‘This,’ Thorin thought to himself as he glowered across the campfire at the hobbit, ‘is exactly why dwarf-hobbit couplings are unheard of and unmentioned.’
The day had started out quite wonderfully really. Bilbo had made their breakfast – perfectly fluffy scrambled eggs with chunks of cured ham mixed in instead of Bombur’s usual bacon and burnt potato stew (or at least, that was what Bilbo thought it was, he really wasn’t certain though). They had even managed to go a whole hour before stirring up any kind of trouble, and when trouble did stumble upon the company, it didn’t come in the form of orcs, goblins, wargs, or mountain trolls.
No, their first bit of trouble had come when Bilbo tripped and spilled some of his breakfast on Thorin’s boots. The hobbit had of course, stammered a hasty and heartfelt apology to the Dwarf prince, but Thorin seemed content to growl and glare at him from behind his sword, which he was polishing lovingly with a whetstone. While nothing really came of the incident apart from a furiously embarrassed Bilbo blushing crimson straight to his hairline, the subsequent incidences wreaked havoc.
First, Bilbo’s pony had gotten spooked at a thunderclap and bolted. The creature had thrown the poor hobbit clear over Gandalf’s head as he sat astride his own pony, and had proceeded to storm straight through the rest of the company at a gallop. After Bifur and Dwalin had chased the horse down through a half-flooded trench of a ditch and across a slippery, muddy slope, Bilbo had to be lifted back up into his saddle. Thorin mused aloud, and unnecessarily loudly on top of it, that he couldn’t blame the pony. His jest caused a ripple of laughter amongst the dwarves, with only Fili, Kili, Balin, Bofur, Gandalf, and Bilbo abstaining from laughing. Gandalf’s eyes narrowed into reproachful slits aimed at the back of Thorin’s head, and the prince couldn’t suppress a shudder, as though the wizard’s disapproval were enough to make him ill. Balin shook his head slightly at his prince’s actions, but said nothing. Fili, Kili, and Bofur stole occasional glances at each other and Bilbo, trying to ascertain whether he had been injured. Bilbo simply cast his eyes down to his pony’s thick mane, and tried not to complain about the raw ache in his back and the growing lump sprouting on his head, both of which were parting gifts from his hard fall.
A few hours later, another unfortunate incident befell the hobbit. Bilbo had been put in charge of passing out the midday meal, an absolute necessity since they would not stop to eat supper until they had made camp for the night, and the time for that was still hours away. It was the usual ration of stale bread and softening apples. Thorin was the last to get his, and it certainly was not because of any slight from Bilbo – it was simply because Thorin was at the front of the company and Bilbo was at the very back of a long line of hungry dwarves. That alone was enough to irritate Thorin, but when Bilbo lobbed his bread and apple to him, the Dwarf prince gained more cause to be upset. The food sailed over the heads of the company, and struck Thorin right in the back of the head. His mood took a considerably dark turn after that.
While he cursed, “That wretched Halfling” Balin and Dwalin exchanged glances. Then they looked back to everyone else, and the only unconcerned gazes that they found belonged to the ponies and the hobbit. Because there wasn’t much to do about it but push on and follow the prince’s lead, no one said anything for the moment. Everyone let the incident fade as the day’s journey wore one, except for the Bilbo. The hobbit turned his eyes down once more, trying to hide his beat-red face, and perhaps a tear or two. Gandalf feigned that he hadn’t noticed, and offered a silent apology to Belladonna Took, and prayed that she didn’t haunt Thorin Oakenshield. Fili, Kili, and Bofur simply steered their mounts closer to the burglar. They let their support hang in the air unsaid, and Bilbo simply went on riding forward. He thought of Bag End and his garden, of his parent’s portraits hanging above the mantle and his thick leather volumes, and then he wished that could be back there instead of in the middle of some long-forgotten thicket of trees on the way to fight a dragon and reclaim a home for a gaggle of dwarves who neither liked him nor wanted his company.
He did his very best not to cause trouble for the rest of the day, and he managed a good deal better than he ever thought that he could. He kept his head down and his mouth closed, and while it didn’t curry an favor for him, it didn’t seem to upset any of the other members of the company. Thorin however, remained stone-faced and silent.
Indeed, he only spoke again after they had made camp for the night, and it was only to bark, “Get dinner going – quickly Bombur – something other than ham and cabbage soup. Make the Halfling do it if you’re too tired”.
The Took in him reared its un-hobbit-like head in indignation, but Bilbo quashed it quickly. He jumped at the chance to be useful, hoping to redeem himself for the trouble he had caused earlier. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm did not have as far a reach as his exhaustion, and in a blind moment of sheer silly tiredness, he placed his hands directly on the pan that he was using to fry up rabbit, carrots, and chopped potatoes.
“In the name of Old Took!” he swore as he hastily retracted his hands, now throbbing and turning a violent, angry shade of red where they had touched the pan. He tried to forge ahead in his work, though each and every time he picked up the wooden stirring spoon his burnt palm, for it didn’t seem to matter which one he tried, he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from cursing.
No one seemed to notice though, and Bilbo was immensely grateful for that. Gandalf was off somewhere doing odd wizardly things, Bombur was resting somewhere, Oin and Gloin were on watch, Ori and Nori were securing the ponies, and everyone else was conversing with Thorin over their map about the route they would take the next day.
“Halfling!” he heard the Prince bellow just as he finished scraping the sizzling contents of the pan into fifteen wooden bowls. “Are you quite done yet?”
Once again, Bilbo suppressed the seething voice of his tookish blood, which demanded respect and common courteousy if nothing else, even from a dwarven prince. He rushed about, delivering Thorin’s meal first to avoid offending him any further, and then taking bowls to everyone else as quickly as he could manage. Finally, he passed the final two bowls to Fili and Kili, who were the first of any of them to look him in the eyes.
“How are you?” Fili asked, trying to look past the hobbit’s down-turned face and wild fringe to meet his eyes.
“We were worried that you might think ill of the company after today.” Kili added, taking the bowls form Bilbo. It was the expected action, but it was mostly a cover for trying to distract Bilbo enough to get him to look at anything other than his feet.
“Oh no, of course not. I’m fine, perfectly fine, better than ever actually.” Bilbo babbled.
At this point, all he really wanted was to put down his bedroll and let the whole horrible day slip into memory like some bad dream. He escaped Fili and Kili’s worried expressions long enough to stumble off to an empty stretch of grassy ground across the campsite, as far away from anyone else as he could get. The hobbit set about getting ready for bed, wolfing down his food and unraveling his bedroll and blanket in record time, and finally curled up on his side with his head pillowed by his bent arm.
Fili and Kili were not to be fooled so easily however. They slipped into the woods silently, and circled to approach the spot where they knew their uncle was holding a meeting to discuss the plans for the next leg of their long journey. As they entered the small clearing, which boasted a carpet of lush, springy grass and had small rocks strewn about it, they caught the gaze of several other members of the company. Balin in particular, seemed quite anxious, followed closely by Bofur. The wizard was nowhere to be found, but neither of them supposed that he was entirely necessary for what was about to happen.
“Ah, Fili, Kili, come join us. We were just going over the route for tomorrow. We’ll be exiting the foothills of the Blue Mountains by this time tomorrow. The goblins will be far behind us.”
“That’s all well and good.” Fili said.
“But we think there’s a more pressing matter to discuss.” Kili finished for him.
Thorin raised one thick, black eyebrow, but a ghost of a smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “And what would that be?” he asked his nephews.
“The hobbit.” They said in unison.
“Yes.” Thorin said, turning his eyes to the rest of the group in a sweeping gaze. “He is quite a nuisance, isn’t he?”
Some of the dwarves gave quiet, false laughter to match the prince’s chuckle, but the majority either cast their eyes down or stole guilty glances at each other.
“Actually, we do not think so.” Kili said.
“He is doing quite well, all things considered. You are too hard on him.” Fili added.
Their uncle’s gaze turned from tranquil to stormy in an instant. His eyes flashed cold and stony in the moonlit dark of the forest, as he whirled around to bared down on his nephews.
“You think that I am being too hard on him? He nearly cost us a mount today, as well as an hour’s worth of travel on the road. He’s a bungling idiot, and he has no place here.” He turned to look at the rest of the dwarves as he continued. “Does anyone else here think that I was too hard on the hobbit?”
The clearing stayed silent for a long moment. The silence lasted long enough for Thorin to acquire a small smirk, which he directed at his nephews. He turned his attention back to the map, and opened his mouth to speak once more, but was cut off by one voice.
“My friend, I must agree with your nephews.” Balin said in a rush.
Thorin eyed him cautiously for a moment. While he could not dismiss his opinion as easily as he could his nephews’, this was not something he wanted to get into in front of all of his company. He was about to articulate an invitation to discuss the issue in private, when someone else interrupted him.
“I must also agree.” This time it was Dwalin, and after him came Bofur, then Dori, then Oin and Gloin followed by Bombur, and finally Bifur.
“Very well then.” Thorin spat as majestically as he could manage. “I call this meeting finished.”
The message was unmistakably clear, even if his tone hadn’t made it perfectly obvious that he was in no mood for further conversation. All of the dwarves cleared off, including his nephews and his old friend, leaving him to simmer with his thoughts and the map. After a long while in the calm, still quiet of the night, broken only by the occasional hoot of an owl or wolf’s howl, Thorin breathed a weary sigh.
“What would you have me do?”
“An apology would be an acceptable placed to start.” Came a firm, distinct voice that Thorin recognized, much to his displeasure.
Gandalf the Grey came to stand beside him, looming over him in his silent deluge of thought.
“Are you here to speak on the hobbit’s behalf as well wizard?” Thorin asked, and he was surprised at the amount of bitter venom in his voice, even as it left his tongue and reached his ears.
“No, Thorin Oakenshield, I am not. I am here simply to remind you that, while Bilbo may not be a one of you, he is equally valuable.” He paused. “And no Took nor Baggins will tolerate anyone speaking on their behalf. Any of them would tell you that they can do it for themselves perfectly well. Nor do they appreciate being made a fool of, I might add.” This last part was delivered with a sharper tone and a narrowed gaze, which Thorin lifted his own hard eyes to meet.
Thorin considered this quietly, “I suppose that can be said of anyone.” His tone was still inscrutable, but it was considerably softer than it had been a few moments ago, and the wizard counted that as a success.
Gandalf gave a nod, and Thorin left to find the hobbit, well aware of what he had better do. Still, when he did get to the campsite, he had absolutely no intention of rousing the hobbit and having a long heartfelt chat about feelings. If any of them thought that he was going to lower himself to that, they had another thing coming. No, he was Prince Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, and he did not have sappy conversations with hobbit-burglars with injured feelings and cute golden curls and sweet blue eyes like sapphires from the deepest reaches of Erebor.