Trees with black leaves. Thorns. Webs. Spiders. Giant spiders with poisonous sharp fangs.
'If only Gandalf was here...' he wonders in frustration. ‘That wizard is never around when you need him.’
But he doesn’t have time to thinking about the missing wizard or the fear that is consuming him. His friends are in danger. The Dwarves had all been captured by the spiders and he is the only one who can help them. But he's just a Hobbit. A small and scared gentlehobbit from the Shire, definitely not a warrior. His sword is not even a decent sword, but it’s the only thing he has.
He climbs the biggest tree and manages to get to where the thirteen dwarves are being held, hanging in its branches inside individual white cocoons made of spider webs. He is hidden behind a thick trunk and he can see the spiders are there, ready to eat the dwarves alive.
His heart is pounding inside his chest, there are too many spiders and he is only one. He takes a deep breath, he puts his fear aside and then he strikes the first spider with his sword.
The first thing that Bilbo Baggins noticed upon awakening was how his body was aching. He was lying face down on the wet ground, his body sprawled in an awkward position, feeling cold and sore. He felt a blistering pain on the left side of his body and instead of opening his eyes, he kept it shut tight, trying to return to his prior state of unconsciousness. It didn’t work. With a grunt of pain Bilbo opened his eyes, blinking a few times until his vision came into focus.
The first thing he saw was a dead giant spider right beside him. Bilbo jerked away from it, crawling on his hands and knees, trying to put as much distance between the creature and himself, but the movement sent a wave of pain through his body and the hobbit had to grit his teeth to keep from screaming.
Then he looked around. There were thick bushes surrounding him. Big black bushes with thorns. The thorns of these bushes were so long and thick that it looked like daggers and Bilbo considered himself lucky that it had not pierced his eyes when he fell. With great effort he managed to crawl toward a rock where he leaned against, panting and sweaty.
What had happened?
Bilbo looked to the dead spider only a few feet away from him, then everything came back to his mind: He and the dwarves were traveling through the forest when they had been ambushed by those spiders. Bilbo had managed to find his friends and he had fought fiercely against those awful creatures. He climbed the branches of the trees and cut the webs that bound his friends to the branches, he had managed to free all of them, he was sure. Then a spider appeared from nowhere and the two began to struggle. They had fallen from above the trees and Bilbo had fainted because of the impact.
That’s the reason why hobbits do not climb on trees.
He shook his head, his mother would be so proud of him if she could see him now. Bilbo chuckled silently, but he soon regretted doing it when the movement made him feel more pain. These dwarves... why couldn’t they take two steps without falling into a trap? First there were the trolls, the goblins later, and of course, Azog after that. Bilbo was sure that if he had read the contract carefully, he would have seen that his role in the Company of Thorin Oakenshield was not as they burglar, but as their personal savior. Bilbo deserved at least a second bowl of food tonight, and a ‘Thank you’ would be welcome as well.
"Thorin!" Bilbo shouted and then he started coughing. The pain on his left side was excruciating. That…had been a bad idea.
Bilbo waited for a while, but no answer came. The Hobbit frowned in confusion because the dwarves should be somewhere nearby.
"Balin!" Bilbo shouted again, calling for another dwarf this time. Perhaps they had split to look for him.
He listened to the sounds of the forest, but he didn’t hear no voice calling his name. He didn’t hear the voice of any of his friends, all he could hear was the sound of his own breathing.
"Fili?" He tried, his voice did not sound so loud this time. "Anyone?" His heart pounded inside his chest. Where were they? "Please!" He shouted.
Bilbo began to feel the panic growing inside him. He had freed his friends, all of them, before falling from the tree. He was sure of it. Before the clash against that spider, he had seen the dwarfs cutting their cocoons from inside out and starting to fight against the creatures as well. They were safe when Bilbo had last seen them, bruised but safe. Then… where could they be?
The pain on his side was unbearable and Bilbo could no longer ignore it. He knew that the pain was coming from his left side, but he had yet not dared to look at it. With difficulty, he managed to move enough to see what was causing him so much pain. Bilbo almost fainted again when he saw a thorn buried into his flesh. The thorn was about six inches long and it was buried just below his ribs on the left side, his shirt and his vest were soaked in blood.
"Help!" Bilbo cried helplessly.
The dwarves had to be around, they had to be! Bilbo kept shouting. The despair began to take over him. He had fallen among the thick bushes. What if the dwarves had called for him while he was unconscious? What if they had not found him? Could they have moved on thinking he was dead or something? Could they have left him behind?
'No, no, no, no, no... They can’t have done that, they have to be somewhere around here.' He thought in panic. 'I have to find them.'
Bilbo had to move. The incident with the spiders was not a long time ago, if he could stand up and look for the dwarves he was sure he could find them. He looked at the thorn like dagger buried in his flesh, he had to take it off. Bilbo raised a trembling hand and touched the part of the thorn that was visible and hesitated. Tears of despair began to roll from his eyes.
Bilbo had never been in a situation like this before, he was a Hobbit, he was not used to feeling this level of pain. He would not be able to do it himself.
"Help!" He shouted one last time, but he knew it was useless.
He tried again. He raised his trembling hand, closing it around the thorn. He closed his eyes and held his breath. He would do it quickly, maybe he would not feel so much pain.
‘One… two… three…’ he counted before pulling the thorn out. His cry was loud and reverberated through the silent forest.
Bilbo stood there, leaning against the rock, dazed and panting as if all the air of the forest had disappeared. He had one hand pressed against the wound to stop the bleeding and he stayed like that for a while. But he had managed to get the entire thorn out of him, so let's count that as a victory. When Bilbo regained his strength and felt a little less like he was going to pass out, he remembered that he had to find his friends. He tore a strip of his cloak and improvised a bandage with it. That was not the cleanest bandage ever made, but it would have to be enough until he could find Oin, the healer of the company.
With great difficulty, Bilbo managed to get up, but he got dizzy and almost fell again. Once he managed to stand, Bilbo started walking through the forest.
He continued to shout the names of the dwarves, walking wobbly through the trees. He didn’t know if he was on the trail or not. His head was buzzing and he felt very cold. After a while, every step was torture. He felt as if he had walked for hours and yet had found no sign of Thorin and his company.
"Thorin ..." Bilbo whispered leaning on a tree and slipping to the floor.
The pain was too much. He was so tired. He knew he had to keep going, but he had no more strength to keep himself upright. 'I’ll close my eyes, only for a moment...' he thought before falling asleep.
The next morning - at least Bilbo thought it was morning, it was hard to know in the darkness of that forest, so let's say 'when he woke up' - he started looking for the thirteen dwarves again. The pain was worse than it was the day before, but he could not let that hold him back. During those months in which he was traveling with the dwarves, all he heard were stories of how they were brave in battle, how they kept fighting despite being injured. They were warriors, and an injury like the one Bilbo had would be considered only a scratch by the dwarf standards. No reason at all to give up. It was with great effort that Bilbo had been trying to prove he was worthy of his place among them, he was worthy of their respect, so he had to show he was strong. Thorin… he would be so disappointed. So he went looking for his friends.
On the third day, Bilbo stopped calling for his friends, not because he had given up, but because he no longer had voice. He had been screaming for three days non-stop and he hadn’t drink a single sip of water. He had no words to describe how his throat was dry and sore. Like a ghost, Bilbo was still wandering in the woods, alone in the dark. When night fell, Bilbo leaned against a tree and curled up in a ball, trying to make as little noise as possible. Because he could hear all the noises that the darkness brought and it was terrifying. He knew that those spiders were still there, and there were other evil things wandering in this forest and he was unable to defend himself. He laid there, trembling from head to toe, praying for daylight to arrive soon, and before he slept, he thought: "Thorin, where are you?"
Was it the eighth day or was it the tenth? Bilbo was not sure. Everything looked the same, the darkness had no end and nothing, absolutely nothing, seemed real. One day he thought he heard Kili laughing, far away beyond the trees. He was so happy because he had finally found his friends, but his joy was short lived. He followed the voice, and it seemed like he was wandering deeper and deeper inside the forest. He kept hearing that laugh, but then he realized that it was he who was laughing. Then he cried.
The pain was so intense that he couldn’t feel it anymore, it had become part of his being, as well as the hunger and the thirst. He chose to ignore these things.
He had to accept the truth: he was lost.
He knew that from the very first day, but he didn’t want to believe it. He finally acepted that he was walking in circles when he went through the same tree fifteen times - fifteen times after he started counting. Another thing he had to accept was that he wouldn’t find Thorin and the others. Never.
Damn those dwarves, who took him from his comfortable home in the Shire just for him to die alone in the forest, listening to his own cries until the last hour. And damn Gandalf, who convinced him to partake in such nonsense. And for what? For the adventure? Pff, a great adventure indeed. He was alone in the forest, the dwarves had abandoned him and he would die there, maybe by starvation, or because of his wound that was infected, perhaps some horrifying beast would come his way and put an end to his suffering. At this point he no longer cared which way he would die as long as it happened soon.
That night, as usual, he leaned against a tree to sleep. Before falling asleep, he thought about Thorin again and the words he never said to the dwarf king and would never say given the circumstances. He slept peacefully that night, not really caring if he would wake up the next morning.
The blond elf and the red-haired one walked side by side in the forest. They were not hunting nor patrolling the perimeter, but occasionally they liked going out, just for the fun of it. The two were friends since they could remember, and it was natural that they would take long walks on the forest just to talk.
"The prisoners have not spoken yet?" The redhead elf asked brushing a leaf that had been tangled in one of her braids.
"No." The blonde replied, frowning. "The King interrogated their leader, but it was worse than talking to a stone."
The elf woman giggled.
"I'm sure the King, persuasive as he is, will make them talk sooner or later." She said.
"I hope so. I don’t feel comfortable with so many prisoners in our kingdom." He said thoughtfully.
They walked a few more steps until the she stopped halfway, making the blonde elf stop by pressing a hand on his chest.
"What is that?" She said before running towards a tree. There was something lying at the roots of the tree, something really small, and she knelt down to see what it was.
"Tauriel!" The blond elf said, following her.
Even before the blond elf knew what it was he grabbed his bow and aimed toward that thing. Slowly he came closer and saw Tauriel turning around to look at him with wide eyes. She had wrapped the creature in her cloak and held it in her arms like it was a baby.