Author's Note: Hello all. Yes, I am indeed alive. And no, I don't have a bank load of Arc 4 written up ready for posting. I just haven't felt motivate to write anything for this fic. For a number of reasons, the main one being this chapter has been the bane of my existence for basically the three years that I've been writing this fic.
All the notes I took about how I was going to write this chapter, quotes I wanted to use and so on became corrupted, right, right before I started actually writing this chapter, so that near killed me, especially when this chapter just became... a nightmare in itself to actually sit down and write. I've basically spent the last six months plugging away at this chapter on and off, trying to remember all the points that I lost and how I wanted everything to flow.
Basically this is not the Epic Trial Chapter I envisioned three years ago or this time last year. It's one of the those chapters that I really can not bear to look at anymore (I've re-written it so many times that I actually want to throw it out the window), one that I will in time do a complete write of, for myself if for no one else. Its not the chapter I wanted or feel you guys deserve but here it is;
The day of her trial had finally come and Bilbo was certain she was going to be sick. What was the point of all those hours spent repeating again and again, over and over, her reasons behind taking the Arkenstone, giving it to Bard, not telling the rest of the company of what she had done, why she had done what she did, so on and so forth when she was simply going to throw up?
She most certainly hadn't been this nervous when she had gone down into the belly of Erebor for the first time, in search of the Arkenstone, knowing full well a living, fire-breathing slug could very well be waiting for her.
In fact, give her the choice? She would choose meeting the fire-breathing, winged furnace over her trial any old day.
"You'll be fine lass." Balin was saying to her in a low, comforting voice as they stood in a small room off the side of the huge Council chamber in which her trial was to take place.
"Fine?" She asked, her voice rising a little with barely controlled hysteria, "Do you know what fine stands for? Frighten, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional! And currently, I am all of those things. All of them!"
"Well, you need not be." Balin replied calmly, tucking a stray curl behind her ear, "this trial is all about you. You're telling your side of the story, so that no one, no one, can protest with any kind of legal right to Thorin lifting your banishment and rescinding your label of traitor."
"Then why am I so scared?" She whispered, "Why am I so afraid that if I say the wrong thing, it's off with my head?"
"Because you are, somehow, the most pessimistic optimist I have ever met. Or maybe it is the most optimistic pessimist. Either way, I have never met someone who can fill others with such hope, who believes in them so utterly and yet is will barely acknowledge any of their own wonderful qualities…" He paused for a moment, rolling his eyes, "You and Thorin are truly made for each other."
"BALIN!" she squawked, blushing terribly.
"Hmm, your cousins are indeed right," Balin continued thoughtfully as if she had not shrieked out his name, "you truly are a grumpy ray of sunshine."
"While Thorin is simply a grumpy thundercloud, yes?" Bilbo retorted dryly causing Balin to chuckle.
"Aye, indeed." He smiled at her warmly, gently rubbing her arm. They fell into a companionable silence where Bilbo's breathing almost returned to normal and her heart was no longer threatening to jump out of her chest. That is until there was knock on the door and a guard was telling them that it was time.
Bilbo swallowed and nodded, though her heart was once more racing and her hands were trembling. She heard a soft sad chuckle beside her and looked at Balin curiously.
"It never ceases to amaze me, the courage of Hobbits." He said softly and Bilbo suddenly found herself back in a low ceiling corridor, sneaking down into the depths of Erebor, to hunt for the Arkenstone and to NOT wake a certain dragon.
"Thank you Balin." She murmured and then, as she had done so many years ago, she threw her arms around the old dwarf, who had always been so kind to her and acted like the father she had secretly longed for when her own was too sick with grief and fell into a darkness of his own.
"We'll be there lass, all of us." He reassured her gently, patting her back "you won't be alone in there. Just keep your head and…"
"And face down an entirely different kind of dragon?" Bilbo replied smiling weakly as she pulled away. Balin sighed softly before nodding.
"Aye. Now, you have your notes, you know what you need to say off by heart. Just listen to what is being asked, answer them just the way I taught you to, keep a calm head, don't lose your temper and allow that wicked tongue to run away with you. Don't…"
"I know Balin." Bilbo smiled, "I know. I remember everything you told me, it's all up here." She tapped her temple, "I won't disappoint you… or embarrass you."
"Lass…" Balin shook his white head, "those thoughts didn't even occur to me. I want this trial to be as quick and as painless for you as possible. I hate that I cannot stand with you, all of us do, but it is not allowed, but we will all be there for you. Thorin wants this trial to be a short as possible, and we will do everything in our power to keep the wargs from ripping into you."
"Thank you." Bilbo said again but somehow, deep in her heart she just knew this trial would be anything but short and painless. There were dwarves in there, in the council chamber, who wanted her to remain banished, to remain a traitor and would do anything and everything in their power to make her slip up, to make her say the wrong thing that would…
She swallowed thickly and tried not to ruin her dress as her scrunched her still bandaged hands into the blue material.
"It's time." Balin said softly and Bilbo nodded, taking several more deep breaths to try and calm her racing heart.
"Let this be done." She whispered, "let this be over with." She forced herself to stand as tall and as straight as she possibly could, her chin out and head held high, just as Balin and Dori had instructed her.
Another deep breath, another wave of tears forced back, all terror and panic pushed to the far recesses of her mind.
She had faced trolls, orc packs, goblins, a creature who crawled in the deep, dark places of the world, massive spiders, dragons and armies of terrible, foul things. She had faced worse things than this trial, and with higher stakes at risk.
These members of Thorin's Council, had not seen the things she had seen, done the things she had done to make sure her friends survived. And by the Valar, she refused to allow them to condemn her for the actions they did not yet understand. But she would make them! And never again would she be afraid of them, never again would she feel ashamed.
With a final squeeze of her arm, Balin left her, exiting the room by another, smaller door to the right, while she, with a hand as steady as her current situation would allow opened the door in front of her. It was heavy, this door and it took quite a bit of her strength to open it, but she thought of none of that as she stared into the huge chasm of a chamber she had just entered.
Made of the same green rock as the rest of Erebor's great city, with huge statues of ancient dwarves etched with gold stood proudly along the lengths of the chamber, beneath and separating different rows of stone seats. Rows upon rows of stone seats circled the chamber, the door from which she had entered the chamber being right beneath the first stone row.
She did not feel as if she was within a courtroom of justice but rather like she was in some kind of arena and moments away from fighting for her life. Each section of the rows, split by a stone dwarf statue, each had a symbol hued into the stone of the first row. It took her a moment of thought and a second to count each section, to come to the assumption that each of the symbols stood for each of the seven houses of dwarves.
She wondered vaguely if there were ever a time in which this chamber had ever been full, with every section filled with dwarves from each clan. She highly doubted it though, and oddly the thought made her sad, even though she wasn't entirely sure as to why.
Not that it mattered at that very moment of course. At that moment, she was quite glad to not be standing in a chamber overflowing with dwarves, quite content to simply be facing the one section in front of her, the largest she noted of all the sections, section for Durin's folk.
All of the company was seated there, Kili and Ori even gave her encouraging waves and from Bofur, Bombur and Bifur she received wide grins, and she felt a swell of warmth and sense of calm at their presences, especially when she met the gazes of unfriendly, hard eyes.
She swallowed thickly but refused to lower her gaze, refused to become meek and inferior to these dwarves. She was what she was, she had done what she had done and refused to allow these dwarves to make her feel insignificant or ashamed for it.
And, for some, this seemed to work. Some looked to be surprised when she refused to lower her eyes, when she did not bow for longer than required; some even looked to be impressed, muttering amongst themselves until several, Thorin included, made loud clearing their throat noises and, like it was a signal of some kind, her Trial began.
"You are Bilanna Belldonna Baggins of Bag End, number one Bag Shot Row…"
At first, her trial appeared to be going well, she answered all the question she was asked exactly how Balin had instructed her to, but every time she felt she was getting somewhere, that she was nearing success and that her Trial would soon be over, one dwarf with a heavy braided black beard (who seemed vaguely familiar), seemed to have taken it upon himself to throw curve balls at her, ones that left her floundering and stammering. Which was of course exactly what this dwarf lord wanted, smiling with satisfaction every time he succeeded in making her stutter as she tried to answer one of his ridiculous and cruel question. The only positive she could see from her answering the questions of this particular dwarf lord was that with each question he asked, the less favourably he was looked upon by his fellow council members. And that was not including the looks he was receiving from her company. Thorin looked to be a stone throw away from trying to murder the dwarf lord, his eyes were almost black with fury. Dwalin, Fili and Kili appeared to be only waiting for his command, teeth gritted and Bilbo was certain, their hands on their weapons. Dis scowled at the dwarf lord while Balin looked pained. Nori and Ori had to physically restrain Bofur in his seat to keep him from lunging at the dwarf lord.
She could feel her own temper rising and try as she might, she knew it was only a matter of time before it got the better of her.
"And you woke the dragon." The dwarf lord said once again, for umpteenth time, Bilbo wasn't exactly sure but all she knew was that all her previous worry, fear and panic had quite utterly, by this point, completely melted away to simple irritation at this infuriating dwarf.
"Yes," she replied with maybe the tiniest hint of tartness to her tone, "I woke the dragon."
"Even though you were specifically sent down into the belly of this mountain because you were meant to be the one person in all of Middle Earth who wouldn't wake him"
"Well master dwarf," oh her blasted tongue, "if you know a way of walking upon gold coins and other such treasures without making so much as a sound, please I would be delighted for you to show me your technique. And maybe it should have been you and not I, to be named the burglar of King Thorin's company." She watched the dwarf lord turn purple in the face before her eyes flickered over to where Balin sat, a row above, sighing softly as she that Balin had quite covered his face with his hands. Unable to stop herself she glanced at the rest of her company, to gauge just how severely her blasted tongue had hurt her trial.
It appeared it was quite a mixed reaction. Some were wincing at her words; Fili, Dori,Ori, Gloin and Oin while the rest appeared to be fighting a losing battle to contain their laughter; Kili, Bofur, Bombur, Bifur and Nori. Dis sitting beside her two sons, was looking at her with fond exasperation while Dwalin was smirking openly.
And Thorin, Thorin simply shook his head from his throne in front of her, in the middle of outer circle of the green marble chamber, level with everyone, even her, the traitor, the banished one.
The circular chamber was silent except for an odd sound from Thorin's right, where Dain sat with his son. It took Bilbo a moment to gather that he too was fighting back laughter… and not winning nearly as well as Kili or Bofur, for suddenly his loud, roaring laughter was echoing around the circular chamber.
"Hyren," Dain barked around his laughter as he pointed a great hand at the dwarf who was currently giving her so much grief, "she has ya there!"
The dwarf lord, Hyren seemed to have gained some of his composure by this moment as he snapped back coolly, "Indeed" before firing off more questions at her, these ones even more difficult and delicate than any that had been previous asked before. She was beginning to lose all hope of this trial ever coming to an end.
"What more do you want?" Bilbo growled having finally lost her battle with controlling her temper, "What more can I say to make you understand. I got into a battle of wits with Smaug, my tongue ran away with me and because of that, he went and attacked Lake-town. It was my fault for him doing that; I needed to make amends and offering my share of the treasure…"
"What do you mean you got into a 'battle of wits' with Smaug?" Lord Hyren sneered at her. "Before you said you only woke him."
"Which is true." She agreed threw gritted teeth. "And you never asked me before if I spoke with Smaug."
"Because it is a ridiculous question," Hyren snapped, "for no one has spoken with a dragon and lived to tell the tale."
"Well, I have." Bilbo huffed. "I did speak with Smaug, played a battle of wits with him and lived to tell the tale," she stared down at her feet, "at the cost of many of lives."
"Then tell us of this 'battle of wits'."
"To what end would that achieve? What would it change? I battled wits with a dragon, something even a small child knows not to do and I lost."
She stared at the dwarf incredulously.
"Yes, I lost." She said nothing for a moment, waiting for the stupid, egomaniacal dwarf lord to understand before releasing an exasperated huff.
"I am clever," she spoke as calmly as her racing heart would allow, "I love riddles and clever words, and with Smaug, it was the ultimate test, the ultimate challenge and I lost myself in it. I became too sure of my cleverness or my ability to create riddles that I forgot I was battling wits with a dragon, one of the most ancient of all beings to have lived on this earth since the First Age, and in the end my cleverness got the better of me. I was too quick, too sure of my riddling, in my own cleverness that it cost the people of Lake-town their homes, if not their lives. It was my fault Smaug attacked them; it was my fault he realised that they had helped us, my fault that he became infuriated with them. It was my fault for all of it and I had to make things right.
"By stealing the Arkenstone?" Hyren sneered.
"Technically," She started before stopping herself, realising that this dwarf and several others on the council would care little to hear the technicalities of her action, so biting down hard upon the inside of her cheek she said, "Yes… by stealing the Arkenstone."
She heard grumbles but she ignored them, not even daring to look at any member of the company, her eyes solely trained upon Hyren.
"As a peace-offering. As a bargaining tool. Bard and Thranduil were never going to keep the stone; I would never have allowed that to become part of the deal. It was only ever to be an offer of good faith. A promise, if you will that I would give over my fourteenth share of the treasure."
"And why did you not…"
"Give them my fourteenth share? Right then and there?" She couldn't help but scoff, "I'd still be handing it out now if that were the case, if I had to do it on my own. No, giving them the Arkenstone, the most precious of treasures within this mountain was the only way to seal the deal, the only way to keep everyone safe and from going to war." She couldn't help letting out a little snort of hysterical laughter at that point, because for all her efforts, for all that she had sacrificed in her hopes of preventing a war, it matter not a wit in the end, not when Azog and his vast army appeared.
"The Arkenstone was the only way." She sighed, "If there had been another, I would never have taken the stone." I don't know what I would have done with it though, she thought to herself, thinking back over Thorin and his dragon sickness.
"You took the Arkenstone to both save lives; the lives of your company, the men and elves, and to repay the damages and lives lost due to the action that you perceive as your own making." An ancient dwarrowdam spoke, her majestic voice echoing around the vast chamber.
"And you say, that upon your original deal with the King of Dale and the King of the Woodland realm, the Arkenstone would have been returned to its rightful owner, King Thorin and dwarves within this Lonely Mountain, when your fourteenth share had been distributed between the men and elves."
The dwarrowdam shook her head slowly, her silver beard and hair shining brightly in the gas lamp light, a small amused smile playing upon her weathered lips.
"You would, willingly give up all that gold…"
"Yes." Bilbo said softly but still loud enough for all to hear, "and I would do it again, if need be. And besides," She smiled a little shyly, a little humbly, "hobbits are a simple folk. What use would I have for grand beautiful treasures in the Shire? None. The treasures of this mountain, as precious and as beautiful as they are, would lose all value and respect if I had taken them home with me. No, it was better for my share to go to those who could respect and understand their true value, who would put it all to good use."
She wasn't sure exactly what it was she said to have almost all the dwarves in chamber nodding and muttering amongst themselves, some even going so far as looking at her with respect. Not all of course, Hyren looked just about ready to jump from his seat and strangle her, his face was so purple with rage.
And if possible, his face seemed too turned even darker when he and his fellow council members spoke, in Khuzdul of course, quietly together, his body was all but trembling with barely controlled fury.
"There's still the matter of the child." Hyren spat out loudly, breaking the discussion between his council members who were all eying him cautiously.
Bilbo simply stared at him blankly.
"Hyren." The dwarrowdam spoke quietly but her tone was full of authority.
"He was kept a secret." Hyren snapped, "the child of the king, who is, more importantly, Durin reborn, was kept a secret. It was only due to recent events that his existence has come into the light. Why? If she means us no ill will, no harm at all, why keep the child a secret unless she has something to gain or wishes…"
Bilbo, despite herself, let out a laugh.
"Gain?" She snorted, "Please my lord, enlighten me on what I would gain from my child?"
"The ability to usurp the throne, to throw this mountain and all dwarven clans into chaos…"
"Fili is Thorin's heir." The words, which she felt as if she had been saying an awful lot of late, flowed from her lips without hesitation and were spoke as easily as she found breathing.
"Fili is Thorin's heir." She repeated again, just to make sure that Hyren understood, "Always has been and he always will be. Frodo's birth changes nothing. And when times comes, he will be the King under the Mountain. And he will a truly wonderful king." As she spoke, she beamed at the lad in question; watching as he humbly ducked his golden head to hide how heavily he was blushing. "You are so very lucky to have him."
"You could still…"
"I could still… what?" She asked her tone now impatient, "My lord am I right in thinking that you are trying to imply that the only reason I gave birth to my son was for some kind of gain? Political or malicious intent?" Hyren said nothing, simply glared at her with hot, hate filled black eyes. She snorted, filled with disgust, "Then you know nothing about hobbits. And certainly nothing about me. Maybe it would be easier, for me, if that was truly my intent, to cause political pain and chaos for this mountain via the existence of my son. But it is not." She took a deep breath and continued, "My son was a complete surprise to me. I wasn't even aware that dwarves and hobbit could have children so the possibility never even occurred to me. And when I did find out I was carrying him," she stared down at her hands, which were throbbing quite terribly from all her clenching of them, chewing on her bottom lip, "I was scared. I was more scared than I was joyous, because I was terrified of the life he would live, of how he would be treated because of what he was. I was scared of what he would look like, if he would look more dwarf than he did hobbit. Hobbits are, on a whole, an accepting race, but we fear change, the unknown, what is different from us. My child… is everything that my race fears, and I was terrified of what would become of him in the Shire." She held up a hand to stop the slew of questions.
"Why did I not come back upon finding I was carrying, is your question, yes?" She stared around the chamber, "are you saying you would have accepted him? That you don't worry about the same things in regards to my son?" she was met with silence and she smiled a little ruefully.
"I've gained a lot of joy from my son, he is the most precious of treasures I received from this mountain, but I have also gained a lot apprehension, fear and doubt in regards to him." She swallowed feeling all of those things start to build in her chest but forced herself to push them away.
"Did you know that a hobbit's life expectancy is around hundred years of age?" She heard mumbles of confusion but ignored it and pressed on, "My son is half dwarf half hobbit, which may mean he has the life expectancy of a hobbit or the life expectancy of dwarf or maybe somewhere in between. I'm leaning towards him possessing something of a life expectancy of a dwarf." She paused for a moment to allow for her words to sink in, "And do you understand what that will mean for me?" Again silence was her echoing answer.
"I have just turned fifty-one; I have maybe forty-nine years left of life. That for a hobbit would be considered still plenty of time for life. For me? It terrifies me, because my son won't be fully grown at the end of those forty-nine years, not by dwarf standards. I won't see my son reach his true majority; I won't see him grow into the wonderful gentleman I know he will become. I won't see him fall in love, get married to his true love. I won't meet my grandchildren. I will be long dead in the ground before any of these things occur in my son's life." She took a deep breath to calm the pain blooming in her chest before she stared straight at the council, straight Hyren.
"Do you truly believe, even if I could gain something from your mountain with my son's life, I would willing do so, what with all the pain, sadness and unknown that awaits both myself and my son? Do you truly believe I am capable of that? I live every day knowing I won't see my child full grown, knowing I will not be a major aspect in his life, that he will live more of his life without me than he will with me. I live every single minute of every single day thinking this over," She gave a sad little laugh, "Every day. I simply don't have the time or the energy to plot revenge or usurpation of thrones or whatever else you believe me capable of. All my time goes into planning what to do with what little time I have left with my son, to be with him, to watch him grow, to plan his future and my legacy. Fili can keep his throne; I just want to be with my son."
Once again her words were met with silence, even her company, those she was closest too seemed to have been rendered speechless. And Thorin… She quickly lowered her gaze from his, unable to meet those sapphire orbs.
For a trial that had felt like it had spanned years in length, it closed with dizzying speed. Once more Bilbo was bracing herself for another onslaught of painful questions and the next she was standing speechlessly while the Dwarrowdam stood up and asked in a booming voice, for all who were in favour of clearing her of all charges and for her banishment to be rescinded.
She was absolutely staggered when almost every single dwarf in the chamber lifted their hand into the air. Breathing heavily, she tried to count all the hands, or to, at the very least, memorize the faces of those vouching for her.
The dwarrowdam didn't even bother asking for those who were against the verdict, there being so few who had not raised their hands in agreement, that vote was clearly unanimous. Something that was clearly not sitting to well with Hyren but Bilbo cared very little for him. He mattered not.
"Thank you." It didn't feel enough, those two words, even with all her gratitude and respect poured into them, but her words were all she had and maybe with time, she could show them all just how grateful she was to all of them.
She returned to her family's apartment in something of daze, not yet able to comprehend that it was over, all over. Her Trial was done, complete. She was no longer banished, no longer branded as a traitor. She was free to come and go from Erebor as she pleased, to move about the magnificent city as she pleased. She was safe and she was free and never before has she ever felt so light.
Of course, there were still issues and obstacles in her life; Bzog for one. Would he still try coming after her and Frodo? And what was to be done with Bovin? And the dwarves who had helped him kidnap her and her family? There was mutterings that it was she who held their fates in her hands and that was a terrifying prospect.
She wanted them punished; Bovin in particular, but she feared that any punishment she dealt them wouldn't feel enough, never enough and that she would still only desire to punish them further, make them hurt as they had hurt her. And these thoughts, these thoughts which were so dark, so un-hobbit-like, that they frighten her.
She knew she would have to deal with the dwarves eventually, she couldn't simply leave them to rot in their ceils for the rest of their lives. Well, she could but that seemed a terrible fate, terrible but not exactly painfully, she wanted them to hurt…
She shook her head, shaking the darkness from her thoughts. She refused to think of them, refused to allow the darkness to take over, she had won and she was now free, clear of all charges, she was going to enjoy the light and goodness within her before her worry and neuroticism got the better on her again.
All around her dwarves (excluding Thorin, Balin and Dwalin. There were things that they were required to attend to, final documents to be signed by Thorin to make her rescinded banishment legal beyond doubt. Though they did not leave so quickly that Balin was unable to give her a life throttling hug, a slap on the back from Dwalin that near knocked her off her feet. It would have done if Thorin hadn't caught her arm. From him she received a relieved smile and out of the three that smile meant the most to her) chattered excitedly as they proudly escorted her back to her family, laughing and cheering, clapping her on the back and beaming at her with pride. Their loud and boisterous behaviour was all quite overwhelming in truth, so she was more than a little relieved when they reached her family apartments and her cousin came rushing forward, distracting her dwarves attention away from her.
She let them tell her cousins of her "triumph" in the Council Chamber (she was sure it would only be matter of time before they made up some ridiculous song about it) while she all but collapsed into the nearest armchair by the fire. Her father in the armchair beside her gave her a distracted smile before once more losing himself in the cheery light.
"He's been worrying." Frodo explained wisely as he crawled up into her lap and cuddled himself close.
Bilbo smiled sadly as she leant over and gently rubbed her father's arm.
"I'm fine." She said softly, "all is well." She knew this would not break her father immediately out of his mind trap, but hopefully the words and seeing her smiling would start weakening the traps hold upon him.
She leant back in her own chair and smiled at her son, hugging him close.
"Is the worse behind us?" He asked his sapphire eyes so wide and hopeful, filled with such innocence even though his words set alarm bells off inside her mind.
But she forced her negative thoughts aside, the memory of her saying something similar on Carrock, all those years ago, when she had finally; finally felt that she had proven her worthy to Thorin and the rest of the company. When she had truly believed that the worse must surely be behind them because how, in her mind, could things be in anyway more terrifying than what they had already faced?
Even then she had felt, in the back of her mind, that her words had been testing fate and now, eleven years on, she felt the same way, that her son's innocent words were testing fate, offering out a challenge that fate would in no way refuse.
But she forced herself to push the negative thoughts aside, to smile warmly at her son.
"I truly hope so… and if not, we will not be alone." She looked over at her family, her dwarves and her hobbits, feeling secure in the knowledge that no matter what fate might have in store for her and for her son, neither would be facing the outcome alone. And that knowledge, that knowledge gave her strength to face their still uncertain future with her held high.
Let the worse come, for she and her son were not alone.
Author's Note: So that's that then. The end to the Trial arc and the Third Arc of this story. Remember when this story was only meant to three arcs long? There's a part of me that is so tempted to just leave it here, I've written up to where I said I would and I can now call it quits.
I'm not going to though, there's still a whole lot of story here to tell and I do want to finish telling it, for myself and for all you wonderful people reading this all over the world. You have all been supportive and kind, reading my ramble of story and coaxing me to keep going, to keep writing. This story wouldn't have gotten as far as it has without all of you. So thank you for sticking with me, for being so kind and patient when I disappear for long bouts of time without warning. Thank you for being such loyal readers