Day Seven

Bilbo woke up to find himself lying on a lumpy mattress, sweating and shivering in equal measures. He had been covered with a blanket that had a fresh scent like someone had recently given it a long, thorough airing, but – regardless of that pleasant scent – he couldn't decide whether to push the cloth away or to wrap it tighter around himself, simultaneously hot and cold as he was. He felt sick and terribly thirsty and wanted little more than to curl up on his side and to pass out, to welcome the oblivion that lingered at the edges of his consciousness.

Instead of yet allowing himself to pass out, however, Bilbo lifted a hand to rub his eye, yawning as he did so. His fingers happened to graze his forehead and, much to his surprise, they came in contact with coarse fabric. Bemused, Bilbo felt the fabric, tracing its edged with his fingertips. He soon came to a conclusion that someone had wrapped his head with a bandage which was more than enough to make his eyes fly open.

It all came back to Bilbo, as he opened his eyes to daylight. Suddenly he could recall with vivid clarity all the things that had happened to him after the battle, after Thorin – Thorin – had given Dain the order to have him executed. Bilbo's heart sank as memories filled his mind and he felt sick in the pit of his stomach, recalling how he had lost his most precious friendships.

The last thing Bilbo could remember, he had been in Lake-town hunted down by Dwalin. He had been caught by the said dwarf, after which he had pretended to faint in order to escape Dwalin's hold only to lose consciousness for real shortly afterwards. If he had collapsed like that, Bilbo now mused with concern, he must have been quite a lot more ill than he had realized in the middle of his precarious situation. All the stress had probably made his bad condition that much worse and being invisible might have well put some additional strain on his body as well – who knew what kind of side effects there was to wearing a magic ring after all, no matter how useful that ring happened to be.

Bilbo had no idea who had saved him from Dwalin, who had bandaged his temple and covered him with a blanket, nor did he know the motives of his saviour, or why they had decided to help him in the first place. How he had ended up from Lake-town on this lumpy mattress under a warm blanket, he couldn't yet say, but it was of utmost importance to get an answer to that question as soon as possible. Blinking the rapidly forming tears from his eyes in an angry, determined manner, Bilbo pushed himself up into a sitting position to take a cautious look around, for he didn't yet even know where he currently was, or where the dwarves were, or whether he was in any immediate danger.

Upon looking around, Bilbo now saw that he was lying on a cot as the only occupant of a relatively large, blue tent. His world came to an immediate halt, as he came to the horrible realization that he had been in a tent similar to this one before, and a couple of times at that: this blue tent was similar to the ones in which Thorin, Fili and Kili had been lying – this blue tent was unmistakably a dwarven tent. The entrance flap of the tent was closed, but upon straining his ears, Bilbo could nevertheless hear someone talking outside the tent in a language he didn't understand but could easily recognize as Khuzdul, the secret language of dwarves, with all of its guttural sounds. The fact that he was, in fact, in a dwarven tent that was being guarded by dwarves was enough to convince Bilbo of the fact that he was currently in the camp of dwarves.

Becoming more anguished by the moment, Bilbo couldn't help the disbelieving half-sob, half-laugh that escaped his lips then; It seemed like he hadn't been saved after all. It seemed that Dwalin had taken him back to the dwarven camp where healers had then proceeded to look after Bilbo, cleansing his wounds, covering him with warm blankets. While the acts themselves appeared pleasant and kind, the motives behind them were all almost too horrible for Bilbo to comprehend – could the hatred of dwarrows really run so deep and unrelenting that dwarves had chosen to nurse him back to health simply to prevent him from dying before his execution? It certainly looked like that, as the dwarves had bandaged his head, had kept him warm, had wasted their precious resources to keep him alive.

Even though he was currently alone in the tent, Bilbo was also almost certain that someone had been put in charge of guarding him, that someone was supposed to be there with him even if they currently weren't for whatever reason. After all, if his friends

(they weren't his friends anymore, were they)

had gone through all the trouble of nursing him back to health only to get to kill him afterwards, it was likely that they had also taken some precautions to prevent him from escaping again. It was truly a stroke of luck that he had happened to wake up while whoever it was that was in charge of guarding him had momentarily left the tent for one reason or another, otherwise Bilbo might have well been on his way to his execution by now.

These thoughts, of course, made Bilbo come to the startling realization that if he wanted to survive this ordeal, he needed to decide his next course of action before his guard came back and found him awake. If Bilbo didn't want to surrender to the terrible fate his friends

(they weren't his friends anymore)

had in mind for him, if he wanted to survive to see his dear Hobbiton again, he needed to act now, he needed to decide his next course of action immediately, when he still could.

Undecided, Bilbo glanced around the tent. If he managed to leave the dwarven camp, he could always head for the camp of elves, and if he managed to reach the elves, he could ask for their help and might even find Gandalf among them. In any case, after everything he had done for Thranduil and Thranduil's son, he would be safe with the elves, of that Bilbo was certain.

Something white and shining caught Bilbo's eye just then and, much to his surprise, he saw his folded mithril shirt on the bedside table. Where the shirt had once been a symbol of valued friendship, it now reminded Bilbo of the way he had lost Thorin's friendship, the friendship of dwarrows. He couldn't help but wonder if the shirt had been left there to taunt him, to remind him that while he could well have the symbol of Thorin's friendship, he could never again have Thorin's friendship itself.

Biting his lip against the anguish, Bilbo looked around in case the Ring had also been left in the tent, but it soon became obvious that the dwarves had been smart enough to strip him off the Ring, his ability to turn invisible, the one advantage he had had over them. With a sinking feeling Bilbo realized that while it was easy enough to decide to go to the elves, the more difficult part of his escape would be to get from this tent to the edge of the dwarven camp. Eru, now that he didn't have his Ring anymore how would he ever be able to walk from the middle of the dwarven camp to the edge of it without being noticed, without someone stopping him, without getting caught? Without the invisibility the Ring offered, it sounded impossible. It probably was impossible.

Running a hand through his dirty, uncombed hair, Bilbo had to admit to himself in a rather helpless manner that he didn't really know what to do. He was naturally desperate to get far away from this tent – his prison – as soon as possible, but at the same time he was reluctant to leave the shelter of the tent as he was the only hobbit in the entire dwarven camp and thus his features were distinct and easily recognizable. The moment he stepped out of the tent there would be a high risk of someone recognizing him, of someone catching him.

If he stayed in bed pretending to be still fast asleep, Bilbo mused, he could wait for the nightfall and then use the darkness to his advantage. He could sneak out of the camp under cover of darkness, or at least his chances of managing to escape would be that much higher during the night. On the other hand, once his guard came back from wherever they had gone to, it was possible that Bilbo wouldn't be left alone for the second time. If he didn't leave the tent now that his guard wasn't there to prevent him from escaping, who was to say that he would ever get a chance like this again, who was to say that he would ever have another opportunity to escape if he didn't seize this one?

Eventually Bilbo decided that it was better to take a chance of getting caught that it was to stay imprisoned. He might get caught, yes, but if he just laid in bed he might never get a chance to even try and escape. So, without any further ado, Bilbo threw the covers aside and scrambled out of the bed. As soon as his feet touched the cold ground, cool air embraced him in a merciless manner and his feverish body shivered violently, even though there was a crackling sound coming from the black stove signaling the fact that someone had apparently lit a fire in it in order to keep the tent warm, a fact that stung Bilbo more than he cared to admit.

For a kindhearted hobbit like Bilbo it was simply impossible to understand hatred of that kind. If dwarves really hated him so much that they were ready to go through all the trouble to heal him only to kill him once he was aware enough to be scared, if all that was true, then Bilbo certainly pitied the race of dwarves. How dark their lives had to be with that level of unforgiveness, how bitter they had to grow before they reached old age! Bilbo's heart ached for his friends

(they weren't his friends anymore)

and he felt sorry for them, wishing in a quite wistful manner that there was something he could have done to help them to see the lighter side of life, the bright side, the more merciful side.

However sorry he felt for his friends

(they weren't his friends anymore, for Eru's sake)

Bilbo knew well that now was not the time for pity, for he needed to fully focus on escaping, on surviving.

Next to the stove there was some kind of a laundry rack and Bilbo saw his own clothes – now mended and clean – drying on that rack. After snatching the mithril shirt from the bedside table, he hurried to the rack (flushing with mortification, as he realized that he was currently only wearing his small clothes and that whoever it was that had tended to him, had seen him in a state of undress which was very indecent and unbecoming of any an adult Baggins, let alone of one of Bag End, no matter the circumstances).

Hurriedly, Bilbo put his trousers and shirt on, buttoning them as quickly as he simply could with his trembling fingers. The mithril shirt he put on top of his coat, as he decided that the white armor might well help him to hide in the snow better than his blue coat ever could.

Just as he had finished getting dressed, Bilbo happened to caught sight of a healing bag that someone had placed under his bed. He quickly fished the bag from under the bed and proceeded to empty its content onto the bed amidst the crumpled sheets as silently as he could as to not draw the attention of the guards outside the tent. He studied all the items thoroughly but briskly in an attempt to find something – anything – that could be of use to him during his escape.

So desperate Bilbo had become that he didn't even hesitate to arm himself with the scalpel that he managed to find among the various items. He wasn't planning on actually using the blade on anyone, but as he couldn't well march out of the tent through the front entrance due to the guards standing on the other side in front of it, he could use the scalpel to cut the back of the tent open and escape through that makeshift entrance.

With a determined nod, Bilbo abandoned all the other items and made his way to the back of the tent with the scalpel in his hand, preparing to seize the opportunity and do all that he could to escape the grasp of

(his friends)

the dwarves.

Standing close to the canvas of the tent, he held his breath and listened to any sounds coming from the other side of the tent wall. He could hear voices talking in Khuzdul in a distance and various clinking and clattering noises as well as distant footsteps, muffled laughter and the occasional shouted curse. These were all ordinary sounds that one could hear anywhere where there were living beings about, but Bilbo still had no way of knowing for certain what there was on the other side of the tent wall, what he would find, and he mentally prepared himself for pretty much anything.

Looking at his reflection on the blade of the scalpel, Bilbo gave himself a watery smile. He had often considered his nose slightly too large and the colour of his eyes a bit too dull, but he had gradually grown fond of his features. Now it made him sad to think that this could well be the last time he saw his reflection, the last time he saw his own face, if he got caught by the dwarves after escaping this tent.

Using the scalpel, Bilbo made a small cut on the canvas and took a cautious peek through the hole to assess his surroundings. The midday sun was bright and the snow all around sparkled like a layer of quality sugar, momentarily blinding him, but once his eyes were adjusted to the bright light outside, Bilbo saw lines and lines of blue tents that had been pitched about twenty yards from him, opposite of his tents. Between those tents and his tent, there was a cooking area with several busy-looking dwarves pottering around, but fortunately for Bilbo, there were also relatively high snow drifts between him and the cooking area – with any luck, he could crawl away from this tent while hiding behind those snow drifts well out of the dwarves' line of sight.

Without wasting any more time in the fear of getting caught at his task, Bilbo knelt down onto the ground, poked the scalpel through the canvas and slitted the wall all the way down to the ground. The resulting hole was just big enough for him to slip outside.

Cool air hit Bilbo as soon as he left the relative warmth of the tent. The snow outside was wet and freezing cold, and as he crawled away from his tent, trying to stay out of the cooks' line of sight, Bilbo's trousers were soon soaked through. His shivers grew more violent by the moment and he felt faint and miserable in his feverish state.

The cooks were arguing about this and that – mostly about who could use which pot and pan – and there were even a few playful scuffles from the sounds of it, all of which Bilbo was very thankful of as they distracted the dwarves from noticing his escape. Due to the cooks' distracted state and the cover the snow drifts offered, Bilbo managed to crawl quite far from his tent, but he soon came to the realization that most of the tents had to be empty due to the time of the day – it was but noon after all and most dwarves were still busy doing their chores. The tents had been pitched up side by side in neat lines, and as soon as Bilbo reached the closest one of the blue tents (and had made a small hole in the canvas to see whether the tent was truly empty), he slit the canvas with the scalpel he still had with him and crawled into the unoccupied tent.

With his heart in his throat, Bilbo quickly took his soaked trousers off and stole the dry ones someone had laid out onto one of the nine cots. Once dressed in his new – blissfully dry and warm – trousers, he then hurried to the opposite wall of the tent and slitted the wall, crawling out of the tent and – with yet another cut in the canvas blocking his way – into the next tent.

The tents turned out to be just as empty as he had presumed, and so Bilbo proceeded to slit his way through the camp, unseen by everyone, leaving two hobbit-sized holes in opposite walls of every tent he passed through. With his heart pounding in his chest, he quickly lost count on how many tents he broke into, living once again up to his title as The Burglar.

Eventually Bilbo reached the end of the line of tents. After having made yet another small hole in the canvas to peek on the other side, he saw that there, on the other side of this particular tent wall, was the busy Main Road of the camp, a road that was swarming with dwarrows.

It might have been difficult for Bilbo to decide on what he should have done next, how he should have proceeded from there, hadn't he happened to caught sight of an approaching wagon that was heading away from the centre of the camp. The wagon was moving slowly due to all the dwarves swarming on the road around it and Bilbo quickly estimated that the wagon would go right pass the tent he was currently in.

As a child, Bilbo had often jumped onto passing hay carts for fun and he wondered whether he could now do the same thing without anyone noticing, if he could jump onto the wagon as it passed by him. Bilbo had to soon disregard this idea, as he was too ill to make such acrobatic moves. And in any case, he wasn't the supple boy he had once been and could have easily caused himself fatal injury if his jump had failed and he had ended up in the way of the large wheel.

It turned out, however, that Bilbo didn't need to jump onto the wagon as luck was on his side: just as the wagon passed by him, it came to an abrupt halt and Bilbo heard a few guards saying something in Khuzdul to the dwarf that was driving the wagon. It appeared that the guards had halted the wagon for one reason or another and – since the wagon was heading away from the centre of the camp – Bilbo decided to use to situation to his advantage.

If he climbed onto the wagon, Bilbo thought, the wagon would then take him away from the centre of the camp and he could get that much closer to the edge of the camp without being seen. It wasn't a perfect plan in any way, but he didn't have that many alternatives, choices, as the dwarf that had been supposed to guard him back in the tent might have well noticed his disappearance by now. For all Bilbo knew, the guard was already after him and Bilbo needed to put as much distance between his pursuers and himself as possible and as quickly as possible.

Without any further ado, Bilbo cut a hobbit-sized hole in the tent wall, slipped his arms outside and took a firm hold of the wooden side of the wagon that was right there but a feet from him. Silently and as quickly as he simply could, Bilbo then climbed onto the wagon under the white canvas that covered the back of the wagon. Doing a bit of a somersault, he landed onto the planks with a soft "oomph".

Slightly dazed, Bilbo held his breath, terrified that someone had noticed his daring move, but when no-one shouted anything or acknowledged his presence in anyway, he soon allowed himself to breath again.

Bilbo took note of his surroundings. There were several bunches of firewood on the wagon with him and every bunch seemed to have about twenty-five logs each, probably for the simple reason that the firewood would be easier to regulate and to move around – not that any of that currently really mattered to Bilbo (although the scent of pine all around him was very pleasant). There were also some empty baskets and other smaller items there on the wagon, but Bilbo didn't pay them much mind. Instead, he located his scalpel and took it in case it would become of use later and then crawled towards the front of the wagon to avoid getting knocked unconscious by all the heavy logs of firewood.

While the back of the wagon was low and built with the obvious intention of storing various items, the area right behind the driver's seat was just high enough for a lone dwarf – or a hobbit – to take cover and to sit in in case of particularly bad weather. The back of the dwarf that was driving the wagon was peeking from between the flaps in the front and Bilbo made his way quietly right behind that dwarf to hide among the crumpled piles of tent canvases.

From his new hiding place Bilbo could hear that the guards were still talking to the driver in Khuzdul.

"This is not personal," one of the guards eventually changed the language to Westron. "These are routine questions asked of anyone driving a wagon on the Main Road and we would appreciate it if you were to co-operate and to actually answer them. We are simply doing our job, Lord Dain, and there is no reason to give us the silent treatment for that."

The mention of that name made Bilbo freeze to the spot. With dawning horror he looked at the dwarf in front of him more closely. Now that he knew to look for details, he saw several embroided symbols on the dwarf's clothes similar to the ones that Fili and Kili had had in their clothes. And yes, now that Bilbo paid it more attention, he could easily recognize the bulky back as Lord Dain's, that slightly hunched bearing was distinct and simply unmistakably, as were the hair clasps that bore the symbol of Dain's house.

For the longest moments, Bilbo could do nothing but stare at the dwarf's back in an uncomprehending manner. It was highly unlikely that he would climb onto that one wagon that was driven by Dain Ironfoot, of all dwarves, but yet it had happened, it looked like luck hadn't been on his side after all. Bilbo could now clearly see that he should have paid more attention to the driver rather than to the wagon itself, but he had been so focused on the chance of arranging himself a ride that he hadn't even come to think of the possibility that he might well know the driver, that the driver might well know him. But, really, how could he have known that it would be Dain driving the wagon? And why on Hobbiton was Dain driving a wagon loaded with such mundane cargo as firewood in the first place?

"If you want to know what my cargo is and where I'm taking it," said Dain, and that voice – that voice made Bilbo shiver, it made him think of black execution axes, of blood and death, it made him feel sick, "you can make your inquiries to my cousin, Prince Thorin, as I am acting on his orders, humiliating my task though may be."

"There is nothing humiliating about transporting equipment," said a deep voice as the other guard spoke. "It is a respectable task. In any case, if you didn't want His Highness to punish you in this manner, my lord, you shouldn't have used the Rule of a Fool against your own kin."

"I will not hear such condemning words from anyone below my status," stated Dain, a sneer audible in his voice. "I have my orders given to me by my king, that should answer all your inquiries. Now, step aside, or I will run you over."

True to his words, Dain spurred the pony on while the two guards let out curses and hurried out of the wagon's way, judging from the sounds of it. Panicked, Bilbo realized that the wagon was yet again on the move while he was still on that wagon with Dain. He wanted desperately to jump off the wagon, to get away from Dain, but now he had no way of doing so without drawing attention to himself - while he had managed to climb onto the wagon without being detected, there was no way he could have jumped off it in the middle of the busy Main Road. Bilbo was trapped on the wagon and he had no choise but to wait until Dain came to a halt before he could try and escape this new trap of his.

For a long while, Bilbo was too terrified to even cry. He simply sat there, feeling slightly hysterical, hiding desperately behind the canvasses Dain was taking to who knew where.

Bilbo sat still, frozen to the spot, untill a ray of sunshine happened to find its way from between the flaps in the front. It hit the scalpel Bilbo was clenching in his fist and made the metal surface gleam in a beautiful manner. The gleam caught Bilbo's eye and the sight of the gleaming scalpel felt somehow grounding, the sight made him feel calmer - if it came down to a physical confrontation, he was still armed, at least (not that he was looking forward to harming anyone). Yes, the situation had just turned from dire to extremely horrible with his being stuck on the wagon with Dain, but Bilbo wasn't yet dead or even captured so he still had a chance to see this through, no matter how small that chance currently appeared to be.

With this new found hope, Bilbo tried to come up with a plan. He was stuck on the wagon with Dain, yes, but perhaps he could use this situation to his advantage. He was situated behind Dain, after all, and he was armed with the scalpel, so he could well take Dain his hostage. In the addition of that, they were on a wagon so Bilbo could simply threaten to cut Dain's hair off and Dain would have to drive wherever Bilbo wanted him to drive, so precious hair was to dwarves, Bilbo had learnt during the Quest. As the lord of the Iron Hills, Dain could leave the camp whenever he wanted to and so Bilbo could have Dain drive him all the way to the camp of elves. If he was very careful and remained hidden behind the flaps, no-one would even notice that he had made Dain his hostage. Dwarves would simply assume that Dain was on the wagon all by himself.

Bilbo licked his dry lips, trying to ignore how thirsty he was, and clenched the scalpel in his hand. Silently, he stood up and made his way from under the tent canvasses to Dain. Holding his breath, he slided his hand pass the flap and, with his clever – albeit slightly trembling – fingers, stripped Dain off the dagger that was hanging on his pompously decorated leather belt. Dain didn't seem to notice a thing, grumbling to himself as he was in Khuzdul with visible exasperation.

Bilbo put the scalpel down onto the ground, armed as he now was with the dagger. Without further ado, he then grasped a handful of Dain's hair and placed the dagger right underneath it, making sure that Dain could feel the cold blade against his neck. As the blade pressed against his skin, Dain gave a bit of a start, becoming aware of the unknown – armed – presense behind him.

"What in the name of-"

"Don't make a sound," whispered Bilbo, cutting Dain's sentence off, just loud enough for Dain to hear. "Keep your hands on the reins so that I can see them, don't try to use Iglishmêk if you value your hair."

"My- my hair?"

"Yes, your hair."

"Don't harm my hair!"

"I won't, if you don't give me a reason to."

"You're the hobbit, are you not," said Dain in a strained voice and, upon looking over Dain's shoulder, Bilbo could see the dwarf clenching the reins tightly in his hands. "I recognize your distinct scent as well as your voice. I understand how you might feel the need to punish me, but should you not still be resting in your tent, Master... uh, Master Halfling, if you don't mind me asking?"

Bilbo couldn't help but let out a bitter laugh at that. Resting? As if he could rest with the shadow of execution hanging over him at all times.

"You have the gall to say something like that," he seethed, tightening his grip on Dain's hair. "You have the gall. And you don't even remember my name, not even after almost beheading me!"

Feeling Bilbo tightening his hold on his hair, Dain swallowed hard and shifted on his seat with visible nervousness.

"I- I do understand that you have reason to be somewhat upset with me at the moment, Master- uh, Master Bu- Master Ba- Be- Master Badger," Dain said, "but please, please – I have already lost so much hair, far too much hair, and I could not bare the humiliation of losing more. Whatever you do, please don't cut any hair off."

"If you don't want to lose your hair, Lord Dain," said Bilbo, using the proper title of the dwarf, because he wasn't one to lose his manners, not even when being called "Master Badger" by his would-be executioner, "you'll do as I tell you to do."

Dain didn't answer, but Bilbo could feel him swallowing hard.

"Very well," the dwarf said eventually. "I'll comply with you for now. Eru knows that I have lost enough hair by a fool's hand as it is."

Bilbo didn't wonder Dain's words, focused on the situation at hand as he was. His heart was beating painfully fast in his chest and he was so nervous about the deed he was doing that he had to swallow several times before he found his voice again.

"Good," he finally managed. "Good. Drive towards the edge of the camp then. And don't try to let anyone know that I'm here behind you. If you'll do, I will use the dagger."

True to his word, Dain did comply Bilbo in the fear of losing his hair, no matter how grudgingly he did so. He spurred the pony onwards and drove tha wagon along the Main Road straight towards the outermost circle of the camp.

Bilbo scarcely dared to breathe, terrified as he was that someone would notice something being amiss. Much to his surprise, however, none of the dwarves seemed to notice anything. Even though several curious glances were given to Dain, it almost looked like most of those glances were directed at Dain's braids, rather than his whole being, let alone his face where any an expression might have revealed his precarious situation. As it happened, no-one seemed to notice the lone hobbit either, the lone hobbit that stood right behind the dwarf lord, looking over Dain's shoulder, threatening Dain – and Dain's hair – with a dagger, and Bilbo and Dain managed to reach the edge of the camp without anyone calling the wagon to a halt, without anyone giving them one suspicious look.

"Are we to leave the camp?" asked Dain, startled, bringing the wagon to a halt when they reached the edge of the camp. "Where are you taking me? What are you planning on doing to me?"

"Nothing, if you don't make me," promised Bilbo.

His hands were starting to cramp for the way he had been clenching both of his fists for so long, one fist around Dain's hair, the other around the dagger. In the addition of that, he could feel his fever rising. He felt faint and cold and hot and oh so very, very thirsty.

"We're going to the camp of elves. Once we are there, I will set you free."

"The camp of elves?" Dain cried, sounding scandalized. "You wish to make my humiliation complete, halfling? You wish to show my state of disgrace to the elves?"

"I couldn't care less about your 'state of disgrace', whatever that means," Bilbo lost his patience. "I simply don't want to get executed and Thranduil's people will keep me from that fate."

"Executed?" repeated Dain, "Am I to understand that no-one has yet explained the situation to you? That you still believe that my cousin, Thorin, wishes to see you beheaded?"

The question was just as painful as the truth behind it and, in that moment, Bilbo hated Dain for asking it. He could feel tears prickle at his eyes, and as his both hands were occupied, he couldn't wipe them away and had no choise but to let them roll down his cheeks.

"Drive onwards," Bilbo told the dwarf instead of answering the questions, blinking the tears from his eyes in an angry manner – this was the worst time to be crying, no question about it. "Drive onwards and do not speak another word."

Dain seemed to hesitate.

"Thorin doesn't want you executed," he said, rather unexpectedly. "It was all a misunderstanding. He asked me to 'take care of you', which I interpreted as an execution order when in truth Thorin was simply asking me to look after you."

It looked like Dain was ready to say anything to get out of this uncomfortable situation. While Bilbo wished that Dain's words would have been true, he also knew better than to trust a dwarf that was being taken to elves at a dagger point. If he now believed Dain and turned back, he would probably find himself in an even more precarious situation than before, if at all possible.

"No-one is as foolish as to confuse an order to 'look after someone' with an execution order," Bilbo told Dain with conviction, letting the dwarf thus know that he didn't believe a word of the panic-stricken explanation, of the lies.

The noise Dain let out was practically a squeak. Then the dwarf began to blabber about misunderstandings and execution orders and how it was not necessary at all to go to the elves because Bilbo would be "quite safe" in the camp of dwarves. Dain even went as far as to apologize to Bilbo for almost beheading him.

"I'm in enough trouble as it is after using the Rule of a Fool to try and get an heir," Dain said hurriedly, as if afraid that his words could be cut off at any moment. "If I were to also take you away from the camp when you are not yet healed, Thorin would-"

"I don't care what 'Thorin would'," lied Bilbo, interrupting Dain. "All I care about right now is the fact that we're not yet moving even though I just told you to drive onwards."

Bilbo knew well that someone must have noticed his escape by now. It was most likely that there were several dwarves after him already and he simply didn't have the time to argue with Dain. The longer he allowed the wagon to stay still, the more likely it became that his pursuers would catch up with him.

"I cannot let you leave," Dain was insisting. "I would be gravely punished if I let you go before Thorin had had his chance to speak with you."

Without allowing himself much deliberation, Bilbo quickly cut one of Dain's braids off to demonstrate the fact that he was serious in his attempt to escape. The dwarf didn't seem to notice what had just happened until Bilbo dropped the loose braid into his lap. Bilbo allowed Dain to move his head a bit so that the dwarf could look at the loose braid in his lap.

Dain was silent for a moment.

"Then again," he then said, "Thorin is kin and I trust him to be merciful when mercy is due. I'll take you to the camp of elves, Master Badger, and then you'll let me go, unharmed. No more braids of mine shall be cut off."

"Agreed," said Bilbo, "as long as you don't try anything..."

Grunting, Dain spurred the pony onwards and so the wagon left the camp of dwarves.

A/N: This chapter didn't turn out quite as I had hoped it would and I had planned on it being longer, but since it's been such a long time since my last update, I thought I'd give you a new chapter anyway, more or less dissatisfied though I may be with the final outcome. I hope you could still enjoy this chapter.

Thanks for all the reviews! They really motivate me to keep on writing and updating.