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Much Ado About Nothing: Chapter 12

Title: Much Ado About Nothing
Rating: T (rating subject to change)
Fandom: Tolkien's Hobbit
Pairings: Thorin Oakenshield/Bilbo Baggins, Fíli/Ori, Dwalin/Nori
Genre: Romance/Adventure/Humor
Summary Belladonna Baggins, child of Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took, hadn't much taste for Adventure. More's the pity that Adventure had a taste for Belladonna Baggins A what-if fic.
WARNINGS: Liberal application of gender-swap! As in, always-the-other-gender gender-swap! You have been warned! Eventual explicit scenes, liberal application of fibercrafting, comedy of errors


Tumbling and sliding head-over-heels into a goblin trap was excruciatingly painful with a recently reset shoulder, Bilbo reflected dimly. Their topsy-turvy journey ended with a sudden drop into a basket set on the edge of an underground cliff, and the goblins descended.

The screeching, chattering beings were terrifying, as they pushed, harried and pummeled everyone along. In her terror, Bilbo made herself as small as possible, curling up into a ball, only suffering a couple of kicks as the goblins took her companions away. In the echoingly empty silence that followed she carefully tipped her head up, eyes darting in the dim torchlight.

She quickly stood, strapping on her little blade with no little difficulty due to her arm. She looked around - all their equipment was here, but she couldn’t bring it. She scrabbled through the jumble, noting along the way that all their weapons were missing, even Bombur’s cast-iron ladle. She found her little pack, and her blanket, and Nori’s cloak (heavy wool with a buttoned-on woolen knit hood in a greyed shade of amethyst that Bilbo recognized as Ori’s handiwork) for some reason, and bundled them up together. She saw Ori’s pack, where it had burst open, scattering contents over stone. Her eyes landed on the little patchwork bag the young one kept all of her knitting in, and she snatched it up, stuffing it under Nori’s cloak.

She carefully removed the bandages strapping her arm down and pulled on her rucksack, securing it as best she could and keeping a wary ear out as she did. Finally satisfied, she drew her little blade, keeping her bad arm as close to her body as possible even though it wasn’t hurting so badly for whatever reason.

Her heart was going fast as a jackrabbit’s as she crept forward, little sword lighting the way. Every shadow was a goblin, every tiny sound someone leaping from the shadows to maul her, to eat her. Her heart leapt into overdrive as soon as she crossed the first rickety rope bridge and found there was still a goblin here. She ineffectually tried to bat him away, but the blade was clumsy in her hands - if she lived she was waylaying Fíli for sword-lessons. Definitely.

It tried to bite her, she tried not to be bitten, and suddenly her feet met air and she was falling again.

She landed on hard stone with a jarring thump and felt something in her arm just give, even as fire lanced down her ribcage and she rolled off, unable to stop her fall.

She hit, her brain seeming to rattle in her very skull, and heard a similar thud and and a metallic clatter before she blacked out.

~

Someone was muttering, she registered.

“...what’s this, preciousss? Goblinses, precious...” something was moving quietly in the dark. She peered up, ignoring the splitting pain in her skull, her heart leaping to her throat as she saw the ailing goblin, and the creature that was emerging from the darkness.

“...barely more than skin and bonesss, precious, but better than nothing, yes, yes, precious...” the goblin moved, and the thing hissed savagely, beating at the poor creature’s head with a rock. She lay there, utterly petrified, barely able even to breathe. It continued muttering even as it utilized surprising strength to drag the goblin away by the ankles. Its voice cast shivers down her spine, the strange, sibilant manner of speaking, the way it held entire conversation with itself.

Finally she could no longer hear it and she raised herself from the pile of mushrooms. Her elbow wasn’t quite working properly, and her shoulder was feeling strangely numb and tingly, but she chalked it up to the fall and getting her shoulder fixed earlier and moved quietly through the network of caverns, feeling small and vulnerable and altogether far too scared. That strange creature was still down here, after all.

A glitter caught her eye - what was a ring doing down here? It was plain, pretty. She picked it up and dropped it in her pocket, a half-formed idea of giving it to one of the younglings in her mind.

She walked silently, her heart making enough noise in her ears that she was convinced someone would find her right away, setting up a counterpoint to the throb in her skull.

She ended up beside a great underground lake.

She could hear the voice again. Carefully hiding her sword she peered out from behind a boulder and whipped back. Those lamplike, moonlike eyes had seen her, she knew it. She peered around again, body tense and thrumming.

There was nothing there. Terror rose, bile burning the back of her throat. Then the creature leapt out at her, and she fended it off clumsily with her sword. It hacked, a strange-sounding cough that made a funny noise - gollum, gollum.

“What’s this, precious? Not goblinses. It has an elfs blade, but not an elfs. What is it, precious?” It crooned, keeping a wary distance from her blade - it wasn’t shining any more. This creature wasn’t a goblin or an orc? Perhaps the magic was confused.

“Baggins,” She managed to stutter out, as the thing circled her and she circled with it.

“What's a Bagginses, precious?” It asked, making a face. She blinked.

“A hobbit, I'm a hobbit, from the Shire.” She managed, dimly wondering what on Arda she was thinking, speaking with this creature as if they were just out to market.

“Ooooh~ we’ve had batses and fishes, and nasty goblinses, but we've never had hobbitses before. Is it tasty?” Her heart leapt into double-time. This creature was a flesh-eater, a cannibal.

“Stay back! I will use this, if I have to!” She insisted, waving her sword at him, her other hand coming up to grasp the hilt, even though it made her elbow feel entirely queer and tingly.

“Are you lost?” It crooned, a bizarrely innocuous question after what it had just said her her. She clung to that slight hint of normalcy.

“Lost. Yes, I am lost and I would like to get unlost as soon as possible.” Fear and adrenaline made her tongue clumsy.

“Oh, we knows! We knows the way out! Shut up!” She blinked, rearing back. She could have sworn, for a split second that two beings had just spoken from the same mouth. Nevertheless.

“I didn't say anything.” She ventured, firming her grip on her little blade.

“Wasn't talking to you!” It growled, but then its voice changed, slightly higher, almost childlike. “Well, we was, precious, we was.” Green Lady keep me safe, she prayed, feeling alone and lost in the dark and cold of mountain caverns. It’s speaking to itself.

“Look, I don't know if this is some kind of game, or...” she tried, before the thing leapt up, expression bright, light and childish.

Games? Oh, we love games!” It squealed. “What has roots as nobody sees, is taller than trees? up up up it goes and yet never grows.” She realized, slightly belatedly that the creature was asking her a riddle, and she blinked, taken aback. Still, it was a simple enough riddle.

“Mountain.” She said dumbly, thoroughly confused.

“Yes!” It cackled, “come on, gives us another one.” It said, before its face twisted again. “No!” It hissed at itself again, and Bilbo was witness to the strangest argument she’d ever seen. She began to get worried about the same time it started talking about eating her.

“Hold on. How about we have a game of riddles? Just us.” She said, slightly terrified smile on her face.

“Just us precious.” It asked, a curious, sly look on its face. She nodded.

“If I win, you show me the way out.” She cautioned, wanting to be certain of a deal.

“And if we win?” It hissed, suddenly suspicious. “Well, if we win precious, we gets to eats it whole.” It whipped around, eyes narrowed to slits. “If we wins, we gets to eat Bagginses whole.” It insisted. Well, if she didn’t play chances were she’d get eaten anyway, so no real loss there.

“Fair enough.” She said, nodding and lowered her blade. It made her choose the next riddle, and she raise the first one that came to mind - “Thirty white horses, on a red hill. First they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still.” She almost swore, easy, that one was easy. Surely enough, it guessed it (though it gave a demonstration that unsettled her stomach of the fact that it only had nine teeth remaining).

“Voicelessss it cries, wingless flutterss, toothless bitessss, mmmouthless mmmutters.” It had a very unsettling way of speaking, drawing out the consonants.

The pounding of her head was making it difficult to think. Usually she was so good at riddles.

The answer was wind, and it made such a snarl that her blade came straight up and she stuttered the next one that came to her head.

It took so long to figure this one out that she almost relaxed. Eggs. She turned her face away, cursing her luck, and when she looked again, it had vanished. The next riddle seemed to come from all around her. The echoing made her dizzy, and she was stricken.

“I don’t know this one.” She muttered unhappily.

“Is it taasty? is it sssscrumptious? It’s got a funny squashy front - all sssoft and tender,” The voice doing the menacing was singsong and almost gentle.

She answered and it almost flung itself at her in its fury. It demanded a riddle, a question, so savage a face that her heart picked up to beat counterpoint in her ears again.

“What have I got in my pocket?” She hadn’t even realized she’d spoken aloud, hand in her jacket-pocket, turning the little ring over in her fingers. Why had she even put her hands in her pocket in the first place? It wasn’t even a nervous habit, it had made her elbow shift strangely.

It thought that was the riddle, cried foul that it wasn’t a riddle. She stuck by it, maintaining that it had asked for a question.

Three guesses.

All wrong.

Then something happened and the creature had a fit. It was screaming about birthday-presents (why would he even have a birthday present? you gave things away on your birthday, everyone knew that) being lost and precious, this was a Very Bad Thing. Then it turned on her and she fled.

She ran - a dead end. Though - not quite! She flung her rucksack through the narrow little fissure and put herself to squeezing through.

It saw her - she never thought she’d long for her bindings as desperately as now. She popped through after too long, falling to the earthen floor and something cool and metallic touched her finger, slipped around it.

As if it had a mind of its own, but now the world was shimmering long grey shadows and terror. The creature didn’t see her. It... couldn’t see her? She risked a glance down at her finger.

Plain gold, innocuous as anything.

She quietly picked up her rucksack, pulling it back on as quietly as she could before padding on careful feet after the frantic creature.

It led her out after all - she could see light, but suddenly it was scrambling back towards her, and there, just feet away were her companions. She looked between them and the creature in despair - even if you fended it off would it kill her first? Would it wound those she cared for?

She despaired in that moment, such an easy thing to do in that world of gray shadows before she found her resolve once more - why was she despairing?

She moved as if to swing, but the creature, this strange, terrifying, pathetic creature. She could not lay a blow on it. It looked with eyes as lost as a tiny fauntling, and she could not kill it. She sheathed her sword, judged the distance and leaped, away from the darkness and the frantic cries of the creature.

To sunlight.

To freedom.

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