Colours danced before his eyes, shapes and sounds all twisting together in a soundless, deafening whirl, spinning wildly out of control.
Someone was calling his name.
He tried to reply, but when he opened his mouth no sound would come out no matter how he tried. Lights flared and spun faster and faster, everything falling away into muted echoes and darkness.
The rustle of leaves was the first thing he was aware of, steady and soothing all around. Then there was the hard surface digging into his cheek and along the length of his body, and the incessant pounding of his head.
He opened his eyes.
Leaves swam before his face, the smell of rot and cloying sickness thick on the air. He was in a forest. Laying on a…a wagon?
With a groan he pushed himself up—or tried to.
His hands were tied.
That jolted some awareness back into his sluggish brain. Blinking rapidly, he looked down. A thick scratching rope bound his wrists together in front of him.
Ah. That was—bad. That was bad.
As best he could he pushed himself up to his knees, body stiff and sore. Something heavy slid off of him. It was a tarp, a dark muddy colour. He scooted back against the side of the wagon, eyeing the lumpy trap warily and wondering if there was anything hidden under it. Anything that might help him cut his ropes.
Nervously he inched closer to the tarp, lifting the edge with clumsy fingers and peering beneath. Nothing was moving at least. He pulled it back and away, exposing firewood and crates, some toppled over haphazardly.
A glint of metal caught his eye. Creeping closer he saw it was a dagger. Some black substance half covered it, thick and cloying like sap. His eyes traced dark stains on the wood around it, the smell of iron and blood and something much, much worse filling his nose.
Stealing himself he turned the blade as best he could, the black ooze sticking like tar to the wood. Securing it between his knees he brought his wrists to the dagger, rubbing the rope against the blade and trying his best not to look over the side of the wagon, not to follow the long stains of blood and something else that trailed over and down to the forest floor.
His ears pricked for any sound of movement over his frantic sawing of his ropes. Someone had tied his hands. Someone had been driving the wagon. And something had crashed it. And, presumably, something else had chased them all away.
A cry out in the deep gloom, a sharp, desperate sound, cut off as suddenly as it had sounded.
The sensation of being watched crept over him, raising the hair on the back of his neck and urging him to work faster. Finally the rope gave, and he pulled his wrists apart with as much strength as he had, watching the cords fall away with a grateful sob.
Leaving the fouled dagger where it was he scrambled out of the wagon, hands prickling painfully as blood rushed back into them, clumsy and numb.
The forest floor was soft, almost squishy beneath his bare feet as he landed. A wave of dizziness washed over him, threatening to drown him, drag him back into the confusing darkness. He bit his tongue and latched desperately onto the side of the wagon, fighting to remain conscious.
Finally the dizzying lights behind his eyes receded, leaving him weak and shaky in their wake. He let out a long, low breath and raised a shaky hand to his face.
What had happened?
Everything was a confusing blur of half remembered faces and sounds. The more he tried to focus on them the further they danced out of reach. A foul, oily taste lingered in his mouth. He cleared his throat, coughing at the soreness he found.
Turning, he surveyed the wrecked wagon he had crawled out of. There were bars around the sides of it. A cage.
His wrists ached dully, reddened by the constant rub of rope against them for who knew how long.
No. He didn’t want to be found here by anyone or anything.
A deep part of him knew something was horribly wrong with this forest. He peered out into the gloom of the trees, the image of impossibly large cobwebs and glowing eyes flitting through his mind.
No. No this was a bad place to be.
Bird call sounded through the gloom, making his ear twitch as he swiveled for it. A breeze pushed through the murky stillness, fresh and sweet with clover. It smelled of sunlight, of warm clear air and wide skies.
He followed it.
It was slow going. The forest floor was dense with thick twisting roots and holes, waiting to ensnare the unwary passerby. Strange fungus glowed faintly through the gloom, confusing his eyes and making him dizzy if he looked at them too long. He wouldn’t dare to touch one. Black slimy moss grew wet and sluggish along everything. Often he had to climb over fallen branches and uneven bracken, ears twitching fearfully at every little sound, every rustle of leaves.
Finally light began to filter through the foliage. He followed it blindly, desperate to escape the cloying confines of the wood and whatever fate had brought him there. He broke through the edge of the woods and stumbled blinking out into sun and fresh clear air, breathing in great greedy lungfuls of it.
Wind swept up his curls, a blessed relief after the stifling claustrophobia of the dark woods behind him. All around him were endless fields of grass, long stalks waving free and tall in the breeze. He breathed in deep the clear air, sweet and thick with wildflowers, the building panic of before settling, slowing. The sun was low in the sky, painting the clouds far above a deep pink and orange, the fields all around glowing and waving softly with the wind.
He wadded out into it, the grasses coming nearly up to his chest. It was warm around him, the heat of the hot summer sun still lingering behind.
A cry sounded above him.
As he watched, a large black bird fluttered down in front of him. It watched him with expectant beady eyes.
He stared at it, seized by some sense of purpose, a name nearly on the tip of his tongue.
Then his head gave a great aching throb, nearly sending him to the ground from the force of it. Groaning he pressed a hand to his face, trying to steady himself from the rising nausea.
After several long moments of breathing heavily with his eyes squeezed shut, a low trilling sound filtered through. It was the bird. It was watching him, concern in its eyes.
“Sorry,” he murmured, feeling he’d somehow insulted the creature. “I don’t—I don’t…“
The bird clucked up at him. It landed lightly on his shoulder, giving a slow croaking noise. He blinked. It was cooing at him. A cold beak nudged against his cheek in a startling familiar gesture.
Hesitantly he reached up, giving it a stroke with careful fingers. Her feathers were soft. She cooed again, nuzzling against him and ticking his neck and cheek with her feathers.
He huffed a laugh, heart going out to the bird. “Hullo,” he said, leaning gently into the touch.
She clucked at him again. Then she hopped down his arm, fluttering up into the air.
A sense of urgency gripped him. This raven was familiar, it was—it was safe and he had nothing else to go on.
“Please don’t leave.”
She cooed again, nudging her beak in his direction before taking to the sky.
“Where should I go?” he called after her, desperate for an answer and somehow feeling this bird could give him one.
She trilled at him, turning back. She trilled again and took off slowly, glancing back at him.
Did she want him to follow? It was as good a guess as any.
Far off on the distant horizon he could just make out a smudge of something over the waving heads of wild grass. A mountain, he thought.
An ache bloomed in his chest at the sight. Somehow, this was familiar.
If only he knew why.
Gentle wind blew waves through the fields, the setting sun warm at his back casting a hazy fairy light over the waving heads of the grasses. Clusters of fireflies began to glow in the twilight, floating gently above the fields and lighting his path.
Far above two ravens watched him, a small lone figure walking quietly nearly lost amidst the wild.
They took off in separate directions, eager to give their news.
Night fell like a blanket upon the fields, all deep blues and purples, some remnant of the heat of the day present in their hues. Fireflies danced their merry dance, mesmerizing spots of colour and twinkling light and without thinking he found himself following them, something wistful tugging deep inside him.
He realized he was hungry. Then it occurred to him that he had no idea when he had last eaten or what it had been.
Now that he though of it, he couldn’t recall much of anything. A cold chill of panic settled around him, slowing his limbs and seizing in his chest.
What did he know?
Looking down, he saw he was wearing a soft cream shirt and a somewhat abused waistcoat, trousers cut just below the knee. As they should be. Someone had given him trouble about their length, but this was right. That much he knew.
What bothered him was the missing buttons and few tears he could see in the cloth. With a sinking sense of dread he wondered if any of it was related to the aches and pain he could feel across his body.
He had woken in the wreckage of a wagon, hands tied.
He swallowed uneasily. The dull pain in his head throbbed worse then ever. Exhaustion plagued his body and mind and suddenly he couldn’t go another step further.
Nesting down into the soft grass he tucked his limbs close, hoping the fields would provide cover should anything be looking for him.
His hands went to his hair, feeling through his curls just in front his ear for--
It was gone.
He blinked, confused at the odd sense of loss.
Loss of what?
Uneasily he dragged his fingers through his hair, trying desperately to place it. It felt oddly short. Just that small part forward of his ear. As if it had been cut.
Raised skin met his fingertips followed by a sting of pain. There was a cut on his cheek, level with the too short curls. As if someone had—
His stomach did an odd flop, some dizzying feeling of violation creeping over him. He squeezed his eyes shut and drew his arms about himself, trying to take what meager comfort it provided.
All around and above him the tall grasses blew in the warm summer night, crickets singing their songs and fireflies dancing under the huge bowl of the sky, so vast and wide and familiar as it was strange.
With a pang, he realized he didn’t even know his own name.
The soft caress of long grasses waving in the gentle breeze lulled him into an exhausted sleep. He dreamt of blue eyes and a deep voice, calling him by a name he could almost hear, so full of protection and love and just beyond his reach.
The sun broke over the horizon painting the far tips of Mirkwood a deep red and orange. A small dark shape soared high above the lake below, passing the many barges and rafts, past the sinking ruin of the old town and over the restored city of Dale, spires gleaming copper bronze in the glow of the early sun.
It made for the mountain it called home, the single solitary peak sweeping high above its surroundings, standing tall and watchful over the surrounding lands.
With a graceful swerve the raven dove, tipping to the side and swooping around the greater bulk of the mountain. High up the southwestern side was a balcony overlooking the grassy plains that became the wild.
The raven made for it, fluttering her wings as she neared. She croaked a greeting, landing gently on the outstretched arm offered to her. Shuffling closer she gave her news, quick and to the point. Her dwarf was not much for idle chatter at the best of times. And these times had been dark indeed. She watched him carefully, taking in the dark bags under his eyes, the haunted lost look that sharpened and shifted to fury as he listened.
The dwarf raised his head. A light shone in his eyes, hope flared to life after too many days without. His free hand tightened on the railing, lips thinning as he gazed out across the expanse.
He barked a command. A flock of her siblings swooped down onto the railing from where they had been waiting perched on the mountainside. They listened, accepting their duties and taking off, dark forms scattering into the wind, cries echoing in the stillness of the morning.
A new message was relayed to her, spoken in words made harsh with desperation.
She nudged her beak against his cheek briefly, croaking her understanding. Then she took once more to the skies.
Behind her the dwarf remained on the balcony, staring over the lands spread before him with desperate eyes. Silently he made a vow, promising no matter what, no matter the cost.
Then he turned, mantle swirling about him as he made his way back into the mountain.
There were voices.
Peering through the grass he could make figures. Stout and heavily armored, their steps were loud and heavy. Dwarves, he thought. He didn’t recognize them, but as he barely had much of a grasp on anything it didn’t mean much.
Cautiously he crept towards them, ears straining to make out what they were saying.
“…around here somewhere.”
“Could have been more specific.”
“It’s a blasted field! Not like there’s landmarks.”
“Hurry it up, anyway. Faldor and his lot are sure to be close by. Damned bastard can’t keep his nose out of our business.”
He whipped around, the sound coming from behind him and much closer then he was comfortable with. Someone had seen him. Heart in his throat he darted away.
It hit him like a bucket of ice water. He froze, eyes wide.
That was him. His name! Part of it anyway. It felt right. Baggins brought a rush of images and sounds, quick flashes of low curved hallways and a round green door, gentle sunny lands, warm and familiar.
His head gave an awful throb that nearly sent him to his knees. Fisting his hands in his hair he bit back a pained groan as the word spun sickeningly, black spots dancing in front of his eyes.
There was a large hand on his arm. He looked up, still half blinded by pain. A dwarf stood in front of him, blocking out the sun. He had a long smooth beard with several huge beads woven into it, hair pulled back in a long, thick braid.
Something stirred in his memory, but it was slow and sluggish and his head hurt so much it was hard to think.
“Who-“ Baggins cleared his throat, shaking his head in an attempt to clear it. “I’m sorry. I don’t seem to know—“
“We’ve been looking everywhere for you.” The hand on his arm tightened and suddenly he was being firmly pulled towards the others.
“Have you?” he asked, taking in the others warily. There were five of them; all dwarves, all larger and better armed then he was and all watching him with sharp eyes. A shiver ran down his spine.
“You were kidnapped,” continued the dwarf. “They did something to you. Elf magic likely.”
“The kidnappers. It made you forget.”
The other dwarves were signaling to each other silently, forming a loose circle around him and the dwarf keeping a firm grip on his arm. He was being pulled over to a pony.
“Wait, how do you know that?”
The dwarf cried out as a dark shape swooped down, slashing him across the face. Suddenly the grip on his arm was gone.
He stared. It was the raven. She shot a quick look at him and screeched, ducking around the sword the dwarf slashed at her, roaring in anger.
That was all he needed.
Turning, Baggins ran, darting off into the grass and away from the dwarves as fast as he could, heart pounding furiously.
Blood rushing in his ears he kept low, moving surefooted through the long grass. They chased after him, heavy footfalls easy to track. Weaving and dashing, the long stalks covered his escape, his footfalls near silent, whatever slight sound he made covered by the wind through the field and the fading cursing of those that hunted him.
He hoped the raven was all right.
It was a long time before he finally stopped, the sounds of his pursuers long faded, the sun now firmly overhead. The buzz of insects filled the air made sweet and heavy from wildflowers, the heat of the day hazing over it all.
A familiar call sounded from overhead.
“Oh thank goodness,” he said, reaching out to the raven as it landed. He held out his arm, watching her with worried eyes as she landed. “Are you all right? They didn’t hurt you, did they?”
She clucked at him and fluffed up her feathers proudly.
“Oh good,” he breathed, relieved. “Will you stay with me?” he asked, licking his lips. His mouth was dry and tasted faintly of blood. “I don’t know where to go.”
She chirped and bobbed her head.
“Why were they looking for me?”
He wasn’t really expecting an answer. She gave him one as best she could, puffing up large and affronted, croaking something harshly that sounded almost like words. Not in any tongue he knew. Or in any he remembered he knew. She huffed and nudged him with her beak again, taking to the air in a flutter of black feathers.
Several long hours passed in a blur of hot sun and the buzz of insects, the field rippling all around in a hazy golden glow. He kept low, ears prickled for the sound of pursuit, ready to duck into the long grasses at the first sound of approaching hooves.
Overhead the raven soared, swooping down every so often and trilling at him encouragingly. She was looking for something. Or someone. He could only hope he was right to trust her.
A blurry haze appeared in the distance over the top of the rustling grasses. It was moving slowly, caught adrift and shimmering in the hot summer air. Faintly beneath his feet he could feel the ground shaking.
With a start he realized what he was seeing. A dust cloud.
Something, or many somethings was making it. A quick glance upwards showed his raven was gone. A cold chill ran down his back. It was coming closer.
Squinting he could make out dark spots in the distance, circling far above what was coming closer and closer. Ravens. Looking for something. Or someone.
What to do? Stay still and make himself as small as possible, hope they passed him by and didn’t trample him? Or keep moving, make a run for it and hope the wind through the grasses disguised his movements.
A shadow passed over him. He flinched, ducking low and moving as fast as he could. Beneath his feet he could feel the earth shaking, shuddering with the approach of hooves. There were calls on the air, the cries of ravens, the wind all around, long stalks waving around and above him.
They had split up.
They’d surrounded him. There was nothing for it.
Baggins straightened, drawing himself up as best he could. These were dwarves. Hardly any surprise, though these were better armed then the last. A greater number as well, mounted atop fierce rams. There was something distinctly militant about these dwarves, they way the moved the way they followed the shouted command of the figure at the front with distinctively shiner, more ornate armour. It did little to put him at ease.
The leader rode forward signaling to the others to stay back with a quick movement of a gloved hand. His hair was thick and black, countless braids woven through his bristling beard, gleaming with metals.
“Master Baggins.” His voice was a low timbre. It was hard to make out his features, backed as he was by the sun and his impressive helm, fashioned to give the impression of ram horns. “At last. We have been searching for you for many days.”
He watched them warily, arm still sore from the last group of dwarves who had claimed the same. “Is that so?”
The dwarf dismounted and dropped neatly to one knee. Baggins stared at him, taken aback.
“I apologize for not finding you sooner. The Blacklocks have been trying to keep us busy.”
The dwarf rose, stepping closer. He fought the urge to draw back, keeping himself sure and upright. “Are you hurt?”
“Not much. How long has it been since I was taken? It’s a bit of a blur,” he added truthfully. Somehow he didn’t want to reveal just how much he couldn’t remember. He might not remember who he was or why these people had such interest in him, but they did, and it was apparent that someone—or perhaps many someones—intended him harm. That was enough to insure caution.
And Baggins felt that caution was something he was familiar with.
“It has been a little over two weeks.”
The dwarf was watching him closely. “We have been searching for you this whole time. Your betrothed will be most relived to have you back.”
He blinked. “Yes.”
Something shifted in the dwarf’s eyes. “Come. I will see you back to Erebor safely.”
That sounded familiar. A wave of dizziness washed over him, and it was all he could do to remain upright, to not let it show on his face. He got the uncomfortable feeling that his weakness had been sensed anyway. A strong gloved hand was at his back, guiding him firmly towards the ram, the eyes of the other dwarves heavy as they watched.
There was no raven this time to help him. His feet ached and so did his head. He’d been walking all day with no food or drink. Getting away from a group this large would be much, much harder.
The dwarf mounted his ram with ease and looked down at Baggins expectantly.
“Thank you,” he said, clearing his throat. He took the hand extended to him and was pulled up onto the ram, settled in front of the dwarf as easily as if he weighed no more then a sack of laundry. The dwarf’s arm immediately went around his middle, pulling him close. He bit his lip, a feeling of wrongness settling around him.
“Ifbirî!” shouted the dwarf. They took off into the fields, the sounds of the insects drowned out by the heavy tread of hooves through the grass.
He couldn’t help but notice they were going back the way he had came.
They rode all through the day and well into the night. The ram jostled him uncomfortably. The firm grip around his middle had begun to chafe, the dwarf’s gauntlets hard and uncomfortable. Somehow complaining felt like the wrong thing to do.
It wouldn’t do to show signs of weakness around these dwarves.
By now he’d managed to pick up on a few names. The dwarf he was riding with was Faldor. Lord Faldor. Likely the same Faldor the dwarves from before had mentioned. He had heard a few mentions of someone called Runir, someone following them. Possibly these were the same dwarves from earlier. Baggins liked to think so. It was distressing to think that there were yet more dwarves combing through the wilds looking for him.
Two bands of dwarves with a common goal; find the hobbit and bring him…somewhere. Presumably different somewheres. And then what? He would imagine neither group saw eye to eye on that. They were clearly enemies.
It should have been a comforting thought. As they say, the enemy of my enemy is a friend. Somehow Baggins felt this wasn’t the case.
It was entirely possible he was vastly underestimating the number of enemies he had.
And why were they trying to find him? What was he to these dwarves?
The thoughts circled around in his head, plaguing him constantly as the day wore on to night and his head ached and throbbed in time to the pounding hooves all around.
The forest was a dark blur beside them, stretching on and on in a dark tangle of leaves. Thankfully the dwarves seemed just as wary of it as he was and did not enter under its hungry boughs.
Once or twice he though he caught sight of a small, dark shape, rising briefly above the cover of the trees only to duck back down again. A spark of hope flared in his chest.
Night had long fallen when they slowed, entering a copse of trees. The dwarves were uneasy. Their ravens had been flying overhead, coming and going and bringing news. He couldn’t make out what they said. It was in a language he couldn’t quite understand but one that sounded frighteningly familiar. Sometimes he fancied he could almost make out the odd word or two, but then his head would ache and the constant movement of the ram beneath him would only make it worse.
“We need to stop. The ponies can’t take much more of this.”
“And risk Runir and his lot catching us?”
“There’s enough of us. The binaznâg unbaz stand no chance against us.”
“Runir may be a coward but he’s ruthless,” said Faldor. “Fights like a dirty mebelkhag. No honour.”
“And what of the Uzbad barku?” asked another. “Have you forgotten them? They won’t stop. Not if they know what we have.”
Baggins felt Faldor draw himself up, the arm around his middle tightening. “We have collateral now, don’t we?”
“It’s got to last the whole way back.”
“So have we!”
“I don’t like it. Skies been full of ravens, only some ours. They know all right. Them and who knows how many others.”
“This isn’t what we agreed on!”
“We’re not going to Erebor, are we?” Baggins asked quietly, already knowing the answer.
“Finally catching on, are you?”
“Here.” One tossed a rope at Faldor. “Can’t have it running off now.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Faldor calmly. “We’ve got something even better.”
“The elf magic?”
“It wasn’t supposed to go like this,” the dwarf said to Baggins. “It should have been much smoother. You shouldn’t have woken up at all. But some people can’t mind their own business.”
“Runir’s a damn opportunist, that’s what. No honour. All he cares about is gold.”
Someone handed a water skin to Faldor. “Relax halfling,” he said. “Soon you won’t have to worry about any of this.”
One of them snickered. “Have to worry when we get to Khagal ‘abbad, won’t he?”
“But we won’t. Out of our hands then.”
“Quiet! Do you hear that?”
The ground was shaking. It wasn’t the dizzying rumble of shifting rock. It was the heavy thud thud thud of a huge, enraged, something, approaching at a rampaging speed.
Something like an impossibly large bear.
Chaos erupted all around, the dwarves screaming and shouting as the bear crashed into the clearing, eyes wide and terrible, huge teeth gleaming and bared.
Baggins didn’t wait.
Driving his elbow into Faldor’s stomach, he forced his weight to the side, sliding off the back of the ram. He hit the ground forcing himself into a roll, desperate to get away. A hand grabbed at him, tangling in his shirt. He kicked back, hitting something hard and suddenly he was free.
Not bothering to look back he made a break for it, darting under limbs and weapons, sprinting away from the dwarves and the horrible cries of the bear and those unfortunate enough to get in its path.
He didn’t know how long nor how far, only that he did with everything he had. It was a breathless panicked rush, back the way they had come, through the woods and out into the fields again, the light of the moon turning to all to blueish silver. He ran and ran, mindless in fear until his foot caught and he found himself sprawled painfully in the grass.
Laying very still, he tried to smother his gasping breaths, listening furiously for any sounds of pursuit.
It was quiet. An owl gave a low call. Insects hummed and sang in the warm night air, oblivious to his distress.
Letting out a long slow breath he pushed himself up, getting to his feet. He stumbled, limbs giving out and outright refusing to go another inch further.
Once again he curled up, making himself as small and as unnoticeable as he could, having no choice but to trust the long grasses and watchful stars above to protect him as he succumbed to an exhausted slumber.
There was warmth at his back.
It was a soft comforting warmth. A gently rising and falling warmth, accompanied by a low grumbling snore.
His eyes snapped open. Twisting around he was faced with a wall of reddish brown fur.
The very same massive enraged bear that had taken out a whole troop of armed dwarves was laying sprawled beside him in the grass.
It grumbled, a deep low rumble like the sound of a mountain rolling over. Huge muscles shifted. A great head swung around to blink at him sleepily.
They stared at each other. He noted absently that his entire chest could likely fit into the bear’s mouth without any trouble.
Now would be a very good time to panic, said a voice in his head.
And yet the panic didn’t come.
Shock, certainly. Surprise, oh yes, plenty of that. But fear—no. He was irrationally, stupidly calm.
“Er.” He looked up into the oddly intelligent gaze, resisting the urge to shuffle his feet. “Good morning.”
His answer was a low grumble. Then the bear whined at him, snuffling ticklishly against his soft middle with its huge nose.
Baggins gave a surprised huff of laughter, his hands coming up to hesitantly stroke through brown fur. It was soft. “Hullo. Do we know each other?”
The bear sat up with another grumble and shook itself, little bits of fur and grass flying off into the air. He watched it in fascination, some strange sense of familiarity stealing over him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “For some reason I had the strangest feeling you could talk. Must have really hit my head or…”
The bear continued to shake, body stretching and changing and loosing fur until a very large, very naked man stood before him.
He did not squeak. Certainly not. Though he did find his eyes darting treacherously down to the dark patch between the man’s legs and back up again in morbid fascination.
“Little bunny.” The man’s voice was deep and amused.
Baggins spluttered. “Oh no, don’t call me—oh.”
That was familiar.
There was a flutter of wings, and then the raven was perching on the man’s arm.
“Oh, it’s you!”
She cawed at him, trilling a greeting.
“Little bunny is far from home,” said the man. “Not safe here.”
“Yes, yes that’s…you know me. Don’t you?” He nodded. “I—I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t remember your name.”
“I am Beorn.”
“Beorn,” he breathed, shutting his eyes in relief as he felt something fall into place. “That’s right. You…you keep bees?”
Beorn smiled. “Aye. And many animals I call kin.”
“Oh. Oh good. There’s hope for it yet.”
“Bunny is strong. You will get it back.”
“Er. Thank you. You, um...” His voice came out embarrassingly small. “You wouldn’t happen to, to know my name, would you?”
Bilbo put a hand to his face, suddenly dizzy. “Of course. Of course.”
Beorn knelt in front of him and put a gentle large hand on his shoulder, steadying him when he swayed. “You are Bilbo Baggins of the Shire. And more recently of Erebor.”
Behind his eyes images and sounds blended together, all terribly familiar yet strange and new. His head spun and throbbed, small pieces of himself clicking together, spilling light on the horrible emptiness he had first woken with the in the forest.
“Thank you,” Bilbo managed, fighting back tears.
The huge hand rubbed his back reassuringly. “Come. Get you back to your dwarves.”
Bilbo rubbed a hand across his eyes. “I-I have dwarves?”
“Only, I haven’t liked most of the ones I’ve run into so far.”
Beorn growled, a low threatening sound that made the impressive coat of near fur on the man’s arms and chest bristle. Much like a bear might. Unsurprisingly.
“I don’t like dwarves,” he rumbled. “Too greedy. Hungry for power.”
Something prickled in offense. “Well, not much different from elves then.” Bilbo sniffed. “Or humans. And even us hobbits can be vicious if we want to be.”
Beorn shot him an amused smile. “Your dwarves are better then most.”
“I should hope so. I can’t recall, but I’m sure I have impeccable taste.”
He laughed, a great booming sound. “Come. I will see you back safely.” The man got to his feet.
“Er, just one more thing.” Beorn looked at him curiously. Bilbo shuffled, suddenly bashful. “One of them, the er-other dwarves. He mentioned I was, erm. Betrothed? Am I?”
His heart gave a worrying lurch. “Were?”
“Aye. Been married for two years now.”
“Married.” Bilbo put a hand to his cheek. “Oh. Married. Do you know—“
“Thorin Oakenshield. Hroak is his raven. He’s been looking for you.”
“That’s your name! Hroak!”
The raven trilled at him, obviously pleased.
“Come. Not safe to stay out here.”
“Yes—no, of course.” He watched in fascination as the man shifted back into a huge brown bear with about as much trouble as Bilbo would change his shirt. “Thank you, Beorn,” he said. “Really, thank you.”
The bear snuffled his midsection briefly, making him yelp. Beorn was laughing at him he could tell. He hunkered down, resting low on his paws and shooting a look at the hobbit.
There was nothing for it. As gently as he could he pulled himself onto Beorn’s back, wincing as he fisted thick handfuls of fur. “Sorry.”
Beorn huffed and lumbered to his feet.
“Gracious me,” Bilbo muttered faintly, clutching the fur under his hands tightly as the ground was suddenly a frightening distance away.
And then the Beorn was off, traveling far, far faster then Bilbo was comfortable with.
Luckily for his pride, the embarrassing sound he made was drowned out by the steady thump thump thump of Beorn’s massive paws, running quick and determined through the field.
His curs whipped about and he clung on for dear life, the grasses parting around the bear and rippling like waves.
Married. He was married.
And he couldn’t even remember what his husband looked like!
Thorin. It was a good name. It made him warm and dizzy, memories lurking just below the surface, trying to pierce through the heavy fog shrouding his mind.
Things were coming back. Bits and pieces, little flashes at a time. It was like flipping through the pages of a book and trying to read snatches as they passed by. Quick, fleeting, yet each bit revealed just a little more of something larger, something he had once known.
He could only hope he got it all back.
Bilbo watched as the sun made its long arch through the sky, beginning its slow decent towards the west. It was a hot, hazy day, the grasses passing by in a rush, the fur beneath him warm and heaving with each great stride Beorn took.
Hroak had flown off, away towards the distant mountain slowly growing larger and larger as they approached.
Bilbo licked his lips and fought the urge to shift in his seat. Beorn was large enough that he needn’t worry about tipping over the side, like he had with poor Myrtle.
The memory of the dear shaggy pony came back to him suddenly, soft fur under his fingers, gentle eyes, and a soft questing mouth, always looking for the apple he would sneak her.
He shut his eyes as the memories flitted into life.
It had been happening all day, the smallest little things setting it off. Bits and pieces coming together, quietly making up his life.
The wind rushing past took on a fresher, sharper quality.
Rising up as much as he dared, he could just make out a great clear ribbon of blue on the far horizon, snaking away towards Erebor in the distance.
A shadow passed over his face. Looking up he saw dark shapes circling overhead. Ravens, he thought. Had Hroak returned?
Beorn tensed under his thighs, a low growl rising in his throat.
They crested a rise, the land opening up below them. New noises filtered in, voices, the clash of steel, shouting.
A swarming mass of bodies filled the field. Dwarves from the look of them, heavily armoured and fighting among themselves.
Bilbo tensed. They couldn’t be here for him. Surely not. He wasn’t anyone that important.
But why had he been kidnapped? Why had two, possibly more parties been hunting for him?
And what had happened to the first bunch in the forest?
They had been spotted. Cries rang out. A score of dwarves detached from the fight, forming a line of glistening spears and shields against them.
Beorn approached them at a dead run, roaring out in fury as they aimed their spears at him.
“Beorn!” yelled Bilbo in alarm, clutching the bear tight.
With one mighty leap Beorn cleared the row of spears, landing atop a few unfortunate dwarves and crushing them under his bulk, snarling and biting at any that got in his way as he ran.
Bilbo gasped, ducking low and clutching brown fur tightly.
Beorn was big, but he was wildly outnumbered. These dwarves were armoured, trained, and a far, far greater number then Faldor’s lot. This was no sneak attack in the woods.
There was a twang and Beorn roared, several long shafts of wood sticking out of his hide. Bilbo stared in horror and blood began to drip from the bear’s side. A huge spear, the kind made for skewering wild boar flew through the air, clipping Beorn in the arm. It was the last thing the dwarf who threw it ever did, going down immediately after in a solid ton of furious snarling bear.
But more spears joined that first finding purchase in soft fur.
They were hurting Beorn. They were hurting him and the only reason they’d done so was because Beorn had decided to help him.
Because of Bilbo.
Arrows and spears flew through the air. One and then another pierced the bear’s thick hide and stayed there. The bear roared and snarled and took more down, but he was clearly in pain.
It wasn’t Beorn they were after.
Shutting his eyes, Bilbo took a deep breath, clutching the fur underneath his fingers desperately. Then he let go and slid down Beorn’s side, landing in the grass with a hard thump. Pain laced up his ankle through his shin, but he pushed it down.
There was no time for that.
Behind him Beorn roared, turning and swatting his way around, looking for the hobbit. Bilbo picked himself up and dashed over felled dwarves, ignoring the throbbing pain in his head and foot and making for the edge of the skirmish.
He’d been sighted. There was yelling and the cries of birds, Beorn snarling behind him. Dwarves lunged at him with their thick limbs, armour making them slow and heavy. He ducked and weaved as best he could, his head ringing with the nausea that continued to plague him, the harsh face of the sun beating down indiscriminately on everything, making a bright golden glare that hung over the field and muddled it all together in blinding white.
Someone bowled into him. Down he went, landing in a painful sprawl, a larger body atop his own. He gasped, the air forced out of him. There was a yell, and suddenly the weight was lifted off of him.
He stared. A large bald dwarf with fierce tattoos across his head stood protectively over him, back to the hobbit, twin axes in hand.
Bilbo’s head gave a particularly painful throb, little black spots sprouting up in his vision.
The dwarf threw something at him. His hands reached out out and caught it on reflex. It was a sword. It fit his hand perfectly, fingers curling around it as if they had done so countless times before.
“Stay behind me!” he yelled, delivering a crushing blow to a dwarf trying to get past him.
Hands trembling, Bilbo watched as a huge serge of bodies rushed the dwarf. He fought them back, keeping them away from Bilbo deflecting blow after blow with the practiced ease of hundreds of years. But there were so many. How long could he stand there and hold them back before he was cut down?
Bilbo would not stand by to find out.
Ducking down, he felt through the grasses until he found a suitable projectile. A clipped bit of arrowhead did nicely. He gauged the distance with a weathered eye, rolling the bit of metal around in his fingers.
“Hey!” he yelled. He threw it with all he had. It hit a dwarf halfway through raising his spear, clanging against his helmet. He went down in a solid heap. And now he had their attention.
This bit was becoming familiar, yells and cries thundering after him as they gave chase. One particular shout of Bilbo rose over the rest, tugging at something deep in his chest.
It took everything he had not to turn and take one last glance at the dwarf who had stood before him, had protected him, known his name and gave him a sword his hands remembered even if his head did not.
He fled out into the fields, keeping as low as he could, dipping and weaving and letting the grasses and the battle cover his escape.
Behind him ravens flew and shrieked, some circling the fight and swooping down to attack, some clawing at each other midair. Beorn roared, the ground shaking from the force of his heavy paws. There were shouts and yells, screams, great clanging of weapons, iron on steel on metal.
What were they fighting for?
Bilbo ran and ran, unable to get the image of the bald dwarf from his mind. He was so very familiar, something safe about him, and a name he could almost hear the shape of.
He made for the river.
The fields had slowly dwindled, grasses becoming sparser and shorter until hot dry earth was underfoot. Dust blew around him, sticking to his clothing and stinging his eyes. It felt strange to be out from the cover of the grasses. There was nowhere to hide.
He constantly scanned the horizon, straining his tired eyes for any movement, jumping at any shadows overhead, making for the slowly approaching river in the distance. The dust and glaring sun beating down played tricks with his vision, hazy flickering shapes dancing in the distance, taunting him with the threat of pursuit.
And far in the distance the mountain loomed, the long ribbon of the river snaking up to it, gleaming white and brilliant under the blinding light of the sun.
It was late in the afternoon when he reached the river.
Gratefully he made for the clear running water, his throat dry from the heat and dust and his clothes damp from sweat. He looked about for any signs of life, eyes strained from the harsh glare of the sun reflected back at him from hot white earth underfoot. It looked clear.
Knees buckling he all but collapsed by the side of the river, reaching a hand out and dipping it into the cool swirling depths. The sensation of water on his overheated skin nearly made him weep, ripples swirling past his fingers in a cheerful babble.
Greedily he cupped his hands and drunk, the water blissfully cool and refreshing. Rivulets spilled down the front of his shirt, glorious against his skin after so long out in the sun and heat. He cupped more water and splashed it against his face, cool droplets running through his hair and down his neck. Drawing a deep breath, he gripped impulsively the edge of the bank and dunked his whole head under, emerging from the river gasping and drenched, finally finding relief from the heat.
After a time, he recovered enough of his wits to sit back and look around, pushing his dripping curls out of his eyes.
Following the curve of the river he could make out settlements far in the distance, built along the sides of it. The ground dipped and rose again, distance and heat shrouding the lands in a hazy mirage, flickering in and out and teasing his sense of perception. But his gaze kept traveling north, up the river until it led him to the unmistakable bulk of the mountain. Erebor.
It was still so far away. Two days, maybe three on foot. Three days of running, of not knowing who to trust, of being hunted down.
And what would he find waiting for him in the mountain?
A husband, concerned and searching for him? More dwarves, that was certain. Beorn had said there were some he called his own.
Would he recognize them when he saw them?
His fingers curled around the hilt of the sword the bald dwarf had thrown to him.
Perhaps he would.
Exhausted but too afraid to stop, Bilbo followed the river.
The sun slowly sank, reluctant to leave its place in the sky, covering the earth in dusky orange and purples as it went. The steady flow of the rippling water and the wind in his hair lulled him into an odd sense of awareness, everything fading around him until it was just the sounds and feeling of his feet taking step after step, the mountain beckoning far in the distance and the sky slowly deepening in the night, stars winking awake one by one.
By the time he heard the thud of hooves come up behind him, it was too late.
Bilbo winced as he was thrown onto the unforgiving wooden floor of the cell, landing heavily on his side. It was dark down in the lower deck of the ship they’d dragged him onto. He glared up at his captor as best he could, still dazed from the blow he’d taken to the head and the sudden darkness, the only light in the room the torch Runir held.
“No getting away this time, sharbrugn.”
“What do you want from me?” he asked, pulling himself up as best he could.
“It’s nothing personal. Just a bit of business.”
“Excessive for a bit of business, isn’t it?” asked Bilbo.
Runir smiled, sharp and unpleasant. “Not for my business.”
“What do you get from this?”
“Ah, that’s right. Still can’t remember, can you? That’s a shame.”
Bilbo watched him, feeling more and more like a small rabbit cornered by a wolf. He needed information. He needed his memories back. It was no good playing a game with only half the cards. Bluffing could only get you so far before you were eaten.
“Why is everyone after me?” he settled on.
“You’re extremely valuable, Master Baggins. At least some people seem to think so. I may just see a useless halfling but some are willing to pay quite the price for you.” Runir tapped his nose conspiringly. “Between you and me, that’s all that matters.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Oh how rude of me, so sorry.”
“I may not be at my sharpest but it hasn’t escaped me that there is a small army of dwarves out looking for me,” said Bilbo calmly. “You won’t get away with this.”
Runir raised an eyebrow. “Is that what you’re hoping will happen? Someone will come and save you?”
“Considering I’ve been tossed around a few times now—“
“Do you even know who is looking for you? Friends? I think you’ve vastly overestimated how many friends you have.”
“My husband is coming for me,” said Bilbo, with as much conviction as he could muster. He would not show weakness to this dwarf.
“Oh yes, your husband.” Runir smiled, cold and cruel. “Tell me, did you remember on your own, or did someone have to spell it out for you?”
“As I thought. What do you know of him, your husband? A name? Anything else?”
“Did your raven tell you he tried to kill you?”
Bilbo blinked. “What?”
Something cruel gleamed in his eyes. “No? Because he did. In front of thousands of people. I’d be surprised if anyone within a hundred leagues hasn’t heard about it. It was quite the scene. Held you over the parapets, your husband did. By your neck. Was going to drop you.”
Runir was trying to hurt him, trying to cause him pain. It wasn’t true, it—it couldn’t be true. Yet black little pinpricks appeared in his vision, the words slithering around his head in a damningly familiar way.
“And you’re the expert, are you? Do you even know who your husband is?” asked the dwarf.
“My husband is Thorin Oakenshield.”
“Ah, a name. Very nice. But his title? No? Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King under the mountain.”
A king. Ah. That would explain all the fighting.
“I can’t imagine he’s very happy with you,” said Bilbo, pulling himself back together. “What is the punishment for kidnapping the spouse of the King? Can’t imagine it would be pleasant.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“And what will you do when your luck runs out? He has a whole kingdom at his command. Fancy running for the rest of your life?”
“Again I stress that you have fewer friends then you’re imagining. And Oakenshield is not without enemies. Oh no. His marrying a filthy traitor didn’t do him any favours.”
“I don’t think you’re in much of a position to talk about traitors.”
“Do you know why he tried to kill you? I can’t blame him. You betrayed him. Stole from him. You, who he trusted above all others, stole the very symbol of his kingship right from under his nose. The Arkenstone. I have to give it you, you don’t do things by halves do you, halfling?”
His head was ringing, the nausea coming back worse then ever. The rapidly sinking feeling in his stomach crept up and whispered that this sounded worryingly familiar.
Runir was enjoying this, Bilbo could tell.
“Why would he want to rescue you?” continued the dwarf. “He’s sent his men out, certainly. It’s a matter of appearance of course. Can’t have someone taking off with his property, after all.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Of course he’ll want you back. It doesn’t matter so much the state of you when you’re returned though, does it?” Runir grinned. “Don’t worry. We’ll make sure some of you gets back. Enough to recognize, at least.”
He leaned in closer, eyes gleaming hard in the torchlight.
“That was what we agreed on when he asked us to take care of you.”
Bilbo lunged at him, a snarl sounding in the back of his throat. The dwarf easily caught him a blow across the face, sending the hobbit flying back into the wall. He crumpled to the floor, head throbbing and eyes stinging traitorously.
“Pity. I was expecting more of you.”
Bilbo pulled himself up to his knees, glaring at the dwarf.
“The plan was to douse you with more of the elven water,” he said considerably, “but I don’t think that will be necessary. Anyhow, I thought you might like some time alone with your thoughts.”
He got up, and cast the hobbit one more glance. Then he scoffed and closed the cell door behind him with a damming clang. The keys jangled loudly as he locked them.
“Sweet dreams, halfling.”
The reddish light of the torch faded with each step he took back up the tunnel, until Bilbo was left alone in the near darkness. Pulling his knees into his chest, the hobbit bowed his aching head, squeezing his eyes shut and silently, tried his best not to shake apart.
Something cool was tapping against his cheek.
His eye twitched. Bilbo could feel consciousness beckoning, trying sluggishly to pull him up into its terrible embrace. He couldn’t recall what was so terrible about it but he just knew that it was, and avoiding it was the best course of action.
A soft chirp right by his ear had him jumping, and there it went, dragging its claws into him and forcing him back into unhappy awareness.
The slightly damp wood of the ship was pressed against his cheek where he lay on his side. His limbs ached with overuse and an indeterminable time spent cramped on an unforgiving surface. There was a painful heaviness in his chest. A terrible flash of half remembered images played behind his eyes, taunting him with their truth.
“Bilbo,” croaked a familiar voice.
His eyes shot open.
“Hroak?” His voice has hoarse and his eyes stung. He rubbed a hand across his face, hoping to rub away the worst of the grime and tear tracks.
“Bilbo.” She gave a low coo, nudging her beak gently against his cheek. The raven clucked at him, beady eyes looking him over worriedly.
“How did you get here?”
She nudged her head meaningfully towards the far wall. A small rectangle of light was cast against the floor and he followed it up to a barred window, no larger then a foot across.
“Clever girl,” he breathed, trying to shift to a more comfortable position. He grimaced, aches and pains blossoming across his body, head heavy and throbbing.
Bilbo had dreamt of the ramparts. Bits and pieces of it. The dizzying height at his back, the mass of people below watching, beautiful blue eyes full of smoldering rage, hands fast around his neck and tightening, all his words gone to waste—
The soft drag of a beak against his cheek brought him out of it. Hroak nipped his curls, cooing gently.
“You wouldn’t happen to know if anyone is coming for me, would you?” he asked, despair creeping over him. “Someone I can trust. If there’s anyone I can trust…”
Bilbo didn’t know much of anything, and what he did know he didn’t know that he could trust. Beorn surely meant him no harm. The bear man seemed to trust Hroak as well, and the raven had risked life and-er, wing—to get him out of trouble.
But Hroak was Thorin’s raven.
Could he trust Thorin? Could he trust this husband he knew almost nothing of?
All Bilbo could remember were snatches, quick little memories and flashes of images, of feelings. As much as he wished otherwise part of what Runir had said was true. His husband had threatened to kill him. Bilbo was remembered that bit.
But what of the rest of it? He was missing too many pieces.
The name brought a huge conflicting mess of emotions to mind, warmth, love, fear, desperation—
Heaving a sigh, he ran a hand through his curls in frustration. Taking Runir at his word was not a good idea. He seemed a sadist type, the sort of dwarf who would delight in causing another pain just because he could and that was just what he had done.
Bilbo tucked his knees up and let the steady lurching, rocking motion of the ship lull him into a half doze, trying to hold onto the last bits of hope he could dredge up.
It was a calm night, the moon slowly sinking towards the horizon as dawn crept slowly closer.
A ship traveled north on the river. It was approaching the bend where the river parted, springing off into two directions. The Redwater traveled north, winding up through the rocky plains and towards the Iron Hills. The River Running sprang west, curving towards Mirkwood and heading north, passing over the ruins of old Laketown and up towards Dale.
It was almost at the curve. The hands on deck began to adjust the sails, fighting the current and keeping north, making for the Redwater and the Iron Hills beyond.
A call rang out. Another ship was spotted, a dark shape moving fast, coming south down the River Running.
Overhead ravens flew, crying out their warnings as the first light of false dawn began to wink out the stars.
There was a flare, a bang, and the smell of firepower filled the air.
The side of Bilbo’s face hurt. This was because he had just fallen on it when the ship gave an almighty lurch, waking him most rudely from the half-sleep he’d been lulled into. The hobbit pushed himself to his knees, shaking his head to clear it.
There was a cry from the window. Hroak flew inside.
Something dropped on the floor in front of him. It was a long thin piece of metal. He stared at it. The gears in his head slowly lurched into motion. A lock pick.
Yells sounded from above deck. There was a bang that rattled the whole ship, timber groaning under the strain. Something huge crashed through wood followed by a mighty splash.
Hroak shrieked at him, flapping her wings and nudging him in the direction of the locked door.
Bilbo didn’t need to be told twice.
He launched himself at the door, falling to his knees beside it and gripping up the heavy lock. It was a dwarvish lock. These were legendary for being devilishly tricky to pick on a good day and utterly impenetrable on a bad one. Some of the more complex locks even had traps built in, little poisoned barbs that would jab your fingers if you jostled it wrong, hidden pockets of acid that would eat way at your skin while leaving the lock perfectly in tact. No novice would ever dream of touching a dwarvish lock.
Bilbo’s fingers were steady as he slid the pick inside, feeling around carefully and listening for the little clicks, movements practiced and sure.
Above deck someone screamed, the ship rocking with the force of an explosion. Bilbo licked his lips and let instinct take over, jiggling the pick just so, blocking out the sounds from above.
The lock slid open. Bilbo let out a long breath and tucked the pick away in a pocket, feeling vaguely that he ought to thank someone for teaching him the skill. There was almost a name, the shape of a face, distinctive hairstyle almost reminiscent of a star flashing through his mind.
Runir’s voice echoed down through the ship, bellowing orders and cursing, several heavy somethings thudding into the deck.
He clutched the door as the ship swerved to the side, timbers groaning and creaking under the strain. He had to get off this ship. Preferably before it sunk or someone came looking to escalate the encounter to a hostage situation.
Neither were attractive.
A shove of his shoulder had the door creaking open. He winced at the sound, peering around frantically looking for guards. It was empty. Thanking his stars Bilbo crept silently out into the hallway, shutting the door behind him with a soft click. A narrow strip of light shone down, illuminating the stairs leading up to the deck.
Before he could make for it there was a low trill. With a soft flutter of feathers Hroak was on his shoulder, nudging his cheek gently. She tugged his curls and fluttered off towards the far end of the hall. Shooting an anxious glance up at the stairs he turned and followed, silent as only a hobbit could be.
A door stood halfway ajar. Hroak looked at it and then back at him. Staying close to the wall, Bilbo approached the door cautiously, trying to hear over the din of the fight for any sounds within. With a hairy foot he nudged the door open, falling back out of sight and listening for any sounds.
When nothing happened he crept about and pushed the door all the way open, ducking quickly inside. It looked like a supply room, full of sacks and large earthen jars, many cracked and tumbled over. A table was pushed against the far wall. On top lay a familiar short sword.
The name came to him as he picked it up. It was like having a piece of himself returned, like greeting an old friend.
With any luck he would be doing a lot more of that very soon.
A spare bit of rope made for a makeshift belt, letting him keep his hands free. He wouldn’t stand much of a chance in a fight against an enraged dwarf in full armour. Best to dodge and evade if he could, and play dirty if he couldn’t.
Bilbo crept out into the hall, a sudden sickening lurch and a huge bang sending him tumbling to the ground. An explosion took out part of the wall, bits of wood flying everywhere, several heavy bits of metal flying and hitting the floor. Water began to gush in through the newly made hole, the yelling above deck turning furious.
He needed to get off now.
Picking himself up he made for the stairs. This wouldn’t be easy. Likely he’d be spotted straight away. He could only hope they were too busy fighting to notice one lone hobbit.
Fire danced and rippled through the air, painting dazzling reflections on the water below. One ship was near consumed with fire, the other charred and rapidly sinking. Shouts and screams filled the night, great chunks of rock and metal sent flying through the air to crash into the other vessel.
Slowly the sun made to rise, a gradual lightening of deep blues in the east, warmer, softer colours stretching their fingers out to the sky.
On the shore two sprawling companies of dwarves fought, oblivious to the approaching dawn, lit up by the dying splendor of the burning ships.
A small half drowned figure pulled himself wearily from the water, coughing and spluttering, reflecting that even when knowing how to swim hobbits were really not made for water.
Down from the north rode a third force, making unerringly for the battle and the flaming ships.
At their front rode a dwarf with long dark hair and fierce blue eyes, one goal alone pushing him forward, one desire burning hotter then the fire reflected on his face.
From above a raven swooped down, shrieking her news before flying back to the fray, searching for her charge.
The first colours of dawn broke from the horizon and painted the sky.
Bilbo stumbled, barely catching himself as he tripped over a fallen axe. There were dwarves everywhere, fighting as if that was their sole purpose in life. Hardly any attention was paid to one lone hobbit, pushing his exhausted limbs as hard as he could, trying to stay out of sight and out of the way.
His clothes were soggy and heavy from the water. He spared a thought to thank whatever Valar may be listening that it was a warm night.
He froze at the cry, fear trickling down his back like a drop of ice. He knew that word. It meant hobbit. It was a very rude way of saying it.
Someone had spotted him.
Heart in his throat Bilbo bolted, not bothering to turn back and see who had spotted him. There were no tall grasses to cover him, no swaying fields he could hide in. He could only try to use the battle itself to loose his pursuers, hope they would be too busy fighting, too distracted by one another to—
A hand grabbed at his arm, yanking him back.
With a yell he slashed out at the dwarf, sting gleaming in his hand. It was enough to get the dwarf to let go, but suddenly there were others much closer then he would have liked. He kept running.
He’d reached the edge of the fighting, the main body of dwarves behind him. This was bad. He was in clear sight of those chasing him. Hobbits may be more agile then dwarves but Bilbo had been running for a long time and already he could feel exhaustion pulling at him, dragging him down.
Something slammed into his back. He went down in a heap, rolling as best he could and kicking with all his might. Hobbit feet were not to be trifled with. A solid kick with one was not unlike a kick from a horse. The dwarf who had tackled him was finding this out the hard way, swiftly turning pale and loosing his grip on the hobbit.
Bilbo scrambled to his feet, just dodging an arm aiming for his middle. Sting was in his hand and he slashed out, striking against the breastplate of another dwarf to his left. It did little more then make the dwarf angry. Hands wrapped around his arms from behind, jerking him back.
A shriek split the air.
Hroak swooped down, talons gleaming and deadly, clawing viciously at the dwarf. Gasping Bilbo broke free of the hold, nearly falling, and threw his momentum into a desperate run. Heavy footsteps followed behind him, yells, curses, cries of ravens.
Far in the distance was Erebor, lit up by the first rays of the sun.
Despair began to settle in his heart, weighing him down, reminding him how little rest and food he’d had, how small of a chance he’d ever had at escaping. He would never make it.
Bilbo stumbled, biting his tongue and forcing himself on, ducking out from under a grasping hand and swerving drunkenly to the side.
The glint of metal drew his eyes. Another party was approaching rapidly form the north. Dwarves on rams, charging in perfect formation. Heading right for them.
A figure was at their head.
As Bilbo watched, the rays of the sunrise broke across the earth, lighting the figure in warm reddish gold.
His heart skipped a beat, recognition washing over him like a wave.
His throat stung with the force of his shout, the name ripped from him without conscious thought.
Bilbo may have been missing large parts of his memory but he was getting some of it back. And he knew irrevocably, undeniably, that this dwarf was his husband.
Blue eyes latched onto his own.
“Naigribi!” Thorin roared, spurring his mount on.
Yells rose behind him, the heavy footsteps of his pursuers turning frantic.
He was so close!
Thorin’s force split in half, great scores of dwarves riding out from either side of their king, coming together again and attacking the enemy from the sides. Bilbo could feel them passing on either side, a rush of furious movement.
He only had eyes for one dwarf.
A hand latched onto the back of his shirt. Bilbo snarled, turning and slashing out, catching his sword on thick dwarven armour. Another arm lashed out, clipping his ear. Bilbo ducked and tugged free, shaking from adrenaline, forcing himself to keep moving—he was almost there!
Thorin had dismounted, sword drawn, heavy mantle flowing about his body as he ran. A row of guards flanked him. He yelled a command.
A barrage of arrows soared through the air, rising from behind Thorin and falling well past the hobbit. From the sounds behind him he assumed they had found their mark.
But Bilbo spared no further thought for his pursuers, everything collapsing down to just the dwarf in front of him, the oh so familiar face and eyes awash with the light of the newly risen sun.
With the last of his strength Bilbo launched himself at his dwarf, throwing himself into strong arms that caught him up, held him close and safe.
“Thorin,” he breathed. It was the only thing he could say. Spots of colour danced merrily behind his closed eyes, his head swimming with thousands of thoughts and feelings, all centered around this one dwarf—his husband.
Oh. That voice.
“Gêdel. Kurdêl. Ibinê.” The words were whispered hoarsely into his curls, desperate kisses pressed into his hair. Bilbo shuddered and buried himself closer into the great warmth that was his dwarf, never wanting to let go.
He was vaguely aware of the sounds of battle, muffled as they were by Thorin’s bulk. He didn’t care.
Hands were running up and down his back, soothing, holding him close and safe. He realized he was gasping, shaking, clutching Thorin for all he was worth and breathing in the familiar scent of home.
Consciousness was slipping away from him, his head nearly splitting from the pain as more and more parts of himself came back, memories fitting into place.
It would be all right now.
“Bilbo? Ghivashel, look at me!”
He couldn’t open his eyes anymore. It was all too much. The arms around him tightened, drawing him impossibly closer, holding him tenderly against his chest.
The sounds of battle sounded very far away
Thorin was shouting something, lifting him easily into his arms.
Finally, finally Bilbo succumbed to his exhaustion, knowing deep in his soul that he was safe.
“…he’ll be all right.”
“You call this all right?!”
“No one is, laddie. We’re all upset they took him, but he’s likely to make a full recovery.”
Bilbo was lying down on something impossibly soft, a large, warm hand encasing his own. He tried to make sense of the voices.
He knew them.
“Trust our hobbit to be stronger then that cursed elf river.”
“I should have Thranduil punished for this. It’s in his damn forest!”
“Aye, along with the spiders and Mahal knows what else. I doubt he’d find himself responsible for what some trespasser does on his lands.”
“His whole domain is a hazard.”
“And now it’s hurt Bilbo.”
“To be fair, it wasn’t elves who plotted this out.”
“Mmh,” managed Bilbo, eyes fluttering open.
“Stand back! Give him space.” An old dwarf leaned into view. “Laddie, do ye know who I am?”
Bilbo stared up at the familiar face. “Oin?”
There was relieved sigh from all around. The old dwarf beamed at him. “That’s right. Who else is here?”
Bilbo blinked the sleep away from his eyes and looked around the room. “Balin. Dwalin—oh. Oh, Dwalin! That was you! I—you brought me sting.”
“Aye. Slipped away from me there laddie. I’ll thank you not to do it again.”
“But there was too many of them—they’d hurt you.”
Dwalin puffed up. “It’s my job.”
“Bilbo, lad, anyone else here you recognize..?” tried Balin, nudging his head towards Thorin. Thorin was sitting by his bedside, worrying his smaller hand in his own. His blue eyes watched him carefully, drinking him in, something desperate in his face.
“Oh. And Thorin’s here, of course,” he said softly. “Of course you are.” He squeezed the larger hand in his own, affection welling up.
“Of course,” muttered Dwalin, but he was smiling.
Sheer relief shone in Thorin’s eyes. “Kurdêl,” he murmured, thumb rubbing affectionately across Bilbo’s hand.
A thought occurred to Bilbo and he smiled, awash with the joy of it. “We’re married,” he said, grinning stupidly up at Thorin.
Thorin huffed a gentle laugh. He lent down, thunking his forehead softly against his own. “Yes. We are, Ibinê. A fact I am grateful for every day.”
The others were chuckling but Bilbo couldn’t be bothered to care. Thorin finally pulled back, keeping Bilbo tucked close against him.
“This is my husband,” Bilbo told them proudly, heart swelling to burst. He couldn’t remember all of it right now, but he remembered enough. He remembered these dwarves—he remembered the company! The long nights spent huddled around a campfire, shared pipes and stories, someone always looking out for him, making sure he was warm enough. It was coming back. And what it was saying was a constant litany of family and home and Thorin.
“You’re my family,” said Bilbo softly, eyes watering as it fell into place. “The company. This is my home. And this is my husband.”
Thorin tugged him close and wordlessly pressed a kiss to his cheek.
Balin smiled kindly. “That’s right, laddie.” He patted the hobbit on the ankle.
“Aye,” chuckled Dwalin, giving his curls a gentle ruffle. “You did good, hobbit. You did good. And now you’re stuck with us, whether you like it or not.”
Bilbo laughed, feeling warm all the way down to his toes.
A memory nagged at him. “Oh, Beorn! Is he all right?”
Balin nodded. “Fine and asking about you.” He leveled Bilbo with a stern glare. “You gave him a right scare running off like that.”
“He’s not the only one,” muttered Dwalin.
“But he’s all right?” pressed Bilbo urgently. “They’d—he was hurt.”
“He’s all right,” murmured Thorin, rubbing his back soothingly. “He’s been prowling around the mountain gates. You can go see him when you’re up to it.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Bilbo sank into Thorin’s chest gratefully. Exhaustion was beginning to pull at him again. “I’d like that.”
“Now Bilbo,” started Oin, “you’ll likely be muzzy for a few more days. It took Bombur a near month before he had all his memories back when he fell in the river, but he didn’t swallow much of it. I reckon they didn’t know what it would do to a hobbit. Seems you’ve proven to us all again you’re much stronger then you look, eh? Think we’d catch on by now.”
“It is coming back,” said Bilbo, pressing a hand to his head. It didn't hurt quite so much.
Oin fixed him a look. “All the same, you’re to get plenty of rest and to take it easy. You weren’t in the best shape when we found you, elf magic aside.”
“Aye. Let Thorin take care of you,” added Dwalin.
“Won’t you need to go?” asked Bilbo, looking up at his husband.
“No,” said Thorin simply.
“What about the mountain?”
“It can run itself for all I care.”
“Aye, it can for you,” sighed Balin. “I’ll handle it laddie. You’ve been working yourself half to death these last few weeks. No one will expect to see you anywhere but by our hobbit’s side. As you should be.”
“That’s settled then,” said Thorin a touch smugly.
“I am sorry for the trouble,” said Bilbo. “I’m feeling much better.”
Oin snorted. “Sorry? Lad, you were kidnapped. Right under our noses! There’ll be no sorries from you, Master Baggins!”
“I…don’t really remember. What happened. It’s coming back in pieces but—I don’t remember that.”
Thorin’s hand tightened around his own. He squeezed it reassuringly, taking comfort in the familiar calluses and scars.
“Perhaps it’s for the best,” said Balin gently. “And now I think we’d better be leaving. Our hobbit needs his rest.”
“See he gets it,” said Oin, waving a vaguely threatening finger at Thorin.
Thorin nodded solemnly. “On my honour as King, I shall do all in my power to see it done.”
“Oh, please,” huffed Bilbo.
“Good,” said Oin, ignoring him.
And then it was just him and Thorin.
Thorin gently laid Bilbo back down on the bed, taking great care to tuck him in. “You can join me, you know,” said Bilbo.
Longing shone in Thorin’s eyes. “Are you sure? I don’t wish to cause your injuries further harm.”
“I’m just a bit bruised! If you don’t get under the covers with me I’ll tell Oin you’re disturbing my rest.”
That won him a big warm dwarf pressed up against his back, holding him close. Bilbo snuggled into him happily, letting himself relax into the warmth all around.
Thorin’s hand came around. Something glittered in his palm. It was a bead. Bilbo’s marriage bead.
A lump caught in his throat. “How did you…?”
“They sent it. Part of the ransom note.” His voice shook with barely restrained fury. “They cut it from you.”
Bilbo stared at it, remembering the cut across his cheek. Those days were still unknown to him, just a jumble of sounds and colours and the vague feeling of being ill. “I don’t remember,” he confessed. “It’s mostly back now but…I don’t remember any of that. One minute I was here and the next I was alone in the woods.”
Thorin let out a long breath, arms tightening around him. “I am glad you are spared the memory. You have suffered more then enough.”
“So have you,” said Bilbo quietly, remembering the heavy bags under his husband’s eyes, the stress lines more pronounced then they had been.
“Bilbo. Kurdêl. May I?”
With gentle hands Thorin reached up and stroked through Bilbo’s hair, deftly weaving in the marriage braid as he had done every day for two years. Bilbo shut his eyes, sighing in relief at the familiar weight of the bead in his hair. Something settled deep in his chest.
“Maralmizu,” breathed Thorin reverently.
The sounds became words and translated themselves in his head.
Bilbo laid his head back against his husband’s chest, shutting his eyes and soaking in the warmth of their bodies.
“I love you too,” he whispered.
These were his dwarves and this was his husband and no one was going to take that from him ever again.