10: And No Great Mischief…
Such a night it had been! Harp-song, and mead and feasting; his betrayer disgraced; the Man grovellingly apologetic; Dáin wrong-footed; the Elven King smirking while weighing his opportunities. Above all, his sister's proud laughter ringing out, and the Arkenstone at last in his own hand… A rare dream, thought Thorin Thráin's-son Thrór's-son, blinking and yawning himself awake.
Then, as he stretched his arms and felt the dragging scars across his chest and shoulders, he felt, too, the weight of the leather pouch on the cord around his neck.
No dream, then…
He cradled the Arkenstone in his hand: the cold, polished surface belied the fires that blazed in its depths.
No, not a dream.
After so many years: so many hardships, so many deaths; so much pain and grief… If he smiled to himself, it was somewhat bitterly.
He washed, and put on clean linen. He called for one of his grandsire's robes – not the patched silks of last night, but a long tunic of deep blue wool, edged with bands worked in gold. It was in a better state of repair than the silk: the heat and odour of dragon-breath had kept it free of moths in the stone coffer where it had lain for more than a century and a half. He pinned the opening with a lapis lazuli brooch, that rested against his collarbone above one of the thick, recent scars.
His beard had grown quite long while his wounds were healing. He had felt little like attending to it then, but now he combed it with an oiled comb, and plaited it into three braids, which he secured with gold clasps. How often he had watched his father and grandfather and other nobles grooming their long hair and beards, the clasps and jewels gleaming in firelight and candlelight, while waiting their turn to take up the harp and sing… All long dead now, in a world that seemed long dead. But it was his duty to make it live again…
"Dori," he said, "pray send your brother Ori to summon the council of Durin's kin. We have much work to do, all of us."
Now to be, at last, the king his people needed: the King Under the Mountain.
Bilbo crouched on the floor of his room. His head and heart were pounding, and there was a foul taste in his mouth. After Gandalf had carried him back from his own quarters, where he had sought refuge, he had spent most of the night throwing up into the pot; now it was almost noon.
"You are sure it was truly Thorin Oakenshield, in life – not his ghost or some work of glamourie?" Gandalf asked.
He nodded. "He was real, I swear. Flesh and blood – though not as much flesh as before, and greyer and longer of beard. I know the sight and voice of him well enough! It was Thorin living and breathing, as I live and breathe!"
"Then you should leave as soon as you can. Whatever they claim about hospitality, Dwarves are as vengeful as they're proud and greedy. They hold fast to their wrongs for generations."
"But how can I get home? Even if the Dwarves spare me, Bard will have me murdered as soon as I set foot on his lands! Besides, I took the Arkenstone as my fourteenth share, which my contract said I should have, to do with as I wished, and if anyone has stolen it, then they've stolen it from me, and should compensate –"
He froze at the sound of footsteps and a tentative knock on the door.
Gandalf gestured to him to stay out of sight, and answered it. It was Ori Snorri's-son, whose meek appearance gave the lie to the Wizard's description of his race. He bore a sealed letter.
"Ah, Ori! What news? I couldn't help but hear from the festivities last night – that your king is recovered: is it so?"
The young Dwarf bowed. "He's much better indeed, Mister Gandalf. But I wasn't expecting to find you here. Where's Bilbo Bungo's-son?"
"Taking the air to clear his head, I believe. What business do you have with him?"
"A message. From the king."
"You may leave it with me."
Ori hesitated, but a stern glance made him hand it over. Gandalf immediately broke the seal.
"But Mister Gandalf, that's for Bilbo, not for –"
The Wizard scanned the words "A command? Not a request?"
"I took it down as the king dictated."
Gandalf snorted. "Very well! I'll see that Bilbo gets it. Thank you, Ori!" And he closed the door hurriedly, revealing the sweating, anxious Hobbit who had been hiding behind it.
"– Bilbo, you must get ready. The King Under the Mountain commands you attend him in his audience chamber."
"N-n-no, I daren't…"
"I think it will be worse if you do not. You've little to fear at a public gathering, given the rules of hospitality."
"You told me that about yesterday's dinner, and look how that turned out!"
"Hmm… I doubt the Elves will trust you with any clothing in future…"
"Don't remind me! – And as for my nerves, well…!"
"You do want your fourteenth share, don't you? Then leave Thorin and Lady Dís to me."
"But you'll be there?"
"I shall speak with them in private."
"Before or after?"
"I think it may be a good idea to wear your mithril shirt – just to be on the safe side, lest Bard…"
Gandalf was being as evasive as usual, Bilbo thought, sighing.
Still, he had signed a contract and, in addition, Thorin had told him he could choose whatever he wanted to make up his share. Surely that counted legally? Or had Smaug told the truth, and the Dwarves had planned to cheat him all along? In his present state of mind, the anecdotes, lore and gossip he had absorbed from boyhood about the race's scheming and greed rose again in his mind. But he told himself that he could prove that he had signed. Balin still had the document, so far as he knew, and Balin was a jolly decent chap (for a Dwarf, at any rate).
They had intimidated him when he was the worse for drink, but not this time. No, not this time… He was a Baggins of Bag End, after all. If only his head and belly were less sore…
The vaulted audience chamber was hot with torches and lanterns and already crowded, mainly with Dwarves. There were a few Tall Folk there, too, summoned back to witness the king's first public engagement since his recovery: Bard – like the Hobbit, still somewhat hungover – had brought his son, attended by several rough-looking guards; Thranduil and Legolas represented the Elves.
The heavy doors opened. A murmur ran through the audience, as it parted to admit the king's council in procession. Bilbo craned his neck to see.
Thorin Oakenshield walked slowly, but unaided, towards the dais, and to the throne draped with the king's mantle. Kingly he looked indeed. His head, beneath the niello Raven Crown, was held high; a brooch of gold and lapis lazuli glinted on his gold-bordered tunic, and gold fastened his braided hair and beard. He had suffered much, yes – his drawn face and the grey in his hair showed as much – but his resolute bearing suggested that this was now past. Behind him came his sister, the hem of her gown glinting and chinking with tin plaques, and heavy silver brooches on her bosom; then their kinsman Dáin of the Iron Hills, crowned and kingly, too, in green; then the Sons of Fundin and the Sons of Gróin. Behind them was Ori, with scroll, ink, pens and sand-box. They sat on chairs flanking the king.
A harper struck up the tune, and many voices took up the song:
"The king is come unto his hall
Under the Mountain dark and tall.
The Worm of Dread is slain and dead,
And ever so our foes shall fall!"
Then, Thorin held up his hand to call for silence.
"Welcome, friends – Dwarves, Men, Elves alike. I am glad at last to be strong enough to be a proper host to you all. Since we cannot convene the althing of the realm until after ice-thaw, when more of our people have returned, for the present, I shall continue to take counsel from my kin, who have served our kingdom while I recovered from my wounds. Balin Fundin's-son Farin's-son, I know you well remember the laws and customs of this kingdom, of old: I name you here as as my law-speaker. Will you serve me thus?"
Balin stood up, and bowed. "It is my honour, sire. I proclaim before all assembled your rights as King Under the Mountain – Thorin, called Eikinskjaldi, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, son of Dáin, son of Náin, son of Óin, son of Glóin, son of Thorin, son of Thráin, son of Náin, son of Durin, who lived six times and was called the Deathless, father of the Longbeards, stone-born son of Mahal of the Hammer, maker of all Khazâd! If any seek to challenge this claim, let him declare himself and lay his case before the althing when the leaves spring again, and Durin's Folk shall consider the right of it."
Thorin's kindred and companions cheered (Bofur tossed his hat into the air), and those of the Iron Hills Dwarves whose families had fled there after Smaug's attack. Dís glanced slyly at Dáin, but he did not speak up. During the morning's meeting, Thorin had given him a gold arm-ring made by their great-grandfather, and they had embraced as brothers. Still, it was hard to trust him.
"My heartfelt thanks, Balin Fundin's-son," said the king. "It is my wish to announce to all assembled here the following decisions of this council of Durin's kin:
"First, that until the worst of the winter is past, and the city of Dale can be made better proof against the wind and snow, any of the Tall Folk who are sick, wounded, aged or children may lodge within this city of Erebor, that they be warm and dry.
"Secondly: that while our people work upon rebuilding our city, they teach their skills to those of the Tall Folk who are able and willing, so that they, too, may learn how to rebuild their own city, and have a means of livelihood."
The Tall Folk applauded – apart from their leader, whose head still throbbed.
"Thirdly: that word be sent to Beorn Skin-Changer, that when he wakes from his winter slumbers, he has the freedom of our lands, to hunt and forage with no harm to his person or gear, in thanks for his valour in saving my life in the field of the Five Armies. He is to be regarded henceforth as an honorary Dwarf."
Dwarves and Tall Folk alike roared with laughter. Bard flinched at the noise.
The king's teeth gleamed white amid the black and silver of his moustache and beard. "Yes, I know, he's much taller than any of us – even Dwalin Fundin's-son – but he's more than hairy enough, I think we can agree! And his courage makes him more than worthy, too!"
"Well said, sire!" agreed Glóin.
Then, more gravely, Thorin turned to Balin: "On the matter of the law: the laws on theft and on treason are known to you?"
"They are, sire. Although I am proud to say that but rarely have they ever been broken by any Khuzd."
Nori, who stood with his older brother in the audience, squirmed.
"The accused today is no Khuzd," said the king. "Let the Halfling called Bilbo Bungo's-son Baggins come forth."
Bilbo glanced nervously this way and that, vainly hoping for a glimpse of Gandalf. He considered using his ring of invisibility, but there were too many people around him to escape discreetly…
"Is Bilbo Bungo's-son here?"
But it was the Wizard who was nowhere to be seen. Resignedly, Bilbo raised his hand. A couple of guards stepped in behind him and jostled him forward towards the king.
Thorin stared bleakly, but not, at first, at his face. He was looking at the fine-wrought, glimmering mithril byrnie the Hobbit wore over his clothes. His features tensed, as if in pain, at what seemed to him a two-fold insult: a sign both of trust betrayed and of mistrust for Dwarven hospitality.
"Bilbo Bungo's-son – Master Baggins, of Bag End – once I welcomed you to these halls as my sword-brother. But you chose to forfeit my goodwill by breaking faith with me and with all of Durin's Folk. You took and kept the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain, and by deceit traded it to foes who were ready to attack us. What say you to this?"
Bilbo shuffled his hairy feet. "I… erm… Yes, I did, but… I had good reason."
"The same as yours. I–I wanted to go home. It was time. I'd done my best, which wasn't… well, it wasn't appreciated, was it?"
"And 'your best' was to betray your sworn brethren on the eve of battle?"
"Well, you were making such a lot of nonsensical fuss about honour! Just because the Elvish army… I mean, there was no need for all this unpleasantness over – over a piece of jewellery!" It was easy to dismiss it thus when it was not before his eyes, and he blustered to hide his fear. "Totally unreasonable! – I mean, that sort of thing isn't done in the Shire!"
All the lords – and the lady – of Durin's blood muttered, shaking heads so that the clasps in their beards and hair rattled and clinked. Simultaneously, Thranduil and Legolas each raised an elegant eyebrow.
"Besides, the stone was mine! To do with as I pleased – just as you said! So I did! I gave it to Bard!"
A silence heavy as granite descended upon the room. It was Balin who broke it, as law-speaker. "The Heart of the Mountain is the jewel of the House of Durin; it never has been, is not, and never shall be, lawfully in the hands of Tall Folk or Shire Folk."
The king nodded solemnly.
"But you said I could choose whatever I wanted, and do with it what I wanted, so I did. I chose the Arkenstone. Punish me if you will, but that was what you promised. If anyone's broken his word, sire, then y-you…" Bilbo's voice trailed off.
"You were also told of the Arkenstone's importance, and that it was to be delivered to me. Did I need to make it any clearer than that?"
"But whatever I wanted…"
"Obviously did not include the Arkenstone, because you had been ordered expressly to give it to me." Thorin sighed. "I'm not sure which is worse: whether you're truly a fool, or whether you merely play the fool to serve your own cause. I'm inclined to the latter, since you told Bard… Bard Dragon's-Bane, what were the Halfling's words to you?"
Bard cleared his throat and spoke up, wincing at the loudness of his own voice: "He said it was the Heart of the Mountain and the heart of Thorin. He knew the wrong he did."
"I didn't want to be in a siege or a battle! It wasn't my battle!"
Thorin looked down his nose at him. "Our past battles had been yours."
"Yes, but – but this wasn't fair! I could hear the Elves making merry, drinking and feasting… It wasn't fair, when all we had was cram. I was fed up of it…"
"Weren't we all?" someone shouted from the audience. It was Bombur. He had more sympathy for Bilbo than anyone else on the matter of food, but even so… He might have been tempted, but he would not have abandoned his companions, his king.
"Ham and eggs… I dreamed of ham and eggs. And my armchair at the fireside, and a pipe of Old Toby… You'd got your home back, sire – with my help. I wanted to return to mine: what's wrong with that?"
Thorin spoke with a quiet sorrow far more chilling than the fury he had once displayed at the Front Gate: "Had you stolen the Raven Crown of Durin the Deathless, worn by all kings of his line, I could have found it in my heart to forgive you. Had you stolen the golden cup of my grandsire, with the ravens whose eyes are set with rubies – for that, too, I could have forgiven you. If you had stolen any of the swords or axes wielded by my ancestors, that hang in the Armoury of the Kings – still I could have forgiven you."
He took the Arkenstone from its leather pouch, and turned it over in his fingers. Some of the audience, who had never seen it before, gasped as it fired in the light of the room's lanterns and torches. "But you stole, instead, the Heart of the Mountain: the jewel of Thráin Náin's-son Durin's-son, first King Under the Mountain, that my grandsire saved from the ruin of Ered Mithrin and brought home to Erebor. You withheld it, in full knowledge that you were oath-bound to deliver it to me.
"Instead, you gave it to one who brought to these gates the army of the very Elven King who'd lately held us captive. You also betrayed news of my kinsman Dáin Náin's-son's approach, with his five hundred axes from the Iron Hills. Tell me, Bilbo: what welcome did you think the Tall Folk planned for them?"
Bilbo bowed his head and mumbled.
"Speak! Ori Snorri's-son needs to hear your answer, so that it may be recorded."
"I-I don't know… The Orcs and Goblins came, so what does it matter?"
"If the Orcs had not come – did it not occur to you that you were setting a trap, where they'd be slaughtered?"
"But – but people don't do that sort of thing, do they? Not the Elves, surely…" He glanced at Thranduil, expecting confirmation; but the king was smirking.
"My own sister was riding with Dáin's army. She stands before you here. You must know, some of the Tall Folk foully abused women in the rout – crimes that Bard Dragon's-Bane has agreed to prosecute. – Is that not so?"
"It is," Bard called out. "You'll have their heads. This I swear."
Thorin continued: "You would have led my kinsman and his war-band to their deaths. You would have let my sister fall into the hands of the scum of Laketown's wharves. What do you say to that?"
Bilbo glanced up – and met the gaze of Dáin Ironfoot and of Dís Thráin's-daughter, Lady of Erebor. Both were implacable.
"I didn't think –" he began.
"That's a lie. You thought. But your thoughts were of greed and cowardice. You thought you could get away with your crimes. By your own confession, you are a thief, an oath-breaker, and a traitor, and so worthy of the heaviest punishment."
"But Thorin – sire – when you lay wounded in Dale – dying, we all thought – d-didn't you said you took back what you said at the Gate? Trying to throw me –?"
"Aye," said the king. "And I spoke true, for to slay you would be to do you too much honour. Death is for men of courage: you'd scream like a babe at the Blood-Raven's first cut! No. Better far that you should live with the shame of your deeds."
"But – but I saved your life – more than once – against Wargs and Orcs and Goblins; against the spiders… It was I who stole the key to King Thranduil's prison, and then there was the business with the barrels… You wouldn't be sitting here but for me!"
Thorin looked down at him as if he were an idiot. "Do you not understand that makes it ten thousand times worse? That you'd sworn yourself to our cause; that you'd shared our dangers; that you'd eaten cram with my men; that you'd drunk mead with us, and drawn sword with us. I had not trusted you at first – indeed, but for Tharkûn Grey-Wizard's scheming, I'd never have employed you on our quest – but I had come to trust you as a sword-brother. My kin, my people trusted you. And yet how you repaid us!"
To Bilbo, this made little sense. If the king was unwilling to take into consideration his previous good behaviour, well, really… He summoned all his courage: "But what about my contract, sire?"
"I signed a contract, and you signed it, too: a fourteenth share of the treasure is mine. I thought I was just taking what was mine, and even if I got that wrong, then you still owe me…"
"Balin Fundin's-son, remind him of the law on contracts…"
Balin bowed. "If one party has broken his obligations, then the contract is no longer binding. I'm sorry, Bilbo, but you should know that."
The king nodded. "Exactly. The terms are void, Bilbo Bungo's-son. It was not I who broke my word to you."
"Ha! Smaug warned me that Dwarves weren't to be trusted, that you'd find ways to cheat me! I don't think you ever meant –"
"Smaug wanted to corrupt you: I'd say he did his work well. Is that why you betrayed the people of Laketown to him? Is that why you betrayed our fellowship, and my kin, to the Tall Folk?"
Bilbo felt for the pocket of his waistcoat beneath his mail. Just knowing the ring was there reassured him…
The king rose to his feet. "Kneel!" He held the Arkenstone aloft as he spoke: "I, Thorin Thráin's-son Thrór's-son, Eikinskjaldi, King Under the Mountain, pronounce judgement upon you, Bilbo Bungo's-son Baggins, Spiders'-Bane and…" He paused, and uttered the next epithet with all the contempt he could muster: "Barrel-rider. I banish you for the rest of your life from the city and territories of Erebor, and from every land of Durin's Folk.
"Take with you your sword, and the gemstones my sister gave you at dinner yesterday. The mithril byrnie you wear – that byrnie, above all, with its jewelled belt, was my gift to you, given in good faith, for all your past loyalty – given even while you were betraying me, and had the Arkenstone in your keeping. It is worth a kingdom. Remember that well whenever you wear it. Remember, too, that it kept you unscathed in battle, even as better warriors fell; even as my sister's-sons fell in the shield-wall beside me, and mixed their blood with mine."
Bilbo gulped. More than any of the king's words, this struck hard. He saw the boys' faces, pale in death, on their bier – accusatory…
Dís, wordless, placed her hand on her brother's arm.
He went on: "Go back to your Shire, Bilbo Bungo's-son. I swear upon the Heart of the Mountain that you'll not be harmed leaving my lands, but I can make no promises for the Tall Folk, Men or Elves; especially not for the Men, Barrel-rider. And don't think of looking back, nor of returning. I'll not be merciful a second time."
Bilbo began to stammer.
"Speak up!" said the king.
"Th-thank you, sire…"
"For not killing me. I think."
Thorin smiled sadly. "As I have said: let life be your punishment. A long life, I hope. You will think of these days, in years to come; you will remember, and if ever you learn any notion of honour, you will learn shame. That is all I have to say. Now go."
He gave a nod, and Bilbo understood that it was over. He stood up, and bowed. At least he still had his head; and his armour; and, deep in his pocket, a plain golden ring…
Dwalin stepped down from the dais and grimly escorted him to the door.
So ended the dealings between Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Thráin's-son Thrór's-son, the King Under the Mountain.
Before Balin adjourned the meeting, there were announcements about the governance of the kingdom, and the rebuilding; the repairs to the forges so that trade could begin again with the Iron Hills and the Woodland Realm.
Bard, by now feeling more himself, strode across to speak to the king as he made to leave. "Thorin – sire – you do my people honour with this offer of shelter! If it had been made sooner –"
"It would have been," he said, "had you not brought an army to my gates! – But that's no matter now. There are still months of winter ahead, and much work to be done, for your realm as for mine."
"But what first? The defences of Dale? Repairing my palace? A new road to the lake?"
"The drains," the Dwarf said bluntly.
"Aye. You must mend the stone sewers before the ice-thaw. Your people will be dropping like flies from fever and dysentery otherwise. And there's the matter of where the ice goes when it melts: a risk of flooding."
Bard looked disappointed. "It's not very… glorious, is it?"
"Ruling mostly isn't. It's not all fighting Orcs or slaying dragons! Drains and taxes, the price of bread and ale – that's the main business of it."
The Man sighed. "But still…"
"Well, you wanted to be king." Thorin smiled. "You'll get used to it. I was raised to it, and even now, I – Well, my kingdom's near as derelict as yours, my people still mostly in exile, and yet it falls to me and my kin to make it work. And that is what we must do, and will do."
Dís left them to talk. It was a good sign for the future: Erebor and Dale, once more on neighbourly terms. She would never like Bard – a crude and ruthless opportunist, she thought – but they would need to co-operate to get through the winter and to rebuild. With luck, Thorin might even be a civilising influence. She walked alone back to the Forge House, to wait for him.
She turned the key, and entered. Something felt wrong. The rooms, the house had been locked, and yet she sensed a presence. She went up the rock-hewn stairs to the king's chambers. As she opened the door, the scent of burning pipe-weed filled her nostrils.
He was seated at the table on which the chess and King's-Table boards stood. He was examining the pieces in his long, gnarled fingers. Very tall; grey of mantle and of beard.
"Ah – my lady! It was your brother I was expecting! Is he well?"
"Well enough to be discussing sewers with the new King of Dale! What do you want, Tharkûn Grey-Wizard?"
He paused, then, picking up a chess-piece It was the white queen, fashioned from oliphaunt ivory, her chin resting on her hand, her hair in long braids down her back. "Do you play?"
"Not so well as you," she said. "What do you want?"
"I must speak with your brother."
"Anything you wish to say to him, say to me."
"Very well. Dís Thráin's-daughter, you and your brother had no right to humiliate Bilbo!"
"We'd every right. He's a thief, a liar, a traitor. He – and you – shamed my brother. You sought my brother's death."
"When did I do that, my lady? I've no recollection of it." As so often, how reasonable he sounded – and how disingenuous.
"You insulted him before his own men and his enemies. What did that leave him but death?"
"He was going to kill Bilbo."
"My sorrow he did not!"
"But your brother repented his words! He asked Bilbo's forgiveness: I was there."
"Yes," she hissed. "You were there. And so was I. When I stepped into that tent, you were there – watching my brother die, letting him die, doing nothing. It should have been Bilbo Bungo's-son begging his forgiveness, not t'other way around! And for what? Bilbo wronged him; he wronged all our people. The Arkenstone was not his to keep, nor his to dispose of – he knew what it meant to Thorin, and to our people! You always make excuses for him. Why?"
She heard a faint rustle – perhaps of a wall-hanging (or perhaps a garment brushing a stair). The Wizard moved his hand to an amber warrior, gnawing his shield.
"Is that all any of this is to you? A game of King's-Table? A game of chess?"
"It is no game."
"– Yet we Dwarves are your pawns."
"There is far more at stake in this world than the fate of your king and your kingdom, my lady."
"That's as may be," she said, "but our kingdom is all we have. And my brother is all I have – now."
"I'm sorry for your sons' deaths. They fell nobly: a credit to your house."
"I expected no less of them, though I'd hoped it would not be so soon; that they would give me grandbairns; that the future of our house would be secure.
"But then, you goaded my brother: you slandered his honour. Durin's gilded byrnie was made for ceremony, not for war: he might as well have fought as naked as a berserkir… Battle's a fine cloak for murder, is it not?"
"You don't know what you're saying!"
"You're either bold or mad, Dís Thráin's-daughter, to speak so to me."
In the corner of her eye, she noticed the mirror on the wall. "I'm not afraid of you."
"You should be."
She shook her head. "You saw my lads on their bier, didn't you?" she said. "How noble they looked in their armour! Handsome as ever… But the sword-arm we buried with Fíli wasn't his: that was hacked off by an axe, at the shoulder – hacked to bits. Took the side of his chest with it. And Kíli – the embalmer didn't need to gut him: a spear had done the job already…
"I have had my hands in my own bairns' lights and guts, Tharkûn Grey-Wizard. And I held my brother as a spearhead was cut from his breast, thinking I might lose him, too, the same way I lost our other brother – choked by his own blood… All over my hands, my gown, red as garnet…
"I have been soaked in the blood of all of Durin's Heirs. I've seen near everyone I loved sent to the grave by flame or blade. And you think you can frighten me?" She laughed. "The worst you can do is kill me, and I hold my own life but lightly these days!"
"So there is still madness in the House of Durin…" Gandalf said coolly. "Yes. I see it in your eyes, as it was in your brother's, your father's, your grandfather's… As it would have been in your sons' if they'd liv–"
"Enough!" A man's voice, deep and a little breathless, interrupted. "Enough! You should show more respect for my sister under our roof, Gandalf-Tharkûn!"
The Wizard turned. His eyes widened in shock, then he composed himself. He feigned a smile, and bowed. "Thorin Oakenshield! Well, well! You appear much recovered from when last I saw you! Quite hale and hearty!"
"With no help from you."
"That is not a friendly greeting!"
"When were you ever truly my friend? – You call my sister 'mad', you call all our bloodline 'mad': that, I think, is not 'friendly'. I remember overhearing you talk with Elrond of Rivendell… Who was it first planted in his mind the tale of madness in the Sons of Durin?"
"Lord Elrond formed his own opinion. He usually does."
"Not unaided. Was it Thranduil, or was it you?"
"I was trying to reassure him. But it must be admitted that, at times, your grandfather and your father's conduct –"
"Too much grief is not a disease in the blood: I know that now. I have borne enough of it myself, and live, despite it."
Gandalf looked him up and down. "Well, I must admit you do seem calmer than you did…"
"An Elven army on the threshold's not something to take calmly. Nor was your burglar's betrayal."
"My finding him enabled your quest!"
"You foisted him on me. I let you overrule my judgement, and he proved false! – And again and again, you abandoned my company in time of need. Then you sided with the Tall Folk against me, and spoiled my name before Elves and Men and Dwarves alike. You knew there was only one way to right that wrong: with my own life and honour!"
"I couldn't let you throw Bilbo from the Gate!"
"Why not? For what he'd done, he'd earned the Blood-Raven, save that's more fitting for heroes! Why did you not make him return the Arkenstone? You could have done that! Why did you not make Thranduil stand down his army? Why did you not tell Bard –?"
Gandalf drew slowly on his pipe, and did not answer.
"And then, when I lay wounded, you were going to let me die. What 'friend' does that, Gandalf-Tharkûn?"
"You are cruel."
"Cruel?" Thorin chuckled. "I spent that night with Laketown barber-surgeons cutting and burning my flesh! I'd not even trust them for a haircut, but you –you're a Wizard – a worker of spells, a healer. And you told me to prepare for death; to be reconciled with Bilbo Bungo's-son; to apologise to him, though he it was who had done the wrong. You wanted me dead – but you wanted my pride broken first."
"It was I who made you king! I gave you the map – the key – from your father."
"And how long had you kept them? And how can I be sure you didn't kill him for them?"
"That's unworthy and ungrateful!"
"Is it? Don't lecture me, or my sister, on gratitude or worth!"
"I warned you, Thorin; I prophesied that your pride would bring you to ruin; that you'd fall even with your hands full of gold."
"Better a ruinous pride than none; better an excess of honour than too little. That I'm alive at all is thanks to Beorn Skin-Changer, then to my sister and Óin and Högni, who tended my wounds. But it's pride and honour that gave me strength, for the sake of my family and for my people. My pride saved me. You'd have talked me into a tomb alongside my nephews, and raised up Dáin Náin's-son on my men's shields! Why did you want me dead? Was I no longer useful?"
The Wizard put his hands to his head. "An old evil, an old foe is stirring again. There needs to be a strong and united North."
"And do you not think my people can be a part of it?"
"Your people, yes – but I feared that you… I cannot afford the risk of unreliability."
"That is not a word to use of any Khuzd."
"With hatred between yourself and Bard and Thranduil, there was too much at stake!"
"And whose doing was that? They came in arms, making threats, laying siege, when my company – a mere dozen – had scarce set foot again in our own halls! And then the Arkenstone… You could have stopped it, had you not made such a pet of your Shire-rat. Now, at least, we have a chance of peace, but with no thanks to you or the Halfling, and at a heavy price to my kin!"
"I meant what I told your sister: I regret her sons' deaths. I respect the courage of the Dwarves."
Dís muttered a few choice swear-words in Khuzdûl.
The Wizard continued: "But Rivendell and Lorien will face grave danger, as will Gondor. They must not fall. I know your people have a great resistance to evil, Thorin. You cannot be enslaved by it. You're brave – none braver in battle – hardy, intrepid; used to rough country and hard fighting…"
"– And no great mischief if we fall?"
Gandalf winced, because it was true.
"Why?" asked Dís. "Why must the Khazâd always be sacrificed for the Elves and other Tall Folk? You hold their lives dearer than ours? Why?"
Gandalf's expression conveyed more than words, and Thorin read its meaning. "Because we are not Eru Ilúvatar's Children."
"It's… not quite that simple."
"It is that simple," the lady said. "Our lives are deemed of lesser worth because we're not of Eru's making. Tell me, is that Eru's will, or yours?"
"You Dwarves dare question the All-Father?"
"I question anyone and anything who treats my people as expendable," said the king. "If war is to come again, then aye, I want to see strong, united North – for our sake, not merely for the Elves of Lorien or the Men of Gondor. You should have trusted me. And you should not have defended a thief and a traitor."
"You should not argue with a Wizard. As I prophesied –"
Thorin cut in: "No. No more of your prophecies. This is my prophecy – not a curse – a prophecy, for you: one day, you will see. One day, you will know what it is to be betrayed by a friend – by a sworn brother. And then, by all the gods, you will understand! And you will avenge my forefathers, at no small cost. Then – and only then – can you call yourself a 'friend' of the Khazâd!"
The muscles of Gandalf's face worked with suppressed anger. "And what have you done with Bilbo?"
"He's banished. He's not worth blunting a blade on."
"Then I will go with him," said Gandalf, "to ensure that no harm befalls him."
"He'll be not be touched in my lands. In those of Bard Dragon's-Bane and of the Elves of Mirkwood, he'll need to take care – but that is his own doing, through his own misdeeds."
"Hmph!" snorted the Wizard. He stalked out, and slammed the door behind him.
Thorin slumped down in his chair: his stamina was not yet all it had been in health.
"Many thanks, brother," Dís said. "I heard you come in; I'm only sorry you had to hear what I said about my boys…"
He shook his head. "I can remember more now. I see it, at night… But I'm glad I came in when I did. Glad to be rid of him and the Hobbit…"
She put an arm around his shoulders. "So what will we do now?"
He gave a weary smile. "Well, Bard's following me like a puppy – Funniest thing you've seen! Guilt, I think! You should have seen his face when I brought him down to earth with all his fancy plans! If – for the winter – more of his sick or old folk, or bairns, come into Erebor, that'll leave the fitter ones to start work on Dale, whenever the weather lets them. Our people can train them. They've grown unused to working stone, through living on the Lake."
"They'll have to mind their heads on the lintels!"
Dís laughed, then paused, wistful again. "The children, you say?"
"Aye. It'll do you good. Well, I don't need so much looking after now, do I?"
"You're my brother; you always will – until I can get you safely married!"
"To whom? Some wide-eyed, wide-hipped damsel from the Iron Hills, to keep Dáin happy?"
She shook her head. "When half the women in Ered Luin would have you gladly – or your title, at least? Trust me, Thorin; when the leaves are sprung again, and our folk return…"
To be continued
The chapter title comes from James Wolfe: "I should imagine that two or three independent Highland companies might be of use; they are hardy, intrepid, accustom'd to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall. How can you better employ a secret enemy than by making his end conducive to the common good?" It seems to me this is Gandalf's (and Tolkien's) view of Dwarves… See The Quest of Erebor in The Unfinished Tales, which adds to the nasty taste left by the ending of The Hobbit.
Blood-Raven: the Norse called this elaborately brutal ritual execution the 'Blood-Eagle', but given the significance of ravens in Erebor's culture, I imagine they call it after their totem bird.
(Thanks to syntinen for her suggestions to make this more effective!)