Colors bled behind his closed eyelids; bright flashes of ebony-laced pain. The cries of battle no longer reached his ears. His skin burned with heat. Was he still in the fire? Where were his companions? Had they all perished? Was he, himself, dead and simply unaware of his demise? Bilbo didn’t know. In fact, at that moment there were only two things Bilbo Baggins of Bag End was certain of- one, that he was very much alone, and two, he was in more pain than he had ever before experienced in his hereto for sheltered life.
Bilbo welcomed the creeping darkness that slowly enveloped him, chasing away the pain. The memories the darkness brought, however, were less welcome.
“Blasted little thorns!” Bilbo cursed as he gingerly tried to free his sleeve from the thorny vine that had ensnared him. Bilbo considered himself a reasonable hobbit. He dearly loved all things green and growing but looking at the state of his once fine tunic and the offending vegetation was enough to push any gentle-hobbit into an act of herbicide.
“I’ll have more holes than tunic at this rate!”
“ ‘Old on there Mister Baggins,” Bofur said with a smile. The dwarf gently began to disentangle Bilbo’s sleeve. The hobbit found himself surprised at how dexterous and nimble Bofur’s hands were. The smiling dwarf made quick work of the snag. “There ye go! Right as rain. Try pullin’ yer cloak a bit more tightly around yer shoulders, laddie. It’ll keep the vines from snaggin’ yer nice shirt anymore.” Bofur clapped Bilbo amiably on the shoulder as the hobbit smiled slightly. Bilbo was on the verge of thanking Bofur when a curt voice cut him off.
“If you’re done playing nursemaid to the halfling it’s time to set up camp.” Bilbo winced. Just his luck that Thorin Oakenshield, leader of their company, exiled King Under the Mountain, and bane of one unwilling burglar (namely Bilbo) chose that moment to take notice of said burglar.
Thorin glared at Bilbo as he began barking orders to the dwarves in the company. Somehow, Thorin always managed to make Bilbo aware of just how truly unsuited to a life outside of leisure the hobbit was, without uttering a single word. Bilbo was quite unused to being despised and didn’t know how to take it.
“Bofur, start the food. Fili, Kili, make certain we have enough wood to feed the fire all night. Ori, Nori, see to setting up the camp. Bifur, see what meat you can get to supplement our supplies. I thought I saw a well-used game trail not an hour back. Gloin, Dori check out the immediate area. I don’t want any more surprises if we can help it. Bombur, take stock of the supplies. Dwalin, Balin, you’ll come with me. We have things to discuss. Hafling,” Thorin paused, casting a disparaging eye on Bilbo, “help Bofur. I think even you can manage that.” Thorin turned his glare on Bofur. “Keep him close to camp. The hobbit seems to have an unnatural talent for calling trouble down upon us.” With that, Thorin turned and headed into the nearby wood, Dwalin and Balin following close behind.
Bilbo huffed, glaring at Thorin’s retreating back. “Really! I did manage to keep the trolls from eating any of you! I stalled for time. It’s not as if I expect a…a thank you! But is a little civility too much to ask for?” The hobbit looked at Bofur. The dwarf’s funny hat sat beside him on a log as he rummaged in his rucksack for his carving knife. Bilbo couldn’t help noticing how very different Bofur looked without his hat. He somehow looked older.
“Ah, don’t mind him laddie. Thorin’s just not sure how to take ye. He’s a bit gruff, but he means well. Always looks after those in his care. Yer already part o’ the company. He just hasn’t learned ye yet.” Bofur bobbed his head in time to his words as he set about making dinner.
“I don’t think he cares to “learn” me, Master Bofur. Not that I blame him. I’m not really cut out for this life, after all. I’m no adventurer. I don’t have enough Took in me for it. Thorin said it himself,” Bilbo does a fairly spot on impression of Thorin, “He looks more like a grocer than a burglar!” Bilbo visibly deflates as Bofur laughs. “And he’s right.”
Bofur just shook his head. As ever, he was patient with Bilbo and his uncertainties. “Ye may not have started out fit fer this life, but ye’ve come a long way. I think ye underestimate yerself too much there, Mr. Baggins. Why, the way ye farced those trolls! None o’ us would have thought o’ that! Give yerself some credit. Ye’ve more to offer than ye know.”
Bilbo smiled and sat down beside his friend. “Thank you,” he said. Bilbo reached up to touch Bofur’s shoulder when a scream of pain ripped through the little camp. Bilbo jumped up looking for the source of the pained sound. None of the dwarves seemed to notice it.
“Don’t you hear that?!” Bilbo cried. He looked at Bofur who smiled. The dwarf was speaking, but no sound came from his lips. “What is wrong?!” Bilbo asked frantically. He reached for Bofur only to crumple in pain….and scream. Bilbo’s screams bled and blended with the distant screaming that had invaded the camp. Bilbo couldn’t help but notice how alike the two screams sounded. “No,” he thought, “not two screams, one scream. It was me the whole time….I’m screaming….I’m….”
Pain and the sensation of many rough hands on his battered body drew Bilbo from the comfort of unconsciousness. His hoarse screams echoed back to his ears as countless hands pressed him down into the hard ground. He couldn’t see. The only things he could hear were his screams and the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears.
His skin still burned with some internal fire. Bilbo was somewhat surprised that he could form halfway coherent thoughts in his present state. A poison or fever was burning through him, eating him alive. He prayed to Eru for the return of oblivion. Much better to die ignorant of the fact than to burn in his own body, the victim of orc poison or fever. Better to die alone than torn apart by whatever creatures had found him.
He felt his tunic ripped from his torso with a ruthless jerk. The jarring force made his wounds sing with bright, new pain. Strong hands, heedless of the pain they caused, pushed into the gaping wound on the hobbit’s side. It was too much. Blind and deaf to anything but his own pain, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire shook with the force of his scream. Only once the darkness of unconsciousness had reclaimed him did the screaming stop.