May It Be – 3/3 – Rogue53

Title: May It Be
Author: Rogue53
Fandom: The Hobbit
Genre: Action Adventure, Pre-Relationship, Time Travel
Relationship(s): pre Thorin Oakenshield/Bilbo Baggins
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: *No Warnings Apply
Author Notes: This started out as a dare to myself, and it got written in fits and starts. I followed the book more than the movies, so be warned for that. Plus, a chance comment from some in chat pushed the story sideways. So, thank you for that, whoever you are! Any mistakes are my own.
Word Count: 96,660
Summary: Bilbo wasn’t sure if he was dreaming or not, but going against Yavanna was something no sane Hobbit ever did. Of course, given what he had learned from her, he wasn’t to sure that She was sane. But he would follow through, the thought of what could happen wasn’t to be borne.
Artist: krani



 

Chapter 14

It went without saying that they again rode without stopping until they got to the next stream where they found their front riders waiting for them. Nori and Bofur had also killed a deer and had already gotten a fire started and some of the meat cooking, as well as a small shelter for smoking the rest.

‘We got started on this early, if there isn’t any more water until we get into Erebor, this would be a good place for an outpost for us and anyone following us here.’ Nori gestured around, they had put everything on a slight rise, and uphill from the stream. ‘And it’s far enough away from the woods and the mountains, but if the Elf was right, close enough to Erebor to keep it manned and stocked.’

Dwalin nodded, ‘Good job, you’re right. When we get into our mountain, this would be good for travelers coming from the Misty Mountains and beyond.’

Balin was in agreement, anything to stay out of the way of the Woodland Elves would be a good thing as far as he was concerned. Even if their relationship improved later on, right now there would be too much tension for them to work together. And besides, it would keep the profits in their hands, and not the Elves, which would irritate them as well. From the look that Glóin was giving him, he had the same thoughts and agreed.

Bilbo was looking around, sniffing the air. ‘I’m smelling something that I recognize, someone walk with me while I try to find it.’ Kíli and Fíli both jumped up, they needed to do something that didn’t involve riding horses for a while.

‘We’ll go with you, we can scope out the area while we go. There might be some interesting things to see and we wouldn’t want you to get lost out there!’

There were snickers and looks toward Thorin who just threw up his hands. ‘Go and try to stay out of trouble!’

The three wandered away, Bilbo hunting the scent that had caught his interest, humming softly, the boys pointing out things of interest to them, pointing out oddly shaped trees and branches.

‘Oh.’ Bilbo froze, and then moved forward slowly. ‘This… is totally unexpected.’

Fíli looked at the small stone altar with flowers blooming around it. ‘Um, Bilbo, is that what I think it is?’ his voice going a little higher at the end.

Bilbo was shaking his head, ‘I didn’t think that any Hobbits had been this far east. I don’t even know what to say at this point.’ A soft breeze ruffled his hair and he chuckled. ‘On the other hand, it would make moving some of my kin here much easier, knowing we had been here before, as long as we would be welcomed.’

‘Do you think that the Elves know about this? I know that they have to have been around here at some point.’ Kíli looked around, trying to see if there were any real advantage points. ‘It’s kind of in a hollow, so it might get overlooked, especially if your Yavanna doesn’t want it seen.’ He smirked a bit. ‘We’ve noticed that She is has a tendency to do things around you that we’ve never noticed before.’

‘Don’t give away my secrets, you two! But, She is a very personal goddess, I do have to admit.’ He looked around again. ‘But this is a very nice place. Hobbits could settle here easily.’

‘Which would help with some of our supply issues. I have heard Thorin and my mum talk about supplying the Blue Mountains, and that had closer places for supplies than here.’ Fíli nodded as they walked back to their campsite.

‘And we could help with guarding a settlement here, there’s always someone that will want to earn extra money or food. And we have, to some extent, gotten used to being out and about, although the older generation will want to be in the mountain for the most part. It’ll be the younger ones that will be more willing to be out here.’

‘You won’t believe what we found out there!’ Kíli bounced into the campsite and Bilbo just face-palmed. ‘Bilbo’s Yavanna left an altar for Hobbits out here!’

Everyone turned and looked at him.

Bilbo sighed, ‘That’s not how it works. It just means there were Hobbits out here at some point. Just because I couldn’t tell if there had been Hobbits here in the distant past, doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some.’ He waved vaguely around. ‘Anyway, it will help if any of my kin would like to move here, knowing that She has already walked this land.’

Thorin frowned a bit. ‘Will that cause trouble for us? The fact that your kin was here long ago?’

‘No, why would it, there is no one here now, so there’s no claim on it. Unless you think that Dwarves would like to settle here as well in Erebor?’

Practically everyone snorted at that.

Bombur shook his head. ‘No, not really. An outpost, yes, live permanently, no. We aren’t made for this kind of living, thank you. Good strong rock around us is more the thing.’

Everyone was nodding at that, and as dinner was served, they discussed what they should do next.

‘Viridan seemed to feel that we were within a couple days ride of Erebor when we got this far. Should we leave some of our supplies here and see how long it takes us to get there? We could just send a few to see and then report back.’ Balin looked at Thorin, who was frowning at the fire.

‘I’m not comfortable splitting us up, but…’ he held a hand up, ‘I also would like to have a more definite idea of where we are in relation to everything. I know we can see the Mountain, but really, it would be nice to know exactly how far away we are.’ All of them had been staring at the mountain, knowing that it was so close yet so far away was almost a torment for them. But they were closer, and that was a comfort, as well.

Dwalin nodded. ‘We could send four of us, that would keep them on the safe side, easier to hide and sneak close to see what is there.’

‘Yes, that way if there were watchers, hopefully they wouldn’t be spotted.’ Nori nodded thoughtfully. ‘Snooping around, trying to find a way up to where the door might be, see if there is any place that’s defensible, what the water sources are, food as well.’ He ticked them off on his fingers.

‘We could get it set up for the rest of us, we’ve still have a better than a month before Durin’s Day.’ Dwalin pursed his lips, ‘Getting here early has some good and bad points.’ Then he smirked, ‘We can practice here and get everyone back up to speed on their weapon training. And cross-train. We haven’t done enough of that.’ He turned and looked at Bilbo, ‘Yes, I’m including you in that, you do well with your sling, but you to practice with your long knife more.’

Dori had started to frown but Ori glared at him, and he settled down with a huff. Ori was truly coming into his own during this trip and it made Nori glad, even if Dori was still fighting it, after saying he would try not to.

Thorin nodded. ‘Yes, we do need to be up on everything, especially since we don’t know, yet, how we’re going to going to get rid of Smaug. And we’re running out of time with that.’

Óin shrugged. ‘We’re not going to know if our tisane will work until we try it on the dragon. It’s unfortunate, but maybe we could leave a bag or two in Erebor when we get in and see what happens.’

Bilbo nodded. ‘That’s not a bad idea. If he sniffs it out and eats it, or drinks it, gets it smeared on him, whatever, and it slows him down or kills him, well, so much the better. Otherwise, you’ll have to go with the windlance and at least, we’re here with enough time to get that in place.’

That night, Thorin and Balin had to decide who was going on to Erebor. ‘We need to send at least a couple of the oldest of us, ones that know the area from before. Otherwise, things could be missed because they wouldn’t know what to look for. And even then, it’s probably changed a lot from Smaug destroying everything he could.’

Balin shrugged at the look he got. ‘He was pretty indiscriminate when he was blowing fire everywhere, you know that.’

While the two of them were discussing who to send, Bilbo lay in his bedroll and thought about what he had seen that day. He hadn’t been lying when he had said he hadn’t seen any signs of Hobbits having been in this area, and he was still pretty sure that they hadn’t. Which meant Yavanna was sending a sure sign that she wanted at least some of Her children here. And, now that he thought of it, what was he supposed to be doing with the bag and its contents. It was now in the bottom of his pack and he had managed to forget about it for days at a time. But now, having found one of Her altars, and being so close to Erebor, he knew that he needed to take the next step and find out just what he had to do.

But this was for another day, and he dropped off, listening to Thorin and Balin weighing which dwarf to send with Dwalin.

Bilbo woke, feeling a hand softly petting his hair. He smiled, it felt like his mother, back when he was just a tween, before all the bad times. He opened his eyes, and looked up, expecting to see one of the Dwarves, but instead, it was Yavanna.

‘Wha…’

‘Shh, all is well, I am so pleased that you have made it this far, my Hobbit. You have kept them on track, and they have also petitioned Mahal who is helping them in small ways. I am not sure that they have noticed, but he has calmed some of their gold lust, so that if and when they get into Erebor, they will be able to fight it. And if they do that, they can overcome it.’ Yavanna smiled when Bilbo sighed in relief. ‘I knew that you were worried about that, so I tried to have it change, at least a little bit for them and you.’

‘Thank you to both you and Mahal. I do have to say I was noticing some lessening of some of their more violent tendencies and couldn’t be anything but thankful. But I wasn’t sure that it would hold up when we got here, so close to their homeland.’ Bilbo frowned a bit as he looked around, sitting up as he did. ‘I don’t recognize this place, are we between times again?’

‘Yes, because you were wondering what you should do with the ring. Unfortunately, at the moment, nothing. I would like this world to be rid of it, but too many things are happening at the moment and even with all that I know and can do, it is not possible to get rid of it right now. Too many other things are moving in this world, Bilbo, and some things must finish before new things begin.’

Bilbo looked in askance at Her words. ‘Could you at least tell me if this whole tisane that Óin and I have put together will actually work? I feel like we’re flying blind here and not knowing whether to dump it on him or get him to drink like the book says, it is a little disconcerting, to say the least! Not to mention all the looks we keep getting from antsy Dwarves!’

‘All I will say is, have the ones that go first to the mountain take the bag of the first that you both made. And when they come back, send the second one with the next group. I think they will find some changes at Erebor after all these years.’

‘And tell them to do what with it?’ Bilbo paled a bit. ‘Smaug isn’t out flying around, is he? That would be terrible!’

‘No, no, he is not. Do not worry so, my Hobbit. Tell them to place the skins over the door into their mountain, and just leave them there. You will need the others when you go into the mountain itself.’

Bilbo made a face. ‘Oh, joy. Just what I’m waiting for.’

Yavanna chuckled a bit, shaking her head. ‘Do not worry, Bilbo, you are doing fine and you will know what to do when the time comes. Relax, it will soon be time and you will be ready.’

Bilbo stood with his mouth hanging open. ‘Wait, what… Yavanna!’ And watched as She faded away.

‘Bilbo, is everything all right? You’ve been muttering in your sleep…’ Nori shook his shoulder gently. ‘It’s time to get up, anyway, we’re getting ready to go as soon as we get breakfast.’

Bilbo rubbed his head as he got up, he’d had some sort of weird dreams all night.

‘Who did you decide should go this time? I think I fell asleep when you were discussing it, I had some sort of dream about it, anyway.’ Bilbo yawned and stretched as he walked over to the fire. ‘Oh, and you should have them take the first of our tisane skins when you go.’

‘And why would they do that?’ Thorin looked at him with one eyebrow raised.

Bilbo looked at him. ‘Because if we can get Smaug to start smelling it and maybe eat it, maybe, just maybe, it’ll get rid of him sooner than later? Didn’t you say that he came in through the front gate and broke it? Is there still a lintel of some sort over it? I was thinking that they could put a couple of bags there and maybe it’ll entice him out at some point. Or get him interested in the smell, anyway.’

Óin nodded, ‘That is a good idea, it’ll get some of it there and make it easier for later, also. If we can spread them around, it might confuse him as to where they all are.’

Kíli nodded, ‘And if it turns out that it needs to be on Smaug, we could lure him out the gate and shoot arrows into them as he comes out and it would go all over him. We wouldn’t have to be anywhere near him, either. An improvement over what I was thinking we’d have to do!’

‘Although we still don’t know if he needs to drink it or what.’ Balin huffed a bit.

‘All in good time, first, let’s scope out the land and see just what’s left from before. Between me and Glóin, we should be able to tell what’s changed and what hasn’t. We’ll also check out what Dale looks like now, although I think it’s probably pretty destroyed, from what I remember.’ Dwalin looked over at Nori who nodded, he would be here and knew what he had to do.

‘With Bifur and Bofur, you should be able to check out the area. Just make sure to leave your ponies away from everything, they could possibly attract too much attention.’ Thorin frowned a bit, he still wasn’t happy splitting up the group, even if he understood why they had to do it.

‘And watch out for anyone from Lake-town, we can’t afford to be seen by anyone from there. We have no idea how the Men there would react to knowing Dwarves were back. We can treat with them later, I’m sure that Smaug probably stole everything of value from Dale and it’s in whatever pile he has.’ Balin nodded to Dwalin, he would be sure to look around to see anything that was there, he seemed to remember that there were some hidden passages in and around Dale.

‘And while you’re gone, we’re going to set up a halfway mark for when you come back. That way there will be something to help you know how far you have to go.’ Fíli had come up with that, and he was proud when his uncle had agreed to it. It couldn’t be much, but water and food supplies would be a welcome for the returning group, unless they found something around Erebor.

Kíli was still frowning, he had asked to go with the group, but Thorin wasn’t going to let either of his nephews that far out of his sight. Dís would kill him personally if either were hurt, and he wasn’t chancing it!

‘How long do you want us out? It’s maybe 2-3 days to get there, so 2-3 days back. We’ll need enough time to really check everything, so maybe eight days? Might be less, but we’ll make sure, unless there’s something wrong, not to be longer.’ Dwalin gazed around, breaking into two parties wasn’t his preference, but with Nori here, along with Thorin, he was confident that things would be all right.

‘That sounds good, and two of us will go with you this morning to start setting the midway camp up. That way you’ll know where it is.’ Bombur had already prepped all of the things needed for the journey, and they were soon up on their ponies and riding away.

Bombur and Dori would ride as far as what they had determined to be the halfway point, they would set everything so that it could be found, and then return.

After breakfast, Nori set half of the remaining group for weapons practice, Thorin taking Bilbo and Balin working with Ori. He and Kíli also went out looking for wood and food, as well as practicing stealth tactics. Óin was teaching Fíli some more healing practices, since there were never enough healers in battles when you needed one. He was working his way through the entire troop, when he was done, everyone would be able to help when needed. It was good that the Elves in Rivendell had given them extra supplies, he was able to use some of it to teach.

They switched out mid-morning and then broke for lunch when Nori and Kíli returned, bringing a couple of hares with them.

‘Well, Uncle, if there were Hobbits here at one time, there is no sign of them now. We looked as we went, but…’ Kíli shrugged. ‘And we went as close to the forest as we dared, it still feels strange there, but we didn’t see anything when we were there.’

Nori nodded, ‘In fact, other than us, there doesn’t seem to be anyone around here. Not that there couldn’t be, there’s a lot of grassland here, and it rises and falls so you can’t tell where you are, sometimes. But so far, nothing. Just a few hares and the deer that seem to roam here.’

Thorin nodded. ‘Good job. We’ll keep up these little patrols, it’s good practice for us all and will hopefully continue to bring in meat.’ He glanced over at Bilbo. ‘Perhaps you could find us some of the green stuff you like, just for variety sake.’

Everyone chuckled at that, but privately, they had to admit that their meals were much better with his ‘additions’, as they all called it.

‘You are not as funny as you think you are, Thorin. You do realize that I could poison you just as easily, or at least make you very sick!’ Bilbo narrowed his eyes at the grinning dwarf.

Fíli and Kíli both looked stricken for a brief moment before brightening, knowing that Bilbo would never do anything like that. ‘Could you show us some of the things that might make us sick? You never know when you might need something like that!’ They grinned at the looks they got from everyone at that point, with snorts from both Bilbo and Óin.

‘You two are dangerous enough as you are, you don’t need any help! So no, I will not!’

After lunch, they again split into pairs and practiced. Óin and Ori kept watch, as everyone was hoping that Dori and Bombur would be back before nightfall. If not, they would wait until noon and then make plans to go out as far as they could.

But by nightfall, they were back, and reported that the rest had continued on, and that they had had no problems setting up a small camp.

‘But you’re right about the woods, they’re just as creepy there as here. But we found some stone and made a cairn to keep everything in. We can always make it bigger, or a couple side by side. And since they knew approximately where it was, they should be able to find it coming back. Plus, there seem to be some smaller trickles of water, you can’t really call them streams, but it will fill a skin, slowly, but at least it’s water.’ Bombur shrugged at the looks he got, he had no explanation. ‘We could dig out and make a pool so that there would be more. And it would make giving water to ponies easier.’

As the rest of the group did chores and practiced, the four continued on toward Erebor, watching as the Mountain grew even larger as they rode. They set up their campsite in a small valley, and tethered their ponies so that they could eat the grass while they were there.

‘I had forgotten how big it was,’ Dwalin said softly, gazing up at the mountain. ‘And I think that we’re a lot closer than we thought. We’re maybe only a day from the camp, which could be bad.’

Glóin nodded. ‘Yes, we’ll have to make sure that we’re not drawing anyone back with us when we return. But it makes it easier for us, that little waystation can be a sentry post later.’

Bifur swiftly signed to his cousin, and Bofur nodded his agreement. ‘We should split up tomorrow. We could go around Dale, see what has changed there, and take a look out at Lake-town, see how close it is.’

‘We could meet up back here around sunset, see what everyone has found. Good idea. We should get to bed.’

The next morning, the four continued on foot, with Dwalin and Glóin heading uphill toward Erebor itself, and Bifur and Bofur downhill toward Dale.

As Dwalin and Glóin prowled around the base of Erebor, they found a lot of burned ground with not a lot of regrowth. They weren’t sure if it was just because of how hot dragon’s breath and fire was, or some contagion that had been left behind from it. They peered around toward the gates but stayed well away from it, and found that they were broken and some of the stone had fallen into the River Running. Not enough to stop it, but it was definitely slowing it down. They looked at each other, knowing that each was calculating just how much work it would take to get it opened up, and then built back up. They then headed up and around the west side of the Mountain, looking for the area where the hidden door could be. Dwalin pointed up, there was a bit of flat halfway up, and he thought that it could be where the door was. Glóin nodded, from what he could remember, that was about right. They tried going up the mountain toward the shelf and found a very rocky path that hadn’t been used in ages. With unspoken agreement, they turned and started back toward the campsite, tomorrow would be another day.

Bifur and Bofur prowled around Dale, checking out buildings and seeing how many buildings could be used if they needed to take shelter in them. And there was not a lot that they could see that was good, the dragon had taken great care to either burn or knock down most of the buildings. But they were dwarves, they had built with less and worse and could make some good defensive posts with what there was, and even though they didn’t know where the hidden tunnels were, they could make guesses. They were careful as they checked down by the river, looking toward Lake-town, although they were not impressed by the fact that the descendants of Dale had built a wooden town on a lake within the reach of a fire-breathing dragon. That was death just looking to happen.

After all their very carefully wandering around, they headed back to the campsite, they needed to figure out what else they could do while they were there, because right now, there wasn’t much. At least they hadn’t seen anyone around, so that was a relief. And it was interesting to see the gates into Erebor, even though they were broken. They knew that it wouldn’t take long to get some sort of barrier to the world once they were back inside of the mountain. It would be good to find out what the other two had discovered and hopefully, there were no spies around the mountain, either.

By nightfall, they were back together, with the fire cooking the food they had brought with them, they kept their voices low, but traded all that they had seen that day. They agreed that they would switch places, just to see if there was anything that the others had missed.

‘But I’m glad to hear that there’s no one snooping around Dale. We didn’t see any sign of anything around Erebor. Not even any sign of the dragon.’ Glóin shrugged. ‘Not seeing anything at this point is a good thing, I think.’

‘You know Thorin is going to seriously freak out when we get back to them in half the time, right? I’m thinking that all this rolling hill stuff is messing with how far we think everything is.’ Dwalin was standing outside the fire circle so that he could see around to make sure that no one was sneaking up on them. ‘We need to get to sleep, I’d like to get this done and get back to the others. Being apart at this point is a weakness, we’re too easy to attack because of not having everyone here.’

The rest grunted their agreement, and settled down quickly.

The next day was much the same, but since Glóin was more familiar with Dale, he was able to find where some of the hidden tunnels were that ran under the town. At the moment, they were blocked, but it wouldn’t take much to unblock them. He marked them so that others would be able to find them, and then the next day, after carefully putting the one bag over the gate, with Bifur and Bofur shoring up they could, took one more quick look around where they were sure the secret door was, making sure that they would be able to get up there without too much problem.

They knew that it would freak Thorin out that they had been to Erebor and back in such a short time, but it would be good to know just where everything was and how long it would take to get there and back. Plus, now they would have a place for a settlement plus a sentry post within reach of their mountain. And they still had over a month until they needed to be in the mountain and getting rid of Smaug, plenty of time to train and plan.

The next morning, they were up early and were ready to return to the rest of their group, and knew that they would be able to get back with them before nightfall.

Thorin had made sure to pay closer attention to Bilbo, making sure that he was practicing with his knife as well as his sling. He knew that it was good that his nephews were also practicing with him, the sling was not a normal weapon that they used. And even though Dori had been backsliding with Dwalin being gone, Ori had also gotten better with the war hammer.

Óin had taken him aside, and while practicing with him, asked why he was so against Ori learning to defend himself. They would be going into some sort of battle with Smaug, and having someone that couldn’t at least defend himself would be more than a hinderance and at worse, could get others killed, something that had been said to him more than once. As they practiced, Dori had finally come around to the fact that Ori was old enough to choose for himself, and that Dori would just have to let him go.

‘Dori, no one wants their family members to grow up, that’s normal. But you can’t hold them back, it’s not fair to them or you.’ He made a feint to his off side, but Dori countered and almost made him lose his sword.

‘I know. I just have babied him for so very long, mostly because I knew that he was the last child of my mother. It was a miracle that he was born, and she was sick for so long afterward. I just never got over it, I guess.’ Dori sighed and stepped back from Óin. ‘But I have watched him grow on our journey, and he’s grown so much. He’s not the child that I remember from before.’

‘You should tell him so, it would help him with his self-confidence. He’s not just our scribe, he’s a contributing member of our group. He needs to know that he is needed and wanted here.’ Óin shook his head, this should have been taken care of before this. ‘And you need to let up on Nori, I know that he wasn’t the best dwarf while he was growing up, but he’s really stepping up. Dwalin has trusted him with a lot of the guarding, and I know that he’s going to be in the guard when we are back in Erebor.’

Dori nodded. ‘And I’ve accepted that, I just still have trouble with Ori, and I shouldn’t.’

Nori popped up behind them. ‘Well, all you have to do is just say, Dori. It’s not like we wouldn’t understand that you’re the mother hen of us all! And that it’s never going to change.’

Ori peeked around him. ‘Really, we totally understand!’

Dori threw his hands in the air. ‘I give up!’

Chapter 15

Later that day, just before nightfall, the four returned from Erebor, and Thorin just stood and looked at them in surprise while everyone gathered around them, looking them over to make sure they were all right.

‘I thought you said at least eight to ten days! Or more! How are you back here so soon!?’

Bilbo just grinned, looking over at the ponies, he knew that they had gotten the first bag set up and couldn’t be more pleased.

Dwalin snorted. ‘Ha, you’d think so. But this landscape is totally deceptive, Erebor’s only about a day from here, the cairn we built is about half a day out, almost in the middle, it’ll make a good sentry outpost, while here will be good for the outpost for us and a community for any that wants to farm here.’

The others nodded in agreement. ‘We were able to move around the whole area there, it’s like no one has been there since everything happened. There’s no real recovery of anything that we could see. It’s still just as black and barren as when we were forced out, no green and growing plants at all.’ Glóin shrugged at the looks he got. ‘We marked in Dale where we think some of the underground tunnels are, and figured out, maybe, where the secret door is. If there had been anyone around there, it would have slowed us down, but it was still totally deserted, it didn’t even look like anyone from Lake-town ever goes there.’

Bofur said, ‘We checked out the gates into Erebor, and there shouldn’t be too much trouble getting something back up to safeguard us if and when we get in.’

Bifur signed rapidly, and Bofur nodded. ‘We could use a lot of the broken works from Dale to make fortifications and even do some work there if we need a place to stay or if some of the Men want to come back.’

Dwalin shrugged a bit. ‘We found where there’s a path up the side of the mountain with a bit of an outcropping. It’s faint, but it’s the only one we could find. So we figure that’s where the door is, but we didn’t climb up there, we didn’t want to draw any attention to ourselves, not with so few of us there.’

Glóin shook his head, ‘But whoever is left from Dale has built a wooden city out in the lake! They are maybe a day or two of rowing from the Dale and Erebor, but really! Who builds a city of wood near a dragon! It’s not like they could put out dragonfire with water. They would all be dead before they could get away!’

The rest shook their heads, it was the one thing they had discussed on the way back, why anyone would do that. Of course, they could understand the whole running away from the dragon, but at least the Dwarves had put a mountain range between them and him. Even if later events had cost them even more of their people, at least the dragon wasn’t part of it once they had gotten away from there.

Thorin just looked at them, as the rest made sounds of dismay.

‘A wooden town. In the middle of the lake. Is there any way for them to get away? I mean, other than by boat?’ Bilbo looked appalled, but then, as a total non-swimmer, he wouldn’t even think of building a town in the middle of a lake. How would you grow food, have animals? Did they make trips every day to farm somewhere? Did someone stay wherever they did that to keep everything safe? Or did they buy all of their food from somewhere else? That would be so expensive! No, it was all just foolish!

‘Maybe, they are sort of closer to one shore and there might be some sort of floating movable bridge? We didn’t get too close, and really, no matter what they did, a dragon would be on them and they would be dead before they could do anything.’ Dwalin shrugged. ‘Who knows what the Men were thinking when they fled or why they didn’t go further. We tried to get as far away as we could, they went and sat in the middle of a lake.’

‘It’s a very ramshackle looking town, it doesn’t look prosperous at all. I’m sure they would be glad to get some of their own back once we’ve sorted it out. And maybe we could entice some of them to come back to Dale, if we get rid of Smaug, that is.’ Bofur nodded to the rest, there were good bones there, it would be easy to rebuild Dale, maybe not to the heights it had been in the past, but better than what they currently had.

‘So, you’re saying we could move a lot closer to Erebor and still be outside the area of devastation?’ Thorin had spent hours just looking at his mountain, wondering how badly it was damaged inside and out, and hearing that there was nothing growing around it made him wonder just how bad it was inside and if they could even make a living there.

Bilbo patted his arm gently, he could understand how Thorin felt, after the Fell Winter, there were oldsters that never truly recovered afterward, always looking for the next disaster, longing for friends and family they had lost. He always hoped that Yavanna had taken them gently when it was their time, so that they healed as they moved on, meeting old friends and family as they went into Her embrace.

‘Yes, we set up a small camp outside of the Desolation, the grass is really tall and thick all the way there. And there are streamlets that we figured we could trench and make troughs like the ones in the mountains. It would make watering the ponies and us using it a lot easier.’ Glóin nodded at everyone’s look. ‘I’m not sure I would trust anything inside the mountain until we checked to see what all was going on. Who knows what kind of foulness Smaug is creating there and Dale is too broken to be trusted. And at this point, I wouldn’t trust anyone in Lake-town, no matter who they were.’

‘I’d have to agree, having a base away from Erebor at the moment is an excellent idea. And since we still have better than a month, it would give us plenty of time to set any plan we come up with in motion.’ Dwalin shrugged and added, ‘We did manage to get the first sack over the gate, and Bifur and Bofur steadied the lintel and the rock around the door. So, hopefully, it’s still there, unless there’s a storm or something shakes it loose. It wasn’t like we could put ropes on it and pound stakes into the rockface to hold it there!’

‘Well, then I think we should move closer to Erebor, at least to the halfway point. We could do another recognizance and see if anyone noticed us being there.’ Thorin narrowed his eyes in thought and then nodded.

Dwalin shrugged and replied, ‘We also might have to go to the lake, just to see what is there. Maybe they have someplace they stay on the bank somewhere. We didn’t want to get too close with just the four of us there.’

‘No, that was a good call. And I personally think we will just stay as far away from them as we can, I don’t want to let a dragon loose with a wooden town that close to him.’ Thorin sighed and looked back at Erebor. ‘But you’re sure that you could see where you think the hidden entrance is?’

‘Yes, there’s a very faint trail, and a shallow cliff. We won’t know until we get there, but… it looked promising to all of us.’

‘All right, then, let’s get ready to move out in the morning, the sooner we get there, the sooner we can finally finish this.’ Thorin turned his back to his mountain, he needed his full concentration on the here and now, not on what might be.

The next morning, everyone was out of sorts and stumbling around, almost as if they had been drinking late and still needed to sleep it off, which for some was totally out of character.

Finally, Óin stopped and made everyone sit down. ‘I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it’s not good. We’re not going anywhere until I give all of you a good going over to see what’s wrong!’

Several of the dwarves started to argue with him, but Thorin gave a piercing whistle and a look. ‘Sit down. Now. I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t feel right and we need to figure out just what is going on!’

Bilbo walked over to the their water source, and sniffed over it, then scooping some up and barely tasting it.

‘Ah, I think I know what happened. I think that we dug too deep here, and there’s some water draining from the forest into our little streamlet pool. We need to fill it in and if anyone filled their waterskin from here, you need to dump it. Hopefully, we can get this fixed before anyone else comes through, we didn’t get a full charge of whatever is in the forest, but we got enough to make some of us woozy.’

Óin looked shocked, ‘If just a little bit of water from the forest did this, I hate to think what would happen if anyone had gotten a full charge! We’ll need to check the water source at the next camp, make sure we don’t make the same mistake.’

They only had to dump one of the waterskins, and Balin dumped it closer to the forest, hopefully it wouldn’t drain back toward their little campsite.

‘We’ll just have to make sure that no one tries to get water too close to the forest, it would seem that even a little bit affects us,’ Óin was still checking everyone as they finished packing up. ‘Bilbo, do you feel any different?’

Bilbo shook his head. ‘No, but I didn’t have any straight water, just some that I boiled for my tea. We will have to make sure that any water source is uphill from the forest and maybe further away when we set up our next camp.’

‘Well, Viridan did say that we shouldn’t use anything that came out of the forest.’ Óin shook his head, this could have been so much worse than it had turned out.

Everyone was finally given the all clear by Óin, but he made sure to tell everyone, that if they felt the least bit off, that they were to tell him immediately. Who knew what kind of side effects this could have.

They set off, and because they knew they only had half a day’s ride, they stayed together with riders just slightly ahead and behind, Thorin was a bit shaken to know that something as simple as water could take down his entire company. They would be checking the campsite where they had set up outside of the Desolation, just to make sure that they weren’t getting anything from the forest there, or from the Desolation itself.

By noon, they were all feeling much better, although still a little rough around the edges. They had also ridden further away from the forest, deciding that being further away would lessen their chances of picking something up that had come from the forest. They passed the stone cairn and continued on, but knowing that it was there made them all feel better. It would be an excellent outpost for them, and anyone who allied with them.

By late afternoon, they were at the campsite that the four had made, and the first thing Óin did was check the water, while others checked to make sure no one had been anywhere around there since they had left. The ponies were all tethered in the same place they had used before and then they gathered around the fire, sentries set outside of the light, but within hearing distance.

‘Well, we are lucky here, the streamlets are uphill from both the forest and the Desolation so they’re safe to use. I would have hated to try to find water here, I’m not going to trust the River Running until we get rid of Smaug. And make sure that we’re taking special care not to get any animals from the forest, we’re almost too close as is.’ Óin shook his head, he didn’t like being so close to the Desolation without knowing what was there.

‘All right, in the morning, we’ll split up and check both Dale and see how far up the outside of the mountain we can get. Make sure that no one is around, we want to stay away from anyone who might be here. And don’t eat or drink anything while we’re out there. We’ll carry everything we need during the day, until we’re inside, we can’t trust anything out here.’ Thorin looked around at everyone, and they nodded back at him. ‘Get to sleep, we’ll be very busy for the next few days.’

The next morning, leaving Ori, Bombur and Dori to guard the camp, the rest headed out, splitting into two groups to check out what they could.

Thorin took his group and headed toward the west face of the mountain, eager to see just how far he could get up the path the others had found. And when they got there, they found it was passable, but not by much.

‘We wouldn’t be able to get the ponies up here at all. It’s taken us most of the morning just to get halfway up, and it looks worse from here on up.’ Bifur signed to his cousin, who nodded as he spoke.

‘I would have to agree, it’s like Smaug knew something was here and tried to destroy the area to keep everyone away from it.’

‘Could we clean it up a bit? Or would that make too much noise out here?’ Bilbo looked around, frowning as he did. ‘And how much high does this get? Would others be able to see anyone up here?’

Thorin hummed as he climbed over more rocks on the path. ‘I’m not sure we should clean much off of here, it would make noise, plus, if we need to defend this area, it would be easier to use some of what’s here to fortify it.’

‘And we could build a bit of a barricade up here with all the rock that’s around, so leaving it here for now is a good idea,’ Bofur added. ‘Also, throwing rocks at someone below would be an option.’

They climbed for a while longer, and finally made it up to the small shelf that was there.

‘So, any idea about where this door is? Other than…’ Bilbo waved his hand at the rockface, getting snorts from the others when he did.

‘No, I just wanted to get the lay of the land, so to speak. It’s here, that’s all I need to know at the moment. And it’s a good vantage point to look over the rest of this valley. You can’t see our camp from here, so that’s both good and bad. And the way it’s all angled, you can see the River Running and Dale. Look, you can even see Lake-town and really, who builds with wood around a dragon!’ Thorin shook his head again at the Men who would do something he considered so foolish. ‘I’m surprised he didn’t come out and burn the place down at some point.’

‘Yes, and if we built a barricade here, we wouldn’t be visible to anyone looking up this way. It would mask well with the rest of the mountain.’ Bofur walked around, tapping the mountainside and listening intently. ‘Well, I can’t hear any hollows but that doesn’t mean anything. We don’t know how thick the door is, and I’m not seeing anything like a crack to show were a door is.’

Bilbo shook his head, ‘Amazing. And now we have to wait for Durin’s Day to do all of this? It just seems that if we could do something before to get it over with before that, it would make it easier for you. I mean, the weather is nice at the moment, but we are into autumn and I don’t know how bad winters are here.’

The rest of them looked at him, and shrugged. ‘We lived inside and had good trade for so long that we were secure inside during the worst of it. And there were stockpiles of everything we would need. So, other than those who had duty outside or went on the caravans, we didn’t really worry about the outside weather.’ Thorin grinned a bit at the look he got from Bilbo, but it was the truth. They had been rich, both in people and resources, so the outside world wasn’t as big as a concern as when they lived in the Blue Mountains.

‘Well, it’ll be good that you have all the wealth of Erebor to keep you supplied now, even after you give back everyone’s jewels and money. Because, from what I can see, you won’t be getting anything from the land around here for quite a while.’ Bilbo gestured around, a sorrowful look on his face. ‘Smaug really didn’t leave much behind after he went into the mountain, did he.’

‘No, and I’m sure he was in and out for a while after we were gone. He probably tormented the Men from Dale when we were gone.’ Thorin sighed, it had been an evil day and bad ones after.

‘All right, let’s get back down, I want to see what the others found in Dale.’

Meanwhile, Kíli and Fíli were checking out some of the more sturdy buildings and seeing just how much it would take to build them up. Glóin and Nori were checking out the tunnel entrances to see how much work it would take to get them opened back up.

Nori shook his head, ‘I’m thinking this one is not any good. The depression in the ground goes on too far to make it a viable option for us. I’m pretty sure it’s collapsed past useful.’

Glóin nodded, he’d come to the same conclusion. ‘We’ll mark this one off, it might be something we can reconsider after everything is done, or that whoever comes here later might want to fix it.’

They moved off to the next place Glóin thought might be a tunnel, since it was in the building that had been Dale’s meeting place, there was a good chance that it had been used during the evacuation and so they would have to be very careful when they opened it up.

They moved around the wall that they could tell, just by the damage, that had a concealed entrance. It was like Smaug had tried to sniff out anyone that had been left behind, and a dragon’s enhanced senses would make it easy for him to find such things.

Nori frowned at the damage and then made a soft sound of dismay. ‘Well, not everyone made it out of here.’ Under some of the debris they could see that someone had not made it down into the tunnel.

‘Ah, no, and it could have been anyone, but we’ll take care when we are cleaning everything up here. We will make sure that whoever is here is taken care of properly. But it does show that the tunnel was used at the last. I am wondering how far and where this one went.’ Glóin started to tap on the floor, tracing where the more hollow sounds were. Nori watched as he went, and suddenly made a discovery that could change everything.

‘Glóin, does this tunnel go toward Erebor? Look at where you’re heading, it’s not straying from running straight to the mountain! I mean, maybe it comes up before then, closer to the edge of the town, but… It doesn’t seem like something you would use to evacuate a town of Men!’

Glóin looked up, then turned around to look at where he had started, then turning again to line up the tunnel to the mountain.

‘I don’t remember anyone ever saying that there was any other way out than the front gates and the guard areas. We need to carefully remove the stones from the tunnel mouth and see just what is under them.’

They went back to the beginning, and started to carefully and quietly remove the stones that had been knocked down from the wall. It was apparent very quickly that it was not a Man that had been killed by the falling stone, but a Dwarf. They looked at each other, this was not what they had expected, and they needed to get with Thorin to see if he knew anything about it.

‘We should just leave this for now. We need Thorin, and maybe Balin, because I wasn’t high enough when we were here to know any of this. And I’m not sure if anyone in our company would know because of security concerns.’

Nori nodded, ‘I can see where this would be only known by the King and maybe his advisors, and maybe not even them. It would be too easy to let it be known if someone was told about it, then passed it on to someone they wanted to impress.’

‘And Thrór would have been very stingy giving out this sort of secret,’ Glóin agreed.

‘Exactly. I’m going to stay here and look around some more, if you see the princes, send them this way.’ Glóin waved Nori off, and he quickly left, letting the boys know that Glóin wanted them and pointed them in the right direction before he started toward Erebor.

Fortunately for him, he met the rest of the group as they were heading for the town, and told them what they had found in quiet tones, not wanting to broadcast what they had found, just in case there was someone around that they hadn’t seen.

Balin and Thorin just looked at each other, then waved him into showing what they had found.

Thorin looked down at the tunnel that sloped down and then toward his home. Balin stood next to him, his lips pursed tight and then Thorin finally sighed.

‘I wonder how many more we could have gotten out had we known of this then. And who is this sad soul that perished here.’

‘There isn’t anything that really tells us who he was, what’s left of his clothing, what with the weather and just natural decay, doesn’t tell us anything, either. Too many years, we may never know. But he did seem to be the last, unless there are more further down the tunnel, which there could be, if the collapse here meant no more could get out.’ Balin gestured around, the damage was more extensive here, but that could just be because Smaug had sniffed this out and had wrecked this area of the building trying to get to it.

Thorin sighed, ‘Another secret that my grandfather and father kept from everyone. But it does raise the question, if we can open it up quietly, can we get into Erebor and scout around without the dragon finding us out. Because this would be another way in, one that maybe we could use to our advantage.’

Kíli shook his head a bit, this was more than he anticipated, and it made him sad to know yet another one of their people had died here. ‘Uncle, should we move what we can aside, that way we can hopefully give him a proper sendoff later.’

Fíli nodded. ‘If we move the building stones over here, we could put the remains under cover until later.’

‘Good thinking, the both of you. But I want you, Fíli, to go with Nori and see how far Dwalin has gotten. He was talking about seeing just what was going on in Lake-town, but I know he wasn’t going to get too close.’ Thorin jerked his head toward the River Running, he knew that Dwalin had been planning on following the river at least part of the way.

The two nodded at him and quickly started out of the town, Nori pointing out to Fíli where a good place to put defenders would be, if they needed to use the town for any reason. They found Dwalin without too much problem, he had circled the town and after watching the fishing boats going in and out of the town, along with a few barges, he was ready to go back.

‘And we need to check Ravenhill, I think there is something flying around there, and if it’s ravens that still answer to the line of Durin, we could send a message to Dáin and others.’ Dwalin pointed with a shrug of his shoulder toward the hill and the other two nodded.

‘That would be a great idea. And what did you think of Lake-town?’ Nori was keeping a close eye on everything he could, it wouldn’t do to be spotted at this point.

‘Let’s wait to get back to the rest of the group.’ Dwalin wasn’t comfortable being split up, and he also didn’t like being so far out in the open, there could be spies, even if they didn’t see them.

As they hurried back, the other filled him in about what had been found and Dwalin just shook his head at it all.

By the time they got back to the middle of the town, it was starting to get late, so after a brief conference, it was decided to just leave everything where it was and go back to the campsite. They had moved the remains of the Dwarf, but had partially covered up the tunnel entrance so it was no longer easily visible. They didn’t want to get too busy, and then have to find their way in the dark, lighting torches at this point would be very unsafe.

As it was, by the time they got back to the campsite, it was past dark, and only the fact that they could see so well in the dark made it possible to find it, the other three had worked all day to make sure they were as hidden as they possibly could be.

Bombur had made a stew and so it was easy to dish up and talk through everything that had gone on through the day.

‘Did any of you know about any tunnels between Erebor and Dale? Considering that at least one Dwarf lost their life in Dale, someone knew about it.’ Óin looked at Thorin and Balin, both of whom were shaking their heads.

‘If there was a tunnel, I was never told. But, remember, Thrór was becoming more and more paranoid as time went on. He thought that everyone was out to get all of ‘his’ treasure. So if he told anyone, other than my father, it had to have been a long time before. Or, someone just happened onto one end or the other. There were Dwarves that had stone sense that would have been able to find it. All they would have needed was to see either of them go down a corridor and not come out the other end to start hunting.’ Thorin shrugged at the looks he got. ‘Just a theory, because obviously someone knew about it, since it was used at the end. And it wasn’t by Thrór or Thráin because I’m pretty sure that they came from the hidden door.’

‘And I have to wonder if anyone is left of the Men of Lake-town that know about it. We don’t know if there are any descendants of Girion around and if they were told. So, that’s another question we will eventually need answered. But right now, what are we going to do? We can’t get into the mountain through the hidden door until Durin’s Day, and we don’t want to be seen going in through the main gate, and now with this tunnel… There are almost too many choices here, and most of them seem to be time based.’ Balin looked around at everyone.

‘Well. I vote that we get a good night’s sleep and tackle this in the morning. How long do you think until Durin’s Day do you think we have?’ Bilbo looked around the rest of the group, not seeing anyone disagreeing with him.

‘Little bit less than a month, now, I think. As that Elf said, we made better time than anyone thought we would.’ Dwalin nodded. ‘But between riding ponies and staying out of the Wood, I think that’s what did it.’

‘All right, let’s get a good night’s sleep. Everyone knows their shift for guard duty, hopefully we will be able to think of a good plan tomorrow.’ Thorin took the first shift, along with Nori, he had much to think on, and in the quiet darkness he would be able to do that.

Chapter 16

The next morning had everyone up and moving quietly around the campsite. Thorin had thought through the options they had, and he still wasn’t happy with any of them.

Bilbo and Óin checked the rest of their tisanes and set aside another one for over the gate. Bilbo wasn’t sure why Yavanna wanted them over it, but he wasn’t going against Her plans, it paid to always follow whatever She wanted. He also set one aside for going down the tunnel, just in case they could actually get into Erebor that way. If they could get it to the dragon and he took the bait, well, he’d take it as a win, even if he wasn’t entirely sure whether the stuff had to go on him or he had to drink it, the book had said one way in one part, then another later on.

Thorin left more of the group at the camp, they weren’t going to Erebor and they didn’t need too many Dwarves running around and getting spotted by anyone. So he left Dori to watch over the camp while Kíli and Fíli did some hunting, and Bombur did some more cooking. The rest were going with him, with Bifur and Bofur going to the gate to put the other bag up over the it and to make sure the first was still secure. Then they would head back to the campsite. It still put too many of them in Dale, but they were well armed and able to defend themselves if someone or thing happened upon them. He refused to think why he wanted Bilbo with his group, but the Hobbit had had ideas that worked out and he had decided that maybe they needed someone to look at things with a different eye.

‘We’re going to see if we can get down into the tunnel, but I don’t want us to go too far, but we need to know if anything is down there. And even though I would really like to see if we can get into Erebor from there, not knowing where it comes up makes it chancy. So, keep it in mind, but hopefully there won’t be any problems.’

Thorin nodded, and they split into their groups, with the two for the gate carrying the bag to go over it.

‘Hopefully, that will cover the whole top of the gate, or at least most of it.’ Bilbo looked around and no one seemed to be disagreeing with him, just nodding as they started toward the town.

‘We’ll make sure that it’s evenly placed, that way if we do have to shoot arrows into it, there should be good overage for whatever is under it at the time.’ Bofur was sure that they could get it up and secured, and Bifur was nodding. ‘If not, we’ll let you know when you get back to camp.’ They then headed toward Erebor, while the rest of them headed toward Dale.

‘Have you thought about where this tunnel might come up? I honestly do not remember any meeting with anyone from Dale that didn’t come through our gates.’ Balin shrugged a bit at the look that Thorin gave him, but it was the truth.

‘No, but I’m thinking it was more for our benefit than theirs. I’m sure that if they knew about it, at least Girion or whoever oversaw it being done would have used it at some point. And that’s the other problem, who knows how long it was there. Maybe it was before Girion, so he might not have known about it, if his father didn’t tell him about it. But, let’s just get there and see if we can get a little ways into it, we’ll be able to tell more then.’ Thorin continued walking, thinking about who might have known about this tunnel, if it would have made any difference if more had known about it.

Bilbo sighed to himself softly, he could tell that Thorin was brooding, again. There really wasn’t anything he or anyone else could say that would help, all of this had happened so long ago now, that the truth of the matter would probably never come out. Unless there was something written down in that mountain of theirs, anyway.

They finally got to Dale, and they went straight to the building and looked around to make sure that nothing and, more importantly, nobody had been around. Satisfied that it was all clear, they started to move more of the building stone from over and around the tunnel entrance. In the clear light of day, they could see more of the damage that had been done by the dragon, Smaug had definitely known that there was something there, Too many of the buildings around it were damaged, some to the point of being completely crushed.

Thorin and Balin had looked a bit more closely at the remains that had been found, but it had been too many years to tell who had died there. They would just have to inter what was left later, and know that Mahal would have already taken whoever it was to the Halls.

Soon they had it cleaned up and everyone was more than a little nervous about what they might find down in it.

‘This could either be very bad, or extremely horrible.’ Bilbo swallowed a bit, he couldn’t smell anything, not like at the troll hoard, but that didn’t mean anything. That had been recent, this was many years older, but it still could be terrible. ‘What if there are more bodies down there?’ He gestured around them, ‘I mean, there isn’t anything here, but the years and weather would have taken care of most of that. Down there, not so much.’

Thorin and Dwalin shared a glance and Dwalin nodded.

‘I’ll go down first, there’s no reason to have everyone down at once. Let me have the hot stone and fire brand, I won’t light it until I’m at least partially underground, no need to be letting everyone know that there’s someone here.’ He accepted both and carefully lowered himself partway down. ‘There’s stairs of some sort here, let me duck down and light this so I can see more.’

There was a brief flare of light, but Dwalin had it down and hidden before anyone could see anything.

‘Well, so far as I can see, there’s nothing here. Let me go further down and in, but I’m going to be silent. Nori, be ready.’

Nori nodded, his face a bit grim, but this was what he’d been training for. He stood back, and found a high spot so that he could keep watch over everything. Ori looked at him, and then took up his position, lower but still able to see around. Nori nodded, proud that his brother would step up, even though he would need more training to be truly effective.

Óin stood to one side, he wasn’t confident that there wouldn’t be more bodies, even if they weren’t at this end, he knew that there would probably be some at the other end. And even more inside of the mountain, since he knew that many had never been able to escape, trapped by the dragon.

‘Well.’ Dwalin’s voice seemed to echo, even though he was making a real effort to keep it quiet. ‘There’s nothing here, at least as far as I can see. Just good dwarf work, so I think we can rule out Men having anything to do with this. And it seems to run true to Erebor, so there’s that.’

There was a bit of shuffling, and a clunk. ‘And I think our departed friend was trying to get out with whatever he could take, there’s old bags here, I’ll not dig into them, they’ll just fall apart. How far do you want me to go, Thorin? And do you want to come down here, or anyone else?’

Bilbo gave an almost visible shudder, and Thorin almost chuckled. ‘I’ll come down, make sure nothing is in my way to stumble over.’ He looked around at the others, ‘Make sure nothing is creeping up on us while we’re down here.’

Thorin carefully maneuvered down into the tunnel, and soon they could hear the two speaking very quietly.

‘We’re going to see how far we can go, just to get a general feel of the layout down here. And we’re going to be as quiet as we can, so don’t panic if you can’t hear us.’ Thorin looked up and Balin nodded, then he disappeared into the gloom of the tunnel. There were a few scraping noises, and then it was quiet.

‘Don’t worry, Bilbo, we know how to do this. If dwarves built this, then we will be able to travel with no problem, as long as nothing has been disturbed.’ Óin patted Bilbo on the shoulder and then he too took up watch. With two of them under ground, it would not do to have someone or thing come sneaking up on them now.

It seemed to take forever and yet Bilbo knew that it hadn’t been very long, when all of a sudden, there was some noise coming from the tunnel, and Balin moved over to the entrance.

Thorin emerged first, a fierce grin on his face, with Dwalin following close behind, carrying a bundle in his arms.

‘We left the brand down there, it’s almost out, but there’s enough airflow that it won’t hurt anything. We’ll make more and use them later on when we’re down there.’ Thorin shrugged a bit, it had been a long time since he’d been in such workings, and it had felt good in all the ways that the Blue Mountains hadn’t. He had felt a connection here, and the further they had gone, the stronger the connection had felt. He had asked Mahal as they had gone further in to keep all of them from the gold sickness that had plagued their line for so many years, and had felt an acceptance that he’d never felt before. For the first time, he truly felt that they could do this, and he had more hope.

‘What’s with the bundle, I thought you said you were going to leave what you had found down there.’ Óin looked at the two of them, only to have them grin fiercely at the rest of them.

‘I think you will recognize some of this, Óin, and you, too, Balin.’ Dwalin set it all down carefully, then pulled the top of the cloak back from the rest of the bundle.

It was treasure from their mountain halls, gold and silver and jewels. Whoever had perished there had been trying to leave with what he or she could carry, but Smaug had stopped them.

‘I think I recognize some of this,’ Balin looked sadly down at it. ‘And now I think I can put a name to our body over there.’

Thorin nodded. ‘Did either Thráin or Thrór seem to be looking for anyone as we were traveling? Because I can’t believe that this wasn’t planned. Most of this is from my family’s personal treasury, which would mean we would have had more to barter with as we travelled. Unfortunately…’

‘Yes, I think it was probably Tovlan son of Volan and a falling wall stopped him from getting out.’ Balin shook his head sadly. ‘I can’t say that I ever noticed them looking for anyone in particular, but then I was often off trying to keep us all together, as well as checking on my own family members. So, I might never have noticed, nor do I ever remember them talking about anyone they were missing in particular.’

‘So, either they thought they hadn’t made it out, or that they had run away.’ Dwalin snorted at some of the looks that he got at that. ‘We know some of us went to kin in other places, he wasn’t kin to you, Thorin, so he could have, except he didn’t. He was here. And if anyone else was, well, it’ll be closer to Erebor than the Dale, since we didn’t see anything as far as we went.’

‘That would make it a true emergency exit, and if anyone else knew about it, they died before they could get out, since I don’t ever remember anything being said, ever. And it could be that, as we travelled, especially as we got further away, they both figured that either he had been killed, or run away. And so they never spoke of it, because what would have been the point. It would have been a good plan, but Smaug probably sniffed out the tunnel because of the gold. I’m not sure why he didn’t dig the bag up, but maybe he was pulled away from here by all other things going on.’ Thorin sighed. ‘So, should we leave this here, underground, or take it back to the campsite?’

Bilbo twitched at that and said firmly, ‘I think we should leave it here. Would Smaug get called by it if it was out and moving around?’

The rest looked at one another. ‘I… don’t know, and I believe we shouldn’t take the chance.’ Thorin nodded to Dwalin, who carefully lowered the bundle back down into the tunnel. They then sealed it back up, and headed back to their campsite, ready to tell everyone what they had discovered.

When they got back to the campsite, they found that the rest of the Dwarves had been very busy making a more sturdy pen for their ponies, as well as finding enough stone to ring the fire circle and making it a bit more hidden. When Bifur and Bofur had gotten back, they had started finding building material to use for a defensive wall around the whole of the campsite, hidden within all the tall grass that was there. Everyone would have to learn exactly where it all was, anyone else would be tripping over it and setting themselves up to be killed or captured, depending on how many there were.

Fíli and Kíli had gone out toward the Withered Heath and the Grey Mountains, trying to get more lay of the land and to see just how much game there was. They had seen some game and had gotten some more of the plentiful hares, leaving the deer for later. But even better, they had seen no one on their travels, and no trails at all. They had found another very small streamlet that drained toward Erebor, and they had marked it, they knew the importance of fresh water out here now. As they had wandered, they had discussed many of the things that had happened, and realized that working apart from one another had strengthened them, which is what their uncle had wanted to happen.

Fíli sighed, ‘Just when you think you have everything figured out…’

Kíli nodded, ‘Uncle threw all those challenges our way, just to make us better.’

The two shared a glance, they knew that they now could work with others as well as they worked with one another, and that was what had been needed for them to grow.

That night as they ate, they discussed what they should do next, with a tunnel that seemed to lead straight to Erebor, could they turn down a chance of getting in and getting rid of the dragon before Durin’s Day and the turn of the year. It would help with trying to get others there before the snows came, especially if they had the funds behind them to pay for all the extras that they would need to survive the winter there.

‘We could also send for aid from Elrond and even see if we could get something started from Hobbiton. I know it wouldn’t be much, not at this time of year, but by next spring, there could be a lot of food and such coming here from there, especially with the treasury behind you.’ Bilbo had eaten well that night, and now he could sit and smoke a bit, thinking everything through without having to hurry. ‘Also, have you thought about just where your rock is? I know you all are still arguing over the drawing of it, and I’ve seen a couple of them some of you have done, so I think I’d recognize it. Maybe, anyway.’

Thorin sighed. ‘Please stop calling it our rock, you’ll horrify any other Dwarf with your talk, and I really would hate to kill someone who took offense over your words. Because someone would.’

His nephews started to giggle a bit. ‘I could just see Nivlus son of Rinlus hearing you calling it our rock! He would go totally off the deep end, just because he’s so hidebound about all of the pomp and circumstance that you’ve told us about, Uncle.’ Fíli shook his head. ‘But really, some of those back in the Blue Mountains would to be the first to demand to run everything here, just because they are old and knew our family from before. So, you’re going to have to have a plan, Uncle, just to keep them all in line.’

Thorin looked at them and sighed. ‘Who are you and what have you done with my nephews? And I am thinking about how everything could go, but first things first, we have to get into the mountain and kill a dragon before anything else happens.’

‘Well, we do have the first two bags over the gate into Erebor, and we’ve talked about taking one through the tunnel. Then there are still the others that we need to decide what to do with.’ Bombur shrugged a bit when they looked at him, then continued. ‘So, since Bilbo’s wee book doesn’t really say what to do with this tisane, we’ll just have to do what we can. Maybe open one that Smaug would have to walk through?’

Thorin nodded, ‘That’s a good idea. Then we will have the others for raining down on him. Can we think of how we could get him to bite one?’

‘There are stairs and such inside of Erebor? Ramps? Could one be rolled down at him that he might take as a threat and bite at?’ Bilbo looked around at the Dwarves that knew what the inside of Erebor looked like. ‘We could rub the outside with some of the extra clothes so that it would smell like a Dwarf maybe?’

‘That is a really good idea! In fact, we could leave some of our clothes in different places just to confuse him as to how many of us there are! And if we would wear different clothes, that would make him smell different Dwarves in different places!’ Kíli grinned as Thorin nodded.

‘Good idea, we’ll have to see if there is anything inside the mountain that we could use as well. The more we confuse him, the better off we will be.’ Thorin sat back and thought some more.

‘Do you think that Gandalf will be here before Durin’s Day? Because, really, if we could do this before then and be able to send for some of our kin and maybe even send something back to Rivendell, we would be in a better position when winter comes.’ Óin looked around at the others, and several nodded in agreement.

‘I don’t see why we need to wait, I’m not even sure what he could do to the dragon to help us. Has he ever said anything about it?’ Nori looked around, and saw that no one had any idea of what Gandalf might have planned.

‘Stupid staff wavers. I vote that we just go on as if he won’t be here. That way we can be surprised if he actually makes it.’ Dwalin just shrugged at some of the looks he got, he knew he was right, and didn’t really care if no one else agreed with him.

‘When you’re right, Dwalin, you’re right. That Elf wasn’t sure when he’d be here, and since we made better time than anyone thought we would, so we’ll make our plans without him involved. If he gets here before we get started, then maybe we’ll include him.’ Thorin frowned a bit, he’d been thinking about this for a while, and it seemed right to him. ‘Gandalf has not been very reliable this entire journey, and even though I realize that he had other things to do for the council, I don’t want to try and include him and then have to change everything because he isn’t here.’

Balin nodded in agreement. ‘He did well with the trolls, but that was another case of him going off by himself. And I don’t think we ever got his reasoning on that. So, we should just make our plans without him.’

‘Tomorrow. I want everyone to think about everything we saw and did today, everyone think about what you think would work to take down this dragon. We might come across something that no one would normally think about that way.’ He waved everyone off to their positions for the first of the night, while he and Dwalin walked the perimeter of their campsite.

‘So, what do you think about the tunnel? Should we chance it? Especially since we don’t know where it comes out at?’ Thorin was frowning, using the tunnel had its own risks involved, especially since they had no idea where it came out. And depending on where, since if it came out too close to anywhere the dragon was, it could be disastrous.

‘We will need to be very cautious in using it. Maybe get to the end of it and open it up just enough to see where it comes out inside. It would be good if it was somewhere in the Royal apartments, because then we would have a chance to scout out just where the dragon is without him seeing us.’

‘Because of all the secret ways in and out of there. You’re right. There are spy holes in several different places and it would make our job easier if we could actually spy on him, at least enough to see exactly where he is within the mountain. Thinking that maybe he’s in the Treasury and knowing he’s in the Treasury are two different things. It might also give us a chance to plant one of those bags of tisane without being in too much danger.’ Thorin nodded his head as he paced and thought. ‘Unless he tore through walls and wrecked our living quarters, we could use that area as a staging ground and maybe have a better chance at killing him.’

‘I’m not sure that he could wreck any of that area. It was pretty fortified, wasn’t it? I was just in the guard and so wasn’t up there very often, but it seems to me that with just a few doors shut and barred, there wouldn’t anything getting in there.’ Dwalin waved a hand toward the mountain, ‘And if that’s what your grandfather and father were doing before they got out, that whole area could be totally untouched.’

‘Which might mean that the tunnel comes up there somewhere, too.’ Thorin stroked his beard and thought for a moment. ‘No, I think the tunnel would come in down below, maybe closer to the mines. There’s not enough room for something as large as that tunnel is.’ He gently slapped Dwalin on the shoulder. ‘I think the first thing we have to do is see where the tunnel comes out. Then we can see where to go after that.’

Dwalin nodded. ‘I think you’re right. And I’ve got next watch, so I’m going to turn in until then. At least we have a start of a plan!’

The next morning, Thorin sat down and laid out the next weeks’ worth of work. ‘Bifur and Bofur, I would like you two to go up and start a defensive wall on the landing where we think the secret door is. I think maybe about three feet high?’ The two nodded in agreement, that would give them enough time to get a solid wall up that would blend into the mountain. Extra could be stockpiled for other defensive uses for later.

‘Anyone that is here needs to continue to shore up the defenses here, that way we will have someplace to retreat to if need be. Dwalin, I would like you, Glóin and Kíli to go and see what you can discover about Lake-town. It will probably mean that you will be gone at least overnight, if not longer. Take as little as possible, not much money, either. From the look of the town, if you have too much, you might be robbed. And if possible, see if there are any of Girion’s descendants are there. I would rather deal with someone from that line than anyone else.’ The three nodded and started to prepare for an extended hike further down the lake so that they hopefully wouldn’t draw any attention to Erebor or Dale when they got to Lake-town.

Bilbo was nodding along with all the choses that Thorin was making. ‘I would like to stay here at the camp and maybe start a small garden of some of the herbs we’ve been carrying. I’m not too willing to go so far underground at the moment, and this way, I can be of use here.’

Óin concurred with him, ‘That would be a good thing to do, I have some seeds that could also be planted that are for medicines. You might recognize some of them, Bilbo, I got them from the Elves in their healing halls. And we always need medicines.’

Bilbo was agreeable to that, starting a garden here outside of the Desolation was a good idea. Who knew when anything could be grown anywhere near Erebor, it could take years before anything would be able to be grown there, even with Hobbit help. Bringing in new soil, getting rid of the old, it was all very time consuming.

‘All right, that sounds like a good idea. And it will give you an idea of how things would grow here?’ Thorin grinned a bit at the two of them, the fact that Bilbo had volunteered to do this was a good thing in his eyes, it kept him away from things that he wasn’t comfortable with.

‘So, that leaves the rest of us that are going to try the tunnel. It’ll be in stages, I don’t want to rush anything there, nor do we need to wake Smaug before time. So today, it’ll be Fíli, Balin, Ori, and Dori with me. We can’t all go down there, we’ll need to have guards up top to make sure we aren’t disturbing anything as we go. We’ll be switching out who goes down, I want the tunnel checked to make sure that we aren’t going to bring anything down on our heads.’ Thorin stood up, and stretched, they needed to get moving to before it got any later.

Thorin looked down into the tunnel, humming a bit to himself. ‘I think we need to shore up these steps first of all, just so we can get in and out without any trouble. I would hate for anyone to get trapped down there because the stairs collapsed.’ He and Dori carefully went down them, while the rest of the troop took up positions so that they could see if anyone was around them.

This went on the rest of the day, switching out every few hours so that no one was too tired. They knew that this was going to be time-consuming and they weren’t going to hurry it and make it worse. By late afternoon, they were ready to go back to camp and see how everyone else had done that day. But the stairs were sound and they had sorted through the bags that had been left behind, Thorin telling stories about some of the items that were in them. But it was still left behind, if Smaug had a sense of what had been left there, they didn’t want him to wonder why it had moved.

When they got back to the camp, they were surprised to find a neat garden space started not far from the campsite, yet out of direct sight until you were almost on it. Bilbo and Óin were quite proud of their work, and Bilbo was very hopeful that they might get a few plants growing before it got too cold.

‘If we’re in the mountain, we could transplant whatever was growing out here as long as we could get some sunlight to it. I don’t know if there’s anything like that there, but… Óin thought you might know of some place inside the mountain.’ Bilbo looked up at Thorin inquisitively and was delighted to see a slight smile cross his face.

‘Yes, there is an area, it would depend on how damaged it was, though. But, we’ll see, once we get in there.’ Thorin looked over at Bifur and Bofur, and was surprised to see rather smug looks on their faces. ‘I’m going to guess that you two have been successful as well?’

They nodded, it hadn’t been as hard as they had thought to get the rock wall up and stabilized. They would need to put a few finishing touches on it, but it was actually good just the way it was, and they had managed to find enough small rock to use for offense, and even had brought some back to help on the wall building around the camp.

‘It won’t even take the whole of one day to finish, Thorin. So, either we could come back here tomorrow, or meet whomever is in the town working.’ Bofur shrugged at the surprised looks he got, but this was what he and his cousin were good at.

‘No, finish what you can there, then come back here. I’ll switch up the team for tomorrow, we’ll start testing the stone tomorrow there, and wait until Dwalin and his group comes back from Lake-town to make any big decisions. Depending on what they tell us, well, we just have to see. I don’t want to get the whole of Lake-town burned down by us waking that dragon before we are totally sure we can kill it.’ Thorin really didn’t want to chance anything that could turn catastrophic, not if he could help it.

‘We’ll rest tonight, tomorrow it’ll be me with Nori, Óin, Ori and Bombur going to Dale. I want some new eyes on this, it’ll keep us sharp and someone might see something someone else might miss.’

It was a full week before Dwalin and his group returned from Lake-town, they had taken their time getting there, going further south to make it look like they had come through Mirkwood, and telling the townspeople they were headed for the Iron Hills. What little money they had was welcomed in the town, it was worse than they had thought, given what it looked like from Erebor and Dale.

‘We might have more of a problem with them than we thought, Thorin, The ‘Master’ is some greedy grasping Man that’s bleeding the town dry. We did finally meet Girion’s great grandson, Bard, and his little family. We might have hinted that he should head for Dale and better times sometime in the future. Otherwise, it’s a wash.’

The rest of the group nodded, it had been depressing at best and seeing how the once proud people were living now, had been depressing. If they were looking for help, it wouldn’t come from there.

Chapter 17

Dwalin and the rest had been pleasantly surprised at everything that had been gotten done while they had been scouting out Lake-town, and also had been able to give a better report of the area to the east of the lake. They had paid to be set on the eastern shore, keeping up the fiction of going on to the Iron Hills.

‘There’s not much difference between there and here. We did go by Ravenhill, just to see if there is anything there. You will have to go, there are ravens but they just looked at us when we tried to call them. I’m thinking that they need someone with more of a connection to the family than we had.’ Dwalin shrugged a bit at the looks he got, he had spent a bit of time trying to get some sort of reaction from the birds there, and he knew that they had watched as the group had left, and so was hoping that they would get visitors later.

‘Well, it that would be good if we could send messages to the Iron Hills,’ Thorin looked over at Bilbo, ‘And even to Rivendell, maybe some help could be gotten from both. I don’t want to try to send anything to the Blue Mountains, not until we see which way everything goes. No matter what happens, it would take too long to get anything to them and then back again. Hopefully, better news will keep the peace there.’ He shrugged at the looks he got from his nephews, they knew that their mother would have all sorts of things to say, if there was good news, maybe it would keep her from being too upset.

Bilbo was surprised at his words, ‘Yes, just because Elrond hasn’t sent anyone this far doesn’t mean that he won’t. And since we made it this far without too much trouble, and you know that this is the kind of trade he would encourage. If we can rid the area of the dragon, he would be more inclined to open trade here with us, well, you, Thorin.’ He blushed a bit, but everyone just smiled.

‘No, you have been with us almost from the beginning, so to count yourself as one of us is quite all right. You are just as much a part of this as any of us!’ Fíli said, looking at his uncle as he did. Thorin nodded, it was only right and it was good that they were recognizing it.

‘I would say you should send a letter to the Shire, but…’

‘No, not until everything is settled. I could send a letter saying everything is fine, only to have to send one that says differently, or to have nothing at all ever show up. I wouldn’t want to do that to anyone there.’ Bilbo just shook his head, he didn’t want to raise hopes, only to dash them. ‘Everyone in the Shire will be fine, whether I am there or not. I left everything set up to run well, and I might be missed by my closest relatives, but life does go on, even in the Shire.’

Kíli looked at him, ‘Are all the Hobbits that way? I mean…’ He flushed, realizing that what he’d been about to ask could be considered rude.

Bilbo chuckled. ‘No, we have just as many lazy Hobbits as any other race. But if you’re going to eat well, you have to garden or be able to trade for food. So, just like everyone else in the world, we have good, bad and everything in between. But we are an agrarian society, so we look busy most of the time anyone else is around.’ He shrugged at the looks he got, ‘How would you know, it would be like Hobbits knowing how Dwarves run their communities, which, of course, we don’t. But, this area seems to be very fertile and if we can get rid of your dragon, then I’m sure that some of the more adventurous Hobbits could be tempted to come here.’

Everyone was nodding their heads, it was true, Dwarves were probably more secretive than most, and just because they did some trading with the Shire, it didn’t mean they knew about everything there.

‘Tomorrow we’ll show you what we’ve gotten done here. There were a few trouble spots in the tunnel but we’re almost to the end of that, and as far as we can tell, it does come up inside of Erebor. We’re still not sure where, but we didn’t want to make too much noise the closer we got. Either tomorrow or the next we’ll be ready to move just enough stone to see where we are. Hopefully nowhere near the dragon.’ Balin was happy with the progress, but was glad that the whole troop was back together again for this.

The next morning, they split once again into two groups, Dwalin wanting to see just how far everything had gone with his own eyes. Thorin sent Fíli and Kíli out to hunt, they weren’t running short, but it was better to have more meat just in case. Bombur had gotten more proficient at smoking all sorts of things, Bilbo had even shown him how to preserve some of the wild vegetables that he had found.

Óin and Bilbo had waved them off, they was trying to keep the few plants they had gotten to grow healthy, and now had taken to covering them at night as the temperatures were starting to drop. It was more time consuming than anything else, but it would worth it later.

Bifur and Bofur were still working on buttressing the campsite, the walls were higher and they had even dug down a bit beside a wall that they had rocked and covered for storing their supplies. The rest headed out to show just how far they had gotten with the tunnel.

Dwalin looked down at a neat and tidy entrance with the stairs that had been not at all sturdy that last time he’d been there. They had even build the walls back up for more cover.

‘This is more than I expected, to be honest. So, you’ve seen no one at all? And the tunnel is clear?’

‘I know, we have been so incredibly lucky. It was the only one Dwarf that died here. There was nothing more anywhere in the tunnel. So, we think he was the only one told.’ Nori shrugged at the looks he got from Glóin and Dwalin. ‘We haven’t anything else to go on. The tunnel’s clear, there was only the two packs here at this end that we found. What else can we think?’

‘Today I would like to at least get a hole through to see where the tunnel ends. We’ve been as quiet as we possibly could be, but…’ Thorin shrugged, who knew how sensitive Smaug’s hearing was.

Everyone nodded, they were prepared, and everyone knew that they were going to do this today, and were prepared as much as they could be.

Nori and Ori went to their high points to keep watch, while Thorin, Dwalin and Glóin started down the tunnel.

Dwalin looked at the bags of gold and jewelry that were still there, raising one eyebrow at Thorin who just shrugged. They still weren’t taking any chances moving that, unless it was back into the mountain.

As they walked carefully down the tunnel, lighting the torches as they went, the other two nodded at the careful repair work that had been done. Thorin pointed silently at the vents that kept the air fresh and the other two knew that the Dwarves that had done this were very highly skilled.

It didn’t seem to take too long until they were at the end and facing a very carefully patterned wall that had to lead into Erebor. Thorin pointed to a small indentation in the middle, it was there they thought the opening started.

Dwalin put his hand on the wall, and then leaned against it, putting his whole body against it and just listened. After a few minutes, he straightened up and let Thorin take his place. But Thorin very gently started to pull at the piece until it started to slide out. The other two put their hands under it, to make sure that nothing fell to the floor of the tunnel. As it came out, they held their breath, waiting for any noise from inside. Thorin placed it down gently, took a deep breath and with a nod at the other two, carefully looked through.

For a moment he just stared. Then, leaning back, he took a deep breath and leaned back in to look again.

After several minutes, a soft hiss from Dwalin had him pulling away and letting him take his place. Dwalin took a deep breath before looking through, shoulders tense and finally relaxing. Glóin poked him so that he could get his own look.

When he pulled back, he took a deep breath and then helped the other two put the piece back in carefully. Together, still without speaking, they turned and just as quietly, went back down the tunnel to where the others waited.

When they came out, the rest crowded around them, anxious to know just what they had discovered.

‘Well?’ Dori looked at them.

‘It opens up into the Royal Quarters, but on the lowest level. Near the kitchens and boilers.’

It was silent for another beat.

‘It’s empty, just dust and not even much of that, it was sealed.’

‘Mahal.’

No one was even sure who said that, but the name resonated in their souls as Thorin raised his fists to the sky. They could get into Erebor. Without waiting for wizards or the turn of the season.

‘Let’s go back. We need to be calm and think this through. And to let everyone know. And…’ Thorin took a deep breath and let it out slowly. ‘We need to be calm.’

Everyone nodded, although the urge to shout and stomp and make all the noise to let everyone know that this was now possible was strong.

And so it was a broadly smiling and shoulders back, arms swinging group that returned to the campsite that afternoon, only to be swarmed by the rest of the Dwarves as they realized how much easier this had just become.

Fili and Kíli had gotten a deer and so there was a celebration with fresh meat and even though there wasn’t the rowdiness that would be anywhere else, there was plenty of back-slapping and telling and retelling of what they had seen.

‘So, Uncle, where do you think Smaug is in relation to what you saw? And can we get in without him hearing us?’ Fíli looked around at anyone who had been in Erebor and quirked an eyebrow. ‘I mean, could we get in and plant more of Bilbo’s tisane for him to find? Or at least someone get in and plant it?’

Kíli nodded in agreement. ‘Or spread the liquid around to see if Smaug avoids it? Wasn’t that something that was also in the book? It would dry eventually, right? So we wouldn’t be walking in it and tracking it around.’

Thorin looked proudly at his nephews. ‘Good thinking, yes, those are good ideas. As far as where he is, if he’s in the treasury, he’s several floors up and on the other side of the mountain. The Royal Chambers is toward the west side and have several corridors that can be locked and barred from anyone trying to get in. And since nothing looked disturbed, we are thinking that’s what took Thrór and Thráin so long to get to the rest of us.’

Bilbo nodded at the last two of the bags they had done. ‘Well, you could take one and dump it out outside on the bottom floor to make sure he can’t get in there. Or even, spread it around on several floors, wherever there is a door or passage into the Royal Quarters. That way, hopefully, it’ll keep him out.’

Óin nodded. ‘Because, even when dry, it’ll keep all of that kind of creature out. Not that I think we’d ever lizards or anything like that, but, better safe than sorry. Any extra protections we can put in Erebor at this time would be a good thing. We don’t want to get blind-sided like that ever again.’

There were nods and grunts of agreement, even if Smaug was the last of his species, you just never knew what lurked out in the wilderness, let alone in the Mirkwood. Maybe it would keep out everything that could be a problem!

That night, they planned just how they would go once they were into the Royal Quarters, they wanted as few as people as they could get, and mostly with those who knew their way inside the mountain. That left the youngest to stay outside of Erebor, much to their dismay, even if they understood the reasons why.

‘Kíli, I want you and Nori to post yourselves so that you can see the front gates into the mountain, if it looks like Smaug is getting out, shoot the bags over the gates as soon as he pokes his head out. Hopefully, that won’t happen, but if the two of you are there, then hopefully you can get a lot of the stuff on him.’ Thorin shook his head, that would be an almost last ditch effort, he was going to hope that it all stayed calm and that it wouldn’t be needed.

‘And though I would prefer to leave you here, Bilbo,’ ignoring the frown that was sent his way with a small smirk, ‘I know that our Burglar just might be needed. So, because I don’t want too many going in, it’ll be Balin, Dwalin, Bilbo, Óin and myself. The rest of you will be keeping watch and back up Nori and Kíli. I’m really hoping to get in and out without Smaug noticing, but, who knows.’

Everyone nodded, this would be chancy, no matter who went in or who watched. In the end, all they could do was say a special prayer to Mahal and hope that all went well the next day, while Bilbo gave his own to Yavanna.

Bilbo was up early and had a good breakfast going as the rest got up and ready for the day. He had made his own prayer to Yavanna again that morning, asking not for himself, but for all the foolish Dwarves he had come so far with. He was still not too sure about the ‘rock’ he had to find, but he was going to leave that in Her hands as well. Al least he had a better feeling about what it looked like, even if none of the drawing were exactly the same. He just hoped that the tisane would work, one way or another, and that Smaug would be taken care of without any of them being injured or worse.

Breakfast done, packs made up of food for everyone since they weren’t sure how long this was going to take, and they set off, ready or as much as they could be. They were taking both of the bags of tisane, one to spread around and one to leave between the Treasury and the main gate, just in case Smaug was moving around, if they could figure out when to do that. Óin and Bilbo had discussed it between themselves, but knew the likelihood would be slim to not at all, but they could hope.

There wasn’t much talking as they went, they knew what they had to do, and really, talking at this point was probably not a good idea. The group split, with Kíli and Nori going more toward the gates, looking for a good point to setup, the other four heading for Dale and the tunnel, going on while the rest spread out and took lookout points, which they were all hoping wouldn’t be needed.

Thorin led the way into the tunnel and made sure everyone was comfortable as they started out. Bilbo had taken a deep breath before going down, but had found that with all the torches, it wasn’t as closed in as he had worried. And it didn’t seem to take long at all and they were at the end. Thorin once more took the center stone out and looked into his mountain, making sure that nothing had changed.

With a sigh, he carefully started pushing against each stone, finally finding the combination that allowed him to push the door open, letting him step inside Erebor, someplace he had dreamt of for so very long.

They walked quietly around, Dwalin and Óin going up some stairs to see what they could see in the upper halls. But like the rest, it was quiet and dusty, with doors to the main halls closed and locked down. Óin pointed out were there was a bit of a mess, it could be where some of the jewelry had come from that was left in the tunnel, otherwise it just looked like everyone had just left in a hurry, which, of course, they had.

The rest of the group explored around the kitchens and Balin checked to see if the boilers would be able to be used. To his surprise, even though it was obvious that although they hadn’t been shut down totally, someone had thrown the dampeners and so they had cooled down naturally after having run out of fuel. But there was also fuel stacked in place, so it wouldn’t take long to start them up, although keeping them going would require more fuel later.

But it did make them nervous as to what the rest of the mountain looked like, because if Smaug couldn’t get in here, then what had he done to the rest where he could get to.

They all met back up, putting as many walls as they could between them and the rest of the open areas inside.

‘So, what do you think?’ Thorin was still a little dazed on how fast this was going but he wasn’t going to rush anything to wreck it.

‘The upstairs are closed, just like here. Some messiness, but that would have been from everyone rushing to get out. But all the doors were shut when we got up there, and like here, the main doors out were also closed and locked down. If Smaug tried to get in, the stone stopped him.’ Óin shrugged a bit, it was astounding that nothing there had been ruined, even after all this time.

‘It makes me wonder if Thrór and Thráin were counting too much on Tovlan getting out with those bags, and if there were more than just him, but they took off when he was killed under the falling wall or were killed by the dragon after they got out. And if they had time to shut all of this up, why didn’t they take more from the family suites, there was a lot there we could have used.’ Thorin looked sadly around, even though it was dusty, it was like Dwarves could suddenly pop up, going about their daily business.

‘Yes, but we’re not sure where the secret door comes out. And if it’s too far, maybe they were shutting doors behind them as they went, so they didn’t have a chance to get anything else.’ Balin shrugged. ‘We’ll never know now. And remember, they were a bit singed when they caught up with the rest of us.’

‘True, but what should we do now? We have the two bags here, we just need to decide what to do with them.’ Bilbo was a bit awed by the whole place, he had seen nothing like this ever, not even Rivendell had prepared him for this. ‘I’m assuming you can get at least one of these doors open, quietly, I hope, which would give us a chance to put some of the liquid on the floors.’ He waved a hand around. ‘And then there’s the whole Arkenstone thing. I would definitely need time to look around to find that. I really didn’t think about just how big it would be in here!’

Thorin was shaking his head. ‘First the dragon, then we’ll worry about everything else. I would like all of us get out of this alive, thank you.’

Óin nodded in agreement, ‘So, we should see if we can open a door first?’

Dwalin pointed up. ‘We should try to go up and see if we can open a door on the same level as the Treasury. We could then work our way up and down from there.’

Thorin shrugged but shook his head. ‘Let me see if I can open this door. It’s the furthest away, and I don’t want to alert him anymore than I have to. Noise is our worst enemy at this point.’

They went back to the door, and Thorin carefully examined it and finally nodded. He leaned against it, listening, and finally reached down and began to push and then pull at a slightly raised place on the door. He was careful and slow, anytime there was a noise, he froze and waited until nothing happened on the other side, then continued. There was barely a creak as the door slowly swung open. Dwalin caught it before it had moved more than an inch, everyone waiting with bated breath, listening to see if anything moved outside the door. When nothing happened, he and Thorin slowly let the door swing open a bit more. They both peered around the door, then looked at each before letting it swing open further.

Everyone looked out into the open space, amazed by the damage caused by a rampaging dragon. Balin pointed out broken arches and stairways, while Óin pointed out where the dragon had gone through an opening, making it bigger. But most of the damage looked older, and there was as much dust and undisturbed stone that it gave them hope that the dragon was no longer patrolling the entirety of the mountain. After several very long moments, they ventured out into the space, making sure to walk carefully around any debris, as big as it was, it would echo and they didn’t need that!

Bilbo just kept looking around, amazed that so much work had been done to open this area up for so many Dwarves to live. Of course, it was generations that had done this, and so it really wasn’t a surprise. Like the Took Halls, the longer someone was here, the more space was made for everyone to live comfortably. And, after looking at the kitchen area, he could tell that thousands had been fed, and it could be repaired and used again without too many problems.

Finally, Thorin waved everyone back to the door, and Bilbo and Óin carefully spread some of the tisane liquid in front of the door and watched as it spread outward away from it. Then, they carefully shut the door and Thorin once again secured it so that no one could come in behind them.

Once that was done, Bilbo looked at him. ‘Isn’t it odd that there weren’t bodies or bones or anything? Or would have Smaug,’ he swallowed hard, ‘Eaten everything, leaving nothing?’

Thorin nodded. ‘Unfortunately, yes. I’m not at all surprised at not finding any bodies. We won’t be so lucky later, I’m afraid. There are probably rooms where my people weren’t able to get out, and so they would have died there.’

‘Oh.’ Bilbo hadn’t thought of that, but it did make sense. Just like during the Fell Winter, there had been families that hadn’t been able to get out of their homes, and although nothing had gotten in, they had run out of food and had died in the end.

They quietly went up the stairs to the next level, where Thorin and Dwalin opened the next door the same way as the first. They didn’t try and go anywhere this time, just had Óin and Bilbo spread the liquid and then they moved on, locking that door again behind them. after several floors of this, they were on the Treasury floor and Thorin motioned everyone back as he very carefully opened the door.

This time it was obvious that the dragon had been active, with vast burn marks and damaged walls and stairs. Bilbo and Óin straightened up and shook their heads firmly when they were motioned to spread out the liquid, instead they took the unopened bag and slowly but carefully went to one of the less damaged stairs that lead into the Treasury, as indicated by Óin to Bilbo. They very carefully went down it until they were almost at floor level, and then laid it down before quietly returning to the rest. Then they spread out more of the liquid and they all retreated behind the solid door. Thorin looked like he wanted to shake both of them, and Balin was practically shaking in place, while Dwalin had his head in hands, just breathing.

But other than a harsh look, no one said a word as they went up one more level, to spread the last of the liquid outside that door, finding more damage there than they had at any of the other doors. Bilbo raised an eyebrow, but didn’t ask why, waiting until everything was shut and they had made it down to the floor they had started on.

Once they were sure that there had been no notice of them being there, they returned to the tunnel door and Thorin and Balin made sure that it was shut tight behind them as Dwalin started with the other three back down the tunnel. They weren’t sure what time of day it was, there had been some filtered light into the mountain, but not enough to tell them much. And of course, the tunnel was totally dark, except for the torches, and so they would have to wait until they got out to really know. Bilbo felt that it had been days since they had started, even though he knew differently.

Once they were finally out, Thorin and Balin arrived not that far behind them, they all collapsed on the ground, unbelieving that they had gotten in and out without Smaug being any the wiser. Thorin sat and just looked at Óin and Bilbo, still not believing that they had gone down the stairs just to leave the bag of tisane, hopefully for the dragon to find. But it was done, and now he wanted to go back to the campsite, picking up the rest, and have some food and discuss what they should do next. And maybe workout with Óin and Bilbo, just so he could take out some of his anger and fear out on them!

Kíli and Nori had spent their time watching the gates, but other than the occasional puffs of smoke, nothing moved from inside the mountain, although they did see more of the ravens flying around, making them wonder if they could tell something that the two of them couldn’t. Fíli and Dori had come to check on them midway through the day, but had returned to the campsite since nothing was going on. They had also kept an eye on Lake-town, since they were high enough to see part of the lake, but it seemed that their visit there hadn’t stirred anyone up there, either. They shrugged at each other, that would be a problem for another day, they were more focused on a dragon at the moment. Hopefully, Gandalf would be there when they needed to deal with any other races, once they got into the mountain.

When the party from the tunnel reached them, they both let out a sigh of relief, and then headed back with them, glad that this part of the job was done, even if the hardest part was still in front of them.

And when they all returned to the campsite to be fussed over and fed hot food, well, if Bilbo just wanted to sit and gaze out into the fields surrounding them, later disappearing for a long walk, well, none of the Dwarves could really blame him, they too had some thanks to offer up to Mahal for their safe journey in and out of Erebor, before they could start to plan what they needed to do next.

Chapter 18

‘We’ve had a good night’s sleep, and I’m sure that everyone has been thinking about what we need to do next.’ Balin sat by the fire, stroking his beard and contemplating having another drink before they got totally busy with everything. He was really glad that the Elves had stocked them so well, they would have been running short, if not out by this time if they hadn’t. And that they had gone around the Mirkwood, more and more he felt that they would have had more problems if they had tried to go through. He knew that they all felt this way, even if it could cause problems later with the Woodland Elves.

‘I guess the question I need to ask is, are we waiting for Gandalf? It’s still a couple of weeks before Durin’s Day, and you know that Elf had no idea how long Gandalf would be. Just later than he had thought before.’ Glóin sat back and looked around, most everyone was frowning at his question, but it was a fair one.

‘I would say no. I don’t know what he thought he could do with a dragon, he didn’t give us any idea while he was with us, and he had plenty of time to do so, Uncle. Maybe he has some tricks up his sleeve, but if we can get in and kill Smaug before anyone knows we’re here, I think we should strike.’ Fíli looked his uncle straight in the eye as he spoke, Thorin looking back just as proudly at him.

Kíli was nodding his agreement, ‘Yes, if we can do this now, and get ourselves into Erebor before winter hits, I think it’s a good idea. Hopefully, we can start trading with some of the People in the area, and if the Rivendell Elves would be willing to help, then all the better.’

‘And remember, we have the Iron Hills that we could also trade with, if we can get a raven to them. And although I don’t know if the Men of Lake-town are trustworthy, they are there and we might get a few things from them. Maybe some fish if nothing else.’ Dwalin and Nori nodded at one another, if they could get some of the Men to come back to Dale, that would also help things along. They could always offer shelter inside Erebor for the winter, it wasn’t like they wouldn’t have the room.

‘And, Uncle, before you used the rest of Bilbo’s tisane inside the mountain, I dipped a bunch of my arrowheads into one of them and let them dry. I don’t know if it’ll help, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.’ Kíli had wondered if he shot Smaug with the tisane-tipped arrows if it would act as a poison and so had gone ahead and done it before they had left the day before. He was being very care with those arrows, he’d only be taking them out when he knew he was going to the mountain.

Thorin looked at him in surprise. ‘I never thought of that, and now I wish we had dipped all of our weapons in it! Good thinking, Kíli! You never know what might help turn the tide of battle.’ Everyone else grunted in agreement, with only thirteen of them there, they needed all the advantage they could get.

Kíli flushed a little, he wasn’t that used to being praised but he was glad that he had done it, and that it might help. Fíli grinned at him, he had been reassuring him about it, but Kíli hadn’t been sure if it was the right thing to do or not.

Bilbo looked around and then asked, ‘Why was there so much more damage on the highest floor we went to? I meant to ask before, but then forgot. It just seemed odd that Smaug had paid more attention to that floor than any of the others.’

Óin nodded, ‘That’s true. Could it be where the tunnel to the Hidden Door is? I noticed that there was a lot more scorch marks there as well. And you did say that Thrain and Thrór were a bit scorched when they caught up with you.’

Thorin turned and looked at the mountain and the barely legible ledge there. ‘Maybe? I’m not sure, but it could be. I was more focused on getting out of there at that point, with Óin and Bilbo having freaked me out with their putting their last bag on the bottom stair by the entrance to the treasury. Which is also why I didn’t say anything last night, I was afraid that I would be too angry because of the risk you two took!’

Both Óin and Bilbo shrugged and grinned at each other sheepishly. ‘We saw the chance and we took it. Hopefully, it’ll work.’ Óin wasn’t at all upset at what they had done, at least it was on the same floor as Smaug. Beside, who knew if they would have had another chance, if the dragon had been up and moving, they wouldn’t have done it. They hadn’t really talked about, but their feeling was, if it could be done, then they’d take the chance and do it. And since it had worked, it was one less thing that they had to worry about.

Thorin sighed but couldn’t deny that since he hadn’t asked about what they had intended to do with the extra bad, since they had been carrying it along as they went, he really didn’t have too much to say about it. But at the time, he thought his heart was going to stop as the two had gone down the staircase. It had been too close to the dragon, as far as he was concerned!

‘All right, just, actions such as that should be discussed and planned, not just done on the fly! Because, by the time you two got to the bottom of the stairs, with Smaug in the next room, and the fact that he didn’t seem to know that you were there was a minor miracle! We weren’t prepared for a confrontation at that point!’

Óin and Bilbo looked at each other and shared a horrified look.

‘We didn’t mean to do that, Thorin, I so sorry, it’s that it was right there in front of us, and we didn’t think.’ Bilbo was horrified that they hadn’t really thought it through.

Óin just shook his head, and with a bow, he started to apologize but Thorin threw up his hand.

‘No, just think things through, we can’t afford to have something like this again. I’m glad that you were thinking ahead, I just wish that you had discussed it with all of us.’ Thorin rubbed his nose, he had almost had a heart attack when they had done it, but it was done, and hopefully it would work out.

‘Of course, Thorin, but we are sorry, we should have been more upfront about why we had the extra bag with us, and we had thought about getting it someplace near Smaug. We just didn’t say anything about it.’ Bilbo was shaken, he was so used to just doing what he wanted, even being on this journey hadn’t really changed him in that regard.

Balin moved the conversation forward at that point. ‘What do we do now? I still think we should try sending ravens to different places just because.’

Dwalin nodded, ‘They wouldn’t react to us, Thorin, you need to go and see if you can get them to react to you. And sending to Dáin is a good idea. We can wait on everyone else, because it would take Elrond too long to get here, and that way, hopefully we could send a positive note to them later.’

Balin was in agreement with that. ‘Good idea, we’ll write something and see if we can get them to carry it. Later, if everything works out, we can send to others.’

‘So, tomorrow we try the ravens, then we can see if anything has happened in the mountain. I want a watch on Erebor from now on, because if Smaug reacts, we need to know as soon as possible so that we can counter whatever he does.’ Thorin looked around, and everyone was in agreement. ‘Kíli, you’ll have to show everyone where you were set up, and Dwalin, can you get on the mount where the guard towers are? We’ll need to switch everyone out to make sure no one gets tired. And if we can get the ravens to cooperate with us, maybe they will be willing to help us by carrying messages between us. That would be an immense help.’

Thorin was hoping that this would work out well with the ravens, they still used them a little back in the Blue Hills, but they were getting older and didn’t seem to want to mate anymore. Maybe these would be more willing to bond back with the Durins.

The next morning, after everyone had eaten and the campsite cleaned and everything tucked away as much as possible, they all set off toward Erebor, with Thorin and Balin heading for Ravenhill, along with Dwalin and Nori. It was so quiet that the faint caws of the ravens could be heard, but there still was nothing coming from the mountain itself, so hopefully Smaug was still asleep or at least unaware of their presence. Kíli and the rest of the troop all headed for where he had found a high point that gave him a direct line of sight to the gates. Everyone that could draw a bow had one, and Bilbo made sure he had plenty of stones for his sling. It might not be much, but if needed, he could aim for the eyes and try to blind him.

Thorin nodded to Dwalin as he and Nori turned to go up the mountain, and he and Balin continued on. ‘Do you really think they will understand us? It’s been a long time with no interactions with any Dwarf, I imagine.’ Balin had already written his notes, at the last minute they had decided to send, if they could, to both Rivendell and Mirkwood. The more they had thought about Lake-town, the more they had decided that they did not want to treat with the ‘Master’ that Dwalin had talked about. That would be something for another day, if they all survived, anyway.

‘I’m hoping that with their long memories, they will at least remember our name.’ Thorin shrugged a bit, if they did, it would help a lot, if not, well, they would work around it, just like everything else they had done so far.

‘And I’m wondering when Gandalf is going to show up, because you know he is. And probably at the most inconvenient time, too.’ Balin sighed, sometimes he really wished that they had never had encountered the wizard, but then Thorin wouldn’t have gotten the map and the key to Erebor, nor learned that his father had passed while captured. But, Gandalf was still not a help at the moment, and not knowing where or when he would appear was nerve-wracking.

‘You would have to bring that up right now, didn’t you. Let’s hope he doesn’t show up until Durin’s Day, which is still almost two weeks away. I would love to be in Erebor with the dragon dead and my cousin here to help us when he shows up. I can just image the look on his face!’ Thorin huffed a bit, the more Gandalf wasn’t around, the smoother everything seemed to go, so they weren’t feeling that they needed him at the moment.

Soon they were at the foot of Ravenhill, and it seemed that there were even more ravens circling around it, but it was also quiet, which was disturbing. Thorin and Balin looked at each other, and then started to climb. By the time they reached the first viewing platform, there were a dozen ravens sitting there waiting for them.

Thorin looked around, and finally bowed a bit at what he took to be the oldest looking raven there. ‘I am Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, of the Durin line of Erebor. We have returned to attempt to take back our home the dragon Smaug, from which he drove us from so many years ago.’

At his words, a couple of the ravens cawed as if laughing at him. Thorin just stood there, head high and waiting.

‘We have already made a tentative foray into the mountain itself, and have left traps for the dragon. We have also found the secret tunnel from Dale that has allowed us to set those traps.’ Balin stood to one side, but just as tall and steady.

‘We have seen you, Dwarf, but we are not sure that you deserve any of our attention,’ one of the older ravens cawed mockingly. ‘When you and your kin left here, you seemed to have forgotten who you left behind.’

Thorin shook his head. ‘We never forgot. And some of your kin came when we called, and live today in the Blue Hills where we settled.’

This seemed to cause some fuss, and several of the ravens flew off and circled with others still in the air. Soon, however, they settled down and the oldest, after giving them an extremely beady eye, finally cawed at them.

‘What would you have us do to help you? There are few of you, and it won’t be enough to slay the dragon, unless you have a mighty army to back you up.’ He hopped a little closer, angling his head as if he needed to get a better eye on them. Of course, Thorin thought that he looked very old, and so his eyesight might not be the best. ‘You have the look of the Durins, but it won’t get you anywhere here.’

‘It has gotten me this far, and I don’t intend to let the worm win this time. As I said, we have already baited our traps, and there might not be many of us, but we have been planning this long enough to know what we are going to do to win back our mountain.’

‘And your gold?’

Thorin seemed to freeze just for a moment, before a small smile crossed his face. ‘I seem to have lost my desire for most of it. It will be good for setting us back up, because Mahal knows that there will be nothing left in the mountain for us for the winter, plus what we owe to both the Men of Lake-town and the Elves of Mirkwood from times passed. Otherwise,’ he shrugged a bit, ‘I have found that good friends and family are more important.’

The ravens all seemed to freeze, and then from behind Thorin and Balin came a caw. Thorin turned around slowly, while Balin stayed where he was. An even older raven leaned against a younger one, a beady eye greyed with age, head cocked in his direction. He seemed to be weighing them, while the younger looked ready to take off and peck at them until they ran.

Finally the old raven spoke, ‘I am Roäc son of Cärc and well I remember the tales of my father and those that can before. You have the look of the Durins, but not so much the tone of one. My father often spoke of how gold was their downfall.’

Thorin nodded sadly, ‘Yes, I guess you could say it was. The pursuit of it led my people to many places and battles that were not in our favor, even when we won. But, hopefully, maybe, this will be the end of our wanderings, one way or another. Because, as I said, we have laid traps, found in a book by our Burglar, a Hobbit of the Shire.’

‘We have taken notice of the small being with you. You count him as a friend?’

‘Yes, because of him, I think our journey here has been easier and maybe even a bit quicker due to the friendships he has with others. And although his job was only as the Burglar, he has proven himself over and over again, and I am proud to call him a friend.’ Thorin looked around, there seemed to be more and more ravens, all listening attentively.

‘And what would you have of us, Thorin son of Thráin? We cannot fight for you and I do not think that you have many friends in this world to call on.’

‘No, but I would send messages to my cousin Dáin, Lord of the Iron Hills and to Lord Elrond of Rivendell. And also to the King of Mirkwood.’ Thorin’s mouth took a small downturn at the last name, but needs must, and it had been a reluctant but unanimous decision to include him.

‘Ah, so you are not as hotheaded as your sires. This is good.’ The old raven nodded at him, and cawed at several of the younger birds. ‘These are younger ravens but they are fleet of wing and can find their way through rain and fog. Give them your messages and tell them were to go. We will do this for you.’

Thorin’s face brightened at this news, he had not really expected to be so well received. ‘This note to Dáin in the Iron Hills, he is the closest and hopefully can come to our aid the soonest. We have limited supplies and if we can slay Smaug, we will need much for the winter.’ Several of the birds swooped down, one taking the note from his hand, and then arrowing off into the east. ‘This note to the Elven King of Mirkwood, even though I do not expect to receive a good reply, at least not until we have found and returned the jewels he commission so very long ago.’ Another group of birds presented themselves, and once one had his note, they were off and flying south and a bit west.

Thorin sighed. ‘This one is the Lord Elrond of Rivendell, across the Misty Mountains. If you can’t take it, I understand. It is many miles and we wouldn’t expect any reply, maybe not until the turning of the year.’ Ten of the ravens presented themselves for this one, Thorin looking a bit surprised. The raven landed on his arm, and cawed a bit before taking the note, and then they were gone, flying steadily into the west.

‘Do not worry, they are our sturdiest flyers. They know to rest and conserve their energy as they go. Is there anything else we can help you?’ Roäc looked at Thorin, who was still looking slightly surprised at how fast everything had happened.

‘We have some extra food if you are in need, we don’t have much to share, but as long as we can hunt, there is fresh meat.’ Balin bowed toward the raven, this was more than they had thought they would get.

Several of the ravens perked up at that, and both Balin and Thorin grinned a bit.

‘I am sure that you know where our camp is, anytime you need anything, come and we will give you what we can.’ Thorin gave a soft sigh of relief, even if they failed, at least they had tried. ‘Also, if some of you could take messages between us while we are trying to get into the mountain without waking Smaug up.’

Roäc looked at him, ‘I noticed that you did not send anything to the Men on the lake.’

‘No, some of us went there and the Master seems to be a very greedy grasping Man. If we knew for sure that there was a descendent of Girion’s and that we could get a message to him, it might make a difference. But, we are not willing to take a chance at this point. I know my people and I know my kin, the rest will not make a difference at the moment.’ Thorin shook his head, he didn’t have time to talk down anyone that would demand answers or want to get involved but only if they could profit. They didn’t have time for that.

‘The only thing we can tell you is that Smaug has not been seen in many years. We don’t think he’s dead, there’s too much smoke that comes out of the gates, but other than that, we don’t know. Of course,’ here the raven looked a little sideways at them, ‘We didn’t know that you had found the secret passage from the town, either.’ The raven straightened up and then cawed a bit, several of the younger ones taking flight and soaring high into the sky. ‘We will keep watch and let you know if there is any movement of any kind that we can see.’

‘And we thank you. There is no one at the camp at the moment, but we will be there tonight, send some of your younger ravens and we will give them whatever they can carry.’ Thorin and Balin bowed to the old raven and then turned to go.

‘We will keep watch as you go, do not be surprised to find us where and when you least expect us, Thorin, King of Erebor.’ And with a rush of wings, all but Roäc and his attendant took off and filled the air with the rushing of their wings, but otherwise, they were silent as they spread out over the sky.

Balin and Thorin both almost stumbled at his words, but then continued on their way, there was still too much to do, Thorin, in particular, would think on this later.

Once they were back down off of Ravenhill, they looked at each other and Balin shook his head.

‘Sometimes you have the luck of all of our ancestors, Thorin. What do you want to do now? Go see how Dwalin and Nori are doing?’

‘I think so, yes, besides, I have a feeling that’s one of the places we’re going to find some extra friends, don’t you? And I want to see if there’s a way in from there at the same time.’ Thorin shrugged a little, but he couldn’t disagree at the moment.

They headed for Erebor and the very narrow and hard to find path that led up to the guard mounts. They had taken their turns there, even if it had never been a full-time job. And since it was closer to them than going to where Kíli was set up, it wouldn’t take as long to get there.

Soon they were toiling up the mountainside, they could tell that Smaug had taken some of his anger out on the mountainside, there were great swaths of rock that had been blasted off and so it took longer to make it to the lowest guard mount.

Nori looked surprised to see them, but pointed up higher where they could figure Dwalin had gone. As they turned to go further, a raven dropped down, startling Nori, but Thorin put a hand on his arm as he started to throw a knife at it. He shook his head, made the sign for friend and let go when Nori nodded. The raven gave an almost grin with its beak open and then nodded its head. It fluttered to an overhang and sat down, making it obvious it was going to help keep watch. Thorin just shook his head, and then they continued up the mountain to the next guard mount.

Dwalin met them there, frowning down the mountain at the raven he could see before turning and pointing to his own sentinel. Thorin shrugged, the more eyes they had on the mountain, the better off they would be. Dwalin seemed to sigh, then motioned them over inside the small building there. The one further down was mostly destroyed, this one the door, although broken, could still be gotten through. Dwalin held his finger to his lips, and then motioned Thorin in and then past the door. They slowly and carefully crept down the short hall, and then stood at the top of the stairs that led down into the guard quarters. It was then that Thorin realized what Dwalin wanted him to hear, it was Smaug, but a Smaug that was wheezing, almost as if he was having trouble breathing, maybe because of the tisane that had been laid down in so many different places. It made Thorin sorry that they hadn’t put more of it down, even if he couldn’t be sure that it was the cause.

They very carefully returned to the mountainside, and Thorin and Balin started back down. Dwalin pointed to the raven and Thorin nodded with a grin. He just sighed, but nodded back and then got comfortable.

When the two got back down to Nori, they found that there were several ravens and Nori was nervously watching them. Thorin took out the paper he had brought with him, and let him know that the ravens had agreed to help them and that they would carry messages. They left him with what they had and continued on so that they could tell the rest of them what had happened on Ravenhill.

The fact that there were ravens with Kíli made it obvious that they were determined to help, even if it was only to take messages between everyone. And since they were far enough from the mountain that they could talk about was happening was a good thing, the rest wanted to know just what had gone on with the ravens.

After a quick introduction of the rest of the group to the ravens, much to their surprise, Thorin told them what they had heard inside the mountain. Bilbo and Óin both gave a small whoop but settled down at the look that Balin gave them.

‘It’s too early to be celebrating anything. It could be anything.’

Bilbo was shaking his head at that. ‘No, when we were in the mountain, you could almost feel the mountain breath with Smaug. If he’s having some problems, most likely it’s the tisane.’

Óin was nodding in agreement. ‘I think we should take the chance and go in and see if the bag we left there is still where we left it. If it isn’t, well, Kíli’s arrows might just be enough to finish off the worm!’

Thorin and Balin looked at each other, and then the rest of the group. Turning to one of the ravens, he wrote quickly on a piece of paper and then offered it to them. ‘If you could take this to the one highest on the mountain, I would appreciate it.’ One of the ravens flew over and took it, darting for the mountain, while one of the others took off, heading to Ravenhill.

Fíli looked startled, ‘Um, Uncle, is that a good idea?’ A couple of the resting ravens cawed as if laughing at him, making him startle even more.

‘Yes, Roäc said that they would take messages for us, and I’m sure that they are going to keep him and all the rest informed about what’s going on here. It’s only right, if we don’t kill Smaug, he is sure to come out and they would need to be prepared to flee and hide.’ Thorin just shrugged at the look he got from Bilbo, he was doing the best that he could, and even if it wasn’t much, he would do what he could.

‘Can either Dwalin or Nori see the bottom stair to the Treasury?’ Bombur looked between Balin and Thorin.

Thorin was shaking his head, ‘It’s totally wrecked where the guard mounts are in the inside. I’m sure that Smaug made sure of that so that no one could get in or out. So the only way we’re going to be able to check to see if he took the bait, is to go back through the tunnel and back up to the Treasury floor. Which would mean that we would all have to go with every weapon we have, it’ll be our only chance. If he’s not drugged or dying, it could mean that we fail. But, at least, we sent off the notes so at least someone will know that we were here.’

Bilbo spoke up at that point. ‘Tomorrow. It’s late enough now and too many of us have been scaling mountains. And I don’t know that having anyone on the outside of the mountain will do us any good at this point, since you did say that they can’t get down on the inside.’

There was a general nodding of heads, and Thorin threw up his hands, not that he really disagreed, but now he would have to send another note to Dwalin telling him to come back to the campsite with Nori.

That done, he sent everyone back, with just Kíli and Bofur staying to wait for the others to return. This way, he could keep part of the promise he’d made to the old raven, sending some of the freshest of their meat with several of the ravens that were perched at their camp waiting for them.

Chapter 19

The next morning saw everyone up before the sun had even risen, they were just about a week from Durin’s Day, time had gotten away from them, and they had miscalculated just how much time they had. But they were as ready as they could be, and were determined to get this job done.

Breakfast was quick and a snack and lunch was packed for each Dwarf, Bilbo glaring at anyone who thought to refuse the package they were handed.

‘No one knows how long this is going to take, be thankful that we have enough to do this. And you might not like Lembas but if it means that everyone has a bit more strength and it gets rid of your dragon infestation, well, you won’t be complaining later, will you!’ Bilbo stood with his arms across his chest, glaring at all of his silly dwarves. They had strayed so far off the script that he could now only dimly remember it, now it was up to them to finish what had been started so very long ago, even if it was only Bilbo that could remember just how badly the last time had gone. Yavanna was a soft presence in the back of his mind, and looking around, he had to wonder if Mahal wasn’t also making his own presence known to his Dwarves. But that was for later, now was the time to literally beard a dragon in his den.

‘Besides, once you’re done with the dragon, I can finish my job of finding your rock!’

Having made half of the group snort at his words, and the other half just shake their heads in dismay, he felt he had lightened the mood a bit.

Thorin took a deep breath, this was it, looking around, their campsite was closed down so that it would be hard for anyone to find it, their ponies were further back along the forest edge, there wasn’t much they could do about them, but they could break their leads and roam free if need be.

Looking at the grim and determined group that he had travelled so far with, Thorin stepped up to each Dwarf and touched forehead to forehead, hands grasping their shoulders until he was ready for Bilbo.

‘I wasn’t sure how you would work with us, Bilbo, and much to my, and probably everyone’s surprise, you have been a comfort, surprise and now a true friend. No matter what happens today, I wanted you to know that I… we hold you in high regard.’ Thorin then leaned down and touched him forehead to forehead, holding it for a long moment, before standing straight, Bilbo smiling up at him mistily.

‘Well, you’ve all grown on me as well. Now, if we can just all manage not to kill ourselves, that would be nice!’

There were several gruff coughs, some slapping of backs, and then they headed toward the mountain that only the oldest among them had ever called home. The ravens that had followed them took off, some heading for Ravenhill, some to the guard mounts, the rest staying with the troop.

They went quietly, at this point everyone knew what to do, drawings of the floorplans had been gone over the night before, points of entry discussed, and everyone knew where to go and what to do. Bilbo was sad that they hadn’t had time to make up one more batch of the tisane, but they would just have to make due with the arrows that Kíli had dipped. He had even made sure to do the heaviest ones he had, just in case he could get close enough to put one in an eye. Thorin had said nothing at that, but Fíli had leaned into his shoulder, offering silent comfort. Bilbo had gotten out the drawings of the Arkenstone and gone over them as well, he felt that he could keep an eye out for it, even though he really felt that it wouldn’t be until they could get into the Treasury that it would be found.

Soon they were at the point were they would split up, Bombur, Nori, Ori and Bifur going for the gate, to see if they could get through there into the hall, also to have someone there to either drop the tisane on Smaug if he came that way, or to take them down and spread it over the entry into Erebor itself. If they were able to take them down, they all intended to coat their weapons as Kíli had done.

They had discussed going up to the guard mounts but decided that since they couldn’t get very far into the mountain that way, it would be better to have the rest come in through the tunnel. Hopefully, Smaug hadn’t moved, and they could get closer to him to see just how he was, not that the very idea was horrifying and terrifying to them all.

The ravens with them winged toward the mountain, and they realized that some of them were up at the high guard mount keeping watch. Thorin nodded at them, the others seeing what he did, sentries.

It didn’t seem to take them very long to get to Dale, down the tunnel and to the door into Erebor. Thorin looked at the door, and then began to open it, hoping that it was still quiet on the other side.

And it was with relief that when the door opened, it was still and quiet as before. Dwalin, Kíli, Óin, Ori and Bofur quickly started up the stairs to the higher floors, while the rest went to the outer door to see if anything had changed there. It was still quiet, but now there was a waiting to it that had never been before. Thorin looked uneasily around, then carefully closed the door and locked it back down. He motioned everyone back to the stairs leading up, they were going to go up to the Treasury floor and see if they could hear or see anything there.

Dwalin met them, coming back from where he had left the rest, Kíli with his arrows was were he could do the most good, and he wanted to know if they had seen or heard anything on the lowest level. At Thorin’s head shake, he frowned and returned to where he had left the rest.

Taking a deep breath, Thorin opened the door and slowly edged out. The quick gaze around didn’t see anything that had changed, but Smaug could be around a corner and they wouldn’t know it until too late. They all carefully stepped around the debris, trying to make as little noise as possible as they moved toward the stair down to the Treasury proper. Peeking down, the first thing they all noticed was that the much discussed bag of tisane was gone, a trail of drying liquid trailing down before spraying across the furthest wall. Bilbo held up a hand, then very quietly started down the stairs, being even more silent than usual. He made it to the bottom and slid sideways away from where the door of the Treasury should have been. Bilbo was terrified, but he was the smallest and the quietest and so was perfect for this part of the job.

He peeked around the edge of the door, trying to see into the room, realizing that his bag, now empty, was shredded and thrown around. But where was Smaug, they hadn’t heard anything leaving. It was then that Bilbo realized that that mound of gold in front of him was moving slowly up and down, as if something, like a dragon, was hiding underneath all of it!

‘Ssss, I hear you, little thief, don’t try to run, it will get you nowhere.’

Bilbo froze in place, he couldn’t see anything, but maybe the dragon had heard him? ‘Ah, well, really, not here to steal anything, there’s nothing here that I could possibly use.’ Bilbo babbled a bit, knowing that the others would hear him and hopefully stay where they were.

‘Liar, I smelled all of you before, and the bag that you left had more scents on it.’

Bilbo was tempted to smack himself on the head, why had he not thought about that. They could have figured out how to keep touching the bags to a minimum.

‘I do not know what you are, but you travel with the scum that I chased from my mountain when I took back what was mine. Will they mourn your death before I kill them as well?’ Smaug rose a bit in his mound of gold and jewels, his head finally coming out, an eye gleaming in the dim light. ‘Come closer, little rabbit, let me see you better. Tell me what you are and are there more for me to hunt, hmmm?’

‘Ah, I’d really rather not, and why would you kill me? I haven’t stolen anything from you,’ Bilbo waved his hand over at all the piles of treasure Smaug was lying on, ‘Really, this can’t be eaten, and too much just seems to have be here piled uselessly. I’d rather a nice garden in the sun, instead.’ He knew that Thorin and the rest would be having fits, but he was hoping to get Smaug to lift his head just a bit more so that Kíli could get a clear shot to an eye.

Meanwhile, all the Dwarves were horrified at their Burglar’s plight, but Thorin quickly realized what Bilbo was doing. He could just hope that it worked. Holding up a hand, he picked up a rock and then let it drop and roll down the stairs. It startled all of them there, even though they could see what he was doing. Bilbo jumped when the echoes sounded around the huge room, and Smaug swung his head more toward the stairs, and into line with Kíli and his arrows.

And the moment he did, Kíli shot arrow after arrow, barely one hit before another came behind it.

Smaug screamed in agony, flinging up his head, where they could see great scars across his throat and part of his chest where he had gotten their tisane on himself. Another arrow hit his neck, while a warhammer came smashing down from above onto his head. He crashed back down on his bed of gold, turning his head, he took a deep breath to use his fire and kill anything in its path, when the rest of the Dwarves led by Thorin came charging down the stairs, shouting war cries and swinging their weapons, striking Smaug in all the places that had been damaged. Even Bilbo ran into the chamber, drawing his knife, he slashed at the dragon, until everything fell silent, except for the sound of panting Dwarves.

Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities was dead.

Epilogue

It had taken them all a while to get their wits about them, it just didn’t seem possible that they had killed such a terrible beast, and yet, he laid before them, slowly cooling as his blood no longer ran through his veins to keep him hot.

Bilbo sat down where he stood, just gazing at him, and Thorin waded over to him, hoping that there was nothing wrong with his Burglar.

‘Are you injured, Bilbo, that was very brave but foolish to brandy words with a dragon!’ He knelt down by Bilbo who just shook his head.

‘No, I’m fine, just in shock, I think. Did you see all the arrows Kíli shot? It was amazing! One right after another,’ he babbled, still looking at the dragon. Then he sat up straighter with a jerk. ‘Me! What about all of you, dropping rocks and then running down here as if there wasn’t a ruddy giant fire-breathing dragon down here! Just waiting to roast all of you! Which he was going to do, by the way!’

Everyone who had gathered around the two started to laugh, sitting down and just shaking their heads at him in relief.

‘I think our Burglar is just fine, Thorin. Is everyone else all right?’ Glóin was still huffing a bit from laughing so hard, but looking around, didn’t see any injuries that needed tending.

They swing around, swords at the ready, but relaxed as the rest of their group rushed down the stairs.

‘Is everyone ok? We couldn’t tell, there isn’t enough light down here now that the dragon is dead!’ Kíli grabbed his uncle and brother, hugging them tightly, thankful to see that they seemed to fine, and then checking the rest of the group. He then grinned, ‘Did you see all those arrows! I’m not sure that all of them went into his eye, but a bunch did and I think having some of the tisane on them must have helped!’

Dwalin just looked over everyone, shaking his head, and then started pulling out touches to light, stumbling around in the dark was not the way to go, it would be a good way for someone to fall into a hole or down a stair.

Once they were lit, they all turned and looked at Smaug, marveling at just how long and large he was, but then realized just how much damage he had done to himself when he had thrown the bag of tisane around.

‘I think he even damaged his mouth, look there, see how it’s torn and cracked?’ Fíli was climbing around on the body, Kíli and Ori not far behind. ‘It might not have killed him, but it certainly weakened him.’ He stopped for a moment, then wrinkled his nose. ‘Um, Uncle, how are we going to get this out of here? Sooner than later, it’s going to start to stink and I, for one, don’t want to be smelling that!’

Bofur laughed, ‘We’ll be carving it up and hauling it out, I’m afraid. I don’t know if anything eats dragon, so we’ll either have to burn or bury his body.’ He looked over at Bifur, who nodded and signed that burning might be better, it would keep other, more unsavory things away.

Bilbo just chuckled. ‘Yes, it’s all fun and games until you have to start doing cleanup, then everyone complains and wants to go home, leaving the mess behind.’ He turned and looked at Thorin, who was sitting on a chest that he was sure was gold. ‘Seen anything that looks like a really shiny rock?’

Thorin frowned at him. ‘That, my Burglar, is your job, not mine. Glóin, how long do you think it’s going to take to count all of this and get it sorted? Years, right?’

‘Decades, I think. And sorting out others money? Forever. We should just get what we can out of here, things that we know are heirlooms and melt down the rest and start over.’ He shook his head over the mess, and really, that’s all it was at the moment, a mess.

Bilbo wandered the edges of the Treasury, he was getting a little push and so just went where it seemed it wanted him to go.

‘Yo, Bilbo, don’t go too far, we aren’t too sure how sturdy the floor is under all this weight. It might be stone, but even stone can be broken.’ Dori huffed a bit as he watched his youngest brother climb all over the dragon, but wisely kept anything he wanted to say to himself, they had found that the warhammer that had hit Smaug in the head was his, not Dwalin, who had just stood there smirking at everyone.

Bilbo shrugged a bit, and then stopped to pick something up from a dark corner. There had been just the tiniest bit of a glint, but enough to let him know what he had found. Sending another silent prayer to Yavanna, Bilbo turned to walk back to the rest of the group, when they heard shouting from the staircase.

‘I told you he would show up after everything was done! And Thorin, your rock, I presume,’ tossing the Arkenstone to a gobsmocked Thorin as Gandalf came down the stairs, finding all the Dwarves pounding Thorin and Bilbo on their backs as they celebrated.

But Bilbo, even in the midst of celebrating, knew he wasn’t done yet, that he would, sooner or later, be pulled to another quest that he would have to go on.

But for now, there was celebrating to do, and a kingdom to start anew.

 


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14 Comments:

  1. it was amazing!thank you!!!

  2. I really enjoyed that!

  3. This was a delightful story and I love how things turned out different and better. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. This is interesting, especially how you brought in the Valar and their worship. I definitely got One Ring vibes off the Arkenstone here, especially with how no one could remember what it looks like… And Smaug’s fate was such an cool idea!

  5. Great Story. Thank you for sharing

  6. Loved it that no one died! I also liked how the trip was much easier thanks to the gods. That was different and nice.

  7. Rogue, I absolutely adored the story! I love how Sassy and prepared Bilbo was, and the interactions with Yavanna were great, and the subtle push to get the dwarves to pray to Mahal was great too, and bringing the Valor in! What a great story! For your first attempt at the QB, you hit it outta the park! I’m so happy for you! You did an awesome job!

  8. Very enjoyable story. Thank you!

  9. Wonderful twist to canon, enjoyable read, thank you.

  10. Good story, thanks for sharing it with us

  11. good story

  12. Really well done. Great characterizations, gripping action scenes, and poisoning Smaug was a winning solution.

  13. I adore a good fix-it, and this one really hit the spot! Thank you!

  14. This…This was so freaking awesome! You had me on tether hooks the whole way through! Absolutely phenomenal!

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