Chapter 8: A Hobbit Bargains
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo, hints of a couple others
Warnings: Can I warn for epic fluff?
Word Count: 3307 (22,456 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 7: A Company Walks
Chapter 4: A Romance Grows
Thranduil was not nearly drunk enough. He was in that awful hazy place between pleasantly tipsy and quite hungover, tipping toward the latter as his body tried to process the alcohol still running through his blood. Too drunk to be dignified and too sober to be happy, the last thing the elf king wanted was a summons to his own throne room with news of prisoners.
“What is the meaning of this?” he groaned, glaring at his son through one red-rimmed eye. Legolas should have known better than to bother him in his chambers and the men of Laketown knew better than to dare his borders without cause. “Just toss them in the dungeons overnight.”
However, Legolas just stared at Thranduil with that stupid face of his – the one that somehow managed to simultaneously announce: “I'm a total idiot” and “You're a bug beneath by shoes.” Today the latter message was coming through much louder but being a condescending bastard was the elf king's specialty and Legolas would need another thousand years of practice to match his father's sneer. Still, the audacity of the attempt won him thirty seconds of attention, Thranduil motioning him to speak with one graceful hand.
“The prisoners are dwarves, father. We found them on the Elven Road during our patrol,” Legolas explained, his expression flickering slightly at the elf king's growl. “They claim to be merchants but I believe that one of them is Thorin Oakenshield.”
“What?!” Thranduil shouted, shooting upright and then falling back with a whimper when his head protested violently.
“That damn dwarf knows better than to trespass on my lands,” the elf king continued once he could think again. “I'm going to imprison him forever. Hah! Today is a good day, Legolas. Do you see my silver robes? I need them and a hairbrush – oh, and the emerald crown as well. It's important to look your best when gloating – remember that, son – sarcasm cuts much deeper from a well-dressed foe.”
Thranduil dressed in record time, the thought of Thorin Oakenshield in his power making the elf king forget about the pounding in his head. He'd been waiting for this day for decades, hoping that he would have he chance to sneer at Thorin as Thrór once sneered at him. No one held a grudge like a royal Sindarin.
The elf king didn't leave his chambers until every hair was brushed and shining, his robes gleaming softly and a polished crown upon his brow. He couldn't do anything about the bloodshot eyes but dwarves weren't known for their sharp eyesight and the dramatic lighting in his throne room should hide the worst of it. Indeed, a quick dash of healing cream beneath his eyes to ease the shadows and Thranduil was ready to impress his enemies.
He swept into his throne room with Legolas on his heels and his best disdainful smirk plastered on his face. A smirk that grew even wider when Thranduil saw Thorin amongst the crowd of dwarves, his hands bound and a gag between his teeth.
Oh, my captain gets a present; yes, she does, the elf king thought. Thorin's impotent glare was all the sweeter for the insults that he clearly wished to speak.
So Thranduil sat down on his throne and motioned his guards to bring his captives forward. There were fourteen dwarves in total and the elf briefly considered sending the spares down to the dungeons since their boots were leaving muddy footprints everywhere. But the need to humiliate his enemy in front of an audience was stronger than his irritation over the scuff marks on his floor; several of these dwarves looked to be Thorin's kin and they should be here to witness their golden boy brought low.
“Thorin Oakenshield. Here within my kingdom,” Thranduil murmured superciliously. “I never thought I'd see the day. Did you finally run out of kings to cheat and hearts to break? If you're hoping for mercy, you are out of luck; I plan to make you beg now that you've come crawling home again.”
The dwarf lord's face twisted in anger, his jaw working against the gag inside his mouth. Thranduil would have to remove that cloth eventually so that Thorin could plead for mercy – perhaps threatening his companions with beheading would make him see the light – but not yet. The elf king wanted to enjoy this sight as long as possible.
However, before Thranduil could launch into the rest of his speech – it was nuanced and beautiful, truly a masterwork of subtle disrespect – one of his prisoners dared to interrupt.
“Sorry, my lord,” the smallest dwarf said, moving to stand before the throne. He was just as bedraggled as the rest of them and barefoot, the elf king shuddering to think about the disgusting things he was tracking on the floor. “But I can see where this is going and I don't like it very much. Why don't you leave Thorin to his glaring and talk to me instead?”
“Look, I know I'm probably breaking seventeen royal protocols or something, but if you talk to Thorin this won't end well for anyone. You'll be insulting and he'll be irritating; you'll blame him for the dragon and he'll curse out your parents – if he ever gets that gag off – and then you'll probably throw us in the dungeon until we all die of old age,” the cheeky bastard told him. “And since I'm currently engaged to be married, I'd much prefer to make it home again. Your cells are no place to spend my honeymoon.”
“Why you little...” Thranduil snarled through gritted teeth, the accuracy of this dwarf's predictions making the elf king flush guiltily. “Who do you think you are?”
“Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, at your service,” the dwarf answered with a bow. “I am sure you have good reason to be angry but I have an interest in this company and I am willing to bargain for safe passage through your lands.”
“Really?” Thranduil scoffed, irritation warring with incredulity. “And what, pray tell, do you plan to offer me?”
“A simple trade,” Bilbo said, trying not to reveal his nervousness. “If you give us back our weapons and order your guards to escort us to the border, I will heal those scars upon your face. The ones you hide beneath a glamour and ease with alcohol.”
Thranduil's expression tightened at the hobbit's words and Bilbo found himself holding his breath as he waited for the elf's reply. The unicorn had felt the pain radiating off the elf king as soon as he'd swept into the throne room, a bone deep ache that no healer's salve could touch. He could also feel the remnants of one vicious hangover and he'd come to the most reasonable conclusion based on this evidence.
But even though this was a good deal – a very good deal if Thranduil's injuries were as ancient as they felt – Bilbo couldn't be sure that the elf king would accept. He seemed the type to deny himself comfort out of some twisted sense of pride and the hobbit probably could have made his offer more a bit more diplomatically.
However, the unicorn still had a headache and he'd always had trouble respecting people with unearned authority. So instead of couching his offer in flowery language, Bilbo had chosen to lay all of his cards out on the table and hope for the best.
“You speak of things you should not know,” Thranduil said after a long pause and the lack of anger in his voice made Bilbo sigh with relief. “You speak as though you've seen my wounds and offer miracles. Tell me, Master Baggins, what help a dwarf could give to me. How can you mend injuries such as these?”
Thranduil released his glamour, allowing his prisoners to see the ravage of his face. Pocked and pitted from the heat of dragon fire, his scars ached constantly, and the sight in his left eye had never been the same.
Several of the dwarves gasped, the youngest daring to look at the elf king with something close to pity in their eyes. But the shortest – and rudest – just nodded shortly, as though Thranduil had simply revealed what he'd expected, and a spark of irrational hope ignited in the elf king's mind. Perhaps this Baggins could truly free him from his pain.
“Because I am not a dwarf. I am a hobbit and a unicorn,” Bilbo said plainly and that spark of hope turned into a roaring flame.
“A unicorn?” Thranduil murmured. “I did not know there were any of your kind left within the world.”
“There are more of us than you might think,” the hobbit told him. “Most of those I know are half-breeds and we do not advertise. So do we have a deal? Free us to continue on our journey and I will heal your injuries.”
The elf king was sorely tempted. Being able to live without the glamour was well worth losing his chance to gloat at Thorin. Knowing the dwarf lord's temperament, that chance was bound to come again.
“But what of Smaug?” Thranduil asked instead. “If I release you, you will go to Erebor and you will wake the dragon – do not bother to deny it; there is only one thing that would bring Thorin to these parts. Why should I bargain to heal my scars only to face a fire drake in battle? My first duty is to my people and that your bargain has not changed.”
“I promise, I have no intention of enraging any dragon,” the hobbit replied and this, at least, was true. If the Smaug in Erebor was not the Smaug that Bilbo thought then he might have to prove himself a burglar after all. “My people have several unique ways of dealing with our enemies. Which reminds me, do you know of Dol Guldur?”
“Dol Guldur? That fortress is a cesspit full of orcs and goblins. Were it within my lands, I would have cleansed it long ago.”
“Good. Then you and Smaug should have no problems,” Bilbo said, clapping his hands together. “I assume we have a deal?”
The hobbit hadn't actually answered Thranduil's question, not really, but hopefully even elf kings could be dazzled by some quick-tongued misdirection. Indeed, the Tooks were masters of talking in circles until people gave into their wishes and while Bilbo was nowhere near as skilled as some of his second cousins, his family's knack for blarney served him well this time. Either that or Thranduil was more desperate to rid himself of his injuries than the unicorn had thought because the elf king just gave Bilbo a long look, one that said: “I know what you're playing at and I just don't give a damn.”
“Yes. Master Unicorn. We have a deal,” Thranduil replied. He wasn't sure whether or not he believed this Baggins fellow, but he had a feeling that the unicorn wasn't going to quit talking until he got his way. Besides, if the dwarves did wake up Smaug, the dragon was far more likely to attack Laketown than Mirkwood and there was no love lost between Thranduil and the Master of that place.
I'd burn Laketown down myself to be free of agony, the elf king thought, justifying the decision that he had already made. If Bilbo Baggins could do as promised then Thorin Oakenshield would have a chance to reclaim his kingdom and Thranduil would be there to toast his failure when it came.
If the dwarves were lucky, they might even escape the conflagration; Smaug seemed to enjoy watching his foes flee in terror even more than slaughter. The drake allowed the wounded to escape so that they could spread the story of his power and indeed, it was Smaug's dread fame that had allowed him to slumber undisturbed.
“All right. This will take some time,” Bilbo said, bringing Thranduil from his thoughts. “Old wounds are always more difficult to heal. So if I'm going to do this properly, I'm afraid you really must offer us lodging for the night.”
This unicorn truly was a demanding – and arrogant – little creature, and the elf king was sorely tempted to throw Thorin's company in the dungeons and call it hospitality. But Bilbo might take exception to such ill manners and refuse to help him, or undo his healing if he found out afterward. Besides, Thranduil was no oathbreaker despite what Thorin claimed.
So he ordered Legolas to settle his new friends in the guest wing of the palace – his son would know to choose the lesser guest rooms without being told – and the dwarves trailed after him dutifully.
“Kíli, wait. You stay,” Bilbo said, grabbing the archer's arm before he could leave the room. “This will take most of my strength and I might need a shoulder afterward. Besides, you make me stronger just by being here.”
The dwarf blushed red when Bilbo winked at him and Thranduil found himself grinding his teeth in irritation at the sight. Watching this self-professed unicorn flirt with Thorin's nephew in his throne room was absolutely the last straw and he growled, “If someone doesn't start healing me right this instant, everyone is going in the dungeons until Erebor is nothing but a long-forgotten memory!”
“All right. All right,” Bilbo muttered, waving a hand at the elf king dismissively. And then there was a unicorn looking up at Thranduil's throne.
To tell the truth, the elf king hadn't entirely believed Bilbo until this moment; after all, a unicorn in Mirkwood sounded like the start of a bad joke. However, Thranduil could not deny what he was seeing; the halfling made a small unicorn, but he was one nonetheless.
Bilbo wanted to laugh at Thranduil's clear surprise – it had probably been a long time since someone saw him gaping – but the hobbit knew he'd already pushed the elf's patience farther than he should. So the unicorn simply nudged Kíli into motion and then climbed daintily up the steps of Thranduil's throne.
In this form, Bilbo could see the elf's injuries much clearer, his pain glowing a dim red that pulsed faintly with each beat of his heart. Dragon fire had burned deep and scars were always more difficult to mend than open wounds. If the unicorn had been alone, he might not have been able to heal Thranduil as he'd promised, but his magic could feed off Kíli's innocence and he wouldn't allow anything so pathetic as exhaustion to keep his dwarf from going free.
So Bilbo bent his head, placing the tip of his horn against the elf king's cheek. He took a moment to gather his power and then poured the magic into Thranduil's injuries. In many ways, healing was the most instinctive of his powers for as his mother had told him many years ago: “All bodies want to be whole. You do not need to shape the magic; simply form a channel and let your patient show you the pain they wish to heal.”
The magic did the work but it was the unicorn's strength that kept the connection open and the more serious the injury, the faster this ran out. So Bilbo locked his knees and shut out the world, emptying his mind of everything but Thranduil as his power began to erase the elf king's injuries.
One by one, Thranduil's scars disappeared. In their place was unblemished skin, as smooth and pale as the glamour that he had worn for centuries.
Bilbo was a little more than halfway done when he began to falter, Mirkwood having weakened him more than he had thought. But when the unicorn reached for Kíli, his beloved was right there – one hand pressed against his withers and his spirit shining bright. Even Mirkwood could not diminish Kíli and the dwarf's innocence bolstered Bilbo's fading strength just long enough.
As soon as Thranduil's last scar faded, the unicorn released their connection and a wave of exhaustion washed over him. His knees buckled and he nearly impaled the elf king with his horn before he turned his head, leaving him sprawled awkwardly across the steps of Thranduil's throne.
Maybe I'll just stay right here for a moment, Bilbo thought. The position wasn't particularly comfortable but he was just so tired; the last time he'd been this tired after a healing was when Marigold Bracegirdle had fallen out of an apple tree and cracked her head upon a rock. The poor lass had nearly died.
“Bilbo? Bilbo?!” Kíli asked worriedly, shaking the unicorn's shoulder when he didn't move. “Don't pass out on me; I need you to shift back. I can't carry you like this.”
The archer might be able to manage a slow wobble if Bilbo could keep his feet but that seemed unlikely and Thranduil was little help. The elf king was too busy feeling his face and grinning like a madman to be useful – though, to be fair, the change was quite impressive; Kíli wouldn't have believed it possible if he hadn't watched.
“Please, Bilbo. Shift for me?” the archer asked again and this time Bilbo stirred. The unicorn opened his eyes, giving the faintest nod before he shifted and then slumped back down again. Like this, the hobbit was a much lighter weight to manage and Kíli lifted Bilbo into his arms easily.
Okay... and now what? the dwarf thought, looking around helplessly. He could hardly wander out into the hall while carrying his hobbit and although his mother had done her best, Kíli wasn't exactly skilled at royal niceties. Of course, how to politely interrupt an elf king's celebratory dancing had never come up during even the most detailed lessons; Dís was a marvel but she couldn't think of everything.
“Excuse me, um, Thrandil? Thrandel?” Kíli asked, wincing each time he mangled the elf's name. “Is there a room for us? I mean, I could go find a corner if you're busy doing... that, but Bilbo would rest better in a bed.”
“Hmmm? Yes, of course. My apologies,” Thranduil said, suddenly all smiles as he looked down at the dwarf. “Your friend has more than fulfilled his portion of our bargain; now I must do the same. We shall have a grand feast tonight for you and your companions. My cooks will show you the true delights of Mirkwood – pies and wine and meat for all. I assure you, we do not subsist on vegetables like our cousins to the west.”
“My thanks, sir. But truly, a room is all we need,” the archer replied, a little taken aback by Thranduil's sudden generosity. “While I am sure my companions would be glad to eat, Bilbo is exhausted and he may not wake before the dawn.”
“Yes, yes. Whatever you wish,” the elf king said, waving his hand dismissively. “I suppose I shall have to make due with the company of Thorin Oakenshield. Such a pity that we must remove the gag for him to eat.”
Clearly Bilbo's bargain had done little to repair the bad blood between Thranduil and his uncle, but the elf king did keep his word. Kíli spent the night watching over his unicorn on the softest feather bed that he had seen in weeks. Anything would have been a damn sight better than a cloak laid on the ground, but this mattress was made of gossamer or the fluff of dandelions and when sleep finally claimed the archer, his dreams were warm and sweet.
Chapter 9: A River Flows