Stone of Erebor

by Primula

Chapter 8: Jeweler's Passage


Bifur, Bofur and Bilbo stood in the dimly lit hall outside the Royal Jeweler's workroom, which had turned out to also be his living quarters; this was a complication that Bilbo had not anticipated.  The Jeweler himself, Ûrd, bristled before them all but poking Bifur's bearded chest with an indignant finger.

"No!"

"But if you would only..." began Bifur.

The finger poked forward again and Bifur backed up a step to keep his beard from being touched. Ûrd leaned forward, following his finger, glowering. "No!  For the last time, no! I won't hear of it. No...no... whatever-he-is..."

"Hobbit," supplied Bilbo.

He was awarded with a hostile glare. "No holebit is going to be gawking at my work.  I've heard of him, he's a known thief...."

"Burglar," put in Bilbo. "Ex-burglar. Treasure-hunter."  Bofur nudged him.

Ûrd turned the poking finger in his direction. "Treasures! You just want to see the jewels, to see where the King's treasures are kept so you can steal them!"

"Now just a minute..." protested Bilbo (not for the first time) before being cut off by Bifur.

"Nothing of the sort!" Bifur said firmly. "He and his family have great honor and he already has great wealth of his own.  He wouldn't take a fragment of anything. Not even if it were the most valuable gem in the world.  Now stop behaving as a fool. You are blocking the King's tour of his kingdom this way."

"I wasn't told of it." stated Ûrd flatly.

"Mr. Baggins is an honored guest," said Bofur. "And his Majesty would approve of his seeing your fine work, among the very best ever produced in the Mountain in this age or even among Dwarves." He gestured towards the hobbit, who nodded slightly in agreement while trying very hard to appear harmless and noble at the same time.

Ignoring the gesture, Ûrd addressed himself straight to the other dwarves and refused to even look at Bilbo again as if offended by his existence.  "Why? So he can steal my designs? So he can take them back to his own jewelsmiths in whatever country it was that he came from? He's very likely a friend with those Elves in the wood or something worse. Where does his kind come from?"

"The Shire," said Bilbo quickly before Bifur could open his mouth to reply. "No Elves dwell within our borders." Not that we didn't wish they did...or at least some of us... he added silently. "It's on the other side of the Misty Mountains.; very far away. I doubt you've even heard of it. It doesn't really matter anywas as I've retired from it and chosen to travel to see my friends here before settling down."

Ûrd's eye was reluctantly drawn back to him. "If you've retired from it, where are you settling then? Not here, Durin forbid!"

"A....er... another place," said Bilbo scrambling around to think of what he could say without lying. He highly doubted a mention of Rivendell would be helpful in this situation.

"That is his own business," said Bifur, trying to redirect the topic. He and the Company knew where Bilbo was retiring to and while he didn't exactly approve of it, he understood the need to keep it under wraps.

"And my business is my own as well," said Ûrd. "Get this...this....beardless.... this..."

"Hobbit," said Bilbo.

"Holebit away from my door! No one is touring any of my designs or my gems. And certainly no one from outside our own people. You, Bofur, you and your companions are in high standing with the King, that I know.  But this goes too far.  If you want to see my work or to show it to anyone you've but to look upon our King who wears only my designs."

"We've seen some of them, and they are most resplendent." said Bilbo very sincerely, to soften all this blustering. "Truly, only a King is worthy of wearing your designs. All others may only look upon them with amazement at their perfection."

 All three dwarves looked at him. "You say he sent you?" said Ûrd, looking at Bifur.

Bifur nodded. "Mister Baggins was accepted in a private audience with the King himself," he said.

"You didn't answer my question," Ûrd pointed out. "Though your answer was clever."

"Look," said Bilbo, taking another tack and turning from the jeweler to speak directly to his companions. "In truth, though I did want to admire it at first and give my critique, but I no longer have any desire to see this fellow's work, not anymore. After all, true art is only as fine as the reflection of its artist and his discourtesy sours my hopes of seeing anything like what I was brought to expect by the King.  Now that I think about it, we only came because it was pressed upon me to give my opinion of the newer designs. Let him go back to his work.  I'm sure I will find plenty of other things to see that will be easily as impressive or moreso."  He turned and began walking away, Bifur and Bofur looking at each other and hesitantly following.

Ûrd stood in his doorway and spluttered into his beard with indignation. "Why... it's ....my work is beyond your imaginings, Holebit. Beyond anything your people could ever consider!" His pale cheeks flushed to a splotchy red. "How dare you say you were pressed into having to see it and then turn your back on me! I am the King's own Jeweler!"

Bilbo turned back, chin up. "Prove it. Show me that you have anything worth seeing. I am known to many Kings. I have traveled far over many lands and seen much. It must be exceptional to impress me."

Ûrd opened and shut his mouth then frowned. There was a pause. His eyes narrowed. "You are a crafty one.  I'd been told you were the one who flattered the Dragon, used it's own riddle-talk against it. You think to flatter me and win your way in."

Bilbo rolled his eyes and shrugged. "Flattery? Nay. Quite the opposite. Bifur, Bofur - did either of you hear me flatter him just now?"

"Well, no," admitted Bifur. Bofur shook his head. "If anything, you were, er..."

Bilbo turned from them and looked Ûrd right in the eye. "Then tell me how you think I'm winning my way in?  I am insulted that you would think I, a Hobbit of the Shire, would stoop to flattering a Dwarf.  And I from Under the Hill! You think only the Dwarves understand the value of lineage and honor? My family line would be dishonored and our great wealth shamed if I were to waste the skill of Shire flattery upon one such as you!"

Ûrd seemed slightly taken aback. He had not been expecting his crowing to be challenged by another rooster this way. He considered the facets of this argument about which he knew very little. "Your family line... it has many jewels?"

"We have jewelry precious beyond anything you can make or imagine," said Bilbo, pushing with the boasting tendencies of the Dwarves as best he could. It felt awkward, but he bluffed for all he was worth. "And fine, pure metals also. We have no need or desire of more than we already possess. All of my line already hold their inheritance, even while I yet live! And I have no lack.  I was pressed into seeing your work merely to report how it compares to others I've seen." He tried to finish this with a haughty look, something difficult when your adversary is taller than yourself; his chin felt stretched.

Ûrd looked indecisive and slightly confused. "You've already given your jewels to your heirs? Foolishness! Your tomb will be dark with no gems upon it unless you guard them. No one would do this."

"I have, and yet I stand before you with greater treasure than you can ever hope to grasp. I am the Mathom-Wielder, the Poet Scribe of the Hill!  I have spoken to the Gaffer himself many times, and have driven the Motley Treasure-Seekers from my land singlehanded! Those of great strength have stood in my presence silent, as if turned to stone. Across many leagues my name is known - your mere title of 'Royal Jeweler' (while certainly quaint and honorable) cannot stand to mine. You would do well to not turn my opinions away lest others think your work was below my notice. I may uphold you for praise in the far courts...or otherwise. If I speak well of you, perhaps they will listen and your line will gain honor."

The Dwarf glowered but hesitated, warring with his pride of potentially having his work known to the undefined Mighty and his lineage praised - and his confusion over the titles that Bilbo spouted.

"But who are these in other lands you speak of? Not Dwarves, surely... " His brow furrowed once more and he grimaced at his thoughts. "I recall, you were said to have parlayed not only with Men but with Elves. My work shall stand alone. I will not have it compared to any holebits work, nor any Elves trinkets! And I have gems beyond any you have seen."

"Hobbits," emphasized Bilbo. "And seeing as you don't want to hear it, I shan't tell you what I think of it. I'll only speak to those who want my opinions on what I see,  those who do not insult the honor of my house. My honesty and integrity are insulted by your distrust, but I am honorable enough to overlook it this one time.  Great would be the honor when your name is spoken of in the far lands! I may yet speak favorably of you if the work passes muster." He tried to look as puffed up and stern as he could without the benefit of a beard.

"If you would but let us in, just for a moment...." offered Bifur.

Bifur meant well, but his quiet pleading was ill-timed. The distraction of pride to win their way in, all of the careful tension Bilbo had been trying to build was abruptly slackened, like a sail turned and left limp in the wind.

Ûrd looked at Bifur as if he had only just now been reminded the others were there. He looked at Bilbo again, then turned from him and faced his fellow Dwarves squarely. "Bring the King himself and enter. I will not allow it otherwise."

He stepped back and began to swing the oaken door shut.

"Wait...!" appealed Bofur.

"No," said Bilbo, being sure he was loud enough to be heard. "Let him go. I've no use for his work or his paltry gems.  Take me to the treasuries now, as the King commanded."  He turned on his heel and marched off, chin held high. He hoped he was going the right direction.

Bofur and Bifur just looked at him then followed their smaller, surprising companion.

Once they were around a bend in the hall, Bilbo stopped and turned to his friends. He raised his brows at their questioning looks.

"Well. Asking, demanding, bluffing and boasting didn't work. Does this place of his have a back door?"

"You were marvelous," said Bifur. "I had no idea you had that in you. What's a Gaffer?"

"My gardener. And didn't you?" said Bilbo. "I seem to remember being asked to walk down a certain tunnel... by myself I must add..."

"A good point," laughed Bifur softly. "You surprised us then too."

"There's always a back way," said Bofur in answer to his first question. "But it would be hidden of course."

"So how do I find it?" asked Bilbo. "Is there something I should look for?"

"They're concealed...You think we could get in that way?"

"Not all of us. Too noticeable. Leave it to me and I'll do what I can. What do I look for?"

"What if you get caught?"

"I'll tell them I was lost and behave as if I know absolutely nothing about anything. I shall be an absolute fool if I have to.  Most Dwarves easily believe that of me, it seems."

"You're no fool," said Bifur. "So let's give it a try. But if it's not working, promise you'll come back to us straightaway. We'll wait in the dining hall. You know where that is from here?"

"Yes, just that way." he pointed. "Now the two of you need to be decoys. You go back towards Ûrd's, but talk as if you are addressing me. Walk close together. He should have his door shut but his ear may be on the sill. And you still haven't told me what to look for."

They hesitated. He knew that distrustful dwarven look.

"Bifur, Bofur - look, it's me, Bilbo. Not some stranger. I'm trying to help you recover a treasure for Thorin, remember? Help me out here. I won't tell anyone else. Trust me."

They blinked and looked uncomfortable. Bifur started reluctantly "A... well, they're different.... they're...."

"A crack, a stone that projects out just a little... an irregularity..." added his brother.

"You may have to tap it..." Each detail was dragged out as if from under a great weight.

Bilbo sighed at their reluctance. "It'll do. I'll try. Now go!"

"Right,"  said Bifur. "Be careful, Mr. Baggins..."

"We'll be right in the dining hall. We'll wait for you." said Bofur. And they went.

Left alone in the quiet hall,  Bilbo squared his shoulders and desperately wished he had his old ring, if only for a short time. In volunteering for this idea, he had to admit he'd almost forgotten that he didn't.  Well, lacking anything magical he would have to use good old-fashioned hobbit quietness and his small size then.  He turned the bend again to where he calculated the back of Ûrd's rooms should be and began looking for a door.

He worked his way along but found nothing. There was an alcove with a tall decorative urn, so he slipped behind it and examined the urn. He felt all along the walls as high as he could stretch, trying to push and poke at everything he could.  He even checked the floor. Nothing happened.  A young dwarf went by intent on an errand and he pressed himself back into the slight shadow of the alcove, holding his breath.  As the footsteps faded away, he slipped back out and then into the next hallway that turned in the right direction where he continued with his surreptitious pressing and tapping.

He had worked a couple wagon lengths of it without success and was becoming discouraged when he heard footsteps again as well as a murmur of voices. It sounded like more than one and coming his way.  He looked frantically around for any kind of cover and darted across to a nearby doorway.  It gave into another hall, narrower.  He trotted down it until he was able to duck around a bend.  There he stopped and waited for the party of dwarves to pass in the main hall.

Except they didn't pass. They came up to the narrow doorway and after a slight pause, entered it. What was worse, he recognized one of the voices.

It was Dáin Ironfoot, King Under the Mountain, and he was coming straight towards him.

Bilbo ran, his own silent padding covered by the sound of the dwarves rustling, clomping and murmuring to one another. The hall went for another length with no other place to go. He came to another door but pushed and pulled it in vain. It would not open. On he went again, around another bend, nearly falling as he suddenly found himself on some steps, his heart beating in his ears. Dáin was still approaching right behind him.

Frantically descending the steps, he staggered as they came back onto a level surface. He looked left and right, grateful there were no witnesses to his sudden appearance.  More doors, more halls. Which way?  He turned left, trying two more locked doors. The King was in the stairwell.  He plunged down yet another hall.  This one angled and went down again. He came to a split in the path and veered right, running just far enough down this new one to feel he could stop and listen again.

Still Dáin was coming. It just wasn't fair!  Why hadn't he gone the other way? He couldn't risk it. Bilbo dashed further into the bowels of the Mountain, forced into yet another turn and one more long set of downward steps.  He came out into a wide hallway with lamps and gulped as he saw a guard waiting not a stone's throw from him.  He was thankful that the dwarf was turned away from him, fiddling with the lamp beside him to brighten it, thus missing Bilbo's brief appearance around the corner. Bilbo sidled over then dashed across to another, smaller way where the lamps were not shining.

He went down it a length then stopped again, gasping for breath.

Dáin came down the last set of steps and turned toward where the guard had been. He had at least two or three others with him, including one Bilbo thought was the young dwarf he had seen go by before. Bilbo held very still. With some growing astonishment and consternation as he realized the conversations he could now overhear indicated Dáin was visiting one of his treasuries.

A treasury!  Oh, confusticate and be bother! he thought. Now I've done it. If they find me now, I'll look like a thief for certain. They'll never believe I'm lost here.  I've got to get away from it... can't cross over again, not with them standing in the hall...

Anxiously he slipped down the darkened little hallway with hobbit-quietness, glad that the voices were fading behind him. If he couldn't hear them then it stood to reason they couldn't hear him either.

His path went down slightly then sloped back upward, finally turning into a flight of steps curving up.  Heartened that it wasn't going further down he climbed them quickly, panting hard with the exertion.  What a rabbit warren this Mountain was.  He was doubly concerned at this point because he realized he had completely lost track of which direction he was going and only had a vague sense of how far up or down he might be from the main level he was familiar with.  How could he find his way back to the dining hall where his friends waited without being noticed and caught, seeing as retracing his path was out of the question?

He finally emerged on another main level, hesitantly slipping out after peeking around the corners.  It was one of the wide, smooth halls with lamps and doors and the scent of food and candles. Dwarf-smials, he thought. Maybe I can find a sympathetic youngster someplace to ask for directions. Then again, that might get me in even more trouble. I can try to find my own way if I can just explore a little more...

Grateful that it wasn't yet supper-time and whatever Dwarves dwelling there seemed to still be out doing whatever they did, he took a deep breath and began quickly walking along the hall, his heart still beating in his ears.  It came to a tee, a decorative carving of two crossed axes on the wall.  He went left.  After a short distance this opened into a small sort of lobby that branched off in three more directions, each one only indicated by a different color of capstone on the arch over each doorway.  He stood and looked at them, bewildered.

"Admit it, Bilbo Baggins," he muttered. "You're lost. You're completely and utterly lost."