14 Barrels out of control

Once past the waterfall, the company began to advance quickly thanks to the current of the river.

Fili pulled Arya in close, one hand behind her back and the other behind her neck, in an attempt to protect her as much as possible from the bumps caused by the collision of the barrels with the waves. She let him do it, resting her head on his chest.

Soon the river led them to the gates that controlled the water course but, when they arrived, the grates had already been closed. The elves had beaten them to the punch.

"No!"

Thorin exclaimed with regret, immediately starting to think of another way to escape, but his attention was caught by a sudden whistle. A black arrow pierced the shoulder of one of the elves guarding the wall: the orcs had arrived. The sentry fell from the rampart as a whole pack began to cross the border.

"Watch out!"

Bofur shouted to his companions when the beasts began to throw themselves fiercely on them. One of those monsters hurled himself at Nori, trying to kill him, but Bilbo, still clinging to the barrel of the dwarf, pierced the creature with his sword; another orc tried to get close to Dwalin, who knocked him into the water with an elbow. A beast raised its blade against Fili who, promptly, blocked his forearm, while Arya, now free from the grasp of her beloved, retrieved a second knife from the enemy's belt and then thrust it into his chest. Behind them, Kili had spotted the lever that opened the grates, so he jumped out of his barrel and started climbing the bastion. Soon, however, he found himself surrounded by orcs. Arya, seeing her friend in trouble, threw the knife which she had used shortly before at the beast that was threatening Kili from behind, hitting the target. Having escaped the danger, the young dwarf managed to advance towards the lever but, before he could reach it, a black arrow struck his leg.

"Kili!"

Fili screamed in alarm. Kili tried to lower the lever but, due to the pain, he collapsed to the ground without strength, unaware of the orc that was coming behind him. Another arrow was fired at that time, but not a Morgul arrow, this one was of elven make, and it pierced the beast in the chest. Arya looked around and recognized the guard who had saved Kili from the spiders a few days earlier. The elf was fighting deftly against the orcs on the river bank; Legolas soon arrived at her side, along with at least a dozen warriors. At the sight of the elf girl, Kili regained his strength and managed to pull the lever. The grates opened, allowing the company to continue its run along the river. The young dwarf then let himself fall back into the barrel and, in doing so, broke the arrow that was still lodged in his knee. Kili gasped in pain, drawing the worried gaze of his brother and Arya to himself.

After passing the bastion, the fifteen companions ended up in another waterfall, following which the course of the river became even more impetuous. As soon as the orcs realized that the dwarves had escaped, they launched a pursuit, running along the shore and repeatedly shooting arrows at the barrels.

The fugitives find themselves having to avoid the attacks of a pack of orcs and, at the same time, try to keep the barrels in balance and not let them overturn.

Suddenly, an orc hurled himself at Thorin, but he struck him with his sword, throwing him into the water. Shortly after another beast, which was on a log suspended above the river, was preparing to lash out at Balin, so Thorin threw the sword, impaling him to the log and, while passing under him, deprived him of his weapon. He then threw it to Dwalin who, in turn, tossed it to Nori, and he to Fili.

"On the right!"

Arya warned him. The dwarf turned immediately and used the blade to pierce the abdomen of an orc that was about to pounce on them from the shore.

Meanwhile, some elves, led by Legolas and the guard, went in pursuit of the beasts, thus helping the dwarves, who continued their race dragged violently by the current.

At a certain point, the company arrived near another log that connected the two banks of the river, above which a group of orcs waited impatiently.

"Cut the trunk!"

Dwalin then shouted, retrieving an ax. Thorin approved of the idea and gave the first blow, Nori, did the same immediately after him and, finally, Dwalin gave the coup de grace. The log broke in half and the orcs fell into the river.

In the meantime, Legolas and the female elf had joined the company. The prince, from the bank, jumped on the heads of the dwarves, which they did not like, and, balancing on them, began to shoot arrows at the enemies. Then, still jumping on the heads of the dwarves, he returned to the shore where he continued to fight. The elf moved nimbly, facing even more than one opponent at the same time and never missing a shot. Suddenly, however, one of those beasts managed to get behind him without him noticing.

"Legolas!"

Arya tried to warn him, when suddenly Thorin threw the weapon he was holding, piercing the orc and saving the prince, who stared at him in surprise as he moved away along the river.

The current carried the fifteen companions beyond the borders of the Woodland Realm; the remaining orcs continued to chase them, running on the banks, but unable to reach them. After a few miles the barrels began to lose speed, until the waters subsided completely.

"Anything behind us?"

Thorin then asked, scanning the hills behind them.

"Not that I can see."

Balin replied doing the same.

"Make for the shore!"

The king ordered by starting to row with his arms towards the river bank.

"Looks like we lost them."

Arya then muttered.

"Yes, but not for long I'm afraid."

Fili answered.

"Anyway, we have another problem now."

He continued, turning in the direction of his brother.

"Kili..."

The girl whispered following his gaze.

"Your brother is strong, he'll make it."

She then said, gently placing a hand on her beloved's shoulder to reassure him. Fili smiled at her, but it was a bitter smile, dictated by concern. Then the dwarf turned again, starting to row to get closer to the shore and out of the barrel. Once he reached the side of the river, Fili grabbed Arya by the waist and pushed her out of the cask, then clung to the edges and, pulling on his arms, he too came out. One by one, all the members of the company came out of the barrels, then climbed onto the rocks and shake off the water.

Kili dropped to his knees, letting out a groan of pain. With a hem of his shirt he tried to plug the wound caused by the Morgul arrow while, behind him, Bofur stared at him worriedly. The young dwarf noticed the gaze of his friend on him and looked impassive.

"I'm fine, it's nothing!"

He asserted firmly.

"On your feet."

Thorin ordered.

"Kili's wounded, his leg needs binding."

Fili immediately replied, knelt beside his brother to check the severity of the injury. Arya followed him, looking at her friend with apprehension.

"Can you do something?"

Fili asked, thinking of some strange elven magic she might have learned in Rivendell.

"She doesn't have to! It's nothing!"

Kili then repeated irritated.

"No, I can't without herbs. I'm sorry."

Arya replied regretfully, ignoring the young archer's protests.

"There's an orc pack at our tail. We keep moving."

Thorin continued.

"To where?"

Balin then asked, shaking disconsolate his head.

"To the mountain, we're so close."

Bilbo replied with conviction, pointing east.

"A lake lies between us and that mountain, we have no way to cross it."

The white-bearded dwarf explained.

"So then we go around."

The hobbit proposed.

"The orcs will run us down as sure as daylight. We've no weapons to defend ourselves."

Dwalin complained.

"Bind his leg, quickly. You have two minutes."

Thorin then intimidated, turning his gaze to his nephew to check his condition. Fili immediately began to bandage his brother's leg with a flap of his tunic, while his fellows took a moment to rest.

Suddenly, while the fifteen companions were busy catching their breath, a man appeared behind them, with a bow in his hand and an arrow pointing in Ori's direction. The youngest of the dwarves, unaware of the danger, was sitting on a rock by the river, removing the water from his boots. Dwalin was the first to notice the stranger and ran in front of his friend with a stick in his hands. The man shot the arrow which hit the exact center of the stick and immediately nocked another. Kili, Fili and Arya, noticing the scene, jumped up. The young black-haired dwarf picked up a stone from the ground, ready to throw it, when the man fired the second arrow which hit the stone in Kili's hand, causing it to fall. The stranger then hastened to take a third arrow from the quiver and place it on the bow.

"Do it again and you're dead."

He threatened.

"Excuse me, but um...you're from Laketown, if I'm not mistaken? That barge over there, it wouldn't be available for hire by any chance?"

Balin questioned, approaching the man cautiously. The stranger then lowered the bow.

"What makes you think I would help you?"

He then asked him, heading to the bank and starting to drag the barrels onto the barge.

"Those boots have seen better days, as has that coat. No doubt you have some hungry mouths to feed? How many bairns?"

The dwarf replied cordially.

"A boy and two girls."

The man answered, continuing to load the barrels on the boat.

"And your wife, I imagine, she's a beauty?"

Balin continued, still courteously.

"Aye, she was."

He asserted, pausing for a moment to turn to the dwarf with a melancholy expression. Balin immediately stopped smiling.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

He tried to apologize, but was interrupted by his brother who, looking annoyed, tried to remind him that they didn't have much time.

"Oh, come on, come on. Enough with the niceties."

With that statement Dwalin drew the man's perplexed gaze to himself.

"What's your hurry?"

The bargeman then asked him.

"What's it to you?"

Dwalin growled.

"I would like to know who you are, and what you were doing in these lands."

He stated, resuming carrying the barrels on the barge.

"We are simple merchants from the Blue Mountains, journeying to see our kin in the Iron Hills."

Balin asserted quietly, trying to be convincing.

"Simple merchants, you say?"

The man replied, looking in Arya's direction. What was a woman doing with dwarves?

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"We need food, supplies, weapons. Can you help us?"

Thorin intervened, tired of wasting time.

"I know where these barrels came from."

The bargeman said calmly.

"What of it?"

The dwarf questioned.

"I don't know what business you had with the elves, but I don't think it ended well."

The man declared in a sarcastic tone, receiving a dirty look in response.

"No one enters Lake-town but by lead of the master. All his wealth comes from trade with the Woodland realm. He would see you in irons before risking the wrath of king Thranduil."

He then went on as he picked up a line and threw it at Balin.

"Offer him more."

Thorin then muttered in the direction of the older dwarf.

"I'll wager there are ways to enter that town unseen."

Balin stated, turning once again to the bargeman.

"Aye. But for that you would need a smuggler."

"For which we would pay double."

The dwarf immediately asserted. The man looked at him puzzled, undecided whether to accept or not: he needed that money, sure, but he had doubts about those dwarves.

"We won't give you any problem and we'll pay you well, we just need a way into town, some supplies and weapons."

Arya then stepped in, moving closer to him, in an attempt to convince him. The man shifted his gaze to the young woman and finally nodded.

"Get in."

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