Thorin Oakenshield woke in stages. At the first, he began to be aware of a distant softness, foreign from months of hard ground and rock as his bed. The second stage, he felt the warmth of a gentle fire, flickering at the foot of the softness supporting him. The third stage, Thorin felt his face, his hands, his feet; all tense and struggle to move. Distinct throbbing and sparking sensations followed his attempts at movement, which he began to understand as pain. The fourth stage finally came, and Thorin opened his eyes, taking in a breath which strained the bindings around his chest. He was terribly wounded, he understood, and kept as still as he was able. He let his head descend back to his pillow, letting out a soft breath. His gaze met the ceiling, and a choked gasp escaped him. Erebor.
The Lonely Mountain.
This was the chamber of the King under the mountain. Thorin was now King. They had succeeded. Thorin lay silent, still under the weight of the fulfilled quest, before he allowed a single, hot tear to burn across his temple for all he had lost and regained.
Gradually, the sound of muffled footsteps reached him. A soft knock resounded on the chamber door and he called out in an embarrassingly broken voice. “Enter!”
The large door creaked open heavily, and Thorin waited stiffly on his bed, displeased that he would be unable to sit or stand to receive his guest.
The face that greeted him, however, was familiar. Balin stood next to the bed, a respectful distance away. Thorin saw the gleam of tears in the older dwarf’s eyes and fought back his own emotion.
“My king,” Balin began, then shook his head. “You did it, lad. We are home.” Thorin felt his lips curl into a small smile. “I have news, if you wish to hear it,” Balin continued.
Thorin turned slightly to better face Balin. The elder dwarf came closer before claiming the bedside chair, settling himself with a small huff of effort. Thorin saw the stark white of bandages beneath Balin’s shirt and sleeves and his brow tightened. Balin noticed his attention and lifted an arm.
“Aye, we all seem to have shared an equal amount of injury among our company. Ah.. another amount of business, Thorin. Your nephews-” Thorin surged upright, ignoring the scream of agony from his torso.
“Fili, Kili - where are my sister-sons?” He demanded, beginning to swing his legs down from the bed.
“Calm yourself, lord. Fili and Kili suffered wounds akin to your own, and are in similar states. Both have begun to make their recovery. You are the last to wake of our kind.” Something in Balin’s eyes told Thorin there was more to that statement than he had intended to reveal.
“Balin,” Thorin began, meeting the older dwarf’s eyes. “Where is the halfling?”
Balin’s shoulders straightened and it was a long moment before he spoke. “Bilbo Baggins was not recovered after the battle, sire. We have searched, but none have found him. He is lost to us.” Balin bowed his head slightly, his bushy eyebrows concealing his eyes for a moment.
Thorin sat, statuesque, unable to breathe. Bilbo Baggins was dead? Thorin grimaced at the return of his pain, clasping a hand to his ribs. Balin noticed his movement and rose to assist him.
Together, they managed to get Thorin propped in a semi-prone position without compressing the wounds in his torso. Thorin was yet silent. Worriedly, Balin laid a hand upon Thorin’s shoulder. “Shall I send for a healer?”
“No, Balin, I thank you for your concern.” Shock had taken all pride from Thorin at being treated like an invalid, even though he knew Balin meant well.
The burglar. The hobbit. His burglar.
Thorin clenched the sheets in his hand, ignoring the split skin across his knuckles. “Did anyone see him fall?” The words seemed to wound him even as they left him.
Balin shifted in his chair. “None, lord. And the wizard has not seen fit to remain in your halls. He left at the conclusion of the battle, heading back west." Balin paused, and continued with some sadness, "I do not believe he intends to return.”
Thorin laid his head back again to look at the ceiling. He did not answer for a long moment. “No, I don’t believe he will.”
Thorin knew, deep within himself, that many of Gandalf’s reasons for continuing on in Thorin’s company had lain with the very hobbit who had been taken from them.
If Balin saw the gleam on his cheeks, he made no comment.
Gandalf stilled his horse at the gates of Rivendell, breathing the deep air of the Hidden Valley with some relief. He slid carefully from his mount’s back, reaching back once he dismounted to retrieve the precious parcel for which he had rode forth so swiftly from Erebor.
Bilbo Baggins of the Shire lay wrapped in a bloodied cloak, his face deathly pale. Gandalf rested a hand on the hobbit’s face, testing the strength of the soft breath on his palm before he cradled the hobbit within his arms and went into the house of Elrond.
He was greeted swiftly and Bilbo taken from him into the care of Elrond’s healers. It quickly became quite clear that Bilbo had very little chance. Elrond himself attended to the little burglar, his greater skill required in the delicate nature of Bilbo’s surgery.
The worst of his wounds lay in the deep scoring across his chest; from collarbone to thigh the deepest of the cuts went, the edges puffy and violently red with infection from the filth of the Orcish blades. Gandalf had gone swiftly to Bilbo’s aid, seeing him overwhelmed by the enemy, but had not been able to save Bilbo the worst injuries.
In a last strike of hate against the small halfling, an orc had dashed Bilbo’s head against a sharp spike of rock. The blood had quickly soaked Gandalf’s robe, and only with the greatest extent of his power and skill had he been able to staunch the flow enough to bear the halfling away.
Gandalf stood sentinel without Bilbo's room, watching with ever darkening gaze as attendants brought out bloodied and soiled clothes and rags. No noise came from within the room, and the night drew on, dark and pitiless.
Hours later, Elrond came from the room which he had set aside for Bilbo when Thorin’s company had passed through previously. He met Gandalf in the hall and the look of weariness upon his immortal face was answer enough for the wizard.
“He fades, Gandalf,” the wizard nodded. The knowledge was as he had feared. “He lost far too much blood. The blow to his head has sent him beyond where either of us may reach him.” Gandalf had hoped for better news, but he had seen the ferocity of the blow, and recalled the quietness with which Bilbo had lain in his arms throughout their journey.
“What can be done?” Gandalf worried his staff, twisting the gnarled skin between his palms.
“We must wait, and attend his wounds. The least of our graces is that the wound to his head keeps him asleep so his outer wounds may yet heal. But Gandalf, do not be deceived if he does recover. None of our skill have been able to draw out the wounded from this form of sleep. He will linger on, yes, but all that you and the world understand as Bilbo Baggins will flee long before he ever chances to awake." Elrond paused and laid a brief hand upon Gandalf's shoulder. They looked out upon the valley, the moon dimly falling over the spires of Imladris, as if it dared not disturb the tentative comfort of the moment. Gandalf shifted, and Elrond drew away, understanding. The Shire had always been very dear to the wizard, and the hobbit even more so. "I am sorry, Gandalf. But it may have been kinder to lay Bilbo Baggins to rest.”
Gandalf turned on Elrond then, his brows snapping together. Yet a moment later, his rage passed, and the look of sympathy on the elf lord’s face remained. They stood for a long while in the night, the wind stirring the dead leaves at their feet. Finally, Gandalf roused himself and gruffly thanked Elrond. “I give thanks for your hospitality. I must return to the Lonely Mountain. There are others I have yet to see to. Will you keep him?”
Elrond glanced back at his house, then nodded his assent. “We will attend the hobbit with all we may spare, my friend." Gandalf began toward Bilbo's room, and Elrond called after him, his voice careful. "May your journey be swift and successful.” Gandalf did not reply, and Elrond remained until morning upon the terrace, his gaze fixed eastward.
Gandalf attended Bilbo that night for long hours, mopping the hobbit's brow with a gentle hand, his ancient face creased with his thoughts. He had been much upon Bilbo's pride for the entire quest, and had been very little comfort to the hobbit, he knew. Some small amount of that shame pricked at him in the sickly face of the wounded halfling. The wizard repressed the sentiment and looked clearly at the situation. Bilbo was within Lord Elrond's care, and Gandalf was assured that the mission he intended to set upon would return Bilbo to Middle Earth. Wherever his spirit wandered, Gandalf surmised, it was not the darkness of fear or pain. When he passed a bare palm over Bilbo's sweat riven brow, he felt only a gentle warmth, golden in spirit and smooth, green and full of life. There was a sadness in Gandalf as he began to accept Elrond's statement. It may indeed have been easier to lay Bilbo to rest when he had first been found. It would be a testament to the strength of Bilbo's will if he could draw himself from the honor and peace of the Undying Lands where his spirit now dwelt. Gandalf knew only the greatest of needs would draw Bilbo from his rest, and he could think of only one which might truly restore the hobbit.
Gandalf left Rivendell not a day later, his mount exchanged for a sprightly mare who bore him gladly from her home. Gandalf stopped at the crest of the ridge of the valley, gazing back at the city. The sun rose over Imladris, and gold began to shine from the halls of Elrond. If there was any place he could deign to leave Bilbo, it was here.
“Be well, Bilbo,” he muttered softly, his voice lost in the spray of myriad waterfalls. He turned east, and the thunder of his passage outweighed even the thunder of the falls, echoing down the valley the speed of his quest.
Thorin sat determinedly on his throne, gazing emotionlessly at the ambassador from Dale. They sought to establish trade and taxes once more with Erebor, yet the thought of official business outside of his own people yet turned his stomach. There was little joy for him, in the throne beneath the mountain.
The great hall was sorely damaged, scored and singed and buckled with the greedy weight of Smaug after a century of his inhabitance. Yet his people gave little pause to their work. Even now, amidst the silence of their small council, he could hear scores of different works, carving, smithing, sweeping, painting, hammering; all manner of repairs which he must oversee to restore Erebor.
The ambassador called to him, and Thorin gazed darkly at the man. “I desire peace only at this time, ambassador. Tell your Master I will send for him if Erebor decides to open its gates freely. You may go.”
Unable to protest at such a succinct dismissal, the ambassador bowed and left unhappily. Thorin braced his fist against the arm of his throne as he stood, steeling his face against the tender spear of pain that yet plagued him.
Fili had yet to join him in his seat as heir, but Thorin had no desire to speed his sister-son from his healing bed. Despite Balin’s reassurances, Thorin had gotten up only the day after he awoke, to see his nephews’ condition with his own eyes.
Teeth gritted, he watched in equal measure the pain each breath caused the brothers, laid out in separate beds an arm's from one another. Thorin approved of the healer’s decision to keep them together. So much of Fili’s soul and passion was bound up in Kili, and the same held true in Fili for Kili. To separate them would strain their will and slow their healing.
Thorin spent a moment each with his sister-sons, laying a gentle hand upon their brows and whispering a small encouragement to each.
He left the room quickly as he was able, feeling the depth of his strength fading quickly. He made it halfway to his own chamber before his vision began to darken tellingly. Before he was able to suffer the embarrassment of going unconscious in the halls, Balin appeared once more. The dwarf made no sign or comment of judgement, but helped Thorin quietly to his room. Thorin had lost a great deal of shame in accepting the aid of his company, but he would accept help of this kind only from Balin. Only to Balin had Thorin released a little of the pain of losing the hobbit.
There was something intrinsically different about Balin that separated him from any other member of the company. It was something he saw that existed between Dwalin and Balin in equal measure. When he deigned to rise from his bed and walk at longer distances each day, he had seen more than once the two dwarves with their foreheads together, talking quietly. Dwalin had also been wounded, but not so grievously. He had nearly lost a thumb in ripping at a warg’s head, but the healer’s had been able to save the digit. Dwalin complained little enough, but Thorin could see the tenderness with which he treated the healing finger. It would be a long while before Dwalin could profess to wield his sword with equal ferocity as before the battle with his weakened grip.
Thorin had also discovered upon waking that Balin had stewarded the throne of Erebor in the absence of both Thorin and Fili. Thorin approved of Balin's leadership, and without pause accepted him as his permanent steward, should the occasion arise. Balin accepted the honor with humility, and continued the duty he had assumed while Thorin continued to heal.
Thorin had heard nothing of Bilbo in the weeks from his awakening. Gandalf, too, had yet to be heard from. Although he thought Gandalf to be outside of the order of death, he would not put it past the wizard to have moved on at least in some form.
Yet he was not to be denied knowledge for very long. Only the next day, sitting once more in the hall of the king to receive emissaries once more from Dale did Thorin receive the wizard Gandalf. Immediately, he sat straight up, ignoring the pain in his chest. Gandalf walked past the long line of messengers and nodded deferentially to Thorin, who was already getting up to meet him.
“I have news, Thorin, King under the Mountain, but it may not be so publicly heard.” Gandalf did not move or indicate the men waiting behind him, glaring impatiently at the old man who had jumped ahead of them, but Thorin understood.
“I will receive you tomorrow. I have business to attend to at once.” Thorin nodded at the Men, who, now used to being dismissed by the dwarven king, left the hall silently. No doubt, there would be grumbling about him tonight in Dale, but he had no spare thought to care what the Men of Esgaroth considered of him.
Gandalf drew him aside into a small antechamber which he had not yet rediscovered since they had returned to Erebor. For a moment, he was lost in memory, until Gandalf closed the door behind them and began his council. The words he spoke sent chills through Thorin, his skin prickling with anticipation. “I have news, as I said. I have been to Rivendell with haste and returned to give you aid however you may receive it.”
“Is that it, then? You abandon us at the field of death to go running back to the elves? I might have known,” Thorin scoffed, turning away from Gandalf. His temper was short already, for reasons he had no desire to assess, and the ruminations of an elf-loving wizard gave him no aid.
The roughness with which Gandalf took hold of him surprised him, and angered him less than it should have. “No, you foolish dwarf, my news is not that I shared cup with the Sylvan folk, it is thus; Bilbo Baggins is alive.”
Thorin stood silent at Gandalf's word, his gaze unfocussed and far away. Gandalf waited patiently while Thorin processed his declaration. His eyes seemed to deepen, and all at once Gandalf saw the white that had gathered more thickly in the dwarf's countenance.
Thorin squared himself to Gandalf, his brow drawn and his mouth set. “Where is he?” The words were small, not daring to hope.
“He is in Rivendell, where I took him from the battle. He was grievously wounded.” Thorin stepped closer to Gandalf, a fire he recognized beginning in the dwarf's eyes.
“He could have been treated here, our healers are vastly competent. Why did you take him from Erebor?” Gandalf heard what Thorin meant, and only barely hid the gleam in his eye.
“When I found our burglar, he was already crossing. I was merely able to hold him and get him back to Lord Elrond, but none of our skill has been able to raise him.” Gandalf had no desire to overly burden Thorin with the detail of Bilbo's injury, and if his venture was successful, he wouldn't have to tell Thorin any of the details.
“What does that mean?” Thorin demanded, his words short. Gandalf marvelled at the change the news had wrought in the dwarf.
“It means that Bilbo Baggins’ body may yet live, but his spirit has not yet proved it has endured. The elves could not reach him, and neither could I. It is bittersweet news I bring, Thorin. It is our fear the Bilbo may never again walk in Middle Earth, or see the halls of his home.” Gandalf realized he had neglected the Shire, but an instant later, saw the truth in his misspoken words. Bilbo’s true home was clear now.
Thorin stood straight and tall, taller than his nature seemed to allow. Gandalf knew at once what Thorin intended and his eyes danced with his success. “I will go to him. Our burglar cannot be allowed to pass on in such company.” Gandalf allowed the slight against the elves, knowing it was merely to hide the tenderness Thorin had allowed into himself. He began away from Gandalf, but stopped at the door, his face turned away. His voice was as deep and strong as Gandalf remembered. “He will not pass on.”
Gandalf allowed a small smile to cross his face, hidden by his beard and Thorin’s retreating back. The calls and shouts that rang through the halls of Erebor echoed back to the wizard, who went to wait at the gates of Erebor.
The fire had been started once more.
Three months to the day since Thorin Oakenshield awoke from the Battle of the Five Armies, the leaves of Rivendell rained ever gold and brown, gently skittering through the softly lit halls. It was the wee hours of the morning, and very few elves roamed Imladris, preferring the quiet of their own quarters in the deep hours of the night.
There was the sound of wind and leaves, and also of the water, but there was another sound, far beneath the rest. The deepness of the sound told the weight of the approaching creature, and the rhythm belied another; a company of small, fast ponies was entering the Hidden Valley.
Few elves stirred at the sound, used to visitors attending the house at strange hours. Yet one elf stood waiting to receive the arriving company. Lord Elrond of Rivendell stood tall and silent at the foot of the stairs at the gate of Rivendell, watching with keen eyes the approach of the small company. He had watched them from afar, many miles past the sight of his gaze where only foresight had granted him view. There were not many; less than twenty, but more than ten. Elrond’s aged face let little emotion through, but to a keen observer, there could have been perceived a spark of amusement in the elf lord’s eye.
The company of Thorin Oakenshield had returned once more to Imladris.