Stone of Erebor

by Primula

Chapter 5: A Treasure Amiss

"The Arkenstone!" they all cried, reaching as one for the lid of the stone coffer. 

"Open it! Carefully..." instructed Dwalin;  the marble grated hollowly.

As the lid was lifted away, Bilbo blenched back slightly. He did not really want to see the withered remains of their former leader, but as his companion's voices were raised in distress he found himself drawn forward as if compelled and was soon on his tiptoes, peering in along with the rest. 

He was surprised that it was not anything upsetting - his imagination had been far worse. Thorin lay in his repose almost as if he were merely resting.  He was somewhat shrunken, true, but carefully laid in his eternal sleep, arrayed with the beautiful armor that he had been buried in, still shining in the light of the lamps.  Orcrist glinted dimly along his side, the golden cloth he lay on was untouched.  There was no disarray nor any sign of dishonoring of his remains. The thick,brittle beard lay fanned out across his chest, and his mail-gloved hands were still cupped by his breast.

But they were empty.

"The Arkenstone," they were all repeating in distress around him, "it's gone! It's gone... Gone..."

"I am so very sorry, Thorin," whispered Bilbo under the noise of their cries. "We didn't mean to disturb you. A bit of an unexpected party for you, in a way." He gave the fallen dwarf a bittersweet smile, one for remembrance. "We'll get it back for you, don't worry. I found it once before. Maybe I can find it again. Perhaps that is why I am even here. Stranger things have happened."

"What are we going to do?" cried two or three of them at once. They were dwarves faced with a lost treasure. They wouldn't be thinking sensibly at all for a while, and he knew it. He took the reins into his own hands.

"We're going to have to find it,"Bilbo answered firmly. He turned from the stone coffer  and pointed a finger authoritatively at Dwalin. "Do you have any idea how long it may have been since someone entered here?"

Dwalin was tugging on his beard with distress, but Bilbo's level question helped draw him back to the present need. He managed to give it thought, shaking his head. "Not long. No, not long. It couldn't have been. The dust on the floor was cleared away in places, and no new dust had time to settle."

A ray of hope began to spring up among them. They murmured.

"Then maybe it's still here, at the Mountain," said Dori hopefully. "Maybe it hasn't been taken away."

"There are Men going down from the Mountain almost every day," protested Nori.

"But it had to have been a Dwarf," said Bilbo logically. "Not one of the Men, because only you Dwarves know how to open the door." Mostly he amended to himself.

"True, true," nodded Bofur, with hope. "If we all search, search and tell the King, make an announcement..."

"Then you may as well just throw me off the peak," said Bilbo. "Because you can bet that's what Dáin will do to me when he hears of it. I show up after all these years and what happens, within the same evening even? Of all things, the Arkenstone disappears!  Please, there has to be another way we can go about this..."

"Come, help me set this back," said Dwalin to the others. "Poor Thorin should at least not be left lying open, to witness our inept guardianship of his treasure." They bent their backs to the stone lid and lifted it gently back into its place, settling it with a hollow thunk.  It was rather like the hollow feeling Bilbo was battling in his stomach, and not from hunger.  He had to recover that gem.

He had to. He had been a part of the promise that Thorin would have his precious stone. He was not about to have that promise undone, much less be blamed for it going awry.

------

It was quite late by the time they returned to the small hall they had feasted in earlier, and the fatigue that followed excitement was catching up with them.  Most of the meal had been cleared away in their absence, except for fruit and some plates arrayed in sweetmeats and nuts that awaited their return.   Bombur was already gone to his bed, a short stack of empty dishes at one end showing he had enjoyed a hearty dessert before retiring. They would have to tell him about it on the morrow.

None of them seemed to give any thought to the food, not even whomever among them had paid for it, so caught they were in their umbrage and worry about the thievery they had uncovered.  Only Bilbo felt the need of a little something to bolster his courage and strength, semi-continuously nibbling at the assortment while they hashed and rehashed what they knew and went in circles over what to do about it.

Before they had even begun their long walk back up to the main levels it had been concluded that notifying King Dáin was out of the question, at least not until they'd taken whatever steps they could without his knowing. 

This was for two reasons: first, because of their agreement that he might be harsh towards their former Burglar and they still counted it their duty to take care of him.  Secondly, Dwalin had confided a fear that Dáin might choose to keep the Arkenstone for himself if he were the finder, and not return it to Thorin's hands. The others had looked very serious, murmuring assent.   It was a hard thing to say, they admitted, and smacked of near-treason. But what Dwarf could keep a sane head when confronted with such beauty?  It had to be considered a possibility, at least privately, among themselves.

Bilbo sat near the fire, chewed on a handful of candied nuts and nodded. He remembered how it had glowed, so shining and beautiful.  He had been fascinated with it himself. He could see how a Dwarf with their penchant for even common gemstones would be overwhelmed.  He continued nodding along with their speech until he realized hazily that his nodding was becoming nodding-off, rather than agreement.  He tried to look alert but gave up as he noticed others openly yawning.

Someone was standing in front of him. "It's late. Very late. And our guest is falling asleep on the hearth," said Glóin.  "I regret that our welcome of you has taken such a turn for the worse, Mr. Baggins."

Bilbo unsuccessfully tried to stifle a yawn. "Not your fault, you've all been most courteous. Most unexpected. Thorin, I mean, not your being courteous."

"But we would be moreso if we would show you to a proper bed now," amended Glóin. "Come! My son's room has been made ready for you. For tonight, we must all sleep, and think. We are not as young as we once were, going through the nights without a thought for rest."

"Your son?" asked Bilbo, climbing to his feet. "Forgive me, but I didn't know you had a son. My belated congratulations.  I do hope he doesn't mind my taking his place."

"No, no. Not at all. He's been busy learning lessons at the forge of late. He's hardly there himself. He was honored to hear you would be with us."

"So, what was our plan again?" asked Bilbo as he began to be led away.  His head felt heavy and groggy, though he wanted to keep going, to go searching, there was no way he could. He figured he would be lucky to make it to the promised bed without bumping into walls.

"We'll each search the areas around our own homes and among our servants," said Dori as they left the room. "And meet back here in the morning.  Good night, Mr. Baggins," he gave a small bow. "May your dreams be filled with silver and gold."

"And yours also," returned Bilbo. "Good night."

He followed along after Glóin, grateful when it became evident that it really was not very far.  They climbed one flight, then turned down a passage that led to several rooms.  He had the impression of rich furnishings and rugs as he was led through another doorway to yet another room.  A heavy drape that lay across the doorway was pushed aside. A bedroom. This one was darkened, and smelled pleasantly of rushes, spice, leather, beeswax and a bit of fresh air.  He barely remembered saying good-night, the covers were thick and soft and he nestled into them gratefully.

"I do hope we can find it... Poor old Thorin..." he murmured, and fell asleep.