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Prayers to Broken Stone

Chapter Text

“Go down now to your friends!” he said to Bilbo, “or I will throw you down.”

A hush fell over the Company and for a moment all that could be heard was the winter wind as it hissed and shrieked over the cracks in the mountain. Color gathered high in Bilbo’s cheeks, as if he had been struck, but there was iron and defiance in him still, even if it was set to the ill purpose of defending his thievery. He stood tall when not a moment before he had shuddered and twisted in Thorin’s grasp over the precipice.

“What about the gold and silver?” asked Bilbo. His voice was soft and Thorin remembered from it stolen moments in the Elvenking’s dungeon, in Laketown, and at the hidden door. Before the dragon, before things had become…complicated. What indeed of the gold and silver? Was it rage burning inside him, or shame? He remembered his grandfather then, wandering the treasury in his delirium. How, when the dragon came, Thrór had chased a falling jewel into certain death while his people burned.

But this is different, Thorin reminded himself. These were thieves and brigands, come to his door with swords to pick over the corpses of his people. Twisting his burglar to their ends, it was their fault! 

“That shall follow after, as can be arranged.” For there to be any other meaning to Bilbo’s question, that it might carry concern for Thorin rather than concern for the treasure, did not bear thinking. Better to assume otherwise, that Bilbo was thinking only of his own share. If the burglar would act the mercenary, let him be treated as one. “Get down!”

Thorin saw his expression hardened. Bilbo never had been one to allow his true meaning to be ignored, but the rage thrumming in Thorin’s veins told him it was not disapproval of his sidestepping, disapproval that made Thorin feel smaller than the hobbit. The rage pushed back, told him it was suspicion in Bilbo’s eyes, that he would not receive his equal share of the treasure. Bilbo seemed prepared to say something when voices came from below.

“Until then we keep the stone,” cried Bard.

“You are not making a very splendid figure as King under the Mountain,” said Gandalf. “But things may change yet.” Thorin turned back, placing his hands on the wall as he shouted to the carrion eaters below.

“They may indeed,” said Thorin. Gandalf too? He should have suspected as much of the meddling windbag, ever taking the side of Men, Elves, and thrice-damned Hobbits! Well they would see about that. Soon Dáin would come with his armies and the axes of the dwarves would be upon them. Overrun with fire and blood, they would see then if they could keep hold of the Arkenstone in dead hands!  Then they would see if there was any truth to the immortality of Elves and wizards.

Thorin’s thoughts thus turned to the future; he paid no mind to the hobbit in question as Bilbo watched him. His fingers dug into the stone at the thought of descending, sword in hand, an army at his back, upon the Men and Elves below, and the sound of scratching rock was swallowed by the wind.

Bilbo turned to face the company and shared a long, quiet look with Balin, his eyes bewildered and pleading with the older dwarf. Something passed between them then, something more than the shame and pity that traveled on silent currents between the members of the Company as they watched Thorin cast out the one who had brought them so far and saved them from so many evils. Had Bilbo turned to go then they may have maintained that silence, following their leader as they had sworn.

Instead, Balin looked to Thorin, whose hands were clenched on the stone wall as he glared black death upon those gathered below. Then he looked to Bilbo, standing pale but unflinching, desperate for some sign of support from his companions. For surely they must all see it, how something was terribly wrong in the heart of Erebor, even now with the dragon dead and the gold lying unguarded within.

Balin cleared his throat.  “Bad business it was, splitting the company like that, leaving the other lads behind. A bad business indeed.” The Company started, looking to one another as if coming out of a dream. Bilbo too looked up in surprise and stopped his movement towards the edge of the parapet.

“I suspect, were Fíli and Kíli here, they’d have some words for their uncle,” Balin continued.

“Silence, Balin. This is not the time,” Thorin said without turning.

“Words regarding Bilbo as well. Thorin, have you lost your mind?” Balin came alongside him and hissed the last into Thorin’s ear.

“Do not speak to me of madness,” Thorin snarled. “It is not madness to protect the legacy of our people from thieves.”

“It is if you would risk all of our lives to do so,” said Balin. Thorin turned and glared at Balin. The older dwarf stood as Bilbo had, unyielding, a frown twisting beneath his snowy beard. Between the two of them Thorin felt the wall behind him like a trap closing around him.

But the sense of being cornered only served to sharpen his anger, and Thorin’s expression soured. “If you would take his side then go with him! I will not be questioned by my own subjects in front of our enemies.” A gasp went up from the other dwarves, and something shifted in the air as those words escaped. The Company was staring as if they did not know him. Even Dwalin grimaced and crossed his arms, looking down at the ground.

“Subjects? Well, I suppose that’s true. The mountain is yours, and you are king,” said Balin slowly. “But Gandalf is right, Thorin. It is one thing to retake Erebor and another to keep it. Chasing away the one who helped you gain it, well, it doesn’t sit right. And I suspect it doesn’t sit right with the others either.”

Ori and Bombur looked as if they wanted nothing more than to hide behind their brothers and cousins but Glóin, Dori, and Nori were exchanging silent looks that held in them a nod of agreement. There was a general shifting and shuffling of feet.

“If you would keep the Company intact…” Thorin began. Balin’s shoulders rose, hope dawning in his eyes. “Then you may go with him. All of you.”

Balin’s face fell and a cry went up from the Company, including the bear-like rumble of shock from Dwalin as he glanced between his brother and his lord.

“Balin, really, that isn’t necessary,” Bilbo said, putting a hand on Balin’s elbow.

“You don’t agree with my decision?” Thorin said, rounding on the Company. “Ungrateful lot, begone from my sight! There is no place in Erebor for traitors such as you!” He looked to each of them in turn as their eyes widened, they ducked their heads or stared back at him, challenging. “You heard me well. Get down!”

“Thorin…” Balin began.

“Now!” Thorin roared, then turned to Bard and Gandalf below, who watched in silence. “Take them or slay them, I care not. There is no deal.”

With that he turned back to the great iron door that lead out from the parapet and before any could stop him, slammed it shut behind him.

Dwalin was the first to the door, pounding it with his fists and tugging at the handle, Dori joining him to try to pry the thing open by sheer force, but it would not budge. There was no key, no other means of returning into the mountain, so one by one the remaining Company filed down the steep slope and into the waiting camp of Gandalf and Bard. So distracted were they by their misery that not even Bilbo, usually keen of eye, thought to look closer at the spot where Thorin had stood. For where his fingers had clenched and unclenched on the wall there were ten newly carved gashes like chisel marks into the stone.

 


Once in the camp they found they were not alone. Bofur, Fíli, and a newly healed Kíli were fighting towards them through the crowd as they descended.

“Bilbo!” Bofur cried as the three trotted to a halt. “You’re alive! We feared the worst, what with the dragon. Crashed into Laketown it did, right atop our heads, it’s a wonder we made it…” Bofur trailed off, noting the grim set to Bilbo’s face, the somber tone of the rest of the company.

“Where’s Thorin?” said Fíli.

“He has locked himself within the mountain,” said Balin.

“But he’ll come out soon, right?” said Kíli. “He has to.”

“Perhaps a reminder that no one can eat gold will be good for him,” Balin said, giving a reassuring pat on the shoulder to Kíli, but the look he exchanged with Bilbo spoke volumes. They turned and looked to the silent bulk of Erebor behind them and never before had King Under the Mountain seemed so apt a title.

 

Hours passed, and was still there was no word from Thorin, for though many attempts were made to call to their leader from the door, none were answered.

Then, in the pre-dawn light of the following day they heard the first rumbling. Like an earthquake, it roused those members of the company who remembered the first coming of Smaug and they leapt to their feet, racing out of their tents to the ledge below the gates.

With a deafening crash that shook the earth beneath them and shattered the ear even from a mile’s distance with the wrenching shriek of stone on stone, a huge shelf of the mountain gave way, and crashed down before the stone sentinels of the entrance to Erebor. Blocking the entrance.

“Thorin!” Fíli and Kíli cried. Bilbo gave a strangled yelp at their side, reaching out as if he could part the stone with his will alone.

“I did not expect this,” Balin said, coming alongside them.

“What was that? What’s going on? Balin, Thorin could be trapped in there, or worse!”

Balin shook his head. “That was no accident. Thorin has triggered one of the old defenses. There will be no going in or out of the mountain save by the secret door. He has determined to wait out our siege.”

“There’s no food in there, he’ll starve before then!”

Balin considered this, looking troubled. “Then there may be something else he is waiting for.”


 

 The Hollow Men
by TS Eliot

I
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar