J. R. R. Tolkien
The Quest of Erebor
He would say no more that day. But later we brought the matter again, and he told us the whole strange story; how he came to arrange the journey to Erebor, why he thought of Bilbo, and how he persuaded the proud Thorin Oakenshield to take him into his company. I cannot remember all the tale now, but we gathered that to begin with Gandalf was thinking only of the defence of the West against the Shadow. >>>
"I was very troubled at that time," he said, "for Saruman was hindering all my plans. I knew that Sauron had arisen again and would soon declare himself, and I knew that he was preparing for a great war. How would he begin? Would he try first to re-occupy Mordor, or would he first attack the chief strongholds of his enemies? I thought then, and I am sure now, that to attack Lorien and Rivendell, as soon as he was strong enough was his original plan. It would have been a much better plan for him, and much worse for us. >>>
"You may think that Rivendell was out of his reach, but I did not think so. The state of things in the North was very bad. The Kingdom under the Mountain and the strong Men of Dale were no more. To resist any force that Sauron might send to regain the northern passes in the mountains and the old lands of Angmar there were only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills, and behind them lay a desolation and a Dragon. The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect. Often I said to myself: "I must find some means of dealing with Smaug. But a direct stroke against Dol Guldur is needed still more. We must disturb Sauron's plans. I must make the Council see that.' >>>
"Those were my dark thoughts as I jogged along the road. I was tired, and I was going to the Shire for a short rest, after being away from it for more than twenty years. I thought that if I put them out of my mind for a while I might perhaps find some way of dealing with these troubles. And so I did indeed, though I was not allowed to put them out of my mind. >>>
"For just as I was nearing Bree I was overtaken by Thorin Oakenshield,1 who lived then in exile beyond the north-western borders of the Shire. To my surprise he spoke to me; and it was at that moment that the tide began to turn. >>>
"He was troubled too, so troubled that he actually asked for my advice. So I went with him to his halls in the Blue Mountains, and I listened to his long tale. I soon understood that his heart was hot with brooding on his wrongs, and the loss of the treasure of his forefathers, and burdened too with the duty of revenge upon Smaug that he bad inherited. Dwarves take such duties very seriously. >>>
"I promised to help him if I could. I was as eager as he was to see the end of Smaug, but Thorin was all for plans of battle and war, as if he were really King Thorin the Second, and I could see no hope in that. So I left him and went off to the Shire, and picked up the threads of news. It was a strange business. I did no more than follow the lead of 'chance,' and made many mistakes on the way. >>>
Somehow I had been attracted by Bilbo long before, as a child, and a young hobbit: he had not quite come of age when I had last seen him. He had stayed in my mind ever since, with his eagerness and his bright eyes, and his love of tales, and his questions about the wide world outside the Shire. As soon as I entered the Shire I heard news of him. He was getting talked about, it seemed. Both his parents had died early for Shire-folk, at about eighty; and he had never married. He was already growing a bit queer, they said, and went off for days by himself. He could be seen talking to strangers, even Dwarves. >>>
"Even Dwarves!' Suddenly in my mind these three things came together: the great Dragon with his lust, and his keen hearing and scent; the sturdy heavy-booted Dwarves with their old burning grudge; and the quick, soft-footed Hobbit, sick at heart (I guessed) for a sight of the wide world. I laughed at myself; but I went off at once to have a look at Bilbo, to see what twenty years bad done to him, and whether he was as promising as gossip seemed to make out. But be was not at home. They shook their heads in Hobbiton when I asked after him. 'Off again,' said one Hobbit. It was Holman, the gardener, I believe.2 'Off again. He'll go right off one of these days, if he isn't careful. Why, I asked him where he was going, and when he would be back, and I don't know he says; and then he looks at me queerly. It depends if I meet any, Holman, he says. It's the Elves New Year tomorrow!3 A pity, and him so kind a body. You wouldn't find a better from the Downs to the River.'
"Better and better!' I thought. 'I think I shall risk it.' Time was getting short. I had to be with the White Council in August at the latest, or Saruman would have his way and nothing would be done. And quite apart from greater matters, that might prove fatal to the quest: the power in Dol Guldur would not leave any attempt on Erebor unhindered, unless he had something else to deal with.
"So I rode off back to Thorin in haste, to tackle the difficult task of persuading him to put aside his lofty designs and go secretly - and take Bilbo with him. Without seeing Bilbo first. It was a mistake, and nearly proved disastrous. For Bilbo had changed, of course. At least, he was getting rather greedy and fat, and his old desires had dwindled down to a sort of private dream. Nothing could have been more dismaying than to find it actually in danger of coming true! He was altogether bewildered, and made a complete fool of himself. Thorin would have left in a rage, but for another strange chance, which I will mention in a moment.
"But you know how things went, at any rate as Bilbo saw them. The story would sound rather different, if I had written it. For one thing he did not realize at all how fatuous the Dwarves thought him, nor how angry they were with me. Thorin was much more indignant and contemptuous than he perceived He was indeed contemptuous from the beginning, and thought then that I had planned the whole affair simply so as to make a mock of him. It was only the map and the key that saved the situation.
"But I had not thought of them for years. It was not until I got to the Shire and had time to reflect on Thorin's tale that I suddenly remembered the strange chance that had put them in my hands; and it began now to look less like chance. I remembered a dangerous journey of mine, ninety-one years before, when I had entered Dol Guldur in disguise, and had found there an unhappy Dwarf dying in the pits. I had no idea who he was. He had a map that had belonged to Durin's folk in Moria and a key that seemed to go with it, though he was too far gone to explain it. And he said that he had possessed a great Ring.
"Nearly all his ravings were of that. The last of the Seven he said over and over again. But all these things he might have come by in many ways. He might have been a messenger caught as he fled, or even a thief trapped by a greater thief. But he gave the map and the key to me. 'For my son,' he said; and then he died, and soon after I escaped myself. I stowed the things away, and by some warning of my heart I kept them always with me, safe, but soon almost forgotten. I had other business in Dol Guldur more important and perilous than all the treasure of Erebor.
"Now I remembered it all again, and it seemed clear that I had heard the last words of Thráin the Second,4 though he did not name himself or his son; and Thorin, of course, did not know what had become of his father, nor did he even mention the last of the Seven Rings.' I had the plan and the key of the secret entrance to Erebor, by which Thrór and Thráin escaped, according to Thorin's tale. And I had kept them, though without any design of my own, until the moment when they would prove most useful.
"Fortunately, I did not make any mistake in my use of them. I kept them up my sleeve, as you say in the Shire, until things looked quite hopeless. As soon as Thorin saw them he really made up his mind to follow my plan, as far as a secret expedition went at any rate. Whatever he thought of Bilbo he would have set out himself. The existence of a secret door, only discoverable by Dwarves, made it seem at least possible to find out something of the Dragon's doings, perhaps even to recover some gold, or some heirloom to ease his heart's longings.
"But that was not enough for me. I knew in my heart that Bilbo must go with him, or the whole quest would be a failure - or, as I should say now, the far more important events by the way would not come to pass. So I had still to persuade Thorin to take him. There were many difficulties on the road afterwards, but for me this was the most difficult part of the whole affair. Though I argued with him far into the night after Bilbo had retired, it was not finally settled until early the next morning. "Thorin was contemptuous and suspicious. 'He is soft,' he snorted. 'Soft as the mud of his Shire, and silly. His mother died too soon. You are playing some crooked game of your own, Master Gandalf. I am sure that you have other purposes than helping me.
"'You are quite right,' I said. 'If I had no other purposes, I should not be helping you at all. Great as your affairs may seem to you, they are only a small strand in the great web. I am concerned with many strands. But that should make my advice more weighty, not less.' I spoke at last with great heat. 'Listen to me, Thorin Oakenshield !' I said. 'If this hobbit goes with you, you will succeed. If not, you will fail. A foresight is on me, aid I am warning you.'
"'I know your fame,' Thorin answered. 'I hope it is merited. But this foolish business of your Hobbit makes me wonder whether it is foresight that is on you, and you are not crazed rather than foreseeing. So many cares may have disordered your wits.'
"'They have certainly been enough to do so,' I said. 'And among them I find most exasperating a proud Dwarf who seeks advice from me (without claim on me that I know of), and then rewards me with insolence. Go your own ways, Thorin Oakenshield, if you will. But if you flout my advice, you will walk to disaster. And you will get neither counsel nor aid from me again until the Shadow falls on you. And curb your pride and your greed, or you will fall at the end of whatever path you take, though your hands be full of gold.'
"'Do so then!' I said. 'I can say no more-unless it is this: I do not give my love or trust lightly, Thorin; but I am fond of this Hobbit, and wish him well. Treat him well, and you shall have my friendship to the end of your days.'
"I said that without hope of persuading him; but I could have said nothing better. Dwarves understand devotion to friends and gratitude to those who help them. 'Very well,' Thorin said at last after a silence. 'He shall set out with my company, if he dares (which I doubt). But if you insist on burdening me with him, you must come too and look after your darling.'
"'Good!' I answered. 'I will come, and stay with you as long as I can: at least until you have discovered his worth.' It proved well in the end, but at the time I was troubled, for I had the urgent matter of the White Council on my hands.
"So it was that the Quest of Erebor set out. I do not suppose that when it started Thorin had any real hope of destroying Smaug. There was no hope. Yet it happened. But alas! Thorin did not live to enjoy his triumph or his treasure. Pride and greed overcame him in spite of my warning."
"That is true," said Gandalf. "Poor Thorin! He was a great Dwarf of a great House, whatever his faults; and though he fell at the end of the journey, it was largely due to him that the Kingdom under the Mountain was restored, as I desired. But Dain Ironfoot was a worthy successor. And now we hear that he fell fighting before Erebor again, even while we fought here. I should call it a heavy loss, if it was not a wonder rather that in his great age5 he could still wield his axe as mightily as they say he did, standing over the body of King Brand before the Gate of Erebor until the darkness fell.
"It might all have gone very differently indeed. 'The main attack was diverted southwards, it is true; and yet even so with his farstretched right hand Sauron could have done terrible harm in the North, while he defended Condor, if King Brand and King Dain had not stood in his path. When you think of the great Battle of Pelennor, do not forget the Battle of Dale. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador! There might be no Queen in Condor. We might now only hope to return from the victory here to ruin and ash. But that has been averted - because I met Thorin Oakenshield one evening on the edge of spring not far from Bree. A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-earth."
APPENDIXNote on the texts of "The Quest of Erebor"
Extracts from the earlier version
So Thorin Oakenshield became the Heir of Durin, but an heir without hope. At the sack of Erebor he had been too young to bear arms, but at Azanulbizar he had fought in the van of the assault; and when Thráin was lost he was ninety-five, a great Dwarf of proud bearing. He had no Ring, and (for that reason maybe) he seemed content to remain in Eriador. There he laboured long, and gained such wealth as he could; and his people were increased by many of the wandering Folk of Durin that heard of his dwelling and came to him. Now they had fair halls in the mountains, and store of goods and their days did not seem so hard, though in their songs they spoke ever of the Lonely Mountain far away, and the treasure and the bliss of the Great Hall in the light of the Arkenstone.
The years lengthened. The embers in the heart of Thorin grew hot again, as he brooded on the wrongs of his House and of the vengeance upon the Dragon that was bequeathed to him. He thought of weapons and armies and alliances, as his great hammer rang in the forge; but the armies were dispersed and the alliances broken and the axes of his people were few; and a great anger without hope burned him, as he smote the red iron on the anvil.
Gandalf had not yet played any part in the fortunes of Durin's House. He had not had many dealings with the Dwarves; though he was a friend to those of good will, and liked well the exiles of Durin's Folk who lived in the West. But on a time it chanced that he was passing through Eriador (going to the Shire, which he had not seen for some years) when he fell in with Thorin Oakenshield, and they talked together on the road, and rested for the night at Bree.
In the morning Thorin said to Gandalf: "I have much on my mind, and they say you are wise and know more than most of what goes on in the world. Will you come home with me and hear me, and give me your counsel?"
To this Gandalf agreed, and when they came to Thorin's Hall he sat long with him and heard all the tale of his wrongs.
From this meeting there followed many deeds and events of great moment: indeed the finding of the One Ring, and its coming to the Shire, and the choosing of the Ringbearer. Many therefore have supposed that Gandalf foresaw all these things, and chose his time for the meeting with Thorin. Yet we believe that it was not so. For in his tale of the War of the Ring Frodo the Ringbearer left a record of Gandalf's words on this very point. This is what he wrote:
After the crowning we stayed in a fair house in Minas Tirith with Gandalf, and he was very merry, and though we asked him questions about all that came into our minds his patience seemed as endless as his knowledge. I cannot now recall most of the things that he told us; often we did not understand them. But I remember this conversation very clearly. Gimli was there with us, and he said to Peregrin: "There is a thing I must do one of these days: I must visit that Shire of yours.1 Not to see more Hobbits! I doubt if I could learn anything about them that I do not know already. But no Dwarf of the House of Durin could fail to look with wonder on that land. Did not the recovery of the Kingship under the Mountain, and the fall of Smaug, begin there? Not to mention the end of Barad-dûr, though both were strangely woven together. Strangely, very strangely," he said, and paused.
Then looking hard at Gandalf he went on: "But who wove the web? I do not think I have ever considered that before. Did you plan all this then, Gandalf? If not, why did you lead Thorin Oakenshield to such an unlikely door? To find the Ring and bring it far away into the West for hiding, and then to choose the Ringbearer - and to restore the Mountain Kingdom as a mere deed by the way: was not that your design?"
Gandalf did not answer at once. He stood up, and looked out of the window, west, seawards; and the sun was then setting, and a glow was in his face. He stood so a long while silent. But at last he turned to Gimli and said: "I do not know the answer. For I have changed since those days, and I am no longer trammelled by the burden of Middle-earth as I was then. In those days I should have answered you with words like those I used to Frodo, only last year in the spring. Only last year! But such measures are meaningless. In that far distant time I said to a small and frightened Hobbit: Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker, and you therefore were meant to bear it. And I might have added: and I was meant guide you both to those points.
"To do that I used in my waking mind only such means as were allowed to me, doing what lay to my hand according to such reasons as I had. But what I knew in my heart, or knew before I stepped on these grey shores: that is another matter. Olórin I was in the West that is forgotten, and only to those who are there shall I speak openly."
Then I said: "I understand you a little better now, Gandalf, than I did before. Though I suppose that, whether meant or not, Bilbo might have refused to leave home, and so might I. You could not compel us. You were not even allowed to try. But I am still curious to know why you did what you did, as you were then, an old grey man as you seemed."
"That is why, to jump forward, I went off as soon as the expedition against Smaug was well started, and persuaded the Council to attack Dol Guldur first, before he attacked Lórien. We did, and Sauron fled. But he was always ahead of us in his plans. I must confess that I thought he really had retreated again, and that we might have another spell of watchful peace. But it did not last long. Sauron decided to take the next step. He returned at once to Mordor, and in ten years he declared himself.
"Then everything grew dark. And yet that was not his original plan; and it was in the end a mistake. Resistance still had somewhere where it could take counsel free from the Shadow. How could the Ringbearer have escaped, if there had been no Lórien or Rivendell? And those places might have fallen, I think, if Sauron had thrown all his power against them first, and not spent more than half of it in the assault on Gondor.
"Well, there you have it. That was my chief reason. But it is one thing to see what needs doing, and quite another to find the means. I was beginning to be seriously troubled about the situation in the north when I met Thorin Oakenshield one day: in the middle of March 2941, I think. I heard all his tale, and I thought: 'Well, here is an enemy of Smaug at any rate! And one worthy of help. I must do what I can. I should have thought of Dwarves before.'
"And then there was the Shire-folk. I began to have a warm place in my heart for them in the Long Winter, which none of you can remember2. They were very hard put to it then: one of the worst pinches they have been in, dying of cold, and starving in the dreadful dearth that followed. But that was the time to see their courage, and their pity one for another. It was by their pity as much as by their tough uncomplaining courage that they survived. I wanted them still to survive. But I saw that the Westlands were in for another very bad time again, sooner or later, though of quite a different sort: pitiless war. To come through that I thought they would need something more than they now had. It is not easy to say what. Well, they would want to know a bit more, understand a bit clearer what it was all about, and where they stood.
"They had begun to forget: forget their own beginnings and legends, forget what little they had known about the greatness of the world. It was not yet gone, but it was getting buried: the memory of the high and the perilous. But you cannot teach that sort of thing to a whole people quickly. There was not time. And anyway you must begin at some point, with some one person. I dare say he was 'chosen' and I was only chosen to choose him; but I picked out Bilbo."
"Now that is just what I want to know," said Peregrin. "Why did you do that?"
"How would you select any one Hobbit for such a purpose?" said Gandalf. "I had not time to sort them all out; but I knew the Shire very well by that time, although when I met Thorin I had been away for more than twenty years on less pleasant business. So naturally thinking over the Hobbits that I knew, I said to myself: 'I want a dash of the Took' (but not too much. Master Peregrin) 'and I want a good foundation of the stolider sort, a Baggins perhaps.' That pointed at once to Bilbo. And I had known him once very well, almost up to his coming of age, better than he knew me. I like him then. And now I found that he was 'unattached' - to jump on again for of course I did not know all this until I went back to the Shire. I learned that he had never married. I thought that odd though I guessed why it was; and the reason that I guessed was not that most of the Hobbits gave me: that he had early been left very well off and his own master. No, I guessed that he wanted to remain 'unattached' for some reason deep down which he did not understand himself - or would not acknowledge, for it alarmed him. He wanted, all the same, to be free to go when the chance came, or he had made up his courage. I remembered how he used to pester me with questions when he was a youngster about the Hobbits that had occasionally 'gone off,' as they said in the Shire. There were at least two of his uncles on the Took side that had done so."
"we actually passed through the Shire, though Thorin would not stop long enough for that to be useful. Indeed I think it was annoyance with his haughty disregard of the Hobbits that first put into my head the idea of entangling him with them. As far as he was concerned they were just food-growers who happened to work the fields on either side of the Dwarves' ancestral road to the Mountains."
"At last I made up my mind, and I went back to Thorin. I found him in conclave with some of his kinsfolk. Balin and Gloin were there, and several others.
"'Well, what have you got to say?' Thorin asked me as soon as I came in.
"'This first,' I answered. 'Your own ideas are those of a king, Thorin Oakenshield; but your kingdom is gone. If it is to be restored, which I doubt, it must be from small beginnings. Far away here, I wonder if you fully realize the strength of a great Dragon. But that is not all: there is a Shadow growing fast in the world far more terrible. They will help one another.' And they certainly would have done so, if I had not attacked Dol Guldur at the same time. 'Open war would be quite useless; and anyway it is impossible for you to arrange it. You will have to try something simpler and yet bolder, indeed something desperate.'
"'You are both vague and disquieting,' said Thorin. 'Speak more plainly!'
"'Well, for one thing,' I said, 'you will have to go on this quest yourself, and you will have to go secretly. No messengers, heralds, or challenges for you, Thorin Oakenshield. At most you can take with you a few kinsmen or faithful followers. But you will need something more, something unexpected.'
"'Name it!' said Thorin.
"'One moment!' I said. 'You hope to deal with a Dragon; and he is not only very great, but he is now also old and very cunning. From the beginning of your adventure you must allow for this: his memory, and his sense of smell.'
"'Naturally,' said Thorin. 'Dwarves have had more dealings with Dragons than most, and you are not instructing the ignorant.'
'"Very good,' I answered; 'but your own plans did not seem to me to consider this point. My plan is one of stealth. Stealth.3 Smaug does not lie on his costly bed without dreams. Thorin Oakenshield. He dreams of Dwarves! You may be sure that he explores his hall day by day, night by night, until he is sure that no faintest air of a Dwarf is near, before he goes to his sleep: his half-sleep, prick-eared for the sound of - Dwarf-feet.'
'"You make your stealth sound as difficult and hopeless as any open attack,' said Balin. 'Impossibly difficult!'
"'Yes, it is difficult,' I answered. 'But not impossibly difficult, or I would not waste my time here. I would say absurdly difficult. So I am going to suggest an absurd solution to the problem. Take a Hobbit with you! Smaug has probably never heard of Hobbits, and he has certainly never smelt them.'
'"What!' cried Gloin. 'One of those simpletons down in the Shire? What use on earth, or under it, could he possibly be? Let him smell as he may, he would never dare to come within smelling distance of the nakedest dragonet new from the shell!'
'"Now, now!' I said, 'that is quite unfair. You do not know much about the Shire-folk, Gloin. I suppose you think them simple, because they are generous and do not haggle; and think them timid because you never sell them any weapons. You are mistaken. Anyway, there is one that I have my eye on as a companion for you, Thorin. He is neat-banded and clever, though shrewd, and far from rash. And I think he has courage. Great courage, I guess, according to the way of his people. They are, you might say, "brave at a pinch." You have to put these Hobbits in a tight place before you find out what is in them.'
"'The test cannot be made,' Thorin answered. 'As far as I have observed, they do all that they can to avoid tight places.'
"'Quite true,' I said. 'They are a very sensible people. But this Hobbit is rather unusual. I think he could be persuaded to go into a tight place. I believe that in his heart he really desires to - to have, as he would put it, an adventure.'
'"Not at my expense!' said Thorin, rising and striding about angrily. 'This is not advice, it is foolery! I fail to see what any Hobbit good or bad, could do that would repay me for a day's keep, even if he could be persuaded to start.'
"'Fail to see! You would fail to hear it, more likely,' I answered. 'Hobbits move without effort more quietly than any Dwarf in the world could manage, though his life depended on it. They are, I suppose, the most soft-footed of all mortal kinds. You do not seem to have observed that, at any rate, Thorin Oakenshield, as you romped through the Shire, making a noise (I may say) that the inhabitants could hear a mile away. When I said that you would need stealth, I meant it: professional stealth.'
'"Professional stealth?' cried Balin, taking up my words rather differently than I had meant them. 'Do you mean a trained treasure-seeker? Can they still be found?'
"I hesitated. This was a new turn, and I was not sure how to take it. 'I think so,' I said at last. 'For a reward they will go in where you dare not, or at any rate cannot, and get what you desire.'
"Thorin's eyes glistened as the memories of lost treasures moved in his mind; but 'A paid thief, you mean,' he said scornfully. 'That might be considered, if the reward was not too high. But what has all this to do with one of those villagers? They drink out of clay, and they cannot tell a gem from a bead of glass.'
"'I wish you would not always speak so confidently without knowledge,' I said sharply. 'These villagers have lived in the Shire some fourteen hundred years, and they have learned many things in the time. They had dealings with the Elves, and with the Dwarves, a thousand years before Smaug came to Erebor. None of them are wealthy as your forefathers reckoned it, but you will find some of their dwellings have fairer things in them than you can boast here, Thorin. The Hobbit that I have in mind has ornaments of gold, and eats with silver tools, and drinks wine out of shapely crystal.'
"'Ah! I see your drift at last,' said Balin. 'He is a thief, then? That is why you recommend him?'
"At that I fear I lost my temper and my caution. This Dwarvish conceit that no one can have or make anything 'of value' save themselves, and that all fine things in other hands must have been got, if not stolen, from the Dwarves at some time, was more than I could stand at that moment. 'A thief?' I said, laughing. 'Why yes, a professional thief, of course! How else would a Hobbit come by a silver spoon? I will put the thief's mark on his door, and then you will find it.' Then being angry I got up, and I said with a warmth that surprised myself: 'You must look for that door, Thorin Oakenshield! I am serious.' And suddenly I felt that I was indeed in hot earnest. This queer notion of mine was not a joke, it was right. It was desperately important that it should be carried out. The Dwarves must bend their stiff necks.
'"Listen to me, Durin's Folk!' I cried. 'If you persuade this Hobbit to join you, you will succeed. If you do not, you will fail. If you refuse even to try, then I have finished with you. You will get no more advice or help from me until the Shadow falls on you!'
"Thorin turned and looked at me in astonishment, as well he might. 'Strong words!' he said. 'Very well, I will come. Some foresight is on you, if you are not merely crazed.'
"'Good!' I said. 'But you must come with good will, not merely in the hope of proving me a fool. You must be patient and not easily put off, if neither the courage nor the desire for adventure that I speak of are plain to see at first sight. He will deny them. He will try to back out; but you must not let him.'
"'Haggling will not help him, if that is what you mean,' said Thorin. 'I will offer him a fair reward for anything that he recovers, and no more.'
"It was not what I meant, but it seemed useless to say so. 'There is one other thing,' I went on; 'you must make all your plans and preparations beforehand. Get everything ready! Once persuaded he must have no time for second thoughts. You must go straight from the Shire, east of your quest.'
"'He sounds a very strange creature, this thief of yours,' said a young Dwarf called Fili (Thorin's nephew, as I afterwards learned). 'What is his name, or the one that he uses?'
"'Hobbits use their real names,' I said. 'The only one that he has is Bilbo Baggins.'
'"What a name!' said Fili, and laughed.
"'He thinks it very respectable,' I said. 'And it fits well enough; for he is a middle-aged bachelor, and getting a bit flabby and fat. Food is perhaps at present his main interest. He keeps a very good larder, I am told, and maybe more than one. At least you will well entertained.'
"'That is enough,' said Thorin. 'If I had not given my word, I would not come now. I am in no mood to be made a fool of. For I am serious also. Deadly serious, and my heart is hot within me.'
"I took no notice of this. 'Look now, Thorin,' I said, 'April is passing and Spring is here. Make everything ready as soon as you can. I have some business to do, but I shall be back in a week. When I return, if all is in order, I will ride on ahead to prepare the ground. Then we will all visit him together on the following day.'
"And with that I took my leave, not wishing to give Thorin more chance of second thoughts than Bilbo was to have. The rest of the story is well known to you - from Bilbo's point of view. If I had written the account, it would have sounded rather different. He did not know all that went on: the care, for instance, that I took so that the coming of a large party of Dwarves to Bywater, off the main road and their usual beat, should not come to his ears too soon.
"It was on the morning of Tuesday, April the 25th, 2941, that I called to see Bilbo; and though I knew more or less what to expect I must say that my confidence was shaken. I saw that things would be far more difficult than I had thought. But I persevered. Next day, Wednesday, April the 26th, I brought Thorin and his companions to Bag End; with great difficulty so far as Thorin was concerned - he hung back at the last. And of course Bilbo was completely bewildered and behaved ridiculously. Everything in fact went extremely badly for me from the beginning; and that unfortunate business about the 'professional thief,' which the Dwarves had got firmly their heads, only made matters worse. I was thankful that I had told Thorin we should all stay the night at Bag End, since we should need time to discuss ways and means. It gave me a last chance. If Thorin had left Bag End before I could see him alone, my plan would have been ruined."
"It still sounds absurd," he said, "even now that all has turned out more than well. I knew Thorin, of course; and I wish I had been there, but I was away at the time of your first visit to us. And I was not allowed to go on the quest: too young, they said, though at sixty-two I thought myself fit for anything. Well, I am glad to have heard the full tale. If it is full. I do not really suppose that even now you are telling us all you know."
"Of course not," said Gandalf.
It was nine years after Thráin had left his people that I found him, and he had then been in the pits of Dol Guldur for five years at least. I do not know how he endured so long, nor how he had kept these things hidden through all his torments. I think that the Dark Power had desired nothing from him except the Ring only, and when he had taken that he troubled no further, but just flung the broken prisoner into the pits to rave until he died. A small oversight; but it proved fatal. Small oversights often do."