Heart of Gold 5The abandoned remains of a farmstead appeared in the distance, the only thing left of the house a weathered and rotting frame. It was the first sign of habitation I had seen since leaving the Shire.A chill breeze ruffled the long grass as we approached. I shivered, pulling the collar of my coat higher. Though summer was well on the way, the climate still clung to the cold. “Wonder what happened here?”Balin shook his head. “Who can say? Perhaps, the occupant died and had no heirs to take over.”“At any rate, it will be a good place to camp for the night.” Thorin remarked, steering his horse in the direction of the farm.Gandalf cast a suspicious glance about the empty field and the moldering building. “This might not be entirely wise. It would be better to press on.”Thorin did not share the wizard’s concern. He scoffed. “We will not find a better location before dark.”“We could make for the Hidden Valley.” Gandalf countered.“The elves? I will not seek refuge with our enemy!” Thorin snapped.I tuned out the argument that soon broke out between the dwarf king and Gandalf. As someone who had been on the receiving end of Thorin’s ire only recently, I wanted to give him a wide berth. Instead, I eased myself to the ground from Stardust’s back.Kili, striding by, caught me around the waist to steady me. “Careful. Don’t need to twist the other ankle, merar.”I shot him a cool look and he quickly released me. “It’s only a minor sprain.”“Whatever you say.” Kili grabbed Stardust’s reins and led her over to where the rest of the ponies were grazing under Fili’s watchful eye.“How’s the ankle?” Oin asked when I hobbled over with my pack.“Manageable.” I winced and perched beside him on a fallen log. “Do you have any more of that willow bark?”“Aye.”The bark had a bitter aftertaste that lingered even after a healthy swig from my canteen. Grimacing, I swallowed and stretched out my leg. “That’ll wake you up in the morning.”Oin seemed confused. “Tis afternoon.”“It’s an expression that means its bracing.” I explained.The dwarf muttered something under his breath then joined Bombur in setting up the campfire.Soon I was alone except for Bilbo. The hobbit had spoken very little to me in the weeks we’d been on the road, hurt by the truth Gandalf revealed. I felt guilty and wished to mend the rift between us.Licking my lips, I cleared my throat. “Bilbo, I…owe you an apology. I should have been honest about the blue wizard. But I thought you would turn me away if I told the truth.”Bilbo snuck an apple from a saddlebag and tucked it in his pocket. “And afterward, when you’d been in the Shire for a time?”I winced. Fair point. Nothing had stopped me from telling him except my own insecurities.The rest of the company were busy, so I grabbed the hobbit by the arm. “Come with me.”“H-hey! Where are we going?”Moving slowly along the uneven ground, I led him a good distance away from the camp until I figured we were out of earshot. I eased down beside a gnarled tree and patted the ground beside me.This wouldn’t be easy. While, I couldn’t tell Thorin the truth, Bilbo deserved to know. I hated to be at odds with him. “I have a confession to make. The story with the blue wizard is more complicated than you imagine.” I began.“Complicated?” Bilbo said warily.I spit it out quickly. “I am not from Middle Earth. I’m from a different world.”“Then what, uh, world, are you from?” He sputtered.Resting my head back against the tree, I sighed. “I’ve given this a lot of thought. I believe Middle Earth, and Earth, where I am from, occupy the same planet, they are just on different dimensions or planes. To simplify, they’re worlds within a world. I think my world is the main world that anchors them all.” I flicked my hand in the air. “This probably isn’t making much sense. Science, never was my forte.”Bilbo inched closer, intrigued. “So, our worlds are connected.”“Yes, I believe so.” I gazed out across the field. “Before I met the blue wizard, I never thought such a thing was possible. He was the one who brought me here. I still don’t know why.”“The blue wizard?”“Gandalf told you about the five wizards before.” I reminded him. “The blue wizard I encountered is one of the Istari like Gandalf. He apparently uses his magic to travel between worlds.”“I-I don’t understand. Why didn’t you just tell me?” Bilbo asked, bewildered.“Because if I admitted it aloud, it would make everything real. I think, I wasn’t ready to accept what happened.”“And now?” The hobbit prompted.Folding my arms across my chest, I glanced at him. “Well, I can’t deny the truth anymore. I’m not in Kansas anymore. I’m sorry for keeping secrets. I should have trusted you. I want us to be friends again.”A warm smile graced the hobbit’s mouth and he took my hand. “We never stopped being friends. I waited for you to come to me, in your own time.”Tears stung my eyes, but I forced them back and gave him a tremulous smile. “Thank you.” Then I pulled him into a hug, ignoring his protests.Now, I didn’t feel so alone in the world.I held onto Bilbo, because it felt good to be able to hug someone without worrying about getting sick or getting them sick. The hobbit’s grumbling died down and his small hands patted me on the back.Then Gandalf’s angry exclamation ruined the moment. “I am finished with dwarves for one day!”I pulled away from Bilbo to see the wizard storming by us in high dudgeon.Bilbo looked at me. “Where is he going?”I shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry. He’ll be back.”*************************************************************************************“I wonder what our burglar and scribe are talking about. It looks serious.” Balin commented, leaning against a fence post.Thorin removed his saddlebags and tossed them in the grass. “It matters not.” He dropped his bedroll on top of the pile and dusted off his hands. “Hurry up, we’re hungry Bombur!” He bellowed, still furious with Gandalf and the stout dwarf leaped to action.How dare the wizard suggest they seek the aid of the elves? They had done nothing to help his people when they were homeless wandering the wilds. He’d rather seek refuge with Men!Despite himself, Thorin turned in the direction of Bilbo and Adelaide. Sunlight struck her hair and set it aflame. The woman’s beautiful face was strained as she spoke with Bilbo, gesturing earnestly as she explained something.Suddenly, she reached for the hobbit and pulled him into an embrace.Thorin recoiled. What in Mahal’s name was going on with those two? Were they courting?Adelaide clung to the hobbit and held him tight, her eyes closed. She looked…content.The pair jumped apart when Gandalf stalked by them and they watched the wizard disappear over the crest of the hill.Thorin walked into the shadow of the old farmhouse so he did not have to witness the interaction between the burglar and scribe any longer. Tugging on the bridge of his nose, he closed his eyes. This is precisely why he did not want the woman along. She was a distraction and a burden.He was responsible for the company. The road ahead was dangerous. They still had to face the obstacle of a slumbering dragon and then there was the Arkenstone. He needed the stone to gain the full loyalty of the various dwarven clans.Thorin had warned off Adelaide but she had not listened. Now, she was just one more responsibility thrust upon his shoulders.He sagged against a broken wooden beam. The company did not need the additional complication of a romance between the hobbit and the woman. However, it was not his place to speak of it.So why did he feel so uneasy?*************************************************************************************Bofur called Bilbo away to help dish out the stew.After clearing the air with the hobbit, I felt better. I should have told him everything a long time ago instead of letting my fear get in the way.Bombur waddled over and handed me a bowl of stew. “Here you are.”“Thanks.” I said and set the bowl to the side.I was getting really sick of camp stew and the small chunks of mysterious meat floating around in the murky broth, but food was food I supposed.Giving my steaming bowl the evil eye, I dug through my pack for my writing tools and began journaling about the events of the day.To my surprise, Thorin joined me, propping his arm across his knee. “May I have a word?”Since the dwarf avoided me nearly all the time, it raised my guard immediately. “Alright. What do you want to talk about?”“I have to ask what your-” The question died on Thorin’s lips abruptly as Kili came crashing through the trees in a panic.“Bilbo! Its trolls! They have him!”The dwarves armed themselves with axe and swords. Thorin surged to his feet and swiftly took command of the situation. “Alright, explain what happened Kili.”I clutched my fire poker tightly in both hands as Kili recounted how a troll had stolen two of the ponies and Bilbo went ahead to act as a scout and free the ponies if he were able.Thorin grew angrier with every passing second. He slashed his hand through the air. “You were supposed to look after the ponies with Fili.”Both young dwarves averted their eyes.“We’ll have to go after them.” Dwalin said resigned. “The halfling is no fighter.”Thorin scanned the dwarves and nodded before turning to me. “Stay here at the camp. If Gandalf returns tell him what’s happened.” He ordered, then sprinted into the forest, the rest of the company hot on his trail.“Trolls.” I murmured to myself then straightened in alarm. Trolls! In the book there was a scene where the company was taken captive by mountain trolls and nearly eaten! How could I have forgotten?I scanned the area for any other weapons, but the dwarves had taken everything with them.I fiddled with the fire poker as I considered what to do. I was no fighter, but maybe an opportunity would present itself and I could help.*************************************************************************************The forest was difficult to navigate in the dark, but I didn’t dare carry a lantern and risk discovery by the trolls.The violent sounds of clashing weapons and yelling drifted through the dark. I spotted the orange glow of a fire in the distance. Skirting between a pair of skinny saplings, the soles of my boots crunched lightly over a carpet of dead leaves.A few minutes later I came upon a disturbing scene. Several of the dwarves had been tied to a rotisserie spit and were being rotated over the troll’s cooking fire. The rest were dumped off to the side in giant grain sacks, waiting to be cooked.How could things have descended so rapidly? The dwarves were competent fighters. They should have been able to handle three trolls.I cringed as I stepped on a small rock with my bad foot and bit my lip to stop from crying out.Lowering myself to my hands and knees I crawled, using the rocky barrier surrounding the clearing as cover. Bits of conversation drifted over to my hiding place and I caught a whiff of unwashed bodies.“Hey, now, I’m not askin’ fer much, jus’ o’bit o’ appreciation now and then.” Said one of the trolls in a thick cockney accent.“I hate dwarf, bits o’ bone stay in me teeth for months when I eat ‘em!” Another complained.“Stow it, Tom.”“N-now wait a minute. Y-you’re making a mistake.” Came Bilbo’s unmistaken voice.I froze.“A mistake? With whot?” One of the trolls demanded.“The, uh, seasoning.” Bilbo said.I paused to listen, but Bilbo seemed to have the trolls distracted so I continued toward Thorin and the others. Peering out from behind a boulder, I looked for the trolls.They were in the middle of an argument with Bilbo over cooking techniques.“Aye, a bit o’ sage will set things to rights.” A troll said.I cautiously stretched out a hand and rested it lightly on Thorin’s shoulder.The dwarf king jerked in surprise and slowly turned his head toward me. His eyes widened. “What are you doing here? I told you to stay at camp.” He hissed as I shoved the sack down around his waist.“Helping. Unless, you want to be eaten?” I hissed back.Thorin huffed and shifted his broad back to me. “Hurry up, then.”Using the sharp end of the fire poker I began to saw through the rope twisted around his wrists.The rope gave way slowly, one thread at a time. Sweat beaded on my forehead as I hunched down, fearful that any minute I would be spotted. “This is going to take a while.”“Work as quickly as you can.” Thorin whispered fiercely.I was a quarter of the way through the first coil. Not nearly fast enough. “I’m doing my best. I don’t have a knife on me.”“In my left boot.” He said out of the corner of his mouth.Laying on my stomach, I reached down in the sack, my fingers skimming down Thorin’s leg as I groped for his boot. Touching the dwarf king was awkward but I ignored my misgivings and continued my search for the knife.When my fingertips brushed against smooth leather, I reached down and slid a slim knife from his boot sheath.A good thing too. Bilbo was quickly running out of excuses with the trolls. The creatures were stupid but even they were beginning to see through his stall tactics.“The secret is, to uh, skin them first!” Bilbo declared desperately.The dwarves roared in outrage, flailing about in their sacks.I nearly dropped the knife. Skin them? Was Bilbo nuts? He was going to get the dwarves killed in a very painful way. I sliced at the rope around Thorin’s wrists with renewed urgency.Pale watery light streaked the sky through the trees. Dawn grew near.Finally, the last strand snapped and Thorin rolled over to take the knife. He squeezed my hand briefly, crystal-blue eyes warm with gratitude.My heart fluttered in my chest. He’d never looked at me like that before.Uncertain how to feel, I pulled my hand free and slunk back into my hiding place, thankfully unnoticed by the trolls.Thorin reached for Balin and set to work freeing him from his bonds.Things were quickly falling apart.Bilbo hopped around trying to keep the attention on himself. “The dwarves have, uh, uh, worms in their tubes!”“They, whot?” One of the trolls exclaimed in disbelief.A troll lifted Bombur over its wide-open maw. At Bilbo's declaration, it dropped the dwarf on the ground.I couldn't peel my eyes away. This was bad. If I didn't to do something someone would die. I fumbled on the ground for my weapon. Clutching the fire poker in a fist I rose to my knees and hurled it with all my might.The closest troll howled, a horrible ear-splitting sound. The poker stuck out of its...well....Did the troll even have one of those? I wondered.With an angry snarl, the creature ripped the fire poker from its body. "Which one of ya speared me shaft?" It glared accusingly at the dwarves. "Well?""The dawn will take you all!" The wizard's voice boomed out shattering the dawn and the trolls whirled around to face the intruder.Gandalf stood atop a rock, raising his staff he brought the end down on the stone with a sharp crack. The boulder split in half and golden light spilled through illuminating the three trolls.I watched in amazement as the trolls writhed in horror, turning to stone.
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