6 Trapped

They fell for who knows how long, into a dark, stinking hole that did not bode well. After a pretty rough landing, in fact, the whole company was surrounded by goblins, grisly beings without honour, who lived in the depths of the rock and, as mercenaries, always allied with the highest bidder. Arya knew that dregs well, she had seen them helping orcs to slaughter his people in the past.

The little monsters brought the dwarves and the girl in the presence of their king, however they missed something, a member of the company had escaped their eyes, but not to those of the young woman: Bilbo had managed to slip away.

"Who would be so bold as to come armed into my kingdom? Spies? Thieves? Assassins?!"

The Goblin King asked with an aggressive tone, while he rose from his wooden throne, which, given its size, wasn't an easy thing.

"Dwarves, Your Malevolence, and a girl. We found them in the front porch."

One of the creatures who dragged them there replied, bowing before his master.

"Dwarves? And why would dwarves come through our caves?"

"If you want information, I'm the one you should speak to!"

Bofur stepped in, trying to save them all.

"We were on the road...well, it's not so much of a road as path. Actually, it's not even that come to think of it- it's more like a track. Anyway, the point is we were on this road, like a path, like a track, and then we weren't, which is a problem, because we were supposed to be in Dunland last Tuesday."

"...visiting distant relations!"

Dori added to it.

"Some inbreds on me mother's side."

Bofur continued, making the King so nervous.

"Shut up! If they will not talk, we'll make them squawk! Bring out the Mangler! Bring out the Bone-Breaker! Start with the girl!"

A heartbreaking laugh followed the last words of the Great Goblin, ended with the protests of the dwarves, who were struggling desperately to help their friend.

Arya was carried forward by several dirty hands and, despite her attempts to split, was bent to her knees before the King.

"Get your hands off her, you filthy worms! No! Arya!"

It didn't take long for the girl to recognize that voice, it was Fili's.

"Wait!"

Somebody else thundered behind her. The young Dwarf King stepped forward, allowing the Great Goblin to recognize him.

"Well, well, well! Look who it is. Thorin, son of Thráin, son of Thrór! King Under the Mountain."

The beast said, performing in a ceremonious and mocking bow.

"Oh! But I'm forgetting, you don't have a mountain, and you're not a king. Which makes you... nobody, really."

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Thorin, now accustomed to that kind of provocation, remained firm and impassive before that monstrosity. On him, the concerned looks of all his companions, Arya included.

"I know someone who will pay a pretty price for your head. Just a head, nothing attached. Perhaps you know of whom I speak. An old enemy of yours. A Pale Orc astride a White Warg."

Those words hit the dwarf like a blade through the chest.

"Azog the Defiler was destroyed. He was slain in battle long ago!"

He then growled.

"So you think his defiling days are done, do you?"

The Goblin King asked him boldly, and then turned to his servant, leaving confusion in the mind of the young dwarf, and in that of the girl too. For Arya, in fact, it was as if an old ghost from her past had come back to haunt her: she hadn't forgotten, she would never have done it. "If Azog is still alive he will suffer his fate" she thought.

"Send word to the Pale Orc. Tell him I have found his prize."

Before giving further orders, the Great Goblin jumped back to the sight of Orcrist, Thorin's sword, which was laying on the ground along with the other dwarf weapons. At that point, panicked, the creatures began to attack the members of the company, who tried in every way to defend themselves. Arya managed to get rid of the firm grip of those little monsters on her arms and began to fight alongside her friends, but, despite the fortitude of the dwarves, they were still few in number and the goblins were winning.

Suddenly the battle was interrupted and all those present were blinded by a strong white light, immediately followed by a familiar voice.

"Take up arms! Fight, fight!"

Gandalf was finally there. Taking advantage of the momentary disorientation of their enemies, the dwarves quickly resumed their weapons and began the counter attack.

Fili anxiously searched for Arya, who was fighting vigorously against two of those filthy creatures having the upper hand, and he managed, between thrusts and blows, to get to her side.

"Stay close to me!"

He yelled at her as she pushed back another little monster. Arya knew very well she could take care of herself but, at that time, she decided that it was better not to reply and listen to the suggestion.

The company led by Gandalf ran along the wooden catwalks, trying to fend off the goblins that were coming from all directions. The run, however, didn't last long: it was abruptly interrupted by the Great King who jumped out from under the bridge destroying the boards.

"You thought you could escape me?!"

He asked in a challenging tone, as he faced Gandalf.

"What are you gonna do now, wizard?"

He, in response, struck him in the eye with a stick, and then cut off his belly with a sword.

"That'll do it."

The Great Goblin then decreed, just before Gandalf cut off his chin.

The dwarves then resumed running along the catwalks, until they left the scene, falling into a ravine and reaching the bottom of the cave.

"Well, that could have been worse."

Bofur exclaimed when he touched the ground. That being said, the dead body of the sovereign fell upon them.

"You've got to be joking!"

Dwalin then protested, trapped under the weight of the beast and the boards.

The dwarves were trying to get back on their feet when their attention was called by Kili, who pointed out the multitude of goblins directed towards them.

"There's too many of them, we can't face them all, we must go, now!"

Arya asserted by turning to Gandalf, having freed herself from the beams.

"There's only one thing that can save us: the light of day! Go!"

The wizard exclaimed, starting to run towards the exit of the cave, followed by the rest of the company.

The dwarves and the young woman stopped to catch their breath only once they were sure to be far enough away from the cave. Only then Arya remembered Bilbo had escaped, so he wasn't with them.

"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Bifur, Bofur...make ten. Ah, Fili, Kili and Arya...make thirteen. And of course Bombur makes fourteen..."

Gandalf began to count the members of the company and he too, like Arya, noticed the absence of the friend.

"Where's Bilbo? Where's our hobbit?!"

With that question, all the dwarves began to look around worried.

"Where's our hobbit?!"

The wizard repeated with more emphasis.

"Damn the halfling! Now he's lost?!"

Dwalin exclaimed irritated.

"I thought he was with Dori."

Nori declared anxious.

"Hey, don't blame me!"

Dori defended himself.

"Where have you seen him the last..."

"He managed to escape when we were surrounded by the goblins: he is small, agile and quiet, they didn't saw him."

Arya sadly affirmed, interrupting the wizard and sharing his concern. Fili, who wasn't too far from her, next to his brother, noticed her state of mind and approached her.

"I'm sure he'll be fine. He'll find a way to come back to us."

He told her softly, taking her hand and gently holding her between his own.

"Come back? No, no, there's is no way Master Baggins is coming back: he saw his chance and he took it. He's thought of nothing but his soft bed and his warm hearth since first he stepped out of his door! We will not be seeing our hobbit again; he's long gone."

Thorin affirmed in a tone of resentment and anger, earning reprimand glances from Arya, Fili and Gandalf, who were shocked by his statement.

"No, he isn't."

A familiar voice called the attention of all the members of the company who, turning around, were surprised to see their burglar safe and sound.

"Bilbo Baggins! I've never been so glad to see anyone in my life!"

The wizard exclaimed sincerely relieved.

"Bilbo! We'd given you up!"

Arya and Kili said in unison.

"How on earth did you get past the goblins?"

Fili then added curious.

"How indeed?"

Dwalin repeated, with a tone definetly less jovial and more inquisitive than that of the blond.

"Well, what does it matter? He's back."

Gandalf intervened, seeing the tension in his friend's eyes and sensing that Bilbo had been helped...by whom, or by what, he had yet to find out.

"It matters. I want to know, why did you come back?"

Thorin then asked with authority.

"Look, I know you doubt me. I know...I know you always have. And you're right, I often think of Bag End. I miss my books. And my armchair, and my garden. See, that's where I belong. That's home. And that's why I came back. Because... you don't have one. A home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can."

The sincerity and gentleness in the words of the hobbit touched all those present. Even Arya found herself thinking about her home, her real home, the one that had been taken away from her long before, but she, unlike her fellows, could never go back.

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