Thorin was prepared for many things when he finally stood inside the home of his ostensible burglar, but the sight of Dwalin, Dwalin, with a small orange kitten frantically grooming his bald head was not one of them.
“Ah, Dwalin?” He stuttered. He had meant to make a cutting remark about how difficult it had been to find the hobbit hole, but the words were just gone.
“Shut it,” the taller dwarf growled, turning around and leaving Thorin gaping at his back.
The gently bobbing orange tail hanging down over Dwalin’s remaining hair nearly sent Thorin into convulsions. He managed to choke back his laughter and was rewarded with the rusty sound of the kitten purring as it continued its self-appointed task. The exiled king found his spirits rising far above the gloom he had come into the house with.
He glanced around and noticed that the hobbit hole seemed well appointed. The wood paneling and floors were gleaming with recent applications of beeswax and lemon oil if his nose did not betray him. There was an untidy pile of weapons by the door, cloaks hung on pegs along the wall, and a lovely wooden box sat next to them, although it had been defaced with a few scrapings of mud. The mud didn’t seem to fit in with the care taken in the rest of the foyer. He sighed, suspecting that one of his company had been responsible.
He had hoped to come from a position of strength once he began negotiations with the hobbit Gandalf had produced. Now he was far later than the rest of the company and was already going going to be behind foot due to the desecration of what looked like a treasured heirloom. At least the contract Balin had drawn up would be airtight. If he could only get the damned hobbit to sign the thing.
Speaking of which, even with twelve other dwarrow in the house already, he would have expected his host to greet him by now.
“Where is the burglar?” he asked Balin who had come to stand at his side.
“Ah, yes...” Balin was uncharacteristically evasive about that.
“Balin,” Thorin started.
“You should eat something,” the older dwarf interrupted him.
“Yes. Eat something. You’re dreadfully late, you know.”
That reminded Thorin, “Yes, I thought Gandalf said this place was easy to find. I got lost twice on the way here.”
“That’s another thing you can talk to the wizard about then,” Balin said before leading the way deeper into the hobbit hole.
“Gandalf!” Thorin called as he passed into a comfortable looking room that was rather over-stuffed with dwarrow. “Where is this burglar you promised us?” is it not enough that his land was difficult to navigate, but now he must snub me in his own home?”
“Thorin Oakenshield, let me welcome you to the Shire and introduce you to my burglar.” Thorin was confused when the wizard walked over to Dwalin. Was the hobbit hiding behind his friend?
The bald dwarf squawked a bit as Gandalf plucked the tiny orange kitten from his shoulders. The cat resisted this and dragged several strands of Dwalin’s hair in his claws. The little creature yowled as though the istari was horribly abusing him rather than gently lifting him into Thorin’s arms.
Automatically, he shifted to cradle the small ball of ginger fluff against his chest. He didn’t have time for a pet, but he had always had a soft spot for animals. The kitten seemed to sense that he was safe because it quieted down and started to purr, kneading its little claws into his coat. Thorin scratched behind its ears and looked back up at the wizard.
“Is this a joke?” he asked, flatly.
“No, Master Oakenshild. That is supposed to be a hobbit. However, since your nephew decided to experiment with things that have nothing to do with him.”
Thorin stopped scratching and looked down at the cat. The kitten tilted its head back and blinked its bright green eyes at him. “Mrow?” it inquired, and reached a paw out to pat at his arm.
“This,” he hefted the cat up a bit, “is a hobbit?”
“This morning, that cat was Bilbo Baggins, gentlehobbit and owner of this fine smial. As you can see, after Prince Kili’s ill-advised mucking about with my staff, he is now a small cat.” The wizard glared down at Thorin.
“Kili did this,” the exiled king stated flatly. “Kili. My nephew. Turned the hobbit into a kitten. And he is where now?”
“Ah, well irak’adad, Tharkun has him locked into one of Master Bilbo’s bedrooms.”
Fili must be desperate to sooth him if he was using khuzdul in mixed company. Gandalf probably knew more of their language than Fili did, but the hobbit didn’t. Although, his sister-son might assume that the hobbit-kitten couldn’t understand them.
“And have you administered any other punishment to my sister-son?” Torin asked.
“No, Master Oakenshield. I simply wanted him out of trouble for a quarter hour. It was also much safer for him to be behind closed doors.”
Thorin simply raised one eyebrow and waited for someone to clarify what possible danger could threaten his nephew in this cozy hobbit hole.
“The wee hobbit took exception to Prince Kili’s part in his transformation,” Oin shouted. Oin always shouted since it added to his pretense of being mostly deaf.
“What could a kitten do to a dwarf?” Thorin asked incredulously. Dwarf skin was far too tough for kitten claws to penetrate.
“Kili tried to cuddle him after the incident,” Fili said reluctantly. Thorin kept looking at him.
“And then he tried to nuzzle Mr. Baggins’ belly. And Mr. Baggins tried to scratch his eyes out.”
Thorin looked incredulously down at the ball of fluff in his arms. “He tried to scratch out Kili’s eyes?”
“I don’t know that our host actually intended to do any permanent damage,” Dori said from his place at the table. “But you could hardly blame him for taking a swipe at the lad. Nuzzling his belly indeed!” The white haired dwarf sniffed and went back to fussing with Ori’s hair.
Thorin turned to find somewhere to put the kitten-burglar. It really wasn’t appropriate for him to be cuddling a member of his company, prospective or not. However, it seemed like every surface was covered in dwarrow. He had never thought of his kin as being too bulky until he was faced with the horror of setting a tiny orange kitten down amid twenty-four metal capped boots.
“I can take him,” Bofer offered, seeing his king’s predicament.
Thorin reluctantly handed the cat over, dusting the clinging orange fur off his coat as best he could. “Fili,” he ordered. “Go get your brother. There is much to discuss.”
Once the older prince had headed down the hall Thorin turned to Gandalf. “Is this permanent?”
“That is difficult to say,” the wizard replied, sipping from a cup of win Thorin hadn’t seen him pour.
“Surely you know how long your own spell will last!”
“But it wasn’t a spell, Master Oakenshield. It was an accident and there is no way to predict the exact outcome. Mister Baggins may be back to himself by morning or not until I can take him to see another wizard. Radagast the Brown, I think.” The wizard was talking more to himself than Thorin now.
“That’s all well and good,” Thorin interrupted his reverie. “But I am now without a burglar and back to an unlucky number in my company.”
“Without a burglar? Without a burglar? My dear King Under the Mountain, you have a burglar. You asked me to find one.” (Thorin honestly couldn’t remember asking Gandalf anything of the sort.) “And I have found you a burglar.”
The wizard made a sweeping gesture to where the kitten-burglar was dancing around on his hind legs chasing a bit of yarn Boffer had gotten from Ori. “Really? And what is he going to do? Purr the dragon to death?”
“Hobbits have more to offer than you, or even they know.”
Gandalf refused to speak again after that, simply sitting back and sipping his wine. Thorin would have pressed forward, but thudding boots told him that his sister-sons were returning. He turned and prepared to discuss Kili’s ill-advised actions in a calm and rational manner.
“Uncle, I didn’t mean-” the younger prince started as he skidded into the room.
Thorin was opening his mouth to speak when an unearthly yowl sounded from behind him. He spun, expecting some sort of mountain lion to have invaded the smial, but it was, of course, Mister Baggins, who had swelled up to three times his previous size. His tail was puffed up and he was taking short, mincing steps forward. The growl that was emanating from the tiny animal would have put a warg to shame.
Kili yelped and jumped behind his brother. “Mister Boggins, I really am sorry!” he babbled. “I had no idea-” The prince’s apology was cut short as the kitten lunged for him. The next few minutes were a blur of running, crashing, hissing, and shouting.
Finally, Thorin had had enough. “SHAZARA!” he shouted and everyone froze.
Kili was clinging to Dwalin as though the older dwarf was a tree. Bilbo was stretched up obviously intending to climb Dwalin’s leg in pursuit of his prey. Fili was bent over, ready to grab the kitten-hobbit with his hands wrapped in some white netting that didn’t look very protective. The other dwarrow were sprawled, standing, or running according to their natures. All except Ori, who had very sensibly, Thorin thought, taken refuge on top of the table.
Thorin pinched the bridge of his nose. This was meant to be the start of a solemn undertaking, but it was shaping up to be more of a traveling comedy show. “Fili, put back whatever it is you have wrapped around your hands. Kili, get off Dwalin. If the cat savages you it is only what you deserve. Nori, put Master Baggins’ spoons back on the table. Balin, for the love of Mahal, stop laughing. And Ori, lad, I think it’s safe to come down now.”
“Are you ready to discuss our endevour now?” Gandalf asked from his armchair.
“No master wizard, I am ready to have a drink. Bomber, I know you’ve found the ale by now,” he said, turning away from the useless istari. Before anything else, he was going to have a large drink. Maybe two. Then he would start trying to reign in this mess.
“Mrow?” a small noise from beside his boot stopped him before he could stride off after Bomber. He glanced down and into the inquiring face of the kitten.
“Yes, Master Baggins?”
“Prow!” the cat said decisively and then swarmed up his leg, sinking tiny, needle-like claws into fabric and skin until he could perch on Thorin’s shoulder.
“You could have gotten to Kili anytime you wanted, couldn’t you?”
“Purrrrrr.” The cat squeezed his eyes shut in what Thorin could only interpret as a smug fashion.
“Wonderful,” he said, and passenger in tow, went to find the ale.