When Thorin told them to guard the ponies, Fili was relieved. He towed Kili away from camp as quickly as he could. Between the rain and lack of fires of late, tempers had been testy. It would be a relief to be away from everyone for a little while. With how eagerly Kili followed him, he knew that his brother felt the same way. However, once the ponies were correctly picketed, the guard duty was rather boring. There had been no signs of anything dangerous while they had been traveling, nothing to set their instincts on edge.
And it had been boring just riding through the rain day after day. He had worked hard all of his life, not the forced inactivity of this trek. Kili kept fidgeting, unable to sit still as well. Feeling mischievous, Fili pounced on him, intent on wrestling him to the ground. They tussled for several minutes, trading the advantage back and forth, before Fili finally managed to pen Kili long enough to force him to yield.
The tussle had been enough to take the edge off his energy and he turned his attention back to what they were really supposed to be doing. He frowned when he realized that something was off. Hastily, he counted the ponies only to come up two short. He counted again and got the same result. He tried frantically to remember if they had properly picketed the ponies or not, although he was sure that they must have.
Picking up a small stick, he threw it at Kili while he looked around for the ponies. Already sulking from having lost, Kili griped, "What was that for?"
Keeping his voice low, Fili said, "Count the ponies, Kee."
Kili came over and crouched beside him, quickly counting the ponies. He swore when he realized that they were two short. They immediately tried to figure out if they had tied them correctly, to which Fili insisted that they had and Kili remembered double checking, neither of them wanting to draw Thorin's ill humor. They were in the middle of trying to figure out what could've gotten past them when someone cleared their throat behind them.
They whirled to face them, their hands reaching for their weapons. To their surprise, Bella was standing there, an innocent expression on her face as if she had not just intentionally scared them half to death. With a twinkle in her eye, she said cheerfully, "Dinner."
Wanting to get her out of there before she realized that something was wrong, Fili hastily took the bowl that she offered. She had been quiet and downcast the past few days, so he prayed that she would be eager to get back to the fire and warm food. However, it was not his lucky day as she asked curiously, "What were you two whispering about?"
Fili looked at Kili, silently ordering him not to say a word. Kili looked back at him, letting him see the panic in his eyes. Fili nearly groaned, Kili was terrible at keeping secrets and had always been caught by their uncle or amad when they were up to mischief. He urged him to stay strong and she would return to camp without letting their uncle know how they had messed up and there was still a chance that they might salvage the situation.
Kili broke under her firm stare and said quietly, not meeting her eyes, "We seem to have a bit of a problem."
Her expression shifted from curious to wary. He flinched slightly when she crossed her arms and asked coolly, "And just what might this problem be?"
Fili took a hasty bite of stew to keep from answering and Kili did the same. However, that didn't seem to deter her as she stared steadily at them. Once again, Kili broke down and Fili internally sighed. He loved his brother dearly, especially his cheerful openness, but he could not dissemble to save his life, especially to females. "Well, when we picketed the ponies, there were fourteen."
When neither of them offered anything more, she prompted, "And?"
Knowing that there was no way that she would leave the matter alone now, Fili mumbled, "Now there's only twelve."
She immediately spun away and started counting the ponies. When she turned back, her expression was more resigned than angry. "Are you sure that you picketed them right? Could they have just pulled themselves loose and wandered off?"
He shook his head and saw Kili doing the same from the corner of his eye, "No, they didn't wander off. One moment they were there and the next they were gone."
Exasperation dripped from her words as she propped her hands on her hips, "Well, they didn't just disappear into thin air."
He opened his mouth to explain when she abruptly shushed them. She turned to look at something and promptly fell on her rear. Before he could ask her what was wrong, a mountain troll appeared with two more of their ponies under it's arm. He dropped his bowl of stew and reached for his swords. In two strides the troll was gone and the ponies along with him.
Before he could offer to help her up, Bella jumped to her feet and whirled on them, anger sparking in her eyes as she hissed, "How in the world did you miss a TROLL walking off with the ponies?" She looked them over and shook her head. "Never mind. What are we going to do about this?"
Those words brought hope back to him. She wasn't going to run straight back and tell uncle about the mess that they had gotten themselves into, which was a good thing. However, she had absolutely no fighting experience, so if they went after the troll, they would have to worry about protecting her as well. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, but this was a troll. Even with both him and Kili, it would be dicey, and they didn't know if there were any more in the area. What was a troll doing this far down anyway?
Before he could speak and say that they needed to go fetch the company, Kili's face lit up in a way that had always spelled trouble, even when they were dwarflings. "You're a burglar. You can just burgle them back."
Fili moved to smack him upside the head for his idiocy, but the hobbit lass beat him to it. Pinching Kili's ear, she dragged him down until they were eye to eye and demanded, "Are you mad? You want me to steal from trolls? Trolls that are big enough to carry ponies off as if they weigh nothing."
Fili was torn between laughter at the shock and pleading on Kili's face and wanting to rescue him from the irate lass. However, he didn't see a way to do it without bringing her wrath directly down on himself, not something that he wanted. Before he could figure out what to do, Kili begged, "Please, Mistress Boggins. Uncle didn't want to let me come along in the first place and if he finds out that I've lost the ponies, he'll send me back to Ered Luin faster than you can say quartz."
Fili rolled his eyes, Kili was exaggerating, but it seemed to calm down Mistress Baggins and she released his ear. She sighed, her expression screaming that she knew that this was a bad idea but unwilling to throw them to the wolves, or in this case, their uncle. "Fine, I'll take a look. But I'm not making any promises, do you hear me?"
Fili's instincts screamed at him that this was a bad idea, especially using a lass to get them out of trouble. They should be protecting her, not sending her into danger. They didn't even know how many trolls were out there, for pity's sake. He said, "Maybe we should just tell uncle after all. The company can get the ponies back together."
Kili said quickly, "Let her take a look first, what can it hurt?" Turning to Bella, he said earnestly, "If you run into trouble, hoot twice like a screech owl and once like a barn owl and we'll rescue you."
As she walked away, he glared at Kili and hissed, "I still don't like this."
Kili looked at him pleadingly, "Just let her take a quick look around, what could it hurt?"
Shoving down the urge to wallop Kili, he shook his head firmly, "No. We just sent a dam alone after we don't even know how many trolls. This was a mistake. You follow her and I'm going to fetch the company. I don't care if we get in trouble, that was a bad idea. Hurry."
The reality of the situation seeming to suddenly hit Kili and his eyes widened as he realized that this was much worse than trying to stay out of trouble. He nodded to Fili and took off after the hobbit while Fili turned and ran for the camp. He burst into the firelight, pulling to a stop when the dwarves jumped to their feet and drew their weapons. He blurted out, "Troll, Mistress Baggins and Kili are following it, it took ponies. Hurry."
Thorin shot him a look that told him they would be discussing this later but roared for them to grab their weapons. Fili sprinted back the way that he'd come, praying that he wasn't too late and that they were still both ok. He was displeased to find that neither was true. She was being held in the fist of one of the trolls and Kili had decided that it was a good idea to confront three, three!, trolls alone.
When the troll threw her at Kili, Fili almost rolled his eyes. What had his brother expected when he made that demand? He waited just long enough to make sure that Kili caught her before rushing out with the rest of them and engaging the trolls. One dwarf against three trolls was poor odds, but thirteen against three was much more to his liking. However, in his eagerness to defeat his foes, he forgot that he should've been watching out for the vulnerable one of their party.
His heart stopped when he realized that the trolls had recaptured Bella and he was glad when Thorin stopped Kili from running forward. It wouldn't do to give them another hostage or cause them to hurt the lass, her features twisted with pain. He threw down his swords, silently promising himself to throttle Kili if they made it through this alive.
He reluctantly allowed himself to be shoved into a nasty sack and tied up, trying to get a glimpse of the burglar and see if she was all right. She seemed to be pale and he couldn't decide how badly she was hurt. They had all been tossed into a pile, but he wasn't close enough to ask and all of the rest were too furious at being captured to bother asking her.
He wanted to reassure her that it would be all right, but he was in no position to make promises that he knew that he couldn't keep. It would be a miracle if they made it through the night, not that he would tell her that. She was already beating herself up for getting them captured, he could tell, he wouldn't add to her distress. Instead he fought to find a way to free himself from his bag. If he could just get himself and the others loose, then they might stand a chance.
So intent on this, he missed her struggling to her feet, although her voice drew his attention back to her. "That's not how you cook dwarf."
He wanted to yell at her, to tell her not to draw attention to herself, to ask her what in the world was she thinking. Instead, he bit his tongue as the troll asked her what she knew about about cooking dwarves. Praying that she could keep their attention on her long enough for him to escape undetected, he redoubled his efforts.
Her voice was careless, but he could see the strain on her face, "Oh lots. If you do it right, they're the most delicious meal you'll ever eat."
The rest of the company stared at her as if she had lost her mind. He wanted to kick them, she was obviously playing for time, but he didn't want to draw attention back to them. He breathed a sigh of relief when the troll asked her how to cook them. As long as the troll was curious, the chances of it eating her were less. And every moment that they were focused on her was an opportunity for him to escape.
He barely listened to the conversation, too busy working on his bonds. However, he tuned back in when all the dwarves started yelling. He smothered a grin at her lame excuse that they needed washed and was grateful when Thorin kicked someone to get them to shut up. But then they all had to go and shout about how much they needed washed.
However, the trolls patience with the ruckus was even less than his own and one of them headed towards the dwarves to eat them raw. Bella's scream wrenched at him and he stared in horror as one of the trolls loomed over her.
The troll scowled and demanded, "Wot was that?"
She coughed but her voice was calm and level, surprising him, "Well, if you're not going to wash them, you should at least, um, at least, um, skin them first. It's not ideal but it's better than nothing."
The troll leered nastily at her and Fili could feel his temper rising. The troll said, "Well, I says we eats 'em raw."
Tharkun finally chose that moment to make his presence known, bringing his staff down on the rock and crying, "And I say that the dawn will take you all!"
Fili barely registered the trolls turning to stone, Bella having collapsed as soon as the wizard had broken the rock. Tharkun made his way down and quickly set about untying them. Fili muttered his thanks and quickly made his way over to where the hobbit lass was doing her best to shake herself to pieces now that the danger was over. She had been so calm that he hadn't truly realized how terrified she had been.
Helping her out of the nasty sack, he looked her over for injuries and asked quietly, "Are you all right?"
She somehow managed to dredge up a smile, surprising him, "A little shook up, but I'm ok. Is anyone else hurt?"
"Just bumps and bruises, nothing that won't heal." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "We should've never."
Thorin called out for him that moment, distracting him from the apology that he was going to give her. However, he knew that if he lingered, Thorin would come over and they would both receive the rough edge of his tongue. She had been through more than enough today and didn't need that on top of everything else. He sighed and made his way over to Thorin, enduring the well deserved lecture as best he could. They were truly fortunate that things did not take a much worse turn than they did.
After lecturing him for several minutes, Thorin sent him to go fetch the packs that they had left behind in their mad scramble to save the burglar. Fili obeyed with alacrity, eager to get away from his uncle and how disappointed he was in them. Truthfully, Fili was disappointed in himself. This was a serious matter, this quest to reclaim their home, and he and Kili had been lucky to have been chosen to participate. Just because they were of the line of Durin didn't mean that they automatically got to go, look at Gimli left behind.
No, they shouldn't have been fooling around and just assuming that the area was safe because they hadn't seen any threats. And the danger that they had put Mistress Baggins in only made it worse. Fili knew that Thorin was not happy to have her along, having discussed the situation with him several times. But despite the hardships that she was clearly unaccustomed to, she hadn't complained in the slightest and had done everything she could to pull her share of the load. Sure, she took a lot longer to complete tasks, but that was only because of her unfamiliarity with them.
Also, she was kind hearted. Many women would've gone straight to Thorin and informed him how they had messed up, not heard them out. Especially after seeing the troll. She should've gone screaming in the other direction after that and she still might. Instead, she had gone about trying to help them fix their screw up. He and Kili owed her.
It only took a few minutes to pack up the camp with Ori keeping watch. Fili made sure to grab her pack. After being roughly manhandled by the nasty creatures and then shoved into those disgusting sacks that had contained only Mahal knew what, she would probably appreciate the chance for a change of clothes. It was the least that he could do for her.
Casting one more time around the burned out farmhouse, he was satisfied that they had gathered everything and gave the signal for them to head out. Leaving the others to bring along the ponies, he went ahead to give her her pack before planning on joining the others in the troll horde.
Entering the clearing quietly, he didn't want to draw Thorin's wrath again if he was still there, Fili looked about for the hobbit lass. He froze when he saw her, his lungs suddenly refusing to work properly. She was sitting on a rock, her face tipped up towards the sun with her eyes closed, a small smile playing about her lips. While he watched, she reached up and ran her fingers through her hair, fluffing her damp curls that shone golden in the sun, undoubtedly hoping that it would help the hair to dry better.
He sucked in a breath and it went down wrong, causing him to choke. The sound drew her from her reverie and dashed any chance of him slipping away without being noticed. She sighed and straightened, her innocent enjoyment of the sun hidden behind her customary reserve as she turned to face. Feeling his face burn at having shamelessly intruded on what was a private moment, he abruptly remembered why he came and shoved her pack towards her. "I thought you'd like your pack."
She stood slowly and studied him and it was all he could do not to squirm like a naughty dwarfling who'd been caught misbehaving. Confusing him entirely, she suddenly smiled brightly at him and took her pack, thanking him.
Feeling very awkward, he rubbed the back of his neck nervously. He cast about for something to say, but all that came out was, "Well, I'm just, going to check on the others."
Without waiting for her to reply, he turned and walked hurriedly away, not wanting to make any bigger fool of himself than he already had. He resisted the urge to look back and see if she was watching him or not. He should've walked away the moment he realized that she thought that she was alone and was taking a moment to compose herself. Still, he knew that it would be a long time before he forgot the lovely picture she had made sitting there quietly in the sun. A very long time.