Thorin edged towards a scaly side of the tail, and considered poking it with the sword. On the other hand, there was a chance that the dragon’s epidermis, with its smaller and gentler? - scales, was more sensitive than that of Smaug, which they had unsuccessfully tried to penetrate with Dwarven axes and spears a hundred and seventy years ago.
“Um… my lady?” Thorin tried calling to the beast again. Another long shuddered sigh came from the coils. “Would it be possible to… perhaps, discuss the question of a potential transfer of your real estate property?” Thorin thought that was a good line of negotiations. Trade was good - Thorin knew trade.
The horned head moved, and one eye peeped from behind yet another… curve? - of the serpent’s body.
“Do you mean, you want me to sell the Mountain to you?” The tone was uncertain. Finally, Thorin thought, some cogs were moving in that incrustated belfry.
“I don’t have much to offer, my lady,” Thorin mournfully looked under his feet, remembering that, firstly, the worm was apparently prone to outburst of sobby pity; and secondly, Thorin knew trade. Never offer to part with a bag of silver, when a handful could suffice - any Dwarf knew that. “My people have led a poor life, full of toil and humiliation, since we left the mountain…”
“I’m not moving out of this mountain,” the dragon interrupted him firmly, and… did it just pout? “I’m sorry about your people… You’re really cute ones. Well, at least you are… But I’m not moving out. Especially not in November, no, no...” It sat up and shook it head. “It’s cold, and the Winter is coming.”
“But it’s our mountain!” Thorin snapped, and the dragon narrowed its - catlike? - eyes at him.
“No, it’s not. I bought it from Smaug.” It crossed its front paws on its chest. “And now I understand why he sold it for just two herds of sheep to me. He mentioned that it might get a pest problem; but I thought he meant goblins. And those are no aggro, really. You just puff a bit of smoke and fire in a couple of passages, and they usually make themselves scarce the same night. But now I get it!” One claw pointed at Thorin. “This is what it was all about. He knew you’d be back. So, no, no, sorry, but no.”
Thorin clenched his jaw. Let’s be clear here, when coming to the Lonely Mountain, he had kept in mind that he might have to fight a fire-breathing dragon. The problem was that now it would be sort of… uncivilised? The worm was polite; didn’t try to attack him or his people; and besides, in a way, it was… sort of… a lady.
“Could you perhaps… cohabitate here?” the Halfling squeaked from his corner, and Thorin threw him a glare, taken aback. The proud Khazad of Erebor, and a worm? Never!
“No, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” the dragon started muttering, wriggling its fingers. “I’m not taking tenants; and after all, they might wake up the baby.”
“Baby?!” Thorin and Bilbo hollered in unison, and the dragon nodded.
“Yes, baby. Her name is Mirabella. Just an egg for now, but there is a tiny crack already. Another couple of dozens of moons, and she’ll be here.” The dragon’s muzzle stretched in a dreamy grin.
The Hobbit scattered off his pile of gold and came up to fuming Thorin. And then the damn Halfling pulled at Thorin’s sleeve, dragging him aside, and started whispering feverishly.
“Thorin, you can’t extradite an expecting mother from her home! That’s just inhumane!”
“It’s not an expecting mother!” Thorin hissed back, cutting his eyes to the worm. “It’s a fire-breathing dragon, with another one on the way. To say nothing of the fact that we still don’t know where the daddy is. Which reminds me...”
Thorin tried to twist out of the Halfling’s tight grip.
“Oi, my lady! And where is the father of your child?”
The dragon, previously busy with straightening out the osteoderms on its tail, lifted its eyes at him. And then its cheeks flamed up again, and it blinked spasmodically.
“Well, that is quite an inappropriate question, isn’t it?” the dragon mumbled, and shifted on its round bottom. “And sort of… none of your business, Master Dwarf.” It huffed a small cloud of smoke, and then added in a forced haughty tone, “It’s my egg, just mine. I mean, if a dragon happens to have a one month stand, and then decides to bring up her spawn on her own, who cares who was there to provide the second set of DNA?”
Thorin understood little out of her blabbering, but clearly, the father of the egg was out of the picture. At least, they had to deal with one… and a half? - dragon, and not a whole family.
Thorin of course could just try to purchase - or otherwise procure - the Arkenstone from the dragon, since acquiring the gem and ensuring his right to the throne was one of the main goals of the quest; but a chance of getting Erebor back was just too tempting to pass.
Thorin frowned and sighed. As much as he despised it, indeed, the cohabitation with the snake was apparently the only option he could think of at the moment. He finally extricated his sleeve out of the Hobbit’s fingers, and came up to the dragon.
“My lady, I understand your feelings,” he said in a purposefully respectful, soft voice. “But please, understand mine as well. We came here to reclaim our home. And I have a whole people, without a home, dreaming of returning to Erebor. Families, and children. Perhaps, if we find a way that would ensure the comfort of yourself and your… child, we could share the mountain. The Dwarves of Erebor are willing to pay you out of whatever family heirlooms they had saved in their exile.”
“I don’t need any more gold, Master Dwarf,” the dragon snapped at him, and puffed another cloud of smoke. “But I cannot be sure that once I allow more of you here you won’t all of a sudden pull out torches and pitchforks. I’m not naive!” it announced snootily. “I’ve heard stories. My cousin Scatha? Did nothing wrong! One day, came out to have a snack, and then? An arrow in his knee - and boom! Dead in three years.”
“Scatha the Horrendous had been devastating the Grey Mountains for centuries!” Thorin barked, losing patience.
“Poppycock!” the dragon raised its voice as well. Unlike Thorin’s, its rumble shook the walls. “I understand you don’t fancy Smaug. He’s a highly functioning sociopath, and apparently ate your people… But the voice...” the dragon added in a mawkish tone all of a sudden, but then snapped out of its daydreaming, and awkwardly cleared its throat. “But most of my kind have done nothing wrong - me especially!” Her voice trembled by the end, and couple more tears rolled onto her eyes. Thorin heard her mumble under her breath, “Damn my hormones.”
“Thorin, you need to apologise to her now,” the Hobbit hissed into Thorin’s ear. “Look, how upset she is.”
“Enough, Master Burglar. I’m plenty capable of making my own decisions regarding what to say, and how to behave,” Thorin growled, and turned to the dragon again.
“My lady, I apologise for offering you monetary remuneration for this property. Perhaps, you could find it in your heart to kindly consider… sharing the mountain with my people? You can have the word of Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror that my people will do everything possible to make the life of yourself and your child as comfortable and undisturbed as possible.” He gave her a small bow and then peered intently into her eyes.
The top of the scaly muzzle twitched, and then the nostrils flared.
“I don’t know… What if you decide to misbehave?” the dragon drew out, and the nose twitched again. The gesture was surprisingly… charming. “I don’t want to have to… hurt anyone. I’d hate to have to start yelling, or worse so… eating your kind.”
“We could sign a contract, my lady; and again, you do have my word.”
“And the Lake-town people? I don’t particularly care for them. They smell of fish, and I do have a sensitive nose.” The worm wrinkled the said nose. “Will you bring them in?”
“No, no Lake-town people,” Thorin answered firmly.
“But we did promise them a share of the gold!” the cursed Halfling chimed in.
“My gold?” asked the dragon in confusion.
“Well, I assumed we would reclaim it, since it had been usurped by Smaug...” Thorin started, and then saw the dragon raise an eyebrow. Did dragons have eyebrows? “But now we will discuss how it is to be… shared and how much of it could be spared without diminishing your comfort.”
“No, no, if we decide to give this relationship a go, you will have to repay the Lake-town people.” The dragon waved its clawed paw at him dismissively. “Pay them back what you owe them out of my gold, we’ll put it on your tab.”
Thorin gawked at it.
“So, what is the worst I should expect from your kind? Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other,” the dragon said in a business like tone. “Do you play violins? Or perhaps you lot talk for days on end?”
“We do play music...” Thorin answered, not sure what to say, really. “But we could discuss it, of course.”
“Lovely. My hobbies are of the quiet kind. I knit and collect unusual white gems. This cave had the loveliest ones. What do you think?” the dragon asked and pointed at one of the walls.
There, five previously fallen columns were propped vertically, each topped with a piece of a wall in an uncanny resemblance of tables. On the middle one, surrounded by several other familiar gems, Thorin saw the one and only Arkenstone.