Thorin thought, bitterly, that it might as well be Gandalf leading his Company. He had bowed to so many of the wizard’s demands. He had heeded the wizard’s advice. He had consented to meeting the hobbit. Grudgingly. But this last indignity was almost too much to bear. They hardly needed this Baggins fellow. He had few skills to offer the Company. He was a middle-aged, comfort-loving bachelor, overweight and untried. He had soft hands. Thorin could see already that the hobbit would be an insufferable burden. The only points in Baggins’ favor were that thirteen was an unlucky number – and that was a shaky point, as Gandalf could have been considered the fourteenth member of the company – and that the dwarfs might have need of a thief, if they ever reached the Mountain.
Anyway, it wasn’t his concern, Thorin thought as he looked out across the starlit Shire. The hobbit would not turn up. After his nervous attack, after he resolutely declared that he absolutely would not join the Company, the dwarfs and Gandalf left Baggins and went along on their way. And that was quite all right with Thorin Oakenshield. In fact, he was confident that their venture would proceed much more smoothly without Mr. Baggins’ assistance.
It was a calm night, quiet and peaceful in a foreign, grassy sort of way. Thorin was not truly comfortable in the Shire. So open and vulnerable. He couldn’t credit these hobbits with much sense if this was how they chose to live. Small wonder that Baggins had been overcome by the thought of a dragon – he’d probably lived his entire life in this green-and-gold countryside. He was no warrior, and he had no place in this venture.
Ori started violently when Thorin came to stand next to him. The young dwarf was inexperienced, little more than an adventurous child, but a good lad. “Majesty,” he said. “Trouble sleeping?”
“Mm. It’s a quiet night.”
“Aye, lovely weather.”
Thorin watched the ponies drowse; one whickered softly, and Gandalf’s horse shifted its weight as though half-asleep. Under a hill somewhere, Baggins was probably stretched out on his big, soft bed, head pillowed on his arm, sleeping deep. Bombur’s snores broke their rhythm and the dwarf shifted in his bedroll. Rest while you can, Thorin thought. They would not find peace like this again soon. And that was perfectly fine with him.
A shout, and Thorin wheeled his pony about, hand automatically going to his axe. It wasn’t orcs, and he settled slightly as Baggins came into view. The halfling was running as fast as his short legs could carry him. He waved the contract in the air like a banner.
“Well, well,” said Bofur.
Thorin shrugged and grunted in annoyance. It hardly mattered either way, he reminded himself. The hobbit might yet prove useful. He waited with thin patience while Fíli helped Baggins onto one of the pack ponies. Waited while the hobbit dithered and complained – apparently horses made him sneeze. The hobbit sat uncomfortably on the animal’s withers, holding the reins too high and too loose. Thorin glanced back from time to time as they rode. The hobbit’s expression gradually went from uncomfortable to harrowed, and the dwarf felt a measure of malicious amusement, tempered by exasperation. He was a fool, this Baggins. He was a fool to have joined the Company, and Thorin was doubly foolish for having listened to Gandalf’s advice.
“He doesn’t ride, he doesn’t fight, he doesn’t steal,” he heard Oin mutter, voice almost lost in the creak of saddle leather. “Mr. Baggins is a remarkable sort of burglar.”
“Remarkable is the last word I would ever think of using for that hobbit,” Dori replied.
Thorin agreed completely.
They camped for the night on the side of a mountain, and built their fire in the flat, stony lee. When the meal was over, Thorin went to stand at the edge of their camp. The solitude helped clear his head after a day of riding among his comrades. The heat of the fire was faint on his back, but the wind carried the dwarfs’ voices to him. A short distance away, the ponies huddled. The night smelled like smoke and pine. The sky was clear; he picked out familiar constellations. It was good weather, and he itched to press on, to push through the low country while their luck held. That luck had lasted longer than he’d expected. No sign of orcs, goblins, elves, or other enemies; no illness, injury, or loss of life or supplies. They were well fed, clean, warm, comfortable. They had been so lucky that it made him anxious. He knew the way of the road. It would not do to become complacent.
Thorin heard something crunch. He half-turned. It was the halfling. The worst rider in Middle-Earth, the one who disliked horses because they made him sneeze. He was patting the pack pony’s neck while she ate an apple from his hand. “Remarkable.” The word sprang to Thorin’s lips. He turned back to study the night sky.