Now the days passed slowly. Many of the dwarves spent their time piling and ordering the treasure; and now Thorin spoke of the Arkenstone of Thrain, and told them to look for it in every corner. «The Arkenstone of my father,» he said, «is worth more than a river of gold, and to me it is beyond price. I will revenge anyone who will find it and hide it.»
Bilbo heard these words and he got frightened. The stone was wrapped in an old bundle that he used as a pillow. But he did not speak of it, because he started thinking of a plan.
Soon the ravens brought news that Dain and more than five hundred dwarves, hurrying from the Iron Hills, were now within about two days’ march of Dale, coming from the North-East. «But they cannot reach the Mountain safely,» said Rac, «and I fear there will be battle in the valley. I do not think that the dwarves will overcome your foes. Anyway, winter is coming. How will you live without the friendship of the lands about you? The treasure can become your death, though the dragon is no more!»
But Thorin was not moved. «Winter and snow will bite both men and elves,» he said. «With my friends behind them and winter upon them, they will perhaps talk in a different way.»
That night Bilbo made up his mind. The sky was black and moonless. He went to a corner of an inner room just within the gate and drew from his bundle a rope, and also the Arkenstone wrapped in a rag. Then he climbed to the top of the wall. Only Bombur was there, because it was his turn to watch.
«It is really cold!» said Bombur.
«It is warm enough inside,» said Bilbo.
«But I have to stay here till midnight,» said the fat dwarf.
«I will take your turn for you, if you like. I don’t feel sleepy tonight.»
«You are a good fellow, Mr Baggins, and I will take your offer kindly. If there is anything to note, rouse me first! I will lie in the inner room to the left, not far away.»
«Off you go!» said Bilbo. «I will wake you at midnight, and you can wake the next watchman.» As soon as Bombur had gone, Bilbo put on his ring, fastened his rope, slipped down over the wall, and was gone.
He had about five hours before him. Bombur was sleeping; and all the others were busy with Thorin. It was very dark, and the road was strange to him. At last he came to the bend where he had to cross the water to get to the camp. He was almost across when he fell into the cold water with a splash. He had just got out on the far bank, when elves came up with bright lanterns.
«There is a spy about. Hide your lights!» said one of them.
«I am here, if you want me!» said Bilbo and he slipped off his ring.
They seized him quickly. «Who are you? Are you the dwarves’ hobbit? What are you doing? How did you get so far past our watchmen?» they asked.
«I am Mr Bilbo Baggins,» he answered, «companion of Thorin, if you want to know. I know your king well, though perhaps he doesn’t know me. But Bard will remember me, and I want to see Bard. I have only an hour or two.»
So now Bilbo was sitting beside a warm fire in front of a large tent with the Elvenking and Bard. A hobbit in elvish armour, partly wrapped in an old blanket, was something new to them.
«You know,» Bilbo said, «things are impossible. Personally I am tired of the whole affair. But I have an interest in this matter — one fourteenth share, according to a letter, which I have with me.» He took out from a pocket in his old jacket Thorin’s letter that had been put under the clock on his mantelpiece in May! «Personally I am ready to consider all your claims carefully. However you don’t know Thorin Oakenshield well enough. I assure you, he is quite ready to sit on a heap of gold and starve, as long as you sit here.»
«Well, let him!» said Bard. «Such a fool deserves to starve.»
«Quite so,» said Bilbo. «I see your point of view. At the same time winter is coming on fast. Soon there will be snow, and supplies will be difficult — even for elves. Also there will be other difficulties. Have you heard of Dain and the dwarves of the Iron Hills?»
«We have, a long time ago; but what has he got to do with us?» asked the king.
«I see I have some information which you have not got. Dain is now less than two days’ march off, and has at least five hundred dwarves with him — really good warriors. When they arrive there will be serious trouble.»
«Why do you tell us this? Are you betraying your friends, or are you threatening us?» asked Bard gloomily.
«My dear Bard!» said Bilbo. «Don’t hurry! I am just trying to avoid trouble for all. Now I will make you an offer!»
«Let us hear it!» they said.
«It is this!» and he showed them the Arkenstone.
The Elvenking himself stood up in amazement. Even Bard gazed at it in silence.
«This is the Arkenstone of Thrain,» said Bilbo, «the Heart of the Mountain; and it is also the heart of Thorin. He values it above a river of gold. I give it to you. It will help you in your talks with Thorin.» Then Bilbo handed the marvellous stone to Bard, and he held it in his hand.
«I am going back now, and the dwarves can do what they like to me. I hope you will find it useful,» added Bilbo. The Elvenking looked at Bilbo with a new wonder.
«Bilbo Baggins!» he said. «You are more worthy to wear the armour of elf-princes than many others. I advise you to remain with us, and here you will be honoured.»
«Thank you very much,» said Bilbo with a bow. «But I don’t think I should leave my friends, after all we have gone through together. And I promised to wake old Bombur at midnight, too! Really I must go, and quickly.»
So they provided an escort for him, and as he went both the king and Bard saluted him with honour. As they passed through the camp, an old man wrapped in a dark cloak rose from a tent door where he was sitting and came towards them.
«Well done, Mr Baggins!» he said, clapping Bilbo on the back. «There is more about you than anyone expects!» It was Gandalf. For the first time for many days Bilbo was really happy. But there was no time for all the questions that he immediately wished to ask. «All in good time!» said Gandalf. «Things are going to the end now, if I am not mistaken. There is an unpleasant time just in front of you; but keep your heart up! There is news that even the ravens have not heard. Good night!»
Puzzled but cheered Bilbo hurried on. He came back on time. At midnight he woke up Bombur; and soon he was fast asleep forgetting all his worries till the morning. As a matter of fact he was dreaming of eggs and bacon.