A Most Unusual Specimen

AN: No, this is not an early April Fool's joke. :D This is legit, people. This chapter ended up being 19 pages long in Word, so I freely admit that I am too lazy to go back and proof read it. There shouldn't be many mistakes, though. I'm usually pretty good about that. Also, I have decided upon who will be Bilbo's hunky dwarf love. It's Dwalin. XD Which I kinda think I had subconsciously decided that already by the end of the first chapter...but anyway, this fic will be moved to Dwalin/Bilbo Baggins for the next chapter, to ensure that every one who is reading it now and wants to continue, gets the memo!

Well, enjoy! :D


Chapter 3

By the third day of their journey, Bilbo was ready to pull his hair right out of his head. He wondered if there had ever been so frustrating an idea as traveling with a group of thirteen dwarves and a wizard, and he found himself cursing his Took heritage every day for compelling him upon this foolhardy adventure. Perhaps the journey would not be so horrible if the dwarves he traveled with acted anything like the ones he had met when he was a child running along the roads through the forest and bombarding the random travelers with questions of the outside world.

No, these dwarves acted very peculiarly, especially when Bilbo's beard was concerned. From the very moment that he had caught up with them before leaving the Shire, they had incredibly odd. Most would not even look at him apart from passing glances, and never at his face! They didn't seem to want to talk to him either, mumbling or grunting whenever he asked a question about the road or their personal lives.

Bilbo could not help but feel a little insulted and hurt by this. They were to be travel companions, possibly even fight together and protect each other! Surely it would not be so egregious a desire to get to know the dwarves he would be spending the next few months with. But Bilbo had to remind himself that he was acting with complete decency. It was the dwarves who were behaving without any sense of decorum or friendship.

As Bilbo discovered rather quickly, dwarves had no problem with physical contact, though the hobbit had certainly not expected to be a recipient of this until much later.

As he rode on that treacherous pony that first day, Bilbo had spent most of his time chatting with Gandalf about various little things and about the path set before him. The dwarves had not seemed to pay him any mind, but Bilbo began to notice a few odd things.

He would feel odd pats on his shoulders or arms, as though someone had placed a hand there. When he looked, however, nothing was there, and not a single dwarf was close enough that they could have done so. Or at least, Bilbo thought that to be true. After the first couple of times, Bilbo had begun to suspect that maybe Gandalf was playing a little joke on him, but when the wizard rode ahead of him after a couple hours, it happened again.

After the sixth or seventh time it had happened, and oddly close to the small of his back too, Bilbo had had quite enough of that nonsense.

"Okay, joke's over. It's annoying now, so you can just stop it," Bilbo scolded the dwarves riding behind them, which he noted with suspicion were the dwarven princes, Kili and Fili.

"Stop what, Mr. Baggins?" Fili asked him with an innocent expression that Bilbo did not buy for a moment.

"All that poking and touching nonsense. I know that you all are doing it. I'm not crazy," Bilbo scolded, waving a raised finger at them. "Or at least, I thought I was not, before all this." The hobbit continued with a small sigh, shooting a small glare at Gandalf's back.

"What do you mean 'before all this'? " Kili asked curiously as both brothers pulled their horses up to ride on either side of the hobbit. "Is it so unusual for hobbits to leave?"

"Oh, yes," Bilbo nodded his head emphatically. "It is most improper for an adult hobbit to do such a thing. Very improper."

"But why?" Fili continued. "Surely it gets boring there, just sitting around in your holes and reading books and drinking tea all the time."

"Well, those things seem boring to you, Master Dwarf," Bilbo gave him a stern look that had the tops of his ears going pink. "We hobbits are very simple creatures, not fond of adventuring or fighting. We enjoy parties, family gatherings, and food. Large amounts of food. Most hobbits are very good at cooking. I myself am considered one of the best in Hobbiton." At this, Bilbo puffed out his chest with pride and was rewarded by the eager nods of the brothers.

"Aye, the food did taste wonderful last night," Fili agreed, reaching over and placing a hand upon Bilbo's shoulder, hiding a smile as Bilbo frowned at it with confusion. "The ale was particularly good. Sweet like honey, but smoky too. Like firewood."

"How did you manage to make it taste like that?" Kili leaned closer with a grin on his face.

"Well, that was the Took family's personal brew," Bilbo told them with a small smile. "And it's a secret recipe at that, so I suppose you'll never know exactly how I did it."

"What?" Fili's voice had the beginnings of a whine in it, and he gave Bilbo a wide blue-eyed plea. "But, Mr. Baggins! I've really taken a liking to your personal brew! How exactly am I suppose to attain more if you don't let me in on the family secret?"

Bilbo shifted uncomfortably. He hadn't missed the odd emphasis that Fili had put on 'personal brew,' nor had he not seen the quick heads turning in their direction. He looked up to see Dwalin staring at the dwarf prince with narrowed eyes. The burly dwarf saw that he had caught the hobbit's attention and had quickly averted his eyes. Bilbo noticed with some surprise that the tips of Dwalin's iron ringed ears had gone a little pink as well.

"Well, I suppose once this journey is through, you'll need to come back and visit the Shire."

"You never know what might happen with adventures like this, Mr. Baggins," Fili gave him a sly grin. "You might just end up staying in Erebor with us, once we've slain the dragon and all. You could settle in the mountain, start up a business…find a good dwarf lass…" He watched Bilbo carefully at this. "…or dwarf lad."

Bilbo raised an eyebrow at the sudden interest in that last statement from the dwarves around them. A curious stillness was now present amongst them, straightening their backs and turning their ears ever so slightly in Bilbo's direction. The hobbit let out an exasperated huff.

"If there's something you're asking after, come out and say it."

"We were just wondering if…it was a normal occurrence…for hobbits." Kili mumbled quietly from Bilbo's right. Bilbo turned to him.

"If what is?" Bilbo asked, pinching the bridge of his nose, frustrated. "Two hobbit lads getting together?"

The brothers shared a quick glance and then nodded. Bilbo sighed, wondering what the big fuss was about.

"Quite normal, actually." Bilbo told them with a quirk of his lips. "As I have said, hobbits are a peaceful bunch. If two hobbit lads, or hobbit lasses, of course, are in love, then it is completely acceptable. Now, if they are just fooling around, well, that's another thing entirely." Bilbo said with a derisive shake of his head. "Especially if something unexpected comes out of it, like a child."

"And can that happen?" Fili asked rather urgently, leaning so far off his seat that Bilbo worried he would slide right off his pony. "Can two hobbit lads have children together?"

They were looking at him with very wide eyes, as though this were the most surprising or far-fetched idea that they had ever heard. Bilbo snorted at this, and opened his mouth to reply, but they were interrupted by a loud shout from the head of the line.

"Fili! Kili!" Thorin barked from the front. "Get up here. You're going to scout ahead for awhile."

"But—" The brothers shouted, throwing fast looks at the hobbit.

"Now!"

Fili and Kili moved quickly at that, grumbling all the while about strict uncles and curious hobbits, throwing Thorin upset looks. He ignored them and turned back to the front, though his eyes did stop on the hobbit, staring blankly at Bilbo before he glared and turned around.

Bilbo frowned at that and ran a soothing hand along his beard, which was much less adorned than it had been before. It wouldn't do to lose the tiny flower and sun ornaments that his mother had given him along the road. Now that he was away from home, he wouldn't be able to care as diligently after his beard as he had been able to before. He usually washed every other night, as he hardly ever worked up a sweat or became dirty during the day. He did have to wash and groom his feet every night, as hobbits did not need to wear shoes. The only benefit that Bilbo could see to riding the pony was that his feet were not quite as dirty as they might've been. The pony's hair, though, did tickle his feet with every movement.

During the nights, after they had settled their camp and eaten food, Bilbo would settle next to the fire and groom his beard and feet. When he had first begun doing this, he had been decidedly nervous, as the dwarves had already demonstrated that they had a rather odd reaction to anything beard-related. But this was a habit that Bilbo had always had since he had first grown his beard as a tween hobbit lad and had been competing he had shared with his mother, so he was loathe to abandon it now. It also brought him comfort, which he desperately needed as he was feeling increasingly homesick.

So he would plop himself down near his pack and reach into an inner pocket, pulling out a small cloth-wrapped package and carefully ignoring the scrutiny of the dwarves. His mother had always been a master with a knife and wood, a talent that was not very well known amongst the Shire. As a present for Bilbo's thirty-fourth birthday, she had crafted a small wooden brush with thin steel bristles for him to brush his beard with, and he had ever since. He adored this brush, with its flowers and vines carved into the handle and the small letter 'B' inscribed along the neck, one of the last true reminders of his mother's love.

After untying the leather thong, he would run his brush along the edges of his beard first, working out the kinks and tangles that had made a home there during the rough pony rides through the wilderness, and slowly make his way upward, unwinding all of the interwoven braids as he went. Since he was traveling amongst nature, Bilbo had used a more sturdy and resilient kind of braid, as opposed to the delicate and more intricate braids he used while at home. And though he knew that it was most certainly an unnecessary luxury, he had brought the scented oil that he liked to comb into his beard and hair. If there was one thing that he could most likely get away with being vain about in the company of thirteen dwarves, it was his beard.

And, by the grace of the Valar, was he ever right.

He doubted a group of dwarves had ever been so quiet for this long, as they watched with avid eyes as Bilbo groomed his beard lazily by the firelight. Some of the older dwarves attempted to appear busy with other things, drinking from mugs, messing in their packs, or talking amongst one another, but their eyes were eventually pulled back to the hobbit grooming a beard of flickering gold and humming softly in the night.

Whenever Bilbo tugged at a particularly strong tangle, a ripple would flow through the company, and those nearest would shift uncomfortably in their seats. After a while, the brush would run smoothly through the long length, and Bilbo would continue these gentle strokes mindlessly, his sleepy green eyes staring endlessly into the fire. A couple of the dwarves even fell asleep to the soothing rhythm and sweet humming of the hobbit, while others were kept awake from a decidedly different stirring in their blood.

When Bilbo began braiding his hair for the next day, he found that Kili and Fili had moved on either side of him and were watching closely. He chose to ignore them, not really feeling up to answering the endless questions of curious dwarf princes who had been even more inquisitive since they had discovered gender did not matter to hobbits when it came to picking life partners. They surprisingly refrained from talking as well, and Bilbo found that whenever he needed a spare hand to hold a strand of beard, Kili or Fili would eagerly offer up a hand, seeming both delighted and smug that they had gotten to touch the hobbit's beard.

Only Fili noticed the glaring gaze of a few of the other dwarves such as Dwalin and Bofur, though he noticed that Nori as well was looking a little envious around the eyes. He smirked triumphantly at them, though that smugness fell quickly when he saw Dwalin's grip on a war axe tighten and a nasty grin crossed the tattooed dwarf's face. After that, Fili was a little more careful about taunting Dwalin. He didn't relish losing a limb so early in his life.

Once Bilbo's gorgeous beard was all braided up, the hobbit moved away from the brothers with a small grateful smile and retreated to his bed roll hopefully for a good night's sleep. Kili and Fili pondered joining him and laying their bedrolls on either side but reconsidered it when they noticed the glares coming from the other dwarves by the fire.

This pattern continued for the next couple days, and though they could be annoying, the dwarf princes were becoming amusing travel companions to Bilbo. Bofur had also spent a lot of time by his side on the road, telling stories of his life and asking Bilbo about his own. Bilbo found he quite liked Bofur, with his dimpled grin, dark brown eyes, and cheerful attitude. Bilbo often woke up grumpy and dour from an uncomfortable sleep and no second breakfast or elevensies, but Bofur seemed to always be around with a helping hand and amusing tale to brighten the day.

Oblivious to Bilbo, a competition of sorts had begun between Bofur and the dwarf princes. A competition over Bilbo's attention. It was rather unfair of the brothers as it was two against one, but Bofur's brother and cousin came to his aid more often than not, tripping up their feet at camp, blocking their horses on the road to give Bofur more time with the hobbit. Thorin and the other older dwarves had noticed, but other then roll their eyes with exasperation, they had done nothing to discourage it. If Kili and Fili were occupied with the hobbit, then they were less likely to run off the road and cause havoc.

Of course, Kili and Fili managed to cause havoc anyway. They just included the hobbit this time.


On the third night, when they made their camp in the dregs of an abandoned barn, Bilbo shuffled around the campsite, helping distribute food to dwarves and worrying over Gandalf's disappearance. He had made a little niche for himself with the dwarves by now, but the hobbit felt much better when Gandalf was nearby.

As it was, Thorin was scowling at everything, in particular the hobbit flitting around camp, and in general being a very sour presence amongst the group. Dwalin sat nearby, sharpening his axes and talking in grunts and murmurs to the other dwarf. He too was watching the nervous movements of the hobbits, though with a different kind of heat.

Dwalin had not spoken to the hobbit beyond grunted commands since that night in the hobbit hole, which had led the hobbit to believe that the burly dwarf disliked him. One peak into his mind, however, and this proved to be far from the truth of things. Dwalin discovered that he held a reluctant desire for the small creature, and not all of that desire was simply for the glorious beard hanging from his small chin.

Dwalin found that the hobbit's near constant dithering about, the stutters and sighs, the crinkling around the green eyes, the wringing of his small tender hands, all of it was –damn it all- was endearing to the warrior dwarf. As one who had grown up with the expectation of bearing arms, fighting for his king and people, one might think that the soft nature of Bilbo Baggins would put Dwalin off, that he would find the small being weak and unsavory. But after so many years of coming home after battles, fights, or training sessions to find an empty house, the prospect of finding a partner had become more and more appealing to Dwalin as the years passed. And he did not want some manly dwarf lass who would cut a dwarf's balls off for suggesting that she make dinner every once and a while.

No…no, he wanted a partner that waited for him to return home with a smile, who would make delicious food for meals, that would help bandage his wounds. He wanted someone soft, someone who would worry for him, however needlessly that might be, when he was away defending his kingdom. He wanted a partner that would hither and dither about the house, fuss at him for treading mud on the carpets or leaving his axes lying about, and make biscuits every afternoon.

He did not know yet if he wanted Bilbo Baggins to be that partner, but…he knew he certainly wanted someone like the hobbit.

Said hobbit was now wavering around the pot of stew next to Bofur, looking about into the darkness with worried eyes.

"He's been a long time," He muttered to Bofur, still pacing nervously around.

"Who?" Bofur asked, ladling a helping of rabbit stew into two large bowls.

"Gandalf."

"He's a wizard! He does as he chooses," Bofur smiled at him, sounding completely unconcerned. "Here, do us a favor. Take this to the lads." He nodded toward the forest. Normally, Bofur would not give the brothers such a perfect opportunity with Bilbo, but they had been tasked with looking after the ponies, which was arguably the worst job possible on a quest. He felt a bit bad for them. Not to mention this would give Bilbo something else to focus on apart from the wizard's absence.

Bilbo accepted the bowls, though a frown still marred his face and wrinkled his nose. He walked cautiously over the roots and rocks on the ground, making his way over to the little forested area that the ponies were resting in, ever conscious of the two full and steaming bowls of soup in his hands.

When he made his way over, he saw Kili and Fili through the darkness, standing still and fixed in place next to one another. Bilbo reached them, looking around warily. They were staring into the clearing with something near dismay on their handsome faces. Bilbo held out the soup to them, but the brothers still did not move.

"What's the matter?" Bilbo asked quietly.

"We're supposed to be looking after the ponies." Kili replied with a grimace.

"Only we've encountered a slight problem," Fili continued, staring out into the pasture.

"We…had sixteen."

"Now there's fourteen."

Bilbo's eyes widened at this, and he stood on his tiptoes to attempt a head count of the horses. Fili and Kili swept through the field almost noiselessly, counting up the ponies with a soft touch to their heads and a whisper of their names. Bilbo trailed behind them, until they came upon a large upturned tree, its thick roots hanging from the thick trunk.

"Daisy and Bungo are missing." Kili told them, looking very worried.

"Well, that's not good," Bilbo gave a nervous laugh and then caught sight of the fallen tree with horror. "And that is not good at all. Shouldn't we tell Thorin?"

He wasn't really asking. Bilbo knew they should tell Thorin. But the brothers shook their heads quickly, and Bilbo noticed they grew a bit pale at the suggestion.

"Uh, no," Fili said quickly. "Let's not worry him. As out official burglar, we thought you might like to look in to it."

He most certainly did not want to look into it! Bilbo might not have experienced much of the world, but he was not so blind that he could not see that something very large and very dangerous had passed through and taken their ponies. He told the brothers this, to which they agreed.

Looking around into the darkness of the night, Fili suddenly stiffened and crouched low, saying, "Hey, there's a light!"

He threw a look back at Kili and Bilbo, before he began making his way towards it, motioning for them to follow. Kili did instantly, but Bilbo was much more reluctant. After all, seeing a fire in the forest not more than a few yards from where a large tree had been overturned as though is were a sapling did not seem like the safest place to head towards. But he followed anyway, becoming increasingly nervous.

"Stay down," Kili whispered from ahead, reaching back and placing a firm hand on Bilbo's back. If that hand was a little too far down, well, Bilbo was far too preoccupied with the grunting snorts and rough voices coming from up ahead.

"What is that?" Bilbo asked a little fearfully.

Both Fili and Kili narrowed their eyes. "Trolls."

They stood up quickly and dashed around the fallen log, though not before Kili's hand slid down too far.

"Kili!" Bilbo admonished sharply, but the dwarf only grinned back at him for a brief moment before following his brother.

Bilbo hastened to follow them, knowing the kind of trouble they could get themselves into, and tried not to jostle the bowls, though much to Bilbo's irritation, a bit of soup did manage to splash onto this beard. He caught up with the brother in time to see a monstrous lumbering creature with pale rough skin and large thick limbs carrying to whinnying ponies in his arms with little difficulty.

Bilbo darted behind a tree quickly, glancing around the trunk to watch the giant. "He's got Myrtle and Minty!" He whispered to the brothers worriedly. Bilbo hated having to ride on a pony, but he had grown to love Myrtle, who was a sweet pony with a friendly disposition who really loved apples.

Bilbo sighed at what he was about to say. Seriously, how did he keep getting into these messes? "I think they're going to eat them. We've got to do something!"

Fili and Kili whipped their heads around to look at him and nodded eagerly at him.

"Yes, you should." Kili agreed with wide brown eyes. He reached for one of the bowls in Bilbo's hands and leaned against the tree that Bilbo had just occupied. "Mountain trolls are slow and stupid, and you're so small, they'll never see you."

"What? Me? No, no-" Bilbo stuttered incredulously and tried to protest, but he was quickly interrupted.

"It's perfectly safe. We'll be right behind you." Kili assured him, drinking a spoonful of stew.

"If you run into trouble," Fili added, taking the other bowl out of the hobbit's hands and giving him a firm push ahead. "Hoot twice like a barn owl and once like a brown owl."

"Twice like a barn owl. No, twice like a brown owl—once like a—" Bilbo stuttered, trying to quickly regain his equilibrium. "Like a—Are you sure this is a good idea?" He asked looking back worriedly.

He growled when he saw that both Kili and Fili were gone. He nearly followed, but he remembered Myrtle's sweet face as she ate an apple he had been able to slip for her the night before and couldn't leave her behind without trying t save here. So he headed for the light, inwardly cursing Kili and Fili and swearing to have his revenge once this was all over. A little closer, Bilbo could make out the words being grunted by the trolls.

"Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don't look like mutton again tomorrow."

"Quit your griping. These ain't cheap. These is fresh nags!"

Bilbo was close enough now that he could see the fire. Three humongous trolls lumbered around the site, one stirring at a large black cauldron over the fire, another sat on a rock and watched the third lift the ponies into a little fenced off area near the cliff side.

"Oh, I don't like horse. Never have. Not enough fat on them," whined the troll sitting down. This troll seemed a little less intelligent than the rest; at least that's what Bilbo could gather from the dumb grin on his ugly face. It wiped its dripping nose with a disgusting squelch, and Bilbo felt a little of his dinner lurch into his throat at the sight.

"Well, it's better than that leathery old farmer," Grunted the troll stirring the pot. This one seemed to have seen more violence than the other two, as part of its face was bunched up and scarred, the eye on that side white and unseeing. "All skin and bones, he was. I'm still picking bits of him out of me teeth."

Bilbo gave himself a moment to pity that poor farmer before he returned his attention to the trolls, moving swiftly through the underbrush and retreating behind a tree just on the outer ring of the clearing in which the trolls prepared dinner.

The second troll, the stupid looking one, let out a high shout and gave a great sneeze, snot flying from his nostrils and into the simmering pot. The cooking troll stood up at this and smacked the other over the head.

"Well, that's lovely, that is. A floater."

"Might improve the flavor," said the last troll, who pulled a ragged knife from behind and began sharpening it against a rock.

The second troll smiled at this pronouncement and exclaimed, "Ah! Well, there's more where that came from!" It pulled in air into its nose, the sound wet and nasty in the noiseless night, but the first troll reached out a quick meaty hand and grabbed ahold of the other troll's nose.

"Oh, no, you don't! Sit down!" It shouted, its voice gruff and angry sounding. The troll shoved the other away and took up his post in front of the pot again, stirring agitatedly.

By this time, Bilbo had reached a corner of the horses' pin, and he tugged forcefully at the ropes, but they were incredibly thick, nearly as dense as Bilbo's arms. He huffed frustrated, but quickly swiveled out of sight as the dumb troll stood to look at the ponies.

"Well, I hope you're going to gut these nags. I don't like the stinky parts." The troll let out a sudden yelp as the cook smacked him in the head with a huge iron ladle and barked at him to sit down.

"I'm starving! Now are we having horse tonight, or what?" The third bellowed from his rock, waving the blunt knife around in the air.

"Shut your cakehole," The cook growled menacingly. "You'll eat what I give ya."

Bilbo looked over at the trio of trolls nervously, wondering if they were going to begin fighting amongst each other, when he caught sight of the large make-shift sword hanging off the leather belt of the stupid troll. With a horrible realization, Bilbo knew that if he was going to free the ponies, he would need something sharp. And the stupid troll was less likely to notice his sword going missing.

"How come he's the cook?" Whined the third troll as he inspected the grime and blood under his fingernails. "Everything tastes the same. Everything tastes like chicken."

"Except the chicken," The second troll snickered.

Bilbo crept toward that troll silently, wincing and shushing at the ponies that had begun to whinny a little at his presence.

"I'm just saying, a little appreciation would be nice," The cooking troll muttered petulantly, before he stopped talking altogether and sniffed suspiciously.

Bilbo froze with fear at this, attempting to will himself invisible. But the troll just shrugged and continued complaining, and Bilbo breathed a sigh of relief. He crawled forward on his hands, and noticed with a fierce surge of panic as a large hand began grasping at the air over him. He ducked even lower, allowing himself a brief grimace as his beard trailed in the dirt, before he scrambled forward into the shadow of the stupid troll, listening to them argue.

He crouched low behind the troll, and his hands began to flutter uselessly at the bindings of the swords, as he had no idea how he was going to take it off the leather belt. Another giant hand reached over him, and Bilbo skidded quickly back and watched in horror as the crude beast scratched at his arse like an animal.

"Oh, me guts are grumbling. I got to snaffle something." The third troll rumbled. "Flesh, I need flesh!"

The troll that Bilbo stood behind began shaking for some reason, and Bilbo looked at it with confusion, until he heard, "Ah! Ah!" and this time, the hand did not pass over him.

Bilbo was lifted up into the air and was thusly covered in horrible, stinking troll snot. The troll gave a surprised cry, as did Bilbo upon the discovery that trolls were even uglier up close. He looked up at the stupid troll with a terrified expression and moved around his the giant hand, feeling nauseous at the disgusting slime that now clung to his clothes. And his beard! Oh, his beautiful beard was covered. For a moment, Bilbo thought he was going to cry at the thought.

"Blimey! Bert. Bert!" The troll shouted with surprise. "Look what's come out of me hooter! It's got arms and legs and everything!"

"What is it?" Said the troll called Bert, looking at Bilbo with wonder.

"I don't know! But I don't like they way it wriggles around!" The second troll shouted again and tossed Bilbo to the ground.

Bilbo landed hard on his side but stood quickly, ignoring the pain in his arms as he did so. He looked up at the trolls that loomed over him.

The third with the jagged knife took a step towards him. "What are you, then? Some kind of squirrel?"

Bilbo, bless him, gave an answer before he could stop himself. "I'm a burglar—Uh, hobbit!"

"A burglar hobbit?" The stupid troll repeated incredulously and a nasty grin formed on his face.

"Can we cook him?" The third troll asked, his knife swinging dangerously in the air.

"We can try!" The troll skirted around the cauldron and tried to grab the hobbit, but Bilbo darted away and tried to escape into the forest. Unfortunately, the cook troll had anticipated this, and Bilbo turned around quickly only to find the third troll's blunt knife pointed at his chest.

"Perhaps there's more burglar hobbits around these parts." The troll growled hungrily. "Might be enough for a pie!" He shoved the hobbit back, and Bilbo jumped around the grasping hands.

"Grab him!"

"He's too quick!"

"Come here, you little—"

And Bilbo was hoisted off the ground once more, dangling upside down by his feet. Bilbo floundered and waved his arms around, very disorientated and afraid. The troll that had him in its grasp pointed the knife precariously close to Bilbo's face, and what little of the troll's face that Bilbo could see through the matted curtain of his beard was a nasty suspicion in its face.

"Now, are there any more of you little fellas hiding where you shouldn't?"

"No," Bilbo answered quickly. If he was going to be eaten by trolls, then he would save his companions a similar fate. Even if it was Kili and Fili's fault he was in this mess.

"He's lying!" Hissed the second troll. Maybe it wasn't as stupid as Bilbo had assumed.

"No I'm not!" Bilbo shouted, straining to catch his breath.

"Hold his toes over the fire! Make him squeal!"

Then the troll let out a shrieking cry of pain, and from the angle at which Bilbo dangled, he could see the flash of steel and dark haired figure with a wide smile on his face.

"Drop him!" Kili yelled at the troll holding Bilbo.

"You what?" The third troll stared at Kili in shock.

"I said, drop him!" Kili repeated, twisting his sword in a threatening manner and sneering at the beast.

Bilbo heard a horrible animalistic growl before he was thrown through the air at Kili, who hastily opened his arms to catch the flying hobbit. And then a battle cry was sounded through the clearing as the company of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield dashed into the clearing and began to wage war against the trolls, shouting and swinging weapons fiercely.

Kili helped Bilbo off the ground hastily and then threw himself into the fray, a manic grin on his face as he joined his brother in slicing at the cooking troll. Bilbo stumbled against a tree and watched the battle with wide eyes. Though the dwarves seemed not even tall enough to reach the troll's knees, they were holding their own against them. Bilbo saw one troll give a vicious kick, and Nori soared through the air, yelling and trying to keep ahold on his weapon. Bilbo seemed to move without conscious thought and threw himself under Nori before he could get seriously hurt, cushioning his landing with a breathless huff. Nori scrambled off him and gave him a quick word of thanks before he ran back into the battle.

The loud cries of the horses drew Bilbo's attention next, and he darted his way through the battlefield to the horse pin, hefting up the second troll's makeshift sword on his way. He saw out of the corner of his eye Oin falling onto the ground, his weapon flying out if his hands. A giant fist was about to come crashing down on him, and Bilbo clenched his eyes shut and swung the sword clumsily in that direction, hoping for at least a solid hit. The loud shriek of a troll alerted him that he had been successful, and he opened his eyes with relief, seeing Oin give him a thumb's up.

He moved back towards the horse pen and sawed at the rope, which took nearly no time at all, and the horses broke free, running off into the dark forest. Bilbo turned back for just a second and caught a glimpse of Dwalin's face, lighted by the fire. He was grimacing fiercely and swinging his axes with devastating effect, if the pained howl from the stupid troll was any indication. Bilbo, a little bit afraid but mostly in awe of the warrior dwarf, never even saw the troll looming over him furiously and the hand reaching for his back.

He was lifted into the air yet again and held one to gently by two of the trolls, who each held an arm and a leg apiece. He looked fearfully down at the company, most of which were gathered in front of them. Kili tried to lurch forward and swing his sword to save the hobbit, but his uncle held him back.

"Lay down your arms, or we'll rip his off!" The troll commanded, giving a vicious tug on Bilbo's right arm. Bilbo cried out at that, pain sparking fiercely in his shoulder and his hands clenched uselessly in the air. He looked down at the company through clenched eyes, feeling ashamed that he had landed them in this predicament.

Thorin looked up at the pained hobbit, seeming so small trapped there in the grip of the trolls, and raged internally. Not even for a moment did he consider forfeiting the hobbit's life, but he thought frantically for a moment about any other options, When he came up with none, Thorin threw his sword onto the ground, the company following his lead. Kili had looked incredulous at his uncle and infuriated with the trolls, but at his uncle's glare, he threw his sword down too.

The trolls made quick work of putting all the dwarves into leather sacks and securing them tightly. After their stew had been ruined and the horses released, the trolls fixed a roaster up over the fire and tied nearly half of the company onto it, slowly turning them. The dwarves were all protesting, shouting insults or hollering alternatives, trying to free themselves from their bindings.

It was a horrible situation. Bilbo was trapped in a sack and lying next to Balin and Bombur, listening to the trolls.

"Don't bother cooking them," The second troll suggested, throwing a few new logs into the fire. Nori and a few others let out cries of alarm. "Let's just sit on them, and squash them into jelly!"

"They should be sautéed and sprinkled with a bit of sage," Murmured the cook troll, poking at the dwarves trapped on the rotating stick with a large finger to test their temperature.

"Oh," The other troll moaned, "That does sound quite nice. "

"Never mind the seasoning!" The third troll grunted, turning the stick faster with anticipation. "We ain't got all night. Dawn ain't far away. Let's get a move on. I don't fancy being turned to stone."

Turned to stone? Of course! Bilbo sat up quickly and shuffled himself to a standing position, calling out, "Wait! You are making a terrible mistake."

"There's no reasoning with them; they're halfwits!" Dori shouted from the roasting pile.

"Halfwits! What's that make us, then?" Bofur called back, still managing to be humorous in a bleak situation.

"I meant, the—uh—the seasoning!" Bilbo continued, grasping for any little idea at stalling the trolls.

"What about the seasoning?" The cook growled, leaning down closer to the small hobbit.

"Well, have you smelt them?" Bilbo asked sardonically, raising an eyebrow. "You're going to need something a lot stronger than sage before you plate this lot up!" He hopped forward, nearly stumbling over Fili's body and moving closer to the fire. He could see Dwalin's red and sweating face in the heat of the fire and felt a shiver of fear slide down his spine.

"What do you know about cooking dwarf?" The third troll grunted, clearly wanting to ignore the silly little thing on the ground.

"Shut up!" The cooking troll hissed, before turning back to Bilbo. "Let the, uh, flurgaburburhobbit talk."

Bilbo pretended to give a thankful smile at this troll, before he began to flounder for an answer. "The secret to cooking dwarf is-is-" He had to stop for a moment, the lunacy of that statement stalling his tongue, but he was prompted by the trolls to hurry up.

"Yes? Come on, tell us the secret!"

"Yes, yes, I'm telling you, the secret is…"Bilbo searched for something that would take a large amount of time and found an answer, though he winced at the reactions he knew he would receive from his companions. "…to skin them first!"

As he expected, all of the dwarves cried out in outrage, thrashing in their bonds and hollering things at him, promising revenge and the like. Bilbo tried to ignore these, as he knew that they would forgive him when their lives were saved from this, but it did still hurt Bilbo, for reasons he did not know, to hear Dwalin growling threateningly at him from the roaster.

"Tom, get me filleting knife." The cook ordered.

"What a load of rubbish! I've eaten plenty of them with their skins on!" The third troll roared. "Scarf'em I say, boots and all!"

A quick shadow moved over the lip of the rocky cliff above, and Bilbo thought he saw Gandalf's pointed hat in the lightening sky. Or at least he hoped it was Gandalf come to save them.

"He's right," The stupid troll drawled. "Nothing wrong with a bit raw dwarf!" The troll lurched forward, reaching a hand out for Bombur and pulling the dwarf up into the air. Bombur gave out a cry of alarm as he dangled over the troll's mouth.

"Nice and crunchy!"

The troll lowered the dwarf to his mouth, ignoring Bilbo's shouted protests, but surprisingly he let out a disgusted sound and tossed him back onto the heap.

"I just remember why I don't like raw dwarf anymore!" The stupid troll whined. "The hair! So much hair, always gettin' in the way and stopping up my throat and stuff!"

The dwarves all breathed a sigh of relief, as did Bilbo.

"Well, we all have plenty of hair," Bilbo shouted helpfully. "There's no escaping it, really. It's everywhere. On the back, the chest, the legs, it'll clog up your systems; very painful indigestion, I assure you. I wouldn't risk it."

"What would you have us do, then? Shave them all or something?" The third troll grunted out with suspicion in his beady eyes.

The dwarves gave an even bigger protest against this, seeming to much rather be eaten than have their beards shaved off! Bilbo gave them exasperated looks, but his attention was quickly elsewhere as that troll lumbered toward him, carrying his blunt knife in his hands.

"Let's have you first, then, little ferret! And then, I'll eat ya raw meself!" His empty hand reached out and grabbed Bilbo's poor beard quite painfully, causing the hobbit to let out a yell. The dwarves all froze for a moment, realizing that the most perfect gold beard in the world was about to be brutally hacked off by some stupid beast.

"Don't you dare, you thrice bedamned son of an orc—"

"I'll kill you, swear to Mahal! Get your hands off me hobbit!"

"Don't do it! Please, not the beard! Anything but the—"

But the troll's arm had already swung back, and he brought the knife down ferociously upon Bilbo's beard. The hobbit was terrified that he would miss, that this was the moment that he would die, skewered on the end of a troll knife, but thankfully the troll's aim was spot on.

The knife hit squarely on the length of Bilbo's gold beard, but instead of slicing through, it was repelled back, throwing its wielder off balance and sending him crashing back onto the ground. The dwarves had all cried out in shock and now stared in awe as Bilbo slumped to the ground, frightened but otherwise unharmed. And his beard! It was still intact and as beautiful as ever, if a little worse for wear.

"Curse it!" The troll had recovered very quickly and was again standing over Bilbo with his knife pointed at his head. "What trickery is this! That's not hair! That's gotta be rock or stone! This little ferret is taking us for fools!"

"The dawn will take you all!" A voice boomed throughout the clearing, and in a glorious burst of light, Gandalf shattered the cliff's rock wall and showered the company in the light of the morning sun.

The trolls gave a few feeble bellows of pain, fighting against the light and cowering away, their bodies stilling and greying until they were immobile rock giants, never to eat dwarves or hobbits ever again!

The company instantly rejoiced, calling out praise to the wizard and yelling in triumph. Gandalf quickly freed the relieved dwarves on the ground, and they moved to free their brethren from the roasting stick. He personally freed the hobbit, giving him a private smile and a wink, before he moved on. Bilbo had smiled back and had freed Fili and Kili, who hugged him between them with loud laughter. They released him after a moment and swept through the campsite, meeting their uncle with relieved grins. Thorin grabbed them firmly on the shoulders, smiling back at them softly, before he ventured off to question Gandalf, leaving the rest of the company to question the hobbit, as they all suddenly remembered what had happened right before Gandalf had burst in.

"How on this earth were you able to repel that knife?!" Nori asked incredulously, looking at Bilbo's beard with no small amount of wonder.

"What's it really made of? Is it really made of gold? Mithril?" Kili questioned with wide eyes, leaning forward to inspect the beard.

"No, no, it's made of hair, I assure you." Bilbo raised his hands defensively, not used to being the subject of so many stares and questions. "You can see for yourself, if you'd like!"

He instantly regretted offering this, as nearly all the dwarves surged forward at this tempting suggestion, and there were at least a dozen hands running through poor beard. It was not that they were hurting him, because they were surprisingly gentle, but the shock of it all and the light tugging sensation from all around had Bilbo taking a couple hurried steps back from the huddle. They all seemed ready to follow, even taking a few steps forward here and there, but a sudden growl erupted from the right, and everyone turned to see Dwalin standing there, his face a thunderous forbidding scowl. No one moved a muscle.

Bilbo shifted awkwardly, throwing a grateful look at Dwalin, whose expression lightened somewhat at that. "My beard…my beard can't be cut or burned off. I don't know why that is, or what makes it that way, but it has been like that since my coming of age. Before that, it grew back at an incredibly fast rate, but now it thankfully doesn't grow past what it is now." He motioned to the tip of his beard where it touched the middle of his chest.

"Wow," Kili and Fili said in hushed tones, looking on with keen interest.

"Wait," Bofur began, sounding a little confused, "It grew back at a fast rate? Does that mean that you would…cut it?" He ended this question looking a little green.

Bilbo looked at him with a little surprise. "Actually, yes, I did. Or my father did, really."

The dwarves all gave gasps of horror at this, many of their faces becoming horribly pale. Ori, Kili, and Fili looked about to be violently sick. Bilbo looked at them with alarm. He knew that beards were very important to dwarves, but surely this reaction was a little extreme!

"Company! Grab your things! We're moving on. Now!" Thorin commanded, his voice loud and crashing like thunder in the silence of the clearing. The dwarves jumped to attention, moving instantly for their belongings and packing things away, though most everyone still shot horrified glances at the hobbit.

Bilbo shuffled uncomfortably at these, moving out of the clearing with his pack and following Gandalf into the woods. He lifted his head at the caress of a wandering breeze and heard the light trickling sound of a creek nearby. He sent a glance at the wizard, but seeing only a smile upon the wizened face, Bilbo moved off to find this river, wanting desperately to clean off the troll snot and dirt from his person. He also wanted to give his beard a thorough inspection, as it had been horribly mistreated all night long.

And if Thorin wished to scold him for this, well, he could just add another item to the list of things he disapproved of! Right under bearded hobbits, which must be at least in the top ten.


AN: And there you have it! –sigh- I'm pretty tuckered out now. :P Comments are appreciated! Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. ;D

Also, I have had a lot people asking that I make the ship a trio. As in Bilbo/Dwalin/Thorin. I am not sure yet, but this is a definite possibility! :) I love that trio too.

Next Chapter: Running from wargs, safety in Rivendell, and possible bath scene... ;)