«Yes, I was talking about you», said Gloin, «and you can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Gandalf told us that there was a man in these parts looking for a Job at once, he had marked your door and so arranged a meeting here this Wednesday at tea-time.»
«Of course,» said Gandalf, «I put the mark there myself. I did it for very good reasons. You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr Baggins because he is a real hero. So let’s have no more argument. Now Bilbo, my boy, fetch the lamp, and let’s look at this!»
On the table he spread a piece of parchment like a map.
«This was made by Thror, your grandfather, Thorin,» Gandalf said. «It is a plan of the Mountain.»
«There is a dragon marked in red on the Mountain,» said Balin, «but it will be easy enough to find him without that, if we arrive there.»
«There is one point that you haven’t noticed,» said the wizard, «and that is the secret entrance. Do you see that rune on the West side, and the hand pointing to it from the other runes? That marks a hidden passage to the Lower Halls. It is very small. ‘Five feet high the door and three may walk abreast’ say the runes. Smaug could not creep into a hole that size, not even when he was a young dragon.»
«It is a great big hole to me,» said Bilbo.
«Also,» went on Gandalf, «I forgot to mention that with the map I got a key. Here it is!» he said, and handed to Thorin an unusual small key made of silver.
«I will keep it safe,» said Thorin and fastened it upon a chain that hung about his neck and under his jacket.
«So I decided on burglary», continued Gandalf. «And here is our little Bilbo Baggins, the selected burglar. And now let’s make some plans.»
«Very well then,» said Thorin, «maybe the burglar-expert will give us some ideas or suggestions.» He turned to Bilbo.
«First I would like to know a bit more about the story,» said he, feeling confused. «I mean about the dragon and the gold, and how it got there, and who it belongs to. Also I would like to know about risks.»
«O very well,» said Thorin. «Long ago in my grandfather Thror’s time our family was driven out of the far North, and came back with all their things and their tools to this Mountain on the map. They became very rich and famous, and my grandfather was King under the Mountain. The mortal men, who lived to the South, respected him. They built the merry town of Dale there in those days. Kings often sent for our smiths, and rewarded them generously. Those were good days for us — my grandfather’s halls became full of jewels, and the toy-market of Dale was the wonder of the North.
«Certainly that attracted the dragon. Dragons steal gold and jewels, you know, from men and elves and dwarves; and they guard their stolen treasures. There were a lot of dragons in the North, and one of them, very greedy, strong and wicked, was called Smaug. One day he flew up into the air and came south. We heard a noise like a hurricane coming from the North, and then the dragon settled on our mountain in flame. He burned down the woods. By that time all the bells were ringing in Dale and the warriors were arming. The dwarves rushed out of their great gate; but the dragon killed them and destroyed most of the warriors. Then he went back and crept in through the Front Gate and after that there were no dwarves left alive inside, and he took all their wealth for himself. Probably, he has piled it all up in a great heap far inside, and sleeps on it. Later he crawled out of the great gate and came by night to Dale, and carried away people to eat, until Dale was ruined, and all the people dead or gone. What goes on there now I don’t know for certain, but I think nobody lives near the Mountain.
«Those few of us, who were lucky to be alive, wept in hiding, and cursed Smaug. Suddenly my father and my grandfather arrived. They only said that one day in the proper time I would know how they had got away. After that we went away, and we had to work really hard to earn our living. But we have never forgotten our stolen treasure.
«I think my father and my grandfather had a private Side-door, and only they knew about it. I am sure they made a map, and I would like to know how Gandalf got it.»
«Well, your father gave me this to give to you,» said the wizard. «Your father could not remember his own name when he gave me the paper, and he never told me yours. Here it is,» said he handing the map to Thorin.
«I don’t understand,» said Thorin.
«Your father,» said the wizard slowly and grimly, «gave me the map in the dungeons of the Necromancer.»
«What were you doing there?» asked Thorin with a shudder, and all the dwarves shivered.
«It does not matter. It was a dangerous business. I tried to save your father, but it was too late. He had forgotten almost everything except the map and the key. Necromancer is an enemy quite beyond the powers of all the dwarves. And the dragon and the Mountain are also impossible tasks for you!»
«Hear, hear! Hear what I have got to say!» said Bilbo.
«What’s that?» they asked.
«Well, I think that you should go East and have a look round. After all there is the Side-door, and dragons must sleep sometimes, I suppose. I am sure you will think of something. And well, what about bed and an early start? I will give you a good breakfast before you go.»
«Before we go, you mean,» said Thorin. «Aren’t you the burglar? But I agree about bed and breakfast. I like eggs and ham before a journey.»
So the hobbit made beds on chairs and sofas for them all and went to his little bed really tired. He was not now quite so sure that he was going on any journey in the morning. As he lay in bed he could hear Thorin singing to himself in the best bedroom next to him:
«Far over the misty mountains cold
To dark deep caves and caverns old
We go away, ere break of day,
To find our long-forgotten gold.»
That night Bilbo had very uncomfortable dreams. The next day he woke up late.