Chapter 7: A Company Walks
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo, hints of a couple others
Warnings: Can I warn for epic fluff?
Word Count: 2474 (19,149 so far)
Summary: Kíli is a virgin. Bilbo is a unicorn. Together they fight goblins and cuddle epically.
Art: Unicorn!Bilbo 1, Unicorn!Bilbo 2.
Chapter 1: A Wizard Meddles Chapter 5: A Mountain Shakes
Chapter 2: A Quest Begins Chapter 6: An Archer Dreams
Chapter 3: A Burglar Woos
Chapter 4: A Romance Grows
Mirkwood was an awful, awful forest and Bilbo hated it. He had been prepared to give this place the benefit of the doubt in case the rumors were just rumors, but nope: Mirkwood sucked and that was that. Every gnarled branch practically dripped evil as well as far too much icy water and the unicorn had had the beginnings of a headache ever since he walked beneath these trees.
Honesty, everything about this forest just screamed ambush, ambush, ambush and Bilbo wasn't the only member of the company who was watching their surroundings warily. Everyone had been on edge since Gandalf had suddenly decided to abandon their quest with it half done.
The wizard had run off to the north despite Thorin's protests and while he'd claimed a meeting of earth-shattering importance, the unicorn was pretty sure he'd lied. No one smart would trust Gandalf with anything that really mattered, magic staff or no. Maybe the wizard had finally realized that their quest was pretty much impossible, their leader severely overestimated his own awesomeness, and a sensible person would never have agreed to come along.
Good thing we're all a little crazy here, Bilbo thought, watching Kíli poke a mushroom skeptically. The archer had a habit of wandering toward the edge of the path just to see what lay beyond it but the unicorn was always there to pull him back again.
The hobbit could feel the Elven Road; there was magic to it, a trace of light that held the dark at bay, and it guided his feet when his companions would have strayed. Which, honestly, seemed to be every twenty minutes with Thorin in the lead. The dwarf lord was a poor navigator under the best conditions and Mirkwood's eternal gloom made such things far more difficult. Even Bilbo couldn't have said which direction was north with as much certainty as usual; all he could do was trust to the road beneath his feet.
“Thorin, stop! The path goes right,” the hobbit called out, drawn from his thoughts by the dwarf's wrong turn.
Bilbo ran to the front of the line and grabbed Thorin before he could step off the road and walk into a ditch. Considering how many times they'd had this conversation, it took far too long to convince the dwarf lord that he was right again. Only when the unicorn had dug through the leaves to reveal the gleaming stones of the Elven Road did Thorin finally stop arguing.
“Are you all right, lansûn?” Kíli asked a little later. He was looking at Bilbo with a fair bit of worry and the hobbit realized that he'd been rubbing his hands against his temples as he walked.
“Sorry, Kíli. I'm fine,” he told the archer. “At least as fine as anyone in this blasted place.”
“You don't look fine,” the dwarf replied doubtfully. “This is more than your usual desire to punch my uncle in the face.”
“Guess I can't argue with that, but it's really just a headache,” Bilbo reassured him with a sigh. “This forest is truly evil and it's wearing on my mind, though I have to admit that Thorin is getting on my nerves as well. I don't know why he can't accept that I know which way to go.”
“That's not uncle's style. He hates needing help,” Kíli said. Then he added with a grin, “I don't know why people always think that I'm the daft one in the family; Thorin's the one who walks around in circles all the time.”
“Well, you do have a habit of blurting out every thought inside your head,” the hobbit chuckled. “There is this thing called subtlety.”
“Hey!” Kíli protested.
“Don't worry; I like your honesty. Dwarves in general are refreshingly straightforward compared to most other races,” Bilbo told the archer. “Although, that said, if Thorin doesn't stop arguing with me, he won't have to worry about the elf king. I'm going to kill him long before Thranduil gets involved.”
“You know, you're really violent for a unicorn.”
“Yeah well, you're the one who thought that I should have a sword,” the hobbit retorted. “Can't I just poke him with the blade a little? I'd heal him afterward.”
“Probably not a good idea,” Kíli said with a laugh. “Though I can certainly understand the feeling. I think everyone has wanted to stab him once or twice.”
“That's good to know. I'll fight the impulse best I can,” Bilbo promised, winking at the archer. He meant this statement as a joke but as the company continued its journey through the forest, the hobbit was sorely tempted to break his pledge more than once.
Because Thorin only grew more belligerent with each correction – the unicorn had purified an entire river for him without so much as a thank you – and the other dwarves were starting to fray around the edges after so many long nights in the dark. There was far too much dry tinder to risk anything larger than a cooking fire and the stars did not reach through Mirkwood's canopy.
Honestly, the elf king's dungeons are probably more comfortable than this, Bilbo griped, rolling over on his side. Maybe I should just take over Ori's watch. I'm pretty sure he's dozing anyway.
He'd been trying to fall asleep and failing for at least an hour; the hobbit couldn't seem to find a comfortable position and even with Kíli's arm around him, he wasn't quite warm enough. If he hadn't been a unicorn, Bilbo could have joined the pile of dwarves near the embers of their fire, fighting for the coveted spot at Bombur's side. While the dwarf's snores were deafening, he gave off heat like a bonfire and the hobbit could have used a bit of that right now.
But Bilbo couldn't touch the dwarf – he had like seven children – and as much as he loved Kíli, the archer was on the scrawny side. Of course, sleeping as a unicorn would have been warmer for them both, but Mirkwood wasn't like the Misty Mountains. This forest was too evil for his light to pass unnoticed; Bilbo's true form would draw too much attention from the creatures in the dark and goblins weren't the only race with a taste for unicorns.
So the hobbit shivered and sighed and then went still as something rustled in the trees. It wasn't the wind for there had been no wind for hours; this must be something far more dangerous.
Wood elves! Bilbo realized, fully opening his mind to the forest for the first time in days. He'd been keeping his senses locked down in a futile attempt to reduce his headache and, unfortunately, had also kept himself from feeling the wood elves before they'd surrounded Thorin's company.
These elves didn't shine as bright as their kin in Rivendell – Beorn had called them wild and perhaps he had been right – but the unicorn could still feel them well enough. There must have been two dozen and Bilbo opened his mouth to cry a warning before they could attack.
However, before the hobbit spoke a word, his teeth clacked shut again. Because he'd thought about Thorin's probable reaction to an ambush in the dark; he'd thought about his companions' odds of winning and Kíli's habit of charging forward without any kind of plan. The dwarves could not win this fight and Bilbo would not see them hurt in the attempt.
Besides, according the hobbit's limited knowledge of Mirkwood's geography, Thranduil's palace should be close to the northeastern edge of the forest. Getting captured would hardly even be a detour and the company wouldn't have to worry about being eaten with twenty elves on guard.
So Bilbo closed his eyes, pretending to be asleep until the point of an arrow pressed against his throat and a rough voice growled, “Be still.”
“Damn it, Ori! You were supposed to be on watch,” the hobbit heard Nori mutter as he was lifted to his feet. He winced at the elf's touch – so not a virgin, this one – and winced again when he was shoved bodily into Thorin's back. But Kíli was there in an instant, slipping between the unicorn and his uncle while glaring at the elves protectively.
Not that Thranduil's guards took notice. The Silvan elves knew their business, stripping their captives of weapons and tying them together without reacting to the impressively varied curses that Thorin poured upon their heads. The dwarf lord wasn't crazy enough to fight but he certainly wasn't happy and he made sure their captors felt the sharp edge of his tongue. At least until the captain of the wood elves ordered Thorin gagged, his disgruntled expression sending Bilbo into a fit of giggling. The unicorn probably shouldn't have been so amused by the dwarf's misfortune but he'd been wanting to do exactly that for weeks.
“Save your breath,” the captain ordered when Balin tried to bargain and Dwalin started to add some insults of his own. “You will be taken to the king. You can plead your case to him and if you're lucky, he will be merciful.”
“You shouldn't get their hopes up. Thranduil won't listen to his own people let alone a pack of dwarves,” another elf snorted, Bilbo absently translating the words from Sindarin. The unicorn had been bored enough to read an Elvish-to-Westron dictionary a few summers back and he'd always had an ear for languages. Who knew the hobbit would be so grateful for that boredom now?
“They could get lucky. He might be drunk,” the captain retorted. “And I would prefer them hopeful; desperate prisoners are harder to corral.”
Not exactly comforting, that. But it was too late for Bilbo to change his strategy. He would just have to hope for drunken Thranduil, relying on his natural charm and luck to get him through. And if the company somehow missed its deadline, the hobbit would never ever tell Thorin that their capture was partially his fault. Unless the dwarf lord decided to blame Ori for sleeping through his watch. Then the unicorn would bite the fruitcake and confess to everything before grabbing Kíli and running like the dickens back to Hobbiton.
Speaking of running, someone needed to explain a little thing called leg length to Thranduil's guards. The elves moved through the forest at what was probably an easy jog for giants but had Bilbo gasping before they'd gone a league.
“You... are... going... to... kill... me... you... gangly... scarecrows,” the hobbit choked out from his position at the back of the line. “Can... we... please... stop... to... rest?”
His question was met with a chorus of agreement from his companions, even the tallest dwarves having trouble with this pace.
“Du bekâr! Du bekâr! Ihbini!”
“Please! Have... mercy,” Ori pleaded. “Scribes aren't... built... for... this.”
“None of us...
“Grrr. Mmph. Hsss. Grrr. Mmph mmph mmph.” Translation: Take off this fucking gag before I kick you in your shins!
“My brothers!!!! Avenge me!!!!!!” Dori shouted as he tripped on a tree root. He tumbled head over heels, taking the entire company out one by one. Bilbo landed on the top of the pile, his arms somehow tangled with Kíli's and his feet pointing toward the sky as he hung upside-down.
The hobbit couldn't possibly free himself without assistance so he just looked up – or was it down? – and asked cheerfully, “So... How about a rest?”
“Fuck my life. Manwë must hate me,” the elven captain muttered, staring down at the groaning dwarves in disbelief. “If these dwarves can't run at a decent pace, we'll be stuck with them for days.”
“Hey, it's not that bad,” the long-haired blond replied. He and the captain seemed to be best buddies or at least well-matched for snark. “This will give us a good excuse to be out of the palace for a while; if I have to hear one more argument about party decorations, I'm going to start drinking just like dad.”
“Hey, it's not my fault that his favorite silver robes didn't match the drapes,” the captain retorted. “But I suppose you're right. Let's take a break until these dwarves are sorted out.”
It took almost an hour for the elves to untangle their prisoners since the dwarves were completely uncooperative, dragging their feet and grumbling the entire time. But eventually Thorin's company couldn't delay any longer and the group continued on their way.
At least the elves set a slower pace this time, the captain apparently convinced not to rush back home. Or perhaps she had simply found some kindness for her panting prisoners.
Whatever the reason, the rest of the trip passed quite leisurely. Thranduil's warriors led the hobbit and his companions through the forest for three days and while the dwarves were technically imprisoned, Bilbo found the journey rather nice. It was certainly more pleasant than chasing after Thorin even if elvish travel food was the most awful stuff. Tasteless, boring and completely without texture; this bread was a crime against the culinary arts. But at least the unicorn didn't have to worry about spiders, goblins, or hobbit-eating plants with Thranduil's guards for protection, though he felt a little sorry for the elf who had to fight with a giant pile of dwarvish weapons on his back.
On the morning of the fourth day, their strange group finally reached Thranduil's palace, a trail of slime and spider corpses in their wake. The elf king's hall was built upon an island, its lofty heights surrounded by a rushing river and cradled within a ring of giant trees.
“Open the gates. I have prisoners to see the king,” the elven captain called out as she led Thorin's company to the palace entrance – or rather, as her squad dragged the dwarves along. The guards at the gate greeted the captain and her prisoners with open curiosity while doing as she ordered, enormous wooden doors sliding open to let the dwarves pass through.
“Ironwood,” Kíli murmured.
“And bound by steel,” his brother added.
“No hope of breaking out,” the dwarf finished before the nearest elf ordered them to stop talking and the gates swung shut again.
The inside of Thranduil's palace was dim, the only light filtering down from windows high above their heads. Looking around, all Bilbo could think about was how much he missed real sunshine, and he sent a silent prayer to any ancestor who might be listening: Please let the elf king be the friendly sort. If not to dwarves then at least to unicorns.
Chapter 8: A Hobbit Bargains