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Summary: A very narrow escape…
X: Like Excruciating Exertions on the Way to That Crucial X on the Mouldering Map
“Hammer and Tongs!” muttered Bombur, pushing desperately with his hands and feet against the rough stone of the cliff -face. It was no use; he bumped and banged against it once more, and his push just moved him away enough to twirl slightly in the wind. He reached a hand up to grab the rope, and banged once more into the rock-face. “I shall be all bruises by the time I get to the top! I wish they’d left me below!”
However, the awful bellows of the dragon caused him to re-think that wish! “Perhaps not,” he thought. He glanced down, and then wished that he had not. “Oh, why did I even *come* on this expedition! I should have stayed behind! I am too old and too fat for such excruciating exertions!”
“Curse it all!” he said, as his knee hit the unforgiving crag. He heard the cloth of his breeches tear and felt the scrape, and a trickle of blood. “Oh mercy me!”
He had thought that he and Bofur were safe with the ponies below. Bofur had not been happy with having to stay behind, but Bombur had volunteered. He had told them-- “I am too fat for such fly-walks. I should turn dizzy and tread on my beard, and then you would be thirteen again. And the knotted ropes are too slender for my weight.” Remembering his words, he hoped, oh, how he hoped, that he had been wrong.
The horrible roar of the dragon sounded once more--Smaug was clearly searching from above, but as yet he had not crested this side of the mountain. Pull faster, thought Bombur in a panic.
Looking above, he could see that Bofur had reached the top, and been hauled over. That was a relief, at least.
When Thorin had yelled down to them that the dragon was awake, and likely to be on a rampage, and they had best come up at once, he and Bofur had scurried about, tying the ropes quickly to some bundles of tools and food. But there were not enough ropes to haul *everything* up and still have two left over for the two Dwarves.
But when Bombur had called up that the stores were ready, Thorin had replied that the stores would have to wait until he and Bofur had been pulled up.
“We may go hungry if we lose the food, but we can replace it in time. You are not so easily replaced. You will come up at once--that is an order.”
And so, he had reluctantly tied the rope about himself. These were such slender ropes! How could they possibly be strong enough to lift him at his weight. But there was no arguing now his chief had issued an order. He was made even more nervous when Bofur said “I hope they hold. The Men of Lake-town told Balin that these ropes were some of the items taken in trade from the Elves!”
Bombur gave a shudder. Trusting all his considerable bulk to a rope made by Elves! He swung about again, and this time his other shoulder hit the precipice. “Hoy there!” he yelled upwards. “Have a care! I am not a sack of--” his words cut off as this time he slammed the back of his head. He saw stars! Oh, but that was painful! But the faces of his friends hauling frantically at the rope were coming closer. Thank goodness! He was nearly at the top!
Suddenly, it seemed the rope had slipped from his kinsmen’s hands, and he gave a heart-stopping lurch, dropping several feet, as those above gave a sharp cry of fear. He thought for a moment he was lost! At least, he thought for an instant, I shall be dead before the dragon eats me--but no! He was still dangling, and then was once more being pulled up.
Finally he was close enough to grasp the several outstretched hands. They dragged him painfully up and over the edge of the rock face, and he flopped gratefully onto solid ground. All he could do was to lie there, panting heavily, as the others hauled and pulled on the other ropes. Soon they had pulled all of the stores that could be saved up, and were ready to flee to the tunnel.
It was just in time, too, as they heard the terrible bellows coming closer.
“Get to your feet, Bombur!” ordered Thorin. Bifur and Ori pulled him to his feet, as they scurried away from the cliff-face, dragging their pitifully few supplies behind them. Far below, they could hear the panicked screams of the ponies.
“How did you know to warn us of the dragon?” panted Bofur.
Bombur had wondered the same thing.
“You may have to thank our burglar for that,” said Gloín. “Mr. Baggins insisted we were not safe, and we should seek to hide.”
They had only a few seconds to flee into the tunnel when Smaug came hurtling from the North, licking the mountain-side with flame, beating his great wings with a noise like a roaring wind.
Panting and puffing, his heart pounding like a trip-hammer, Bombur leaned against the cold tunnel wall. For the first time, he wished that Gandalf had never found that cursed map. He decided that if he came out of this quest alive, he’d spend the rest of his days at his toymaker’s bench, and never venture forth again.
[AUTHOR’S NOTES: Quotations in italics are taken from The Hobbit, Chapter XII, “Inside Information”.]
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