Stone of Erebor

by Primula

Chapter 6: High and Low

Sometime in the night Bilbo was dimly aware of someone quietly entering the chamber he slept in, passing through with a rustle and a creak of leather. There was a shuffling of cloth and silence. He fell back asleep until whomever it was began to snore softly. 

He bleared up at the slice of sky that now could be seen through its single narrow window, high up.  It looked early, a spring dawn trailing a touch of lavender and peach through the blue.  The air was slightly chilly and he was reluctant to rise from the thick blankets that he had burrowed down into. After thinking about it for a few moments he sat up and, pulling the blankets with him, peered over the edge of them to view his roommate.

An alcove was set into the wall opposite with its drapery kicked aside and a young dwarf lay on his back on a second bed there, only partly covered with a blanket. Seeing as he had apparently fallen asleep while still in his leather work clothes, this made little difference. He was snoring lightly with the occasional snort through his reddish beard; his dangling arm twitched.

A faint tang of smoke rose from the thick apron that lay in a heap beside him, all dotted and smudged with the evidence of sparking fires. This must be Glóin's son, Bilbo thought.  He realized he had forgotten to ask what his name was.

Not wishing to wake him, he slipped out of bed with hobbit-quietness and gathered up the pack that had been left beside him, seeking a place where he could freshen up for the day and hopefully find some breakfast.  The heavy drape that lay across the door opening pushed aside easily and he found himself in a pleasant sort of rug-scattered sitting room. There was a mirror, a basin and, to his delight, a small hand-pump that easily brought him a bit of cold washing-water. He laved his face and hands and ran a comb through his lightly greying curls.  They did seem to be a bit greyer every year now, ever since he'd left the Shire.  Who would've thought traveling would be so aging?

In the mirror he glimpsed a servant peering in at the other door. He smiled a greeting.   "Hullo! Good morning. Is there any breakfast to be had?"

"Yes, master Hobbit," nodded the servant, who was obviously trying to hide his curiosity about this odd guest. "I was sent to see if you might be awake. This way, if you please."

---

They breakfasted in the same hall as the night before, the Company slowly trickling in.  None of them were too talkative but it could hardly be expected after the late night and their dampening news.   Bombur was already there, installed at the end of the table near the fire with two empty plates beside him; with his fork and knife he was starting in on a third. Glóin nodded at the hobbit in greeting and pulled Bilbo's own chair with the extra cushion out from the table for him. 

There were many things to consider, but to Bilbo (and apparently the Dwarves as well) breakfast came first.  Bilbo took his place among the others and hoped very much for something warm and filling to help them all face what promised to be a difficult day.  He visualized golden hot cakes and rich butter, plenty of it, when the servants came in with the platters of food. 

He had visualized them so strongly that when a silver plate of kippered fish was set before him instead, eyes and all, he had to take a moment to adjust to the sight.  A small tub of something brown that smelled strongly of malt and treacle sat beside it. He wasn't even sure what it was, and if he was supposed to put it on the fish or spoon it up or what. He opted to leave it be, hoping better things would come, and picked at the fish. It had pickles with it. He tried to not make any impolite faces at Dwarven tastes as he poked it with his fork.  At least there was tea, even if it was oddly dark and bitter.

The morning improved greatly to his sight as a tall stack of hot, flat potato-cakes made their appearance next, along with a chunky applesauce to dip them in. Ah, much better. The applesauce was thick with cloves and cinnamon, southern spices that he knew the dwarves loved in quantity.  He dipped a cake and licked a sweet drip of applesauce off of his finger.  Perhaps they did know how to cook after all.

It was only after most of the dishes had been cleared away and the servants were gone that they began to speak of Thorin, of the missing stone and how they should try to recover it, if possible.  The servants had offered moist cloths for their hands and beards before withdrawing from the room and Bilbo was so occupied with scrubbing his face he missed some of the opening comments.

He came up from the cloth rather tousled and damp to find Dori giving him a mildly amused look.  "I don't think I've ever seen someone bathe with napkins," he commented.

"Napkins?" said Bilbo. "They smell wonderful, don't they?"

"Scented oil is added. Gives gloss to the beard, you know."

Bilbo set down his towel... napkin... and gave an embarrassed smile. "I see. Well, it shall just have to gloss me all over, I suppose," he said. "What's our plan, then, and what happens first, do we know yet?"

"Not yet," said Dori unhappily, turning his attention to the others.

Dwalin and Glóin had their heads close together, murmuring. The company were all looking very serious as Bifur related to Bombur their unhappy discovery of the previous night.  Bombur's rounded countenance was alternating red and white as he listened, angered and upset. 

They were of mixed mind as to what was to be done and much talk was generated that accomplished little but repetition and indignant noise. Bilbo listened for a while, as they spoke yet again of whether or not to tell Dáin, and how could it ever have happened, he finally decided to speak up.

"Excuse me," he said. They continued, so he repeated himself a little louder. "Excuse me!"

Seven beards swung as heads turned to consider him.

"Everyone be quiet now, our Mr. Baggins has something to say," said Dwalin, stating the obvious.

Bilbo nodded thanks to him. "Who would know the way to open the tomb?" he inquired.

Their eyebrows raised at this common-sense query.  "Why, the topmost officials... Dáin of course, and perhaps two or three others," said Dwalin. "And though I know it is a fear we all carry, we may not cast any shadow of suspicion upon our King as long as there is any other option, of course."

"Of course..." murmured the others, glancing around the room for anyone listening.

"There's ourselves," added Dori.

"But it wasn't one of us," said Bofur. "None of us would ever consider such a thing."

There was a rumble of assent. "There would also be the ones who worked on the tomb, the sculptors and artisans," said Nori thoughtfully. "Though there were not a large number of them."

"I can't imagine any of them daring..." began Bombur.

"Are any of them still living, that worked on it?" interjected Bilbo. "The crafters and such, I mean?"

"Some of our own number worked on it," offered Dwalin. "Myself, and Nori here. And Balin..." he paused and looked slightly pained.

"But Balin has gone away for now," said Bilbo, trying to keep the subject going. "And this was recent enough that the dust was still disturbed. Nori, can you tell us how many of the crafters are still here at the Mountain?"

Nori furrowed his brow with thought and tugged his beard lightly. "I'm trying to remember... there's Linór...."

"Yes, he was there, though I don't recall seeing him for some time," agreed Dwalin, coming back out of his own thoughts. "And Malin helped also. He worked on the alcoves, remember?" He turned to Bilbo. "Malin is a kinsman of mine and Balin's, and therefore of Thorin also. Quiet, but skilled...."

"Surely not Malin..." began Dori, hushed by a hand motion from Glóin. 

"I fear we mustn't think it impossible of any," Glóin said. "It's beauty could turn even the wisest head." He gestured for them to continue.

" Mizûl," said Nori. "He was there. He did the metalwork, finest work I've seen in many a day."

" Mizûl?" said Glóin with surprise. "He instructs at the northern forge. My son Gimli has been taking lessons there. I'm sure we could speak with him easily enough."

" Mizûl, Malin, Linór..." counted Nori on his fingers, mumbling. He snapped them. "Ûrd!" he said, "He was there too.  I remember his work on the lamps, and the doorway also."

" Ûrd?" said Dori, wrinkling his face with distaste. "Never did like that fellow, though he was very skilled. Isn't he serving Dáin now?"

"Yes, he's the Chief Jeweler for the King," nodded Glóin. "Been so for several years if I recall. He helped craft the shield for Thorin's tomb as well. I can't imagine him ever taking anything like this, but..."

"But if he is a jeweler," put in Bilbo. "Wouldn't that mean he might be tempted by such a jewel?  I don't know him, of course..."

"Just as well," said Dori.

" Mizûl, Malin, Linór, Ûrd," Nori ticked off on his hands and squinted with the effort of remembering. He shook his head.

"Is that all, then?" asked Bilbo. "There weren't any others who would have been able to open it?"

"I don't think so," said Dwalin, "and I believe our Burglar is on the right track."

"Former Burglar," corrected Bilbo. "I'm not stealing anything, I assure you!"

"Former Burglar then," smiled Dwalin. "This gives us the direction we need. We have four dwarves that we need to talk to, or at least to look around their quarters if at all possible. I will speak with Malin myself.  He is my kin and will not find anything unusual in my visiting him."

"I shall seek out Linór," said Nori. "We used to meet on occasion, though it's been many a season since we tooled leather together. I think my inquiring should not go ill."

"Dori, will you speak to Ûrd?" asked Dwalin.

"Why me?" grumbled Dori. "Just because he's my neighbor doesn't mean I enjoy speaking with him."

"Because he's your neighbor," said Nori. "Go borrow some lamp-oil from him or something."

"I will seek out Mizûl," interrupted Glóin. "And I can take our hobbit with me.  I would think touring a guest to the forge where my son is working to show off his apprentice efforts would not be seen as unusual."

"A forge?" said Bilbo. "Well, that's something I haven't seen. Not a working one, I mean. It will help me feel that I'm being of some use as well."

"You are of much use, Mr. Baggins," said Dwalin with a slight bow. "Never think you are not. You've aided us greatly already in helping us start our search."

"Now if we may only find our missing stone!" said Nori fervently. "Or Thorin's stone, rather."  The others agreed.


Thus it was that by late in the morning, less than a day after his arrival, Bilbo found himself on his way deep into the mountain to see the mystery of Dwarven forges. He followed along with Glóin whose diamond belt glittered even in the slightest glow of the lamps.  Behind them, the bright hall with its table awaited their return presided over by Bombur, who had claimed the right to assure a strengthening meal for them upon their return.