Despite the strange and terrifying circumstances, Bilbo Baggins found his interest for riddles reinvigorated.
It had been over a day and a half since they had descended from where the eagles had deposited them and the trek on foot was proving to be a tiresome affair. As such, Bilbo saw no reason not to interject some mind occupying levity. Especially considering the vast stretch of terrain that yet lay before them. Considering he was the easiest to talk to, Bilbo decided to first approach Bofur on the subject.
The dwarf answered him with a hum of recognition and Bilbo drummed up his courage, “Do…do you like riddles?”
Bofur’s head titled to one side as he contemplated this, “Don’t know. I don’t think I’ve much of a head for them. But then few dwarves do.”
“Oh,” Bilbo replied, unable to hide the disappointment in his voice but Bofur offered him a heartfelt smile and clapped him on the back, “Now, now there! No need for the long face! I said I do not think I have much of a head for them but that does not mean I am not willing to try if you have one to share. Go on then, ask me your riddle.”
Bilbo puffed up proudly, “I know quite a few. I’ll give you an easy one!”
Amused by Bilbo’s enthusiasm, Bofur smiled and waved, encouraging the hobbit to speak the following:
Until I am measured
I am not known,
Yet how you miss me
When I have flown.
Bofur frowned and scratched at the side of his head, his hat wiggling side to side at the action, “Oh now, if that’s an easy one, I don’t know how I’ll do with others...”
“You can have as many guesses as you like,” Bilbo promised.
He repeated some of the riddle aloud under his breath then said, “Is it hair?”
Bilbo let out a startled laugh, “Ah, no. No, but that’s a pretty good guess.”
Dori, having overhead them, said sagely, “It’s time, isn’t it?”
Bilbo turned to him, startled that he had been listening in but very pleased he had done so, “Yes. Good job, Dori!”
Dori beamed and Ori, who stood next to him, spoke up, “I knew it too! He just said it first!”
“W-would you like a riddle then?” Bilbo asked timidly, not wanting to reveal too quickly that he was excited by this turn of events. This was exactly what he had wanted. Ori nodded and Bilbo couldn’t contain a wide grin as he said:
Each morning I appear
To lie at your feet,
All day I will follow
No matter how fast you run,
Yet I nearly perish
In the midday sun.
Ori stuck his tongue out to one side as he deeply contemplated this. Bofur looked at Dori who merely shrugged and shook his head, “Don’t look at me. I have not a clue.”
“Me either,” Bofur muttered and poked Bilbo, “Thought you said these would be easy.”
Just when Bilbo started to get dismayed that none of them would be able to solve it and that they would lose interest, Fili jumped in, “I think the answer is Kili.”
Kili, hearing his name, looked at his brother, “What do you think I am?”
“The answer to our Burglar’s riddle. At least it’s the answer if he’s referring to you and me. Many is the morning I’ve found you sleeping at my feet and following me all day long, moaning about how you’ll perish as the day goes on. Therefore, logically, you make the most sense as the answer.”
Kili tried to smack his brother’s alongside his head but Fili dogged it. Kili scowled, “That is not the answer! Right, Bilbo?”
Bilbo chuckled, “No. Sorry, Fili, the answer is…”
“Don’t tell me!” Ori cried, “I’ve almost got it!”
“What exactly was the riddle?” Kili asked and Bilbo repeated it. Kili snapped his fingers, “A shadow!”
Bilbo nodded and Ori sulked, “I was this close!”
Kili grinned and ruffled Ori’s hair, “You’ll have your chance at another.” He gestured to Bilbo, “Go on then! I’m sure you’ve got more.”
Bilbo did indeed.
For the most part, Thorin did his best to ignore the commotion floating about amongst his company but every now and then he’d hear a chuckle or a bellowed word and eventually his curiosity (or annoyance, it was hard to say which) won out and he turned to Balin with a fierce frown, “What are they talking about?”
“It would seem that Master Baggins is entertaining the company with riddles.”
“Riddles?” Thorin said the word as if it left a sour taste in his mouth. Balin merely chuckled, “Sounds harmless enough. Though I think if young Ori doesn’t get one right soon we’ll be witness to an unpleasant spectacle.”
As if to underscore this, Thorin heard Ori let out a rather loud whine of frustration, followed by a heated, “One more! Come on!”
Thorin shook his head and decided to let it lie. After all, there was no real reason not to allow it. And considering the Halfling’s recent actions he knew he should give him some leeway. He had, he supposed, treated Bilbo rather shabbily beforehand. The hobbit had proved his worth and earned his place in the company. Besides, he could hear both Fili and Kili piping in now and again and he knew providing entertainment for his nephews was no small feat.
However as time stretched on it became clear to Thorin that Bilbo’s riddles had become something of an infectious event that precious few were impervious to. Initially he had merely roped in Bofur, Dori, Ori, Kili and Fili but as time passed others were swayed into the frivolity. Nori started tossing out answers now and again and every one he got correct led him into encouraging more to be recited. Bombur could be heard remarking on every riddle that involved food. Gandalf (when he deigned to show them his presence) routinely answered each one offered as if they were mere child’s play unless interrupted by Balin, who seemed to take a rather perverse pleasure in beating the wizard to the punch.
The most surprising came one evening as they settled in a dense wood for camp, a roaring bonfire before them with Bilbo offering:
Made of ten but two we make,
When assembled others quake,
Five apart and we are weak,
Five together havoc wreak.
And of all the dwarves, Dwalin spoke up with a gruff, “Fist.”
Bilbo looked so stunned it was almost comical, “That’s right!”
Bifur chortled and gave Dwalin a swift jab to one arm, which Dwalin brushed off as he muttered, “I know of a fist when I hear it.”
“You’ll probably like this then,” And Bilbo added:
That downward thrust,
That never rust.
Dwalin scowled and it did not seem as if he would answer but it was obvious that he was actually thinking it over. Thorin didn’t know how to digest Dwalin getting into these riddles and nearly cursed aloud when Gloin, one of the few left who had not become involved in this craze, shouted, “It’s a sword!”
“Don’t be daft!” Bofur returned, “Swords rust. It’s dragon’s teeth for sure!”
“Ah, another nice try, but not correct.” Bilbo chided and Ori jumped up, clapping excitedly, “Oh! Oh! I’ve got it this time! It’s icicles, isn’t it?”
Bilbo let Ori twist in the wind for a few moments before revealing with a delighted smile, “It is indeed.”
Ori’s whoop of triumph was so loud that the others shushed him and looked about, slightly worried they had called trouble down on their heads. They were, after all, still on a rather perilous journey. Which Thorin thought it best to remind them as he grumbled, “I believe we’ve had enough questions for one evening. Bofur, you’ll take first watch. Oin, you after and I’ll take the last half.”
Bofur nodded and did as Thorin bid while the others settled in for the night, save Bilbo who approached Thorin tentatively, “I’m, ah, sorry if the riddles bother you.”
“They do not.” Thorin assured him as he rolled out his bedroll a few feet away from the others, “However I find their increasing popularity troublesome.”
Bilbo’s head titled to one side thoughtfully, “Why?”
At first Thorin did not answer and just as Bilbo thought that he would not, he sat down and said pointedly, “We still have a quest before us. We must not lose sight of it.”
“We won’t.” Bilbo vowed and then gently added, “I won’t. I swear, Thorin. And what I said…I meant it. I would see you take your home back. I’ll do whatever I have to, to see you rightfully restored to where you belong.”
Thorin did his best to viciously stamp out the warmth that blossomed in his chest at those words but, feeling he was doing a poor job of it, scowled, “You had best get your rest, Master Baggins. We still have a long road ahead of us.”
Bilbo’s mouth opened and closed helplessly but then he nodded and disappeared. Thorin started to relax. There was something about the hobbit that made him uneasy. It had started when they had first met and progressed as their travels continued. At first he had merely thought it was because Bilbo was not part of the company – it had been obvious from the offset that he was not a burglar and certainly not the sort needed for this venture. He was of a gentler folk, the kind more content to read books and sit idly by a fire, twiddling their thumbs than getting their hands dirty and doing the real work that needed to be done.
Thorin had met his fair share of these on his travels and in his work and he cared not for them. He had thought for sure that this was his issue with the hobbit. But then the wretched little thing had risked his life for him. As wounded as he had been, Thorin could still recall Bilbo leaping out of the darkness to tackle the orc Azog had ordered to behead him. And then, single handedly, slaying him. Bilbo, the hobbit, the halfling, had taken on an orc and killed him to protect Thorin. As if his earlier speech when he had first emerged from the Mountains had not been enough, Bilbo had then physically demonstrated that he was made of far more than Thorin had initially given him credit for.
And thus the unease with which he felt towards the hobbit continued to loom before him, a far greater riddle than any he had overheard so far. And it was not helped by the knowledge that when they had landed on the Carrock he had hugged him. Thorin couldn’t properly recall ever hugging anyone ever. Perhaps his nephews, but it seemed far more likely that they had hugged him.
But when he had seen Bilbo standing there, the sun rising behind him, looking so small and brave and, and – Thorin’s internal ruminations suddenly stuttered to a halt as Bilbo came into view again, carrying his own bedroll which he laid out near Thorin’s. The earlier warmth surged so fiercely in his chest that he nearly groaned aloud with it. So much so, that he decided his best course of action was to snap, “And what do you think you are doing?”
Bilbo seemed not the least perturbed by Thorin’s temper and instead returned genially, “Joining you.”
Thorin had never much been one for words, so naturally found himself at a loss for them now as Bilbo sat down, “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
One of Thorin’s eyebrow’s rose at that but Bilbo merely chuckled and settled in. Eventually Thorin did the same. He did not recall falling asleep but must have because he was awoken by a gentle tap from Oin. He swiftly rose and took over the watch only to find that Bilbo was waiting for him.
Thorin sighed, “And why are you awake?”
“Woke up when Oin came over. Can’t go back to sleep now. Thought I’d keep you company.”
Thorin felt his lips twitch in a traitorous attempt to smile and chose to pace about, hands clasped behind his back, waiting for the urge to smile to die down. Bilbo, however, offered his smiles freely, “You seem, ah…a bit broody.”
As was his way, Thorin did not respond to this but Bilbo continued, “You said you did not mind the riddles, so, if you like, I can keep you occupied with them while we wait for the dawn.”
“I am not one for games.”
“Come on! They’re not very difficult!” Bilbo urged persuasively, “Most people over think riddles. Usually the answers are quite simple. And you don’t need to be embarrassed if you don’t the answer. I mean, if…if you’re worried…”
Thorin stopped mid pace and the glare he shot Bilbo was all but searing. Bilbo caught this and cringed but doggedly pressed on, “Because I mean, well, I, uh, know quite a few are. You know. Difficult. B-but there are some simpler ones that I can tell you that I think you’ll get right quite easily.”
“I am no coward!” Thorin hissed sharply, “Nor am I a simpleton!”
Bilbo looked dismayed, “I wasn’t saying you were! I just thought maybe…”
His words were cut off as Thorin let out something akin to a growl, “Fine! Go ahead! Ask me one!”
Bilbo was a sight to see, tossed as he was between discomfort and pleasure, as he struggled with himself mentally. Finally he whispered:
I drive dwarves mad
For love of me,
Thorin’s eyes darted from side to side as he thought over these words. Bilbo said smoothly, “I chose this one especially for you. I’m sure you’ll know the answer.”
Rubbing at his chin, Thorin tried to think of possible responses. He truly did despise games. Nothing came to mind at Bilbo’s words save for something that was absolutely ridiculous and yet he found himself involuntarily murmuring under his breath, “I suppose the answer is you.”
Stunned, Bilbo blinked rapidly, “W-what?”
“What?” Thorin repeated, unaware he had even spoken aloud.
“Me?” Bilbo squeaked, “Y-you think the answer is-?”
Thorin’s eyes narrowed, “Well, you could quite easily be beaten and you certainly drive me-us-mad with your-your…” He nearly snarled as his words clashed together and he felt his face suspiciously heating up and it took all his strength not to bellow loud enough to rouse the entire camp, “I told you I did not care for games!”
And with this he charged off deep into the woods, leaving a bewildered Bilbo to wonder over what had just happened.
Thorin was gone only long enough to recover his composure and when he returned he pretended as if nothing odd had taken place. He roused the others and did his studious best to avoid Bilbo, even though the hobbit kept casting him curious sidelong glances now and then.
If he could simply avoid their burglar for the rest of their journey, all would be right with the world. But sure enough that proved to be impossible, even more so when another night’s rest found Bilbo’s riddle telling the sole source of diversion for the company.
Bilbo seemed almost reluctant at first to tell even one, eyes casting to Thorin as if to ask for permission, but eventually the insistence of the other dwarves made it so that he had no choice but to ask one after another. This gave Thorin plenty of time alone to think, not even of the mere riddle Bilbo posed, but of his answer to it.
I drive dwarves mad for love of me. That was the verse that had first caught Thorin’s attention and his mind had instinctively linked this to the hobbit. The company, as a whole, did love him. Bilbo was friendly and amiable and had proved his worth many times over. Granted, none of them seemed to be mad over him; that was a bit much. Not a one of them had expressed a kind of love that bordered on something above propriety; it was a much more brotherly affection. Surely none of them felt a romantic attachment to him.
A little voice in the back of his mind whispered ‘liar’ and he sneered to himself. No. None of them felt romantically attached to Bilbo, not even himself. Yes, the hobbit was brave and not unsightly and true, he had a way with words that was commendable. Not to mention he was stout. Hearty. Charming. Curly haired, blue eyed and unnaturally, temptingly huggable and Thorin buried his face in his hands.
This was completely absurd. So much so he was tempted to laugh. In fact a bitter bubble of sound welled up in his throat but he swallowed it down. He couldn’t possibly have romantic feelings towards Bilbo Baggins. There were a million reasons why it was an exceedingly bad idea. One of them even rested in the damned riddle. Never free. There was no way either of them would ever be in a position where they would be free to even entertain such a wild notion.
Not that Thorin was. Entertaining such a wild, wild notion. Not now or ever. Because he did not have romantic feelings for Bilbo Baggins. His answer to the riddle had not also, in fact, been the answer to the unease in which he felt around the hobbit. It simply wasn’t.
He spent so much time thinking over this that he was nearly startled when Bilbo approached him. Nearly. He would still keep some of his dignity. Bilbo cleared his throat, “The, ah, others are turning in. Dwalin’s elected to take the first watch.”
Thorin answered with a grunt as Bilbo laid out his own bedroll and then, without a word, laid out Thorin’s as well. Thorin noticed the two bedrolls were right next to one another. He opened his mouth to question this but Bilbo spoke first, not meeting his eyes, “Gold.”
“Gold?” Thorin repeated and cursed himself a fool.
Bilbo nodded, “The answer to the riddle I told you last night. The answer was gold. That’s why I thought you would know it.”
“Ah. I see.”
Bilbo sniffed loudly and his whole face seemed to almost twitch in an extraordinarily unfair display of adorableness as he sat down and did his resolute best to look Thorin in the eyes, “I also take objection to the idea that I am easily beaten. I think I did a rather admirable job against those orcs.”
“You did.” Thorin returned quickly and would have said more but Bilbo went on as if he had not spoken, “However, that’s neither here nor there. I think…that is, if you will, I have…one more riddle for you.”
Thorin’s eyes turned frosty but still Bilbo spoke:
If you break me
I do not stop working,
If you touch me
I may be snared,
If you lose me
Nothing will matter.
The words hung between them and Bilbo breathed in loudly before saying, “That one…the answer is a bit trickier, so I think it might just be best if I tell it to you. But first let me say, I’ve…always been partial to riddles. They’re good for your mind and I’ve found them quite…ah, lifesaving in a pinch.”
“Lifesaving?” Thorin asked and Bilbo shrugged, shaking his head, “You’d be surprised.”
Thorin’s eyebrows rose but before he could ask more about it Bilbo hurried on, “Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is I’ve never…appreciated the answers before. Un-until the answer you gave me recently. It wasn’t right and yet it was…the best answer I could have hoped for. So, um, you know the-the answer to this particular riddle is…is my heart.”
Thorin’s head reared back slightly and Bilbo licked his lips, his cheeks growing rosy as he met Thorin’s eyes with his own and continued, “What I am saying is, if-if you were…ah…at-at all interested, I would not be…averse to it.”
The words floated between them and slowly but surely sank in as the moment crept on. Finally Thorin whispered, “Neither would I.”
The smile he got in return was so bright, Thorin felt as if it was blinding. Then, as was his way, Bilbo continued his tradition of surprising him as he threw his arms around him and soundly kissed him on the mouth. Thorin, not expecting this display of affection, nearly fell off the log on which he had been resting. Bilbo pulled back and frowned, apparently alarmed himself by his own display of affection, but before he could start babbling some nonsensical apology Thorin threaded his fingers through those infuriating curls and pulled Bilbo closer, kissing him again, and while he highly doubted that he would ever truly solve the riddle of Bilbo Baggins anytime soon, he knew he would have it no other way.