Chapter 26: Out of the Frying Pan
Out of the Frying Pan
"Enough!" yells the Goblin King, and in less than a second his huge hand has flown out in front of me; he smacks me off my feet, and I go flying through the air, the phone falling from my grip and dashing out over the nearest balcony. The last of Josie's 'ooooooo'-ing can be heard washing out as the phone descends, and as my head clears I see that the Goblins are in a frenzy once more, and the huge feet of the Goblin King are padding in my direction. One meaty paw rises above my head, ready to descend and crush me into jelly.
Before I'm crushed to death by the rancid foot, there is a blinding flash of light; a huge crash rings around as the Goblin King falls on his side beside me. I wriggle away as quickly as possible, scramble to my feet and collapse into the arms of the nearest Dwarf, and my eyes lock on to the cause of the commotion; Gandalf has reclaimed his staff, a thousand Goblins reeling on the floor in pain, and the old Wizard is advancing on us, striking the creatures with Glamdring as they scramble left and right to escape his path.
"Take up arms, fight! Fight!" the Wizard roars; in a mass panic we scramble for the weapons on the ground, retrieving each other's weapons; I end up with Bombur's ladle, and strike the nearest Goblin out of the way with it.
"Follow me, all of you! This way!" Gandalf yells, and we all follow blindly, the Dwarves hacking and slashing at whatever comes in their way, myself battering them across their gargantuan heads with all the force I can muster. "Run! Quickly!" Gandalf roars, and I find that I am being swept along one of the rope bridges, roaring along with the others as we charge head-on into a barrage of Goblins; again the slaughter commences, arrows and axes flying above our heads as we battle on.
"Out of my way!" Dwalin roars, striking the head clear off one of the creatures as it stumbles into our path; within a few moments we're running again, jumping across narrow platforms this time; Dwalin and the others dismantle a railing and use it as a barge, knocking away the advancing enemies into the dark abyss below.
"Away, bastards!" I screech as three of the creatures advance on me at once. Ladle in hand, I beat two of them back, and an arrow flies through the shoulder of the third, sending him to the floor; Kili grabs my arm as he treads over the boy, not saying a word, and pulls me onwards. Thorin drives his blade through two Goblins at once, Oin renders another dozen useless with the swing of his iron staff above his head, and Nori's quick thinking leads to several ropes being severed, sending our company swinging across the dark cave away from the frenzied Goblins. Ladders, lanterns, and all manner of other appliances contribute to our battle, and soon enough we appear to be in the clear; that is, until there is a shattering raucous before us, and the King of the Goblins bursts through the rotten flooring with a roar.
Holy shizzle, holy shizzle, holy shizzle...
The gargantuan creature begins to laugh, his rotten yellow teeth showing through his gaping mouth; the sores around them tear as he grins, whitish puss staining the corners of his motten lips.
"What are you going to do now, Wizard?"
Gandalf quickly answers the question with a slash at the great Goblin's bloated stomach; a line of red appears where the sword struck, and the huge beast cries out in pain, falling to his knees.
"That... that'll do it..."
Before he can say another word, Gandalf sweeps Glamdring back the other way, slashing at the creature's goiter-swollen throat. The Goblin King collapses face-down, dead as a doorpost, his body slamming hard against the quivering flooring and causing it to creak and shudder. The mere force of his weight causes several of the Goblins to fall from the podium, and it seems we have won, until...
No, no, no-!
The entire platform gives way, and suddenly we are falling through the air, Dwarves and Wizards and Goblins all, screaming as the ground rushes up to meet us; wood splinters left right and centre, hands grasp for whatever they can find and with a deafening bang we hit the rocky floor.
A moment later, there is another crash and a huge weight engulfs me as something smacks against the back of my head. Ouch...
...I am dead. Surely, I am dead this time.
Oh, nope... not quite yet... but here we go. My eyes are closing, and a warmth is washing over me. Goodbye, cruel world.
"Wake up, freakazoid!" Josie screeches at me from the arm of the sofa, still clinging to her house phone, "get up, get up, get up!"
"I... ugh... not dead... Jos?"
"No, it's Batman, who do you think? Come on, come on, tell me what's going on!"
By the erratic grimace on her face and the dissaray of her purple-tinged hair, it looks as though she has been shaking me for quite some time. She shoves her hands in my pockets, and in a flustered tone shrieks, "no phone, then. How come sometimes stuff comes back with you and sometimes it doesn't? Oh, and because you didn't bring your essay back- bet you forgot about that, didn't you-? I've called up the tutor and told her we're not coming in today. Well, technically I told the receptionist, but it's all the same yada-yada. I told the admin guy we've both got the squits."
"You know, the fudge puddles. When you're climbing up a tree and it dribbles down your knee-"
"Oh, Josie, don't-"
"Diahorrea, diahorrea, when you're climbing up a mountain and it bursts out like a fountain-"
"When they think it's just a farce, 'till it pours out of your arse-"
"Josie!" I bark, "enough! ...Why did you tell her that, of all things-? You know what, it doesn't matter. I... I need to sleep, now-"
She squeezes my hand in her own excitedly. "How come?"
"Goblins," I tell her, "they're... they're coming after us- Jesus, my head is killing me- I- I..."
In a haze I awake, staring down at the ground as I hang suspended over a plank of wood, staring at the shattered remains of my phone. I attempt to wriggle my way free from the planks crushing my legs, but it's no good; the weight shifts and I realise that someone is freeing me. Dori helps me to my feet, ever courteous; I turn to the others,scarcely stood themselves, and see that the huge form of the Goblin King has fallen on the wreckage of the wooden platform. The last to be freed is Ori, who comes tumbling out from a net of splinters with a dazed look and a thin red cut below his eye.
"Are you alright?" Fili asks me, and I nod as he struggles to find his jagged hatchet blades amongst the rubble; instead he pulls free Bombur's ladle, and hands it to the round Dwarf quickly before turning to his brother. "Well, brother?"
Kili nods, rubbing the back of his neck and adjusting the quivers on his shoulder. He turns, face blackened with dirt, and eyes the mouth of the cave. "G-Gandalf!"
The old Wizard and the rest of us turn to him, and it is soon apparent why; an army of Goblins are pouring over the mountain side, prepared to meet us with axe and steel.
"There's too many!" Dwalin roars, "we can't fight them!"
The old Wizard takes his staff firmly in hand, and begins to walk on. "Only one thing will save us now; daylight! Come! All of you, on your feet!"
And we are running again. Clustered together like a herd of antelope we charge on through the dark caves of slate and granite, clothes snagging on jagged stalagmites and feet slipping on the slime of limestone. There is a cry of 'Ho!' from the Wizard ahead, and suddenly we burst into daylight; I hear Kili's laughter, full of relief, and he grabs hold of my wrist as we surge down the rolling green hill protruding from the cave's edge. I struggle to keep up, eyes watering and laughing myself now, painstakingly aware of the danger which cannot be far behind but relishing the moment regardless. In the thickets of the forest the Wizard comes to a halt, and begins to count the company.
"Five, six, seven, eight... Bifur, Bofur, that's ten... Lavender, Fili, Kili! That's thirteen, and Bombur. That makes fourteen."
"They won't follow us now, the Goblins?" I ask Kili; he shakes his head, and having forgotten himself, releases my arm.
The Wizard looks anguished. "Where is Bilbo? Where is our Hobbit?"
No one has an answer. Fili and Kili search the foliage of the forest floor in unison, as though they are expecting him to burst froth from the ground like a land beaver.
"Where is our Hobbit?!"
"Curse that Halfling!" Gloin barks, "now he's lost?! I thought he was with Dori!"
"Don't blame me!" Dori bellows, all a fluster, straightening his coat. "I never-!"
"Well, where did you last see him?"
"He wasn't there with us," I say, "when we arrived, there was no sign of him."
"I think I saw him slip away when they first collared us," Nori quips, fingers tangled up in his starfish beard.
"And what happened, exactly?" Gandalf demands, "tell me!"
The leader of the Dwarves marches forwards before the Wizard, a scowl set on his long face. "I'll tell you what happened," Thorin intrudes with a growl, "Master Baggins saw his chance and he took it. He has 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 is long gone."
A rustle in the leaves.
"No," comes a small voice, "... he isn't."
Bilbo emerges through the trees, red velvet coat bristled with filth, but very much alive. A breath of relief washes over the entire company, and Gandalf begins to laugh breathlessly.
"Bilbo Baggins! Oh, I have never been so glad to see anyone in my life!"
"Bilbo!" Kili beams, that wry grin back on his sharp face, "we'd almost given you up." Fili nudges him aside and asks,
"How on earth did you get past the Goblins?"
The Hobbit seems reluctant to answer, shifting nervously on his woolly brown feet. As the silence thickens, Gandalf sees fit to disrupt it.
"How, indeed... well, what does it matter? He's back."
"It matters," Thorin growls, ever the optimist, advancing a step on the lesser man. "I want to know. Why did you come back?"
Why isn't how, Thorin, I think absently, but know better than to voice my observation. Bilbo seems to falter a minute before clasping his small hands together and turning to the ever-suspicious King.
"...Look. I know you doubt me... 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." He takes a deep breath before continuing, addressing all of the Dwarves now. "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."
Bilbo glances around the group, and when his eyes meet mine, I give him a reassuring smile. For a moment I think that Thorin is about to say something, perhaps even the beginnings of an apology; but then the world crumbles around us once more, and before I we know it, danger strikes once more.
A wolf howls, and my heart turns to ice in my chest.