Rating: PG-13 for violence
Theme: Believe it or not
Elements: The word gruesome.
Author's Notes: Much of the dialogue was taken from The Hobbit Chapter XIII, "Inside Information". The general sequence of events are taken from The History of The Hobbit: Part Two, Return to Bag End Chapter XI, "The Lonely Mountain: Plot Notes C" and is dealt with more fully in the end notes.
Trapped. Trapped in the dark, the stench of dragon all around them. Bilbo listened to the grumbling of the Dwarves, and found himself growing angry. He knew that if he listened long enough, all the blame would fall on him. He heard them, "We are trapped! This is the end! We shall all die here!"
"That's enough!" Bilbo said. "'Where there's life there's hope,' as my father used to say, and ‘Third time pays for all.' I am going down the tunnel once again. I have been all that way twice, when I knew there was a dragon at the end, so I shall risk a third time when I am no longer sure. The only way out is down. Follow me or not, as you please." He turned and left, not looking behind to see if any were with him, though he could hear the Dwarves whispering and bickering behind him. They had not followed yet, and truthfully he did not expect them to, yet. They would come sooner or later though.
Down, down he went, deeper and deeper into the tunnels. The stench of dragon grew stronger and stronger-- he began to worry that perhaps the dragon had indeed returned. He steeled his resolve, however, and kept going-- but he carefully slipped on his little ring and when he came to the end of the tunnel, he looked carefully. There was no sign of the dragon. He slipped off the ring and held up his torch and looked over the treasure hoard.
Just then he heard the Dwarves who had finally followed him: their loud whispers and hobnailed boots echoed loudly, and not for the first time he cursed their Dwarvish racket. Then he heard their gasps as they saw the treasure, gleaming in the light of his torch.
They lost all their caution and scurried towards the pile of gleaming gold and gems. "Mind you," called Thorin, "keep an eye out for the Jem of Girion!"
Bilbo shook his head as the Dwarves lost theirs to blind greed. He followed more slowly. They all began to load themselves down. "Take as much as you can carry," said Thorin "back up the tunnel for now!"
"Thorin!" said Bilbo angrily, grasping at their leader's arm, "what if Smaug returns? How will you get all this away from the mountain?"
Thorin shook his hand off impatiently. "He has not returned. Perhaps he won't. And all this is ours!"
Something is wrong, thought Bilbo. Something is not right. He watched the Dwarves stagger away with their burdens, ignoring him completely.
"What can they do with the gold?" he wondered. He shook his head. "Burglary is no good-- I suppose I'll end up a warrior in the end after all..." He turned his own attention to the hoard. He'd know soon enough if Smaug came back. He picked through the treasures-- here was a mail shirt, shimmering and sparkling like nothing he'd ever seen before and on impulse he slipped it on, it was as light as silk. There was a golden bowl, a match to the cup he'd stolen earlier, but this one big enough to be a bathtub for a hobbit. He tipped it over, and it clattered alarmingly, echoing over and over in the dark. But there, beneath it-- a globe of pallid light. It shone before his feet of its own inner light that fell upon it and changed it into ten thousand sparks of white radiance shot with glints of the rainbow. It was the Jem of Girion, of which Thorin had spoken so passionately. Without even thinking, Bilbo reached down and took up the great jewel, and thrust it into his deepest pocket. He felt his ears burn red with an unaccustomed sensation, but he shook it off.
"I must be canny," he thought. "Surely the Dragon will return." Why? Why was he so sure of that? Something was very odd here...
Finding a spot near the end of the tunnel, yet not close to the spot from which he had first spoken to Smaug, he hunkered down, slipped on his ring, and glanced at the torch. With not a little trepidation, for he dreaded being plunged into the deepest darkness, he put it out.
It was not a bit too soon. He had scarcely had time to become restless in the dark, when he heard the sound once heard never forgotten, the storm of the Dragon's wings. There was the glow, and the heat, as Smaug entered. He took one look at the disturbed pile where his lair had been and let out a thunderous roar. "Dwarves! They DARED!" Bilbo was glad he had decided to be at one side of the tunnel, for Smaug sent a great gout of flame shooting up it, and then roared once more, making the mountain itself tremble. A few rocks tumbled down, one of them narrowly missing Bilbo.
Like a great cat, Smaug turned round and round upon his heap of metal and jewels. Exhausted by his rampaging, the great beast finally succumbed to slumber.
It was now or never, thought Bilbo. There would never be another chance for this-- if he did not do something, he would never get to go home. Loosening Sting in its sheath, with hobbit stealth, he crept closer and closer to the glowing form of the worm. There-- there was the patch on his left breast, unprotected. He drew Sting silently.
Smaug woke, but it was too late. Had it been an ordinary blade, no doubt it would have been of no use on a Dragon, but this blade, forged by the High Elves for the wars of Gondolin had an enchantment about it, and it plunged in more easily than Bilbo had expected.
A fountain of gruesome hot blood sprang forth, drenching the hobbit. It burned and stank, and he staggered back, away from the death-throes of the Dragon. Stumbling, he tumbled down the heap of treasure and landed in the large golden bowl he had found earlier.
There was so much blood. It kept pouring and pouring, a deluge of Dragon's blood; it lifted the golden bowl, and he found himself floating down a river of red...floating away, he felt a tiny tremor of a thrill within his heart, increasing with every beat. He was a warrior, a mighty warrior, hard, wicked and bold!
NO! NO! This isn't right! This isn't right! His heart was hammering in his chest so hard he thought it would burst... NO!
"Uncle Bilbo! Uncle Bilbo! Wake up, please wake up!" Arms enfolded him, a comforting embrace. The disturbing feelings of victory faded away…
Bilbo shuddered awake. Breathing heavily, he swallowed. Cold sweat ran down his brow. He heaved a great breath of relief. "Oh, Frodo, my dear lad! It was dreadful!"
"What were you dreaming, Uncle Bilbo? I could hear your shouts away down the hall!"
"Ah, Frodo! I was dreaming of my old Adventure, of Smaug the Dragon! But it was all wrong, all wrong! It could never have happened that way!" Never, he told himself. I could never have been like that…
Chapter End Notes:
Never? Or did it almost happen like that? Believe it or not, that was more or less the original shape of the story.
This "dream sequence" was inspired by the following passage in The History of The Hobbit, the chapter entitled "Plot Notes C", and which shows JRRT's original outline for the death of Smaug and the role Bilbo played in it. ( "Blad." refers to "Bladorthin", which was JRRT's original name for Gandalf.)
B. creeps in third time and waits in shadows till Dragon creeps out of hall.
He steals a bright gem which fascinates him.
The dragon returning finds theft: and is awful rage.
He goes to war with the Lake Men. The people sees [sic] him coming and cut bridges to lake-dwelling. D. flies over them and set houses alight, but dare no settle right in lake. They quench fire with water and shoot darts at him. Glint of gems in dragon's belly in light of fire. He settles at the side of lake and tries to starve them out.
Dwarves see the steam from afar; and are bent on carrying out gold. B. watches them stagger out. But warns them D. will come back to entrance of tunnel? What can they do with gold.
Burglary is no good-- a warrior in the end. But no one will go with him. Bilbo puts on ring and creeps into dungeon, and hides. Dragon comes back at last and sleeps exhausted by battle.
Bilbo [takes>] plunges in his little magic knife and it disappears. he cannot wield the swords or spears.
Throes of dragon. Smashes walls and entrance to tunnel. Bilbo floats away in a golden bowl on D.'s blood, till it comes to rest in a deep dark hole. When it is cool, he wades out, and becomes hard & brave.
Discovers sources of Running River and floats out through Fro[nt] D[oor] in a golden bowl.
Found by the scouts of the Lake-Men.
The dwarves dig through the tunnel and take possession of their old homes but the gold is mostly crushed, and they cannot use it because of the dragon's body.
The men of < the > Lake and Woodelves come up and besiege the dwarves. Attempt to block F. Door.
Bilbo sorrowful meets Blad. in the < illegible > place of Laketown.
Blad. rebukes the besiegers. And makes dwarves pay Bilbo.
A share of his < part > he gives to Lake-men, and to wood-elves (though they may not deserve it).
They escort Blad & B. back through Mirkwood.
This entire page, from 'B. creeps in third time' to 'back through Mirkwood', was struck through with a single slash. At the same time that this page was cancelled, Tolkien wrote in the left margin of this page and underlined:
Dragon killed in the battle of the Lake.
This change dates from the same time as the two new pages that replace the canceled page were written, which was demonstrably after the next chapter (Chapter XII_ had already been drafted, and probably most of the following chapter as well.
As you can see, JRRT originally envisioned Bilbo as ending up playing a far different role in the story than he did in the end. I like to think that the story that we ended up with is the story that was "meant" in the same sense of the word as Gandalf used when he told Frodo that "Bilbo was meant to find the ring, and not by its Maker." But it is interesting to explore the ideas that JRRT played with before he settled on the final shape of the story.
Even if, in this version, the ring was not that important, Bilbo would still have returned with a not quite wholesome reminder of his Adventure, for mythologically Dragon's blood is a very powerful symbol. Having come in contact with it, he would no longer quite be the hobbit he once was. He would become "hard & brave". Of course, Bilbo was already brave before that but it was a hobbity sort of courage-- now he would be "hard". What would that do to his future personality?