Stone of Erebor

by Primula

Chapter 11: Unexpected Appearances

Shocked, Bilbo had the strange sensation of flashes of light going off inside his head. He looked up fearfully at the young dwarf who pinned him to the ground.

"I... w..."

"Shhh!" Dím said quietly, putting a light hand to Bilbo's mouth. "Not here."

The hobbit's eyes above the dwarven hand were wider than an owl's.  "B..."

His captor shook his head and spoke very lowly. "Shhh - someone will hear. Don't talk yet. Follow me!"  He got up, easily pulling the hobbit to his feet along with him. "This way..."

-----

In the annex to the Great Hall of Thrór, Dáin Ironfoot waited.  The fire had been only hastily kindled when he had sent out the summons for Thorin's old Company to assemble there and the room was yet chill.  He pulled his cloak further up his shoulders and buried his hands in the end of his beard.

The servants and food-bearing spies that he had sent into Dwalin's dining hall had come back with no tales to tell, no speech overheard; the Company had apparently scattered in search of their missing companion.  Only Bombur had been there when the platters of fishes and cheese had arrived, and he had not spoken any word except "pass me that pepper-grinder" between mouthfuls; they had finally left him there.  It was most frustrating.  He made a mental note to charge the cost of the platters to Bombur's household account and rocked on his heels impatiently. 

Above the fireplace a large variegated marble frieze flickered and wavered, making the banners of the Iron Mountain seem to lift from the midst of the Battle.  A warg, its head forever in the act of being cloven, lapped its lolling tongue at the firelight unheeding of the gem-eyed Eagle just above it.

Dáin frowned at it.  He did not want to be reminded of that battle just now.  There was a movement behind him and he turned to find Dori and Dwalin entering the room with Nori behind them seeming a bit out of breath.  None of them quite met his eyes. He did not speak but waited for them to compose themselves nearby.

The fire crackled. Dáin pursed his lips and drew breath, letting it back out unspoken as Glóin also entered and strode over to join the others with a dignity that his King found oddly irritating. 

"Where are the others?" he asked shortly.

Glóin glanced at his three friends standing together then turned to his distant kin and leader with an unreadable expression. "I've sent my son to seek them. Bifur and Bofur are most likely with Mr. Baggins, whom they were seeking.  No doubt they'll all arrive soon enough.  Your summons was lacking in courtesy, Sire, and they had no chance to plan for this meeting as I am sure you realize. We have chosen to come, but not because of your demand."

"Do you dare to flaunt me thus, when you are the ones who brought this thief into our midst?"

"He is an honored guest and no thief except in your own narrow..."

Dáin cut him off harshly. "Glóin, son of Gróin, your tongue runs overfree. You may claim descent from Durin, but it is I who am the Ruler of Durin's Folk.  Not you."

Glóin was silent for a long minute, weighing what words he might have otherwise said.  Dwalin shifted as if to say something, but was stilled by Nori's hand to his arm.

Glóin's voice came again, but slowly and carefully. "Forgive me for my rash words, your Majesty. In my worry I was perhaps too quick to speak."

Dáin nodded in acceptance. "Perhaps."
 
Dwalin cleared his throat. "My Liege. There are those who believe by this hasty summons at the behest of mere Men you have carried out a grave discourtesy not only to us, but to your own honored guest who helped place you on that very throne and aided you in keeping the title of Ruler for your family line."

"His services were long ago bought and paid for." Dáin said, brushing it aside. He shook his head irritably. "And now he brings dissent and division between us, his benefactors, as well."

"What do you mean when you say this? Speak plainly, if you will." said Glóin.

Dáin turned and considered the fire then lifted his eyes to the frieze above it.

"We have built our wealth, restored our kingdom together!" He glanced back at them over his shoulder, then turned to face them once again, his cloak swirling about his feet. "Each of you are among the most influential, wealthy and famed dwarves of our time and our names will be spoken of by our descendants long after our days are ended.”

They did not offer comment. Like all Dwarven rulers, they knew their kinsman to be long-winded on subjects such as these and were waiting for his true point.

“We know the true value of gold, of silver and gems to the very depths of our hearts.  Gold beats in our blood!"  Dáin struck his own chest emphatically, warming to the subject.

"We do not lightly leave it to the uncaring, cold hands of Men and... other races.  What do they know of the lifeblood of our mountain, of our people? It is a shame upon us, all of us, every time even a single gold coin, a single cup is set in the hands of those who understand it no more than a babe might.  It is all glitter to them, mere metal and shine. We, we are the ones who know it. We are the ones who can name the lineage of each and every worked piece, to know what hands first pulled it from the hidden places in the earth, drew it forth from the rock as smooth and golden as honey, as bright as fire...."

Dáin paused, turning back to the flames on the hearth, knowing all of them were now remembering and savoring the memories of molten gold, poured sweet and pure...

After a long moment his voice came again in the silence, but now he sounded old, and suddenly tired. "And all this you would risk, risk over a single old servant no longer even in service, a loyalty to something long past?  You say you trust this halfling but where is he now?  What is he learning, touching, pilfering, even?  What other ears will hear of our treasuries through him? What do you really know of what he has been doing all these long years you have been apart or if he even left his own people honorably?  What if he was in fact in flight for some burglary gone amiss?" 

They all drew breath to protest, but he silenced them with a firm wave of his hand. "I  know, I know.  You do not believe it of him. There are those, even among you, who would proclaim him a hero because of the part he once played. Well, I see it otherwise.  He had his time, but in truth he was merely a tool used in Thorin's hands to draw the gold from the mountain once again.  His time is past! That tool, that pick should not be set to our works again, or it will only chip away at our own people, our own rightful treasures, not the ungainful hoard of the great enemy of our ancestors, that Worm whom I shall not name."

He spread his hands to them appealingly. "My brothers of the earth, my kin, if only you would open your eyes. Like you I have many treasures, great gems that are far beyond any value that could be set upon them. Irreplaceable.  Men and Elves would give this halfling such a price for them, kingly sums; is he to think us none the wiser and to be lauded as clever to fleece us so neatly?  Are our allies to laugh behind their hands when they greet us? Remember, he gave away his own share of the treasure!" 

His features, which he had turned to them with appeal now hardened at the thought. He spun back to the fire and seemed to address the lolling Warg above him. "One fourteenth! Gold beyond the dreams of any Dwarf; gave it away, without understanding, as if it were so much dross, gave it to Men!  How can you possibly trust a creature that would do such a thing?"

Dori spoke up in protest. "A 'creature?' Mr. Baggins is not a creature, your Highness..."

Dáin gave him a pitying look. "Not as one of the animals, of course not. But in comparison to Dwarven kind?  He hasn't so much as one strand of a beard; even the Men can grow one."

"He makes up for it on his feet."

Dwalin put out a hand. "Dori, we must remember," he said as if Dáin were not overhearing him. "And we must be fair. Do you remember how we all had such misgivings about him when we first learned he would be joining our company?"

"We thought him a coward," said Nori somewhat hesitantly. "And of little worth. But we learned differently before much time had passed."  Dori nodded.

"Yes we did," agreed Dwalin. "and it is my hope that our good Ruler will also come to know what Thorin himself finally admitted, that this halfling, this hobbit had both courage and wisdom, and that he was worthy of honoring. The only reason Mr. Baggins would lay hands upon any treasure would be to return it to its rightful owner, to reverse any thievery of the past. No matter what its value or how highly placed that thief."

"Well spoken," said Glóin somewhat curtly as he turned his gaze back to his King.

There was an uncomfortable pause. Dáin shifted his cloak. "You speak lightly of his laying hands on treasures, yet you admit that you yourselves do not know where he is right now."  He gave them all a hard look. There was another pause, but none of their gazes dropped. "I have heard you... I have.  I will consider your words.  But he has yet to prove his trustworthiness to me.  If he is found anywhere near any treasury, if even one gold bead is accounted as missing when he was present... "

There was a small sound from the doorway.  They turned to see one of the servants of the King, a young dwarf with a chestnut beard who bowed low.

"Your forgiveness for interrupting, your Greatness, but you did instruct that we let you know when the visitor was found."

"He's been found? Where is he? Where was he?" demanded Dáin.

"He was seated with the Men in the Great Hall, your Highness, speaking with them and drawing them a map."

"What?" cried Dáin. "How did he get there? Where has he been?"

"I know not, your Highness, only that he appeared to have been with them for some while and they said he had joined them only a very short time after you said they were to await him there. Er...."

"Yes? Speak!"

"They also requested more... cakes, Sire. And more wine. It seems our guest has had a very hearty appetite and an additional platter would be of great benefit to their comfort."

"You did send out a summons for him to meet with the Dale-men." pointed out Glóin, who was struggling to conceal his own curiosity about this event. "Should it be such a surprise that he was obedient to it?"

"It also means we've been impolitely summed and brought here for no reason," grumbled Dwalin.  He turned to Dáin. "Did it never occur to you to see if he was exactly where you had asked him to be?"

Dáin was nonplussed. "He wasn't there when I left that room. I am sure of it. Where he came from I would give much to know. Dím!"

"At your service," murmured the servant, bowing.

"I shall require your services for dinner.  It seems we shall yet have Vale guests to be entertained. See to it."

"Yes, your majesty."

Dáin marched out of the room in an ill humour, his cloak swirling along behind him. To the surprise of the Companions, his servant did not immediately follow.

The young dwarf bowed to them again and then stepped slightly closer, speaking softly and rapidly. "Your companion sends his greetings. Is there a more private place that your company might gather? The hall you were accustomed to using is no longer secure, the King's eyes and ears are set upon your Company."

From the midst of their surprise and irritation, Dwalin raised his brows and spoke softly in return. "I deem there is need of haste?"

"Perhaps some, though not dire. Please, no more speech upon this matter for now... I must return to my duties but shall be honored to speak with you once dinner is completed for the King. Where shall you meet?"

"Once we have all of us together, and our hobbit as well, we shall see what this is about..." said Dori.

Glóin raised a hand to still him. "My chambers are nighest, and Mr. Baggins has already been staying there..... "

"Very well," said the servant, and with a quick bow he was gone to the doorway where he almost collided with Bifur.

Bifur turned to let him pass, then entered with Bofur behind him.

"He's found," said Nori, before either of them could open their mouths.

"He's with the Men, in the Hall," clarified Dori.

"And how did he end up with the Men if he was supposed to be with you?" accused Dwalin.

"I'd like to know that too," said Glóin, waving a hand to Gimli who was now hovering in the doorway uncertainly.  "Gimli, come. Where did you find them? Nevermind. Tell me about it later."

"A fine welcome this is after our efforts," grumbled Bofur. "We were searching for Mr. Baggins where we had last seen him, near Ûrd's workshop..."

"Shh, shhh" said the others, surprising them with motions of quiet. Dwalin shook his head at them.

"What?" asked Bofur.

Glóin lowered his voice. "We've been told we are being listened to by servants of Dáin. Whatever it was that happened, we will speak of it in my own rooms after dinner. It is enough for now that all are accounted for and well. I myself am bursting at the seams to know how our Mr. Baggins managed to appear with the Men of Dale, but it will have to wait for now.  But do tell us, did you find... it?"

They shook their heads unhappily. "And no sign of ....it, either."

Glóin sighed. "I suppose it was too much to hope it would be so easy." He turned to his son who was taking the opportunity to warm his hands at the fire. "Gimli, it appears we will have a rather large party to host for dinner tonight in our rooms. Do let the cook know. We will be serving ourselves, no waiters. The servants are to be dismissed for the evening."

"Yes, father. What of the hobbit, Mr. Baggins?"

"He will be with us."

"He’ll be famished, no doubt," smiled Dori. "Even with the men's cakes."

"Yes," said Glóin. "Dori, have you time to await his finishing whatever it is he's doing with those Men? It would be a help to have you watching over him, to be sure he does not go astray again this evening."

"This I can do," said Dori, "and gladly."