Dís was very difficult to ignore when she was in a temper… extremely difficult to ignore. Thorin, however, had had decades of practice and so turned his thoughts inward and on the upcoming journey; more specifically the dangers that they would be facing on the trip.
'Trolls, wargs, stone giants, goblins, Azog, spiders, elves, men, dragon and the battle,' he listed silently. Groaning, he looked up at the sky. 'Where do I even start?'
Best to start at the beginning he decided and that meant the trolls.
The troll cave is where he got Orcrist, which came in handy when captured by the goblins. But as he was desperately hoping not to be captured by goblins this time around, did he need to find the troll cave? He scowled at that thought. Elven blade or not, Orcrist was his damn it. It had served him well during the skirmishes they fought on the way to Erebor and in the final battle. Though he had eventually died, it was not due to fault of the blade.
'Fíli would wield it well if he inherits it. So, to the troll cave we go,' he decided. 'So… how do I go about "discovering" the trolls and their horde?'
There were many different things he could do with this situation. He knew where the troll cave was, so he could lead the others while the trolls were asleep and trap them in the cave. However, trolls and dwarrows battling in tight quarters such as the cave would be difficult. 'Perhaps burn or smoke them out into the light?' he mulled over. 'Then we have enraged trolls and no guarantee the sun will hit them considering their cave was deep in the thick woods.' He winced as he pictured the trolls just squashing them in fury rather than attempting to cook them.
'Okay, new plan,' he continued. 'We find them at their camp… how do I explain just suddenly finding a troll camp? Send out scouts? Balin would be suspicious, not to mention the wizard who warned us to get the hell out of there in the first place due to the ruined farm… If I send out scouts to look for the cause of the burned farm the trolls will be in their cave…'
Thorin sighed as he realized he was left with one choice. 'I'm going to have to let Fíli and Kíli lose the ponies. Mahal help me.' He looked back up at the sky again. 'New question: do I let the go after the ponies.'
Letting the boys go after the ponies was the height of irresponsibility. Glancing at Dís' back, he shuddered. She would more than likely hunt him down in the afterlife if he knowingly put her sons in danger but what else could he do? 'Perhaps have someone else watch the ponies?'
He was immediately shaking his head, dismissing that idea as anyone else guarding the ponies would more than likely challenge the troll the moment they see it rather than alert the camp. 'And more likely be eaten before anyone notices they're missing,' he thought. 'Or alert not only our camp, but the other trolls as well.' Another image of squished dwarrows while others were being hauled off for cooking appeared in Thorin's mind and he groaned again. He really was being left with no choice.
The boys, at least, were more frightened of Thorin's anger at the lost ponies than battling a troll for bragging rights. Perhaps if he sent someone to check on the boys while they were watching the ponies… 'Tell them I am simply worried for my young charges rather than ensuring they're doing their duty,' he mused. 'The warg howls are reason enough to be worried for the younger dwarflings. In that case, Nori would be the best bet,' he decided. 'He himself knows what it's like to worry for a younger relative and he's the best to check on the boys unnoticed. He would be the one most likely to return to camp first rather than chase off after the trolls as well.'
'With more of a warning, we can devise a better strategy for fighting the trolls this time and won't have to rely on Gandalf and dawn to save us. And no sacks. I do not fancy being stuck in that blasted sack for a second time.' He shuddered at the memory.
Of course, this was only a tentative plan. There was no guarantee that anything Thorin planed would work when actually put into action. But it was still better to have at least an idea of what to do rather than go in blind.
Next on the list of things that went wrong was the warg run.
They had only been caught by the wargs because they had dallied at the cave. Though half of that wasn't their fault as the other wizard had appeared, seeking Gandalf with urgent wizard business and they had all used it as an excuse to linger. 'If he was looking for Gandalf specifically, that means he'll catch up with us if we're already moving away from the forest. I'm sure whatever they spoke of could be discussed as we travel.'
Of course, if the wargs were searching for them as well, that meant that the wargs would catch up with them also. 'Make a run for it or rely on the rabbit sled as a distraction again?'
Thorin looked down at the pony he was riding. If they kept the ponies, they would be more in the open and unable to duck and doge the wargs as they had on foot. Plus, if they were riding the ponies, there was no guarantee that anyone would keep their seats if the animals spooked and attempted to throw their riders. 'Not to mention the ponies themselves would better escape the wargs on their own.'
And they would be unable to take the ponies over the Misty Mountains anyway so the animals would be left behind either way. 'Best to let them fend for themselves,' he concluded.'If anything, I can ask the elves to keep an eye out for them.'
Which brought up the elves of Rivendell.
There would be no avoiding Rivendell. Between the wargs and a very, very adamant wizard, it seemed inevitable that they would end up there. No matter how much Thorin disliked them, they would be stopping with our without his blessing. Gandalf alone was insistent that only the elves could read what Thorin knew now to be moon runes and would pressure Thorin to go if not trick him into going as he did the first time.
"I still don't believe he can not read that blasted map," he growl slightly to himself. Dís didn't seem to hear him, but the pony flicked an ear towards him before trying to snag a branch full of leaves to munch on as they passed.
That map with the location of the hidden door was the whole purpose of seeking out a wizard to begin with. If Thorin suddenly, miraculously knew what the runes said, not only would Balin and Gandalf be suspicious, Glóin and Óin would wonder why he had never mentioned the door as an incentive when he was trying to convince them to finance the trip as he had already stated he would be acquiring the expertise of a wizard to deal with the particulars entering the mountain under the dragon's snout, so to speak.
'Plus we can not only raid their pantries for anything that's actually edible, but their medicine stores as well.' Thorin smirked. If Lord Elrond truly was the most gifted healer on Middle Earth as the gossip said, then he should have an infinite supply of medical equipment to spare. 'Best if Óin has all the medical gear he can find for the battle at Erebor.'
Though getting Óin to accept elven medicine would be a battle in itself. Óin was as stubborn as they come and very set in his ways. 'Almost as much as I was,' Thorin sighed. 'Perhaps I can get the boys to turn those big begging eyes on him. They'll do it if I ask…'
He frowned as he thought it over. Usually when Fíli and Kíli used the pleading eyes it just exasperate people, as they tended to use the eyes at the drop of a hat. He mulled over the problem. 'Perhaps I can have them teach it to Ori and sick Ori on Óin.'
That might work. Nearly everyone went out of their way to please Ori, as he was not only the youngest, but also such a polite young dwarf. No one ever wanted to disappoint him.
Everyone believed Nori was the shrewd one of the brothers 'Ri. Thorin now had to question if that was only because Ori was too polite to correct everyone's assumptions. He wondered briefly if Dori knew.
Chuckling to himself, Thorin turned now to the problem of the Thunder Battle.
Best course of action. Avoid it at all cost. If he had waited for Gandalf as originally planed instead of thinking he knew best and forging ahead, then they would have gone into the mountains a day latter and missed the battle completely. However, that could mean that the small ledge they had traveled could be irrevocably damaged. So, does he press them to forge ahead and pray for the best or did he drag his heels and hope the small mountain trail survived the stone giant's little tiff?
'Perhaps if we make good time to Rivendell, we'll be ahead of schedule?' he pondered before sighing in resignation.
There really was no way to plan for the thunder battle. Whether they were a day early or a day late, there could always be another battle going on and perhaps that battle would be even more ferocious than the one they had endured the first time. There was nothing he or anyone could do against stone giants and Thorin had no idea if even Gandalf would be able to do anything if they were to wait for the wizard this time around.
He was at a stand still. They had to go over the mountains, there was no other rout they could take and that meant more likely than not, encountering the giants. 'I'll have to just wait until we reach the mountains to try and plan for that particular problem,' Thorin realized.
Next was the goblin cave.
'Avoid. At all costs!' Thorin was resolute on that point. Avoid the cave - avoid the goblins. Simple. If they could miss the Thunder Battle and the rain, he could hopefully keep the others from entering the cave.
But again, he wouldn't know until they actually arrived at the mountains. However, avoiding the goblins brought about avoiding another problem.
The only reason Azog had been there when they escaped the goblin cave was because the goblin king had sent for him. If he avoided the goblins, chances were that Azog wouldn't be as close as he had been. Without the Eagles of Manwë it would be another day or two to the skin-changer's place, but it would be worth it if they could just keep ahead of Azog. 'Another avoid at all costs.'
That was the plan. Keep ahead of Azog and avoid at all costs. It wasn't so bad a plan if he did say so himself.
Continuing on, that brought him to Mirkwood and the spiders.
Perhaps if he pressed the urgency of going through Mirkwood as quickly as possible they could avoid the spiders and elves alike. If everyone was alert, they could probably keep Bombur out of the river and they would be more aware of their surroundings. Nothing instilled vigilance quite like fear. And Thorin being leery and cautious of Mirkwood rather than dogged and defiant at traveling through elven territory might just be the thing to kick the others in the arse to run through the woods as fast a possible.
He also had to ensure that they were laden down with food and ration it out from the moment they first entered the woods rather then when they were half way through and down to one sack for everyone to share out of. If they could avoid the spiders, it was more likely they would not be caught unaware by the elves. If they were not captured, that meant they wouldn't be shoved in barrels. Like the troll sacks, Thorin was not a fan of being shoved in barrels either.
Another thing Thorin would prefer to avoid was actually Lake Town and the humans.
Knowing they wouldn't assist in fighting Smaug until the dragon was already in the middle of burning down another of their towns, he wondered if it was worth stopping. While it would be prudent to stop for supplies, the sudden appearance of a whole group of dwarrows would clearly alert the masters that something was afoot. But then there was the whole situation with Bard. How it was that the human was the one to fell the dragon was beyond Thorin but he wasn't so sure that Kíli could make the shot that the human had. Then there was the fact that the humans had claimed dwarven gold.
Groaning, Thorin dropped his head against his pony's mane. It was his failure that he had been weak and had succumbed to the dragon's sickness that the humans had threatened war. Now removed from the situation and clear headed, Thorin could see that it was more than likely there was human gold in Erebor.
But how much would be the issue rather than whether or not the humans had any right to it. Any human records more than likely had been destroyed with Smaug's arrival and who knew if any of Erebor's records had survived. But being in the mountain, it was more than likely that there were some documents about. Thrór had been so unreasonable towards the end he had had everyone account for even the smallest of golden nuggets.
'Perhaps rather than guards and their spears, Dáin could send accountants and their abacuses.' He snorted at that thought. 'Ridiculous.'
But he could not discount that it was due to the elves and men marching on Erebor for their so-called right to the treasure was the only reason they were able to come out of the battle against the orcs as well as they did. He could more than likely gain the human's alliance if he agreed to assist with the rebuilding of Dale along with ensuring that they would have their gold back once the bean counters were able to tally everything. But would dwarves and humans be enough to push back the orcs and wargs?
Did the elves make that much of a difference? He couldn't remember. As much as Thorin did not wish to be prisoner to the elven king, avoiding them meant they would have no knowledge that the dwarrows were trying to reclaim Erebor. Why would they be at Erebor if he didn't strike at Thranduil's pride by mysteriously disappearing from his inescapable dungeon?
That brought him back to Mirkwood and the spiders...
… He was getting a headache. And Dís was looking at him again.
Coming back to himself, he found that it was well past midday and the noon meal. "Er…" he looked back towards his sister. "Sorry. Got lost in thought."
"I figured as much." She smirked and nodded down towards his mount. "Though it looks as if your pony has taken it upon himself to find his meal."
Thorin groaned as he realized his gelding had managed to pull a whole branch loose and was almost dragging the thing along. "Sorry," he apologized ruefully. "You must be hungry."
Dís just laughed as she made her way towards a clearing off to the side of the trail and Thorin allowed his pony to follow. "Me? I can practically hear your stomach from here! I thought it time to bring your attention to it."
Thorin's spine straightened. "I am perfectly all right. I can go all day without eating."
Even the pony's ears twitched at the sound of Thorin's stomach growling at the end of his announcement. He dismounted with a blush while Dís let out a boisterous laugh. "If you say so."
Supper was full of discussion on how they were going to present their case to Dáin and the representatives of any of the kingdoms that decided to attend. As Thorin already knew how the meeting would go, he allowed Dís free reign of the conversation and let her say her piece. Fíli and Kíli's role in the quest was debated as was how this would change them.
Thorin could attest that they would come out of this journey as adults rather than the young adolescence they start out as. They would be blooded warriors and Thorin could only hope that the battle and his own death would shake them out of their stubborn cling to childhood and become the responsible kings he knew they could be.
Food consumed, they tugged their ponies away from the now very shortened patch of grass they had found and continued on. They could travel a few more hours before they would have to bed down for the night. He and Dís continued their small talk before they fell into silence once more and Thorin found his mind wandering towards the one subject he had avoided all day.
The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire.
Thorin had originally thought that it was a given that Bilbo would be traveling with them when he had first awoken but… was it fair to Bilbo? More often than not it was the hobbit that pulled them out of trouble. First, with the trolls, then Mirkwood, then trying to barter their safety with both humans and elves. Though he could have found another item to trade, Thorin had to admit that Bilbo did what he thought was best as a hobbit saw it.
If there was anything he learned about hobbits during the journey it was that they saw the world so much differently than dwarrows. In Bilbo's mind, the Arkenstone for their lives was the simplest solution. It was an easy choice for him and it was clear Bilbo could not understand why it was it had infuriated Thorin as much as it had. After all, it was just a stone. A glowing one for sure, but a rock nonetheless. It wasn't worth sacrificing their lives for.
Thorin never regretted how he treated Bilbo as much as he did dangling the hobbit off that parapet. In fact, he regretted much of his attitude towards the hobbit. After all that Bilbo Baggins had done for them on the journey, after being dragged from his comfortable home and all he had ever know and tugged nearly kicking and screaming across the world, Thorin had done nothing but disregarded him, belittled him and in the end banished him and denied him what he had been entitled to as the stated by the contract to begin with.
Bilbo Baggins deserved better than that and Thorin felt shamed at how he had acted. His actions had been as far from a king's bearing as he could get. Especially for one under his care as the contract had made the hobbit. Bilbo had been one of the company, for all he was an outsider, and Thorin had treated him shabbily indeed.
Thorin now knew what they would be facing; there was no need anymore for Bilbo to go, superstition or no that only having thirteen in their company would be their undoing. Óin could squawk in Thorin's ear all day if he wanted, but Thorin would listen to the hobbit this time and if Bilbo said he would not go, Thorin would not pressure him. Nor would he allow the wizard to pressure him. Surely, with his knowledge of what was to come, they would not need Bilbo to travel with them.
While Bilbo joining them meant that Thorin would have the opportunity to make up for the way he had treated the halfling the first time around, whether Bilbo remembered his slights or not, Thorin's conscious would not allow him to knowingly put the hobbit in harms way. The hobbit had had a miserable time basically the entire trip. Though again, that was mainly due to Thorin's attitude towards him.
The only time Bilbo had even seemed pleased to have been pulled away from his comfortable hole was when they had been with the elves in Rivendell, much to Thorin's annoyance. The rest of the time he had been the very portrait of misery. From the ponies, to the mountains to the elven dungeon to facing the dragon, to the catastrophe with the Arkenstone he had put on a brave face, but looking back, Thorin realized that the hobbit had been terrified out of his wits.
Thorin would have to think of how to deal with the dragon without the hobbit's assistance. He would not force the hobbit into going with them to Erebor. He would not fail Bilbo Baggins again.
Fire, death and ash.
The village was burning. Grass and trees were glowing with the intense heat of the flames. People were running for their lives while wargs and orcs chased them down, striking them as they passed.
Thorin stared in shock at the chaos that surrounded him. He recognized those round doors. 'Impossible…'
The burning shire disappeared and instead was replaced with another burning town. A human city this time. Orcs by the thousands battling human riders. Oliphaunts lumbering over the battlefield, swatting at anything in their paths.
Now he was staring at a city in a mountain. Another human city, not a dwarven one. More orcs were swarming walls as the gates were crashed through. Humans and elven archers desperately trying to slow the hoard.
'I thought the human/elf alliance was no more…' Thorin thought. 'What is this? Where is this?'
He looked about the fighters on the wall and his breath caught in his throat as he small a small pocket of fighters. A human, an elf and a dwarf! All three, knocking down orcs like they were mere flies.
Thorin knew that dwarf. He was sure he had met him but he couldn't place him. Who was it? Where had he seen him before?
The scene changed before he could pinpoint when he had met the dwarf battling alongside both elf and man and now he found himself staring down at a tower surrounded by orcs forging weapons.
Thorin felt his blood run cold. They were preparing for war. Not just battling to take cities and kill anyone in their path, but with the sole focus of annihilation. Around the tower, stumps showed where a great forest once stood.
Thorin turned back towards the tower, trying to determine where he was before it changed again. Then the surrounding area shifted but strangely enough, the tower remained.
Then the tower changed. It became darker, sharper in design…
And above it all, one giant eye…
Thorin jolted awake in the small camp he and Dís had set up only hours before in alarm and no small amount of fear.
"What in the name of Durin's beard was that?"