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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 12B

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 12: Nu'sasekh
Pairings: Mostly Platonic Kíli/Fíli, Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli, Dwalin/Ori, Dwalin/Nori, Bilbo/Thorin, minor and background pairings
Rating/Warnings: None for this part unless you count canon injuries and more pining
Word Count: 11362 total (66,649 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more threesomes.
Summary: Fíli and Kíli have spent decades searching for the last piece of their hearts, but meeting Bilbo is just the beginning of the tale.  Because hobbits believe in love, not destiny and someone else catches their burglar's eye.

Chapter 1: Ze'                           Chapter 6: Ges                 Chapter 11: Ze'sasekh
Chapter 2: Nu'                           Chapter 7: Haded             Chapter 12: Nu'sasekh
Chapter 3: Gem                        Chapter 8: Gimon
Chapter 4: Ramekh                   Chapter 9: Tager
Chapter 5: Gamekh                  Chapter 10: Sasekh


The dwarf is obsessed with finding the Arkenstone and will speak of nothing else, even when he and the hobbit are alone. Truthfully, Thorin speaks of the gem much as he used to speak to Bilbo, his language that of a lover yearning to be one.

The hobbit never thought that he would be jealous of a gemstone, but he's feeling rather jealous now. Jealous and worried because Thorin's obsession with the Arkenstone too closely mirrors the warning Smaug gave Bilbo when he first woke within the mountain. Smaug had laughed as he spoke of the gemstone, saying that it would breed corruption, greed, and hate within the dwarf lord's heart. The dragon said that Thorin did not care about the hobbit, that he did not value Bilbo's life, and while the burglar does not wish to believe it, he has seen fixation grow behind the dwarf lord's eyes.

Although Bilbo has forgiven Thorin for threatening him once, his beloved driven to unkindness by despair and desperation, he doesn't know what he will do if the dwarf lord does not change.

He wants to see the old spark in his beloved's eyes but Thorin barely seems to notice when his company is reunited. The dwarf lord greets his younger sister-son with an absent wave even as the rest of his companions gather around their missing kin excitedly. He doesn't appear to care that Kíli has cheated death twice over, once for the dragon and once for his injury.

Instead, it is Dwalin who asks the question on his companions' minds. “How did you survive? We saw Smaug attack Laketown and feared the worst. Who struck the dragon down? And how did you escape with your wound? I did not think to see you looking so hearty now.”

“There was an elfine,” Kíli admits sheepishly. “She healed me, though I still do not know why. As for the dragon...”

The archer trails off, looking at Bofur and Óin to see if one of them will step in to tell the tale. Kíli will do it if he has to, but it would be a bit improper and Thorin looks unhappy enough to worry him. If his uncle is not in a generous mood, boasting of his own triumphs could ruin the prince's chance of winning his needed boon.

So Kíli is thankful when Bofur steps forward, the other dwarf taking up the story before the pause can last too long.

“Kíli slew Smaug with a Black Arrow that Bard kept hidden in his rafters,” the miner says, clapping the archer on the shoulder with a wide grin. “Our prince climbed the Master's manor and set this arrow to the wind-lance of Lord Girion, standing his ground against Smaug's fire and fury until he had a clear shot. There was only one arrow and thus one chance to save us, but his hands were steady and his aim was true. The Black Arrow pierced the fire drake deep in his breast as he charged Kíli's position and when the dust had settled, our foe breathed no more.”

There is a moment of silence when Bofur finishes, most of Thorin's company staring at Kíli with no small bit of shock. Although the other dwarves have always known that the archer and his brother are fine warriors, they still tend to see the princes more as dwarrowlings than peers. After all, Kíli isn't even of age yet and if Fíli had not been his amrâbulnas, Dís would likely have kept him safe at home.

Yet despite his youth, their prince has killed the dragon, the creature that the company's best efforts had barely damaged, and his deed will be remembered in the halls of their kindred until the last days of Mahal's song.

“Truly, my sister-son?” Thorin asks, Bofur's recitation having pierced his gilded fog. “The beast is dead and by your hand?”

“Yes, uncle. Though I could not have done it without the weapon of our forefathers and Mahal's grace to guide my shot,” Kíli replies before reaching into the sling upon his back and pulling out one of the dragon's teeth. “Please take this as a token of my battle, a piece of our enemy to guard these fabled halls.”

“A fine gift, Kíli. A fine gift indeed,” his uncle says, holding the tooth up to the light. “We shall have to return to Laketown as soon as possible to retrieve the dragon's corpse.”

The prince winces at the possessiveness in Thorin's voice, realizing that he might have been mistaken when he assumed that his uncle would understand his gift to Laketown. But Kíli could hardly have labeled Smaug's body the property of Thorin Oakenshield and hopefully Bard will offer Thorin one of the wyrm's legs as the archer had suggested. The dwarf lord would have to see reason then and the prince quickly decides that he's not going to mention what he did until he has to. Indeed, Kíli is glad he held his tongue when Thorin speaks again.

“You have done this kingdom a great service and brought honor to your blood,” the dwarf lord tells him proudly. “When the Arkenstone has been found and I am the true King beneath the Mountain, you shall be rewarded as your bravery deserves. Anything that is in my power to grant, just ask and it is yours.”

“Thank you, uncle,” Kíli replies with a deep bow, elation sweeping through him at Thorin's promised gift. This is why he and Fíli left the Blue Mountains, to earn the boon that will allow them to court their hobbit as Mahal had intended when he gave them their karrash.

So the archer stashes the remainder of Smaug's teeth in an alcove near the entrance and then throws himself into the search for the Arkenstone. Fíli and many of their allies join Kíli's hunt with fervor almost equal to Thorin's, their hearts thrumming with anticipation now that the dreams of a lifetime are almost close enough to touch. Yet their efforts are in vain because the Arkenstone remains hidden and only Bilbo knows that Thorin and his companions are looking in the wrong place.

The burglar had found the Arkenstone before Smaug chased him from the mountain and while he did not manage to grab it during his flight, he remembers exactly where he saw the gemstone last. The Arkenstone is on the other side of Erebor's massive treasure chamber from where his companions have been searching and the hobbit is certain that he could find it within an hour easily.

However, Bilbo isn't sure whether he should recover the Arkenstone even though Thorin's desperation makes his heart ache painfully. But the dwarf lord's obsession only seems to be growing stronger with every hour that slips by.

Indeed, Thorin cannot even be bothered to care about such things as sustenance and it is Dori and Bombur who realize that the food they brought won't last. The dwarf lord's companions are the ones who search out the mountain's storerooms, discovering to their delight that Smaug left the majority of Azsâlul'abad's vast stores untouched. They bring this news back to their friends with much rejoicing even as their leader continues to mutter about the Arkenstone.

After one of Thorin's more paranoid rants, Bilbo seeks out Balin to ask for his advice. He finds the old dwarf fighting back tears in the library and the hobbit's worst fears are confirmed when Balin tells him that the Arkenstone is better lost for good.

“The stone crowns all; it is the symbol of the king’s power and our people’s fealty, and I fear that Thorin will only grow worse if we find it,” the old dwarf says quietly. “You have seen the way he looks upon the mountain, the way he looks upon you, and that is not the king I swore to follow. That is not a leader who will bring us peace.”

There is truth in Balin's words but his advice is difficult for the burglar to follow when his companions' desperation seems to fill the air around him and their smiles grow more strained with every hour that slips by. The hobbit just wants everything to return to the way it was. Bilbo wants Thorin to kiss him like he’s the dwarf lord’s greatest treasure and he wants Fíli and Kíli to smile like they used to at the start.

Honestly, Bilbo just wants everyone to be happy but Erebor seems to have nothing but sorrow in her halls. So eventually the burglar slips away from the others, finding an out-of-the-way alcove and sitting down with a sigh.

He is a hobbit. The worries of kings and lords are as far beyond him as Thorin Oakenshield is beyond a farmer's son. Perhaps it would be better if Bilbo simply returned to the Shire and the green hills where he belongs. As much as he loves Thorin, love cannot solve everything.

A couple must share respect and communication, laughter and compromises, and these have been lacking in his relationship with Thorin for longer than Bilbo wishes to admit. Love, real love, takes work and the hobbit cannot deny a twinge of jealousy at the thought of being chosen by the Valar as Fíli and Kíli are. It must be so much easier to meet someone and know instantly whether you are meant to be together and yet Bilbo does not think he could have trusted that.

Love must be built on more than magic runes and the hobbit had been so sure that he had found love with Thorin Oakenshield. But perhaps the burglar was only dreaming and now it's time to wake.

So Bilbo pulls Beorn's acorn from his pocket, the keepsake that he picked up in the skin-changer's garden, and he tries to tell himself that he would be happy returning to Bag End by himself. He doesn't need anyone else; he survived on his own for years before Thorin and his company turned his life upside-down and anyways, his armchair must be missing him by now.

“What is that in your hand?! Show me!”

The sudden command startles Bilbo. He jumps and nearly drops the acorn, his fingers curling around his prize as he turns to see one furious dwarf lord glaring down at him.

“It's just an acorn, Thorin,” the hobbit says softly before opening his hand. As irritated as the implied accusation makes him, he's learned that answering Thorin's aggression in kind only makes his beloved more irrational. “I picked it up in Beorn's garden before we left his house.”

“That is a poor prize for the great distance that we've traveled. I have far greater treasures to offer you now that the throne is mine,” Thorin replies scornfully and it is all Bilbo can do to stop himself from chucking his acorn right at the dwarf lord's head. But the seed is not to blame for his frustration and he does not wish to damage it.

“Well, I had hoped to plant this acorn near the gates of Erebor as a symbol of our future and a memory of the journey that led us to this place. But it seems that I will more likely be planting it back in Hobbiton instead.”

The bitter defeat in Bilbo's voice slams into Thorin like a hammer and he reels back a step. To hear their future discussed and then dismissed in the same moment is a painful wakeup call and for the first time in days, the dwarf looks at his burglar without shadows in his eyes.

“Bilbo, you wish to leave?” Thorin asks, reaching out to take the hobbit's hand. In this, at least, Bilbo does not deny him, his beloved clutching his fingers as he retorts angrily.

“No, I don't want to leave you. But I will not stay if that means playing second fiddle to a pile of gold coins and the bloody Arkenstone. I love you, Thorin Oakenshield, I truly do and Valar help me for my foolishness. But even though I love you, I cannot live with the stranger who stands before me now.”

Thorin does not truly understand the hobbit's anger for surely he hasn't changed that much since taking back his kingdom? He is only trying to protect his home so that his people will be happy and for that he must have the Arkenstone. The dwarf lord must be crowned King Under the Mountain so that no one can ever question his place within the world. Azsâlul'abad is his birthright and he will rule his kingdom well, mining her wealth and riches until every storeroom gleams with gold and jewels again. He wishes to rule the Lonely Mountain with Bilbo at his side while his sister-sons win glory for their family's name.

However, before the dwarf lord finds the words to overcome his hobbit's doubts, Dwalin interrupts them with more pressing news.

“There are men streaming into Dale, hundreds of them,” the warrior explains in a rush and at these words, Thorin knows exactly what he has to do.

“We will finish this conversation later,” the dwarf lord tells Bilbo before ordering Dwalin to summon the rest of his company to the mountain's entrance. He will not have Laketown claiming reparations when it was Kíli who slew the dragon and Azsâlul'abad will negotiate more strongly without a Smaug-shaped hole in the gates.

Indeed, Thorin doesn't spare his burglar another thought as he marches off, Bilbo's frown bouncing unnoticed off his back. When he reaches the main entrance hall, the other dwarves are waiting there for his command and he tells them to gather stone to block the gate again.

“I want our walls secure by sunup. I will not have the Lakemen seeing weakness here.”

“I do not think they have come to fight, uncle,” Kíli protests. “Bard said that he wants no more than what you promised so that his people can rebuild.”

“Then you are a fool,” Thorin snarls, silencing the archer with a glare. “I know well what is owed between us and I will not see one piece of dwarvish gold given to those who demanded payment before offering their aid. This treasure is our birthright and the Lakemen have no claim.”

Kíli wants to argue further but the memory of his impulsive gift to Laketown stops him; he cannot afford to have his uncle angry with him when that truth comes out. His generosity hadn't seemed a large thing back in the human city but now he has to wonder if he's ruined everything.

So the prince swallows his objections and does as Thorin has commanded, gathering stone into a wheelbarrow and pushing it to the gates. When Bilbo joins them a little while later, he offers to help Kíli and the dwarf welcomes him gladly even as he worries about whatever put that look on their hobbit's face. Something is troubling his amrâbulnas and Kíli would bet that it is Thorin. Fíli told him about what their uncle did and if the princes didn't still need the dwarf lord's favor, the archer probably would have challenged him already. But they do need Thorin for at least a little longer and while his action's may improve the princes' chances with their burglar, Kíli cannot be glad of anything that hurts his hobbit now.

The prince keeps an eye on Bilbo as the dwarves spend a long and sleepless night making their kingdom safe to Thorin's liking and it is almost dawn by the time the dwarf lord is finally satisfied. Indeed, he drives his kinfolk to distraction, his orders punctuated with wild rants on the untrustworthiness of former allies and the greed of men.

Although Kíli does not challenge Thorin again, his uncle's suspicions worry him. Truthfully, both princes are sorely worried by Thorin's new paranoia, Fíli and Kíli trading concerned glances behind the dwarf lord's back. Finding the Arkenstone will not help their cause if Thorin is felled by madness before he can grant the archer's boon; though, in truth, even if the princes' future had not rested on their uncle's word, they would have worried anyway.

Thorin has always been a figure of strength for his sister-sons, the sort of warrior that Fíli and Kíli hoped to be. The dwarf has been a teacher, a hero, and sometimes a father and it hurts to see him changed.

Where the princes' uncle used to find time for his sister-sons no matter what was happening, now he barely seems to listen when they speak. Thorin used to scold Fíli and Kíli for their pranks and recklessness and now he is scolding them for their kindnesses instead. Indeed, Fíli has never heard Thorin speak as harshly to his brother as he just did tonight and the dwarf lord's anger seems to burn much hotter toward the Lakemen than it should.

Fíli has seen the gold within the Lonely Mountain; the Sigin-tarâg could rebuild Dale six times over and still have wealth to spare and while it is not the dwarves' fault that Smaug chose to attack Laketown, the men still need their help.

The prince can’t understand how Thorin can think of turning Bard away when he knows what it is to fear for the survival of his people. He has seen hardship and lived the pain of helplessness as doors slammed shut in his face. If the sons of Durin are going to make their homeland prosper once again then they cannot do the same to Laketown; they must make allies of the men and elves with whom they share these lands.

Even Kíli knows that bringing up old grudges won't help anything and he tended to sleep through their lessons on diplomacy. This is a time for generosity, not stinginess, and a few chests of gems or the corpse of a dragon seem like a small price for lasting peace even if the archer should have thought his gift through a little more.

But when Bard rides up to the gates of Azsâlul'abad just after dawn, Thorin's expression isn't welcoming. Admittedly, the sudden appearance of an army of elves on the walls of Dale is worrying, but Thranduil hasn't actually threatened anyone. Perhaps the elf king simply wished to offer aid to the Lakemen and brought his warriors for protection in these dangerous times. Fíli is sure Thranduil and Bard will have a perfectly logical explanation for their actions if Thorin agrees to give his fellow kings a chance.

Surely his uncle will have to listen when the dwarves are so outnumbered and yet the prince has a sick feeling in his stomach when his companions follow Thorin to the ramparts to address their visitor.

“Greetings, Thorin, son of Thráin,” Bard shouts up to the dwarf lord, pulling his horse to a halt once he's in range. “I am pleased to see you well.”

“I wish that I could say the same,” Thorin replies, the open hostility in his words making his sister-sons wince. “What brings you to my mountain, bargeman? I expected the Master of Laketown with hand outstretched in greed, not his unruly dog finally brought to heel.”

“The Master of Laketown is no more,” the man replied levelly, refusing to rise to the dwarf lord's bait. “My people have turned to me to lead them as the last heir of Girion and I am here to claim only what was promised for our aid.”

“You expect me to believe such pretty words when an army of elves sits on my doorstep?” Thorin scoffs dismissively. “For that matter, where is Thranduil? I see an elven army but I do not see their leader at your side. Has he sent you to do his dirty work while he sits safe and comfortable within his forest, just as he did when Smaug attacked? If so, you have misjudged me. I will negotiate with no man under threat of violence; those days are dead and gone.”

“Thranduil came only to offer my people aid and I took his help with the same hand of friendship that I wish to offer you,” Bard calls back and Bilbo has to admit that he's impressed by the man's patience with Thorin's enmity. While the dwarf lord owes Laketown no more than he promised, that does not give him the right to treat Bard as a robber when the man has not demanded anything.

“I swear that I want nothing but peace between our kingdoms,” Bard continues when Thorin does not answer. “We must have the help you promised in order to survive the winter but I do not wish to steal your birthright. Laketown owes your nephew a great debt for bringing down the dragon and I would offer you one of Smaug's legs in gratitude. A gift to seal our friendship and future prosperity.”

“Smaug's corpse does not belong to you,” the dwarf lord roars back. “You claim to be no thief and then you offer me a treasure that is not yours to give. Kíli slew the dragon and this prize is his alone.”

“I meant no insult. Your nephew gifted Smaug's body to my people; he said that he wished to help rebuild the havoc that the wyrm wrecked upon our home. We would have died without his courage and we might have starved without his kindness; now I would share this wealth in turn.”

“That is a lie! My sister-son would never have given such a treasure to the likes of you. Kíli is a son of Durin and he knows where to place his loyalty.”

“Please, uncle. Stop!” the archer interrupts, unable to listen to Thorin's accusations any longer. “Bard isn't lying. I gave Smaug's body to the people of Laketown. I thought to seal a bond of friendship and I urge you to accept Bard's offer as you accepted my own token of the dragon's fall. Why can't we just be friends and allies once again?”

“You worthless idiot!” Thorin roars, his fist slamming into Kíli's cheek before the archer can react. The prince stumbles back against his brother, eyes wide with shock as much as pain. Although ruthless during training, his uncle has never raised a hand to him in anger and neither Fíli nor Kíli can believe that he has done so now. However, before the princes can express their outrage, Thorin rounds on Bard again.

“Leave this place and take your offers with you,” the dwarf lord snarls. “I will have no dealings with Laketown or with Mirkwood. Consider the dragon's body payment for the aid your Master granted; you will receive no more charity from me.”

“I do not want charity, Thorin,” Bard shouts back. “And I do not want to fight you. But for all its value, Smaug's corpse cannot feed my people the way it might feed yours and Thranduil does not have the resources to support Laketown on his own. Without the gold and stores that you hoard within that mountain, we will not survive the winter. So if you refuse to accept our friendship then we shall offer war instead; I respect you and your family greatly but I will not see my children starve. Your stubborn heart will make thieves and liars of us all.”

“You made your bed, bargeman. Now you and your kin will lie in it. I will die before I see one piece of dwarvish gold in your greedy grasping hands,” Thorin snarls. “Be gone, ere arrows fly!”

With this, the negotiations are over. The dwarf lord stands unmoved as Bard lets out a vicious curse, slamming his hand against the pommel of his saddle before spinning his horse around.

“I will give you one more day to rethink your folly, Thorin. Expect our army at the dawn,” the man shouts before kicking his horse sharply and trotting back to Dale. The dwarf lord watches Bard's retreat with a sneer, his face twisting in contempt as he turns to his kin.

“You hear that? The men of Laketown have given us a day to prepare for battle and we shall show them the depths of their mistake. Meet me in the armory; I will join you as soon as I send a message to my cousin Dáin. He shall bring an army to our aid and Thranduil of Mirkwood will learn to never underestimate the Sigin-tarâg again,” Thorin says. Then he walks down the stairs to the hall and his companions follow after. Even Fíli and Kíli, although the princes' eyes are murderous.

Bilbo wants to stop him. He wants to shout and scream or slap Thorin upside the head for being an idiot. But after seeing the dwarf lord punch his nephew, the hobbit knows there's little point. Indeed, he can no longer see even the barest glimpse of his beloved beneath Thorin's mask of hatred and if the Arkenstone has truly caused the dwarf lord's madness, Bilbo knows what he must do.

They must be rid of the gem before Thorin is lost completely and surely the Arkenstone is less important than his sanity in his people's eyes? Surely he will not lose his crown if the gemstone can't be found?

So Bilbo Baggins becomes a true burglar for only the third time in his life: a stolen ring, some stolen keys, and now the Arkenstone. The gem does not take long to find once the hobbit begins searching; its shining light makes it rather obvious as soon as he comes close. Bilbo hides the stone deep in his tunic to block the glow from dwarven eyes and then goes to find the others; given Thorin's current mood he'll probably become suspicious if the burglar disappears for long.

Bilbo isn't sure where Erebor's armory is, but sound carries well within the mountain and he follows his companions' voices deep into the halls. He finds the dwarves inside a large chamber, one filled from top to bottom with weapons and armor of all kinds.

Thorin and his companions are preparing for war and the dwarf lord looks even more like a stranger now. For he's dressed head to toe in full plate mail, his armor all hard lines and grim ferocity. Yet he still softens slightly when he sees the hobbit, setting down the sword he's holding and meeting his burglar in the hall.

“Bilbo. There you are,” Thorin says with a faint smile. “I was starting to wonder if you'd gotten lost along the way.”

“No, love. No need to send a search party. I'm afraid that I just grew distracted,” the hobbit tells him. “Everywhere I turn in Erebor, there's something beautiful.”

The words are true, even though the Arkenstone is burning a hole in his pocket and he's a little surprised that Thorin doesn't notice his distraction. Then again, that would require more attention than the dwarf lord has been paying to him recently.

“Yes, well, I am glad you're here. You're going to need this,” Thorin says, holding out a shirt of finely wrought chainmail. “This armor is made of silver steel, the metal that my forefathers knew as mithril, and it will keep you safe. No blade on earth can pierce it.”

At the dwarf lord's urging, Bilbo removes his coat and shrugs on the armor, smoothing silver links down across his chest. The chainmail fits surprisingly well but the hobbit can't accept it, not when he's about to trade the Arkenstone for a chance to save their lives.

“I can't take this,” Bilbo tells the dwarf lord. “I'm a hobbit, not a warrior. I must look absurd.”

“You do not. I think you look quite stately,” Thorin replies, giving the hobbit a once over that warms him from head to toe. “And this armor is a gift. A token of our love. I'd hope to see you wear it proudly even if an army wasn't standing at our door.”

“Oh, love. I will. I promise,” Bilbo murmurs, his heart aching terribly. He wants to tell Thorin about the Arkenstone. He wants to give his lover the jewel and watch his eyes light up, all thoughts of war replaced with thoughts of peace instead. And Bilbo almost does. Because the dwarf seems to be himself again. He seems to be the person that the hobbit fell in love with and Bilbo slips his hands into his tunic to pull the King's Jewel out.

But before he can, Thorin leans closer and whispers, “They are all against me now.”

The hobbit freezes in horror as the dwarf lord's paranoia is turned on his company. He doesn't know how Thorin can think that his nephews or the others would ever turn against him, but his beloved is far past reasoning. There is only avarice and suspicion, his need for gold dug deep into his mind, and when the hobbit leaves the armory, all his doubts are gone.

Bilbo cannot see any other options and while he knows the dwarf may hate him after this, it's not as though Thorin truly loves him now. He is ready to try anything to get his beloved back again.

So the burglar waits until the company has gone to bed and then sneaks out to the ramparts with a length of rope. The hobbit throws the rope over the edge of the gate and is about to climb down when he hears a noise. Bilbo turns to hide but before he can, Bofur comes striding up the stairs, stopping short when he sees the burglar standing there.

“Bilbo? You should be inside. Out of the wind.”

“I needed some air,” the hobbit tells him, nudging the rope behind his back. “This place still stinks of dragon and I just couldn't sleep.”

“I don't blame you,” Bofur says softly before looking out over the ramparts. “The elves have been moving their archers into position. We're sorely outnumbered and I doubt we'll all live to see tomorrow evening. Assuming the battle lasts that long.”

“Maybe it won't come to that,” Bilbo replies, wanting to comfort the dwarf even though he can't tell Bofur the details of his plan. “Maybe the elves will change their mind.”

“Maybe. But I wouldn't bet your life on it,” his friend replies. Bofur's eyes flicker to the shadows behind Bilbo before he adds, “Indeed, no one could blame a soul for wishing to be elsewhere now.”

Bilbo opens his mouth to say something – make an excuse or tell the truth, he isn't sure. But the dwarf continues as though he hadn't seen anything at all.

“It must be close to midnight. I should get Bombur for his watch. It'll take a bit to wake him,” Bofur tells the hobbit before turning to walk back down the stairs. “I hope you don't remember Thorin and our company too harshly in the end.”

“Bofur, wait,” Bilbo says once he finds his voice again. “I'll see you in the morning.”

He means the words. He isn't running, he isn't, but Bofur just shakes his head. “Goodbye Bilbo.”

The hobbit finds himself both touched and exasperated by the dwarf's reply. On the one hand, it's good to know that his friend would let him go without a fight, that his friends recognize the folly of their position and want him to survive. But Bofur should know better than to think that he'd turn coward. Hasn't he proved his courage well enough?

Bilbo shakes off the thought with a sigh. He knows that the dwarf didn't mean any judgment and he needs to focus on his mission now.

As soon as Bofur is out of sight, the hobbit climbs down the rope and then makes his way toward the ruins of Dale as quickly as he can. Once he is close to the city, Bilbo takes his ring from his pocket and slips it on his finger, its strange magic making his infiltration almost effortless. The burglar still has a few close calls since elven archers are everywhere and their ears are far too sharp, but soon he spies a fancy tent set up in the main square.

That seems a likely spot to find Bard and Thranduil and indeed, when Bilbo gets closer, he can hear the sounds of arguing. So the hobbit sneaks to the edge of the tent and listens carefully.

To his surprise, there seem to be three people inside and one of them is Gandalf, the wizard finally having caught up to Thorin's company. Indeed, Bilbo is pleased to discover that Gandalf is arguing for the dwarves, though his reasons are not remotely comforting. The wizard warns of a great army of orcs marching on the Lonely Mountain, one large enough to destroy elves, men, and dwarves alike. But Thranduil will not listen. He thinks that Gandalf is only trying to save his companions and dismisses his words scornfully.

“You, bowman! Do you agree with this?” the wizard asks, frustration clear in his voice. “Is gold and treasure so important that you would buy it with dwarven blood?”

“It will not come to that,” Bard replies. “I only want what we were promised and this is a fight they cannot win. Thorin will see reason soon. He is no fool.”

Pretty words but so very, very wrong and Bilbo steps into the tent to set Bard straight. The Thorin that stands within the Lonely Mountain now will die before he surrenders one coin to the Lakemen. He will fight to his last breath and the last breath of his kinsman and count their blood fair paid as long as his gold is safe.

So the hobbit pulls off his ring and says, “You are the fool if you believe that Thorin will surrender. He is far from rational these days and while his companions do not agree with him, they will stand with him to defend their own.”

“Bilbo Baggins,” Gandalf greets him. “What the devil are you doing here?”

“That's what I would like to know,” Thranduil agrees. “Along with how exactly you managed to sneak past my archers. If someone is sleeping at their post then I will cut off their ears myself.”

“I came to give you this,” Bilbo tells the elf king, taking out the Arkenstone and laying it upon the table.

“The Heart of the Mountain,” Thranduil breathes in shock. “The King's Jewel.”

“And worth a king's ransom,” Bard agrees.

“Thorin values this jewel above all else,” the burglar tells his gaping audience. “I believe that you will be able to exchange it for the treasure you are owed, though I would not count on Thorin's graciousness. Please, if you can, do not be too hard on him. He would never have broken his promise if he were himself and rest of his companions are sympathetic to your cause.

“Well, your cause,” Bilbo tells Bard before turning to Thranduil and adding pointedly, “I'm still not sure what you are doing here.”

“And I am not entirely sure how Thorin's company escaped my dungeons,” the elf retorts.

“Ah, yes. Perhaps it's best if we let both those questions lie,” the hobbit mutters with a sheepish shrug. “But if I am to give you the Arkenstone, you must swear not to hurt my companions needlessly. All I want is for your standoff to be resolved without bloodshed and I believe a trade is your best chance.”

“I have no desire to hurt your friends,” Bard tells Bilbo kindly. “Laketown owes the Dragonslayer a great debt and I saw how Thorin treated his nephew when he tried to speak in our defense. My quarrel is with the King Beneath the Mountain and if he will keep his promise, then I see no need to fight. Yet, I must ask, how is this yours to give?”

The question raises the hobbit's opinion of the Lakeman, but Bilbo thought long and hard before stealing the Arkenstone and he will not allow Bard's morals to turn his path aside.

“I took the gem as my fourteenth share of treasure,” the hobbit explains as nonchalantly as he can. “I may be a burglar, but I'm an honest one.”

“Why would you do this? You owe us no loyalty.”

“I'm not doing it for you. I know that dwarves can be stubborn, pig-headed and infuriating. Suspicious and secretive. But they are also brave and kind and loyal to a fault,” Bilbo tells the bowman and if Thorin is not the one he's picturing in this moment, the hobbit will never tell. “I love my companions dearly and I would save them if I can. In exchange for this stone, I believe that Thorin will give you what is owed and then there will be no need for war.”

Bard and Thranduil accept Bilbo's offer without any further questions, probably because neither truly wishes to refuse the gift he brings. However, their greed serves the hobbit's purpose at the moment so he simply hands Bard the Arkenstone and then bids the kings farewell.

Bilbo intends to return to Erebor; he is hardly going to leave his companions on the eve of battle, even if he does not plan to stay. But the hobbit has only gone a couple yards when Gandalf grabs his arm.

“Do not go back,” the wizard warns him. “If dragon sickness has truly taken Thorin then you are not safe within the mountain. None of you are safe but I fear Thorin will react violently to a betrayal such as this.”

“He's not going to hurt me,” Bilbo protests, though he's not quite as certain as he sounds. Indeed, he's doing his best to forget that moment in the mountain when his beloved had stared at him with murder in his eyes. “Seriously, I can handle Thorin's anger. He'll scream and shout until he runs out of steam and then I'll make him listen to what I have to say.”

Gandalf doesn't believe the burglar; Bilbo can see it on his face. Thus, he's not particular surprised when the wizard orders him to stay in Dale until the morning. Unsurprised but irritated – the hobbit is old enough to make his own decisions and if Gandalf had to make one of the Lakemen guard him, the wizard could at least have picked someone a bit more competent. But instead he grabs the Master's former lackey and with the help of his ring, Bilbo sneaks past that fool in twenty seconds flat.

While the hobbit appreciates Gandalf's concern, only a fool or a fauntling runs from the consequences of his actions and Bilbo owes Thorin an explanation before he returns to Hobbiton. Indeed, the burglar still doesn't want to leave the dwarf lord or his friends and he truly hopes that losing the Arkenstone will snap his beloved from his madness as nothing else has done.

So Bilbo sneaks back into Erebor and rejoins his companions. Bombur is still on watch, his snores covering up the few sounds the burglar makes as he lays down near Fíli and Kíli on the edge of their camp. The princes turn toward him in their sleep, almost as though they can sense that he is there. Fíli ends up against the hobbit's back while his brother slings an arm over Bilbo without waking, and the burglar falls asleep quickly with their warmth to comfort him.


Chapter 13: Gemsasekh