Stone of Erebor

by Primula

Chapter 4: Untimely Taken

Bilbo followed the lead of the dwarves down several flights of steps, alternating with cool hallways and sloping passages. Most had at least a few lamps burning, but as they continued on these became fewer and farther between.  The dwarves gave this little thought, but the hobbit among them began to be a little concerned for the safety of his own toes being stubbed in the darkness.

Not that he minded tunnels so much, nor even darkness when he was someplace cozy and familiar, but bumbling along over thresholds and down steps when he hadn't the faintest notion of where they were bound was a bit uncomfortable. At least it was a generally tidy place, the rubble he recalled from before had long since been cleared away... still, he began to wish he had had the presence of mind to bring along one of the candles from the dining table when he heard they were going to a tomb.

Reaching another lower level, they went along a well-lit hall that had several doorways in it, the murmuring of dwarven voices heard here and there, and the faint scent of  various foods, a hint of smoke and other comfortable scents of daily living drifting by. He had the impression each doorway concealed private homes, like smials for Dwarves, and his curiosity was greatly piqued.  He slowed down very briefly by one that was partly open, to try to peek within.  He couldn't see much, just a bit of firelit wall and something on the floor... he daren't really stop and stare for fear of offending his friends with his curiosity, but how he wished he could have nudged that door further open.  Maybe there was a bit of the Burglar still in him someplace after all.

The hall angled to one side, then they turned left and pushed past a thick hanging that lay across an opening to keep the chill away from the homes.  A pipe ran from somewhere above, and clear water trickled into a small well by the entrance. It felt moist and cooler as they passed it and Bilbo shivered slightly at the unwelcome reduction in both light and warmth. He walked closer to the others, finding it warmer in a bunch.  Dwalin led them without pause down a dark flight of stairs. Bilbo's eyes were still dazzled from the lamps of the hallway as they started down so that he nearly stumbled into his companions. 

"Will there be any lamps, er, down there?" he ventured to ask.

Dori, who had been walking along with him for most of the way considered this. "I doubt it. Why keep a lamp burning where there are none to see it?"  They came out into another level passage where only one lamp could be seen burning some ways down.

"Then pardon me, but shouldn't we be taking one along with us to see by, ourselves?"

"Good thinking, master Hobbit." said Bofur, just ahead of him. "Here, let's take one of these."  As they came up on the hall lamp he reached out a hand and casually lifted it from its hook as they passed; taking it along, he peered at it critically. "Plenty of light left in this one," he said. "It'll do."

"Whose lamp is it?" asked Bilbo, thinking they may have just swiped someone's front porch light.

" Dáin's, I suppose." said Bofur with a shrug.

" Dáin's?"

"Much of the common items are considered the property of the King. Isn't this how it is seen in your land?"

"We don't have a King, and our lamps are our own. But that's not the point. We'll be putting it back when we return, won't we?"

"Don't have a King?" said Dori with surprise. "What do you have, then?"

"A Mayor," said Bilbo. "Among other things. He doesn't much resemble a King."

Bofur pursed his lips. "You didn't let him scare you now, did you?"

"Scare me?" the hobbit trotted a bit faster to keep up with the dwarf. He liked being near the light.

" Dáin, I mean. His thinking you a thief."

"Well, I admit it's made me concerned that nothing goes missing while I am around, I must say.  He didn't seem to trust me too much."  The old dwarf glanced down at him as they paused for a door to be opened.

"I don't think he completely trusts anybody," said Bofur. "He has too much gold at stake."

"And you don't?" said Bilbo with a smile.

"You wouldn't burgle me, would you?"

"Just for old time's sake?"

Bofur turned to the others around him. "Look at this, our hobbit wants to burgle my gold from me already."

Bilbo laughed. "Never, my friend. I've had far too much of the stuff to lug around myself. I've no interest in having to carry any more weight than I have to, I assure you. I'm getting old!"

"Aren't we all," commented Dori. "But gold still feels sweet to me. What a terrible loss that you hobbits suffer, to not even want gold in your old age."

Dwalin tugged opened the door with a muttering about dust being in the tracks and it needing to be fixed. They all filed through it.  This hall was still cool, but dry.

"Ah, I would gladly sleep in a bed of gold, like a dragon!" said Nori, who had been bringing up the rear behind Dori.  "Come to think of it, I already do." he laughed.

Bilbo noticed another change in the air here. It felt... well, not exactly musty or stale, but unused, if that made sense.  Unbreathed, he thought. As if it needed a good opening of a window for a while to let the breeze blow through.  He tried to think about Nori's golden bed instead of dark, forgotten passages back in the Misty Mountains.

They turned again and started down yet another set of steps. How far down could they go? He was beginning to wonder.

"Sounds uncomfortable," he said. "if you haven't a dragon's tough skin."

"What does? Oh, my bed?" smiled Nori. "Most comfortable! I had it specially made, best goldsmiths..."

Bilbo decided to deliberately misunderstand, to amuse them. "Not only made of gold though, surely. I know Dwarves are a tough race, but..."

As he expected, Nori and Dori both chuckled at this. "No, not only of gold," amended Nori, "but silver and gems as well."

"And blankets," offered his brother in a loud whisper. "A great pile of them. He's not as tough as he likes to make out he is. Now myself, on the other hand..."

Nori gave Dori a strong nudge, making Dori bounce off of the passage wall and return the favor, nearly sandwiching the hobbit between them.  Bilbo gave an oof.

"Are you abusing our hobbit back there?" Glóin called back with good humor. "Been a long time since we've had to separate the two of you. Thought you'd outgrown it." 

"Nori started it."

"No, Dori did. You aren't too squashed, are you Mr. Baggins?"

He managed to give a weak laugh to reassure them, though it had rather knocked the wind from his lungs for a moment. "I'm all right. How much farther have we to go?"

"We're nearly there," said Dwalin. "See that mark?"

Bilbo looked curiously at the runic symbol on wall they were passing. It was only vaguely familiar... "Ah. I've seen this in some of the epic stories, the ones about great heroes that... well, had, er, died..."

"Well done," said Dwalin approvingly. "A near enough guess. It indicates the tomb of a Dwarf of great stature.  Thorin, in this case."

"Great stature? Really. Well, if any Dwarf I've known should have such an honor, I suppose it would be him. Is this the door, then?" 

They had slowed, then stopped before a smoothly sealed doorway in the rock wall. The lintel was carved with patterns of dwarves, tools, towers and mountains. The door was carved with runes, some of it overlaid with precious metals; though he could only see part of it over the shoulders of his taller companions.  Bofur lifted the lamp up - this made the shadows of the carvings move and slide about, giving them an eerie, lifelike quality.  The cheer of the Company began to settle into a quietness and respect more suited to visiting a gravesite.

"Yes," said Dwalin. " The next one down is for Fili and Kili, who were laid together, housed next to their Uncle as was fitting... Haven't been here for years... let's see now... Now look away, Master Hobbit, we can't share our door-opening with you, you understand I hope."

"I understand," said Bilbo. "Family secrets and all that"  Not that I haven't opened your doors before, he thought.  He looked at his toes. But something inside him wouldn't quite let him keep his gaze there. He heard Dwalin shifting a piece of rock, and surreptitiously took a sneaking glance through his bangs. Between his companions' shoulders he could see one of the carvings pushing back into the wall.  He quickly looked down again. A carving of a crown.  Most suitable... what a shame Thorin'd never really gotten to be King after all the work he had done to get there.

The door began to swing open, and as one they all glanced at their erstwhile retired Burglar. His gaze was firmly fixed on his furry feet. There were nods of approval. Glóin spoke.

"You may look now. Come. Let us go and pay our respects to Thorin, King under the Mountain."

There was a strongly murmured assent that made Bilbo wonder at their feelings about Dáin being in his place, but any fledgling thoughts on Dwarven politics were promptly scattered away by the sight of the cool, slightly stuffy sepulcher he now entered. 

The walls were smooth and blue-toned, mostly, and a pleasing pattern of rough-hewn stone had been laid along them, stone filled with some sort of quartz so the rough surfaces shone and glittered in the lamplight as a contrast to the smooth ones. More runes ran along the wall, creating a band of writing all the way around the room, telling of Thorin Oakenshield and his great exploits presumably. Bilbo could only decipher a little of it. 

What a shame he was so untimely taken, he and Fili and Kili also. King for such a brief time...what a sad time it all was, really.  I wonder if they've written him any laments. It would make a fine tale for a lament...

The room was larger than Bilbo had thought it would be so they were all able to fit around the central stone coffer, with space to spare.  The flooring under his feet was smooth gold-shot marble, and the slightly arched ceiling above glittered as well, with what he did not know.  A pair of tall, elaborate lamps stood in an alcove to one side. Bofur lit them with the small lamp they had carried.

He tentatively peered up at the great marble box that held the remains of his Company's erstwhile leader, it stood slightly higher than his chin. A graven image of Thorin was what he had half-expected, remembering the tomb of Bard he had been shown in Dale. Instead, he saw a great shield that appeared to be made of oak though it was cunningly wrought of an oaken-colored stone. Even the woodgrain could be seen, as if it lay there simply waiting the battle call, set aside by some forgetful warrior of the past.  The surface it lay on was elaborate in its patterning, set with precious gems, a pleasing contrast with the simplicity of the shield. He could see along the edge where the main body of the stone and the shield-lid fit together.

The dwarves were all murmuring with low notes, he wasn't sure what. Greetings? Regrets? Some traditional verse?  He was strangely fascinated with it all and saddened at the same time.  It was a beautiful tomb, and it had been so long ago... yet...

He looked a little closer at the places where the top fit to the main box. Being shorter than the others it was closer to his eye level.  Something odd....

"Something isn't right," said Dwalin.

There were furrowed brows, and noises of concern all around. "I agree," said Glóin. There, see. On the floor. The dust has been disturbed."

"And this," said Dwalin, indicating the great shield. He bent and eyed it closely. "Slight smudges. As if someone's hands had..."

"Opened it!" squeaked Bilbo.

"What?" they cried, "what do you mean? What is it?"

Dwalin and Bifur were already bending down to see what the hobbit was pointing at. A crack plainly showed where the two parts did not quite meet, as if it had been lifted and then set down crookedly. It was a very small difference but in the perfection of the rest of the room, it showed up like a farmer's furrow on fallow ground.

"This is terrible! Terrible!" cried Dwalin, pulling at his beard with distress. "Why would anyone open Thorin's tomb?" 

Bilbo's eyes were very round as he spoke what all of them already knew in their hearts:

"To steal the Arkenstone."