The morning after battling the spiders, Bilbo and the dwarves try to guess which way the path lay, going in the direction eight of thirteen guess is right. They do not get far before suddenly many torches sprang on around them and they are surrounded by elves. Almost pleased at being taken captive, they give no fight. Bilbo, however, slips on his ring so quickly that the elves never realize that he was there. Bilbo follows the marched, blindfolded dwarves a ways behind, and they all cross the bridge that leads to the king’s doors. Bilbo makes it inside the cave just before the doors are shut behind the group. The dwarves are presented to the king, but they will tell him no more than Thorin of where they were headed. Angry at their reluctance, he orders them locked up separately, but fed and watered, until one of them will divulge their secrets. The king makes no mention of Thorin’s presence in his dungeons. Bilbo hides in dark corners of the caves, sometimes leaving secretly behind the elves as they wander the woods, but never going far away. He spends a week or two hiding with his ring in the caves before he realizes that if someone is going to help the dwarves it’ll have to be himself.
Bilbo finds Thorin and speaks with him, then carries his message to the other dwarves. They all agree to say nothing to the king and give it more time for Bilbo to get them out; sharing the treasure with the wood elves would take far too much from their own shares. Bilbo soon discovers another entrance to the caves, a sort of stream and water-gate under the lower portions of the palace. Bilbo also learns that the wine-loving elves will send their empty barrels down the stream towards Lake-town. One night, the butler and chief guard get drunk on especially heavy wine, allowing Bilbo to get the guard’s keys. He goes and lets out each dwarf in turn, and when he gets Thorin explains his plan of sending them down the river in barrels. They hate the plan, but realize they have no other option. Bilbo kindly slips the keys back on the guard’s belt so it will look like the dwarves used some kind of magic to escape. As soon as Bilbo carefully packs each dwarf in a barrel, elves come down the stairs to take care of the barrels they think are empty. The elves complain about the weight in some of the barrels, but the wakened butler tells them he knows they are the ones to go. Watching dwarves get tossed into the stream, Bilbo suddenly realizes that he himself will be left behind with no one to tuck him into a barrel. He jumps along the last barrel to go, hugging it tight and feeling much like a drowned rat. After awhile, he manages to climb on top and hold on for dear life. At night they come ashore at a stopping point where raft-elves rope the barrels together. Bilbo sneaks a stolen supper and sleeps on dry leaves. He manages to jump onto the raft of barrels the next morning before they are shoved off down towards Lake-town.
Bilbo floats atop the barrels, thinking that the river will never end when he finally sees the Lonely Mountain. Far from happy at seeing it, he merely wants to rest. The narrator informs us that they had actually come on the only route available. Earthquakes and floods had wiped out the road Gandalf set them on, and he has recently learned of that himself and hopes to rush off to find the party of dwarves and hobbit. The barreled dwarves and Bilbo reach Lake-town, and the narrator tells us that the men of Lake-town sometimes sing of Thror and Thrain (Thorin’s grandfather and father) returning and the rivers running again with gold, but they think little of that imagined future. The town itself is built on wooden planks set out in the lake and men set off from the town in boats to tow the barrels back to the town. They leave the barrels floating while they feast in Lake-town. After nightfall, Bilbo releases a grumpy Thorin first and Thorin helps him release the other dwarves. Thorin, Fili, Kili, and Bilbo, being in the best shape, walk right up to the guards of Lake-town where Thorin announces who he is and that he has returned, wanting to see the master of Lake-town. While some guards get excited and run out, the captain maintains his head and asks the four to disarm themselves. Thorin informs him that they are not armed (the elves took their knives and Orcrist, too, though Bilbo still carries Sting) and Fili begs for food and help for sick comrades. The captain obliges and they walk towards the hall where the Master of Lake-town feasts.
Thorin enters and exclaims himself: “I am Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror King under the Mountain! I return!” Before much else can be said, surprised wood elves stand and declare the dwarves escaped prisoners who were merely vagabonds. The Master, being a man who cares more for trade and tolls and less for songs, wants to believe the elves, but the people in the hall quickly side with the dwarves. People rush to the hall and sing and play songs of the King’s return. The elves worry if the king made a mistake, and the Master only follows the people’s clamor until he has more time to assess the situation. He gives Thorin his chair and the dwarves and Bilbo seats at the high table. The people soon brought in the rest of the dwarves and provided Thorin and party with a large house, food, and boats and rowers for his disposal. Men of the town sat outside the house and sang songs all day, singing of the demise of the dragon and presents that will flow down the river. While the dwarves grow fat and healthy, Bilbo worries about the Mountain and Smaug and suffers from a terrible cold. The elves return up the river, and the king guesses at the dwarves’ real intention for burglary instead of an outright defeat of Smaug. After a couple of weeks of rest, Thorin tells the Master that they must be off towards the Mountain. It is then that the Master believes that he really is Thorin, son of Thrain son of Thror, but does not believe they can complete their quest. He does give them boats to the shore and ponies, but is grateful to be rid of his expensive guests.
On the lake towards the Mountain, only Bilbo worries about what is to come.
- Who else is really excited to learn more about the wood-elves and the tricksy king (played by former pie-making Lee Pace) in the movie?
- I also prematurely feel bad for Martin Freeman, floating down the river on those barrels.
- Why is Bilbo the only one that realizes that they have yet to reach the most dangerous bit of their journey?
- The people of Lake-town and their extreme optimism at the return of Thorin really only foreshadows bad things to come. Didn’t anyone teach them not to count their chickens before they’re hatched?