Chapter 1: Faith
"I suppose this story must start with the question: do you have faith? Any faith really, in anyone and anything. My faith was always that. My own. It changes and it falters but it never concedes from being mine. I'm not sure where I should start this story, but I suppose it should be with the fact that I am not of this world. Not even remotely."
The sun shone glowing beams upon her face, as the gentle breeze flittered through her untamed curly hair. The bright sunlight bleached the tips of her hair, from their usual raven colour, into a shinny chocolate brown. The brightness of the spring day also blended her hazel eyes to show more green than brown, like leaves of a tree overrunning the bark. Althea Wright embraced the day with a smile spread across her face. She quietly hummed to herself as she sashayed down the pavement, away from her home. This felt to be a good day, she believed, and that should have been how she knew she was wrong, for on a day where everything appears perfect, things can only get worse.
The traffic blared horns onto a ruckus on the London roads, as Althea ducked down the passage and into the underground. She skipped down the steps, passed her ticket through the ticket barrier, then travelled the steep escalator to the underground level. She hovered near the wall as she awaited the train. Time ticked by, the predictable delays were still a mild annoyance, that kept her glancing at the clock. The boredom ticked on, people flattering around their busy days. Her eyes scanned the tunnel, watching the many people, until her they connected with a sight that made her heart stop for a minute. Three children, no older than eight, we're playing too close to the tracks. They'd made a game of jumping over the yellow warning line. Without her permission her body had already begun to rush towards the children, intent on pulling them away quickly. The panic intensified as the steady chugging if the train grew from down the tunnel. The two boys laugh as the girl jumps far, but their smiles quickly wash away as she slips. Althea finally reaches them, quickly pulling the crying girl up and into the awaiting arms of the boys, but as she's pushing them away from the tracks she goes over on her ankle. Time doesn't slow for Althea, she doesn't even have time to think as her body crumpled back and train hit. All turned black.
The blackness didn't change as her eyes openned. She stood surrounded by a black vortex, in front of her were three separate images of boys playing. She looked around, but apart from that all there was was black.
"Chooses." The commanding voice vibrated through the air, making her jump.
"What? No." She spoke into the void, "Who are you?"
"Choose." The command came again.
"Where am I? What's going on?" She glared around as panic built within her.
"Choose." The voice pressed.
"Why should I? What do you want with them?" She demanded, spinning in circles.
"You can only save one. Choose." The echoing voice explained.
"What the hell? No! They're just kids, I'm not picking one to live over another!" Althea shouts incredulously.
The holographic images disappeared, "Your decision has been made, and accepted." The powerful voice commented.
"Decision? I didn't make a decision!Who are you? How did I get here?" She shouted, with fear controlling her thoughts.
"You saved three children's lives, but sadly died in the process." The voice was grave, and almost regretful in it's tone, as it gently breaks the news. "You have been chosen to be a guardian." It informed after sometime, allowing Althea to first process the notion and collect herself from the panic and sadness she felt.
"Guardian?" She whispered the question, unsure whether she truly wanted an answer or not.
"Your people call them Angels." The voice explained, grave and gentle.
"Who are you?" Came Althea's broken whisper.
"I have many names." The voice evaded.
"Who are you?" Althea's frustration grew as she demanded an answer.
"I have many names from your world alone." The voice reiterated.
"Tell me one I'd know, then." Althea commanded.
"You know many, yet none at all for you no longer look to me, although once you often did." The voice commented.
"Enough riddles! Who are you?" Althea bit back at the voice.
"Your mother called me God." The voice commented thoughtfully. "Where you are going, they call me Eru Ilúvatar."
"Where I'm going?" She exclaimed, not liking the idea at all.
"Watch." The voice commanded, before suddenly images had burst across her vision.
The image showed a woman (Althea was certain it was a woman despite the significant beard she had) holding a baby, smiling at a man who was cradling them both.
"What shall we name him, Thrain?" The woman enquired with a relieved laugh. "Our beautiful little lad." She cooed at him.
"How do you feel about Thoren my love?" His smile was as pure as any proud parent the day their child is born.
"'Tis nice, although I would wish to make a slight change?" She smiled lightly at the man, "Perhaps Thorin?"
"Aye, love. A perfect name." The man kissed her head then the baby's. They both smiled at their new born son. From there Althea watched Thorin's life as he grew.
A young Thorin- perhaps three or four years old- appeared in her vision, he was calling for his amad. What an amad was Althea had no idea, but, by the way he was reaching for the familiar woman, she guessed he was calling for his mother.
"Look, Thorin," The woman said as the father placed him in her hold, "This is Frerin, your little brother." She smiled at her children as they both snuggled into her hold.
Thorin appeared about eight or nine, as his mother again laid holding a baby, his brother seemed about four, as all three children looked up at their mother.
"Make sure you're quiet." The father warned gently.
"Thorin, Frerin, meet Dis, your little sister." Their mother smiled softly at them, "She's going to need to have two brave big brothers looking after her as she grows up, do you think you could do that for me?" She said, in a way one can only speak with children. Both young boys grinned and nodded their heads enthusiastically. The adults laughter filled the room.
"Good lads." Their father complimented.
"You're doing it wrong." A young voice commented to an, about, twelve year old Thorin, who was hitting a dummy with a stick.
"Shut up, Dwalin." Thorin grunted as he continued to wack the dummy.
"He's not!" A nine(ish) year old argued. He looked far too much like Thorin to be anyone but Frerin.
"He's not moving his feet." Dwalin pointed out, before using his own stick to swipe Thorin's legs from under him. Thorin landed hard on his butt, and glared at Dwalin, who in return smirked teasingly. Thorin leapt at Dwalin, and the two boys rough housed; not to be left out Frerin quickly joined the fray. Their mothers were less than impressed when they found them, although the scolding did not seem harsh as their fathers' laugh.
Althea watched as Thorin grew, Dwalin and Frerin by his side, spending their time annoying Dwalin's elder brother Balin, and scaring off Dis' suitors, but eventually watched her marry, too. Thorin, Frerin, and Dis all learnt royal duties, and fighting, whilst Dwalin focused upon fighting. They drank too much and laughed a lot, and slowly the four of them grew. She watched Thorin's grandfather's slow descent into madness, and the toll the death of his grandmother had. Then came the dragon. She could feel the fire, smell the burning, she was choking on the smoke as if she were there. She cried with the deaths of the people, forced from their homes, the death of Thorin's mother. She watch a desperate royal family trying to help their people survive. She watched them settle in Ered Luin, watched Thorin become a blacksmith. Then she watched Azanulbizar. And she cried, sobbing tears as she watched Thrain, Frerin, and (Dis' husband) Vili perish. She watched Thorin become the cut off and cold King in exile.
Suddenly the pictures were no longer about Thorin, the were about a golden haired boy, Althea knew to be Fili, Dis' eldest son. She watched his birth, as Frerin cracked jokes, just for Dis to bite his head off; Vili rushing in from being at the market, quickly grabbing Dis' hand. Thorin being stoic, although small tears grew in his eyes. She then watched him swear to look after Kili, just after his birth. She watched Fili cry over his father, grandfather and uncle. She watched him grow and learn to be a prince, whilst still being a buffoon. She watched his, Kili and Ori's friendship that reminded her far too much of Thorin, Frerin and Dwalin. She watched as he pranked people, got yelled at by his mother, learnt to fight with his uncle and Dwalin. Watched him defend Kili and Ori and roll his eyes at his strange relatives.
Then it moved on. Although events were too similar, however, these were centred around Kili, who more often than not was far too reckless for her liking. Soon the images stopped, and she knew she knew them. Not simply because she'd watched their lives, but because they were from a book, and some films, and she knew they were destined to die, and that made her cry all over again.
"These are your charges." The voice announced gravely. "You are now their guardian."
"What does that even mean?" She questioned desperately.
"You are their guardian. Guard them." The voice dictated. "You shall be sent to their world. You shall join their quest. Be warned you shall be mortal once more, you can die."
"So it's like reincarnation?" She asked hesitantly.
"Exactly." The voice rumbled. "Your body shall be almost the same, although, with Aulë's blessing you shall be of the race of your charges. Whether you succeed or fail this is your new life, until death takes you again. Good luck." All went black, again.
Whilst Althea was panicking over this, a hobbit, happy in his smial, was being interrupted by a very grumpy dwarf.
Althea's ears rang and her head pounded; her first thought was: 'I feel like I got hit by a train', which was quickly followed by her second thought: 'I got hit by a train.' These thoughts were subsequently followed by a large amount of internal panic
An annoying tap stirred her from her thoughts. Peeling her eyes open, she groaned and squinted as they attempted to focus, the bright sunlight attacking her senses. After many minutes, she managed to open her eyes. The cloudless cerulean sky came seamlessly into her vision, with only the tips of some trees blocking her view. The high pitched ringing in her ears slowly dispersed and it was at that time she finally heard some fuzzy voices around her. Her body ached as she sat up slowly, wave after wave of dizziness hitting her.
"Careful, Miss." A gruff, raspy voice admonished, a large hand on her shoulder keeping her steady. Her wincing eyes sprung open in shock, and the realisation she was surrounded by men hit her. She stared at them for a moment, before the one crouched in front of her drew her attention again, "Can you tell me your name?" He asked, his rough voice surprisingly gentle and comforting.
"Althea." Althea's own voice was rather soft, although she was more focused (and greatful) about the pain slowly receding.
"Alright, Althea." He continued softly, "I'm Oin, at your service," He gave a slight nod if his head after his introduction. "I am a healer," He continued by way of explanation, "Can you tell me if anything hurts?" His voice was soft, like you'd speak to a young child or scared animal.
"My- my head." She stuttered, her mind still fuzzy with confusion.
"Do you mind if I look at it?" He urged, "If it hurts it would be best to check you don't have a concussion."
"Okay," She agreed, although she was hardly listening. Instead, she was scanning, the overly familiar male. His eyes were warm and brown, his hair long, and beard full. Many intricate braids were weaved into the the dark auburn and nickel coloured hair. Faint scars crisscross over his hands, whilst some protruded on his face. His clothes seemed thick and heavy, and Althea found herself wondering how he did not overheat. The hand that wasn't holding her steady was holding a device to his ear. The device reminded her oddly of a megaphone on an old fashioned record player.
Slowly Oin removed his hand from Althea's shoulder, cautious to make sure she could sit on her own. "I'm going to ask some questions and you answer them if you can." He prompted, waiting for her confirmation before continuing, "Now, follow my finger with your eyes." She did so for several minutes. "Good. Now I'm going to hold my hands up, and every time I open my fist I want you to touch my hand." This took place, Oin repeatedly opening his hands. "Good. Now for the questions; do you feel nauseous?"
"No." She declined.
"Do you feel dizzy?" Oin prompted, device to his ear.
"Not anymore." Althea shrugged.
"Can you tell me what happened?" Oin pressed. This gained the attention of the others whom had crowded her. Althea was not entirely sure what to say, whether or not the truth should be divulged. Oin gave her a worried look, and began to repeat the question, before a mildly curious voice interrupted.
"What is going on here?" The dwarves (for Althea had now figured out that is what they were) parted for the tall robed figure. Althea gaped upwards at him. Gandalf the Grey. He looked down at her for a moment, as if studying her. "Hm, and where did you come from? Hm?" He inquired thoughtfully.
Before she could reply, one of the dwarves did. It didn't take more than a second for Althea to recognise the snow white hair and beard the belonged to Balin, the braids and beads contrasting with the fluffy white hair. "We found her out here." He glanced at the girl in worry, "She was unconscious."
"Yes," Gandalf hummed absent mindedly, "Yes, she would be."
"What do you mean: 'she would be'?" Thorin growled out impatiently. Althea thought she might cry when she set her eyes on him. She found she couldn't look at him for too long, wincing at the knowledge she held. Much to Thorin's aggravation, the wizard merely ignored him, instead crouching in front of the girl.
It wasn't until then that Althea noticed something heavy on her legs. It was somebody's cloak, she figured, wondering why it was over her. But looking down she slowly figured out the answer, deeming her denim shorts far from appropriate in Middle Earth. 'They probably think they're protecting my modesty, or something stupid like that.' During all this thinking she hadn't noted Gandalf crouched in front of her, his enquiring gaze fixed on her face. So, when she looked up, this caused her to visibly jump, "Um- hi?" She said to him with awkward confusion.
Gandalf gave the girl a kind smile, "Hello, m'dear, I am Gandalf the Grey."
"Uh, I'm Althea?" Her tone phrased the fact like a question, as she was truly unsure what she was meant to be doing.
"Well, Althea, it is lovely to meet you." His smile caused Althea to reciprocate one in response, "Where are you from, if I may enquire?" He urged her to answer the previous question.
"Earth." Tumbled out of her mouth before she could even think to sensor it.
"Hm," Gandalf nodded, as if this were expected. "And, who are you here for?"
That was when Althea finally connected the dots, figuring Gandalf new of this guardian thing, "Thorin, Fili and Kili." She answered again, causing suspicious grumbling from the dwarves, all of whom (apart from the still crouched Oin) crowded closer in protectiveness of the royals.
This time Gandalf did look surprised, "Three? How odd indeed."
"Uh," The look the wizard gave her prompted her to explain, "I was told to choose. But I didn't." Althea truly hoped that would explain enough. Thankfully, Gandalf nodded his head at the explanation, although curiosity was still glowing on his face.
Gandalf’s eyes scanned Althea's form again, "I was under the impression that there were only men on Earth." He thought out loud.
That was one answer Althea had already figured out, "Um, he said something about being given the form of my charges, with Aulë's permission." She attempted to explain. The mention of the higher being made the dwarves silence their growing frustration and suspicion.
Finally, it was Oin who broke the silence, "You don't have a concussion." He finally got to tell her his deduction, "You should be fine."
"Thank you." She smiled softly. Oin nodded at her, before standing and joining his brothers side.
"What is going on here?" An irate Thorin demanded, striding towards the wizards. Dwalin shadowed him, his protective instinct going haywire since the girl stated she was here for Thorin and the boys.
Gandalf stood, offering Althea a hand up as well. Greatfully she took it. The coat slid off of her body as she stood. Her very bare legs, caused Gandalf to raise an eyebrow, whilst the dwarves uncomfortably diverted their gazes. "Hm," Gandalf hummed. "Perhaps it's best you keep this around you, dear." He advised, picking up the cloak and surrounding her body in it. Althea found she could not be bothered to argue. Once she was appropriately covered Gandalf cleared his throat. The dwarves eyes faced the pair again.
"Well?" Thorin demanded to Gandalf.
"Ah, Thorin." Gandalf turned to face him with a content smile, "This is Miss Althea." Gandalf gestured.
"So I gathered." Thorin was not amused. "What is going on? Why is there a lone dwarrowdam in the Shire? Why was she unconscious? And what did you mean: 'who is she here for'?"
"Althea here has been selected as a guardian." Gandalf explained with a smile. Most of the dwarves still looked confused, actually all of them did.
Balin edged forward, "So, your saying she's- dead?" Balin's question bewildered the other dwarves, who all clearly had no idea what a guardian was.
"No." Althea interrupted, shaking her head, "I'm very much alive." Most of the dwarves relaxed at that statement, "Although, I did die." And suddenly the shouts and tension was back.
"Quiet!" Thorin shouted over them. He turned to face Althea, worry clear on his face. Dwarven culture was easy to understand when it came to females, they were adored and protected as much as possible; for Althea to say she'd died was disconcerting. "What do you mean you died?"
"Um, do any of you know what a guardian is?" Althea wondered, looking around the group.
All heads were shaken, but Balin spoke up, "The old archives in Erebor reference that one can be selected as a guardian after death, but nothing more."
"Right," Althea bit her lip, "Can you explain?" She asked looking at Gandalf.
In return he gave her a disapproving look, but still did as asked, "A guardian can be from any world," the first sentence caused an uproar of enquiry about how many world's there are. "Silence!" Gandalf roared, patience quickly disappearing. Once it was silent again he continued, "Miss Althea is from a world called Earth. Somehow, she died, and was selected by Eru to be a guardian. Guardians are asked to pick their charges, through images of them playing as children. For some reason Eru allowed Miss Althea to refuse to choose and so she gained three charges. Guardians' purposes are to protect their charge, be it emotionally, mentally or physically. Miss Althea's charges are Thorin, Fili and Kili-"
"She's a child!" Dori pointed out aghast, "How is she meant to protect them, she should be the one being protected!"
"I'm not a child," Althea objected, "In my world I'm old enough to live on my own!"
"Enough." Thorin interrupted before an argument could begin. "Let us hear the end of the explanation." He gestured for Gandalf to continue.
"Once charges are decided, guardians are given mortality again. They may live their new life as they wish, but their purpose is meant to be to watch over their charge. It is their decision if they do this or not. When Miss Althea was given back her mortality, it appears, she was blessed by Aulë and forged into a dwarf- for Earth only has the race of men." That got some startled looks, "It is rare for someone to be gifted a guardian." Gandalf put in as his final word on the manner.
The quiet didn't last long, for Gloin interrupted, "Aye, she may be placed as this guardian thing, but either way she's a dwarrowdam, and one who is not of age at that, she should be somewhere safe not trying to protect three skilled warriors."
Althea chose to ignore the comment on her gender, for she knew he did not mean it in a way that meant he thought she, as a female, was incapable but rather that all dwarrows were protective of dwarrowdams safety due to their rarity. The comment on her age, however, she was not pleased with. "I'm not a child." She argued again.
It was Balin who interrupted the argument this time, "Well, lass, how old are you?"
Althea thought for a moment, "Well, dwarves age differently to humans, so, when do they reach adulthood?"
"Seventy." Thorin replied. If he were being honest he'd say he agreed with both Gloin and Dori.
"Hm, well if we round that to seventy-two because that makes a whole number when divided by eighteen," Althea calculated, thinking out loud, "So that makes four. Then four times sixteen is, uh, sixty-four. Then if we get rid of two again- Um, I'm about sixty-two-ish." She finally decreed.
"And you think you're not a child?" Gloin raised his eyebrows at her.
"Where I come from I'm old enough to live on my own, I looked after myself perfectly fine." She argued tersely.
"Aye, lass," Balin said gently, "You may not be a dwarfling, but that still doesn't make you an adult either."
"Our worlds are clearly quite different," Thorin began, approaching her cautiously, as if afraid she'd spook and run away, "But here, you would usually still be under your families protection, and to know you were and are alone in the world is very worrying to us." The glare on Althea's face slowly melted away.
"I want to come with you." She declared, her voice quiet but stubborn.
Thorin held up his hand before the other dwarrow could start arguing, "Where we're going is very dangerous." He softly declined her wish.
"I know." She finally looked him in the eye, "You're going to reclaim Erebor." Shock crossed Thorin's features, "I'm meant to protect you, I can't do that if I start with no knowledge." She explained. She squared her shoulders, "If you don't let me come with you, I'm just going to follow you on my own." Her voice left no room for arguments.
Thorin studied her for a minute. "You may come." He finally grumbled. A glare from Thorin quickly halted the protests of the other dwarrows, "Time to move out." He commanded before turning back to Althea, "You shall ride with Balin, and shall always stay close to one of us at all times." She agreed with a nod of her head.
Before long the group were ready to go, and finally the adventure began. A group of ponies and one horse left the Shire.
Chapter 2: Discoveries
Nori... My poor baby Nori...
Althea sat perched in front of Balin, body moving with the unfamiliar motion of the pony's gait. Balin had his arms looped around her, hands holding the rains. Their pony was casually lulling along next to Thorin's, who was also next to Dwalin's.
As they rode through the green hills Balin put the reigns into his left hand and lightly tapped Althea's thigh with the other, "Relax, lass. It will help if you do. I won't let you fall." Althea forced her shoulders down, willing her muscles to relax.
She just got the feeling of relaxation when a voice made her jump. "Wait! Wait!"
'Bilbo.' Althea thought joyfully. Wild curls came into view and a red faced hobbit followed them.
With a large grin on his face, Bilbo ran up to Balin's pony, and handed him the contract. "I signed it." The hobbit startled as he looked up at Balin, finally realising Althea's presence.
Balin (who was checking over the contract) spared a glance at the pair, "Ah, yes, Master Baggins this is Miss Althea. Miss Althea, this is Master Baggins." Balin brought out his spyglass and continued to inspect the document.
"How do you do?" Bilbo said with a polite smile.
"Okay, thank you." Althea smiled shyly, "And you?"
"Quite well, quite well." Bilbo smiled, rocking gently back and forth on the balls of his feet.
A twinkle shined in Balin's eyes, "Everything appears to be in order. Welcome, Master Baggins, to the company of Thorin Oakenshield." He gave the hobbit a wink of encouragement.
“Give him a pony.” Thorin’s gravelly voice interrupted. Althea watched with sympathy and amusement as Bilbo protested saying that he would be perfectly fine walking, but the two princes simply rode on either side of him, hoisted the poor hobbit up by his arms and deposited him onto a pony. Althea felt sympathy for the hobbit, she wasn't particularly sure about this pony riding either. As the princes shoved the reigns and quickly scurried back to the back, Bilbo was left to uncertainly flounder as to what to do. He eventually got his pony next to Gandalf’s large horse. Finally the bets commenced to be payed. Althea rolled her eyes at the idiotic 'adults'. Yeah, because she was the child here.
As the group lulled along, Althea grew bored. She internally rolled her eyes at herself. She was being ridiculous, she was in a fictional universe! How could she be bored? Still, she was. And as many people know, the best way to solve boredom is by sleeping, so that is exactly what she did.
Balin began to him lowly as he saw the child begin to drift off. He'd seen enough dwarflings to know that she was nowhere near 54. He was certain that it would be discussed when they stopped. Dori, Gloin and Bombur were already fuming in stony silence. It was bound to blow up. Yet, such a conversation was not for a child's ears, so they all hold their tongues.
Balin woke Althea as they had their midday meal atop the ponies. She was half asleep, so he made sure she ate, drank and didn't choke. It's tiring being a growing dwarfling, let alone someone who was recently transformed into one. He worried for her. She faded back into the deep abyss of sleep before long.
As the sun lowered in the sky, Thorin sent Nori and Ori to scout the area. A suitable place was chosen for camp. Althea had a woken for several hours, but had fallen back to sleep. After Dwalin handed his pony to Bifur, he came over to Balin's pony.
Dwalin put his arms out in invitation. Carefully and cautiously the brothers transfered the sleeping girl from one of the to the other. Gloin had set up a his bedroll for her. Dwalin gently deposited her, and Gloin tucked the lass in. The dwarrow continued to set up camp.
Paying no mind to Bilbo or Gandalf, the low conversation was started by quiet Bombur, in their home tongue, "She's not sixty-two. She'd at least have whiskers if she were. She's the age she was as a human. She's only sixteen."
The dwarrow came to a silent agreement to speak in their native tongue, Althea had not learnt it yet, so if she woke she would not understand.
"She's not even got the first hairs on her chin!" Dori squawked. He sat protectively near Althea's feet, stress knitting.
"She's a babe!" Gloin's face was more red than his hair as he sharpened his deadly axe.
"Why are we letting her on such a harsh journey, Thorin?" Balin sighed tiredly, rubbing his hand over his eyes.
All eyes flickered to Thorin, Bilbo quiet at the side, confused at the unknown language. Thorin's deep voice vibrated hollowly, "We've travelled the wilds with children before."
"Aye. Out of necessity!" Bifur growled. He gave Thorin an appraising glare. His angry demeanor shifted to loss, "Why risk it?" Too many memories returned to Bifur. The loss of his wife and unborn child. The death of his seven year old daughter. The death of his twenty-six year old nephew. Bifur was so very lost, and so very tired. He wanted a home where the people he cared for weren't dying.
"Mahal agreed to this." Thorin said in a low soft voice. He let his dwarrow see his moment of vulnerability. He trusted them. "He transformed her." Thorin stared into the dancing flickering fire, it still reminded him of that horrific day. "If we don't believe in Mahal what hope do we have?"
There was moment of silence as they thought over his words. Each dwarrow prayed to their maker, prayed this was right. They were scared for the child. A female child and they were taking her to be dragon food. They hated it. They loathed themselves. They'd follow the Maker's plan.
"She'll need some training." Dwalin growled out, "I won't have her helpless out here." Thorin nodded his agreement. Oddly enough, Dwalin and Nori began to talk over her training regime, becoming her self appointed teachers.
"We keep her close to one, if not two or three of us at all times." Dori put in. He glared up from his knitting, never pausing or dropping a stitch.
"And what about the fact she thinks she's practically an adult, huh?" Bofur put in his two rubies. "She doesn't think she needs looking after."
"It's different for humans. They mature differently." Oin spoke slightly louder than appropriate, "But her body ain't the age it would be if she'd matured as a sixteen year old human had for a dwarrow. Mahal gave her her childhood back." Oin studied her critically. "If anything I'd say she'll find herself acting younger than she were. More like a sixteen year old dwarrow."
"What about the sleeping?" Ori quietly inquired from where he was furiously scribbling notes. "Do you know why she's so tired?"
Oin gave her a speculative look, "I would guess that her body and mind are still undergoing changes and it's taking a lot of energy."
Bilbo, who had been boredly puffin on his pipe, noticed the way all the dwarrows gazes were on the young lass. He decided now was the time to ask his questions, "Um, excuse me," He said politely, gaining their attention, "Who is she? I mean, I know her name, but when did she arrive? She wasn't at my home. Why is she going on the quest? She looks very young." Bilbo worried at his pipe.
Thorin gave the hobbit an appraising once over, "Tell me Master Baggins, what do you know about guardians?"
Bilbo brightened at the question. It was finally something he knew a lot about, "A fair bit, I would say," He nodded as he puffed at his pipe. "My father was one." He took another content puff at his pipe. "Miss Althea is a guardian then?" He looked over at the girl, "That explains the sleeping."
"Your father was a guardian?" Gloin burst out in disbelief.
"Hmm?" Bilbo hummed absent mindedly, "Oh, yes. My mother's. They fell in love."
"Can you tell us about it? About him?" Ori asked excitedly, starting a new page in his journal.
"If you'd like," Bilbo offered. He gained thrilled nods from Ori, Fili and Kili. "Well, he was young. Only nineteen, barely in his tweens! He got adopted by the Bagginses. Gaining a mother, father and two brothers. He never truly knew how to guard my mother, he once told me." Bilbo drifted of in thought, his voice following his memories. "He was a home body, and she was wild. And fierce. And brave. She travelled further than any hobbit before her." Bilbo had a wistful smile on his face, "Belladonna Took-"
"Belladonna?" Nori cut through sharply.
"Yes." Bilbo gave him a confused look, "My mother's name."
Nori groaned and visibly shrunk, he grumbled under his breath, "Mahal above, Bella would kill me. 'If my son ever leaves the Shire, watch over him' she said. Not lead him to a live fucking dragon." His voice, although low, drifted and echoed in the eerily quiet forest.
"You knew my mother?" Bilbo startled. Bilbo studied Nori thoughtfully, "Master Nori, you wouldn't happen to know what happened to my candelabras, would you?"
Nori smirked at him, "I think you already know."
Bilbo gave a soft smile. He reached into and inside pocket of his jacket, "She said to always keep it on me," Bilbo said as he pulled out a yellowing envelope, "In case I ever saw him." He passed it over to Nori who stared at it. Bilbo watched, and, upon deciding Nori needed some privacy, re-adverted the conversation, "Anyway, father figures it out eventually." The eyes of the dwarrow snapped back to him, in attention to the story, "All he had to do was love her. He reminded her she had a reason to come back. A home. It's why he built her Bag End," A soft sad smile was painted on Bilbo's lips, "It was an engagement gift."
Thorin appraised Bilbo, "He is very talented."
Bilbo smiled, "He was. Best in all of the Shire and Bree. He was an apprentice architect in his other life. A prodigy, he called it."
"Where was he from? Before?" Kili asked like an excitable puppy, "Althea's from a place called Earth."
Bilbo startled at that, "So was my father. He said he died in a terrible war. The Great War. He called it."
"World War One." A soft female voice drifted to them. Althea had finally awoken. The smell of Bombur's cooking pulled her from her slumber. "Almost every continent fought. What country was he from?"
"France. He didn't speak much common when he arrived. He taught me French, though." Bilbo said to the lass, he was curious to meet another guardian, especially from his father's first world.
"Je connais un peu le français aussi. Ma fille au pair était française. Peut-être que je pourrais pratiquer avec vous à un moment donné?" Althea spoke quite fluently. (I know a little French too. My au pair was French. Maybe I could practice with you at some point?)
Bilbo grinned. He had missed his father's home tongue, "Je voudrais que." (I would like that.) There was a pause, "What do you mean one? You said World War One." Bilbo finally realised.
"There was a second one." Althea frowned, "We learnt about them in school." Bilbo frowned. His father told very brief stories of that war. It changed him irreparably.
Bombur took that silence to say that the food was ready. Nori took the flurry of food collection to slink away. Once he was far enough away, he punched a tree. He kept driving into the tree, tears bled down his knuckles and tears streamed down his face.
Dori and Ori watched as Nori disappeared, the pair shared a look. They slowly slunk into the shadows, following their brother.
Dori wrapped his arms around Nori, restraining him from hurting himself. Ori cupped his brothers face making him look at him. Nori fought against his brothers, sobs racking through his body.
Eventually his sobs slowed. Dori and Ori held their brother until his sobs ran dry.
"She was my shield." He said hopelessly. "I wasn't there." His brothers allowed him to talk, being silent support. "She named me Bilbo's godfather. Now I'm feeding him to a dragon." Nori chuckled in hollow bitterness, "Hobbits age differently. Come of age at thirty-three. He's only fifty." Nori clung to his brothers' embraces as they soothed him. They held him long into the night, Thorin guarding them, his people, his kin, in the shadows.
Chapter 3: Fog
Oin and Gloin don't get enough love
Thorin nodded to Dwalin and Balin. Once the Ri brothers had all done one of their disappearing acts, Thorin worried. Dwalin and Balin would watch over camp whilst he watched over the brothers, his kin.
He kept in the shadows. As he saw Nori break he winced. The usually cocky and emotionless dwarrow took a lot before he broke, and the wheezing, coughing sobs he was expelling shattered a section of Thorin's heart. He stoically watched the dark so that his kin could fix their brother. He watched over his people as he had many times before. He promised himself he would give them a place of peace and rest. He would reclaim Erebor.
Bifur fussed over Althea as she nibbled at the stew Bombur had made. The lass found herself too exhausted- and oddly comforted by his grouchy fussiness- that she didn't voice any complaints as he growled at her in unfamiliar words.
Althea frowned lightly as Bifur grumbled at her. "Gloin?" She called out to the nearest dwarrow.
"Aye, lass?" The fatherly ginger grumbled kindly.
"What's Bifur saying? He keeps repeating the same words." Althea curiously enquired.
Gloin looked at Bifur as the elder dwarrow spoke. "He's, uh, worryin' ovah yer, erm, attire." He drew out the word attire as if he wasn't completely sure that was what her clothing was.
Althea glanced down at her outfit again, "It's just clothes."
"Aye, aye. And if we weren't here it'd be fine." Gloin nodded as he ate. Bifur sagely nodded in agreement, cautious that the lass might have a fit.
Althea huffed. "What's that got to do with it?" She glared at the two dwarrow.
"It is due," Althea jumped as Dori suddenly appeared sat on her left side, "to the other races." The fussy dwarrow picked up his knitting. "They don't see kindly of lasses displaying their bodies, so, dams dress as lads outside of our mountains. Inside of the mountains a lass could where as much and as little as they wish with no judgement."
Althea was surprised for a moment before she considered this idea. Slowly she nodded her understanding. A yawn wracked through her body.
Dori eyed the young dam's fatigued physique. "You go to bed now, dear." He commanded in a no nonsense tone.
Althea bristled at the idea of being commanded to bed like a child. "I only just woke up." She protested to the prim and proper dwarf.
"And you're still tired." Dori commented. Somehow he began to usher her to laying down on the bedroll without her realising. It was skill developed by raising Nori and Ori. "You're body is going through many changes-"
"You make it sound like puberty." Althea grumbled, rolling her eyes.
"You need rest." Dori commanded, pulling a blanket over the young lass. Althea huffed for several minutes but slowly her eyes slid closed.
Dori kept one eye on Althea as she fell asleep again before pulling out his knitting. Whilst one of Dori's eyes was trained on Althea his other was drawn on Nori and Bilbo, who were cheerfully sharing stories of Belladonna. Nori and Bilbo's laughter had drawn quite a crowd and soon all the dwarrow were laughing at the stories of the fierce woman. Even Thorin had a spark in his grouchy eyes.
A couple of days later brought the company to Bree. Althea's nose automatically wrinkled at the dingy town. Even with the sun shining down upon them gladly, it looked dismal at best. Everything looked like it could do with a layer of paint. The cobblestones were an uneven track filled with many persistent weeds. The smells were almost indescribable. The stalls smelt of different trades, of leather and meat and freshly baked bread, but there was a distinct undercurrent scent of waste and booze and death. Anthea hated it.
"Come along, dear." Dori commanded, as he and Bombur ushered her away from the group.
"Why are we splitting up?" Althea questioned, her face wrinkling in confusion.
"They're getting rooms while we get you some clothes." Dori said, pulling Bofur's cloak around her more securely. Both he and Bombur on high alert around the children of men.
"Oh." Was all Thea replied before she was ushered along the street.
"Dori?" She questioned, feeling more inquisitive than normal. When the elder dwarf hummed a reply she continued, "Why was it you and Bombur chose to come with me?"
"Bombur has three daughters so can help get you needed supplies and I am a tailor- plus I raised Nori and Ori." Dori answered. Bombur chuckled at how Dori tutted when he said Nori's name.
The rest of the shop through the market went quickly. Althea found that Bombur was as humourous as Bofur once you got him speaking.
She did not enjoy the tailor. At all. She was poked and prodded far too many times. But, still, she got new clothes out of it, and Dori and Bombur seemed to approve.
They only stayed in Bree for the one night, but they stayed in the prancing pony and that put Thea into a state of awe as she thought of the heros who had and would walk through those halls. She was roomed with Balin and Dwalin, which made her happy enough (they didn't snore like Gloin and Bombur- maybe dwarrow only start to snore after the had children?). By morning their journey began again.
The next couple of months had Althea panicking more and more. She didn't know what was wrong with her. She was sure she was going insane. She didn't know what was wrong with her, she felt like crying.
Althea was never one to cry. Not any more. But things were so confusing. The beginning of the week had been fine, she'd been her normal self. Sure there had been some odd things, like the fact she was quicker to laugh. But that quicker to laugh had soon turned into easier to anger and scare and quicker to cry. Like when the rain poured for days and she felt herself pouting and wanting comfort, where usually she wouldn't even flinch. Then she'd been far too easily entertained by a wooden figurine Bofur had made. The most recent was what bothered her the most.
Fili and Kili had been teasing Bilbo about orcs and Balin had continued with quite the graphic explanation of the Battle of Azanulbizar, leaving Althea scared, with tear filled eyes. It had left Althea with in internal battle, considering all and any answers. She didn't like the one she found. The dwarrow thought she a child, and it made sense. The way she'd been acting from the easy emotions, to enjoying Dori's fussiness and attention. It made sense and that made her want to cry even more.
By this point Althea had completely given up on sleep. She was cold, she was scared and she felt like crying. And, against all of her usually instincts, she desired to be comforted. Without letting herself think about it anymore, Althea sat up.
Oin and Gloin were on watch, and- with great hesitation- she quietly got up and walked to them. Oin shuffled over silently and patted the space between the two brothers for a her shivering form to sit.
"Why ye up, lass?" Gloin asked after she had sat down, his voice stern but gentle- very much a 'Dad Voice'.
Thea sighed as she burrowed further into the warmth of the brothers. "Why'd you all think I'm a little kid?" She asked instead, her eyes trained straight forward on the horizon.
Gloin raised an eyebrow and shared a look with Oin over Thea's head. "Well," Gloin's gruff voice oddly soft, "Yer sixteen, lass. Fer dwarrow, it'd be around eight years old for men. Sixteen is near of age fer men, if yer were near of age fer a dam ye'd have at least some hair on ye chin, ye'd definitely be taller." Gloin stopped there as he carefully watched Althea watch the horizon.
"I don't want you to be right." Thea mumbled. "I've worked too hard, been through too much-" She cut herself off with a sigh. "I don't know how to be a kid."
Oin, who had been silently watching, finally gave his input. "Maybe it's 'cause yer've worked so 'ard." He suggested. "From the sounds of things yer childhood weren't the best. Maybe gettin' ter relive it is more a blessin' than a curse."
Thea but her lip, a deep frown on her face. "I dont know how to be a kid. Never have." She muttered.
"Yer stop thinkin' for a minute." Gloin grouched. "Yer run of instincts, let herself be taught, experiment, test boundaries, learn."
"We'll respect that yer were once nearly an adult, lass, and consider it in how we treat yer, but yer gotta remember yer a kid. Relax and be one." Oin considered her as he said this. "Laugh when yer wanna laugh, run and scrape yer knee, make us worry for no reason other than yer reckless curiosity, and come to us when yer need help."
Gloin nodded, "Aye. Yer not a adult now. We'll give yer all the help yer need." The group then lapsed into silence as Thea thought through what they said.
It was close to the end of Oin and Gloin's watch when Althea finally spoke. "'M scared." She mumbled, her arms tightly wrapped around her knees. Almost immediately Gloin and Oin both hugged her.
"What's scaring yer?" Gloin questioned soft and calmly.
"The dark." Althea mumbled. "Orcs." She muttered even quieter.
Gloin tutted before bundling up Althe and sitting her on his lap, his arms wrapped around her in protection. "The lads should know better than to play a joke like that." He sighed. "I ain't gonna lie to yer, they're out there. But they ain't close right now and, even if they were, we're careful. Yer surrounded by warriors, gem, you dont need to worry." Gloin squeezed her tighter when he realised tears had finally spilt over her cheeks. "I got yer, pebble." He repeated soothingly. "It's okay ter be scared."
Gloin continued to sooth Althea, even as Oin woke Nori and Ori for their own watch. Glenn nodded his brother to bed.
Ori fretted as he watched his brother tense when he saw Althea's tears. Ori was just glad it was Nori and not Dori with him, for Nori left Althea in Gloin's secure embrace, choosing to watch over them defensively; whereas, Dori would have fretted non-stop. With a heavy sigh, Ori tore his eyes away from the crying dwarfling, and with a heavy heart began his watch.
It wasn't until well into Nori and Ori's watch did Althea calm enough that she fell asleep. Gloin, put her to bed before retiring to sleep himself. Nori had a dark gaze as he looked over the camp. Let's just say that come morning, there were almost two very sorry Durin's heirs (and, for once, Thorin could actually see true grief and guilt within them).