Calm The Fire: 73

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A great thick milky mist hung over the chilled water of the lake. Pieces of ice floated idly along, though when the form of the barge moved silently through, these pieces of ice got pushed aside.

“Watch out!” Bofur exclaimed when the sight of a large stone appeared through the fog. It loomed over them silent and dark.

“What are you trying to do? Drown us?” Thorin shot back at the driver of the vehicle.

“I was born and bred on these waters, Master Dwarf. If I wanted to drown you, I wouldn't do it here.”

Dwalin who was leaning against the now empty barrels shook his head and frowned. “I've had enough of this lippy lake man. I say we throw him over the side and be done with him.”

“Oh, Bard, his name is Bard.” Bilbo said despairingly with a shudder. Much like the water there was an icy feeling which hung in the air. It caused everyone to shiver now and again.

“How do you know?” Dwalin shot at him.

“Uh...I asked him.” Bilbo said plainly while looking around and then at the Dwarf with a light frown.

“I don't care what he calls himself, I don't like him.” Dwalin stated, his words weren't a surprise, he honestly couldn't make it more clear how much he disliked Bard. Thorin moved past Dwalin and looked to Balin who sat counting up all the money they had.

“We don't have to like him, we simply have to pay him.” Balin said while putting a small stack of coins down. “Come on, turn out your pockets.” Balin said gently. It was an act which none of them wished to do.

“How do we know he won't betray us?” Dwalin asked while looking to Thorin, the two of them still sat side by side.

“We don't,” was the only answer which Thorin could give.

“There's a wee problem,” Balin's voice caught their attention as they looked down at him. “We're ten coins short.”

Thorin let out a sigh, “Gloin, come on. Give us what you have.”

“Don't look at me! I have been bled dry by this venture!” Glóin exclaimed while looking up at Thorin. “What have I seen for my investment? Naught but misery and grief and...” He trailed off as he noticed no one was paying him any attention. Something else had distracted them from his complaining. Glóin quickly stood up alongside his friends. Turning he too looked in the direction they were all looking at. Through the fog the form of the Lonely Mountain could be seen. Though it was still shrouded by fog, it was there, that was really it. And this was the closest they had all been to it in such a long time.

“Take it, take it all,” Glóin waved his money pouch in Balin's direction.

Bilbo let out an awkward cough, he seemed to be the only one who saw Bard jump down from his post near the steering and walk over to them. His boots thudded on the deck as he walked over. “The money, quick, give it to me.” He said sounding desperate.

“We will pay you when we get our provisions, but not before.” Thorin said trying to sound unaffected by Bard's tone.

“If you value your freedom, you'll do as I say. There are guards ahead.” His dark eyes looked up to the port which was slowly becoming visible through the thick fog.

“What's he doing?” Dwalin whispered, they had all clambered into a barrel each, again. Bard had left and was walking along the decking of the port.

“He's talking to someone.” Bilbo answered, there was a little hole in his barrel which allowed him to look out and over to where Bard was. “He's pointing right at us. Now they're shaking hands.”

“What?” Thorin said sharply while looking around.

“He's selling us out.” Dwalin said but cut short when there was approaching footsteps. Sitting in silence the company expected the worst, the last thing they expected was for dozens of fish to fall from above and cocoon them into the barrels.

With the barrels full Bard commenced motioning the barge back to journeying. When there was a groan from a nearby barrel he kicked it. “Shh, be quiet! We're approaching the toll gate.” He said seriously as the full form of the town slowly appeared before them.

“Halt! Goods inspection! Papers please!” Came an alarmingly cheery voice from a small dark building. The only light was a lantern which shone through a rather dim window. A dark haired figure quickly appeared and walked down the steps which led to the door. “Oh! Bard, it's you.”

“Morning, Percy,” Bard replied with equal politeness.

“Anything to declare?” Percy asked while walking closer.

“Nothing. But I am cold and tired, and ready for home.” Bard reached into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out the ruffled paper and extended his arm to Percy.

“You and me both,” Percy replied while taking the paper from Bard's hand and walking towards the small building again. Bard briefly glanced up as Percy stamped the paper and turned to give it back to him. “There we are, all in order.”

“Not so fast,” said another voice, a hunched over man snatched the paper from Percy's hand and scrutinized it. “Consignment of empty barrels from the Woodland Realm.” There was a quick point at the barrels. “Only...they're not empty, are they Bard? If I recall correctly, you're licensed as a bargeman, not a...” A hand reached out and scooped a fish from on top of the nearest barrel. An eye of a Dwarf peeked out and around. “Fisherman,” the sentence and statement got finished off while Bard had a fish pointed in his face with its mouth agape.

He sighed and looked around. “That's none of your business.”

“Wrong. It's the Master's business which makes it my business.”

“Oh come on, Alfrid. Have a heart, people need to eat.” Bard said while watching as Alfrid walked away with the fish still in his hand.

“These fish are illegal,” came the response from Alfrid as he threw the fish into the water. “Empty the barrels,” he looked to the guards which were with him. One after another a guard grabbed hold of a barrel and started to slowly tip them forward. A few of the fish on the top toppled into the cold water with loud splashes.

“Folk in this town are struggling. Times are hard, food is scarce.” Bard said trying to dissuade them.

“That's not my problem,” Alfrid replied plainly.

“And when the people hear the Master is dumping fish back into the Lake? When the rioting starts? Will it be your problem then?” Bard questioned simply while raising his eyebrows curiously at Alfrid.

A few more fish splashed into the water before Alfrid relented. He held up a hand to signal to the guards. “Stop,” it seemed to pain him greatly to call them off. “Ever the people's champion, hey, Bard? Protector of the common folk. You might have their favour now, bargeman, but it won't last.” Alfrid said lowly before turning away.

Bard looked away and let out a quiet sigh. “Raise the gate!” Called Percy after a few moments of silence had past and the sounds of the retreating guards had almost disappeared.

Standing back in position, Bard motioned the barge to move on again. “The Master has his eye on you. You'll do well to remember, we know where you live!” Alfrid said as if trying to get in one last insult.

With a light smirk Bard leant backwards and looked to the smaller man. “It's a small town, Alfrid. Everyone knows where everyone lives.” With that said the barge drifted onwards past the raised gate and into the town fully. The barrels were still in tact, and only a few of the fish had been lost, but that was not a problem.

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(A/N: Bard's such an absolute freakin' legend.....like, such a legend. xD x3 Gotta love that bargeman! xDD)

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