1. Once upon a Time in Mirkwood
Chapter 1 – Once Upon A Time In Mirkwood
Bilbo Baggins gazed through the pipe smoke at the small figure huddled on the plump pillow in the chair on the opposite side of the hearth. Compassion flooded the bachelor Hobbit as he watched a small hand reach up unobtrusively to wipe away the tears that trickled from the sad blue eyes.
: Poor child. : He thought. : Lost both parents at once and brought to visit in a strange place with a strange cousin. : Well, he didn’t consider himself strange, but he knew that certain people did. He felt that he was a most ordinary Hobbit, or nearly so.
Bilbo adored children though he had none of his own. Certainly he preferred them to adults. Children were always more willing to listen to his stories and didn’t look at him strangely when he told them of Dwarves, Wizards, Elves or Dragons. They were always fascinated and asked all the right questions, where as the adults almost always looked skeptical and asked all the wrong questions.
“Frodo my lad, would you like to hear a story?”
The little Hobbit looked up at his cousin, wet eyes wide. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words formed, so he merely nodded.
Bilbo smiled, leaning back in his own chair, feeling the cushion shift beneath him. He thought for a moment, pipe clamped between his teeth. He watched the fragrant smoke wreath about his head. He withdrew the pipe and blew a smoke ring. Frodo gasped and smiled, leaning forward slightly. Bilbo smiled and blew another one. When many of them floated about the ceiling, Bilbo laughed in delight.
“Have I ever told you about the time I shared a pipe with an Elf prince? Elves don’t smoke, you know. And my goodness! I found out why!”
Frodo’s eyes widened even further as Bilbo laughed. He shook his head; dark curls glistening in the late afternoon sun that crept in at the window just to play upon the child’s hair.
“Well then. Would you like to hear about it?”
Frodo nodded solemnly, his tears forgotten for the moment.
“First let me get you something to eat. Would you like a cookie? Storytelling makes one hungry, you know.”
The child stared at his cousin in wonder. Bilbo bustled about piling biscuits, cookies, apples, and cheese on a tray, which he placed on the table between their chairs. Then he brought another tray loaded with a teapot, cups, plates, and napkins and set it by the first. His eyes twinkling, he handed Frodo a plate with cookies and cheese on it.
“Eat up, Frodo lad. Eat up while I tell you a grand adventure I once had in the Hall of the Wood Elf King.”
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Poor Mr. Baggins – it was a weary long time that he lived in that place all alone, and always in hiding, never daring to take off his ring, hardly daring to sleep, even tucked away in the darkest and remotest corners he could find. – The Hobbit
Mirkwood Forest was not a place where one would want to settle down and make a home, Bilbo thought grimly as he stared at the dark, twisted trees surrounding him. The undergrowth beneath the fell trees was tangled with thorns and filled with odd, unsettling noises: grunts and shuffling that filled the Hobbit with dread. It seemed always dark here; with only an occasional spear of sunlight filtering down to give them hope in this stifling place of fear.
They had journeyed for several days now since Gandalf had left them at the Forest Gate. They would have taken the Old Forest Road, but Beorn had warned them against it. Goblins used it, he had said and the eastern end was overgrown and led to impassable marshes where the paths were lost. And it would take them too far south anyway. He advised them to take a little know Elf path to the north saying it lead almost straight toward the Lonely Mountain, which was, of course, their destination.
Mirkwood seemed a place to avoid, but Gandalf had said it wasn’t wise to try and go round it. To the north were the Grey Mountains, two hundred or so miles away and there were no safe paths there. It would be a way haunted with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs. And they had seen enough of Goblins lately! In the south was the tower of the Necromancer and they should in no wise go that way.
“Stick to the forest track, keep your spirits up, hope for the best, and with a tremendous slice of luck you may come out one day and see the Long Marshes lying below you, and beyond them, high in the East, the Lonely Mountain, where dear old Smaug lives, though I hope he is not expecting you.” The Wizard had told them cheerily before he had ridden off. “Good- bye! Be good, take care of yourself – and DON’T LEAVE THE PATH!” He had been emphatic on that last point.
They had heeded his advice and stayed on the path, though the path didn’t offer them much comfort. Stretching on either side of it were thick, dark cobwebs clinging to the trees, tangling in the lower branches. There were none on the path for which Bilbo was very grateful. What sort of spider could spin such large, sturdy webs? He was certain that he didn’t wish to find out. His hand often strayed to his little sword that he had gotten in the Troll’s cave. So much had happened that it seemed ages since then.
It had seemed ages since they had entered this bothersome forest. The Dwarves were grumbling quietly about how stuffy the air was, why was there no wind beneath these cursed trees. They were all tired and hungry, though Bilbo felt certain that he was hungriest of them all. Never in all his life did he remember being so deprived of food. They had shot one of the strange black squirrels that haunted the trees, but it had tasted so horrible they never shot another. Bilbo would spend the day trekking dully behind the Dwarves making lists of food in his head that he would eat when this adventure finally came to an end and he could go home to the Shire and his house, Bag End. Not that the Dwarves had left much in the pantries after their unexpected arrival and subsequent party. But that could be remedied quickly when he returned.
: If I returned. : He thought glumly.
It was that very day that they came upon a wide stream of swift flowing black water. But Beorn had warned them of this place as well, so regardless of their great thirst they didn’t fill their water bags here. Who wanted to drink enchanted water that brought on great drowsiness and forgetfulness? A bridge had spanned it at one time, but it had rotted and fallen away into the water, leaving only broken, slimy posts near the bank, tangled in ivy and woodbine.
Bilbo had noticed a boat on the other side about twelve yards from them.
“Twelve yards!” Thorin thundered. “I should have thought it was thirty at least, but my eyes don’t see as well as they used a hundred years ago. Still twelve yards is as good as a mile. We can’t jump it, and we daren’t try to wade or swim it.”
“Can any of you throw a rope?”
“What is the good of that? The boat is sure to be tied up, even if we could hook it, which I doubt.”
“I don’t believe it is tied,” said Bilbo, shooting a frustrated look at their leader, who was glowering beneath his eyebrows. “Though of course I can’t be sure in this light; but it looks to me as if it was just drawn up on the bank, which is low just there where the path goes down into the water.”
Thorin moved to stand by the Hobbit and was peering into the gloom across the water. He wasn’t certain if he trusted the Hobbit’s eyes any more than his own.
“Dori is the strongest, but Fili is the youngest and still has the best sight. Come here, Fili, and see if you can see the boat Mr. Baggins is talking about.” He said, with nary a glance at Bilbo.
Fili thought that he could see the boat and a rope was brought to him. It was the longest one they had with them with a large iron hook fastened on one end. Fili took it and weighed it in his hand then he whirled it about his head and threw it out across the water.
“Not far enough!” Bilbo said, when a loud splash filled the air. “A couple of feet and you would have dropped it on to the boat. Try again. I don’t suppose the magic is strong enough to hurt you, if you just touch a bit of wet rope.” He added, seeing the young Dwarf’s reluctance to allow his hand to come in contact with anything that had been drenched in the black enchanted waters of Mirkwood.
Fili made a face then pulled the hook from the water, looking as if he might be struck dead at any moment. Then he hurled it with even greater strength than his first throw.
There was a rustling and they knew he had overthrown this time. It had landed in the tangle of brush beyond on the far bank.
“Steady.” Bilbo cautioned. “You have thrown it right into the wood on the other side now. Draw it back gently.”
They all held their breath as their companion hauled the rope back as slowly as he could.
“Carefully!” Bilbo hissed. “It is lying on the boat; let’s hope the hook will catch.”
Suddenly the rope went taut and Fili pulled as hard as he could. But to no avail. It was tied after all. Kili came to help followed by Oin and Gloin. The four tugged mightily until they all went tumbling onto their backs as the rope holding the boat gave way. Luckily Bilbo acted quickly and grabbed the fallen rope. The boat leapt forward being pulled along by the strong current.
“Help!” The Hobbit shouted and Balin leapt forward to grab it before it sailed past and was lost. They all looked at one another with the satisfaction of a job well done. The boat was theirs.
On the other side of the bank hidden behind the tall dark ivy twined trees, three pairs of eyes watched in startled amazement as their boat was pulled from its moorings and hauled across the dark water.
“What do those Dwarves think they are doing with our boat?” One of them asked, anger and disdain coloring his voice as his grey eyes narrowed.
“They are stealing our boat!” Another exclaimed, his grey eyes wide with shock as he stared at the Dwarves in amazement at their audacity. “How can they! Why we should –“
“Silence, Brethil. They will hear you.” The third one cautioned, his blue eyes watching as the Dwarves discussed who would go over in the boat first.
“I’m always last and I don’t like it.” A particularly fat Dwarf was saying petulantly. “It’s somebody else’s turn today.”
“That sounds like you, Brethil.” The other grey- eyed Elf said with a sideways glance at his companions.
Brethil drew a breath to protest, but a hand on his arm stopped his words.
“Don’t tease him, Tavor. Quiet.”
“Yes, Prince Legolas.” Tavor said with a slight, sarcastic smile.
“You should not be so fat.” Another Dwarf said, his white beard wagging under his blue hood, the silver tassel dancing.
: You should not be so loud. : The blue eyed one thought with amusement, his hand dropping from Brethil’s arm.
“Don’t start grumbling against orders, or something bad will happen to you.” The Dwarf finished, glaring at the fat one threateningly.
“There aren’t any oars. How are you going to push the boat back to the far bank?”
The three Elves looked at one another. What was that one? He didn’t look like a Dwarf, as he had no beard, though he was just as short, perhaps even shorter.
“Give me another length of rope and another hook.” A yellow bearded Dwarf said. He took the rope and hurled it across the water as high as he could, right into the branches of the tree behind which the Elves were hiding.
The three crouched down in shock, covering their heads as if they feared the heavy hook would tangle about them instead of the branches. But it didn’t fall and the Dwarves began to clamber into the boat.
The three Elves crept silently backward into the darkness of the surrounding trees. They watched as the Dwarves came ashore and sent the boat back for the others. As the last one – the fat one - was preparing to leave the boat there was the sound of flying hooves and a deer charged out of the underbrush and into the startled Dwarves. It leapt high and sprang across the water. But Thorin had fitted an arrow to his stout, short bow when he had stepped off the boat, fearing the arrival of its owner. Now he loosed the arrow and the deer fell as it made the safety of the brush on the other side.
“Your father is not going to be happy about that, Legolas.”
Legolas grimaced. No, Thranduil would not like his prey to escape thus. And let alone to be felled by a Dwarf’s arrow.
But the sudden shout drew his attention back to the figures on the bank.
“Bombur has fallen in! Bombur is drowning.”
The Elves watched as the fat Dwarf scrabbled at the slimy roots at the stream’s edge, the black water pulling at him as the boat disappeared in a swift rush of current. He had fallen in, startled by the deer’s sudden leap over his head.
“Stupid Dwarves!” Tavor growled, his hand clenching on his bow. “Look what they’ve done now.”
The Dwarves threw a rope with a hook on the end to their companion and quickly pulled him to shore as his hand closed about its length. They laid him on the bank, amazed that he was fast asleep, the rope clenched so tightly in his fists that they could not remove it.
It was then that the sound of hunting horns and the baying of dogs filled the air.
“Your lord father.” Tavor said with a glance at Legolas, elegant eyebrow arched.
Legolas sighed and shook his head.
“He will not be pleased when he learns of this. Dwarves in Mirkwood. Shooting the king’s deer.”
“I’m not telling him.” Brethil said quickly, well knowing how the king’s ire would be raised not only against the Dwarves, but the bearers of the news.
“I won’t be the one either.”
They both turned to look at their prince, Thranduil’s youngest son.
He scowled, turning to look at the Dwarves one last time.
“Perhaps it won’t be necessary. They will probably be leaving soon anyway.”
The three feeling very relieved that they wouldn’t have to bear the news to their king turned and made their way into the forest, leaving the very disconcerted Dwarves staring at their slumbering companion, a smile of deep content on his fat face.
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.