Belinda woke and moved silently to the front of the small cave, intent on getting some fresh air and seeing if the storm had passed. Bofur stopped her and asked where she was going, looking concerned.
"I'm alright Bofur, I just need some air is all. I'm not leaving you I promise."
"Thank Mahal…What's that?"
Belinda looked down at her sword and pulled it out partially, eyes widening at the bright blue glow. She was stunned speechless for a moment as the sand sunk through the floor in a jagged line and Thorin shot up from where he'd been pretending to sleep, alarm etched on his face only further worrying her.
"Wake up! Wake up!"
His warning was too late as the floor opened up and they all fell down a long tunnel to land in an odd basket trap. They were set upon immediately by a pack of goblins and, though they fought valiantly, they were captured and dragged off. Thorin locked eyes on Belinda for a moment and then lost her in the scuffle. She managed to remain unnoticed by the Goblins and followed them at a safer distance, but one had held back and found her, attacking her until they both fell off the side of the path and down into the deep darkness.
The dwarves were dragged before the enormous Goblin King, a grotesque creature that made several of them reel back in disgust at the sight of him. The goblins started playing some eerie and off-pitch song, the goblin king singing along with it and making even the mostly-deaf Oin wince.
"Catchy, isn't it? It's one of my own compositions."
"That's not a song. It's an abomination!"
The goblin king seemed unoffended by Balin's words.
"Abomination? Mutations. Deviations. That's all you're gonna find down here."
The Goblins removed all of the company's obvious weapons and laid them all at the king's feet. This seemed to upset the creature.
"Who would be so bold as to come armed into my kingdom? Spies? Thieves? Assasins?!"
"Dwarves, you malevolence."
"We found 'em on the front porch."
"Well don't just stand there! Search them. Every crack! Every crevice!"
All of their belongings were added to the growing pile in front of the king, Oin's ear horn was smashed completely in the process. One of the goblins picked up an elven candelabra and turned to hand it to his king.
"It is my belief, your great protuberance…That they are in league with elves!"
The king turned to look at the bottom of the piece and read what was engraved there.
"Made in Rivendell. Ah. Second Age. Couldn't give it away."
The whole company turned to look at Nori, some astounded and others irritated.
"Just a couple of keepsakes."
They all ignored him as the Goblin King spoke again.
"What are you doing in these parts?"
Oin stepped forward before Thorin could make himself known.
"Uh, don't worry, lads. I'll handle this."
"No tricks!. I want the truth. Warts and all."
"You're going to have to speak up. Your boys flattened my trumpet."
"I'll flatten more than your trumpet!"
Bofur stepped in before the king could get to Oin.
"If it's more information you want, then I'm the one you should speak to."
"We were on the road. Well, it's not so much a road as a path. Actually, it's not even that, come to think of it. It's more like a track. Anyway, the point is, we were on this road, like a path, like a track…and then we weren't. Which is a problem, because we were supposed to be in Dunland last Tuesday."
"Visiting distant relations!"
"Some inbreds on my mother's side."
The king finally lost his patience and screamed at them, making them fall silent.
"If they will not talk, we'll make them squawk. Bring up the Mangler! Bring up the Bonenreaker. Start with the youngest."
Thorin called out as the king threatened little Ori, unable to bear the thought of him being hurt for the sake of the quest.
"Well, well, well…look who it is. Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King under the mountain. Oh, but I'm forgetting…you don't have a mountain, and you're not a king. Which makes you nobody, really. I know someone who would pay a pretty price for your head. Just a head. Nothing attached. Perhaps you know of whom I speak. An old enemy of yours. A pale orc, astride a white warg."
"Azog the Defiler was destroyed. He was slain in battle long ago."
"So, you think his defiling days are done do you?"
The king turned to a tiny goblin in a hanging seat of some sort and told it to send word to the pale orc. It zipped off along a line, cackling madly as it went.
Deep down in the darkness Belinda slowly regained consciousness. She'd been lucky enough to land in a pile of large mushrooms and remained mostly uninjured. An odd sound reached her ears, other than the goblin's rattling breaths, a strange sort of purring sound. An odd-looking creature came out of the shadows and she slowed her breaths so as not to make movement in the mushrooms and be seen. The thing seemed excited at finding the unconscious goblin, but as it started to drag the goblin away the thing woke up and tried to attack the new creature only to be bashed in the head with a rock until it stopped moving. As the strange thing jumped about some shiny thing fell from its body, but Belinda barely took notice of that as she watched it drag the goblin away again. After it was gone she moved out of the mushrooms and headed towards the shadows behind the creature until she noticed the shiny thing at her feet, a simple golden ring. It looked so plain but she picked it up regardless, having never been one to judge on appearances. The cries of the strange creature reminded her of what she'd been doing and she moved after it again, but it seemed to be talking to another creature. As she got sight of it again it began to sing an odd song, until the goblin moved again and it bashed its head with yet another rock. She gasped softly and turned to look at her sword again, watching the blue glow flicker and die as the goblin did the same. When she looked back the creature was no longer where it had been and she became nervous. She could hear it's raspy, purring breath as it loomed overhead and hopped down to land in front of her.
"Bless us and splash us, Precious! That's a meaty mouthful."
As it moved forward she held the tip of her little sword at its chest. It made an odd choking cough as she stood up and told it to stay back.
"It's got an elfish blade, but it's not an elfs. Not an elfs, no. What is it, Precious? What is it?"
"My name…is Belinda Baggins."
"Bagginses? What is a Bagginses, Precious?"
"I'm a Hobbit…from the Shire."
"Oh! We like goblinses, batses and fishes. But we hasn't tried Hobbitses before! Is it soft? Is it juicy?"
It had started creeping forward and she waved the sword again.
"Now, keep your distance. I'll use this, if I have to. I don't want any trouble. Do you understand?! Just show me the way to get out of here and I'll be on my way."
"Why? Is it lost?"
"Yes. Yes, and I want to get unlost as soon as possible."
"Oh! We knows. We knows safe paths for Hobbitses. Safe paths in the dark…Shut up!"
"I didn't say anything."
"We wasn't talking to you. Oh, yes, we was, Precious, we was."
She realized suddenly that this creature was talking to itself, and therefore was likely crazy and twice as dangerous because of that.
"Look, I don't know what your game is, but I…"
"Games?! Oh, we love games, doesn't we, Precious? Does it like games? Does it, does it? Does it like to play?"
Belinda felt off-balanced and confused by this odd creature. She had no idea what it was, or how it came to be where it was. She knew that it seemed to want to eat her, which she had no intention of allowing.
"What has roots as nobody sees, is taller than trees, up, up, up it goes, and yet, never grows?"
Belinda answered the creature's riddle immediately and without thought, it was a rather easy one in her mind. The thing seemed amused and excited so she decided that humoring the thing might be an easier way to get out of this mess.
"Yes, yes. Oh, let's have another one, eh? Yes! Do it again! Do it again! Ask us. No! No more riddles…finish her off. Finish her now!"
"No! No. No. No. I want to play. I do. I want to play. I can see…you are very good at this. So, why don't we…have a game of riddles? Yes? Just…just you and me."
"Yes! Yes, just…just us."
Yes. Yes! And if I win, you show me the way out. Yes?"
"Yes! Yes! And if it loses? What then? Well, if it loses, Precious, then we eats it! If Baggins loses, we eats it whole."
She was reluctant to agree, but in the end she figured it didn't really matter since she intended to live no matter what she had to do to ensure it.
"Well, Baggins first."
"30 white horses on a red hill. First they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still."
She watched the creature struggle for a moment before it got it.
"Teef? Teef! Oh, yes, my Precious! But we…we only have nine. Our turn. Voiceless, it cries. Wingless, flutters. Toothless, bites. Mouthless, mutters."
"Just a minute."
"Ooh! Ooh! We knows! We knows! Shut up!"
Belinda was having trouble figuring this one out, until she saw a slight breeze ripple the water.
"Wind. It's wind. Of course it is."
"Very celver, hobbitses. Very Clever."
It became aggressive again and she pulled her sword to ward it off while stuttering out her next riddle.
"A-A-A box without hinges, key, or-or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid."
The thing began muttering to itself while trying to figure it out.
"Well? Do you give up?"
"Give us a chance, Precious! Give us a chance!"
It made some of the strangest noises she'd yet heard, and she'd been in the company of 13 dwarves for a few months now.
"Eggses! Eggses! Wet, crunchy little eggses. Yes. Grandmother taught us to suck them, yes!"
Belinda turned when a bat flew near her and lost sight of the creature as it vanished into the shadows again.
"We have one for you. All things it devours. Birds, beasts, trees, flowers. Gnaws iron, bites steel, Grinds hard stones to meal. Answer us."
"Give me a moment, please? I gave you a good long while."
She was struggling, and knew she was failing. Her sword may well claim its first life under her hand this night, and she didn't like that thought at all.
"I don't know this one."
"Is it tasty? Is it scrumptious? Is it crunchable?"
She whirled around as it grabbed her shoulder from behind, brandishing her sword as her only real line of defense.
"Let me think. Let me think."
"It's stuck. Bagginses is stuck. Time's up."
It hit her then and she nearly wept in relief.
"Time. The answer…is Time. Actually it wasn't that hard."
"Last question. Last chance."
She didn't see the creature palming a large stone.
"Ask us. Ask us!"
"Yes, yes. All right."
She felt the ring in her pocket and muttered softly to herself.
"What have I got in my pocket?"
"That's no fair. It's no fair! It's against the rules!"
The creature threw the rock down in its little hissy fit and she had to admit it didn't really shock her.
"Now ask us another one."
"No. No, no, no. You said, 'Ask me a question.' Well, that is…my question. What have I got in my pocket?"
"Three guesses, Precious. It must give us three."
"Three guesses. Very well, guess away."
She was glad she pulled her hand out of her pocket before it made it's first guess or she'd have lost.
"Wrong. Guess again."
"Fishbones, Goblin's teeth, wet shells, bat's wings…knife! Oh, shut up!"
"Wrong again. Last guess."
"Two guesses at once. Wrong both times."
The thing collapsed and seemed to be crying at losing, but she didn't have time to be sympathetic. She had to find the way out and hope that the other had escaped as well.
"So…Come on then. I won the game. You promised to show me the way out."
"Did we say so, Precious? Did we say so? What has it got in its pocketses?"
"That's no concern of yours. You never ask a lady such a thing. You lost."
"Lost? Lost? Lost?"
It was feeling around its…loincloth…thing. She supposed for the ring it had dropped before. She knew the right thing to do was to return it, but the creature had been so nasty to her and she doubted it was the rightful owner anyway. It freaked out when it couldn't find it and began screaming about it being lost.
"What have you lost?"
"Musn't ask us! Not it's business!"
"Perhaps if you tell me what you've lost I could help you find it?"
The creature muttered into the water, sounding angry and Belinda truly felt frightened of it now.
"What has it got…in its nasty, little pocketses?"
She held her sword up in her shaking hand, the ring in her other behind her back, as the creature turned to look at her.
"She stole it. She stole it!"
It threw a rock at her and continued screaming as she turned and ran through the tunnels as fast as she could go.
Up in Goblin Town the king was singing again as torture devices were carries up by hordes of goblins, until one of the goblins unsheathed Thorin's sword and screeched at it as he flung it to the ground. The king backed away and cowered against his throne at the sight of it.
"I know that sword! It is the Goblin-cleaver! The biter! The blade that sliced a thousand necks! Slash them! Beat them! Kill them!"
The goblins swarmed over the dwarves, whipping and hitting them.
"Kill them all! Cut off his head!"
Just when it seemed that Thorin was about to lose his head a brilliant flash of white light threw the goblins down on the ground and even clear off the platform. The king was knocked off his feet as well. When the light faded Gandalf walked out of the shadows, his own sword in hand along with his staff.
"Take up arms. Fight. Fight!"
As Gandalf and the dwarves began cleaving through the goblins the king cried out in fear.
"He wields the Foehammer! The beater! Bright as daylight!"
When the king tried to attack Thorin from behind he whirled and blocked the attack, sending the goblin king reeling before falling off the platform. Gandalf slashed at one of the goblins and it stood there in shock before he tapped its head with his staff, making the head fall off.
"Follow me. Quick. Run!"
Belinda was still running blindly through the tunnels, trying desperately to evade the murderous creature chasing her. She found a gap in a wall and tried to squeeze through, cursing her curvy figure as the creature drew closer to her. Finally, with a shower of buttons, she was through. As she reached the other side she fell onto her back and lost her grip on the ring which flew up into the air, and landed on her finger just as the creature burst through the gap. She was startled when it seemed to be unable to see her, not that she was complaining mind you. She got up and began to follow it.
The rest of the company was still running along the wooden pathways of Goblin Town, fighting as they went. At one point Gandalf hit a bit of rock with his staff and caused a rounded boulder to drop in front of them, rolling along before them and flattening any goblins in its path. The dwarves were impressed, despite not having time to say so, and grateful to have the wizard with them. They kept running until the goblin king burst through the floor in front of them and blocked their path.
"You thought you could escape me?"
He swung his club-staff at Gandalf who nearly feel, were it not for the dwarves behind him pushing him back up.
"What are you going to do now…wizard?"
Gandalf used his staff to poke the king in the eye, and then used his sword to slash his belly open.
"That'll do it."
One last slash to the massive thing hanging from the king's throat and he fell at Gandalf's feet. Unfortunately the weight was too much for the scaffolding to hold and it groaned before breaking up. The company held on for dear life as they fell down into the depths, amazingly landing safely at the bottom.
"Well, that could have been worse."
Bofur's comment seemed to jynx them as the king's body landed on top of them. Dwalin voiced the resounding thought they all had.
"You've got to be joking!"
Kili looked up above them and his eyes went wide.
Dwalin was helping the other out of the rubble and looked at Gandalf, not looking happy to say what he had to.
"There's too many. We can't fight them."
"Only one thing will save us: daylight! Come on! Here! On your feet!"
Belinda snuck up behind the creature as it hid, seeing her friends run past the opening. She felt the urge to cry as they kept running. She held her sword at its neck for a moment, ready to kill it in order to escape, but it turned and those big sad eyes changed her mind. She felt pity for this lost soul and knew she could never kill it. She sighed softly and gathered her courage before running towards it, using its head as a platform to leap over it and run for the daylight after the company. She ran down the side of the mountain, still wearing the ring, and went right past the group's sentry in time to hear the conversation of the others.
"Where is Belinda? Where is our Hobbit?!"
"Curse that Halfling! Now she's lost?"
"I thought he was with Dori!"
"Don't blame me!"
"Well, where did you last see her?"
She was frowning at the comments she heard, though Gandalf seemed to be the voice of reason as usual.
"I think I saw her slip away when they first collared us."
"Then what happened exactly? Tell me !"
"I'll tell you what happened. She saw her chance and she took it. She has thought of nothing but her soft bed and her warm hearth since first she stepped out of her door. We will not be seeing our Hobbit again. She is long gone."
She had to fight back the tears that threatened to choke her at Thorin's words. She thought he truly cared for her, he had called her his One. Now she saw the truth of his feelings and felt her heart break and harden as she stepped out from behind the tree. The look of shock and guilt on Thorin's face did little to soothe her, though she was pleased by the relief on the youngest three faces…and Bofur too was beaming a smile at her.
"No, she isn't."
"Belinda Baggins. I've never been so happy to see anyone in my life."
She smiled back at Gandalf, fighting a sudden urge to hug the wise old wizard she thought of as her friend.
"Bilbo, We'd given you up."
"I heard as much, Kili."
"How on Earth did you get past the goblins?"
She smiled at Fili before turning to look at Dwalin, only to spot Thorin next to him and pin him with a hard glare. Thoring frowned at her angry gaze, not realizing she had heard everything he had said while trying to hide his fear for her. Gandalf noticed her upset and nervousness and tried to gloss the whole thing over.
"Well, what does it matter? She's back."
"It matters. I want to know. Why did you come back?"
Thorin's words froze her in place and stole the breath from her lungs for a moment. She felt her sine stiffen as she sucked in a long breath, staring him down.
"I know you doubt me. I know you always have. And you know what? You're right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my garden. See…that's where I belong. That's home. And that's why I came back. 'Cause…You don't have one. A home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can."
They dwarves all looked cowed and overwhelmed by her generous heart, and those who had spoken against her felt guilty for daring to think such things about her. The look she gave Thorin made him feel as though a vice had clamped around his heart. She looked betrayed, hurt, and angry…and he knew it was his fault.
"As for you…Thorin. I thought you cared for me more than that…but it appears that I was wrong. You still see me as some weak little Hobbit lass, someone who'll turn and run at the first sign of danger. When have I ever given you any indication that I would run and abandon any of you?! When?! Never! I would never run away from anything I have agreed to, let alone run away when people I care about are in danger! How could you think that of me?! When you claimed to care about me?!"
Thorin stepped towards her, arms raised as if to embrace her, but she stepped away from him. Her feet carried her to Gandalf's side, feeling safer with the wizard after his kind words and concern for her safety.
"Gandalf? Thank you…for worrying about me."
"Think nothing of it my dear Belinda. I would never forgive myself if something happened to you and I did nothing to help. I owe you and your mother both for being so kind to me all those years ago."
The sudden howls of wargs coming down the mountain set her teeth on edge and chilled her spine.
"Out of the frying pan."
"And into the fire. Run. Run!"
They took off down the mountain, following Gandalf. Night began to fall as they ran and Belina knew they'd never make it down in time. One of the creatures leapt over a rock and landed in front of her, making her gasp in fright. She held her tiny sword in front of her as it charged her, impaling its own head on her blade. She struggled to pull her sword out, her strength not nearly enough to manage it. She used her feet for leverage and finally got it free only to find that the rest of the company was gone and more wargs were charging down the mountain at her.
"Belinda! Up here! Hurry!"
She reached for the hand that was offered and let herself be pulled up before climbing behind her recuer, and just in time too as the wargs surrounded the trees. They snapped and jumped at them, pulling off branches and nearly reaching some of them. The sight of the pale orc on a white warg, followed by Thorin's horrified mention of the thing's name, made her heart seize in fear.
She didn't know what the orc was saying, but Thorin seemed to and he clearly didn't like it. Thorin's whispered words were carried to her by the breeze and, despite her hurt and anger, she felt her heart ache for the pain she could hear in his voice.
"It cannot be."
The orc poke again and the wargs attacked en mass, determined to reach them. The tree Belinda was in began to fall and she panicked. As the others jumped she followed, leaping from one tree to the next as they all fell until the whole company was trapped beneath Gandalf in one tree. She looked up at Thorin who was just above her, meeting his eyes with her own wide in fright. His gaze softened as he saw her and he whispered softly to her that it would all be alright somehow…she had no idea how he could think that, but the words calmed her slightly none the less. A flaming pinecone flew down into the wargs and Belinda looked up in shock as Gandalf lit more of them, tossing them down to the dwarves who threw them at the wargs. A barrier of flame was created between them and the wargs, but their celebration was short-lived as their remaining tree fell sideways. It was barely hanging on by its roots and many of them would fall soon. The thud of boots next to her head made Belinda look up in fear. Thorin marched across the tree and ran at Azog through the flames, much to Belinda's horror. She screamed when the orc hit him in the chest with its mace, her screams echoed by several of the dwarves. She struggled to get up onto the trunk of the tree, walking carefully across to the ground. She whimpered as the warg grabbed Thorin in its jaws and threw him onto a rock. When another orc moved towards him and prepared to remove his head she reacted on pure instinct, throwing herself at the creature and stabbing it repeatedly until it stopped moving. Thorin watched in shock as she took her first life while defending him, feeling his admiration for her grow before he passed out. Belinda stood between him and the advancing orcs, prepared to fight until she was killed if it meant keeping him safe. Several members of the company rushed in to help her, slashing at the orcs and wargs. She noticed Dwalin, Fili, and Kili at the front and felt hope well up from within her. She slashed at the face of a warg that charged her and then tried to hit the orc on its back only to be thrust into the snout of the white one and thrown back. The pale orc advanced on her, looking utterly terrifying to her eyes. His words though, those were what sent terror racing through her blood.
"So…the dwarf king has himself a little pet now? I think I'll take you…keep you as a prize of victory. You won't last long…but I can still have some fun with you…small as you are."
She felt herself shaking as she struggled to back away from him, trying to get to Thorin so that she could check on him. She had to know if he was alright. A screeching sound met her ears and she watched in shock, and no small amount of awe, as gigantic eagles swept down from the sky and attacked the wargs and their riders. She noticed them start to pick up the dwarves and drop them over the sides as well and began to cry softly, thinking that her friends were being killed. When one of them came down behind her and gently scooped Thorin into it's massive claws she started screaming at it.
"No! Please…don't hurt him…leave him alone! Please?! Stop! Don't!"
Gandalf could hear her cries even over the din of battle, feeling bad for making her fear. He wished he could reassure her but it would be pointless to try as she could not hear him. Another eagle came in and lifted her before dropping her onto the back of another eagle where she held on for dear life. Fili's cry of Thorin's name had her heart leaping into her throat, and then sinking into the depths of her stomach when Thorin didn't even move in response.
"Please…please let him be okay? If anyone can hear me please spare him…"
When they crested a mountain and the sunrise lit up the valley below her mouth dropped open in sheer wonder. It was a breathtaking sight, but her fear for Thorin made it difficult to appreciate the beauty for long. The eagle holding Thorin gently let him down on a tall outcrop of rock where he laid motionless. Gandalf was the next to be dropped off and he rushed to Thorin's side. For whatever reason Belinda's eagle let her off next, though she could have sworn it told her to 'be strong and have faith in the wizard' before it left. She stood back a bit as everyone else landed and stood around Thorin. She was afraid to get any closer, afraid to see someone else she loved die as her parents had. Tears were falling gently down her cheeks and she didn't even realize it, so focused was she on Thorin's still form. When he finally opened his eyes and gasped for breath she felt her own rush out of her lungs in relief.
"The Halfling? Belinda?"
She heard the worry in his voice and felt her heart constrict yet again as Gandalf rushed to reassure him.
"It's alright. Belinda is here. She's quite safe."
That wasn't strictly true as she had more bruises than she cared to try and count and several ribs felt as if they were simply gone, but she was alive and in one piece so she supposed that counted to something. Thorin struggled to stand but pushed Dwalin away when he tried to help, stomping towards Belinda with an angry look on his face that made her flinch back a step.
"You! What were you doing? You nearly got yourself killed!"
"Saving your arse if you'll care to remember Thorin Oakenshield!"
"Did I not say that you would be a burden? That you would not survive in the wild? That you had no place amongst us?"
She felt her heart breaking all over again as she looked down at her feet, until his tone of voice changed and he pulled her into a crushing hug.
"I have never been so wrong in all my life."
She wrapped her arms around him as much as she could while he whispered softly into her hair, ignoring the cheering of the other dwarves.
"Belinda…I am so relieved that you are safe. I felt helpless as you defended me and I could not protect you. I love you Belinda. I truly do. You are worth more than you could ever know my little jewel."
He pulled back when she hissed through her teeth in pain, looking at her with worry.
"Are you hurt Belinda?"
"I'll be all right. Just some bruises and little cuts is all…that and I think a couple of my ribs abandoned me at some point in the fighting."
"I am sorry I doubted you."
"No, I would have doubted me too. I'm not a hero, or a warrior, not even a burglar."
As the eagles flew around them one last time she could have sworn she heard that same voice again saying 'farewell little one, may you find your happiness'. She looked at Gandalf in confusion and he winked at her, making her chuckle softly as she realized he could hear them too. She looked up as Thorin's face shifted into one of longing, and her head turned to follow his line of sight.
"Is that…what I think it is?"
"Erebor…The Lonely Mountain…The last of the great Dwarf kingdoms of Middle-Earth."
Belinda smiled softly at Thorin as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his side. A bird flew past them and she smiled even more.
"A raven! The birds are returning to the mountain."
"That, my dear Oin, is a thrush."
"But we'll take it as a sign. A good omen."
Thorin gave Belinda a soft look and she nodded happily.
"You're right. I do believe the worst is behind us."
She would come to realize how wrong those words were, but for now the company was at peace and relatively safe.