Many times over the years, Bilbo had cursed being born mute. No sound had ever passed his lips. Once again, he cursed it as ill luck. They would never find him. No one would ever know what had happened to him.
Bilbo had always been a fighter, struggling against the world's expectations and the limits of being voiceless. But he couldn't fight anymore. He was pinned underneath a very heavy, very dead warg and he was pretty sure he was slowly bleeding out. He took a deep breath and assessed his situation. The battle had been won. What survivors that could be found had been cleared from the field. It was long past dusk and the air was slowly turning from cold to freezing.
His right arm was buried underneath the warg's stiffening body. It had thrown itself at him. He'd only had enough time to raise Sting before the warg had impaled itself on it. But it's sheer size and momentum had borne Bilbo down and knocked him out. He'd only just awaken mere minutes ago to the stillness of the deserted battlefield.
He tried to move but everything from the shoulder down was immobile, held down by the warg's weight. He tried to wiggle his fingers but that only sent sharp pain up his arm. He was pretty sure the impact had snapped his wrist.
The immediate problem, other than bleeding, suffocating or dying of exposure, was that Bilbo was still wearing his ring. He took a moment to curse it as well. He could feel its outline on his finger... on his right hand. There was no way he was going to be able to remove it. Thus, they would never find him until maybe one day, somebody tripped over his invisible remains.
Would he still be invisible when dead, he wondered. He didn't think being alive was a required condition for the magic of the ring to work. So presumably, his skeleton could lie forever unseen. He took a deep breath. These thoughts weren't helping.
He continued taking stock. His torso and legs were also under the warg's body. It was difficult to breathe, but not impossible. He forced as deep a breath as he could. So no suffocating. His left arm was free, but it had two stab wounds that were sluggishly bleeding and radiating pain up into his body. One was on the forearm and the second was really at the shoulder, not the arm per se. These wounds, he decided, would be the ones to kill him. At least if they had been under the warg, the compression might have staunched the bleeding.
Noise. He needed to be able to make some noise. One handed, possibly no handed noise. He softly gasped, just air being sucked in, when he remembered the company trying to teach him to whistle. It had never occurred to his fellow hobbits that he might be able to learn. Everyone had just always assumed he would never make any sound. Only the dwarves had thought to try. They hadn't had much of a chance since Thorin didn't want to draw attention to their position most of the time. But in safe moments, they had tried. He just wasn't very good at it.
He took as deep of a breath as he could, pursed his lips and blew. It was soft and reedy. Not very good at all. He kept at it. As soon as his lungs were emptied, he heaved more air into them. The sound was not traveling very far. After a few minutes, he began to feel light headed. No, no, no. This wouldn't do. If he passed out again, he might never wake up. He stopped whistling and concentrated on getting an adequate amount of air. He felt the light-headedness retreating.
He closed his eyes. Tears welled up in them. Was this his end then? Ignobly smothered by a dead warg?
"I'll never know if they survived," he thought. "I'll never have the chance to make things right. I'll never see the Shire again or see hard-won Erebor rebuilt." His dwarves would think he ran away, ashamed to face up to his theft and too much of a coward to fight. They would never know how much he loved them.
Bilbo took a deep breath and willed his tears to stop falling. "Think, Bilbo, think!", he demanded. Could he reach and maybe find two pieces of metal, swords, knives, anything to clang together? He turned his head to the left, searching for anything in reach. He sighed. If there was, he couldn't see it in the darkness. There would be no clanging.
Then he remembered it. It had been a joke. Put a bell on the burglar so he can't sneak up on us anymore. And they had. It was actually three small bells welded together that Nori had found in Laketown. They'd been so excited about it because it had been of dwarven make, a hair decoration from a time long past. When it shook, it made a tinkling sound. And it was in his left coat pocket, only somewhat buried under the warg.
"If I can just get to it," he thought, "maybe, just maybe..." He moved his left arm. Pain shot up it. He forced the arm into motion. It was slow, like he was moving it through a tub of molasses. Once he hit the warg, he knew it was only going to get worse. He started wiggling the arm under the warg's body. Slowly, painfully, he was able to shove his hand under it. He didn't know how much time had passed before he felt the pocket. Concentrating, he was able to navigate the folds of the pocket and grab hold of the bells.
He smiled and took a deep breath. Now he had to move the arm back out. Slowly, sweat breaking out on his forehead, he pulled the arm back. He concentrated on the movement to keep himself from focusing on the pain. It seemed to take forever before it finally came free. He was panting from the exertion. The sweat felt cold on his face. He paused for a few minutes.
He could only hear his breathing. The night was so silent. Was anyone still looking? Would anyone even hear it? He shook his head. He had to try. Slowly he raised the arm and shook the bell. The sound was pleasing, a clear high ring that carried in the silence. He smiled. "That's dwarven craftsmanship for you." It hurt, oh how it hurt. So he steadied his movement. "Not too hard. Establish a rhythm." He rang the bell, paused, rang, paused, creating the constant sound that would not be mistaken for wind or falling objects.
Time had no meaning. How long had he been ringing? Fifteen minutes? An hour? An eternity? His arm was beginning to burn from the strain. He wouldn't be able to keep it up much longer. "Please," he cried out in his mind. "Anyone. Gandalf! Please find me!" Tears welled up again in his eyes, making them sting from the cold.
"Gandalf! Thorin! Please. Bofur, Kili, Fili, Ori. Anyone," he pleaded. "Please hear me somehow! Dwalin, Balin, Dori, Nori, Oin, Gloin. Please, Yavanna, don't let me die here. Aule, have mercy. Eru, save me... somehow."
His rings were slowing. His arm, his body hurt too much. He couldn't force it to do more than it already had. He was shivering. Was it the cold air or the blood loss? Either way, he couldn't hold out much longer.
He closed his eyes. At least he had given his all. He'd done everything in his power to save his loved ones. That was all he had wanted. He could go to the Green Fields with an almost clear conscience. He only wished he would have had the chance to apologize, to explain.
So tired. He was so tired, he didn't hear the sounds at first. Shuffling, squelching. Not footsteps. His rings were like his heartbeats, slow now.
"Do you hear it now? Quiet! Listen!"
"It coming from over there!"
"Bilbo! Bilbo! Where are you?"
He didn't realize at first that there were voices calling his name. So tired. He listened.
"Bilbo! Are you out there?"
They were near. They were looking for him. He felt a surge and forced his arm into movement, ringing as loud and as fast as could.
"Over here lads!"
Bofur! Thank Eru! Thank Yavanna! Thank Aule for sending his dwarves!
"He's right here somewhere," said Bofur, his voice near the hind feet of the warg.
"I don't see him. Is he under it?" said a voice he didn't recognize.
"His ring!" cried Ori.
"He must be trapped underneath it and invisible. No wonder no one saw him." He was surprised to hear Dwalin's voice. Surely Dwalin would have stayed at Thorin's side. He heard movement.
"Feel around for him. You take that side. We've got you, lad," said Bofur.
He let his arm fall. He could feel them nudging the warg's body, making their way around it. He tried to keep his eyes open, but he was so tired. Between one blink and the next, Bofur was standing over him.
"Found him!" Bofur felt along Bilbo's body, feeling for his outline. "I've got his left arm feels like."
"Check his hand for the ring," Ori said. He could feel Bofur gently checking his fingers.
"Nope. Must be on the other one." He felt Bofur leaning over him. "I think it's under the warg. We're gonna have ta move it. Hold on, Bilbo."
He felt Bofur shift away and then heard him cry out. He looked up at Bofur who was staring at his red hand.
"He's bleedin’. We gotta work fast."
There was shouting and pushing. He couldn't make out what they were saying. Finally, there was lifting and shoving and the weight was off of him. He felt the cold rush over his now exposed body. Then Bofur skid to his side, feeling for his right hand. It hurt. He jerked it back instinctively. Even as gentle as Bofur was trying to be, it hurt.
"I know, lad," Bofur said keeping his hand. "We'll make it better, promise."
He felt the twisting and the ring was off.
"Oh, Bilbo," Ori said sadly. He must look a sight.
"That's a lot of blood."
"It might not all be his."
"Let me take him. I am swifter."
Bilbo felt gentle arms lifting him up high, higher than expected. “These aren’t dwarvish arms,” he thought as he was cradled against a chest. He was blearily aware as his carrier ran. He reasoned it couldn’t be a dwarf because the gait was too smooth.
He didn’t know how long it took them but he could hear the din of activity when they crossed into it the camp and then into a tent. He heard his carrier calling for healers.
“I have the halfling! He’s wounded.”
He was set down and there was a flurry of activity around him, people touching him.
“Cut off his clothing!”
He couldn’t keep his eyes open. Voices were fading out… until he heard one clear as day.
“Stay with us, Bilbo.”
Gandalf. His relief was visceral. He tried to open his eyes. He caught a brief glimpse of Gandalf before keeping his eyes open become impossible. He heard a scuffle and some shouting and that was the last he heard.
Bilbo was fuzzy. As he slowly floated up to consciousness, he began to feel and wasn't that just a mistake. He cringed. Everything, everything hurt. Cringing hurt. Lying hurt. Opening his eyes hurt. It wasn't happening. His fingers flexed. He could feel the brace on his right wrist and the bandages on his left arm.
He felt a tentative touch on his right hand.
"Bilbo?" It was Bofur's voice. He turned his head as much as could toward the sound. Rough fingers brushed the hair off of his forehead.
"It's alright laddie. We've got you."
He licked his dry lips then felt a cup being pressed against his mouth.
When the cup was set back down, Bofur touched his arm. "I've got to send for Oin and Gandalf. Give me a second."
He couldn't concentrate on much but he heard Bofur softly talking to someone. Then he felt Bofur touch him again.
"You had us worried. But Gandalf said you're going to be alright. Bilbo..."
He nodded. He could believe Bofur. He was going to be alright. He was still so tired but he was safe. He relaxed and let sleep overcome him. It was safe now.