Happy New Year!
This is dedicated to all my kith and kin (and I'm charitably including all those of you who converse with me on here, particularly those of you who reviewed my last chapter/story muddle not once, but twice) in the hope of happy days and only glad tidings to come.
In which Fili and Kili play guessing games, Nori indulges in a spot of blackmail, Ori receives an education, and the company gamble with more than just coins, consequently placing their faith in each other at knife-point...
Bilbo screws up his forehead. How is he supposed to know?
"C'mon, guess. You'll never guess."
The hobbit tries to dredge it out from the depths of his memory, a nagging thought telling him that he needs better recall than this if he is ever to be a successful burglar. But he had been more than a little put out at the time, and no less confused, and-
"Five," Kíli repeats dully. Bilbo has a sinking theory that his brother's braids are hiding a smirk. "Alright. Ori, you next."
"Are we counting the big 'uns?" Bofur asks.
"The technical name being-"
Dori's correction is impatiently interrupted. "Yes."
"Well, there's the boots too, isn't there?"
Gloín curses under his breath.
Bofur counts carefully on his fingers. "Nah, I got the boots. So-"
"You couldn't have eleven…"
"Nori, hurry up."
"We've had seven."
"I said eight."
Another coin lands on the pile with a tinny clink. "Ten," Dwalin booms.
"We've had – no, we haven't."
Gloín eyes Kíli suspiciously. "Are you not even keeping track of who bet what?"
"Any more takers?"
"Having Dwalin isn't fair-"
"I said – are you keeping track or aren't you?"
"Well, it doesn't matter, does it?" Bilbo breaks in, well aware by this point that his coin is lost to him forever, judging by the dwarves' more informed bets. "The rules were that whoever got the right answer would get the pile, and if no one did then they would."
"And we do," says Fíli, scooping it up.
"How many then?"
"Thirteen," Kíli replies smugly.
They are met with six pairs of folded arms. "Prove it."
Bilbo watches in a sort of fearful wonder as Fíli's armoury is laid out neatly on the turf in front of him. Two swords, to start with, and then… The dwarf reminds him of Old Proudfoot, who would sit in the corner of the Dragon pulling coins out from behind people's ears and between their toes, until he'd been bought a few mugs of ale too many. Three knives on his belt, two down each boot, one down each arm, and two more tucked away under his tunic somewhere... And thirteen blades in total.
"One for each member of the company." Fíli surveys his collection proudly. "Excepting me."
Bofur breaks the awkward silence that follows, "Ah, lad – you sound like you're planning on killing us all."
Fíli's laugh immediately erases all misconceptions.
"There's fifteen of us with the wizard," Kíli points out. "Who's left over?"
Nori rolls his eyes. "The wizard, almost certainly."
"You wouldn't –" Bilbo starts out, then stops. Fíli eyes him with interest, and he blurts it out anyway. "I mean - you'd miss some of the time, wouldn't you?"
Dwalin leans forward on his axe. "Ah, a challenge." A toothy grin emerges. "And would you like to volunteer for target practice, Master Burglar?"
"After what he said? No, no, no, not at all."
"Couldn't hit him anyway, when he's shaking his head that fast," Bofur quips.
Nobody else seems to be in a hurry to step forward. Ori tries to rekindle the enthusiasm. "Bet you can't get all eleven in that tree over there."
"That's hardly a challenge," Kíli points out. "It's only twenty feet away."
Bofur counters this problem instantly. "Stand someone by it then."
"The burglar?" Gloín suggests.
Bilbo is about to open his mouth, but Kíli steps in to defend him. "Nah, Bilbo's too small-"
"I didn't!" Kíli tries to protest, but Bofur is already dragging him away.
"C'mon, it's not like you haven't shot things off his head before."
"My braids. He shot one of my braids off my head. And he was aiming for a tankard."
"I was drunk!"
"Maybe think that one over again before you say it next time."
"Are we betting on this?" Gloín asks shrewdly.
Bilbo runs through the logic in his head. "That would mean that we wanted him to hit him, wouldn't it?"
"I wasn't aware that we were even doing this," Fíli protests.
"It's good training," Dwalin claims, with what might be a grin. "Means you know you can take out the man behind him without hitting him by mistake."
"Two gold pieces."
Nori eyes the pair shrewdly. "I don't suppose your dear uncle has ever heard the story of the time you and your brother got drunk and he decided to use you for trick shots? And hit you instead?"
"His braid," Kíli mumbles defensively. "I hit his-"
"-And I think we'll take that as a no."
"That's blackmail, Nori," Ori whispers, shocked and exhilarated by his brother's daring. "You can't-"
"Yes I can. I just did. And who taught you about blackmail, anyway?"
Dori splutters incoherently a little.
"Lesson two in blackmail," Bofur commentates. "Listen carefully, Ori. Don't announce to the world that that is what you are up to."
"It's not like any of you are complaining."
"We are!" Fíli protests.
"Lesson three in blackmail: make sure the victims are aware that if they complain to anyone you'll disclose the information anyway."
"In this case, that he got drunk and nearly shot you in the head." Nori pauses. "To Thorin."
"Yes, we get the point!"
The pair exchange glances. Kíli makes a quick hand gesture, close by his left side, where only his brother and Bilbo can see it. The hobbit imagines it must be some refusal, or perhaps a comment on Thorin's probable reaction. He averts his gaze from the silent debate and looks down at the turf instead. He slides a blade of grass across the edge of the knife in front of him and wishes he hadn't. As weapons go they're very… functional. Not something that you would really want to, well, throw at-
"Go for it."
Sometimes, Bilbo thinks that the collected sense of the line of Durin would barely fill a small casserole dish.
"Which tree was it again?" Kíli continues.
Bilbo glances around desperately for Fíli to quell his brother's potentially suicidal enthusiasm, only to find him stooping to collect his knives. "Not that one – too close."
"Ah, lads. We were only messing with you-" Bofur pauses. "Look, you're not actually going to, are you?"
"Yup," says Fíli calmly, though Bilbo notices that his hands are shaking a little.
"We never meant that you actually would-"
"Do you doubt that I can?"
"I swear I would never tell him," Nori breaks in. "It was just a-"
It's not the tree Bilbo would have chosen. He would have picked one with a little more bark to actually hit. Dwalin steps in front of it, obscuring it entirely. "Fíli. You do not have to do this."
Fíli sidesteps him, stumbling a little, but holding his brother's gaze. Kíli grins back, almost as if it is him doing the reassuring.
A knife blade cuts through the air, flipping neatly and landing back in Fíli's hand as he stares impassively forward.
"Don't – don't!" Ori appears to be hyperventilating. "You're not actually- You can't-"
"Kíli-" Dwalin tries instead. The figure stood steadily in front of the tree shakes its head resolutely. The knife flips upwards again, but this time Fíli fails to catch it, as Dwalin suddenly grips his shoulder.
"Take your time, don't you?" Kíli calls. His faith would be reassuring, if he didn't have his eyes closed.
Bilbo shuts his own for a moment, opening them again to see Fíli raising a knife to shoulder height. Dwalin steps back, clearly unwilling to risk affecting his aim again. Bilbo watches mesmerised for a moment, until he realises that Ori has turned away and all the others have their eyes tightly shut. He pauses just long enough to check that Fíli has not made the crucial mistake of closing his too, before joining them, wondering fervently why no one had run to fetch Thorin yet.
It's eerily silent, and Bilbo doesn't know if that's a good thing or not. Maybe he hasn't thrown them at all? All the other options are too horrible to contemplate. Fíli must have a good aim, otherwise the others would never have let him, Kíli wouldn't have trusted him so readily and so utterly, he himself would never have decided... Please, please…
Bilbo opens his eyes. Eleven knives, some still quivering, mere inches apart, and…
"You never specified which side of the tree he had to be on."
Points if you guessed the nature of the guessing game, triple points if you guessed roughly how it would end.