When the door to his bedroom banged open, Bilbo Baggins was instantly aware of three things. First, that the usually silent dwarven doors were, in fact, made of rocks and could be far, far louder than ordinary wooden doors when striking a wall. Second, that Thorin made an excellent pillow, right up until he rose like a thundercloud, dropping unwary hobbits into tangled bedsheets. Third, he was still completely naked.
This last took swift precedence in his mind. Yelping, he scrambled to cover himself with a sheet as Thorin, clad only in thin, white trousers, hefted his oak shield from the bedside and went to the door.
Gimli, Gloin’s son, stood there breathing hard, as though he’d just run a terrible race. “The chambers of the princess, Prince Thorin. You must—” It made no sense. He was still wearing the fancy clothes from the wedding reception. Surely there had not been time enough for danger to come while Bilbo slept.
“Guard him with your life,” Thorin ordered, pointing to the bed. “Stay here.”
Muzzily, Bilbo wondered what he was meant to guard. There was no chance to ask, however, for Thorin took up Orcrist and was out the door without another word.
“He is not wearing boots,” Bilbo observed stupidly.
“No, Your Royal Highness,” Gimli said. “It’s a rather urgent matter. The princess—but, I am terribly sorry to disturb you on your wedding night.”
“I am not wearing anything at all.”
“No, Sir.” To Gimli’s very great credit, he neither blushed nor joked at Bilbo’s discomfort. Instead, he closed the door and turned around to face it with an ax in his hands. “Don’t trouble yourself on my account, Highness. I’ll just guard the door until Prince Thorin returns.”
Yawning, Bilbo slipped out of bed to pull on some trousers. “Not sure there’s a need for that,” he said. “I’ll pop into the kitchen, I think, and put a little something together for Thorin when he comes back.”
“A fine idea, Your Highness,” Gimli said, sounding a little surprised.
Bilbo tugged on a white shirt and his new green waistcoat, cut in the Shire style by an Ereborian tailor. It made a comfortable contrast to the formality of his earlier wedding clothes. Besides, he didn’t expect to be wearing it for long. Once Thorin returned, they would have a quick snack, and then—well. They were newlyweds. Surely a little more time abed wasn’t entirely out of the question.
“You can turn around now,” Bilbo said, fixing his cufflinks.
Gimli did so, keeping one wary eye on the door.
“Oh, really.” Chuckling lightly, the hobbit ran a comb through his hair. “All that ‘guard him with your life’ business wasn’t serious, you know. We had a very long day yesterday, and Thorin’s sister isn’t well. It makes sense that she might have a—well, an episode. Naturally, I’m very happy that you didn’t scruple to fetch Thorin. Must be much more pleasant and calming than anything a doctor might do.”
There was no response to this cheerful little speech. Turning to look at him, Bilbo saw that the young dwarf’s face was nearly as red as his beard.
“Gimli. What is the emergency in the chambers of Princess Dis?”
Hesitating, the lad said, “I don’t know I should rightly say, Sir. Da’ says you’re braver than any dwarf in the world, but you’re not much of a fighter.”
“I think you’ll find that it doesn’t matter at all what your father says. As a member of the royal family, I am giving you a direct order to tell me what is happening in the chambers of my new sister.”
“Frar has a knife.”
Racing out the door, Bilbo wasn’t sure how exactly he got past Gimli or the other armed guards standing in the hallway. He felt them chasing and grabbing for him, but their mailed hands were like soap bubbles on the wind: easily evaded.
An array of armored dwarves made a wall outside of Dis’s chambers, but Bilbo could see Thorin beyond. He saw Dis, weeping and begging. He saw big Frar with his red beard and bright eyes. And he saw the knife. Pressed to Kili’s throat. A thin rivulet of blood outline the sharp edge. On the first finger of the hand clutching the hilt, Bilbo saw his ring.
The Ring did not make Frar invisible. Instead, it seemed to make the dwarf more solid. Glowing red with heat, it scorched his skin black, and Bilbo could see that unreadable elvish verse shining along the band.
“—that only she should enjoy the work of our labor!” Frar was shouting. “I am the greatest gold smith in all of Erebor! In the world! I shall not submit to tyranny.”
“Take it back, then,” Dis sobbed. “Take it all back, only let Kili go.”
“The lost prince! As though he is worth any more than you. Just another thief! All of you! THIEVES!”
“I am not a thief, Frar.” Thorin took a half step forward, Orcrist low and at his side. “For my part in any wrongs done to you, I apologize. I would hope to redress them in friendship. There is no need for this.”
Bilbo made eye contact with Fili, creeping along the outer edge of the room. It seemed Frar was not paying attention to him.
“You are worse than a thief, Thorin Oakenshield.” Frar’s voice dropped to a rumbling sneer. “You would destroy a thing of beauty. Of magnificence. Of unrivaled perfection. Something so very precious: you would cast it into flames.”
Frar’s grip on Kili tightented, and the young Baggins cried out. Bilbo slipped between the legs of a distracted guard.
“It was not Thorin who wanted it destroyed,” the hobbit said.
“Bilbo!” Instantly, Thorin tried to step in front of his husband, as though his half naked body could prove to be a shield. The hobbit pushed him away, stepping closer to Frar and raising his empty hands.
“Thorin only sought to destroy the Precious because I asked him to,” Bilbo said. “I am the one who wants to hurt it. I still want to hurt it. I will take it from you. I have taken it from others before.”
Frar’s face twisted into a snarl. Lunging for Bilbo with the knife, he nevertheless maintained his hold on Kili, keeping the young Baggins between himself and Thorin. He did not see the flash of Fili’s ax.
Hand, knife, and Ring all dropped to the floor, along with a good amount of blood. Frar released Kili, screaming and clutching the stump of his wrist to his chest. Bilbo ran to his brother.
Hugging him quickly, the hobbit immediately began cleaning the wound with his white handkerchief. Thin and shallow, no worse than a papercut, really, it still made him very nervous. “Someone call for a doctor,” he cried, but a doctor was already there. Or at least, Oin was. He seemed to be the dwarven equivalent of a doctor, and he had poultices and bandages all around Kili’s throat in a trice.
“I’m fine,” Kili said. “Really, I’m fine. He didn’t cut me very much at all. I could have gotten free at any time, I just didn’t want to hurt him. He seemed rather unwell.”
“He is unwell,” Thorin said. “Though glad am I that Fili did not share your scruple about injuring him. Oin, see to Frar’s wounds. He must be imprisoned, and kept away from the Ring, but I would not have him die.”
Obediently, the old dwarf moved on to his next patient. Frar seemed pained enough to accept a potion from the healer, and that made him pliant, indeed. Putting him into some sort of drugged sleep, Oin quickly bandaged his arm with many dwarven salves and spells. Then he signaled to the guards to help bear the injured dwarf to some other place.
Thorin picked up the severed hand. Blood from the stump stained his fingers as he wrenched the Ring free from the fist, then dropped the limb back to the floor. Rubbing the blood from the Ring as best he could with filthy fingers, he lifted it up to the light.
“Yes, Frar was unwell,” he murmured to no one. “It is such a small thing, is it not? But it weighs on the mind. When you look upon it, other concerns seem to fall away. I would not have Frar punished for finding it too precious to destroy.”
Bilbo did not like hearing the word “precious” from Thorin’s lips.
“It whispers,” said Dis. “Do you hear it whispering? It wants me. It wants to come to me.”
“No, Sister,” Thorin said. “No, it does not want to come to you. That is your own weakness, like Frar’s. The Ring is too dangerous to be wielded by any but the strongest.”
“Gandalf said it should not be wielded by anyone.” For the first time, Bilbo felt how very true the wizard’s words had been.
“Yes,” Thorin agreed absently, still staring at the Ring. “The risk is great, but so it is with any weapon. After all of our work, after the greatest fires our forges could muster, there is not a single crack or stain upon it. Our arts cannot rival it. Does that not make it well made? Who then could call it unfit for the hand of a king?”
“So you’re giving it to your father, then?” Bilbo asked sharply. Thorin’s eyes blinked away from the Ring to look at him. “What other king might wear it, Thorin?”
Thorin blinked again, and did not answer.
“I think you should give it back to Bilbo,” Kili said firmly. “It is his. You’ve only failed him by not destroying it. Again. Or did you marry my brother to despoil him of his property?”
Blinking a third time, Thorin cleared his eyes. Swiftly, he placed the Ring in Bilbo’s outstretched hand. Closing his own fingers around it, Bilbo stuffed the thing into his pocket. Doing so immediately brightened the room, like a breath of fresh air.
“It must be destroyed.” Dis’s voice ground like gravel beneath the boulders of a mountain avalanche.
“It must,” Thorin agreed. “Yet the time has come to admit we have not the art to do so here. One who can carry it safely must be found.”
While Bilbo felt his own job of carrying the Ring had been anything but safe, especially through the dark of Mirkwood and the black of Dol Guldur, he said, “I don’t mind. I think, perhaps, it’s a bit easier for hobbits, since we never learned to care about gold the way dwarves did.”
Thorin’s eyes went sharp and his face paled. “We will find another. Our duty to Erebor is great in this time of an approaching storm. You and I cannot be spared for a journey into Mordor. We must remain here, to help our people weather that which comes.”
“Surely the storm has something to do with the Ring,” Bilbo argued. “If we destroy it—”
“Too many ears,” Thorin snapped, looking out at the platoon of guards still standing in the corridor, with burly young Gimli standing in their midst looking both contrite and openly curious. “We will consult my father and come up with a plan of action.”
Conceding the sense of this, Bilbo reached for Thorin’s bloody hand.
“It is still technically our wedding night,” he said. “How about a bath, a snack, and a return to bed first? We can deal with all of this in the morning.”
Smiling, Thorin pressed his lips to the back of Bilbo’s wrist. “That is the wisdom for which I married.”
And so that was what they did. When another messenger disturbed them in their bed barely three hours later with word of an approaching army, Bilbo almost expected the interruption.