- Fix It
The sparkle caught Bilbo’s eye, and he knew immediately this was the stone Balin had sent him to find. Unlike every other treasure in the room, the stone called to him in a way he couldn’t explain. He should be looking out for the dragon, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the unusual gem.
Keeping his ears trained for any movement, he carefully made the few steps needed to bring him close enough to pick up the Arkenstone. As soon as the gem was within his grasp, he felt a wave of nausea sweep over him for it was no mere gem.
It was a seed.
And it was dying. Bilbo had never cradled a budding life, but he was endowed with the gifts of Yavanna like any other Hobbit. He sent a wave of green magic, life magic, into the seed. He would have to plant it soon, but he felt the waning lifeforce in the seed steady and rise to meet him.
He held the seed close to his chest, knowing he’d stabilized the life within. For now.
The tinkling of coins alerted him that the dragon had awoken.
“Who dares?” a deep voice resonated throughout the chamber.
With the green magic humming under his skin, Bilbo felt the life energy of Smaug and the life energy of the seed and knew he held a dragon seed in his hand.
And he understood.
Bilbo slipped behind a pillar, holding the seed close, trying to decide how to proceed.
“I feel the call again,” Smaug said in a low hiss. Too close for Bilbo’s comfort. It was difficult to track the dragon’s movements because the sounds of coins and gems shifting and falling was spread over such a large area.
He wanted to call out, to ask if this seed was why Smaug came to Erebor, but sheer terror kept him silent.
“I smell you, thief. Yet I’ve never smelled one like you before.” There was rustling and the sound of more coins shifting. Bilbo held his breath. “Where is it?” Smaug’s voice was nearly a hiss.
Bilbo stayed still and kept silent, attention divided between attempting to track Smaug’s movements and his magic’s connection to the tiny dragon seed.
“I hear the call,” Smaug snarled. “Where is it?”
Tracking a course of movement, Bilbo hesitantly asked, “Is she why you came here?”
Everything went still and quiet for so long that Bilbo was afraid his heart was going to beat out of his chest.
“She?” Smaug’s voice was as soft as Bilbo thought it possibly could be, but it was also much closer than Bilbo was comfortable with.
“When I picked her up, I felt that she was dying. I was able to stabilize her.”
“Why do you think it’s female?” That deep rumble was much closer.
Bilbo couldn’t risk speaking again. Smaug was too close, and Bilbo wasn’t sure his magic ring would be sufficient when he was holding her.
After several long moments, Smaug prompted, “Why do you not answer, little thief?” The tinkling and clanking of shifting coins and metals was subtle, as if Smaug were moving slowly, gauging where to go next.
Bilbo bit his lip and willed his heartbeat to slow.
“Are you afraid?” Smaug rumbled, sounding further away.
“Yes,” Bilbo admitted.
“I won’t kill you, little thief. Not yet. I would have my answers first.”
“That’s poor incentive to give you answers.”
Suddenly, he heard furious movement and hot breath drifted over him. Smaug’s head was only a few feet away, though he was still behind Bilbo. “Shall I swear not to kill you, then?”
Bilbo remained silent, recognizing that Smaug almost had his hiding spot figured out.
“Will you not answer me, little thief?”
Bilbo closed his eyes and prayed to the Green Lady.
Smaug spent several minutes trying to entice a response from Bilbo, but he kept quiet.
“Very well,” Smaug huffed, hot breath gusting through the treasure room. “I shall make you a vow. Dragons do not make vows idly, thief. I’ve only made two others in my life.” There was a long silence. “Reveal yourself, answer my questions, and do not try to take the egg with you, and you shall not be harmed. So I swear before Eru.”
Most would not dare make a false vow before Eru, but could a dragon be trusted?
Bilbo thought about Thorin and the others…waiting for him.
He tightened his hand around the seed. They were waiting for him to bring them this seed to them. Did they know about the wavering life within?
Could dwarrows be trusted with that?
Bilbo felt the green magic stir in him and knew the only thing he could do was try to save the life in his hands. He slipped the ring off, tucking it into his pocket. Oddly, as soon as the ring was off, his connection to the seed surged.
A huge snout was suddenly right in his face, snorting hot breath over him.
“I accept your vow,” Bilbo shouted, not sure about the intricacies of such things, but he probably needed to agree.
Smaug moved back enough that Bilbo no longer felt as if he were being singed with dragon breath. “Put the egg down.”
“Egg?” He glanced down at the shiny seed clutched in his hand. “You mean like a chicken?” So far, Smaug wasn’t trying to eat or fry him, so Bilbo considered that a good sign.
“We are not chickens!” Smaug thundered.
“Yes, okay. No need to get upset. Hobbits are grown from seeds, you know. I can’t imagine a hobbit coming from an egg.”
Smaug’s giant head swing in closer. “A hobbit, eh? Never encountered a hobbit before.”
“Yes, well, few have. We are not small men.”
Smaug made that disturbing rumbling sound again. “Put the egg down.”
“I can’t.” He clasped both hands over it. “I’m bolstering her life force. She was dying. If I don’t plant her soon, I won’t be able to sustain her. I need a little more time infusing with her with magic before I can put her down.”
After several very alarming noises, Smaug ordered, “Explain!”
“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to explain,” Bilbo countered. “It’s quite clear to me that other races go about the business of procreation differently than hobbits if you think this is an egg. Really, an egg. How undignified to be hatched.” Bilbo had no experience by which to judge dragon expressions, but he rather thought Smaug looked frustrated.
“How do you know it’s female.”
“Uh… I can feel it? She tells me so. I have no fauntlings of my own, but hear tell that by the time the seed has sprouted, the child can communicate. Though hobbits tend to choose gender designations a bit later in life.”
Smoke curled from Smaug’s nostrils, and Bilbo cringed back into the pillar. “You’re keeping her alive?”
“Um, yes?” He quickly added. “I can’t do it indefinitely. She must go back into the earth, but once that’s done, uh… Well, actually, I don’t know anything about cradling a dragon.”
“You speak in riddles!”
“I do not!” Bilbo stamped his foot. “I do not know how a dragon is born, I just know that what’s in here,” he dipped his head toward his hands, “feels the same as you. If it were a heart seed, I’d plant it, but I don’t know where dragons come from.”
“We come from the mountain!” Smaug huffed. “Ignorant little thief.”
“Hey! You know no more about hobbits than I know about dragons.”
Smaug’s glare was a thing to behold. Then the great dragon dropped down onto his belly, making the whole cavern tremble, and rested his head on his crossed forelegs. “Morgoth created dragons, but Eru saw his intent and took us from Morgoth. Dragons to not breed. We are individually created and the egg is placed deep within a mountain. When we are ready, we emerge.”
“At least you weren’t squeezed out like a chicken.” Bilbo considered then blinked in astonishment. “So all the dragons that will ever exist already exist?”
“Yes. Though the one you hold was to be the last.”
“Last?” Bilbo echoed.
“Yes. We feel each other…hear each other’s calls. We’re only cut off from one another when we slumber. For many moons before I went to sleep, I had only heard one final call. The call of the last dragon.” Hot breath escaped in a rush as Smaug seemed to sigh. “She is all that is left of us. Dragons sleep through time.” He looked away from Bilbo. “I was deeply in my rest when she called for help. Called to the last of her kind because she’d been pulled from the rock before she was ready. I did not hear her call in time to save her.”
Bilbo felt as if his heart were being squeezed. “You came to Erebor because she was crying out?”
“Yes.” There was a displeased rumble. “By the time I found her, I could no longer hear her. I thought I was too late, that she was nothing but a pretty shell.” He reared back up on his legs, staring down at Bilbo. “But I hear her call again. It’s faint, but she’s alive. How have you accomplished this?”
“It’s…” Bilbo shrugged. “Hobbits grow things.”
“Make sense, thief!”
“I’m not a thief!” He made a face. “To be perfectly honest, I was sent here for sort of that purpose, but the mountain was home to thousands of dwarrows. They want their home back. They mistakenly thought this seed…egg was a symbol of their, well, I don’t know, really. Dwarrow make about as much sense to a hobbit as a dragon does.”
“Stop babbling!” Smaug’s tailed swished in agitation, sending mountains of coins flying. “Can you save her?”
“I—I think so. I’ve never planted a dragon before. I’ve never planted a hobbit either. That’s not the sort of things one does on a whim.” Bilbo was starting to get a read on Smaug’s expressions because he was pretty sure Smaug was about to eat him. “But I’ll try!” he quickly added. “I don’t want her to die, and Hobbits were given the magic of nurturing life by the Lady Yavanna. But…” He swallowed heavily. “I have to know if helping bring another dragon in this world is going to result in more deaths. The dwarrow have a right to their home. She has a right to live. How do we reconcile?”
Smaug’s eyes narrowed. “Let us treat, then.”
– – – –
“I’m telling you, she doesn’t like the gold!” Bilbo snapped, tired of Smaug’s insistence.
“Nonsense. All dragons like gold.”
“Not this one.” He shook the fist containing the dragon seed in Smaug’s direction. “Maybe because she spent years dying upon a heap of it? Could that perhaps have something to do with her antipathy?”
Smaug huffed and swished his tail, and Bilbo narrowly avoided getting swept up in a tide of gold. “Then what do you suggest?”
“I don’t know! I’d normally grow things in the earth!”
“A dragon can’t emerge from dirt.”
“So you say, but I’ve tried every substance in here and she’s not having it! I need earth and sunlight.”
“There’s no sun in here.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed,” Bilbo remarked dryly.
“I’ll make a hole.”
“No!” Bilbo fisted his hand in his hair. “Yavanna save us all.” He blew out a breath and prayed for patience. “Our agreement was that the dwarrow get their mountain back with no further damage. Blowing a hole in the mountain certainly qualifies as further damage! Also, I’d probably be crushed in the falling debris. So can we just…try the courtyard or something?” He held up a hand. “But first, I have to talk to them. Don’t give me that look.” He glared at Smaug. “I’m committed to saving her, you know I’m not lying about that. But I have to talk to them. I’m going to need their help.”
Bilbo sighed. “We’re getting nowhere, and I don’t want us tromping around outside of the mountain without giving a little bit of warning. Now, do you want me to leave her here or take her with me? She’s absorbed enough green magic to be all right for a bit.”
Smaug plopped his head down on his forelegs, looking disgruntled. “I’ll not have her near a dwarf.”
“Fair. I’ll leave her with you then, shall I?”
“What if she starts to fade again?”
“My magic is connected to her now. I’ll feel it if she’s in more distress. But, I suppose if you think there’s something wrong, you could just roar for me to return. You seem quite adept at that.”
Smaug glared. It was a testament to how annoying the negotiations had been that Bilbo was becoming somewhat inured to the effects of said glare. “Leave her with me if you must go.”
Bilbo emptied a small wooden chest that contained a bunch of gemstones and lined it with his coat.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m creating a temporary nest. You don’t seem to believe me about the gold, but she really doesn’t like it, and gemstones are only marginally better.”
Smaug put his snout right up against the chest, peering closely as Bilbo laid the seed into the chest. “Is she defective?”
Bilbo propped his hands on his hips. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. And if she were, would you give up? Call off our bargain.”
“Never! She could have an affinity for trees and I would honor our bargain, hobbit.”
“Right.” He pointed at Smaug. “Try not to wiggle around too much. One good swish of your tail could bury her, and it’d take me an age to find her again.”
Smaug huffed smoke at him.
Deciding to leave before any further threats of death by immolation or ingestion could be levied, Bilbo headed back the way he’d come. He had no idea how he was going to explain this situation. Well, other than the truth, but if dwarrow were the egg-dropping sort, would they even believe that he could grow a dragon? He wasn’t even sure his efforts would be successful, and he probably be eaten for failure.
He ran into a whole corridor full of dwarrow long before he’d decided what he was going to say.
Thorin grabbed him by the arms, looking him over carefully. “Are you well, Master Baggins?”
Bilbo blinked a few times. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“We thought we heard…” He shook his head. “Were you able to ascertain if the dragon still lives?”
“Yes, you heard him, and, yes, he still lives. We had a nice chat.”
Thorin’s mouth fell open. After several long moments of utter silence, he asked, “Is this hobbit humor?”
“Did you find the Arkenstone?” Balin pressed.
Bilbo sighed and shook off Thorin’s hold. “I need to speak with you. Privately,” he said emphatically.
“Anything you learned can—”
“It’s not about what I learned,” Bilbo interjected. “Not yet, anyway. I have questions that I’d prefer to ask you privately.”
Thorin stared at him for a long time then nodded for the others to go back up the corridor. “We’ll join you at the door.”
The others sent questioning looks, but they followed Thorin’s implicit command to give them privacy.
As soon as the others were out of sight, Bilbo leaned against he wall, and asked the first thing that came to mind. “How do dwarrows go about the business of reproduction?”
Thorin made a choking sound, looking scandalized. “That is hardly—”
“Do you lay eggs?”
Thorin’s eyes opened wide. “What?”
“Eggs,” Bilbo repeated. “Are there eggs involved?”
“How can you not know the manner in which children are conceived.”
“Hobbits are grown in earth from heartseeds. Certainly I’m familiar with the breeding practices of animals, but I’d wrongly assumed other folk went about things in the same way as hobbits. I gather that’s not the case.”
Thorin just blinked at him.
“Have I damaged you, Thorin?”
“You expect me to believe that hobbits are grown and not born?”
“You can believe it or not as you choose, but your belief doesn’t make it more or less true. Hobbits are grown. Chickens lay eggs. Pigs give birth. Now, are you more like hobbits, chickens, or pigs?”
“It’s a perfectly reasonable question.”
“We are nothing like pigs,” Thorin growled.
“Ah. So live birth, then.” Bilbo shuddered. “How dreadful. I think I’d much prefer being hatched. In any case, regardless of what Smaug might have to say, dragons are much more like hobbits than they are chickens or dwarrow.”
Thorin’s mouth fell open again then sharply clicked shut.
“Did you know your little bauble was a dragon seed? Or egg, if you prefer.”
“By Mahal, tell me you are joking.”
“I don’t find the subject remotely amusing, Thorin. Dragon seeds grow deep in the rock until they’re ready to emerge. She was removed too early and her life force slowly drained away as she was used as an ornament to impress the world with your kingly might. Smaug was hibernating when she first gave the call for help. By the time he woke, he could no longer hear her. He came to Erebor to get revenge for killing the last of his kind.”
Thorin shook his head. “No.”
“He’s lying to you. Dragons are liars.”
“He may have lied about a detail or two I wouldn’t know, but the Arkenstone is definitely a dragon. Her call was too weak for Smaug to hear any longer but she wasn’t actually dead.”
Thorin kept shaking his head.
“What’s so hard to believe?”
“You’re saying we brought about this calamity?”
“I’m not blaming. I’m just stating the facts. Your grandfather mistook a dragon seed for a gemstone. Smaug took Erebor from the line of Durin in recompense. Neither side was right in that. Or wrong. But since she’s not actually dead, she’s how we’re going to get your mountain back. Because fighting that dragon was never a viable plan.”
Thorin’s brow furrowed in obvious confusion.
– – – –