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On the Abundance of Oak



Clearly, the Hobbit had no skill with a sword. The first wolf that had launched itself into their encampment took two arrows from a surprised Kili, and the second followed it behind as Bilbo—fortunately holding his blade as he was trying to fit it on his belt at the time of the attack—lunged at the Hobbit from the shelter of it's doomed mate. In the flurry of activity, only Ori could see that Bilbo had only dropped the sword as he stumbled back.

The wolves had caught the party as they packed up from the night. And the wolves had come with an uncanny silence. The watch had been recalled at the start of a grey dawn to help rouse the party and most of it's members were still in their night clothes with unkempt beards and scattered gear.

At least six wolves had bounded in, and howls broke out in the trees. The creatures were no longer quiet.

Thorin's voice was louder though, rousing the camp to action and even in half-dress he was charging a group of wolves with his sword.

A blinding light illuminated the clearing as if to punctuate their leader's demand. Gandalf—always prepared—sent the embers of their campfire roaring, and it was as if a bright, glowing arm reached out from the circle to grasp at the legs and tails of several of the wolves that had come too close to the Dwarfs scrambling from their beds.

It was in this explosion of light that Bilbo, sprawled on the ground, could see the silhouette of his enemy. He had been up earlier than most, and had been mostly dressed for the day. Hobbits were always ready for breakfast and Bilbo had never had trouble getting up early. He had trouble, though, dealing with this. To the Hobbit, a wolf was no different from a Warg and having never seen a Warg before, he felt that he was facing one down. His blade was nowhere near him and his foe seemed to care not about the chaos and the Dwarfs behind it.

For a tense moment, it felt as if time was holding its breath. The Hobbit refused to move feeling as if any sudden action would be his last.

Then a rock skipped off of the wolf's head and the creature turned to bare it's teeth at Ori, who had been up before Bilbo. Ori stood in challenge, closer to the encampment. Bilbo took this moment to pull his feet under him and that brought the wolf's attention back at him with a swipe.

Bilbo leaped back into the foliage surrounding their camp and Ori called to him to go.

It was a good idea.

Without looking back, Bilbo tore past a tree and skirted a log and he could hear the crashing of the wolf behind him. He felt briefly disappointed at his expectation that Ori hadn't kept the wolf's attention. Then again, the other Dwarfs always looked out for Ori and at the moment, Bilbo felt completely alone. The thought troubled and surprised him, though only for a moment.

The wolf was right behind him and Bilbo felt dizzy with terror, but his legs didn't need commands. He dodged left and then right and jumped a ravine. It was terrifying, being uncertain of the path ahead and letting his instincts lead him.

Bilbo could imagine the breath of the creature on his neck and pushed himself harder than any Hobbit ever should. Certainly Ori would alert the others. Thorin may not want to break up the defenses of the camp, though Gandalf would probably make him do so.

He just had to hold out, he decided.

The wolf leaped at his heels and Bilbo threw himself to his right. He tumbled into the grass allowing himself to find his feet again as the wolf skidded on through the brush. It regained itself and growled sickeningly in it's throat.

Bilbo, head pounding, glanced about and found a mighty tree. All the trees here had branches too high up to climb, but this one had strange roots that corded in and out of the ground. He threw himself at them and the wolf lunged. Bilbo felt a piece of his shirt rip but managed to slide under a gnarled root to the other side.

It would only take a moment before the wolf leaped atop, unable to follow under. Bilbo readied himself to run or die, and then an arrow skipped off of the top of the root.

Kili!

The profound joy Bilbo would have felt drained instantly as a shadow dropped on him from over the root. The wolf had one shoulder slightly marred with blood from the arrow Bilbo had seen. Bilbo sprang from the large tree shielding his head and praying that the wolf would expose itself and that Kili's aim would be truer.

Through some miracle, the Hobbit only lost more of his shirt and he charged around into the clearing to let the Dwarf see him and lure the wolf out.

It was good to see the archer, Bilbo realized. The Dwarf stood on a slight rise with his weapon ready and a reassured look upon his face as well when Bilbo matched eyes.

It seemed close to being over when a cry came out from behind Kili which could have been Ori. There were still more wolves and Kili appeared torn before perhaps Fili shouted for him. Decided, Kili spun around and fired his readied arrow at something Bilbo could not see and it was at this moment that Bilbo's wolf flung itself into the clearing.

Of course, thought Bilbo bitterly, his feet already back-peddling.

He gave a shout and tossed himself around a thick spot of bushes though the wolf seemed keen to keep closer on the Hobbit's heels. In the background of his new found terror, Bilbo could hear Kili's growl of frustration.

They were close, though. The Dwarfs were right behind him, over that ridge. He just had to stay alive a little longer on his own mettle.

Bilbo launched himself left and the wolf landed where he would have been. He then grabbed a tree and propelled himself around it and as the wolf took the extra second to clear it, the Hobbit was already sprinting. Rounding his way back to the Dwarfs seemed impossible, with how the terrain filled with obstacles like fallen trees and thick bushes. He would lose time jumping logs, and the wolf would also win out in flat territory.

All of these thoughts were sparse and quickly overturned since the wolf was again just behind him and the fright of what would happen, any moment now, overruled all sense Bilbo had.

He just had to keep going.

His legs felt like they were made of air—insubstantial and ready to prove this at any moment by failing him. His mouth was dry and his lungs were outraged. He had not dared to stare away behind him to check the progress of his enemy, or even that of his friends.

The ground suddenly shifted into a steep slope and Bilbo was left looking out at open air and a view that in other circumstances might have moved him. A valley formed here, with tree tops shrouded in morning mists and the grey sky suddenly open. In any other circumstances it would have been beautiful. A valley-cliff, though was one of the few things Bilbo didn't need right now. He could launch himself down the hill and probably only take some bruising but he'd have no control and he felt that the wolf, so nimble and determined, would follow and have more luck.

He paused in indecision and then hearing weight on leaves, turned and ducked only just in time. The wolf flung itself at him and Bilbo pressed himself flat and prone on his back to the forest floor. Bilbo was rewarded with just the wolf's hind leg knocking his head sideways. He felt a hot pain that joined all of his complaints, though the wolf had safely been removed to just over the side of the slope.

Sense enough got Bilbo scrambling to his feet as he could hear the wolf using it's claws to find purchase and already it was pulling itself back over the side.

Bilbo stumbled backwards to where he found a large fallen oak that may have lain here for a century. It would have been the perfect place to sit and look out over the forest view afforded by the hill. It now trapped Bilbo, since it was too high for him to do more than scramble up it—which he felt he did not have the time nor energy. And there was shelter beneath but not such that the wolf with it's claws could not reach.

This would be a good time for Dwarfs, he thought, weary and planting his back against the massive trunk. He could be running, though he didn't think he had it in him to go much further. Everything felt hollow about him.

The wall at his back shifted, and Bilbo, without taking his eyes off of the wolf that was watching him as it cleared the slope, reached back with a detached sort of curiosity to pull the loose thing down. He found a thick piece of oak bark in his hand.

Something stirred in Bilbo as he identified it. He had let his attention drop from his foe and when he glanced up, he could see the wolf coiling. It was convinced that the chase was over.

Maybe it wasn't wrong, Bilbo noted without much emotion. He tightened his grip on the thick piece of oak, heavy in his hands.

The foul creature threw itself forward as a guttural sound issued from it's throat and Bilbo flung the piece of wood in front of him as a poor shield. It was thick with fibers and large enough to cover Bilbo's head and half his torso and as the wolf's teeth snapped at his throat, Bilbo used the wood between them as they were knocked into the tree with jarring force.

A paw that was massive to Bilbo's eyes slashed at the wood behind Bilbo's head and the creature pressed into him as if it could will itself through the tiny wall between them.

There was room to slip under it, though Bilbo knew he'd be trapped under the weight of the wolf. The creature's jaw found the corner of the wood and with a ferocious strength, ripped it from Bilbo's clinging hands and snapped it away to the side.

Bilbo felt his heart stall as he was left naked without his shield and at that moment came a yell from above as Fili threw himself over the oak and hammered down on the wolf with his blade.

The wolf made a sound that deafened Bilbo, and then the creature turned away to snap at the new target. Bilbo felt himself returning to a simple watcher. Fili cheered as if the wolf was no threat at all and as he had the creature's attention, an arrow struck it in it's flank. This was distraction enough for Fili to make the kill.

Bilbo realized he was holding his breath, and then without meaning to, he had crouched down and let himself sink into the small space beneath the oak. His hands were trembling and he tried to breathe.

Fili pulled his sword out of the wolf's skull and then bent forward to peer into the small hole. "Bilbo, you alright lad?"

"Uh, just…just…" the Hobbit struggled. "…yeah."

Vibrations from above Bilbo told him that someone was strolling across the top of the oak. "He's okay?"

Kili, Bilbo identified absently.

Fili raised his hand as if to signal an affirmative and then came to sit by the opening of Bilbo's hole.

"Good running, you lead us on a merry chase," he said amicably. "Could have picked a better route though."

Bilbo was focused on his breathing. He nodded though he didn't quite hear Fili's words. Kili was above them somewhere, yelling something to someone else.

They sat there for what felt like a long while, with Fili looking out at the trees across the start of a valley. Everything was still grey, though lightening to nicer shades of it. Bilbo eventually stopped feeling shaky and was left only exhausted.

A pair of legs jumped into the picture, and Kili glanced around before he realized that there was a space under the oak. "Ah, so you hid?"

"He wasn't hiding when I got here," Fili stated. "We best make our way back to camp, Master Baggins. You've got a pretty nasty cut on yer head."

"Ori's got your sword," Kili stated cheerfully.

"Um, thanks. Uh, good," Bilbo said, feeling some of himself returning. He crawled out carefully and surprised himself by standing without help. Then brushing his dirty hands on his dirty pants, Bilbo touched his brow carefully and noted Fili watching the cut closely.

"It's not very deep," the Dwarf reassured. "A scratch really."

Kili was poking at the wolf and frowning. "So you weren't hiding, and you had no sword. What were you doing before we caught you up?"

Bilbo frowned and shrugged, uncertain of how to express terror and luck into his explanation. He glanced briefly at where the oak bark lay, a handful of feet away.

Kili followed his gaze and then hopped over the back legs of the wolf to pick it up. There were teeth marks in the side of the wood, and two deep gouges in the centre.

"Ah ha," nodded Fili while Kili just grinned.

A supportive arm fell around Bilbo's shoulders as Fili started to lead Bilbo away from the place. "Good choice, that," he murmured.

Kili shook his head with an ear splitting grin on. He then held it up as if to show someone Bilbo couldn't see, before placing the piece of bark reverently on the wolf's corpse.

Bilbo felt too tired to be embarrassed or pleased. He kept his eyes on his feet and shrugged. "I got the idea from somewhere."

This earned him a slap on the back from Kili which stung, and a shake from Fili who was still leading him up and back towards camp.

And a nod, which Bilbo didn't see, from an observer who turned back to lead camp and reassure a Wizard.