing, " I tried to save him, but I couldn't. I couldn't."
Confused, Thorin frowned lightly. Was he talking about Ori? He continued to rub soothing circles over his Bilbo's cheek. He never wanted to stop touching his beloved. "Ori is fine," he ventured calmly, "Óin treated him and he should be just fine. He's beside you with Dwalin and Dori. He couldn't be in safer hands."
"Not, not Ori," Bilbo corrected as he blinked away fresh tears. "He tried to get Ori some help for his arm but they got him instead." He pointed a shaky finger to a part of the room that was previously hidden in the shadows, and Thorin followed his movement, squinting to make out what Bilbo had meant. Then, his eyes widened in shock.
Lying on the ground from across the room in a pool of his own blood was Haldan, staring at the ceiling with glassy, vacant eyes. His throat had been slashed open.
"They've been inside for an awfully long time."
Fíli blinked out of his reverie and frowned at the unusual seriousness in his brother's voice.
"They have," he agreed quietly, "but we haven't heard much noise in there except for that one loud crash. It doesn't sound like a fight went on."
Truth be told, Fíli was getting as worried as his brother. His Uncle had been inside the house for quite some time now, leaving a good number of the Company to guard its perimeter. Things had been awfully quiet inside and outside of the house, with no sign of life anywhere near the premises.
Fíli can't help but wait in anticipation for the second shoe to drop.
"Do you think that Bilbo and Ori will be alright?" Kíli asked in a small, insecure voice that never failed to make Fíli's protective nature flare up. Back in the Blue Mountains, he had garnered a reputation for being downright vicious to those who hurt his little brother, and despite Kíli's insistent that he could fight his own battles, Fíli had never stopped doing what he can to keep his spirits up.
And he wasn't going to stop now either.
Plastering on a large grin, Fíli answered, "Oh come now. Ori and Bilbo are some of the toughest people we know! Remember that time when Ori did that crazy rolling trick to outrun us? As for Bilbo, he's the 'bravest Hobbit of them all'! Even his song said so!" When Kíli still looked a bit dubious, he added, "Surely, you're not going to insult your own intelligence by saying that they're weak?"
Kíli predictably flushed in anger. "I am not insulting anything!" he spluttered, affronted. "I know that they're not weak at all and they're probably doing just fine! I'm just asking is all! Now if you'll excuse me, I have an entrance to guard!" He spun away in a huff, muttering angrily under his breath.
Fíli let his large grin fade into a smaller, but more genuine smile. Little brothers, he thought fondly. "Kíli, I think – "
The front door to the house slammed open and immediately, all the Dwarves rushed towards it with their weapons raised. At the sight of Thorin however, they all breathed a sigh of relief.
That was until they all saw the blood thirsty murder in his eyes.
"There is no one in the house and I doubt there are any mercenaries around," Thorin ground out angrily between clenched teeth. "Where is Nori? I wish to speak to the four attackers."
"Right here, your Majesty."
Nori, Bofur and Bifur trudged across the clearing, followed by Bard and the attackers, who were sandwiched on all sides by the six archers. The four kidnappers were sporting fresh injuries, and their hands and feet were bound.
"Your Majesty," Bard greeted Thorin in his characteristic somber voice, "what news do you bring? How are Master Bilbo and Master Ori?"
"They are alive and are being treated by my healer," Thorin said curtly as he glared at the kidnappers after they were forced roughly to their knees. "But they are both sporting metal collars that kept them chained to their prison."
Fíli had never heard his Uncle so angry. And rightly so, he thought in shocked horror. Dear Mahal, what were they doing to Bilbo and Ori?
Thorin continued, "I am here to ask for the key to release them. Where is it?" He marched up to the four prisoners and demanded coldly.
None of the men talked but Fíli noticed that the short one was starting to quake.
Finally, after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, the blonde one with the Elvish features spoke up. "We don't have to tell you anything, filthy Dwarf," he sneered out arrogantly. He spat towards Thorin's feet as an added insult.
Thorin raised an inquisitive brow, "Oh? Is that right?" He clasped his hands to the front of his body and chuckled darkly, "Thank you for volunteering."
Before the blonde could draw back in confusion, Thorin brought his fist forward and viciously punched him in the face.
"Where is the key?" he asked calmly as everyone stared, shock still.
The blond gave no answer except to writhe on the ground, groaning in pain.
Thorin hauled the man up by his hair and punched him again, this time shattering his nose.
"Where is the key?" he demanded louder.
The blond had curled himself up in a foetal position on the ground, openly sobbing as he clutched at his bleeding face.
Thorin shook his head in disgust and pulled the man upright by the front of his shirt. "Where. Is. The. KEY?!" He shouted, punctuating each word with a new punch that got progressively more, and more violent.
"Thorin!" Bard cried out, alarmed. He was so shocked that he forgot to use any formalities. "Thorin, I understand that you're frustrated but this cannot be – "
"They killed Haldan," Thorin cut in, his voice beyond frigid among the Company's audible gasp. Fíli shuffled closer to his little brother, drawing comfort from the warmth that he could feel pressing back against him. "I found his body in the basement after listening to my beloved in tears," Thorin continued, swallowing thickly, "my beloved in tears and apologizing for not being able to save him because he was chained in place." Thorin's lips pulled back in a snarl so full of fury that the archers took a step back, "I will have the key one way or another and I will not be denied."
Bard stared back, wide-eyed. "How," he asked quietly, brokenly.
Thorin understood what he meant. "A cut throat."
Bard nodded, never losing the look of shock. Fíli cannot help but pity him for having to discover this terrible news like that, not when he had held out hope that his advisor was still alive. Anyone could see that Bard had spent all the manpower that he had in his disposal to scour the country side, looking for the missing man.
It must crush his spirit to realize that it was all for naught, that despite his best efforts, he was still too late.
"I think I will go pay my respect to Mister Haldan," the bowman said hollowly. He bowed his head to Thorin and muttered lowly, "Carry on." With that, he gestured for his archers to follow him and they left for the cabin's entrance, never once turning back.
"Now," Thorin's grin was positively evil at the utter terror on the kidnappers' faces. He cracked his knuckles, "let me ask you again: Where is the key?"
Bilbo woke up in stages. At first, he noticed the delightful warmth surrounding him and the softness of the material that cradled his body, followed by the familiar scent of leather, iron and sandalwood.
The second thing he noticed was the sound of conversation.
" – healed his injuries as best as I could. Luckily, he escaped relatively unscathed."
"You call this lucky?" A sarcastic snort sounded close to his ear. "I do not think I want to know what you consider as unlucky."
"I must say," the first speaker began, and he sounded so terribly familiar to Bilbo, "I was not expecting this outcome when I left. I had my doubts, but he was very insistent from the start to stay at the camp to help. He even refused my offer to escort him back to the Shire." There was a beat of silence. "My congratulations to you, Thorin Oakenshield, on finding the one who can make you happy."
"Thank you, Gandalf," Thorin replied, obviously touched, and Bilbo had no doubt that that was Thorin who was speaking. He could never forget his Thorin's voice.
Keeping his eyes closed, Bilbo murmured, his words slurring slightly from sleep, "I hope you're not thinking about leaving us so soon, Gandalf. You just got here."
He opened his eyes and smiled softly at the twin looks of surprise on Thorin and Gandalf's faces. Unsurprisingly, the Wizard's appearance had not changed since the last time that Bilbo saw him; he was still sporting his long, grey cloak and his great big, wide-brimmed hat, although at the moment, he was holding it in his lap. The Wizard had also seemed to have made himself perfectly comfortable in his seat on a short, Dwarven stool, unbothered by the way he had to bend his long legs to fit. From the corner of his eyes, Bilbo could make out Gandalf's wooden staff propped against a nearby wall.
Like he had thought, nothing ever seemed to change with Gandalf the Grey.
Bilbo cleared his throat and greeted, "Good morning."
Gandalf chuckled and his eyes twinkled mischievously. "What do you mean?" he started and Bilbo, having realized where this was going, groaned. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it to be or not, or that you feel good this morning, or that it is a morning to be good on?"
"You know what? I take back what I said about you staying. I take it all back," Bilbo laughed incredulously, allowing Thorin's arms to loop around him to help him sit up. "The door is that way. Good morning!" He turned to a visibly relieved Thorin and added wryly, "Wizards. They bring us nothing but trouble. It's best to stay away from that lot."
Thorin gently took Bilbo's hand and brought it up against his lips for a kiss. "I shall do my best to remember that, love," he said, his smile shaky and his eyes bright. Bilbo was helpless but to lean forward and press his own chaste kiss against Thorin's lips, barely resisting the urge to pull the Dwarf closer to deepen the kiss. He must look stupidly besotted, but he honestly cannot care less. The whole bloody camp knew about him and Thorin way before he and the Dwarven king could figure out for themselves. As far as Bilbo was concerned, he and Thorin had a lot of lost time to make up for.
Gandalf let out a little harrumph, but the corners of his lips were twitching in amusement. "I see that your good spirit has returned," he said dryly. "How are you feeling, Bilbo?"
"Doing alright," Bilbo shifted over to allow space for Thorin to lie with him in his bed. He blinked when he noticed that his back was not screaming in protest. "Surprisingly good, actually," he said with wonder until suspicion started to creep in. He narrowed his eyes at Thorin and at Gandalf. "How long was I out for?"
"Not long," Thorin answered smoothly. He climbed on the bed and greedily took up the free spot that Bilbo had made for him, taking the opportunity to wrap an arm over the Hobbit's shoulder and plant a kiss at the tip of his pointed ear. Oh Eru, Bilbo will be spoiled in no time if Thorin kept that up. "I would say that you have been asleep for about a day or so."
"Closer to two," Gandalf corrected gently.
"More like a day and a half," Thorin gritted out. He threw Gandalf a glare. "But that is inconsequential. You needed the rest after what you've been though."
Thorin's solemn words instantly popped the warm bubble that surrounded Bilbo, unleashing the memories of what he had experienced in the past couple of days. Truth be told, what had transpired after Bilbo and Ori's initial escape was a bit fuzzy, and the scrambled snippets that Bilbo could remember were enough to have him feeling shaken.
"Bilbo? Are you alright?" Thorin called out in worry. He tightened his hold on Bilbo when he snuggled closer to lean against his chest. "Maybe some more rest will do you some good."
Bilbo shook his head, snapping his eyes shut. He had to piece together what had happened or else he will never find peace. "No, I don't want to rest, I just want a bit of time to think," he pleaded. He remembered getting hauled back to the boat from the lake, getting his back hurt from the beating that he had received while Ori fought tooth and nail against the attackers, and...
"Ori!" he looked up in alarm. "Is he alright? His arm! They broke his arm!"
"Ori is fine, Bilbo," Gandalf leaned over from his seat and gently patted Bilbo on the shoulder at the same time that Thorin started to rub small, soothing circles over his back. "His brothers and Master Dwalin are taking good care of him, though I suspect that his biggest concern at the moment is to balance his time with all three Dwarves without seeming like he has a favourite." The Wizard continued, his amusement colouring his words, "Master Dwalin was so starved for more time with Master Ori that he had taken the drastic measure to move in to Master Ori's tent and to share the same sleeping cot with him. Master Nori did not enjoy walking into the tent to see his younger brother and Master Dwalin spooning." Gandalf chuckled at the memory, "Surprisingly, it was Master Dori who had to hold Master Nori back."
Bilbo laughed weakly at the mental picture as he sank into Thorin's touch, grateful to hear some much needed good news. Ori and he had gone through a lot together and if there was anyone who deserved to be happy after this ordeal, it was that Dwarf.
He still felt like he was missing something though.
"Bilbo," Thorin's hesitation made the Hobbit nervous. "Do you remember anything else?"
Bilbo furrowed his brows and picked up his train of thought where he had left it. Ori and he were chained to a cell? No, something else happened before that. Ori and he were beaten, gagged and bound, then they were forced to go back to their cells, but how?
"We should not have partnered up with those two idiots. Can't believe they almost lost our captives. Where the hell was Haldan when they ran?"
Immediately, all the pieces started to click together in Bilbo's mind – the horse ride, being thrown back into the dungeon, Haldan who was at first furious at Bilbo for escaping but quickly became concerned when the Hobbit was barely responding to any of his inquiries except to tell him to 'watch Mallor' over and over again.
Haldan had paled even further at the state of Ori's arm.
Haldan had argued loudly with the rest of his team members to get proper treatment for Ori and him while they were being chained to the basement. "We are not murderers!" he had screamed, "We are in this for the money only. There's no point in killing them or leaving them to die. Look, we've got them chained, we've boarded up the windows, we've won!"
But the other four were not having it.
"You've gone weak!" Mallor had spat out, "Look at you, sympathizing with the enemy. What are you planning to do next? Repent your wrong-doings and turn us in?"
Run, Bilbo had mouthed to Haldan. Run. And finally, Haldan had understood Bilbo's warning, but it was far too late.
Things had gone downhill very quickly. Bilbo was wrong about Beren; he and Aldor hadn't needed much persuading after all. They all turned on Haldan.
And that had been that.
"I remember," Bilbo choked out, and it felt like a great, heavy weight has been lifted from his chest. He was shaking violently even as he allowed himself to be enfolded in Thorin's protective embrace, "I remember. I remember."
I hope you are doing well in the Blue Mountains. We're sorry that we haven't been able to write to you as often as we would like these past few weeks, but you probably know why.
The first group of the Blue Mountain Dwarves have settled themselves in the camp and we've all been busy, showing these new Dwarves where to go, what to do, how farming works, (don't forget about the why's, Fíli. A lot of them like to ask why,) definitely a lot of the Blue Mountain Dwarves like to ask that.
(The Iron Hills Dwarves never gave us that much trouble before. Do you reckon it's because of all those speeches that Bilbo likes to give at the beginning of every farming session?) It must be. He and Uncle also unintentionally put on quite the show for the Dwarves, so that definitely helped boost enthusiasm for farming. It's too bad that Bilbo hasn't –
(Yeah, I miss Bilbo too. He'll be back soon though. Someone very wise once said that he's not called 'the bravest little Hobbit of them all' without good reason.)
Aww, thanks Kíli! (I wasn't talking about you, idiot. I was talking about Bifur. He was the one who wrote that song).
Things are slowly getting back to normal, mother. Ori's arm is healing nicely and I think that no one is happier about this than Ori himself, only because it means that he will finally be free from Master Nori, Master Dori, and Master Dwalin's collective hovering. (I don't think he minds Master Dwalin. Most of the time that I catch them together, they're snogging away on the nearest available surface. It's the two older brothers who are probably causing most of the trouble).
Speaking of Ori, Kíli and I caught him sketching along the riverbank last night with an oil lamp beside him. Every once in a while, he would stop and gaze deeply at the water to the point where it would almost look like he's glaring at it. Then, he'd go back to furiously drawing his sketch. When we stopped to ask him what he was doing, did you know what he said?
(He looked at us with this frenzied expression and muttered in all seriousness, "I am designing a boat, one that can carry me and Dwalin far, far away from my two wretched brothers. And if you tell them what I've been up to, I will feed you your own bollocks." I've never felt so terrified.)
It didn't help that the little, flickering oil lamp that he carried with him was casting all these dark shadows over his face when he said that either.
(We may or may not have run away, but it was a sound tactical retreat.)
You know what I also noticed? Master Dori seemed to carry a lot less animosity towards Master Dwalin. I heard that Master Dwalin was even invited to one of Master Dori's frou-frou Sunday brunches and that Master Dwalin had performed most admirably under pressure.
(Who could blame Master Dwalin? I heard that Master Dori roundhouse kicked a locked door so hard that not only did the entire door blew off its hinges, it sailed ten, no, twenty feet into the air before imbedding into a solid stone wall. If a Dwarf like that wants me to sit down and drink tea with him, I will sit down and drink as many damned cups of tea as he would like, so long as he doesn't kick my head in.)
Why are all the brother Ri's so terrifying? I'm starting to think that Master Nori is the most normal member of the bunch and that's...just so sad.
On another topic, Uncle is doing well, by the way, but I trust that you've probably heard what he's been up to directly from him. (Mostly, he just works beside Bilbo, who's been keeping to himself. Uncle told us to leave him alone and to give him some time to heal, but we've been secretly placing pie under his bed as a get well present.) I hope he doesn't mind!
I also hope he finds them...
Please let us know if you need anything else, unless it involves the Ri brothers. (We don't want to die.)
Lots and lots of love as always,
Fíli and Kíli
Erebor, 9 Apr., 2942.
PS: Did you know that Gandalf is in the camp with us? He's been milling about for the past couple of weeks, smoking his pipe-weed. We think he's staying to help Bilbo. Either way, it's good to see a familiar face around the camp!
To my two lovely sons,
Thank you for your letter and your very creative description of Master Dori's superior door kicking skills, although I reserve some doubts about the door blowing off its hinges. Chances are, the door probably exploded into a million little pieces of razor sharp, wooden shrapnel that can imbed itself into nearby soft targets, instantly killing them in a horribly gruesome manner.
Soft targets like...reckless Dwarven princes who thought it would be a grand idea to go traipsing in the wilderness without wearing their proper protective armor because they get too warm in them.
Wear your protective armor, boys. I do not want to receive a letter from your Uncle about my two idiot sons having died from door shrapnel.
You were right in guessing that I've been talking to your Uncle and like you said, he has been doing most of his work close to Master Baggins. Rest assured, Master Baggins is healing well. He just needs a bit more time to sort through his thoughts. He will be right as rain, and I suspect that it will happen much sooner than later.
Please offer Master Dwalin and Master Ori my most sincere congratulations for their blatant disregard of outdated, archaic, and utterly nonsensical courting customs, as any free thinking Dwarf should! The two Dwarves are in love. If they want to snog on every available surface, then more power to them! They have my complete and utter blessing although I doubt it counts for much.
The Blue Mountains are faring well. It has, however, gotten significantly quieter now that many Dwarves have left for Erebor. I have been asked many times to join one of the traveling caravans but I find myself hesitant to leave this place. I have established my company here with my farm, my business, and my growing number of loyal workers. I do not think I can abandon them. Perhaps one day, I will pass my distillery to a well trusted person, (possibly Teleporno. He is an absolute stellar worker!) but until then, I doubt I will be coming to live in Erebor.
I will visit though, don't you fret! And when I do, I better see you wearing your protective armour!
Many hugs and kisses,
Thorin's Hall, 2942.
From Erebor, 2942.
I wanted to thank you for your advice to act normally around Bilbo and to, as you so eloquently put it, "stop smothering the Hobbit with your massive, brooding presence, you great oaf. It's stifling and I bet it will only make him feel even guiltier!" I have implemented your suggestion and have been patiently waiting for Bilbo to talk rather than badger him with questions, and I only approached him to work beside him whenever he offered me the invitation.
Today, Bilbo has revealed the full story behind the kidnapping from his point of view not only to myself and King Bard, but to the rest of the Company. He has also given us permission to pass this story on to whomever we see fit.
Although we have heard Ori's accounts on what happened (which is the version of the kidnapping that I told you), Bilbo's version provided a deeper insight surrounding the late Mister Haldan.
He is not completely wicked as we had initially believed. Mister Haldan had tried to atone for his misdeeds committed before Smaug's attack on Lake-town, but believing that he had failed and that his life was consequently in danger, he went for a desperate gamble to save his own skin. The kidnapping was mostly orchestrated by him in an attempt to gather enough gold to start a new life elsewhere, and it would have worked if he hadn't had to rush his plans when he heard that Gandalf the Grey was arriving to Erebor.
Despite the grief that he had caused all of us with that kidnapping stint, he had always insisted on treating the prisoners well. Bilbo and Ori both testified that Mister Haldan kept them fed and, in Bilbo's case, supplied with tea. The same cannot be said for his four partners-in-crime, two of which planned to murder Mister Haldan and pin the crime on the rest of the members so that they could keep all the gold for themselves.
Unfortunately for Mister Haldan, his strong stance on treating the prisoners well had made him unpopular enough that all four partners-in-crime jumped at the chance to murder him. Bilbo had tried to warn Mister Haldan but by the time he understood the warning, it was far too late.
I find myself at a loss for words over how I feel about Mister Haldan. It is far too easy to hate the man without understanding his motives but now, I only feel tired and saddened that Bilbo had to suffer through this trauma. I know that Bilbo mourns him still. For what it's worth, Bilbo had considered him a friend.
Bilbo and I will be visiting his grave site tomorrow and I hope that that will bring us some much needed closure.
We are moving forward. The progress is slow, but we are moving forward.
"Thorin, Fíli and Kíli have been leaving more pie under my bed."
Thorin looked up from his reading, ('Soil Composition Assessment in the South-East Region of Erebor, Part 4/Section 2S3H90', Mahal, couldn't they name these reports with better titles?) taking care to suppress the violent urge to fling the paperwork into a nearby open flame. For one, he had tried it with 'Soil Composition Assessment in the South-East Region of Erebor, Part 3/Section 2S7H89' after using it for a coaster, and found out that someone pure evil had applied wax to the pages.
It had taken him days to clear the acrid smell of smoke from the tent. Bilbo was still mad at him for that stunt.
"Yes, Bilbo?" he asked patiently as he spun from his seat to face the Hobbit. Sure enough, Bilbo was standing by his bed, holding a plate.
"Fíli and Kíli," Bilbo repeated, deeply amused, "put more pie under my bed." He waved the plate around for emphasis and Thorin could see that indeed, it contained a slice of cherry pie. "Why?"
"They may be my nephews, but I never admitted to understanding their brand of insanity," Thorin retorted dryly. "If I were to hazard a guess, I think they are trying to make you feel better."
Bilbo sighed and strode over to his own desk to deposit the plate. "I appreciate the sentiment, but couldn't they deliver it to me personally instead of leaving it under my bed? Why would anyone leave pie under a bed?"
Thorin winced. "They may have interpreted my warning to give you some breathing room...differently." Realizing that his answer still did not explain why anyone would leave pie under the bed out of all the bizarre places, Thorin added, "Also, it's Fíli and Kíli. They do things with a unique brand of logic."
And by that, he meant no logic. None at all. Fíli and Kíli do as they pleased.
A flash of guilt passed over Bilbo's face. "I'm sorry that I've been so difficult to be around," he said softly. He had not moved from his spot by his desk, staring intently at the pie that was in front of him. "You have all been so wonderfully accommodating. I will let those two know that it's alright to give me the pie in person instead of having to sneak in here every day."
Thorin pushed back his chair, strolled up to Bilbo and gently wrapped his arms around the Hobbit from behind. "You have not been difficult and you have nothing to apologize for either," he said gruffly as he pressed a light kiss against Bilbo's temple. "If you need any more time to yourself, let us know. None us will begrudge you for that."
The Dwarf loosened his hold on Bilbo when he twisted around so that they could stand face-to-face, but he paused at the small sound of displeasure that Bilbo made. Thorin smiled crookedly at the Hobbit, who boldly grabbed his larger hands and repositioned them around his own, soft waist. "There," Bilbo breathed out shakily, his eyes bright. "Perfect."
The kiss they shared was slow and languid; both of them enjoying far too much the simple intimacy of lips pressing against soft lips to urge the kiss into something more molten. Thorin ran his hand across the expanse of Bilbo's clothed back, letting his fingers trail up the delicate curve of his spine until they settled at the base of his neck where they could tangle around Bilbo's curls. He breathed in Bilbo's soft, sweet moan and returned it with a deep hum of his own.
Thorin had not set out to seek romance in his life, and a year ago, he was not even sure if he'd live long enough to see Erebor again, but fate had been kind to give him both his love and his home at the same time, and he wasn't about to complain. He swiped his tongue teasingly across Bilbo's lower lips, delighted by the answering shiver he received from his love.
No, he had nothing to complain about at all.
(And if his hand strayed towards his mother's courting bead that he had deliberately kept in his pocket, waiting for the perfect chance to present it to his Bilbo, well, no one is the wiser.)
(Certainly not Bilbo, who was close to tears when he finally received it a week later, and proceeded to give Thorin a very public, very thorough snogging in the middle of the entire camp to the jubilation of everyone, but especially Glóin.)
(Many new pamphlets were subsequently published afterwards, followed by two new ballads, a collectible set of commemorative plates, and a new series of beautifully drawn sketches, courtesy of the mysterious pamphlet artist whom the Dwarves have lovingly called the 'Bagginshield Wizard'.)
(Ori was not amused. Dwalin fell off his chair laughing.)
IT IS DONE, YOU GUYS! IT IS DONNNNEEE!
I can't believe it. Wow. Thank you guys, a thousand times over for your support during these past...7 months! I highly doubt that I would be able to plough through so much writing if it weren't for all the kind comments/support that I've received. You guys have made my fanfic writing experience a stellar one, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Once again, many special thanks to all the wonderful people who worked hard to pick through my story: Ariel T, toraberushimeri, cicerothewriter. Special mentions go to darth-stitch (for her kind posts from her blanket fort that never cease to make me laugh), ceallaig1 (for being an awesome source of inspiration), littlebigspoon (the nicest person ever whom, I believe is one of the first people who followed me), and leaper182 (for her encouraging comments and unfailing support).
Also – you guys from tumblr, the ones who followed me and live to regret it 'cause I'm creeper, I love you. 3
Anyway, with that said, I'm peacing out. School is starting and I need to haul ass, so I'm sad to say that I probably won't have a lot of time to write fanfics anymore. Thanks a bunch though, it's been fun. ;)
Extra Notes that I couldn't fit into this story:
 Mallor and Galion working – Haldan knew that if all five of them were to disappear at once, it would seem extremely suspicious. He devised a plan where Mallor and Galion would work during the morning hours, and Beren and Aldor would work in the evenings. That would give them the illusion of having been in Lake-town 24/7 and would also secure them some alibi to remove further suspicion on them.
 I assume that the distance between Lake-town to Erebor is approx. 40 miles. Apparently, the running speed of a pony is around 30 miles/hr, which means that it took the Company 1 hr 20 mins to get from Erebor to Lake-town in their mad dash to get there.
 Where is the key – Thorin realized that he could have easily asked Nori to lock pick the collars, but he was totally looking for an excuse to beat the ever loving shit out of the kidnappers. Also, he wanted the satisfaction of them surrendering the key to him.
 The kidnappers – they were tried for murder (of Mister Haldan), kidnapping and aggravated assault on a nobleman (Ori flushed at that title) and royal consort (Bilbo spluttered when he was referred to that). They were subsequently beheaded.