"And this, Master Baggins, will be your chamber during your visit."

"Thank you, Master Elf," Bilbo said awkwardly. He still was not used to talking to elves, or even standing next to them, having never seen one in his life. He could hardly believe he was actually in Lord Elrond's palace. This was not something hobbits did every day. In fact, he could not remember a single hobbit ever mentioning having been to anyone's palace, let alone Lord Elrond's! He might be the first hobbit in the history of Middle-Earth to ever set foot in a lord's palace. And here he was, a mere hobbit being led by an elf to a room all his own.

The servant grandly opened the door to the room and ushered Bilbo in, bidding he call if anything was needed. Bilbo stared with wide eyes at his room as the servant left him. He was quite sure he would not need anything more.

The room was twice as large as his own back at Bag-End, maybe even three times as large. The bed itself was humongous (it was made for elves) and covered in fine silk sheets with fluffy, woolly blankets and a pillow the size of Bilbo.

The room was furnished with a stool and vanity area, and a window seat. Bilbo ran eagerly over to the window and looked out. From there, he could see a courtyard, with merry elves dancing and singing in the evening light. He could even almost see the waterfall, if he turned his head to the left just the right way. A cool, refreshing breeze caused the curtains to billow in Bilbo's face, and he closed his eyes to relish both the coolness of the breeze and that of the gossamer curtain.

After weeks of sleeping on the hard, stony ground next to snoring dwarves, restless ponies, and strange things that crawled about in the darkness, Bilbo was given a room of his own, to sleep in by himself and luxuriate in its fineness. Bilbo pulled himself onto the window seat (with some difficulty, as it was designed for beings whose legs were longer than his) and curled himself against the window pane, gazing out at the sun-painted valley, with its wealth of green, lovely growing things and joyful elves dancing and singing the day away.

A room of his own, to enjoy and relax in. After so many days of hard, weary travelling, a room of his own.

A guest room.

Bilbo Baggins was the lord's guest.

Well…along with thirteen dwarves. And a wizard.

A wizard who apparently knew Elrond very well, as he had been greeted warmly. And then had been taken aside to speak privately with the king and some important-looking elves, while the dwarves and Bilbo were lead to their quarters.

Bilbo did wonder what Gandalf was doing right now. Being separated from the wizard still left him with a feeling of anxiety; he was, so far, the only one who seemed to truly care what happened to Bilbo. But Gandalf was a wizard, after all, and wizards had more important things to do than look after hobbits.

Another feeling of anxiety was attached to the secret of the map Elrond had revealed to them. The mysterious runes, and the even more mysterious riddle, had sent a chill down Bilbo's spine as he'd watched the elven king hold the map up to the light of the newly risen moon. It was a peculiar feeling, to see the moon on one side of the palace while knowing that the sun had only just begun to set on the other side. It made the sky look splotched, splotched with differing shades of dark and light, purple and red. The usually silver beams of the moon were tinted gold by the light of the sun.

Bilbo had been witness to the effect before (watching the sun set was a favorite pastime of his), but never as dramatically as he'd seen it in the elven palace. Everything in the palace already seemed magical enough—the flighty attendants, with their tricky pixie grins; the gossamer clothing worn by the royalty; the massive amounts of foreign delicacies (which Bilbo, seemingly alone amongst the others, heartily enjoyed). And everything was so tall here. Tall and narrow.

Bilbo rubbed his shoulders as the summer breeze took a chilly turn, reminding him of the urgency of their quest. Durin's day was not far off, according to Thorin, and they still had so far to go. Summer would not last much longer. Bilbo shuddered when he thought of trekking through mounds of snow and battling his way up the sides of mountains. He felt weak in the knees just thinking about it.

At least, for now, he could relish in the sumptuousness of his surroundings. He leaned his head back against the wall and breathed deeply into the fresh valley air. He thought of the bath the elves had promised him. Oh, how wonderful a bath would be! Bilbo was a respectable hobbit, and respectable hobbits did not go days without bathing, as he had been forced to—since that first day anyway. As early as he could manage, before the other dwarves had awakened, Bilbo had snuck out of camp and hurried over to a river to bathe. He'd taken off his clothes and folded them neatly at the side of the river to be retrieved later, and stepped into the cool and soothing river, happily scrubbing himself in the bubbling current.

He'd just pulled out his comb to begin grooming his feet when he'd heard noises coming from nearby. It was the unmistakable sound of dwarves blundering through the brush—towards the river.

Bilbo had panicked as he recognized Fili and Kili's voices coming closer and closer. What could he do? He was too wet to put his clothes back on. But he would die before he let a dwarf catch him in the middle of a bath. Looking around for an escape, he spotted a bush on the riverbank. As quietly as he could, Bilbo crept through the water and scrambled onto the bank to hide behind the bush—just as Fili and Kili walked up on the opposite side of the river.

Bilbo had not wanted to watch, but he had to keep an eye on the dwarves to know when he could grab his clothes and escape. He saw Fili and Kili race each other to the river and dive in, hooting and hollering, then re-emerge and rip off their clothes to throw in heaps on the bank. It was not a pleasant sight. Hobbits were respectable creatures, and somewhere in the definition of respectable there was a paragraph about not watching other folks taking baths.

The two brothers had dunked each other's heads under the water and called each other names and made an unholy racket. Then, to make things worse, Dwalin had appeared out of nowhere, wearing nothing at all, and plunged into the river with the brothers, adding to the mayhem. Bilbo was heartily embarrassed, but he ended up having to stay where he was, hidden behind the bush, for what seemed like hours, until the dwarves climbed out of the river, then wait as they lay drying out on the bank, as they dressed, and finally as they mingled and chatted until Thorin yelled at them to get ready to head out.

As soon as they left, Bilbo hurried over to his clothes and put them on. He waited a minute before returning to the camp, earning a fierce glare from Thorin, as everyone else was already packed and waiting to go.

"You certainly take your time with bathing, Master Baggins," Thorin had growled. Bilbo mumbled an apology and gathered his things. He could not look at Fili, Kili or Dwalin for the entire day without feeling very uncomfortable. And after that he'd pretty much forgone baths entirely.

Bilbo sighed at the memory, comforted by the idea of a nice, warm, private bath in the palace. He could hardly wait for it. He imagined himself soaking blissfully in a warm tub, then drying himself off with an actual towel (he bet the towels here were magnificent) and dressing in a clean night shirt and sliding under the smooth sheets of his guest bed…

"Hoo! Master Baggins!"

Bilbo was jerked out of his dreamlike state by the voice of Kili. (Or was it Fili? He had a bit of trouble figuring out which was which. And their names did not help.) At any rate it was very unpleasant to be knocked out of such a pleasant reverie by one of the dwarves who had ruined his bath that day he had just gotten over remembering. Bilbo opened his eyes and turned to see one of the twins leaning in from the doorway and beckoning to him.

"Good afternoon to you too, Master Dwarf," Bilbo said, annoyed by this rude interruption. The dwarf motioned for him to join hum at the door, but Bilbo was loathe to climb down from his cozy place just then.

"Get your stuff together," Fili (or Kili?) said.

"What for?" Bilbo said. "We just got here." He added, irritated, "And what ever happened to knocking? This is my private guest room, you know."

Kili—he decided it was Kili, because hadn't he been the one with the black hair?—swooped into the room and grabbed Bilbo on the arm. "No time to waste, Bilbo, we have to get going."

"There's no need to be so rude," Bilbo said, pulling his arm out of Kili's grasp as he hopped down onto the floor. "Where are we going?"

"We're leaving," Kili said impatiently, grabbing Bilbo's pack and thrusting it into his arms. "Come on!"

Bilbo stepped back and stared at him. "But why?" he cried. "We just arrived. Aren't we staying the night? At least? Maybe more?"

"No, no, we have to go now. Thorin said so."

Bilbo's heart sank as visions of warm baths and cool silk sheets were dashed out of his head. "This is really too bad," he cried. "Thorin should have said something earlier."

"Plans change, Master Baggins," Kili said, a touch defensively, it seemed. "Thorin knows what he's doing, and he doesn't need a hobbit to tell him what's good or not."

Bilbo bit his lip, a bit stung at Kili's remark. He'd considered Kili to be one of the nicer of the dwarves, maybe even a friend. He should have known better than to think any dwarf would ever think kindly of him. Slowly he slipped his arms into the straps of his pack and hoisted it onto his shoulders.

"At least I can bid farewell to Lord Elrond," Bilbo said. He'd exchanged only the briefest of words with the lord ("And how might you be, my dear hobbit?" "Uh, uh, uh, fine, yes, very well, thank you"—he'd been completely taken aback that Lord Elrond should speak to a mere hobbit)—but Bilbo still hoped for the chance to at least see the good lord before he left, and perhaps muster up the courage to thank him for the lovely bath he'd almost had.

Kili, halfway to the door, paused with one foot raised.

"That would not be a good idea, I'm thinking," he said.

Bilbo crossed his arms, irritated. "And why ever not?"

Kili tuned back with a wry face. "Well, you see, Master Elrond is not exactly privy to our plans as of yet."

Bilbo's mouth dropped open and he stared at Kili; recalling his dignity, he cleared his throat, squared his shoulders, and fixed Kili with a stern hobbit glare.

"And why, Master Dwarf, is that, if you don't mind my asking?"

Kili opened and closed his mouth a few times before shaking his head, as though ashamed to be intimidated by a hobbit. He snapped, "The truth of the matter is we're sneaking out. If we let the elves know too much, they'll detain us. Already they refuse to let us proceed with our plans as they are, and we cannot waste any time with negotiation. Like it or not, Master Baggins, we are leaving, and we are leaving now."

Bilbo was shocked and furious, but being a respectable hobbit, there were no outward signs; at least not any that Kili was capable of recognizing. The young dwarf grabbed Bilbo by the arm and pulled him towards the door. Bilbo shook free of him. "Do you mind?" he asked.

Kili rolled his eyes. "My apologies, Master Baggins, but you see we are in a hurry."

"Of course! We can't let Lord Elrond find out, as he has been so hospitable to us! It might even come across as vaguely ungrateful!"

Kili was not used to sarcasm in a hobbit. In fact, he was not used to hobbits in general. He liked Bilbo alright—he was cute and sometimes really funny—but right now he had no patience for him. He picked Bilbo up by the back of his shirt and dropped him onto his back. Bilbo let out an indignant holler that was quieted when he landed on top of Kili's quiver; terrified, he leaned away from the arrows, clinging on to Kili's shirt collar as the dwarf ran out the door.

"Was that really necessary?" Bilbo gasped.

Kili smirked but luckily Bilbo couldn't see it. "No," he answered truthfully.

With Bilbo on his back, Kili hurried down the hall, halting when he reached the corner (and almost pitching Bilbo over his head). Carefully Kili peaked around the corner. Bilbo leaned over Kili, trying to see for himself. The passage around the corner was empty except for Fili leaning against the wall, fiddling with his knife. Kili whistled and he looked up.

"What took you so long?" he greeted as Kili ran up with Bilbo.

"Master Baggins took a little convincing to get out of there," Kili said with a shrug that almost caused Bilbo to lose his grip.

"Master Baggins is still here, you realize!" Bilbo huffed, grabbing some of Kili's hair for support.

Kili hissed in pain as Bilbo tugged. He ripped the hobbit off his back and thrust him at Fili. "Your turn!"

Bilbo thrust out his arms to ward off the brothers and found the ground with his feet. Stepping away from them, he straightened his jacket with as much dignity as he could muster.

"I do have legs, you know," he said.

Fili and Kili exchanged a glance. "Then use them," Fili said, and sprinted down the passage. Kili followed quickly.

Bilbo sighed, cast a brief, longing look back in the direction of the beautiful guest room, and followed the annoying brothers down the hall.

He almost bumped into them when they skidded to a stop at a doorway. Bilbo tried to see past them, but they seemed to be deliberately blocking him with their bodies.

"What is it?" Bilbo whispered.

Ignoring him, Kili asked, "How do we get past?"

Fili said, "Just walk by like nothing's the matter. They didn't say we couldn't walk around."

"If you keep talking, whoever-it-is will hear you," Bilbo said, but again was simply blown off. Fili and Kili walked past the door way much too casually, arms swinging, legs bowed, Fili even fitting in a yawn. Bilbo rolled his eyes and walked on, glancing in to see a kitchen with an elven cook who did not even glance up from her steaming pot of…something that smelled wonderfully like stewed radishes. Bilbo's mouth watered, but he followed the brothers down the hall, darting with them around another corner and past what looked to be a library. They paused at the end of the hall, which opened into a large open space, beyond which was a door leading to the courtyard. Two armor-wearing elves stood regally on either side of the door. They looked to be having a conversation.

"Guards," Fili whispered.

"What now?" Kili asked.

"Just ask to be let out," Bilbo said. "We're not prisoners."

"Maybe we can distract them and run," Kili suggested.

Annoyed, Bilbo turned away and walked towards the library. Why bring him along if they weren't going to listen to him? He would much rather stay in Rivendell than trek to Erebor in increasing cold to fight a calamitous dragon. Bilbo stepped into the library and craned his neck up to take in the massively tall bookcases. His eyes watered at the sight of so many books. And the room was not only tall, but wide and deep as well; it almost seemed like an indoor courtyard with a fence made of bookshelves, it was so airy. He bet it would take him at least three minutes to walk to the end of it. Shiny wooden chairs lay scattered on the floor, and a few elves sat quietly reading. Bilbo turned to look at the shelf just inside the doorway to his right. He went over and pulled down a book whose title was written in an elegant swirling script. Curious, he opened the book to the first page, but could not make out a word of it.

"Master Baggins!"

Bilbo and all the elves looked up to see Fili and Kili in the doorway, glaring at him. Bilbo scowled and shook his head. The brothers looked around and turned simultaneously as red as stewed radishes when they saw the elves. A few elves raised their heads to cast confused, irritated and disapproving looks at them.

Bilbo put a finger to his lips and whispered, "Sh."

The two dwarves hurried over to where Bilbo was, still staring self-consciously at the elves. They stood on either side of Bilbo and spoke hurriedly as they tried to put on the front of ones who are certainly not trying to make a sneaky getaway.

"You shouldn't wander off like that, Master Baggins," Fili said. "You don't know your way around."

"Yes," Kili jumped in, "it would be very easy for someone as small as you to get lost."

Bilbo tried to hide his exasperation. Like they knew their way around any better. Besides, what did his size have to do with anything? But he let himself be lead out by the brothers as if he were royalty under their guard. When they were out of sight of the reading elves, Kili poked Bilbo's shoulder.

"What was the idea?" he snapped.

"You two seemed to have no desire to pay attention to me," Bilbo said, brushing Kili's hand away. "Besides, why should I follow you around when you have no idea what you're doing?"

Fili cast him an indignant look as they marched down the hall. "We have every idea what we're doing!"

"Oh?" Bilbo said. "Then what are we walking into the kitchen for?"

Fili and Kili looked up just in time to see the doorway to the kitchen bearing down on them. They'd been so distracted with reprimanding Bilbo they'd paid absolutely no attention to where they were going. Seeing this, they each grabbed one of Bilbo's arms and turned abruptly, taking the struggling hobbit with them as they ran back down the hall.

"We're not getting anywhere!" Bilbo said, still struggling. "And unhand me!"

"No, sir, Mister Baggins, sir," Kili muttered. "You've cause enough trouble for one day, and we're not going to let you ruin our prospects of escape."

Bilbo bit back an indignant reply. If he had his way, he would like to ruin their escape. He would much rather stay in Rivendell!

The two brothers carried Bilbo down the hall, past the guards at the door.

"Is anything wrong?" one of the guards asked pleasantly. "Are you in need of assistance?"

"Ah, no, thanks," Fili said.

"We're just taking our hobbit for a walk," Kili shot over his shoulder as they turned another corner.

Bilbo stared at him in horror. "No!" he called back to the guards. "I'm not their hobbit—and I can walk by myself—"

"Settle down, Bilbo," Kili said through clenched teeth. "We're getting out of here."

Bilbo's arms were starting to hurt from the dwarves' grip, but he didn't dare complain. When they began to mount a set of stairs, Bilbo hurriedly tucked his legs up against his body to prevent his feet from hitting the stone steps. The dwarves carried him up quickly to another hall and then down into another guest room. Dropping Bilbo unceremoniously on the bed (which was so soft he was almost consumed in it as he sank into its mass), they ran over to the window and peered out and down.

"Think we can make it?" Fili asked.

"Only thing left to do," Kili said.

Bilbo lifted his head grumpily from the bed and looked daggers at them, but they didn't deign turn and ask him if he was alright. Instead, Kili lifted one leg over the window sill and began to climb out onto the roof.

"What are you doing?" Bilbo cried.

Fili turned around and lifted the hobbit onto his back. "Just hold on, okay?"

Bilbo clung, terrified, to Fili's neck as the blond dwarf followed his brother out the window. He shut his eyes tightly, not wanting to see the long drop that awaited them. He felt Fili's muscles stretching and churning under him as he shimmied down the roof.

There came an "Okay, hold really tight now, Master Baggins."

Bilbo clutched Fili's throat.

The dwarf coughed. "Okay, maybe not that tight. Bilbo!"

Bilbo reluctantly loosened his grip, then opened one eye and peaked over Fili's shoulder. To his horror, he saw they had reached the edge of the roof, and Fili was crouched to jump.

"No-!" he cried.

Fili lifted into the air, then plummeted down. Bilbo clung on for dear life as the wind whistled past his ears and his stomach flew into his waistcoat. The thud as Fili's feet hit the ground a second later jarred him so that he almost let go. Fili stumbled a moment, but caught himself.

"Nice job," Kili called from above. "Hobbit and all."

Bilbo looked up just in time to see Kili leap from the roof and land gracefully on his feet and one hand, then bounce to his feet.

"Show-off," Fili said.

Kili shrugged. "I'm not wearing a hobbit."

"Kili! Fili!"

They all jumped at the sound of Balin's voice and turned to see the white-bearded dwarf walking towards them, coming out from behind the stone wall surrounding the courtyard.

"Balin!" Fili gasped, relaxing. "It's you."

Balin gave him a look as close to a glare as his gentle eyes could get. "Aye, afraid it was your uncle, were you? That's good; he is quite angry that it's took you so long to get our burglar out of there."

"It would have been easy if Bilbo hadn't kept wandering off," Kili grumbled.

"There'll be time enough for excuses later," Balin said. "Everyone else is ready and waiting. We must leave now, or not at all."

Fili dropped Bilbo from his back, and for the third, fourth, maybe even fifth time, Bilbo found himself scrambling to his feet and dusting himself off, trying to save some shred of dignity. The brothers hurried off past the stone wall. Balin glanced at Bilbo.

"Alright, laddie?" he asked.

"Fine, I'm fine. Thank you," Bilbo muttered. He followed Balin out of the courtyard and onto the stone-lined area outside the palace. The bridge stretched out before them; at the edge of the bridge stood the dwarves, armed, pack-laden, and watching Bilbo impatiently as he hurried over.

"Here y'are," Bofur said, smiling brightly at him. Thorin spoke up impatiently.

"Well, Master Baggins, if you are quite ready to go yet?"

"Ready," Bilbo muttered. He hitched his pack higher onto his shoulders and joined the dwarves in their quick, quiet trek across the bridge. He knew their hearts were probably racing with exhilaration or fear of being caught, but his was sinking into his boots, heavy as the pack he carried. They left Rivendell behind and continued the impossible journey towards Erebor. The elf-music drifted sweetly through in his head, and he thought sadly of the warm bath and soft bed he'd left behind. But it was no use dwelling on it now. He was off; he'd signed the contract, and was committed to the journey.

He only hoped that he could come back to Rivendell someday.