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Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

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“Well, now, what have we here?” the large man rumbled as he cut off Bilbo, who was lingering behind, from following the rest of the company through the Prancing Pony to their rooms.

The Halfling gulped and stumbled backward. He had thought the room empty expect for him and the others as they went along, yawning loudly and fighting to keep their eyes open. Apparently he was mistaken.

Turning around, Bilbo’s eyes widened nervously to discover another tall dark man filling the other doorway. He had been among several who had eyed Thorin’s company during dinner.

“Eh. Wel-l-l, ermmm,” the hobbit stuttered, “I’m a hobbit.”

“Little fellow, looks like a pet. Me Nancy would like you,” the first man mused with a smile that did nothing for Bilbo’s rising nerves.

“I beg your pardon?

“Shiny bottoms… Got more where those came from?” the other leered, stepping forward and leaning down for a better look, one hand reaching towards the frozen, wide-eyed hobbit.

Panicked, Bilbo gripped his walking stick tightly in both hands and thrust it upward, jabbing the kneeling man in the eye. Roaring, the man toppled backward, pressing his hands over his face. Swirling around, the hobbit startled both himself and the other man, in the act of rushing angrily to grab him, when his stick connected squarely with the man’s nose with a wincingly loud crack. With a groan, the man collapsed to the ground.

Panting, the Halfling stumbled around the man and backed towards the door, his gaze darting between the two still sprawled on the floor withering in pain. A yelp escaped him at the sudden sound of thundering footsteps behind him.

“Master Baggins! Are ye alright, laddie?”

Bofur’s arm was a firm, welcoming pressure across his chest, drawing Bilbo back into the dwarf’s solid front. The concern in the miner’s voice helped uncoil the lingering tension in the pit of his stomach and the hobbit sagged against him, the adrenalin draining away. The smile he offered Bofur (and Nori and Gloin, too, peering at him over their friend’s shoulders) was shaky.

“I-I think I am now,” he replied.

Gloin and Nori moved past them to examine the large men.

“Were they bothering you?” Gloin asked.

“Yes.”

“What happened to them?” Nori looked at Bilbo curiously.

Looking sheepish, the Halfling silently held up his walking stick. He watched the dwarves’ eyebrows rise, looking back and forth between him and the men.

“Impressive,” Gloin murmured with a nod.

“We’ll take care of them,” Nori reassured with a wink and a smile that was almost too gleeful for the hobbit’s tastes.

But Bilbo willingly left them to it, grateful for the supporting arm Bofur wrapped around his shoulders as they walked down the hall.

“Wait til the others hear about this! Ori will want to put yer adventure down in the chronicles. Ye are full of surprises, Master Baggins!”

~~~

It was the company’s second night in Lake-Town. Their burglar was laid up with a very bad cold, and Kili was just leaving Bilbo’s room. His visit had been short; yet he was glad to have cheered the hobbit up a little, sharing with him Gloin’s silver locket (pinched by Nori) which contained portraits of his cousin’s great-great-great-great-great-great uncle and aunt. “Ugly, even by dwarvish standards,” Kili had admitted with a nod when Bilbo failed to hide his giggles. The poor hobbit now was already out like a light, as a last glance revealed before the dwarf quietly shut the door behind him.

Perhaps Fili would be up for some exploring, Kili mused as he walked down the hall, not yet ready to retire for the night. Absently, Gloin’s locket in his right hand, he swung the ridiculously long chain in large circles.

Rounding the corner, Kili did a shocked double take: flattened against the wall near the end of the corridor was Ori. A huge rugged man hovered over the dwarf, one hand clamped over his mouth, silencing his cries, the other hand fumbled with the ties of his shirt.

Kili saw red as he bellowed loudly and sprinted towards the two. Violently he swung his arm, and the locket chain whipped across the man’s face, having just turned towards him in surprise. Growling more in anger than pain, the man let go of Ori’s shirt and pressed his hand to his cheek.

Kili cursed leaving his sword along with his bow and arrows in his room as he launched himself at the man. Despite being smaller, his force caused his opponent to completely release Ori and stumble. Then it was a scuffle, mass of limbs and flaring arms. Amidst the blurriness, a flash of silver raced across Kili’s vision: a knife. Blindly, he managed to dodge it twice.

Unexpectedly there was a new commotion, yelling, a thud, and everything stopped. Things grew clear, and Kili realized his opponent had become limp. Struggling to untangle himself from the body, he was hoisted up to his feet by strong hands and looked up into his brother’s concerned face. Before he could form a question, they and Ori were swarmed by the rest of their fellow dwarves.

It was later, in his and Fili’s room, that he learned it was Thorin who arrived at his and Ori’s rescue, delivering a blow to the back of the scoundrel’s head with the hilt of his sword. At his uncle’s shouting (a mixture of anger and worry), demanding what was he thinking fighting with no weapons, Kili responded hotly with, “No one messes with our Ori!” This sent the scribe, sandwiched between his brothers on Fili’s bed, into stammering thanks to him and Thorin, blushing deeply, before his brothers swept out with him, muttering their own thanks.

Kili turned his attention to Gloin standing silently by the fireplace, gazing carefully at his locket with an inspecting frown.

“Sorry about your locket,” he said not for the first time, guilt rising in him. The heirloom had gotten caught up in the fight and came through a bit battered, with the portraits ending up completely torn. Uncle’s dark frown made him feel worse about the damage.

“Uh?” his cousin looked at him, his brow clearing. “Oh, don’t be, laddie, don’t be.” He waved a dismissing hand at him.

“This was a birthday present from a frightful aunt. Called it a good luck charm,” he went on with a loud snort. “I have hated it for a century!”
~~~

Oin searched through his pouches of herbs, mostly by feel (no thanks to this confounding dark forest with its huge spider webs, he thought, mumbling a curse into his beard). He did not like the state Bombur was in following his plunge into the lake and consequent magical sleep, and the poison lingering in his body from the giant spiders. There was something he could give the fat cook – if he could just find it!

Only the sudden sensation of the hair rising on the back of his neck caused the dwarf to pause poking in one pouch and look up. In the dim light Oin could make out the elf with his drawn bow and arrow trained on him. The dwarf narrowed his gaze as the elf’s mouth moved.

It was too much. His hearing horn destroyed back in the goblin town…the spiders…the darkness…the disappearance of Thorin…and now more blasted elves!

Biting back a frustrated scream and, without thinking, Oin clenched his fist around some of the herbs in the pouch and tossed them at the elf. He tilted his head curiously when the elf sneezed violently, yawned widely, and then dropped to the forest floor in a deep sleep.

By Durin’s beard, the tall tales of the elves in Rivendell about the herbs are true!

Oin’s amusement was short-lived sadly, what with three more arrows being turned on him.

~~~

The ambush happened suddenly and without warning. Everyone had been lazing around, half dozing off, exhausted after finally reaching the bottom of the Carrock.
Dori had been knitting away (it helped him calm down after frightening or stressful situations, though he would never admit that to a soul) while simultaneously keeping half an eye on Ori seated a little ways off from the company with their burglar and Fili, all three nodding off over one of his brother’s seemingly numerous scrolls. Dori had dropped a stitch and was in the progress of putting things to right when there was a loud crash and multiple shrieks.

He looked up in time to see the three lads jerk up, an odd mixture of sleepiness and fear on their faces at the goblin bearing rapidly upon them. Groggily, confusedly, too slowly, their hands fruitlessly sought to grab their weapons which (in hindsight) were foolishly out of reach.

Dori was unaware he had already started moving long ago, his wide eyes focused on his baby brother. With a will of their own, his fingers swiftly freed a long knitting needle and, barely pausing long enough to level it, hurled the needle through the air with all his might.

Not enough, not enough! The panicked thought whirled in his head as he tracked the object’s flight.

However the needle did not fail, bringing the goblin up short with a squeal of pain mere inches from Ori, Fili, and Bilbo. Hand groping for the offending object in its backside, the creature half twisted around angrily. That moment was all that was needed for Nori to place himself between the lads and the goblin, which he quickly finished off.

Later, after it was all over, Dori was grateful Ori did not object to being seated between himself and Nori for the rest of the evening. The silver-haired dwarf observed Thorin silently plaiting Fili’s braids again while Kili pressed into his brother’s side (often turning still half frightened eyes on him as though to reassure himself his sibling was indeed well). Fili leaned against his uncle, a small smile curving his lips, his eyes shut. To Dori’s surprise, Balin and Bifur were fussing like mother hens over their burglar.

The most positive thing to come out of the adventure was Dori never heard Dwalin grumble about his “worthless” knitting needles ever again.

~~~

At Thorin’s glance, heavy with warning, the members of the company bit their tongues, though keeping still without fidgeting was an impossible task. They all watched closely as the small bandit gang rummaged through their packs. Thank goodness their clothes were the worse for wear; hopefully the thieves would not think to search closer their persons.

A quiet, sharp gasp from Oin drew Bombur’s attention. He followed the dwarf’s wide-eyed stare to where the contents of his pack were scattered about, and a bandit pocketing his pouches of herbs. The two dwarves’ eyes met. Those herbs were needed for Thorin’s injures, and the Halfling who was unconscious and feverish in Gloin’s arms. It was all they had…

With a speed that caught the bandits off guard, Bombur ran over to the thief, threw his braided beard over the man’s head, capturing him in a tight chock hold with it.
“Return everything, now,” Dwalin demanded in a furious voice, materializing at the cook’s side. “Or…”

The man struggled and coughed as Bombur’s beard tightened a little.

Bug-eyed and frightened, the bandits scrambled to do as they were told, stunned by this turn of events. Once the herbs had unceremoniously been dropped on the ground, Bombur let the fellow go. He dashed wildly after his companions.

“And if you ever come back, we will not be as gracious next time!” Kili threatened after them.

“Did not know you had that up your sleeve, brother,” Bofur murmured, eyes twinkling with pride.

Bombur only blushed under the admiring comments and looks from the others. And he did not blame the Halfling at all when, the tale eventually being shared with him, he doubted it and took three months to be convinced of its truthfulness.

~~~

Twelve dwarves hurried quickly and as quietly as possible after Bilbo who led the way through the dizzying labyrinth of the elven king’s dungeons. Just Thorin remained to be set free from his cell, and then they would leave this dark, depressing place far behind. The air crackled with tension, and more than once each of the group glanced uneasily over his shoulder, listening carefully for any hint of being followed, anticipating the alarm being raised.

So it was a shock when the group rounded a corner and drew up sharply, all but running into the young guard coming the other way. The guard stumbled back a step or two, eyes widening in astonishment. Bilbo and the dwarves stared, open-mouthed. For about ten seconds everyone remained frozen. Then the soldier shook himself, an angry expression settling on his face, and leveled his spear at Bilbo’s chest threateningly. The hobbit’s loud nervous gulp drifted clearly to his companions’ ears. Frantic hand motions and tapping on arms took place unbeknownst to Bilbo and the guard, their focus only on one another.

Thus the element of surprise was on Bifur’s side. He jerked his scarf from his neck, scooped up a rock at his feet and set it in the middle of the scarf. In a fluid movement Bifur whipped his scarf above his head in a swift circular motion, and then let it go. The dwarf grunted with satisfaction when the scarf with the rock made contact with the side of the guard’s head and he crumbled to the ground in a heap.

Low sniggers escaped the dwarves when Bilbo’s face turned to total bafflement as he poked at the still elf with a toe and lifted up the grey scarf. The Halfling’s confusion changed to awe when Bifur took the scarf from his hands and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Thank you!” Bilbo whispered.

Bifur grunted and smiled. With a nod, he encouraged the hobbit to lead the way, and fell into step behind him.

~~~

Thorin looked like he was going to pop a vein. Or he would gladly and easily snap that old oak tree in half with his bare hands. His frustration, fury, and worry were increasing tenfold by the second. Catching Nori’s gaze, he turned sharply and walked a few paces away, releasing an explosive breath, clutching his hands behind his back in a death grip.

It was the third day they were in pursuit of Azog’s orcs who had made off with Kili, their burglar, and their wizard. (Just how a wizard could be captured they had not been able to work out. Nor were they very hopeful Gandalf had freed them all and were at this instant trying to catch up with the rest of the company since he was minus his staff (which currently was in Balin and Dwalin’s safekeeping).) Time was not on their side. Durin’s Day was fast approaching. It had been a long, intense discussion before Thorin decided they would go after their companions. Picking up the trail had not been difficult, but now they had hit something of a wall…

Nori turned his attention back to the small creature Bombur was sitting on. It reminded the dwarf a bit of an orc, except its skin was scaly, protecting it from punches and the like. The creature had been among the kidnapping party.

“I am going to ask one last time,” Nori stated softly, plopping down on the ground beside the two. “Where is the pack going?”

Again the creature burst out laughing, merely grunting as Bombur pressed his weight down more firmly on him.

Resting his chin in his hand, the portrait of boredom, Nori’s gaze wandered slowly up and down the creature’s legs.

“What would be the fun in telling you that? Would defeat the purpose,” the creature said in a raspy tone between cackles. “The others may look down on me, but I never spill secrets.”

Nori’s fingers twitched and his eyes narrowed.

“Never tell- Bwhaha!” the creature cut off, violently kicking his feet out of reach.

But Nori stayed right with him, vigorously tickling the bottom of the creature’s toes with the feather tip of Ori’s quill he had pinched. He knew a thing or two about tickling.

About five minutes passed with Nori’s tickling growing more intense, and the creature laughing and trying to get away.

“OW!” the creature yelled when the sharp point of the quill dug into one toe. “Stop! I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you!” his voice rose in panic.

“That’s better,” Nori commented with a grim smile. “Where are they going?”

Shortly they were all setting off again at a hard pace, with the creature tied up and bouncing over Dwalin’s shoulder.

“If you have lied or try to double cross us…,” Nori trailed off, grandly brandishing the quill in front of their prisoner’s nose.

The answering terrified squeak was quite satisfying.

~~~

The huge boot shot out quickly, tangling in the massive grey robes and legs, and the wizard went flying forward, landing hard on the floor, his staff falling away with a clatter. The room exploded with brutish laughter.

“That will teach you to show respect and courtesy to your betters, old windbag!” the trip upper jeered meanly.

Looking across the room, Ori glimpsed several of the company struggling to get up from their table and through the crowd. A glance at Gandalf revealed him still down, and a few of the men were stepping toward him. …There was no time to wait.

Ori clambered up onto a table as fast as he could and strode to the man who had tripped Gandalf, fumbling frantically in his pocket.

“Excuse me,” he said in his politest voice, tapping the man on the shoulder. “I hate to interrupt…”

The man spun to face him, startled, and stared straight into the dwarf’s eyes.

Ori flung the contents of his inkwell into the man’s eyes, who cried out, effectively blinding him.

“…But that was very bad manners, tripping him like that,” he finished, shaking his head in disapproval.

Then Dwalin and Thorin were there, and soundly took the man down with just their fists. Quite a thing to behold it was.

All mayhem nearly broke out in the pub. The patrons were divided between making the dwarves pay via a full out brawl and being hesitate to cross the strangers. Gandalf managed to regain his feet, dignity, and staff, and turned the troublemaker who started it all and his friends into toads. Everyone had scattered and cleared out quickly after that trick.

It had been an irritated company, though, which retired to bed, as the wizard had mumbled unintelligibly into his beard the rest of the night, not dropping a word of thanks to any of the dwarves who had come to his aid. While his brothers had complained about the manners of wizards, Ori silently mourned that all his ink for his writing was gone.

Next morning as they headed out, however, the young scribe’s face was awed and embarrassed when Gandalf silently placed his tall grey hat on his head, and did not ask for its return until after midday. Ori simply smiled up at the wizard with understanding and thanks. And again in the evening, when he discovered a new inkwell filled to the brim in his pack.

THE END