Bilbo sat on the stone bench carved into the wall. The crystal lanterns shed a soft light on the tomb, and Orcrist gleamed silver atop the dark grey granite. He had come to like the crypt with all of its sepulchers. Only the sword set this one off from the other Kings under the Mountain. The entry way had been too small for Smaug, so the dragon had contented himself with breathing fire into the chamber. Some of the stone bore scorch marks - the Dwarves counted it a mark of honor that the dragon would consider them such enemies that he would do battle even with the dead kings. But the newest tomb was unmarked by dragon fire.
He thought that he would be sad in this place, but he was not. It is not such a bad thing, death. Grievous, perhaps, but not dark. If only there were not such pain to accompany it. Bilbo drew on the pipe Dwalin made for him in honor of his visit. It was made of a heavy black wood, with a dragon inlaid in silver around the bowl. The Hobbit slid down from the bench, and began walking among the tombs.
They were too tall for him to see over, but he did not mind. Most were carved around the sides with fantastic designs and monstrous faces. It was amusing to stand a few feet off and slowly walk past, watching different faces and pictures emerge as one's perspective changed. The scorch marks of Smaug made a few of the tricks easier to see.
The last, or first, sepulcher was Thráin's. Almost exactly one-thousand years ago, you founded your kingdom, Dwarf-lord. You lie here with your son and grandson and children beyond. Do you sit with them in the halls of waiting, as Thorin said? Do you speak to them, and do they tell you of the fate of your realm? It was strange to compare the stone tombs to the graves of Hobbits. A winding sheet, a deep pit, a small stone. A simple end. In time, the grass and weeds would swallow the stone and then there was no end, either. He wondered who else he knew had died since the Farewell Feast.
A small sound alerted Bilbo to the presence of another in the crypt. He glanced up at the walls, looking for a shadow cast by the visitor. None was to be seen, but when he listened carefully, he could hear footsteps at the far end, near Thorin's tomb. Bilbo made his stealthy way along the wall. When he reached the end, he understood why there was no shadow.
The Dwarf standing in front of Thorin's tomb was a child, no taller than Bilbo. The shadow the little one cast was too short to reach the walls. Bilbo watched, amazed. In the weeks he had spent in Erebor, he had never seen a Dwarf-child. They were treasures more carefully guarded than the Arkenstone. Once or twice, he thought he had glimpsed a small form out of the corner of his eye, but never saw any clearly. Wherever Bilbo walked in the mountain, pinging hammer taps would precede him, warning folk that he approached.
The child's feet were in low, soft boots. Tiny black ravens dotted the bright red tunic, and the child's leggings were also black. Bilbo could not tell if it were a girl or a boy child. The youngster's frame was solid, bulkier than the Hobbit's, and the child's hands looked very strong. The child turned, and looked at Bilbo, then smiled and gestured for the Hobbit to come closer. Bilbo smiled in return and approached slowly. The child's face reminded him of a Hobbit's in some ways. It was round and soft, though the eyes were too dark and too deeply set to be a Hobbit. It was odd to see a Dwarf of any kind without a beard. The beads at the ends of the child's braided hair clicked as he or she cocked a head to the side and studied Bilbo.
The child squatted down and stared at Bilbo's feet, and he chuckled to himself. The human children of Esgaroth and Dale also stared at his feet. As he expected, the child reached out and touched the hair on the tops, then snatched the wayward hand back, worry on the young face. He stuck his foot out a bit, to reassure the child it was all right.
"?" There was a question in the child's speech, but Bilbo could not make it out. The sound of Khuzdul fascinated him - sing-song and harsh, awkward and powerful at once. He had heard snatches of it as he walked the halls, and wished the Dwarves would share it with him. He smiled and shrugged a bit, but motioned for the child to keep talking. The child gestured at Bilbo's feet and then at his or her own boots and said more. Then the child pantomimed hopping on one foot and limping. Bilbo laughed and sat on the floor, showing the other the tough soles of his feet, so it would be understood that he did not need shoes. The child laughed and sat with him, pointing at Bilbo's feet and then his or her own, and chattered about the differences. Or that is what Bilbo imagined was said. He simply listened to the sound of the words and shared the child's delight at discovering something new.
'Lord of Burglars.'
Bilbo and the child both jumped at the sound of the voice. A young, golden-haired Dwarf stood near the door of the chamber. His hair was loose and blended into his beard, and Bilbo was reminded of Fíli and Kíli. Bilbo wondered if this was their kinsman. The child scrambled up and ran over to the adult, seizing his hand and chattering away. The adult shushed the child, never looking away from the Hobbit. Bilbo rose to his feet, hoping he had not done something wrong.
'You have seen what you should not see, Master Thief. But, I suppose, that is what a burglar is for.' The Dwarf's voice was clear and melodious, making Bilbo wonder how Khuzdul would sound on his tongue. Even so, Bilbo did not care much for the fellow's words.
'I apologize if I have given offence. I was in the crypt and the child came in afterwards. I could not avoid seeing him.'
'No offence is taken. I should not have let Swallow run ahead.'
A girl child, then. Bilbo studied the child's face closely, but could see no mark of femininity, just a chubby, childish face. 'Then I shall go, and leave you two to your visit.' Bilbo bowed slightly and began to walk out.
'Wait.' The Dwarf looked at him keenly. 'You were a friend of King Thorin's, were you not?'
'Yes, for my part, I call him friend, and grieve that he did not live to see his kingdom rise into beauty and glory once more.'
'But he did live to be King under the Mountain, if only for a few days.' The Dwarf looked thoughtfully at Thorin's tomb. 'You were the last to speak to him, ere he died.'
'Yes, though others were there.' The Dwarf did not answer, but continued to stare at the tomb. Bilbo bowed once more, then grinned as Swallow returned the bow. He walked past the two, and was almost to the doorway, when the Dwarf spoke again.
'Thank you, Lord of Burglars. You gave my father what he wished - the crown returned and a glorious end.'
Bilbo turned back and studied the Dwarf as she walked, Swallow's hand in her own, over to Thorin's tomb. There was a small difference to be seen - a balance in the stride, a narrowness to the shoulders, a less massive torso. 'To whom do I speak, my lady?'
She faced him once more, and he could see Thorin in her. 'I am the Kestrel.'
'Farewell, Lady Kestrel. And if you ever have need of a burglar, I remain in your service and that of your family's.' Bilbo bowed again, and left.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.