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(Written for the LOTR Gen-Fic Community's October Challenge)
“A nice pickle they were all in now: all neatly tied up in sacks, with three angry trolls sitting by them, arguing whether they should roast them slowly, or mince them fine and boil them, or just sit on them one by one and turn them into jelly…”
“Cousin Bilbo, is that they way it really happened?” Young Saradoc Brandybuck’s eyes were wide with fascination, as he leaned forward from his seat upon the floor at Bilbo’s feet.
The other young cousins drew in closer, ready to be pleasurably frightened at Bilbo’s story-telling. It was much in demand when he visited Buckland. After a busy day at the Harvest Festival it was lovely to sit round the hearth and listen to Bilbo tell the stories of his famous Adventure.
Bilbo did not miss a beat, as he said “Of course it was!” After all, he’d been telling this much gentler version of what happened ever since he returned. Sometimes he even believed it himself; sometimes he could even forget the way it really happened.
Yet even as he continued with the well-rehearsed words, images flashed across his mind--images that he would never share with such innocents…
That night, he lay awake, fending off sleep and nightmares, as he remembered “how it *really* happened.
“Pony rides in May sunshine.” Pah. The day had gone from bad to worse, and this was the most miserable Bilbo had been since he had left Bag End. It had rained all day, and the Dwarves had become even crosser and crankier than usual, bickering and quarreling among themselves.
No fire--all the wood was wet, and Gandalf had managed to make himself scarce--“Just when a wizard would have been most useful, too,” Dori had said. Bilbo was completely in agreement, and rather cross at Gandalf himself. Drat the wizard! It was all Gandalf’s fault that he was sitting about wet to the skin and cold to the bone.
Then one of the ponies bolted into the river, and lost the food. This was a calamity that Bilbo felt quite keenly. Most of the foodstuffs had been on that pony. All of the journeybread, and the cheeses and that lovely sack of dried mushrooms and the apples, all those supplies they had bought back in Bree, all washed away and ruined.
“There’s a light over there!” Bilbo gave a start. It was Balin, who had been on look-out duty.
The group crowded about Balin, to gaze in the direction in which he pointed. Out of the dark mass of the trees they could now see a light shining, a reddish comfortable-looking light, as it might be a fire or torches burning.
Fili and Kili looked at one another and their faces brightened. “It must be fellow travellers! They have a fire--perhaps they would welcome us!”
“No!” exclaimed Dori. “There’s no telling who or what it could be in these parts!”
“I say ‘yes!’” Bombur cried. “We could not be much worse off than we are, freezing and hungry as we are now!” Bifur and Bofur nodded, but several of the others shook their heads.
“It could be brigands or ruffians or worse!” said Ori.
Balin nodded. “These parts are none too well known, and are too near the mountains. Travellers seldom come this way now. The old maps are no use!”
Óin put in “Things have changed for the worse, and the road is unguarded. They have seldom heard of the king round here, and the less inquisitive you as you go along, the less trouble you are likely to find.”
Glóin said “But even if they are ruffians, there can’t be many of them. After all there are fourteen of us!”
“Fourteen?” Óin snorted contemptuously. “Where has Gandalf got to? There should be fifteen!”
“Yes!” said several voices. “Where’s Gandalf?”
Glóin bristled “We can’t be such cowards as to fear a few brigands! We don’t need a wizard watching over us like a nursemaid!” He fingered his ax, as if eager to take on the possible foes.
Óin said “You are always ready for a fight! Sometimes it’s better to use what wits you’ve got!”
Glóin put his face right in Óin’s. “And you are always ready to avoid one!” he snarled, as his fists bunched.
“Are you calling me a coward?” Óin gave Glóin a shove, and the next thing Bilbo knew, they had come to blows.
The rain began to pour even harder. Bilbo huddled in on himself miserably, drawing his sodden cloak about him. “Bother these Dwarves!” he thought. “Hobbits would never quarrel like that!”
Thorin, who had been standing back, listening to the arguments with an impassive face, suddenly reached out and snatched the two fighting Dwarves by their hoods and flung them away from one another. “Enough!” he said in a firm voice. “There is no need for all this. We need to know just what that fire is. After all, we have got a burglar with us.” Thorin gave Bilbo a smug look.
Bilbo jerked up in alarm, but before he could protest, he heard a chorus of voices agreeing with their leader--”Yes! Let the burglar scout them out for us! After all, sneaking about is supposed to be his job!”
Bilbo bit his lip. Whatever was out there, it was quite clear that it would be his job to find out. On the one hand, it was the first time the Dwarves had decided to call upon him to do anything, which made the Took side of him feel just a little proud. But the Baggins side reminded him that they had chosen a very poor time to try him out.
Bilbo was rather glad now for the downpour of rain, for the Dwarves, in spite of their caution, were making a good deal of racket as they led the ponies upward in the direction of the fire--whatever it might be.
They finally reached a spot in the woods where they could see the fire shining out much more clearly.
“Now it’s the burglar’s turn,” said Dwalin as they stopped.
Thorin fixed Bilbo with a stern eye. “You must go on and find out all about that light, and what it is for, and if all is perfectly safe and canny. Now scuttle off, and come back quick if all is well. If you can’t, hoot twice like a barn-owl and once like a screech owl, and we will do what we can.” He gave a couple of pats to Bilbo’s back that might have been meant to be encouraging, if he had not finished off with a little shove.
Bilbo slipped off, before he could explain that he could not hoot like any kind of owl any more than fly like a bat. But at least he could move more quietly than all those rackety Dwarves. Which was a good thing as the rain had begun to slack off here beneath the canopy of the trees, and he did not wish to be heard.
He soon found himself behind a tree, staring into a clearing, and for a moment he could not even breathe. There was a huge fire, and round it sat three creatures, perfectly enormous creatures, monsters out of a hobbit’s worst nightmares--he had no doubt whatsoever that these three fiends were trolls. Their massive bodies were misshapen, their hides of an unwholesome grayish colour, their mouths, furnished with glaringly white and sharp teeth, were perfectly immense. And they stank, stank like carrion. In addition, there was the smell of scorched flesh, and he could see that one of the trolls was holding the leg of a sheep in the fire. As soon as the wool had been scorched off, the troll took a large bite of the still bloody meat. Bilbo suppressed a gag. No, the Dwarves needed to avoid this fire altogether. He knew he needed to go back and warn them, but he felt paralysed with fear.
The trolls were speaking among themselves in some sort of uncouth speech which Bilbo could not begin to understand, but just the sound of it made his skin crawl. He turned his head aside.
For the first time, he noticed a large leather sack upon the ground near the fire. It was moving weakly, and he heard a pitiful and faint bleat. There was a still living sheep in there!
To the end of his days, Bilbo could not understand the pity that moved him then--after all, he ate mutton himself. But for some reason, the idea of the poor animal meeting its fate at the hands of these monstrosities filled him with horror. Before he could give much real thought to it, he impulsively slipped forward, and opened the neck of the bag, to free the sheep.
Unfortunately at that very instant the fire leaped up, and the sheep gave a much louder bleat as it tore out of the sack and scrambled off, moving just a bit too quickly for the startled trolls to grab it. It ran through the trees, bleating in terror.
But Bilbo had no time to think about the sheep, for as he tried to make his own escape, he suddenly found himself snatched high above the ground, and looking straight into one of those gigantic maws. The troll made sounds in that strange growling speech, and poked Bilbo in the stomach with a hard finger. Bilbo gave a squeak of terror, for he was convinced he was ready to meet the fate he had spared the sheep. It growled and snarled at him a bit more, its foul breath making Bilbo’s gorge rise.
Finally it poked him again and made a different sound. “Wha’? Wha’ you?”
Bilbo was startled, and swallowing he tried to choke out an answer. “A bur--a hobbit.” He closed his eyes for a moment. He did not wish to see that mouth come any closer to his throat.
With a puzzled growl, the creature began to sniff at him. It turned to the others. “Burrahobbit.” Then it said more in its strange speech.
For some reason, this angered the other trolls. They began to argue, about what Bilbo had no idea, but when one of the others shoved the troll holding him, the first troll flung him aside angrily. He landed, hard, upon the ground. Quickly, he crawled away to the edge of the clearing, and lay panting and weeping at his close call. He knew he needed to crawl off, get away, go warn the Dwarves, but he had no strength left.
The three trolls began to fight in earnest, snarling and growling like a pack of wild dogs.
Just as he thought his chance had come, and that he might have enough strength to get away, he was shocked to see Balin suddenly loom into the clearing. The trolls spotted him, and with a horrible yowl one of them snatched him.
It appeared the trolls had forgotten their animosity towards one another completely. They stuffed poor Balin into the sack from which Bilbo had released the poor sheep.
There was another conversation in the trollish tongue, and then one of them holding the sack containing Balin, and the others taking other empty sacks, they moved to the other side of the clearing away from their fire.
One by one, to his everlasting horror, Bilbo watched as his Dwarven friends were taken and popped into one of the sacks. Bifur and Bombur had come near the end, and had fought mightily, but they had still ended up in one of the sacks.
Bilbo realised that only Thorin had not yet been caught. He turned to see the leader of the Dwarves slip towards him, moving, for once, fairly silently.
“It’s trolls!” Bilbo answered. “They’re hiding in the bushes with sacks.”
“O! are they?” said Thorin, and he jumped toward the fire before they could leap on him. He caught up a big branch all on fire on one end, and thrust it in the eye of one of the trolls, who gave an unearthly screech, and it went stumbling away from the fight.
Thorin’s action put some heart into Bilbo, and he leapt forth and grabbed one of their foes around the leg, hoping to trip it. But it gave a mighty kick and sent poor Bilbo flying through the air, to land atop one of the bushes. Thorin thrust the burning branch into that troll’s teeth, but before he could press his advantage, the third troll snatched him up and thrust him into one of the sacks.
Bilbo lay atop the bush, out of breath and silently weeping. He was all but certain that his friends would be devoured, and he would suffer their fate soon after.
But suddenly, the trolls began to argue again. Their gruff and uncouth language hurt Bilbo’s ears. He had never heard speech so black before. Finally, it seemed their quarrel had settled down, and one of the trolls took one of the sacks and began to drag it near the fire.
But as he did so, there was a snarling objection, and the row began once more.
Bilbo was wondering if perhaps they might forget about the Dwarves long enough for him to get to at least one of the sacks, when the argument intensified once more.
Suddenly, a loud voice proclaimed: “Nai ára mapuva le, ar nauva ondo len!* Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!”
To Bilbo’s astonishment, as the first rays of the Sun began to peak through the trees, the three trolls suddenly froze, and he watched as their sweaty grey hides took on the hard dry colour of stone. They turned to rock where they stood, like three ugly statues.
“Excellent!” said Gandalf, as he stepped from behind a tree, and helped Bilbo to climb down out of a thorn-bush.
Bilbo gaped at the wizard, and then suddenly understood: Gandalf had kept the trolls quarreling until the Sun had risen, and the light had made an end of them.
The two of them released the Dwarves from their captivity. Bilbo had to explain everything that had happened, and he was soundly harangued for his folly in rescuing the sheep. He and Gandalf listened to a good many complaints, before Gandalf silenced them by reminding them that the trolls must have had a bolt-hole in which to stay during the day. They searched and soon came upon a cave, hidden behind some bushes. It had a large stone door, which no efforts of Gandalf or Thorin could move.
Bilbo, who soon grew bored with their efforts, went to search for a bit of dry wood with which to keep the now fading fire going, came upon a key, near the place where the trolls had been fighting. “Hoy!” he called. “Would this be any good?”
The Dwarves seized upon it with their usual gruff attitude. But, indeed, it did fit the lock, and soon the door was opened.
That was how Bilbo had come by Sting, he recalled. It had been a dreadful experience, and though it was not the worst experience of his Adventure, it was the worst thing that had happened to him thus far--if he had only known it would all get even more dangerous as they went on, would he have had the courage to continue?
In hobbit fashion, he had tried to make light of it all, and as the company had prepared to journey on, he had looked upon the troll statues and dubbed them Tom, Bert and Bill. He wondered how soon birds would make their nests there, and what other travellers would think to come upon them so. They were certainly ugly creatures, but now, frozen in their current states, Bilbo thought they had a comic look to them. They were harmless enough now.
He supposed that was the start of it. When he’d come home to the Shire, and been begged for tales from all the young fry, it had seemed no harm to change the events just a little--after all, it wouldn’t do to frighten the children.
And it wasn’t like anyone else in the Shire would ever have the chance to see a troll. With that thought in mind, he rolled over, and tried to compose himself to sleep.
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