Stone of Erebor

by Primula

Chapter 16:  Well Guarded Treasure

It was some time before they were ready to seek out Dím and inquire about the letter.  Dwalin had had an especially hard time calming down; his own hopes for true news from his lost brother had been hard dashed, and it was his desire for immediate revenge that seemed to burn the hottest.  Glóin was the one who had finally managed to calm him, speaking in low tones beside the fire while they puffed at an early pipe. 

Bifur had gone out to make inquiries while they waited and eventually returned having succeeded in getting directions to Dím’s home. Bilbo was grateful that he would not be expected to lead the way in their own mountain again, and even gladder when they were finally on their way and not sitting and fretting.  He still sincerely hoped the lad was innocent but he realized it would fall to him to be looking for ways to prove it; his companions most likely would not.  Dori, Glóin and Dwalin marched with a determined pace; he did not think they looked very forgiving.

It was only when the familiar hallway with its wooden doors came into view that he began to really feel nervous about it.  What would he do if they suddenly, well, attacked the lad?  Perhaps he would run for help, goodness knew he wouldn’t even think of getting between two Dwarves in a rage; worse than a dog-fight, they could be so focused.  He glanced up at his companions warily but they didn’t seem angry. Businesslike perhaps, or stern of feature, but not violent.  Still…

“That one,” Bilbo indicated even as the others slowed.  He recognized it by the water basin he had hidden behind the previous day (had it only been yesterday?).  They paused, looking at one another uncertainly.  Glóin reached out a hand to the iron knocker and banged it once, decisively.

There was a long pause and some shuffling inside then silence.  Glóin knocked once more, hard.

The door opened and Bilbo recognized the dwarf he had seen from the back before, the one who had thrown the apples at Dím when he had been there last.

Being near the fore himself, he drew breath for what he hoped would be a courteous greeting but bit it back as Dwalin abruptly barked at the them instead. "Why do you answer the door when strangers come? Have you no Guardian?" He was uncharacteristically gruff.

The dwarf at the door seemed just as startled as Bilbo had been, startled enough to step back and almost stammer. "My honored Guardian is not here, and I expected my brother's return... I did not know. I ask forgiveness."

"The Treasure shall be Hidden."

"Yes, the Treasure shall be Hidden." the ceremonial-sounding phrase was returned, looking down at booted feet.

"Who is your father?" he demanded.

"My father was Dímûl, lost to us these many years. My uncle is my Guardian, my brother is the Holder of the Treasure."

"We need to speak with your brother, it is of much importance. Where is he?"

"Tending my Guardian who now dwells at the Hammer's Crossing."

Dwalin seemed to have lost his voice.  Dori spoke instead. "We thank you and ask forgiveness for our speech. The Treasure is Untouched."

"Yes, the Treasure is Untouched," the younger dwarf nodded with something almost like a smile and closed the door.  The lock clicked into place.

There was an uncharacteristically awkward pause as all three of the Companions looked at their hobbit. He looked back at them and at their oddly flushed faces.

“Erm… I take it that was not Dím’s brother,” tried Bilbo hesitantly.

“No,” said Dori quietly. “It was not.”

“An unfortunate happening,” said Dwalin, offering no further details. He rubbed at the back of his head and ran his fingers over his beard. “Very unfortunate. This way.”

Their pace resumed, steady and fast.  Bilbo trotted along with them, grateful that they seemed to already know where this 'Crossing' was though he was having a hard time keeping up.  He looked up at their backs. "Well, if their father is gone, what about their mother? Are they orphans, you think?"

"We do not speak of our people's mothers so lightly..." said Glóin, glancing back over his shoulder at him.  He did not slacken his pace.

Dori dropped back alongside him. "We are not their family." he said, as if this ought to be self-evident.

"And if she yet lives, it is not for us to know nor does it change what we are asking." added Dwalin firmly as he strode ahead.

"I will never understand Dwarves," Bilbo sighed, shaking his head.

Glóin threw him a brief almost-smile. "We do not ask to be understood."

"Consider how open your homes are in your land, how you leave your treasures out where anyone might see them or take them. Do you think it wise?" inquired Dori.

"Well, we trust our friends not to take what isn't theirs."

"And are those treasures occasionally stolen?" he persisted.

Bilbo pursed his lips and shrugged. "I suppose it has been known to happen but not often. And our Sherriffs do a fair job of finding whomever it was."

"And what if it is a treasure that cannot be replaced?" Dori continued. "One that if it were even touched by a thief, it would be... used up?"

"What, like a bottle of wine?  Well, em, I suppose it's gone then."

"We do not take our guarding of our treasures so lightly, Master Hobbit." said Dwalin. "Nor do we risk our... wine... being handled by others."

"Oh!" said Bilbo as he suddenly realized what they were referring to. His cheeks tinged pink. "Oh! Right. I see. Well.  I must say that is a bit different than wine.  Her family would be more than a little upset by something like that..."

"It is good to know that the Hobbit-folk do recognize a true treasure when they have one, then."

"Of course we do, it's just that we don't... er, lock them up this way. No offense intended, but it seems a bit harsh."

"To be treasured, cherished and guarded is not to be imprisoned, Mr. Baggins. And I will say no more on the matter. It is not spoken of.  It was a most unfortunate occurrence."

"I... all right. All right.  Sorry, I guess my own curiosity was running off with me again. Oh, I say – look there.  Are those the hammers she mentioned?"

The arch that they were coming up on bore a clear carving at its apex of two large hammers, one in silver, one in gold, their handles crossed.

“Yes. This way…” Dwalin led them unhesitatingly to the left, where a closed door was found at the end of a short, wide hallway.

“Dímûl,” mused Dwalin. “The name of Dím’s father. It is familiar, and yet I cannot place it.”

“A jeweler, perhaps?” asked Dori. “Seeing the son is familiar with them.”

“No… I’m not sure,” said Dwalin. He stopped and took a deep breath, then reached out and firmly knocked the curving metal doorknocker that hung from the crossbeam of the oaken door.