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The Blessing

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T.A. 2799 Azanulbizar.

“Green Lady protect me,” a soft voice whispers. “I am surrounded by dangers and dark things unclean, grant me your grace that I may remain unseen.” The rhyme is a familiar one, muttered often during her travels to this awful place. Now, crouching behind brambles and praying desperately with her hands pressed over her delicate ears, the hobbit wonders why Yavanna would see fit to summon her here of all places.

She had woken feeling the draw five months before. For those touched so deeply and obviously by Yavanna’s Blessing such a thing was inevitable and inescapable. All hobbits were touched in some way, whether in their bountiful fertility, their abundant gardens and fields, the healing herbs that were better if purchased from Mrs Bracegirdle than from Mrs Chubb (although there was no denying the latter was the better midwife), even the rapid healing of small injuries. They all had the small magics. There were some, however, who felt it more. Those who were so deeply connected to the earth under their tough soles that they could feel the changing of the seasons and the coming of dark things. They could draw from it to create a cloak of hiding around themselves and others or a wall of thorns to hinder the approach of an enemy. But the most valuable of all was the ability to draw life from the earth and give it to others to heal even a fatal injury. It could not be given where life did not already exist, and those so blessed had been known to drain themselves trying to restore life already lost, but so long as there was a spark there was hope. They were known to have been chosen by the Lady, known to have some task, and the earth sustained them long after a normal hobbit would have passed to the Fields.

In her hiding place the hobbit flinches out of her musings as the roar of an orc sounds from nearby. It’s too close and her efforts to hide herself double as she shuffles her feet uncomfortably. The draw is stronger now, were it a voice it would be screaming at her to pay attention, and she forces herself to look over the battlefield as her chant falls silently from her lips. Her eyes fall upon the dwarf first, surrounded by the bodies of his fallen kin and the beasts that had slain them. He is young, barely in possession of a full beard, and she has encountered enough dwarves during her own journey to know that he probably isn’t even considered of age and likely no older than she is. He is injured, she notices, she can see it in his sluggish movements and the way that the life light around him flickers and pulses. A waste, she thinks, that one so young would die due to the foolish decision of another. It’s between one pulse of the life light and the next that she sees it, the tinge of green around the edges of the forge orange and silver streaked glow she associates with all dwarves (the same as elves sparkle white and Men are drab browns and greys). This is why she has been drawn to this place at this time. This dwarf.

Yavanna and Aule are planning something and she isn’t sure she wants to be in the middle of it. Not that she has a choice.

The dwarf falls, his injury is too much and he’s obviously exhausted, and she feels the draw become tight and urgent. Now or never, she thinks, and pulls a throwing knife from her belt. Her aim is true, as is the case for all hobbits, and the orc stood over the dwarf drops with her blade in his throat. The hobbit fights down nausea, orc or not she has taken a life and it will haunt her. She darts from her hiding place, muttering her prayer, and grabs her knife before turning to the dwarf.

“Get up, get up,” she breathes to him. The effects of the prayer are already dissipating now that she has stopped uttering it and it will only take a minute for it to fade entirely. He groans and, with her help, staggers to his feet. She stumbles, not expecting how heavy he is, and the pair of them nearly go down again. Instinctively she knows that if they do they will not get back up again and she braces herself as she begins to chant once more. “Green Lady, hear my prayer,” she whispers as she slings his arm around her shoulders and absently notes the muscles there. “We are surrounded by dangers and dark things unclean, give us your protection, let us move unseen.”

The corner she had been hiding in is barely big enough for both of them, but she makes it work. The earth here is damp and fresh, untouched by the death that surrounds them and the blood of the vile things that live in the mines below them. She will need that, now, the earth is easier to work with than the stone (although she can use stone in an emergency it’s exhausting and carries its own dangers).

Healing an injury like this isn’t easy, her patient is exhausted and has lost a lot of blood. She can do it though, manages to draw enough life from the earth to mend tissue and bone. He will scar, not even her magic can prevent that, but he will live. He wakes as she finishes, his dark eyes frantic and his hands groping for the weapon that she hadn’t been able to retrieve.

“Easy,” she whispers, the brambles will hide them well enough if they are quiet, the fighting has moved from this area now. “My name is Belladonna Took. Can you tell me yours?”

“Frerin, son of Thrain,” he replies and just like that the pull on her soul eases.

*

T.A. 2941 Bag End, Hobbiton, The Shire.

Belladonna Baggins puffs lightly on her pipe and tips her head back to enjoy the spring sun. It will soon be time for elevenses, her morning of spring cleaning has flown by with the help of her daughter and said daughter has not long departed with a basket of fresh bread and cheese for her uncle. This is a good day, something that she has come to treasure since the Fell Winter, and this one really is shaping up to be quite excellent.

A shadow falls over her and, abruptly, she feels the draw grab at her. She gasps and her eyes pop open.

“Good morning, Grey One,” she says coolly to her visitor. Gandalf the Grey stands on the other side of her fence, leaning on his staff heavily and staring at her with pained blue eyes. Absently her hand goes to the scar on her left cheek.

“And what do you mean by that, Mrs Baggins?” The wizard asks her.

“You know very well what I mean,” she replies. “I’m in no mood for your games, Gandalf, why are you here?”

The wizard looks put out by her direct line of questioning, but Belladonna outgrew his habit of dancing about a situation to twist it to his needs many years ago. He arches an eyebrow at her and his lips thin behind his beard. Nonetheless he answers her question.

“I am looking for someone to share an adventure,” he says mildly. “Naturally, you were my first choice. Your particular skills would be most advantageous to this venture.”

“I don’t do that sort of thing anymore,” she snaps, gripping her pipe with both hands to hide the way they tremble. “I haven’t for nearly sixty-five years. Find someone else, wizard, I have no use for adventures or the blessings of the Lady any longer. They bring nothing but pain. Good morning.” She dashes tears from her eyes, furious that the wizard has caused her to shed them as though she were the same naïve young woman of thirty-six who saved a dwarf on a battle field and not a one-hundred and seventy-eight year old mother and widow.

“You’ve changed, Belladonna Baggins,” Gandalf reproaches her, “and I can honestly say I don’t believe it is for the better.”

“Time and pain does that to mortal creatures,” she informs him. “It’s been some forty years since I saw you last, perhaps by the time another forty have passed the Mother will have withdrawn her blessing and permitted me to rest.” She pauses at the door to the home her husband built for her and looks back at the wizard.

The old man’s face is sorrowful, but she would be a fool to ignore the calculating gleam in his eyes. She shakes her head and turns away, chestnut hair catching the light of the suddenly cold sun highlighting the strands of silver mottled through it and catching on a hint of gold behind her left ear. Trouble is coming, she knows, even if her instincts weren’t screaming it she has enough experience of wizards to know that the appearance of one seeking her specifically can only mean one thing.

“It is decided then,” she hears him mutter as she slams the door behind her.

Belladonna hurries to the kitchen. She needs a cup of tea and a cake quite desperately, anything to take her mind off Gandalf and whatever scheme he’s cooking up, but her hands are shaking too much to lift the kettle and she has to sit down instead. For a moment there is nothing but the sound of her ragged breathing and then a loud sob escapes her. It is beyond her control and she doesn’t try to prevent it, she simply lets them race through her until she hears the front door open and her daughter’s voice fills the smial.

“Mama?” Bluebell calls. “Where are you?”

Hastily Belladonna wipes her eyes on her handkerchief, fighting her heaving chest for control of her breathing. She should be past this, it has been nearly forty years.

“I’m in here, my love,” she is relieved to hear her voice hold firm.

“Adad said he was meeting Gaffer at the Green Dragon tonight,” Bluebell’s voice draws closer as she enters the kitchen.

Bluebell’s hair is lighter than her mother’s but she shares the same deep indigo eyes. All hobbit’s touched as heavily by Yavanna’s Blessing have eyes that colour and it’s rare to see it passed from mother to child as it has been here. Bluebell looks barely older than thirty, although she is a little over twice that, and Belladonna can’t help that fear that whatever Gandalf has planned for her also includes her daughter. She can’t think of another reason for the Mother to bless the two of them in the way that she has otherwise.

“Has something happened?” Bluebell asks her when she doesn’t respond, concern written over her features.

“No, dearest,” Belladonna lies. “Simply not as good a day as I hoped. I found something of your father’s while cleaning.” Bungo has been gone for thirty nine years but sometimes his belongings still turn up in the strangest places and they are always a source of sorrow for her, the lie is believable and she has no desire to worry her daughter. Bluebell has sacrificed too much in the last decades. “I’ll make some tea, elevenses will provide a most suitable and very welcome distraction.”

That sets the tone for the rest of their day. Between meals Bluebell visits with local families in need of healing skills greater than those of the healers and midwives of the Shire and Belladonna avoids what memories she can while she works on the mending her little family generates and on preparing meals for herself and her daughter. By nightfall she is pleasantly tired and looking forward to dinner. The visit of the wizard is all but forgotten as she decides that perhaps, tonight, she will skip supper and retire early. The emotional turmoil of the day has proved to be a little too much, as is the ring of the doorbell as she and her daughter are sitting down to eat.

“Stay, my love,” Belladonna tells her daughter. “I will go.” Bluebell has worked hard today, she must be famished, and Belladonna has rather lacked an appetite since Gandalf’s visit.

She leaves her daughter happily eating and goes to the door. She half expects it to be one of Bungo’s relations, those who must by now be aware that the other occupant of the smial is out for the evening, come to chastise her for continuing to live in the home he built her with an unmarried male under her roof with her unmarried daughter. Never mind that, in public at least, Bluebell calls him ‘uncle’. In private the relationship is somewhat more frowned upon by hobbits but the way she calls him father in the language of his people warms Belladonna’s heart.

It isn’t one of Bungo’s relatives. It isn’t anyone she knows, at least not until he introduces himself.

“Dwalin, at your service,” the strange dwarf says, and she stares at him with something resembling horror as she feels the life she has been living for the last thirty-eight years come crashing down around her ears. She may not have ever met this dwarf, but she has heard a great deal about him.

“Belladonna Baggins at yours and your family’s,” she replies automatically. Years travelling with Frerin have given her that much.

“Where’s the food, lass?” Dwalin demands, striding past her and she finds herself trotting after him. She reaches for the throwing axe on the small side table in the parlour as they pass it, suddenly grateful for the fact that Frerin is appalling at keeping all of his weapons in the chest in the hall. Dwalin won’t hurt Bluebell, she knows that, but that doesn’t stop her from fearing that he will frighten her if he is here for the reason Belladonna suspects.

Bluebell is nowhere to be seen when they enter the kitchen, her dinner abandoned, and Belladonna finds herself thankful that her daughter’s instincts must have screamed a warning at her. Dwalin tucks into Belladonna’s own, untouched, meal and she excuses herself for just long enough to find her daughter. Bluebell is hovering in the atrium, out of sight and dwarven hearing, when her mother rounds the corner.

“Run to the Green Dragon and find Frerin,” Belladonna instructs. “I rather suspect we’ll be seeing more than one dwarf tonight and this one knows him.”

“You think they’re here for him?” Bluebell asks.

“I don’t know,” Belladonna admits. “They could be here for another reason entirely, and if they are I’m going to pull that wizard’s beard out whisker by whisker. Still, I would rather have Frerin here and warned than not. Use the back door.” Bluebell nods, although obviously confused, and darts away as the doorbell rings once more.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2874 The boarders of the Shire

“You can’t honestly expect me to believe you’re in love with that, that, that hobbit!” The dwarf snaps. The hobbit stares at him from the other side of their campfire, her face a blank mask.

“Why not, Frerin?” She asks, her voice as tightly controlled as her expression.

“Because he’s so hobbity,” Frerin replies in frustration after a moment of searching for a response. “We’ve known each other for nearly eighty years, Belladonna, I’ve met many of your kind and you are the least hobbity hobbit of all of them.”

“Perhaps I’m finally growing up and fulfilling the expectations of my people,” she cries.

“What is that supposed to mean?” He demands even as his heart sinks into his boots. The words are all too familiar.

“You know full bloody well what it means,” she snarls. “You were the one who said it.”

“That’s different,” he insists. “It was arranged, it was…”

“Duty,” she finishes for him. “Well this is me doing mine. I’m one hundred and eleven, my parents are long dead, my brothers and sisters are nearly all gone to the Lady’s Fields too. My nieces and nephews have their own children and here I am, unmarried and looking barely a day over forty with no home of my own. I deserve a family, Frerin.”

“I know,” he sighs and scrubs a hand through his hair. It’s longer now than it was when they met, as is his beard, and his dark eyes are sad, full of the expression of something that neither of them can put words to any more. “Mahal, I know, but why that hobbit?”

Bungo is dull, that’s the kindest way to describe him. He’s bookish and properly round for a hobbit with his sights fixed on his fields and tenants, on everything inside the Shire. He has no real interest in the outside world, although he enjoys the stories Belladonna tells him. Having known her for as long as he has Frerin can’t understand what Belladonna sees in Bungo Baggins, she’ll be bored within two years.

“He loves me,” she replies, “and he isn’t afraid of showing it. He isn’t hiding anything,” there is a challenge to her voice that makes Frerin wince. “I may not love him the same way, but we can be happy together.”

She doesn’t need to say anything else. The implication is clear enough. She has chosen Bungo because the hobbit is different from Frerin. The dwarf may believe it to be a mistake, and he wonders if she might not suspect the same thing, but he can’t blame her for wanting to be happy.

*

T.A. 2941 The Green Dragon, The Shire.

Frerin rolls his head across his shoulders, taking a moment to enjoy the ache that comes from a day of hard work in the old forge. He has closed up early, his orders complete for the day, and as much satisfaction as he gets from working on cooking wares and farming tools he finds that he still misses making weapons and armour.

“So, when are you going to ask her?” Old Gamgee says from behind his flagon of ale. “It’s been near enough forty years and she’s still mighty handsome for her age.”

Frerin snorts, Belladonna is twelve years younger than he is. All things considered she’s a very attractive hobbit for one at the grand age of one-hundred-and-seventy-eight.

“It isn’t done among my people,” he rumbles.

“Makes bugger all sense to me, that,” Gamgee scoffs. “You lot live near on three hundred years, find it hard to believe you’d ask a widowed woman of a hundred and thirty to stay alone that long.”

Frerin shrugs. After nearly four decades in the Shire he finds himself questioning it as well. Dwarves don’t fade like hobbits do when their One passes and given his own near miss with matrimony he wonders how many marriages among his kind are really founded on love as they are claimed to be.

“My old pa told me that he knowed she didn’t love poor Mr Baggins as deep as he loved her,” Gamgee continues. “Was a shame really, how he died and what it did to her and all. She’s so much better now, would be a great shame for her to spend her aging years alone.”

Frerin just hums, any other response brings him too close to potentially having to utter a falsehood. Old Gamgee likes to talk about Belladonna marrying her dwarf once he’s had a few ales. It isn’t a new conversation, although the direction of it has changed over the years. The Gamgees have taken care of the gardens at Bag End since Bungo had it built. When Frerin had first arrived to help a newly widowed Bellladonna and her overwhelmed daughter the Gamgees had disliked him intensely. They had repeatedly warned him off and threated violence should anything happen to either hobbit under his care. Old Gamgee had been young, then, now he’s pushing ninety and probably only has a handful of years left to him.

The need to consider any other response is prevented by the arrival of another Gamgee, young Hamfast who has taken over his grandfather’s role in the gardens.

“Didn’t think to be seeing you here, Master Frerin,” he exclaims, “what with them young dwarves on their way up to Bag End.”

“What?” Frerin sits bolt upright.

“Aye, hardly any beard on ‘em. One was near enough the spit of you,” Hamfast continues. “Figured it was some sort of family reunion or some such. Is something wrong?”

Frerin shakes his head frantically and excuses himself. Bluebell would have told him if they had been expecting guests. Belladonna is more sociable these days, especially the last few years, but she would never agree to host a party without his presence, much as he wishes she would. He wouldn’t be so uneasy if it were a few hobbits, but dwarves are another matter. None of his people know where he is, the whole point was that they didn’t. Belladonna had needed him, still needs him, and he had dropped everything to leave with no notion of ever returning to the Blue Mountains unless she sent him away.

How have they found him?

He is nearly home when he runs into Bluebell. She isn’t dressed for the evening, it’s cool yet, and he can see the faint glow of her indigo eyes in the near darkness as she draws on the earth to aid her sight and keep her warm. She’s better at it than Belladonna was and sometimes Frerin thinks that she could draw on stone with almost as much ease and less danger.

“Adad!” She exclaims and falls into his arms, trembling. He finds he can’t berate her for her use of the word outside the smial when she’s so obviously afraid. “There’s dwarves at Bag End, at least two. Mother thinks more are coming and she’s certain one of them knows you.”

“Have they said why they’ve come?” He asks as they both stride back the way Bluebell came. Her answer is negative so perhaps they haven’t come for him, even if Belladonna does think one of them knows him.

It doesn’t take them long to get back, Bluebell was barely down the path which means she hadn’t long left. They go in through the back door and Frerin is immediately assaulted by the sound of Belladonna furiously demanding answers. It’s a tone she rarely takes, one that he has missed the sound of, and Bluebell hurries to her side.

“Uncle is here now,” he hears her say and is grateful that she has guarded her tongue. There is a startled exclamation from the dwarves who have invaded the under-hill home, obviously they had not been expecting the presence of the younger hobbit. “Come, come sit and I’ll make you some tea. Let uncle handle this.”

“But what if they take him, dearest?” Belladonna asks, not a baseless question and it’s one of the reasons he didn’t tell anyone where he was going. At least she’s angry, it’s been a long time since he’s seen that fire in her even though he knows she’s masking her own fear. “They’ve taken him from me once and I won’t let them take him again.”

Frerin hurries around the corner before something else can happen to further escalate the situation. Immediately he understands why Belladonna is so fearful, so concerned, Dwalin has struck terror into many a larger, seasoned, warrior, let alone a hobbit who has suffered as this one has. He recognises the other too, Dwalin’s older brother, Balin.

“I begin to question the wizard’s reasoning,” Balin states. He has to have been the second arrival, had he been first he would have explained things Frerin is certain.

“I question it as well,” Frerin says and Belladonna relaxes enough at the sound of his voice to allow Bluebell to lead her away. “But then, Belladonna hasn’t seen him since before her husband died. Circumstances aren’t as he expects them to be.”

“Frerin!” Dwalin exclaims and the younger dwarf finds himself engulfed in a crushing embrace before a skull cracks against his. “We had given you up for dead! What are you doing here?”

“Belladonna needed me,” he replies. “I came for her.”

This is your Bella?” Balin asks and Frerin only nods. There is nothing else he needs to say. Balin well knows that Belladonna Took had been the first of many cracks to collapse the marriage arranged for him by his father and grandfather.

Why are you here?” Frerin demands and hears the doorbell ring. He only hopes that Bluebell can keep her mother calm.

“Best we let Thorin explain that, laddie,” Balin replies. “He’ll be here soon with the others. We needed a fourteenth and the wizard said he knew just the one for the task.” Frerin scowls, ready to berate the pair of them for trusting to a wizard and withholding their reasons from an obviously terrified woman but another voice makes him pause.

“Well, if they’ve just been sharpened, you great bloody oaf, I suggest you handle them yourself before I stick one through your brother for scraping his filthy boots on Grandmother Took’s glory box!” He hears Bluebell shouting. A loud clatter follows, and he exchanges looks with his old friends. “Honestly, no manners in any of you! Turning up unexpected and without the decency to even apologise for it,” Bluebell appears dragging two young dwarves with her by their ears. Both have scrunched their faces up and he can see what Hamfast meant when he said that the blond one was the image of Frerin.

Fili and Kili have grown.

“I believe these belong to you,” Bluebell says to Dwalin and Balin. The sons of Fundin stare at her. If the mother’s demands has put them on edge, then the daughter’s reaction has compounded the confusion. Bluebell gives each boy’s ear a vicious twist and they yelp as she releases them.

“Mister Dwalin!” Kili says happily, obviously assuming the old soldier will step in for him against this fearsome, tiny, creature.

“Uncle Frerin?” Fili asks and the broken disbelief in his voice all but shatters Frerin’s heart. Kili turns dark eyes on him that are filled with such a desperate hope that guilt engulfs him. There is such grief in the pair of them and he hates that he has selfishly added to the burden on their young hearts.

“So, I’m to assume the full share of the family manners went to you, A… Uncle,” Bluebell shatters the moment, whether intentionally or not, and Frerin huffs an almost bitter laugh.

“My sister would disagree, nathith,” he says to her. “Go to your mother, I will handle this.” She smiles at him, eyes flickering to Fili so briefly that Frerin isn’t certain she even realised she had done it. He’ll have to keep an eye on them for however long Fili is here, hobbits do things differently to dwarves after all.

“Is there something we should know?” Balin asks. He always did see too much even if he doesn’t always reach the correct conclusions. “She looks to be about the right age.”

“In blood? No. In my heart she's my daughter in every way,” Frerin tells him and the white-haired dwarf nods his understanding. “She’s sixty-two, Belladonna and I weren’t even speaking when she was conceived, let alone anything else.” Frerin shrugs, the vague hurt that used to plague him when he had to acknowledge the six years he and Belladonna didn’t talk is long gone. It has been replaced by regret and a measure of bitterness that he hadn’t refused to marry or taken matters into his own hands before it had come between the two of them. Had he handled it himself Bluebell might have been his child in blood too.

“She looks to be a fine daughter,” Dwalin claps him on the shoulder.

“She is,” Frerin replies. “How many of you are coming? I suppose it’s too late to kick you all out now and I should at least try to prepare Bella.”

“Thirteen all told, and the wizard,” Balin responds.

“He promised us a feast,” Kili adds enthusiastically. Fili, Frerin notes, is nowhere to be seen.

“Aye,” he groans, “I’ll wager he did. Don’t scratch the furniture when you move it and try not to mess up the pantry too much. Belladonna has a system and she’s quick with her ladle.”

This, he thinks as he heads towards the parlour, is not good. Thorin is probably planning something of truly epic proportions, a bad idea of magnitude if the small number of companions is anything to go by, and with the involvement of the wizard it can only involve Erebor. Frerin doesn’t long for Erebor as his brother and Dis do, he enjoys being out in the world and although the peace of the Shire can be stifling on occasion he’s more content here than he has been anywhere else. This conclusion is made all the worse by the fact that Gandalf obviously wants a hobbit in the company. Belladonna’s gift doesn’t work the way that it’s supposed to these days, it has become unpredictable and although it gets better as her guilt over the events of the day Bungo died eases Frerin knows that it will never be what it once was. Sadly, that leaves Bluebell and he knows that she is as eager to get out of the Shire as her mother used to be. An opportunity such as this, to go further than Bree, will be too good to pass up. Besides, whether Frerin wants to be or not he knows that he’ll get dragged into this. Not just to protect Bluebell, although that would be reason enough, but also because once Thorin realises he is here his brother is likely to drag him kicking and screaming out of the Shire.

If he doesn’t kill him first.

“My love?” Belladonna is seating in the parlour, a blanket spread over her lap as she reclines in her favourite chair. An empty plate is at her side and her delicate fingers curl around a cup of camomile tea that steams in the firelight. Bluebell is nowhere to be seen but he can hear the soft murmur of voices in the kitchen which leads him to conclude that she is in there with Fili. By the civil tone she has forgiven him whatever it is he did to upset her upon arrival, but in Frerin’s experience Bluebell is often quick to anger and almost as quick to forgive in most situations.

“They’re waiting for their leader and Gandalf, then Balin has promised that all will be explained,” he assures her. “I fear they will raid the pantry, however, and a dwarf party isn’t as polite as a hobbit one.”

“I dare say it isn’t,” Belladonna sighs. “Gandalf came to me this morning and invited me on an adventure. I suspect this is the beginning of it. Bother the old coot, I made my position on it quite clear.”

“You don’t have to go,” he tells her. “The wizard should have heeded you. Unfortunately, I fear that I will have to leave with them. Their leader is my brother and I can’t refuse him, not after the way I left things.”

“I suppose not,” she mutters, eyes downturned, “but perhaps it is time. I can’t heal here, I thought I would but reminders of the past surround me and every time I think I’ve moved forwards and forgiven myself as my daughter has I walk into a room and something of Bungo is there. He built this home for me and he haunts me here.”

“You don’t have to,” he reminds her.

“It’s time, dearest. It’s gone time,” she gazes into the fire. “I worry only for Bluebell.”

“If I know Bluebell she’ll follow us,” he tells her. “You know she feels the draw as you once did. She has for some time now.” The doorbell rings again and Bluebell calls that she will answer it.

“How many are coming?”

“Thirteen,” Frerin says. “An unlucky number and very poor omen for the beginning of my brother’s quest.”

There is a crash from the entrance hall and both dwarf and hobbit rush to see what has happened. They find a pile of dwarves in the door and Bluebell with her head in her hands as Fili begins to help the new arrivals to their feet. Gandalf ducks through the door as soon as the way is clear. To her credit Belladonna doesn’t instantly start shouting at the wizard, although it’s clear to Frerin that she wants to, whose attention is more caught by her daughter.

“Well, young Bluebell,” he says, “this is fortuitous. I had thought you married with a smial and family of your own by now.”

“I should have known you had something to do with this, Grey One,” she replies. “My poor mother was quite beside herself when your bunch of vagabonds started showing up.” The new arrivals make some noises of protest which drown out the wizards answering hum. Bluebell shoots them all a glare that can only be called venomous and ignores them in favour of continuing to talk to Gandalf. “And you know full and well that those of us as strongly blessed by the Lady as Mama and I don’t marry young. Is this the lot of them?”

Somehow, Frerin notes, she has managed to get Fili collecting weapons and cloaks. He has to wonder what she said to him in the kitchen, his memories may be forty or so years out of date, but he can’t remember his eldest sister-son being that eager to help except with his mother.

“Thorin hasn’t arrived yet,” Frerin answers her before Gandalf can. The grey wizard’s eyebrows rise in surprise but there is delight in his ancient eyes. Frerin settles for scowling at him, as impressed with the situation as Bluebell and Belladonna even though it is good to see old friends again. Belladonna moves closer at the sound of his brother’s name, he has told her much of Thorin over the years, and presses her hand into his. It’s obvious that she is afraid that Thorin will forbid both her and her daughter from joining the quest and that she will lose him into the bargain. He silently promises that it won’t happen.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2890 Bag End

“Mama?” Eleven-year-old Bluebell sits up in bed as her mother’s hand pauses by the lamp.

“Yes, sweetling,” her mother’s tone is one of long-suffering tolerance for the questions of pre-teen faunts.

“Why didn’t you marry Irak-Adad?” She asks, indigo eyes wide and innocent but lips pulled into a proud smile at being able to use one of her Uncle’s secret words.

“Because I married your Papa,” Belladonna comes to sit beside her daughter on the bed. When she is a little bit older Bluebell will look back on this conversation and realise the pain her childlike questions had caused.

“But cousin Otho says you’re more than eighty years older than Papa and that you’ve known Irak-Adad longer than Papa has been alive!” She objects.

“True,” Belladonna says slowly, “and Uncle Frerin is my very best friend, just like Lobelia is yours.”

“No, Mama,” the eleven-year-old says in that way of all children when they believe the adults around them are being deliberately stupid, “not like ‘Belia. I’m not in love with Lobelia, but you are with Frerin.”

“There are different types of love, sweetling,” Belladonna sighs. “And there are a lot of reasons that two people who are in love with one another might not marry. Your Uncle was already engaged when we met. He was very young for a dwarf out in the wide world and his father and grandfather had already chosen a wife for him.” Bluebell makes a horrified sound.

“But why did they make him marry her? Did he love her very much? Why doesn’t she visit with him?” Belladonna tugs at a curl thoughtfully before placing a finger on her daughter’s lips to stem the flow of questions.

“What I tell you, you must promise never to repeat,” she says sternly. Bluebell nods, her little face solemn, and draws a cross over her heart the way her mother always does when making a promise. “Uncle Frerin is a prince of his people,” Bluebell’s eyes go wide, “and princes can’t always marry who they love. Sometimes they have to marry for the good of their people. When he wasn’t much older than you are now a dragon came and stole his family’s kingdom. His grandfather, the king, agreed with several other very rich dwarves that all the people who had lost their homes would have the money they needed to build somewhere to live as long as your Uncle married one of their daughters.”

“Was he running away when you travelled together?” Bluebell asks and Belladonna laughs.

“Perhaps a little,” she agrees, “but when he left to marry the dwarf his father had chosen for him I came back to the Shire and met your father. I didn’t think I would see your Uncle again and I fell in love with Papa.” Bluebell opens her mouth to ask another question and Belladonna hushes her gently so that she can continue. “I wanted a home and a husband and a child, sweetling, and even though I don’t love your Papa in the same way I do your Uncle, I love him very much. For all of the Green Lady’s blessings I’ve received in my life Papa has given me the greatest of them. He gave me you.”

“But what about Irak-Adad’s princess?” Bluebell demands when her mother falls silent.

“Orcs came to the town where she lived,” Belladonna replies softly. “She went out to fight and defend her home, they killed her before she could marry Uncle Frerin. Go to sleep, sweetling.”

Belladonna dowses the lamp, her own indigo eyes gleaming in the dark room as she picks her way past toys and books into the corridor. She closes the door behind her, and Bluebell hears her mother sigh as she does it.

Ten minutes later the child has picked her way into the kitchen where she can see into the parlour. Her father has not yet returned from the summer feast around the old oak on the green and the smial is dark apart from the fire burning in that room even though the heat is unneeded after four weeks with almost no rain. Her mother and Irak-Adad (and once again her heart swells with glee that he would trust her with something so precious as a word that should only be spoken by one of his people and all because Papa objected to her calling him ‘Uncle’) are stood together in front of it, his arms wrapped around her and their voices almost too low to hear.

“People are talking,” her mother says, “they’re getting to Bluebell now as well. She’s been asking questions about us. Questions that I don’t want Bungo hearing, he has a hard enough time with it all as it is. He doesn’t need it from his child as well.”

“Atamanel,” Frerin begins.

“No, Frerin, I can’t be that anymore,” Belladonna cries and Bluebell shrinks back into the kitchen for fear of being seen or caught. “I am loyal to my husband! I chose him and he deserves that from me. It’s the least I can do even though he withers away in front of my eyes every day.”

“Would you have me leave?” Frerin demands. “Go and never see you again? We have done this dance before, Kurdel, and it always ends the same way.”

“I know,” her mother’s voice catches. “I know. Perhaps we should just see less of one another,” she suggests. “Maybe if you weren’t around as much the talk would die down.”

“Then I will leave in the morning and retire immediately,” he says stiffly, “before your husband returns home.” He spits the word with a venom that Bluebell doesn’t understand. She knows that Papa and Irak-Adad don’t like each other all that much but they are usually civil.

“I didn’t mean…”

“I’m not sure you know what you mean,” Frerin cuts in and his voice is soft, although Bluebell hears a note of frustration in it that she is familiar with from her father. “But it is best. The longer I remain the harder it is to be parted from you again and the more painful to watch you love another.”

Bluebell peers through the door again as her mother lets out a sob. Frerin presses a kiss to her lips, the action so sweet and gentle and one that she has never seen her father do. Guilt coils in her. Her questions have done this. Her questions have driven her Irak-Adad to leave and have made her mother cry. She sneaks back to her room and quietly cries herself to sleep.

*

T.A. 2941 Bag End

Bluebell Baggins is a very different hobbit from the terrified and grieving tween who had written a desperate appeal for help to a dwarf she had not seen in nearly nine years. Four decades with that same dwarf living under the roof of the home her father built have changed her. Unlike most hobbits she knows one end of a sword from another and how to use it. She is lean where she should be plump, firm where she should be soft and pampered. She can throw a blade with a skill that isn’t far from that of her mother before the Fell Winter and she isn’t easily intimidated.

Having this many heavily armed dwarves in her home is intimidating, even if she doesn’t like to admit it and refuses to let it show. The stunt she pulled with Fili and Kili certainly worked in her favour and made her seem far more fierce than she really is, but it had been bravado. She has no doubt in her mind that had they wanted to break free they could have. The pair of them had been so unexpectedly handsome she had found herself almost speechless at their well-practiced greeting. Until they got through the door, anyway. The pair had flirted with her in one breath and shown their own terrible manners with the next. Her reaction, of grabbing ears and scolding, had been the same automatic one as the one that came from dealing with her plethora of younger cousins.

Their names, however, and Fili’s startling resemblance to Frerin, were all she needed to know that these were the nephews her Adad would talk about so fondly. Nephews that he consistently painted as good boys who were possessed of a streak of mischief a mile wide and she knows that he has missed them a great deal. Even though their surprise at the sight of their uncle in her home is clear, it is just as obvious that they have missed him as well. No one has forced Frerin to stay hidden from his family, but it makes her feel guilty that he chose to do so all the same. This is quite the wonderful mess Gandalf has dropped on them all really.

Her opinion of Fili does improve when he comes to apologise to her in the kitchen after she has settled her mother with some tea and a plate of food. He’s sincere enough, and his hand rubs at one rounded ear as he speaks. She’s gracious about it, accepting the apology and acknowledging that she may have overreacted just a little bit to the unexpected invasion from four dwarves. She’s less impressed when Fili tells her just how many more are to come, and she doesn’t so much ask him to help as she informs him that he will be. He doesn’t complain, which is a point in his favour, just locates his brother and ropes him in as well, and by the time the rest have arrived Bluebell has concluded that she could see herself becoming good friends with the pair of them (and Fili in particular) if they were only to stay a while longer in the Shire.

Her concerns over her mother ease as the evening continues. For all she knows that one who has abused the Lady’s Blessing the way her mother did will never fully recover it is wonderful to see Belladonna smile and laugh as much as she does while listening to stories from Balin and Dwalin, with the occasional addition from Frerin. Seeing her mother so much as she once was prompts Bluebell to take over the duties of the hostess, she has no desire for her mother to take on the unnecessary stress. Since the dwarves, for the most part, are quite happy to help themselves and acknowledge very little of any direction she might give them, she mostly leaves them to it. The only times she intervenes are with the help of Fili and Kili and those are mostly to replace her mother’s good dishes with the ones they keep stored for parties on the green and putting aside a rather large portion of a pork pie, eggs, sausages and potatoes for the late arrival.

Fili and Kili, after helping her retrieve the good ale from the secret pantry where her mother stores it, seem to have decided that she needs their company and drag her to sit between them at the crowded table. There they pepper her with questions about hobbits and her time with Frerin and tell her stories of their own mischief in exchange. After nearly forty years of caring for her mother and fretting after her at large parties its nice to be able to relax and bask in the attentions of two lads, even if it is likely because she is the only female present who is unattached and the right sort of age.

“Uncle Frerin has been here the whole time he’s been missing,” she hears Kili say over her head. Bluebell follows their gaze to her mother and Adad. His arm is around her waist as they talk with his old friends and it is easily the most relaxed they have been together in company. Even Belladonna’s eyes, so close to midnight for so long, have shifted back to their natural indigo and they glow faintly under the lamplight, as Bluebell knows that hers must too. Her mother is truly happy, Bluebell realises, and she wonders how she has not realised before now that Belladonna couldn’t ever be really happy among her own kind.

“I can’t say I blame him,” Fili replies with a significant look at the pair, although his lips twist bitterly for just a moment. Then his eyes turn to Bluebell and he tilts one corner of his mouth up in a smile that can only be called flirtatious. “Have to say I’m quite tempted myself,” and he leans so close that the funny little braids in his moustache brush against her ear and make a wave of heat flush through her. “If you would be so inclined, Miss Bluebell,” he breathes.

The earth pulses beneath her feet in a way that she has never felt before and she pulls away to meet his blue eyes. He winks and smirks at her, well aware of the effect he’s having, and she elbows him in the ribs before stealing his ale. He makes a noise of protest and she grins in response, waving her own empty tankard under his nose until he takes the hint and climbs across the table to fetch all three of them a refill. She should be horrified by such appalling manners and the abuse of her furniture but she’s having more fun now than she can remember having in years, even with her semi-frequent trips to Bree or to visit her extended family. Still, she thinks ruefully, there are other things to think about and this is as good a time as any to slip away and try to get answers from Gandalf.

“Why my mother, wizard?” She demands of him. He looks down at her silently. “Only, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, circumstances have changed somewhat since we saw you last.”

“Indeed, I have,” he replies. “I am sorry to hear of the loss of your father.”

“It’s been nearly thirty-nine years, but thank you all the same,” she sighs. “My father’s death took a greater toll on my mother than you realise, she isn’t what she once was.”

“She has not faded,” the wizard points out. “In fact, she seems to have moved on. Or should I say back?” He arches an eyebrow and Bluebell shrugs. What her mother and Frerin do is their business, not that she’s ignorant of how things stand between them (she knows what the glint of gold in her mother’s hair that sometimes catches in the lamplight means), and she has long been aware of the truth of her parent’s marriage. The rumour mill of Hobbiton being what it is she is only surprised she made it to eleven without hearing of them at all.

“A broken heart isn’t the only possible consequence,” she replies. “She doesn’t have the control or strength that she once did.”

“What happened?”

“My father was slaughtered by orcs in front of her,” Bluebell says. Time has softened the wound and the guilt that surrounds her father’s demise and she has long accepted that there is nothing that she could have done which would have made any difference. “Mama reacted poorly, panicked I think, and used the Blessing in a way it never should have been.” She knows Gandalf understands. The wizard has been visiting the Shire for generations and Belladonna is hardly the first hobbit to misuse the gift the Lady granted her. “The rest is her story to tell.”

Gandalf looks at her mother in concern. No doubt whatever he has planned will be difficult and dangerous. Perhaps dissuading him now will be for the best, but Bluebell suspects that if Frerin feels obligated to leave her mother will follow anyway.

“Excuse me,” a nervous sounding voice says, and she turns from her examination of the wizard to face a young appearing dwarf clutching a plate. “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt your mother and father.”

“Oh, Frerin isn’t my…” Bluebell begins automatically, accustomed to saying it to other hobbits eager to see if certain rumours are true and who would be just as quick to chase the three of them out should the truth of the matter be known. Besides, when she looks at them, she can see why this young dwarf, Ori she thinks, would assume they are both her parents. “Never mind, what can I do for you?”

“What would you like me to do with my plate?” He asks and she finds herself momentarily at a loss. There will be a lot of cleaning up to do, after all.

“Here, Ori, give it to me,” Fili says from behind her and she startles, not having realised he was there. His brother is just down the hall and he turns when Fili calls his name, catching the thrown plate with a graceful ease that makes her wonder if he was expecting it.

It is the start of a barrage of plates and bowls being flung around the smial. Dimly, while she breathes a grateful sigh that she got out the least valuable crockery, she is aware of her mother beginning to fret and Frerin soothing her. The dwarves, however, are all singing and laughing around her, and she can’t help but laugh with surprised delight. Fili is grinning and winking at her every time she catches his eye, doing increasingly complicated tricks with her mother’s dishes and she realises that he is showing off for her. No one has done that since she came of age and it’s disconcerting to realise how much she likes Fili doing it, especially when the same behaviour from Kili causes her to do little more than roll her eyes. The blond grabs her and spins her around, laughing when she lets out a startled little shriek, then dips her and, for a second, she thinks he might kiss her. She even thinks that she might just allow it. Then he catches a plate as it flies past her ear, never taking his eyes from hers, smirks down at her and rights them both as he tosses it to his brother.

She resolutely stamps down the resulting disappointment. She shouldn’t be upset that a dwarf she just met isn’t kissing her into within an inch of her sanity. In fact, she shouldn’t be wanting a dwarf she just met to kiss her at all. Even if it would be nice.

The fun comes to an abrupt end with the sound of three firm knocks on the door.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2913 Ered Luin

Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, and king without a mountain stares at one of the documents in front of him as though his gaze could reduce the annoying piece of parchment to ashes. This is what he gets for leaving Frerin in charge for four months. Little wonder his younger brother has already happily declared that he has no problem at all stepping aside as heir, should something happen to Thorin, in favour of Fili.

At forty-eight Fili is the same age that Frerin had been at Azanulbizar and the weight on his shoulders in nearly as heavy. There is not much, Thorin muses, in the way of youth for a crown prince of the line. Especially one who’s people are exiles. Would that Fili had been given more opportunities to be young and less time learning to shoulder the same heavy burdens as his uncle.

“Thorin!” Only one soul calls his name in that tone and she is the only one permitted to do so in any case. Dis strides into his office, face black with temper, and dark eyes glittering with controlled rage. Thorin finds himself hoping, quite fervently, that he is not the target of her anger.

“What is it, namad?” He sighs, half hoping that she won’t tell him that Frerin and the boys have caused some amount of mischief (and while Frerin is utterly useless with state matters he’s very good at making sure Fili and Kili get to enjoy being young), he has too much work to do to fix whatever mess the three of them have made this time.

“Frerin is gone,” Dis announces with a growl. Thorin feels the same pit open up in his gut as did after the battle at Azanulbizar was over and neither Thrain’s nor Frerin’s bodies could be found. Frerin hasn’t simply disappeared in years, true while he was wandering they didn’t always know exactly where he was but he always returned when he said he would and told them before he departed.

“What do you mean ‘gone’?” Thorin demands, concern for his brother making his tone harder than it would be with Dis otherwise.

“He’s left. He didn’t come home from the forge last night,” which isn’t so unusual the last nine years. Frerin’s final trip to see his old friend hadn’t ended well and Frerin hadn’t handled it well at the start, sometimes old feelings flare up. “I thought he’d gone out drinking and then stayed there for the night, so I sent Kili with lunch. The forge is stone cold, no one has seen him since yesterday and Kili found this.”

Dis hands him a note. The handwriting is unfamiliar and the paper of a kind that isn’t seen in the mountains, delicate and fine. It’s small, brief, so it must have been delivered by one of the messenger birds Frerin keeps.

Irak-Adad. Please help. Papa is dead. Mama is ill. There is no one else to ask.

There is no name, only a rather stylised drawing of a flower. Not that Thorin would know most flowers if confronted with the real thing, let alone a basic drawing. Frerin is obviously familiar with it, however, because he hadn’t stopped to announce he was leaving.

“His room?” He asks because he has to be certain.

“His travel gear, weapons and a few personal items are gone,” Dis sighs. “Given what he’s taken, wherever he’s gone I don’t think he’s intending to come back.”

*

T.A. 2941 Hobbiton, The Shire

The second time Thorin comes across the little sign post he lets out a stream of curses that would most likely inspire his sister to smack him across the head with a brick.

“You’ll be another one of Mister Frerin’s lot, then,” an elderly hobbit says as he ambles up, apparently not intimidated by Thorin in the slightest.

“Frerin?” Thorin asks, because that seems to be the most important part of the sentence.

“Oh, aye, lives up Bag End with Belladonna Baggins and her Bluebell. Been here near on forty years now,” the hobbit puffs on his pipe, the smoke fragrant and sweet. “It’s not much further than my old smial,” he continues, “come on, you follow me, and I’ll see you right.”

Frerin. Belladonna. Forty years.

Now that he thinks about it everything makes sense and he curses himself for never thinking to look in the Shire for his brother. In his own defence Thorin had always assumed that Frerin’s Bella (he never used her full name) had just been an oddly named dwarrowdam, not a hobbit of all creatures. He doesn’t know much about them, secretive little bunch that they are, but he knows from his dealings in Bree that they don’t live all that much longer than Men. Whoever she is, she must be pretty elderly by now.

“There you are,” the hobbit says, apparently not concerned by Thorin’s silence, “straight up the path, the one with the green door. You can’t miss it. Was starting to think Mister Frerin didn’t have no family. Nice to see I was wrong.” He thanks the hobbit and continues up the hill, nerves tugging at him.

He had all but given up hope that he would find his brother. To stumble across him in this sleepy little place, now of all times, when he is about to embark on the most important journey of his life would be the greatest of providence and the best of omens. Should this be some other dwarf he isn’t sure his heart could take it. Not after his father and his grandfather, not after Vili. Not after the other dwarf leaders have turned their backs on him so completely. If this turns out to be some other dwarf with the same name Thorin thinks he might just give up on Erebor altogether and go back to his life in the Blue Mountains. It would be safe, dull and hard but he cannot deal with the loss and the disappointment any longer.

He rings the bell first, when he reaches the funny hobbit house with its round door and neat gardens. The delicate chime is lost in the sound of merry making inside and he smiles for it. There will be precious little time on the road for revelry and it’s best they enjoy this safe place while they can. He knocks hard three times then turns to look out over the rolling countryside by the light of the moon.  This gentle place is beautiful in its own way, but he can’t imagine any kind of useful burglar coming from it. He would like to think Tharkun knows what he’s up to but there are few such certainties.

“Gandalf,” he says when the door finally opens. The wizard steps aside to allow him entry and he keeps his attention on the tall figure rather than the gathered company who have been waiting for him, not wanting to be disappointed just yet. “I thought you said this place would be easy to find. I lost my way twice. Would not have found it at all but for the mark on the door.”

“That’s what comes of being stone headed, brother,” a familiar voice that he hasn’t heard in too long says. Fili and Kili part to make way for Frerin and a female hobbit follows, though Thorin pays her no mind as she chastises Gandalf over her door, his attention is all on the brother he had feared lost to him.

“So, this is where you’ve been hiding,” he breathes. Frerin has hardly changed. His beard is a little longer and there is a touch of grey at his temples, more even than Thorin has, but he looks much as he always did. Except his eyes, the same dark eyes that he shares with Kili but no longer carry the merry mischief they once did. They have aged as though he carries a great weight upon him.

“This is my home now,” Frerin confirms.

Thorin wants to grab his brother and crush him against his chest, he wants to scream in joy and let loose the tears that have threatened to choke him over the years every time he has thought of the blond. He wants to lay his fists about and demand his brother explain why it was necessary to cause such heartache and grief, rage that Frerin should have been open and honest instead of sneaking away. He does none of these things, they must all wait until they have a moment in private because they are not for the ears of near strangers, and turns his attention to the wizard instead.

“How did you find him?” Gandalf hums uncomfortably.

“In truth I had no idea he was here,” he rumbles. “I promised you a burglar and Belladonna Baggins was the very best who came to mind.”

“Really, Grey One?” The hobbit next to him says as she glares up at Gandalf. “You couldn’t have opened with that rather than this adventuring nonsense?” The opinion Thorin was about to express on her suitability as a burglar is derailed when Frerin turns and puts his arm around her. Describing her as a seamstress will not go down well with his brother, if this is really the same Bella he spoke about for so many years.

“We can discuss it after Thorin has eaten,” Gandalf says, and he smiles gratefully at the wizard. Thorin hasn’t eaten since breakfast and even riding hard it’s clear that he has arrived much later than everyone else.

“I set some food aside earlier,” another hobbit pipes up. This one is stood next to Fili and not at all disconcerted by the way Frerin is holding the older hobbit, most likely her mother. “Fili why don’t you go and get that other ale cask I showed you earlier? Planning daring quests is thirsty work, or so I’ve heard.” Much to Thorin’s surprise Fili winks at the girl and drags his brother down the hall with him.

The plate of meat pie, eggs, sausage and potatoes is cold but tastes delightful in his hunger. The ale is rich and dark, smoother and lacking the bite of dwarven ale (much as hobbit pipe weed seems to lack the bitterness of the pipe weed his people prefer) and he is amused to hear his brother exclaiming over the use of his best ale to entertain the invading rabble.

“Peace, uncle,” the girl tells him, and it brings to mind the note that Frerin left behind. This girl barely looks old enough to have written it, but then Belladonna doesn’t look old enough to be Frerin’s Bella either.

It turns out to be an evening of revelations. The discovery of his lost brother in the home of this hobbit woman whom Frerin hovers over protectively and her daughter, who leans against the doorframe next to Gandalf with her indigo eyes that glow strangely in the dim light. The map and key that Gandalf draws from his robes with a flourish and the confirmation that there is another way into Erebor that might give them the chance to reclaim their home. Both of the hobbits know of Erebor, doubtless told much of it by Frerin, and neither are impressed with the idea of attempting to steal from a dragon. Truth be told Thorin doubts they’ll be any good at it anyway.

“You need someone who can work with stone, Grey One,” Belladonna pipes up once Gandalf has filled the room and declared that she is the best and only hobbit for this job. Her daughter looks put out about that more than anything but Thorin darkly wonders just how many of their secrets Frerin has divulged. “Whether the dragon recognises my scent or not I need the earth beneath me to go unseen. Working with stone before was difficult and exhausting. Now it’s impossible. I’m not what I was before I met Bungo.” She sighs. “But Bluebell could,” she adds, “she wields the Blessing with greater strength than I ever did. She could work through that amount of stone, I’m sure.”

Thorin has no idea what this ‘Blessing’ is and though he would like to have it explained he can recognise from the way Belladonna has danced around the fringes of it that this is a sacred secret. His people have a number of them after all. Then there is Frerin to consider, he must know what this woman is talking about judging by the way his hand hovers over the scar he gained on the field of Azanulbizar. That wound should have been fatal, even under the care of the most skilled healer, and yet it hadn’t been. Something this hobbit had done, some magic she possesses, had healed his brother and returned him to his people. In light of that he will not ask for clarification now but there will be a time when he will need to, he knows.

“I cannot guarantee your daughter’s safety,” he tells Belladonna honestly.

“The wilds are no place for gentlefolk,” Dwalin adds and Frerin smiles.

“Belladonna saved me on the fields of Azanulbizar,” he says, “snatched me right out from under an orc’s nose. She knows far more than you think, and we’ll be with you to watch over Bluebell.”

“You assume I’m going to go,” the girl replies tartly.

You assume I’m completely ignorant of how your gift works, nathith,” his brother replies and that is an unwelcome development. He glances at Balin who mouths ‘heart’ at him to indicate that his brother has adopted the girl as a daughter. Quite why he isn’t being open about it is anyone’s guess, but it still complicates things. Knowing that she has some sort of gift, no matter what that gift might be, doesn’t make it any better.

“Mama talks too much,” the girl grumbles. Then she sighs. “Where do I sign?”

Just like that his company has gained three people, his burglar, her mother and his brother. He can’t decide if this is a good or a bad thing. There is still so much to discuss with Frerin and none of it to do with the quest, so many questions that have to be answered but right now all he can feel is relief. Relief that his brother is alive and apparently happy, relief that he has Frerin’s support and that things seem to be starting to go his way.

“Come along, sweetling,” Belladonna says, “let your uncle have some time with his kin. We need to pack, and I suspect it will be an early start.”

The girl, Bluebell he reminds himself, rolls her eyes. Her expression is similar to the one that Fili and Kili often pull when he and Dis treat them as children instead of young dwarves of age. Thorin hasn’t lived as long as he has, survived battles and dragons and the cities of Men (not to mention various attempts on his life) without learning to be observant. So, he sees the look Bluebell gives Fili and the commiserating half smile he gives her in return as he raises his tankard. He sees the way Kili waggles his eyebrows and nudges his brother with a smirk and wonders when they became so like he and Frerin at that age. Behind them Frerin clears his throat and gives them a warning glare. Thorin adds his own, because the last thing they need is a spurned young woman and a mother out for blood.

They don’t linger long. As Belladonna pointed out it will be an early start in the morning, and it is late. Thorin is fully prepared to bed down for the night on the floor under his cloak and so it comes as a surprise to find a pile of blankets and pillows in the parlour, although Frerin seems to have expected it. Gandalf takes himself off to the guest bedroom on the other side of the entrance hall, the bed in there being man-sized even if it hasn’t been used in some time. Frerin leads Thorin, Fili and Kili to the spare room and Thorin can’t help but notice how quiet his sister-sons are around their uncle.

The bed is large enough for the three of them to share and they strip out of their boots and outer layers before Thorin notices the obvious signs of the room normally being occupied. Frerin’s belongings are in here, far more neatly stored than they ever were in the home they all shared but evident all the same, and he yanks the door open, stamping down the hall as Fili and Kili dart after him. Their voices are loud as they demand to know what is wrong and it is likely that noise that summons Bluebell.

“Is there a problem?” She appears at the end of the slightly curved corridor, obviously ready for bed in a heavy nightgown and with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Riotous curls have been tamed into a thick braid that hangs over her shoulder and Thorin hears Fili fall silent.

“I’ll not turn my brother from his bed,” Thorin replies and her eyebrows pull together in a confused frown.

“He didn’t tell you?” She asks and continues before he can ask the question. “Mother and Frerin gave up sneaking through the smial in the middle of the night about ten years ago. We keep the room like that to keep the nosey old busy bodies quiet whenever they come to tea. There’s been enough interference in their lives, they don’t need more.”

There isn’t anything Thorin can really say to that. It isn’t like Frerin would be the first dwarf to take up with another’s widow and he’s at least being discrete about it. It wouldn’t even have been necessary if not for decisions made by others. He thanks Bluebell without further comment and returns to the room they have been given for the night, catching Fili’s arm as he walks past his sister-son. The younger dwarf’s attention has been wholly on the hobbit girl and Thorin very much doubts he has heard any of the discussion. He only hopes that Fili can show a measure of good sense and avoid the unnecessary complications that will occur if he decides to attempt a seduction.

Chapter Text

T.A.2879 Ered Luin.

At very nearly twenty years old Fili has decided that he never wants to fall in love and never wants to get married. The nearest examples he has of it, which aren’t all that many, don’t seem to have ended well. Only Gimli’s parents seem to be happy and since Gimli is only six there’s more than enough time for that to go horribly wrong anyway. Fili still remembers his mother’s reaction when she learnt that his father had been killed in a mining accident. Kili doesn’t but he was only four so that’s to be expected.

Fili remembers the way his mother screamed, how Uncle Thorin was suddenly around all the time to take care of them because their mother refused to emerge from the room she had shared with his father. He remembers Uncle Frerin’s abrupt arrival from the wilds with a funny little creature in tow who had left with the next caravan only a day later. A creature he had kissed and whispered words of love to even though everyone knew that he was betrothed to Ghruna (and constantly put off the wedding until his hand had to be forced a number of years later).

By this point Ghruna has been dead for four years and Frerin never did marry her, even with the extra pressure applied by both her father and Thorin. Fili used to wonder why Frerin had agreed to marry her when he obviously didn’t like her and didn’t want to. Now that he’s been learning about his duties as prince, however, he knows that marrying where he is told is one such expectation. Or it used to be. Uncle Frerin’s bride was chosen for him when he wasn’t much older than Fili is now, and he had asked that morning when it would be time for him to be told who he would marry.

“You won’t be,” Uncle Thorin told him. “After everything with your uncle, I won’t be making the same mistake my grandfather did.”

Which makes no sense to Fili because those are the exact opposite of Frerin’s bitter words earlier in the week when he had interrupted another of Balin’s boring lessons. He wants to ask his mother about it, but Kili kept interrupting and both of them are supposed to be in bed now. His uncle’s arranged marriage didn’t happen and his mother’s loving one ended in tragedy. Would she be disappointed if he decided to stay a bachelor like Thorin?

Uncle Frerin is talking to his mother when Fili creeps downstairs. He sounds drunk, which is unusual because neither of his uncles like to overindulge.

“…a baby, Dis, and it should have been mine,” his uncle says. “If I’d known how things with Ghruna would end up I’d have married her in the wilds. I would have stayed away.”

“Do you regret coming back?” His mother asks.

“They were just beads, Dis,” he snaps. “Bella wouldn’t have cared that they were mithril and sapphire. I could have given her brass and she would have been happy. I regret coming back for Amad’s beads but never for coming to help with the boys. You all needed me.” He sighs bitterly. “But I lost her for something that never happened.”

“You were friends for a long time before you became lovers,” his mother’s reply is reasonable. “Surely there’s no reason you can’t be friends again?”

“I still love her, Dis,” there is a thud and when his uncle speaks again it is muffled. “Belladonna Took is my One.”

His uncle must be really drunk because the next thing he hears is his mother making soft, comforting sounds the way she used to when her sons were hurt or needed comfort and his uncle’s broken sobs.

Love and marriage definitely don’t seem to be worth the pain.

*

T.A. 2941 Hobbiton, The Shire

It’s been nearly forty years since his uncle had disappeared and Fili had thought he had grown out of his resentment of Frerin. Frerin who left without a word or clue to his destination, Frerin who abandoned them right when two fatherless lads needed him. Frerin who left his real family for one he had hidden away like some dirty secret. Turns out he was wrong, finding his uncle in the Shire like this (with a home and lover) has brought all of his resentment pouring back.

Not sure that he could be polite to Frerin, even with Kili’s obvious excitement, Fili had sought out the hobbit girl. Perhaps Gandalf had brought them to Bag End for Frerin and not a halfling, but he admits to himself that it’s a stretch. The girl is pretty, even without a beard and ears that are too elf like, and he isn’t ashamed to admit that her fire in the face of his brother and himself upon their arrival had been more arousing than it really should have. It has, he acknowledges, been a while since he had company in his bed and if she wasn’t to come with them he sees no harm in blowing off a little steam before they depart (and if the stone sings a little bit louder under the hills than it had before she grabbed his ear he ignores it).

As he spends time with her, he finds her to be sweet and polite, when not provoked, and she blushes quite prettily at the attentions he and Kili pay her. His plans for the night seem to be a sure thing until they come to a clattering halt when it emerges that all of the occupants of the underground house will be joining the quest. Still, it isn’t the end of the world, or wouldn’t be if Thorin and Frerin weren’t so keen to keep them apart for the night and bedding your companions before the start of a quest isn’t the best of ideas anyway.

He tries, that morning, to continue avoiding Frerin but with Thorin marching ahead with Gandalf, Kili groaning about the deception of hobbit ale (not that Fili disagrees on that point) and Bluebell claimed by her mother for last minute tasks, he rather abruptly finds his company for the walk to the inn to collect their ponies taken by Frerin. He keeps his attention on the hobbit women in front of him, watching them walk arm in arm and laughing at Kili’s exaggerated complaints, hoping that if he ignores his uncle for long enough Frerin will simply leave him alone.

“You’re angry with me,” Frerin says to him. Fili grunts an affirmation not certain he trusts himself to say much of anything else. “You have every right to be,” his uncle continues, like Fili needs his permission to feel as he does. “I’m sorry I left the way I did and I’m sorry I didn’t come back. You had your mother and Thorin and Kili, Belladonna and Bluebell didn’t have anyone.”

“You don’t have to explain to me,” Fili grumbles. In truth he doesn’t want to hear the excuses or reasons. His head hurts from the hobbit ale and hearing the why behind the fact that Frerin cared so little for his brother, sister and her sons that he would up and abandon them the way that he did won’t help the hangover. He’s realised that they weren’t enough for Frerin and he will have to make his peace with that.

“So, they did belong to you,” a hobbit pipes up as he approaches Frerin. His uncle smiles.

“Good morning, Hamfast,” he greets the hobbit. Just ahead Bluebell, her mother and Kili have also stopped. “My brother, some friends and my sister’s sons, Fili and Kili.” The two boys bow at the introductions and the hobbit looks at them speculatively, though Fili most of all. It makes him wonder if he is going to hear yet another comment on how like Frerin he appears.

“I hope this means you and Mrs Belladonna are going to give us good reason for a big party,” Hamfast seems to be hinting.

“You’re hobbits,” his uncle actually laughs at the insinuation that he should marry the widow, “you hardly need a reason for a party. And you, Hamfast, are as bad as your father,” the hobbit shrugs unrepentantly. “However, you have saved me a detour.”

“Have I, indeed?”

“Aye, some family business has come up at home,” Fili notes that his uncle doesn’t put a name to their destination or where home is. “Would you and your family mind watching over the smial? Belladonna and Bluebell have decided to come with me, and we’ll be gone until at least next summer.”

“Long trip,” the hobbit comments as he takes the heavy key Frerin pulls from a pocket.

“Messy business,” his uncle responds. Hamfast hums thoughtfully then turns his attention to the women.

“Finally off on your adventure then, young Miss Bluebell,” the hobbit says to her.

“Oh, don’t give me that ‘young Bluebell’ rubbish, Hamfast, please,” she replies as she pulls a face. “Besides, I’m twenty years older than you!” That makes no sense to Fili, Hamfast looks a good deal older than Bluebell.

“The Lady’s Blessing has been far kinder on you than on me, lass,” Hamfast laughs. “Doubtless you’ll still be daisy fresh when I’m in the dirt and my sons have children of their own.”

“You aren’t even married yet,” she objects.

“Only because you wouldn’t have me. You’d best make this trip right quick or you’ll miss the wedding.” The hobbit reaches to shake Frerin’s hand. “Go on with the lot of you. Horrible, unnatural things adventures are. No two better suited hobbits, though. I’ll keep the Sackville-Baggins lot out.”

“Thank you, Hamfast,” Belladonna smiles and the other hobbit seems startled by it. In fact, now Fili thinks on it, he’s avoided looking at or speaking to her at all. “Our wills are in the safe, just in case,” she adds and Hamfast swallows hard then nods. Belladonna takes possession of Frerin’s arm as they bid their farewells and continues on, leaving Fili and Kili with Bluebell. It’s strange to see his uncle do something so hobbit-like.

“How old are you?” Kili asks, breaking his thoughts away from his uncle and making Fili groan (although that could also be the headache from all the ale he drank).

“Weren’t you ever told that it’s rude to ask a lady’s age?” She replies tartly. Kili shrugs in reply.

“Amad probably mentioned it once or twice,” he admits, “but I’ve always favoured the direct approach.”

“I’ll bet you have,” she grumbles. “I’m old enough to be of age and nearly twice that again.”

“When do hobbits come of age?” Fili asks, curious but still looking at Frerin and Belladonna as they walk together.

“Thirty-three,” is the prompt reply.

“So, you aren’t Uncle Frerin’s daughter?” Kili says and Fili glares at him, squinting in the morning sun.

“There’s no blood between Frerin and I,” she answers quickly. As far as answers go Fili thinks Balin would be pretty proud of it. She’s neither confirmed nor denied the question as far as their own customs go, a dwarf can be a named parent to a child without sharing blood.

“No dwarf in you at all?” Kili presses.

“Not even a little bit,” she confirms.

“Would you like some?” Kili grins. Bluebell makes a noise and for a moment Fili worries that Kili might have upset her. She was responsive enough to their flirting last night but that was with the freedom that comes with drinking more than they ought and in the safety of her own home. Then she begins to giggle.

“Oh, that was terrible,” she gasps. “Is this what passes for flirting among your people?” Kili laughs with her and Fili can’t stop a chuckle from escaping either. “Please tell me that’s never worked?”

“I’ve never even tried it before,” Kili admits, not at all put out by her reaction which makes it obvious enough that he wasn’t serious (and Fili isn’t sure why he’s so relieved by that). “But surely you’ve seen your mother and Frerin flirting.”

“Mama and Ada-uncle,” she catches herself, but Fili exchanges a glance over her head with his brother, both aware of what she’s just betrayed to them without meaning to, Frerin has adopted her although whether she understands that is another matter, “they didn’t need to. They’ve known each other for so long and loved each other for a lot of that. My parents never would have met if not for fact that it had been arranged for him to marry someone else. But you know that, of course.” They fall into silence, both sensing that she doesn’t want to talk about the matter anymore and Fili isn’t sure that he can blame her, it can’t have been easy to grow up aware that, if not for a cruel twist of fate, she might never have been born. It's something they share, had Smaug never come their own mother might not have met their father.

Several children dash up to them, their high-pitched shrieks of glee cutting through Fili’s thoughts and making both he and Kili flinch as the noise tears through the headache left from the deceptively strong hobbit ale. Bluebell just smiles at the children who cluster around her skirts, handing out small pieces of some sort of sweet treat. It only makes the sound of the children louder and higher and Kili groans as the children chant her name in thanks before rushing away.

“Are you two alright?” She asks when they finally break free of the sticky fingers and stabbing little voices.

“You matched us drink for drink last night,” Fili grumbles, “surely your head hurts just a little for it.” The bright, early morning, sun isn’t helping and though he knows Kili is trying to be his usual upbeat self so as not to attract Thorin’s attention and censure he can see that his little brother is struggling as much as he is.

“Ah,” she replies and grins brightly. “Uncle discovered the same thing when he first came. Hobbit ale is stronger than dwarfish ale, Men’s too for that matter. With constitutions like ours it needs to be.” She glances at her mother and Frerin then grabs their sleeves as she comes to a halt. “Mama will be furious if you tell her about what I’m going to do. So not a word to anyone, and I won’t do it for this reason again. If you’re going to drink you should reap the rewards of it the next day, and technically it’s a misuse of the gift I’ve been given to use it for something so trivial.”

“We won’t say anything,” Kili agrees though he looks as confused as Fili feels. “But if it’s going to get you into trouble…” Bluebell waves the objection off as she looks seriously up at them both for a moment, then she turns fully to face Kili and reaches her hand up to brush her fingers over his forehead. Kili blinks, draws a sharp breath, and then grins down at her. Jealousy, hot and irrational, coils in Fili’s gut to see the sly smile she gives his brother in return.

Then she turns to him. It is only the fact that his body blocks the early morning sun, casting her face completely in shadow, that allows this to see the way her indigo eyes start to glow as she reaches up in the same way that she did with Kili (he had noticed the glow the previous night but assumed it to be a trick of the light). Her cool fingers touch his forehead and linger a fraction longer than they did with his brother, trailing down the side of his face and leaving tingles in their wake as the pain of the hangover recedes.

Kili chuckles behind her and Bluebell snatches her hand away with wide eyes. Then she turns on her heal and begins to march away from them, her hand against her chest.

“How did you do that?” Fili demands, reaching for her free hand as his longer stride brings him quickly next to her. Kili strolls beside them, face split in an obnoxious grin. Bluebell is silent for a moment and he wonders if she is going to ignore the question, then she sighs.

“I used the Blessing,” she replies, “and no one outside the Shire is supposed to know about it.” Fili can understand secrets, his people have a large number of them after all, and he definitely has his own that he needs to keep. “Part of it is the reason that Mama looks like she’s barely sixty when she’s closer to three times that and why I look thirty when I’m, well, we’ve answered that question.”

“Can all hobbits do it?” Kili asks, partly because Fili is still processing these freely given answers to his unasked questions and also because his open and cheerful nature makes him disarming. People often answer his curious questions purely because all they see is a flighty and slightly foolish princling. Kili’s actually more intelligent than people give him credit for being, he’s just more inclined towards physical activity than mental.  Balin has always mourned Kili’s refusal to really apply himself.

“No,” Bluebell replies, “we all have it to a degree, but my mother and I are powerfully gifted. Most only have a touch and don’t live to be much older than a hundred. Hobbits like Mama and I are only born once every few generations and almost never so close together.” She looks like she wants to say more on the subject (which Fili wouldn’t blame her for, it’s stifling to have something so fascinating to talk about and be unable to discuss it). Instead she shakes her head. “I shouldn’t be telling you any of this,” she says, and Fili squeezes her hand, vaguely surprised to find he hasn’t let it go and resolutely ignoring his brother’s quirked eyebrows and smirk.

“Then don’t tell us anymore,” he replies with a glare at Kili when the younger looks like he’s going to object. She smiles up at him gratefully and returns his squeeze with one of her own. The distant hum of the stone buried under the earth of the Shire intensifies for just a moment, then dies away as she releases his hand and loops her arm through Kili’s. Fili stifles a groan and listens to the pair chatter as he considers what they have learnt. Dancing around hobbit and dwarf secrets is going to get very tired very quickly. Bluebell obviously knows some of theirs, just as Frerin must know most of the hobbit’s, but Thorin won’t be happy all the same.

Chapter Text

T.A.2920 Ered Luin

Balin sighs and takes a sip from his teacup rather than answer Thorin’s question straight away. Erebor is a constant in Thorin’s thoughts, it has been since it was lost, and it comes as no surprise that the longer the dragon goes without being seen the more he presses for them to try and retake the mountain.

“We’re doing well enough, Thorin,” he says in lieu of a more pointed answer. What he wants to do is tell Thorin not to be a fool, but his job involves being a little bit more diplomatic than that.

“Well enough isn’t what our people deserve,” Thorin argues.

“Such an undertaking would be expensive, not to mention dangerous.”

“So, you’ve become a frightened old man?” Thorin questions. “I would never have thought that of you, Balin.” He reminds himself that Thorin has a habit of lashing out when he senses things aren’t likely to go his way.

“No,” he replies, as calmly as he can, “but is Fili ready to rule in your place if you don’t come back? Or would you take him with you and risk the entire line of succession?”

“If it were just Fili it wouldn’t be the entire line,” Thorin grumbles.

“Where Fili goes Kili does, you know it and I know it,” he points out. “Part of that is your fault.”

“We found Fili in one of the deeper shafts last week,” Thorin leans back in his chair and sighs, the fight seeming to drain out of him as they discuss his heir. “He’s started getting the megrims, the same as Dis does. He said being in the deep stone helps but we both know what he really needs.”

“There are no catacombs here, Thorin, they were destroyed centuries ago. If you would only consider-“

“I won’t send him to Dain,” Thorin cuts him off before he can finish the sentence. It’s an old argument that always ends the same way. Were it anyone else, even Kili, Balin thinks Thorin would consider it. Fili is the heir, however, and Thorin would keep him close. “We need to retake Erebor. Fili deserves the throne he’s being trained for. He deserves more than being sent into over worked mines to try and find a lucrative seam or test to see if a tunnel is safe enough to work. He deserves to be creating halls and statues out of the finest materials, not scrabbling through shale for tin.”

Balin picks up the sheets of parchment his king places before him. He highly doubts that Fili knows that Thorin has taken them, although he can see the talent in the work. Fili could be working on some truly impressive feats of architecture were he not restricted by lack of resources and work.

“We can’t just put vital funds into trying to retake Erebor, risk facing a dragon, because you think Fili should be able to do what he wants rather than what is necessary,” Balin replies. He feels terrible for saying it, but Thorin has to think of this as a king and not as an uncle.

“I’m aware,” Thorin nods, “but he isn’t the only one who deserves better. All of our young do. Our children should be safe from orc raids, they should walk under the stone, not over it, our people should have lives of ease and plenty. Not struggle year on year to make ends meet. Every year I wait to hear that the mines have finally run dry, every year our people go among the Men to find work and every year it grows more scarce. We need to make this attempt now, while we still have the mines and the work, not when we’re finally desperate.”

There isn’t much that Balin can say in disagreement with that.

*

T.A. 2741 Hobbiton, The Shire

Balin’s first thought when they collect the ponies is that they don’t have enough of the beasts for their number. Sixteen ponies had been purchased, fourteen to carry the company and two to carry provisions not personal in nature. They cannot redistribute the supplies more than they already have, they have the absolute minimum number of ponies that they could get away with buying and the two pack ponies are already close to being over loaded.

Frerin, Belladonna and Bluebell seem to have realised the problem as well. The two hobbits are already insisting that they will be fine on foot and Frerin is smiling at them indulgently but making no move to correct them or offer a solution to the problem. If the long absent prince hadn’t volunteered to join them Balin would assume that he was deliberately trying to make things more difficult just to get back at them. It wouldn’t be the first time. Besides, they have an accomplished thief among them anyway. Nori was reluctant to join them but given the alternative Balin can hardly blame him. No matter what Gandalf might say Balin isn’t convinced the hobbits are really necessary.

“You may as well get a start on it now,” Frerin says eventually to the hobbits. “You know it’s only going to be harder on you if you start riding in Bree instead of here.”

Fili and Kili are hovering nearby, checking their ponies over in an attempt to cover for their eavesdropping. They’re doing a better job of it than usual, but that’s more likely because they have something legitimate to be doing rather than any increase in skill on their part. The addition of their lost uncle is going to be hard on them both. While they have always been fond of Thorin (Kili certainly holds his dark-haired uncle in exceedingly high regard), their bond with Frerin had been closer and easier. Even bordering on hero worship as far as Fili was concerned.

“The hobbits will have to double up with someone until we get to Bree,” Thorin declares, his tone saying just how unhappy he is with something that will inevitably cause a delay. Riding it should take about two days for them to get to the Mannish settlement from Hobbiton (and the sheer size of the Shire had been a surprise) but with the additional stops they will have to make to rest the ponies carrying the extra weight it will likely take two and a half. They don’t have a deadline as such, but it would be nice to make it to Erebor before winter arrives.

“I’ll take Bella,” Frerin says, not that anyone is surprised. “Fili, Kili, would you mind letting Bluebell ride with the two of you?” He asks his young sister-sons.

Balin has half a mind to object. While Frerin and Belladonna are clearly lovers and have been for some time, Bluebell is a young maid and the princes can be overwhelming in large doses. Kili, however, is already smiling that bright and cheeky grin that gets him so much attention and causes so much trouble back in Ered Luin and Fili has gone to Bluebell’s side to offer his assistance. She’s hesitant, which speaks a great deal in her favour as far as Balin is concerned, but with an encouraging smile from her mother and a whisper of something she sets her shoulders and accepts.

Clearly there is a great deal going on here that Balin isn’t in a position to understand. He dislikes it immensely. Balin can usually puzzle most things out and what he doesn’t know he can research. Everything he knows about hobbits comes from one very slim book, a few trade meetings in Bree and at home, and Frerin’s stories (which had always been a little bit too outlandish given what he knew of hobbits at the time). In fact, given Frerin’s stories, Balin has realised that he should have come to the Shire to look for his friend decades ago. He, like so many others, had made the mistake of assuming that Frerin’s long time travelling companion all those years ago was a dwarf. He had called her Bel, or Bella, when speaking of her for the most part and only rarely referred to her as Belladonna. She had travelled too much and been too long lived to be an average hobbit and the form of address in the note that Frerin had left behind had been Khuzdul rather than common. It had all, whether intentionally or not, caused rather a large amount of misdirection which has enabled him to spend the last decades unnoticed in the Shire.

There are questions that need answering, of course, questions that Thorin must know have to be asked. The King-In-Exile seems happy to let them slide at the moment, too happy to have found his lost brother again and obviously reluctant to damage the peace between them. Balin can’t say he blames Thorin for that. Losing Frerin to the unknown much in the same way Thrain was has been hard on him and he must be feeling the good fortune of finding his brother again. Finding Frerin before the quest has begun is a fantastically good omen but the internal pessimist makes Balin wonder when this is all going to come around and cause trouble for them. It has to. The questions can’t go unanswered for too long and in his experience the line of Durin rarely has this kind of luck since the fall of Erebor.

“We’ll need at least three more ponies,” Balin says to Thorin as they ride. His king nods in acknowledgement and he hears Gloin grumble just behind them. The Company’s banker begrudges the spending of every coin, even the necessary ones, and this will be a strain on their limited funds as it is.

“Don’t you like riding?” He hears Kili ask.

“I’m sure it’s perfectly lovely if you’re so inclined towards it,” Bluebell replies in a sick tone. Balin glances back to see that she’s pale and her brilliant eyes are unfocused. “Hobbits prefer to keep their feet on the ground though.”

“None of you ride at all?” Fili asks and she mutters something that Balin doesn’t catch. “What about in carts?”

“Some do, the wood doesn’t interfere the way a living thing does,” she replies.

 “So, it’s a hobbit-y thing,” Kili concludes. “You need to be touching the earth?”

“Something like that,” she lets out a series of sneezes. “But we weren’t supposed to be discussing it.”

When they stop for lunch later no one misses just how pleased the hobbits are to be back on the ground or how reluctant they are to mount once more. Dwalin and Thorin grumble about soft little creatures which draws a glare from Frerin and makes Balin wonder if he is going to need to mediate a dispute only half a day into their quest. Much as Thorin and his brother adored one another they were also capable of some of the most spectacular rows. He can only hope that the years apart will have lessened that. Thorin seems to have become that much more bitter in the last four decades, not that anyone can blame him, where Frerin seems to have relaxed and rediscovered the more jovial part of himself that had vanished when he had stopped travelling with Belladonna.

Fortunately, the grumbling falls silent again as soon as they are on their way and Frerin doesn’t seem inclined to comment on it. Hopefully the hobbits will adapt before it causes a problem because if they can’t adapt there will be no point in buying the extra ponies or leaving Bree with them. By the end of the day, although still struggling, the hobbits are a little more settled and they join the Company around the fire, their eyes glowing with indigo light, huddled against Frerin and wrapped in blankets against the chill spring air. Seeing the closeness, the ease of family between them even if Balin can’t see anything official about it, he can understand why Frerin has stayed away all this time. Balin might have, too, if his One had survived Azanulbizar.

Chapter Text

T.A 2846 The Prancing Pony, Bree

Belladonna Took sips her ale and waits, trying not to tap her foot under the table as she looks at the door. Frerin is late. He should have arrived before her as her departure had been delayed by a funeral. She scratches at the braided ring of hair around her left middle finger irritably, at least Frerin’s return home had been for a joyous occasion. The sooner she can put the Shire behind her for a few years the better. She wants to get back on the road and get back out into the world, she wasn’t made for sitting still and the Blessing makes her feet itch constantly in the peaceful Shire with the need to explore and know and learn.

It has been seven months since she parted ways with her dwarf. Frerin for the Blue Mountains and Belladonna for Tookborough. She would have preferred to go to his sister’s wedding with him, but dwarf weddings are not like hobbit weddings. Hobbits tend to invite everyone they know, the air around a smial is usually rich with the spicy scent of the wedding biscuits for weeks in the run up to the event and some families even go so far as to have their own stamp carved for the event. Hobbit weddings are all about who can put on the best spread, the most delicious food and strongest ale, the lace on the bride’s gown and how striking the design of the woven wedding jewellery is. A hobbit wedding is noisy, as close to riotous as her people get, there was little privacy during the Wandering years, and it shows in many of their important ceremonies.

 Dwarves, she has been told, are completely different. Their wedding ceremonies only rarely involve more than the couple in question, perhaps with the presence of a witness. At the most their immediate kin (parents and any siblings) are in attendance even with the wealthiest of families. A wealthy family might throw a large feast after for extended family and any others they might wish to invite but the ceremony itself is never attended by outsiders, not even the spouses of siblings. It had been disappointing information, she’s never been as far into the mountains as New Belegost and she would have liked to see it. Winter prevented them from meeting any sooner and then the funeral of an uncle had delayed Belladonna as much as the unusually wet weather that spring had. Now she’s in Bree, at their usual inn and normal room, and she’s already been approached by more than one hobbit lad in search of a tumble. A dwarf and, disturbingly, a Man too have also approached her. The dwarf had been the easiest of all of them to send on his way but that has always been the case. Men and hobbits seem less inclined to accept the word ‘no’ as a response to such offers.

She is almost ready to go to her room (after another approach and poorly received refusal) when Frerin finally sits in front of her. He has a pint in hand already and his expression is apologetic.

“There was a bridge out,” he says by way of explanation. She sighs, but nods since it isn’t something he can help and asks him about the wedding.

He regales her with a wonderful story of a nervous, hungover, groom and excited bride. Too much beer and his older brother actually sobbing in his cups over ‘the beauty of true love’. He remembers to describe the clothes, not just the jewels and the weapons, in detail for her. They share a meal as they talk, touching hands and trading smiles. The touches linger longer and longer, the smiles grow more flirtatious and finally they abandon the table and retire to the room Belladonna has taken for the night.

She is still fumbling behind her for the lock when Frerin takes her face between his large, rough, palms and kisses her. She’s missed this, the way his beard tickles and scratches, the weight of him against her and the strength of him around her. The way their hands tremble and fumble with too many laces and awkward clothes. The way they fit together just right even though he’s a dwarf and she’s a hobbit and it just shouldn’t work as well as it does.

One day, maybe, they’ll decide to stop wandering and build a home together. Perhaps she’ll stop taking her herbs and they can have a family. Maybe they’ll have the quiet little dwarf ceremony and she’ll wear braids for him and he for her and they’ll live in the mountains, away from the hobbits who live such brief lives and don’t understand her. She barely has any immediate family left alive to miss her anyway.

*

T.A. 2941 The Prancing Pony

Belladonna sighs in bliss as the warm water of her bath envelopes her. She had forgotten how sore riding makes her. Coming to Bree hadn’t been part of Thorin’s plan, she knows, but she’s almost glad that they have. This place has memories that she needs to confront but beyond that she and her daughter need a day to adjust to the earth outside the Shire. The earth in the Shire is drenched with the magic of the Mother, the Blessing vibrant and rich after ten centuries of hobbit occupation and application. A cart would have been easier, the life force of another being moving beneath them interferes far more with their feel for the earth than the dead wood of a cart, but Belladonna has done this before and she will do it again. In a way it will be better when they reach the mountains if they have already become accustomed to a disconnect between their Blessing and the earth they rely upon.

Poor Bluebell, of course, is suffering terribly. Her connection to the earth is stronger than Belladonna’s has ever been and the resulting nausea from moving over it without being connected to it has been terrible. Belladonna once told Frerin it was much like seasickness (something they both suffered with the only time they decided to use a boat on the sea as transport). The need to share ponies has helped, allowing Bluebell to concentrate on learning to feel through the pony rather than having to try and do it while also concentrating on keeping up with the others. Her growing friendship with Fili and Kili while riding with them has also helped and Belladonna would be lying if she said she was surprised that the trio are becoming close. With Ori added to the mix, when he can escape his older brothers, they are the youngest members of the company and it certainly shows in the young princes. Bluebell needs that, the liveliness of the two boys, Belladonna is aware that her daughter has been lonely for some time. There are draw backs to being one of the Lady’s Chosen and carrying her Blessing so strongly, to live so long when even the strongest of hobbits rarely get beyond their eleventies (and without the Blessing probably wouldn’t live much longer than Men), to be looked upon as a holy figure on one hand and an adventurous oddity on the other. Bluebell’s childhood friends are almost all married with children of their own now. They’ve withdrawn from her as they’ve aged and she’s retained the bloom of youth, moved on with their lives while Bluebell has cared for Belladonna and becoming seemingly stuck in an endless cycle of identical seasons.

Perhaps she and Frerin should have taken to the road again years ago. While her days haven’t been easy Belladonna is adapting far more rapidly than her daughter and with every passing mile she can feel her own burdens lifting. The pain and the ghosts that linger in her mind are drastically lessened and without the reminders of Bungo around every corner she is able to relax more in the wilds than she has been able to at home for nearly forty years. This doesn’t mean she’s cured or that there aren’t other fears to consider. She has Frerin and Bluebell, however, and she knows that they understand what she did and why.

It is how the rest of the Company would react when they found out that she fears. It would have to change the way that they would behave around her, and she knows it will hurt to have them withdraw from her. They will learn about it, something will happen to make certain of that, and her own kind keep a good distance from her even now in the hopes of avoiding her notice lest she do the same thing to them. Something like her actions on the day Bungo was killed can’t possibly remain a secret forever and even now she can feel the ripples in the earth beneath her that warn of something big coming. Something life changing, or ending, and part of her had felt it even before Gandalf turned up at her door. Whatever it is, life altering events have a habit of bringing out dark secrets. She’s amazed Bluebell hasn’t noticed, but then her daughter has never had reason to learn to read the earth this way.

Bluebell can reach deeper into the earth than Belladonna ever could, draws from it with far more ease too. Frerin has even helped Bluebell experiment with drawing through stone, something this trip will give them more opportunities to work at, and she can do it (with difficulty) where Belladonna is cut off from the earth by even a thin layer of slate these days. Her daughter is destined from something great, Belladonna knows even though every parent likes to think it. It’s a terrifying thought but it brings comfort too. Bluebell is strong and a gifted healer in her own right, Belladonna can’t heal anymore but she can guide her daughter through the new injuries they are bound to encounter on this quest. With her own experience and research into the uses of the Blessing they might just make it through this mad adventure.

A knock at the door brings her out of her thoughts, the water has cooled in the time she has been wool gathering and washing. Her stomach informs her that it is time for dinner, and she dresses quickly behind the screen while calling for the person on the other side of the door to enter. It can only be one of two people anyway. It is Frerin and she sighs as she remembers the reasons for his withdrawal over the last couple of days. They have spoken about it, of course, because they have made the mistake in the past of letting secrets and the differences in their cultures come between them. They both have a lot of regrets on that score and so she understands that he feels he needs to ease the rest of the Company into the reality of their situation, that they are more than lovers and Bluebell is more than just the daughter of the woman he lives with. It’s a complicated mess built around different ideals and beliefs. It doesn’t stop them huddling together at night, or Bluebell from treating Frerin as the father he has become, nor does it stop Belladonna from taking his arm as they leave her room (where she will be sleeping alone for the first time in years) and make their way to the tap room for dinner. Belladonna is hungry and she is not going to let her discontent with the situation delay her from finding food.

She finds her daughter almost immediately upon her entrance to the tap room. The old inn hasn’t changed, even though the last time she was here was seventy years ago, and it seems Bluebell isn’t so different to her mother either. She is sat between Fili and Kili, an arrangement which she seems to prefer even over sitting beside Frerin. Belladonna doesn’t blame her in the slightest, both of the boys are handsome, and the younger hobbit deserves the attention they pay her. Belladonna does wonder if the attentions of one might be that much more serious than those of the other, but it is a problem for another time and place. It will either resolve itself or it will be dealt with. There is no need to cause an awkward situation this early in their journey.

She would like to say that she spots the trio easily because the room is relatively empty. It’s partially true, it’s the middle of the week and early in the evening. Unfortunately, she also spots them due to the group of Men stood menacingly by the table. Belladonna knows from experience that dwarves aren’t always welcome wherever they go, especially in large groups, and Fili and Kili’s obvious youth makes them a prime target for Men who might normally avoid the older dwarves because they assume the younger less able to take care of themselves. It’s a foolish assumption, one that she has seen end badly for more than one Man during her time, but a common one. The boys are obviously bristling as Belladonna and her companion draw near, and she can see that her daughter’s colour is high, furious and embarrassed so she can imagine with some accuracy what the Men have insinuated. She glances up at Frerin, feeling the tension in his arm and hoping she won’t have to try and talk him down. He’s glaring, but she can see the muscle in his cheek twitching as he keeps control of his anger. They don’t need a fight, no matter who starts it the Company will come off worse. They can’t afford to be thrown out of town when they need to gather more supplies and the extra ponies.

“Is there a problem?” Frerin asks when they get close enough.

The boys are on their feet, now, standing shoulder to shoulder and shielding Bluebell from whatever has been said or threatened. To her relief neither are visibly armed but, if either one is like their uncle, they will have more than one blade squirrelled away somewhere. Hobbits are not good at fighting as a rule, they lack the instincts for it even with training such as Bluebell and Belladonna both have. They are a dead shot with a thrown stone or knife and good with bows when they can find one small enough and light enough to use, but for the most part their first instinct is always to run and hide. They are dedicated to life and growth, they are too small to be fighters and weaker than dwarves as well. Even those touched as strongly with the Blessing as Bluebell and Belladonna can’t fight or defend themselves with it. They can use it to hide and to heal, to enhance their sight and hearing, to keep themselves warm or cool and to find sources of clean water but it has no truly offensive properties.

“No problem,” one of the Men sneers, apparently deciding that Frerin is the greater threat. An erroneous assumption. No dwarf leaves their settlements unless battle ready or without any other choice.

“Then you’ll have no trouble leaving my family in peace so that we can enjoy our dinner,” Belladonna says to them before Frerin can speak again. The Men exchange glances but depart with a grumble when Frerin rests his hand on the dagger at his hip. “Are you alright, sweetling?” She asks Bluebell as Fili and Kili sink back into their seats.

“Thanks to these two,” she says in a quiet voice. If not for hobbit hearing Belladonna may not have caught it. Both boys hear her, Fili wraps an arm around her shoulders and leans in to whisper something. Bluebell flares red as the braids of the young blond’s moustache brush the point of her ear and Belladonna makes a mental note to have Frerin discuss hobbit ears with his nephews. Kili mumbles something else to her that brings a grin to her lips and for the moment the mother will allow the subject to drop while they get drinks and order meals.

“Did you bring them?” She asks Frerin once all five of them are settled. The others still haven’t come down, though perhaps that’s for the best. He nods and hands her a pouch which she passes on to her daughter. Bluebell’s eyes take on an understanding gleam when she empties the contents into her palm. Fourteen roughly shaped wooden tokens land there. On one side is a simple carving of a bluebell and on the other nightshade. Frerin has been working hard on these during the evenings and unlike his nephews he isn’t wearing any layers over his shirt. His sleeves are rolled up to the elbows and this leaves the two small tattoos of the same simple flowers on his left forearm exposed. Mother and daughter have the same tattoos, although theirs are on their shoulder where they are less likely to be seen.

“Will these really be able to do the job?” Bluebell asks sceptically.

“It’s how they did it in the Wandering Days,” she shrugs in reply. “And there were a lot more than seventeen hobbits for each cleric to hide.”

“It worked for us,” Frerin adds, “when we needed it and until we got something more permanent sorted.” He gestures to the tattoos. “I don’t think we want to take that route with the Company.”

Bluebell hums, her eyes glowing as she uses the Blessing to feel out the carvings and recognise them. Belladonna has already done it herself, the carving of the nightshade infused with a hint of midnight in the same way that the bluebells begin to turn indigo. Their ancestors would have done the same. She lingers a little bit longer over the final three, two of which she passes to Fili and Kili. Belladonna presumes the other is for Ori who will likely have all manner of questions. Both of the young princes have been admirably silent, even though it’s obvious they have a number of questions, and they accept the tokens gravely as Bluebell closes their hands tightly over them before muttering a brief prayer to Yavanna in the ancient hobbit tongue. The prayer isn’t necessary, Belladonna has never done it and she certainly won’t with the rest, but Bluebell is more superstitious than her mother. It comes as a surprise to see a flicker of indigo race up the skin of both young dwarves and burn in their eyes for a second. She’s never heard of that happening before.

“Keep them next to your skin,” Belladonna instructs. “Don’t take them off and don’t let anyone else touch them.” Frerin hands them a long leather cord each.

“This is more of that hobbity Blessing stuff, isn’t it?” Kili asks. “Like you did when we left.”

Belladonna hadn’t been watching her daughter as closely as she probably should have the night the dwarves arrived, nor the morning after for that matter, but she knows that both of the princes had more than their share of her best ale. They would have been feeling it in the morning and Bluebell has always been too soft hearted. The mother simply settles for raising her eyebrow at her daughter.

“You weren’t supposed to mention that,” the younger hisses.

“Oops,” Kili grins, completely unrepentant. Both boys do as she asks, however, threading the tokens onto the leather cords and tucking them under their shirts before the others arrive.

“I’ll handle the rest, sweetling,” she says, scooping the other eleven tokens back into the pouch.

“As long as I can give Ori his,” Bluebell closes her hand around the one she still holds and Belladonna nods.

Getting the other dwarves to carry and wear the tokens won’t be easy. She’s half tempted to sew them into their coats without the stubborn creatures knowing about it. That, however, would lead to too many questions and it would probably be easier to pass it off as a hobbit custom for luck and the blessing of their creator rather than anything else. The rest will come as it comes, she finds she’s looking forward to the challenge.

Chapter Text

T.A.2937 Ered Luin.

Ori pauses in his writing to look towards the door of Master Balin’s private office. The sound of raised voices has been clear for the last twenty minutes, ever since King Thorin arrived with a black mood swirling around him, but they have fallen silent now and that concerns Ori. His experience of closed doors and raised voices are with Dori and Nori and that usually leads to broken furniture, bruises and Nori leaving in the middle of the night for months at a time.

Ori knows what it’s about, he’s been Balin’s assistant for twelve years and he’s been privy to a great many of the secrets that the royal family carry about. He knows this is about Erebor, or more correctly about reclaiming it. Thorin’s mind is often turned towards that mountain and the safety it could bring their people. His arrival this day has come only an hour after Ori had delivered a report on the latest mine collapse and the loss of fifteen lives where the bad rock that is so much a part of the Blue Mountains had once again given way. There was a reason this area was mostly abandoned by the dwarves of old, the instability of the stone was one of the greatest parts of it. The fanatics, those so devoted to Mahal that they believe all dwarves to be superior in all ways, all claim that their suffering since Erebor fell is a sign that the line of Durin has become weak and unsuited to rule, that their long association with other races is what has led to their downfall. Ori might have believed that when he was a child and going to bed at night with hunger gnawing in his stomach no matter how hard Dori worked to put food on the table. He knows better now.

“Even if we had the support of the seven kingdoms, Thorin!” Balin yells and Ori flinches.

The words are so clear that for a moment he thinks Balin has opened the door and caught him in his thoughts. A glance in that direction shows that the door remains closed and Ori bends his head back to his work. It’s painstaking, copying from Balin’s original draft of a contract for a company to journey to Erebor. Quite what they are going to do when they get there Ori doesn’t know. Part of him doesn’t want to know because more than likely they are going to end up incinerated by a highly irritated dragon. The greater part of Ori, however, longs to go there. He wants to be a part of this quest even if it ends in his death because he wants to be more than Balin’s assistant. He wants to be more than Dori’s little brother kept safe and coddled and without a weapon of his own because Dori can’t afford to buy him one. He wants to find himself and he doesn’t think he’ll be able to achieve that here in the Blue Mountains where they are comfortable, but that comfort is built on the daily struggles of everyone to keep the settlement safe, whole and secure. He remembers the orc raids, he knows that they have died down over the last decade but for nearly a century before that they have been heavily targeted every winter. It isn’t just the poor who lose their lives then and too many of their ‘dams and dwarflings are killed in every attack. They need somewhere safer, somewhere where they can live under the stone as they should, and unless they can find somewhere new that leaves only taking back one of their lost strongholds. Any of them will likely lead to a slaughter, whether they face one dragon or a dozen cold drakes or thousands of orcs.

Ori keeps his head down when the King-in-Exile storms past him, Thorin’s ire always burns quickly and hot and the occupants of New Belegost have long learnt that it is best to avoid his attention rather than experience it. Only Dwalin, Balin and Lady Dis seem to be able to face him without crumbling once he turns on them. Nori says it’s because they’re all touched in the head, but Ori thinks it’s because they are the only ones who know Thorin well enough to be able to tell difference between when he is saying something because he means it and when it is empty rage.

“How are those contracts going, lad?” Balin asks from the door. He looks exhausted when Ori turns to him, the argument seems to have added years to his face in those few minutes.

“I’ve managed five today,” he replies. “I want to sign one for myself.” He adds on impulse.

“You’re young yet,” Balin smiles, “why would you want to?”

“Because I’m young,” Ori shrugs, “and if I don’t do this now, I’ll probably stay here forever and never see anything other that the settlements around Ered Luin. How can I do the job you’re training me for if I’ve never seen the world?” They both know that Balin is training Ori as his replacement. In a few years he’ll have to start working more closely with prince Fili (a prospect Ori isn’t looking forward to) and this quest will be a good opportunity to get to know him a little better.

“You make a fair point, but you won’t be able to do it if you’re burnt to a cinder either,” Balin pulls a face. “I’ll speak with Thorin,” he continues, “but I make no promises.”

Ori, barely, manages to stop himself from cheering. He knows that Thorin won’t turn away anyone willing to join him (although he nearly had Fili and Kili). Instead he smiles his thanks and bends his head back to his work with only a brief thought on how he is going to break this news to Dori and Nori

*

T.A. 2941 The Great East Road.

Ori watches Bluebell as she laughs with Kili and feels guilt twinge at him. She is a good, kind and caring girl who has opened her heart to Fili, Kili and himself in friendship and he had been glad of it. He has known the two younger princes for so many years and he still can’t quite interact with them as anything other than Balin’s assistant. They share very few interests in the grand scheme of things and have had very different upbringings. Fili, by all accounts, will be a great leader one day if he can ever be permitted to step out of his uncle’s shadow and Kili will likely be his War Master if his head for tactics is anything to go by, even if he is a jeweller by craft. For years Ori had written the pair of them off as stupid, ignorant of the world and frivolous with their days, liking nothing more than to be on the practice fields together sparring or larking about New Belegost without a thought in their heads for the poor parts of the town. Now he knows how wrong he was, and it has taken a hobbit, of all beings, to show him that.

“Find out more about the hobbits,” Balin had ordered him, only hours after taking to the road, and Ori has followed those instructions.

Lingering on the fringes of her interactions with Fili and Kili hadn’t got him very far, he doesn’t have Nori’s knack of listening unobtrusively. For the most part the conversations had begun in that frivolous manner that characterises all new acquaintances and that Ori has never been able to move past with Fili and Kili for all the effort the pair have made. He recognises it now, of course, that even when they spoke of useless little things they were trying to draw the same from him, but Ori has never been good with people. He has always hung too close to Dori to really form strong friendships and been too fearful of being abandoned (which is always how it feels when Nori disappears for months on end) to really trust anyone he might get close to. Bluebell notices him listening, of course, and he expected Fili (who she was riding with that morning) to tell her not to bother. Instead, the prince had smiled at him kindly when Ori had made the effort and soon the conversation had shifted enough that instead of three people talking and joking it had become four.

It has been a little over a week, now, since they left Bree and although Ori knows she has secrets that she keeps close Bluebell is as open with them as they are with her. Ori has told her about Dori and Nori, how they crowd around him and stifle him. How they followed on the quest because they didn’t trust Thorin to keep him safe rather than because they actually wanted anything to do with it. In return she tells him about her family, her aunts and uncles and cousins who barely talked to her before her father was killed by orcs let alone after. She tells about caring for her mother during her long illness and sending for Frerin because the missing prince was Belladonna’s oldest friend and she had hoped he would help where her family had abandoned them. She knows dwarf secrets, Ori realises, a few words of Khuzdul and the meanings of certain braids. She even seems to know a little something about the Stone Sense, although likely just that it exists, and has heard many tales that aren’t always told to outsiders.

“Where do hobbits come from?” He asks when Kili moves away in response to a question from Thorin. Bluebell blinks.

“The same place as dwarfs I would imagine,” she smiles playfully. “When a boy hobbit and a girl hobbit feel certain urges and act upon them…”

“That isn’t what I meant,” Ori interrupts and is frustrated to find that he is blushing. Fili, who has settled in the space vacated by Kili, laughs and hands her a steaming mug.

“Only with other hobbits?” He asks.

“Well I would imagine if it were with a dwarf the resulting offspring would be given a different name,” Bluebell grins. “Like a dwobbit.”  She takes a mouthful of her tea and pulls a face.

“If you don’t like tea, why do you drink it?” Fili nudges her, making some of the hot liquid splash out and she moves her mug to avoid her skirts.

“Because all hobbit women start drinking it in their tweens and carry on drinking it until they’re ready to have children,” she replies reasonably. “Can you imagine how many siblings I would have if Mama didn’t drink this stuff every day?” All eyes drift across the camp where Frerin and Belladonna are curled up together. Belladonna is also drinking from a mug and Ori wonders how he missed the fact the hobbits are the only two who drink tea morning and night, even Dori has given it up on the road.

“Not all that many, surely?” Fili asks.

“If we didn’t drink this the Shire’s over crowding situation would be a dire fact rather than a certain future,” Bluebell shakes her head, “every hobbit wife would spend her days pregnant with a new born and tweens would be kept apart at all costs because experimenting would have long term consequences. It tastes utterly vile, but at least if I wanted to take Ori somewhere private and demonstrate what boys and girls do to make baby hobbits there won’t be any baby hobbits.”

“Why Ori?” Fili demands in mock outrage as Ori feels his cheeks flush scarlet.

“Because your head is plenty big enough as it is,” she pokes his shoulder, “no need to give it a reason to swell up even more.”

“That’s not the only thing you could make swell, you know,” Fili winks and she rolls her eyes, and turns a lovely shade of pink, but ignores him in favour of answering Ori’s initial question.

“We don’t know exactly where hobbits come from originally,” she barely moves when Kili flops down in front of her and wraps an arm around her ankles. The princes, Ori has learnt, like to touch. “We know we wandered for about four hundred years and lost a lot of our knowledge of what came before in that time, we’ve only been in the Shire for about ten centuries, but we hold on to a lot of the traditions that came from when we searched for a home, to remind us of it. We do remember that we were created by Yavanna and that we were made to be the caretakers of all things that grow.” Her eyes flicker over to her mother and Frerin, Ori has noticed the way they glow when the sunsets. He’s tried to bring it up, but she changes the subject every time and Fili and Kili must know something because neither of them press for more information. “Things like this,” she adds, pointing to a patch of wild strawberry plants near them.

Ori watches in amazement as tiny white flowers appear on the plants. Watches as they lose their petals and tiny strawberries grow and ripen in front of his eyes. Then he looks at Bluebell’s face. Her eyes aren’t just glowing, now, they shine with indigo light. Fili isn’t watching the plant, Ori realises, he’s watching Bluebell and utterly enraptured, though Ori doubts he’s aware of that. Kili dives straight in as soon as the strawberries are ripe, picking every one of the tiny fruits and only sharing when Fili kicks him and reminds him to.

“Hobbity magics are so much better than ours,” the youngest prince grins. “Ours is rubbish, it can’t do anything like this.” Fili scowls and kicks him again and Ori remembers that Fili has a very strong Stone Sense.

“It must have it’s uses or your Maker wouldn’t have given it to you,” Bluebell shakes her head, “and one day we’ll break down and share all of our little secrets, but for now this is all you’re getting from me. All of you.” She adds as she plucks a strawberry Kili has tossed out of the air and pops it into her mouth. At her feet the brunet grumbles but she ignores him and leans against Fili with a shiver. The blond wraps an arm around her without thought, the tension in his face from his brother’s thoughtless words easing. Ori wonders if Bluebell even knows that her touch has comforted him so easily, but she’s lost in her own little world and he isn’t going to make mention of it.

“I love when you grow us little treats,” Kili all but purrs at her feet.

“Well I wouldn’t do it for just anyone,” she mutters, sleepily.

Ori can’t tell Balin about this, not the strange little magic anyway. Bluebell has shown a great amount of trust in him to demonstrate this and it would repay her friendship poorly to betray it to Balin when it’s obvious that her mother has advised against it.  Knowing what he now does its little wonder the hobbits keep to themselves and rarely leave their homes. If any race found out that the hobbits could make things simply grow like that there would be nowhere the hobbits could hide and nothing, they could do to protect themselves. Ori likes to think that his own kind would try to protect them if they asked, but he has heard enough stories of the time of Thror and seen enough of starvation to know that there are many among his own people who would see such a gift as something to be used and exploited.

“Does it have anything to do with theses?” He asks, fiddling with the little token Bluebell had given him. Her mother had spent a great deal of time brow beating the other into taking them as well. Bluebell opens an eye to glare at him.

“Stop fiddling with it,” she says in the same waspish way Dori used to when Ori would pick at a scab or some other hurt when he was young. “It’s a hobbit superstition, that’s all.”

“I don’t think it is,” Kili pipes up and Fili kicks him again. “Belladonna wouldn’t have been so determined for us all to have them if it were!” He argues.

“It’s clan,” Bluebell sighs. “Hobbits don’t travel outside the Shire unless we desperately need to. But if we do, we either go alone or with our clan.”

“Isn’t that like family?” Fili asks.

“In a way,” she hedges. “Family is blood and marriage. Clan is family and those we value most closely, those we trust with our lives and our memory, those we would protect and sometimes that goes a lot wider than simple blood. It can be temporary, as with those tokens, or permanent, as with our tattoos. It makes us feel easier about leaving the Shire, that’s all, a request to our Lady to watch over us all. Given our destination I would think we could use all the help that we can get. Put it away and forget about it, Ori.”

He obeys, although reluctantly. He has so many questions and just when he thinks he’s getting an answer Bluebell will suddenly give a reply that isn’t really an answer at all. He’ll tell Balin about the clan thing and tell him who created the hobbits, perhaps it will help his mentor to trust the hobbits more if he knows that they come from Mahal’s wife. He can understand Balin’s hesitancy. Frerin is completely devoted to Belladonna (and Ori is the last one to judge a dwarf taking up with another’s widow, if it never happened neither he nor Nori would exist) and Bluebell seems to have become remarkably close to Fili and Kili in a very short time. As far as Belladonna and Frerin are concerned, Ori has learnt that they travelled together extensively in their youth and have always been good friends as well as more. Frerin loves Bluebell as a daughter, the occasional glint of gold behind her left ear and the times she slips and calls him Adad are evidence of something more official though Ori still hasn’t been able to think of a way to ask the question and find out why they hide it. As for Fili and Kili, they’re young and friendly and Bluebell is unattached and equally young. Honestly, Ori would have been more surprised if they hadn’t tried flirting with her a time or two. She’s certainly responsive enough, though she withdraws to Ori’s company when they go too far, rolling her eyes at Kili’s attempts and blushing at Fili’s. She gives as good as she gets, but in Ori’s limited experience there doesn’t seem to be anything all that serious in it. So, really, Balin has nothing to worry about.

Chapter Text

T.A.2911 Bag End, The Shire

Screaming and the guttural syllables of Black Speech cuts through the smial as has become the usual over the last six years. Belladonna is impossible to wake when she is like this and Frerin has learnt not to try. She has no control over herself at times like this and Bluebell is the only one that she doesn’t run the risk of hurting. The burden upon the young hobbit girl is heart breaking. She isn’t even of age yet, but she is very nearly an orphan and perhaps that would have been kinder than the way things have played out because the bright young thing he knew is disappearing in front of his eyes.

Perhaps it would be better if Belladonna had faded after the death of her husband. The thought cuts like a blade through his heart and he can’t recall all of the times when he had hoped that something would happen to Bungo and Belladonna would be free to be his once more. Now that she is, however, she is further from him than ever. When he had arrived she had been still, silent, barely moving but to eat and lie down when instructed. Bluebell had done everything for her, tended to her mother as though she was the parent and Belladonna the child. Bluebell’s description of the events surrounding her father’s death hadn’t helped (and learning that Belladonna had been attempting to send for help only to be stopped by Bungo at every turn had filled Frerin with helpless rage) because her experience with her own Blessing was, and still is, minimal. He knows she has tried to heal her mother, he has seen her stumbling through the smial in an exhausted haze as every attempt fails, and he has had to ask her to promise him she will stop. Bluebell agrees, but only because her mother has made the same demand in the time when she has come out of her mind and back into the real world. Belladonna’s explanation of things had been terrifying, making Frerin think of the few times when they travelled together that such an outcome had been a possibility. It has changed her and at times like this, as much as he loves her and always will, he wishes that she had fallen that day. He would have taken Bluebell in as his own and returned to Ered Luin with her, it would have been kinder on the daughter. They can’t leave as long as Belladonna is the way she is.

His fingers trail over the tattoo on his left arm, the tiny belladonna flower he had drawn himself so many years ago. It has been the only part of her he has had for so long. It may be the only part of her he ever has again. She is so altered, even now that she is awake and functioning during the day, her indigo eyes are a deep midnight and her glorious dark hair hangs matted and limp. There is a vicious scar on her face, cutting across her cheek in a visible reminder of what happened, of what she did and how dangerous she is when she dreams of that day.

Bluebell had begged Frerin to line her mother’s room with stone, to stop her from touching the earth in her dreams and becoming dangerous to those less gifted than her. He had refused, at first, knowing how painful it would be to cut her off from the earth. Until the third night, the first time he had experienced Belladonna dreaming of that day, and he had spent a week in bed recovering his strength when she had ripped so much of it from him. Only Bluebell’s interference kept him alive and though he will never admit it to the daughter of his heart he often entertains the same thought that so many others have expressed. Perhaps it is time to end Belladonna’s torment.

Bluebell doesn’t speak to Lobelia Bracegirdle after she voiced the same idea. Bluebell doesn’t have many friends anymore and he longs for her to know that companionship and freedom. He curses himself for a fool and a coward for not marrying Belladonna the instant he realised she was his One, for allowing his sense of duty to his grandfather and his people to override the duty to his heart and the gift Mahal had given him. Had he truly fled his arranged marriage and cut himself off from his people Belladonna wouldn’t be suffering as she is now, Bluebell would be his daughter in blood, and they would all be happy.

*

T.A. 2941 The Great East Road

Frerin watches Bluebell as she rides next to Fili, her lips wide with a delighted smile as she beams at his oldest sister-son. She has adapted to riding quickly, not quickly enough for Thorin’s tastes of course but his brother knows nothing of hobbits and their connection to the land. Still, given how powerful her gift is Frerin had expected her to still be struggling even after several weeks on the road. To his delight, and her mother’s, she looks like she has been riding for most of her life after careful instruction from not just her family but from Fili as well. Frerin well remembers being told of Fili’s struggles with riding as a child and it is pleasing to see that it has been channelled into empathy for another.

Bluebell has settled into the Company well even though the long isolation of caring for her mother has left her easily overwhelmed by larger crowds. She is becoming more like the girl Frerin knew, however, in the way that she prefers the noise and boisterousness of Fili and Kili, although their age probably has something to do with that as well. She spends time with Ori too, when the boys are too loud, becoming a bridge between two rambunctious princes and the almost timid scribe. It should be surprising that she would seek out the chaos and mischief that the boys bring over the calming presence of Ori, Dori or Balin but it isn’t. Frerin has eyes and he uses them (unlike Thorin he prefers not to remain oblivious to these things), he has seen the way that Bluebell looks at Fili when she thinks no one is watching. He’s seen the way Fili looks at her too. They aren’t as subtle as they might like to think they are, not even on the night the Company appeared in Bag End and Frerin had wondered if he would need to sit as a guard outside her door. Not that she can’t take care of herself, just that bedding your companions is never a good starting point for a quest of this nature.

Watching Bluebell and Fili as the dwarf leans in to mutter to the hobbit brings something else to mind. A question he should have asked Thorin before now if only to protect the daughter of his heart from the same pain he and her mother experienced.

“How is Fili’s Stone Sense developing?” He asks his brother. Fili has the Durin blue eyes (Frerin and Kili seem to be the only ones who have missed out on them), but there is a pronounced ring of silver around them that, in the right circumstances, shines. Bifur, Bofur and Bombur, all Broadbeams, have it too but Fili’s is wider and brighter.

“Quickly,” Thorin replies with a glance back as his laughing sister-son. “Too quickly for one born under the sky who lives in a depleted settlement with no access to the Catacombs. It came on in earnest after you left.”

Fili would have been about the right age, Frerin thinks, unlike hobbits they aren’t born with their gifts already at the peak of their strength. They are born only with ability to see in the darkness of the mountain halls and a strong sense of direction in the winding tunnels of their homes. The rest comes in during their forties, a second coming of age between being trained and of a size to go into battle and their final passage into true adulthood when their craft has been mastered in their seventies. The strength of their Stone Sense often helps to determine what their craft will finally be. Frerin’s Stone Sense is abysmal, but then that is true for many of the Ereborian refugees who would have come into it under sky and on the road. Of the three royal siblings only Dis has any great talent and Thorin’s words seem to imply that Fili will be stronger than her.

“How strong is he?”

Strong,” his brother’s awe is tempered by concern. “I think by this point he could tell you the composition of the bedrock in the Shire.”

“Through all that earth?” Frerin exclaims in shock. That is impressive. Earth hinders their Stone Sense in much the same way that stone hinders the hobbit use of the Blessing. Had they been in Erebor Fili would be deep in the Catacombs with the stone warriors of Mahal even now. “Like Bluebell,” he muses without thinking, “she can work through stone even though no hobbit has been able to do that since the Wandering.”

Thorin arches a brow at him but Frerin’s attention turns back towards Bluebell and Fili. Thorin must know that the hobbits have some magic of their own, none of the Company have missed the way their eyes take on a glow after the sun sets, but the fact that Frerin doesn’t elaborate further must frustrate him even as it indicates the hobbits have trusted him with their secrets. Frerin’s concerns, however, are not with the secrets he has been given to hold and more with Bluebell. She smiles so much these days, more in the weeks since they joined this foolish quest than she has in years. Belladonna is also watching her daughter and Frerin can see her concern. He doesn’t blame her for it, he feels it too, especially now he knows how strong Fili’s Stone Sense is.

“I’m sure whoever he is supposed to marry will be happy he has such a deep connection to the stone,” Frerin comments. In Erebor a stone warrior would never marry and one so much a part of the stone would never sit on the throne. “Have you found him a bride yet?” He doesn’t bother to hide the bitter scorn in his voice. Thorin will know it for what it is.

“We have not,” Thorin says, “nor will we. If this quest fails, he will either die or spend the rest of his life as an exile. Erebor will never fall to Fili if we do not succeed. If we do take the Mountain, he will be wealthy beyond imagining and a hero in his own right. He will have his pick if he so desires or if he wants us to choose for him for the sake of an heir we will. The lesson may have come too late for you, nadad, but Fili will not experience the same.”

If the looks still being exchanged between Fili and Bluebell (who now has primroses woven through her hair) are anything to go by Frerin won’t be the only one relieved by this information.

“Your widow,” Thorin says softly, drawing Frerin’s attention away from the children. “You know our people won’t look kindly on your relationship.”

“Because she was married to another,” Frerin sighs. In truth this has been something he has known and feared the outcome of for years. As Belladonna has rightly pointed out, however, prioritising his people, both their needs and beliefs, over his own happiness has come between them before and left them with far too many regrets for it. They are both too old to live with more. “She’s my One, Thorin, and her people not only accept it, they encourage it.”

“And what of her One?” Thorin asks. “How can she cast aside her marriage so easily?”

“Bungo wasn’t her One,” Frerin replies after a glance at Belladonna. She is talking cheerfully with Dori, likely something to do with sewing or knitting, and oblivious to the conversation now taking place. “If he had been she would be dead, hobbits don’t survive the loss of their One as we do. Her illness after he passed was due to the manner of it, not the fact of it.” He rubs at his beard. “She wouldn’t have married him at all if not for the arrangement that Thror made and the hearts it broke. Our relationship will be accepted among our people or we will return to live the rest of our days with the hobbits when this is over. I’ll not lose her again.” He looks around and decides it is time to change the subject. “We cannot be that far from Rivendell, perhaps two, maybe three, days. The chance to resupply before we go into the mountains would be welcome and there’s a possibility Elrond could help us to find the secrets in that map.”

“I will not go to the elves,” Thorin snarls, “and I will thank you not to attempt to manipulate me on behalf of the wizard.”

“Elrond isn’t that bad for an elf,” Frerin says mildly.

Thorin’s answering glare says that the topic is not up for discussion and the younger brother lets it go. If Thorin is going to be stubborn about it, they still have a couple of days to work on him and if it comes to it he’ll take Belladonna and Bluebell and make a quick detour. He has wanted Elrond to examine Belladonna for years, they can always catch up and it isn’t likely they will get another opportunity any time soon. It’s something that he will wait to say, however, Thorin has made his mind up and it will take a great deal more than Frerin is willing to risk to persuade him to change it. He isn’t ready to start arguing with his brother after nearly forty years apart. He’ll let the wizard continue pushing for now, it’s probably the safer option anyway.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2903 The Shire

“Bungo, please be reasonable about this!” The sound of her mother’s exasperated voice pulls Bluebell from the book she has been struggling to read in the parlour. Her parents are in the kitchen and although Bluebell can’t see them through the blankets that have been nailed across the door (and the windows) to help keep the heat in, she can hear them well enough. Winter has already been far longer than it should have been, starting earlier and harsher than ever. Food and other supplies are low, and the Baggins family have taken to huddling in the parlour at night for warmth. The kitchen is the only other room in the smial that currently has a source of heat and the stove is only lit for the two meals a day that they have restricted themselves to. A restriction that her mother insisted on early on and that her father still objects to strenuously.

“You think I’m being unreasonable?” Her father snaps. “Belladonna, every time something happens the first thing you think of is writing to that bloody dwarf! We don’t need help. Especially not from him.”

“The Brandywine is frozen,” her mother replies. Bluebell sets her book aside and moves closer so that she can listen. “Wolves will be the least of our problems if it stays that way much longer. Something is coming, something terrible. The earth is asleep and it’s still screaming at me.”

“Yavanna’s tits!” Bluebell muffles a gasp at the snarled curse, a phrase she never thought to hear her staid father use. “You can’t possibly know that and I’m not discussing this with you again, I’m not having this anymore. I can’t compete against your past for the rest of my life and I’m tired of fighting it. I refuse to fight for your heart anymore when I don’t think I really had it in the first place. You want your dwarf? Fine. Go to him as soon as the thaw comes.”

“Bungo?” Her mother’s voice is as stunned and shattered as Bluebell’s heart. “You can’t- You don’t-“

“I can and I do. I release you of our vows,” her father’s voice is resigned, now, lacking the anger of his original declaration. “I should have done it years ago.”

The relationship between her parents has been tense and fractured for a while. Bluebell would have to be blind not to have seen it. This winter and the lack of food has brought it into sharp relief. The cracks that have always been there have become wider, especially since Uncle Frerin’s last visit nine years before. The rumours she’s been hearing all her life have some truth to them and Bluebell is furious at both of her parents. Furious with her mother for marrying her father in the first place and furious with her father for choosing now, of all times, to finally realise that Belladonna was never truly his.  Her world is collapsing around her. What her father is doing will utterly destroy her mother’s place in the Shire and materially damage Bluebell’s prospects for the future.

“I’m taking some food,” her father’s voice filters through and she realises that her mother is crying. “I’ll be staying with my brother and his wife until the thaw. After that you go to your dwarf.”

“Bungo, please,” her mother begs.

“No, Belladonna,” he’s firm. “You will leave, and you will not see my daughter again as long as I am alive to prevent it.”

Bluebell stifles a sob, it is the way of things and although the breakdown of a marriage is rare when it does happen the father keeps the home and the child. The mother is sent back to the home of her parents in disgrace.

Then her mother is in front of her and Bluebells falls into her arms with a broken cry. In that moment she hates them all. She hates her father for ripping her life out from under her. She hates her mother for not loving her father enough to forget about Frerin and she hates the dwarf for not telling his family that he was marrying the woman he loved regardless of the consequences. Her mother’s arms are not a comfort and she shoves away, running to her freezing bedroom and barricading herself inside. She burrows under as many blankets as she can find, then lets her heartbreak fill the room. Vaguely she hears the front door open and her mother pleading with her father not to leave. She presses the pillow tighter over her head so that she doesn’t have to hear her father finish reminding her mother that she was never really his. She’s starting to tingle, though, and her mother’s voice is getting louder and more frantic. Her feet itch and her arms ache and she finds herself drawn from her bed into the world outside. The door is still open and Bluebell can hear screaming as she runs out of it and down the garden path.

Her father’s blood stains the snow and his eyes stare, unseeing, at the sky. Bluebell feels her chest go tight as her own cries of anguish are torn from her throat. For a moment all it is all she can see and then her eyes turn down the path, expecting to find her mother in the same condition. She finds her mother, but Belladonna is surrounded by corpses and her eyes, normally a vibrant indigo, are nearly black. The final orc that must have been responsible for the attack collapses in front of her, soundless and unmoving. It takes little more than a flicker of will to touch the Blessing, to look upon her mother’s life light and that of the orc, to see the way that Belladonna is using her Blessing to rip the life out of the orc and how the shades of her light mixes and is nearly overwhelmed by the black that belongs to that of the massive creature.

Once the orc is dead her mother turns to her. Belladonna’s face is scrunched in a vicious snarl and Bluebell backs away, terrified. There is nothing of her mother in this creature. Belladonna means to kill her too, Bluebell realises, this is what a hobbit becomes when they abuse the Blessing and what her mother always warned her about. She skitters backwards, stumbling on the steps and waiting for that final, fatal, twist of her mother’s will. Then Belladonna’s foot makes contact with the cold pool of Bungo’s blood and the darkness drains out of her.

Her mother collapses at her feet and Bluebell can do nothing but scream.

*

T.A. 2941 The Trollshaws.

When hearing about her mother’s adventures, Bluebell muses as she watches Belladonna and Bombur prepare dinner, she had never heard about the long days where the only thing that happened was walking or riding. The misery of soaking clothes after days of rain with no shelter other than the sparsely leaf coated trees, too cool nights where the only choice is to huddle close to the nearest warm body regardless of the fact that no one has washed for a week or more and the resulting smell was becoming vaguely offensive to a sensible hobbit nose. No one spoke about the ache from riding or the debilitating nausea it causes hobbits until they become accustomed to it. No one said about the monotony of the same trail rations cooked every evening unless someone had been able to catch some fresh meat.

“A dull journey is the best sort,” her Adad explains when she complains to him. Ori has been commandeered by Dori, and Fili and Kili have been sent to watch the ponies. They agree with her, though. “The exciting parts are all well and good in stories, but they aren’t when they’re happening. Mostly they’re just terrifying and carry too much risk of friends dying.”

“Personally, I could use something to get my blood moving,” Dwalin grumbles and Frerin chuckles.

“I’m just as glad it’s been quiet so far,” Balin replies, “there’s plenty of time and distance for that to change yet.”

Dwalin grunts but Bluebell knows that the most likely time for trouble will be when they come to cross the Misty Mountains. That was always where her mother found trouble in her stories. She wishes she could see Rivendell but Thorin seems adamant that they won’t be going there. She has had to content herself with the thought that maybe they will go there on their way back to the Shire. If they go back to the Shire. Her mother is more alive here in the wild than she has been since the day that Bungo died. The orc memories trouble her less, even the few times that they’ve heard their calls from a distance at night. It’s all the evidence that Bluebell has ever needed that, perhaps, the Shire was never the best place for Belladonna.

Of course, she thinks as she happily leans against her Adad, the people who tell the stories of great adventures got one thing right. These dwarves are slowly becoming her closest friends. Weeks on the road together has pushed them all to get to know one another, although the friendliness of the group had been stilted at first (and she rather suspects that if not for the presence of Frerin it would have continued to be so). The hobbits are outsiders, tolerated because they will be of use and accepted because Frerin has made it very clear that Bluebell and her mother are the two most important beings in the world to him.

She’s closer to some, Fili, Kili and Ori, than others. Dwalin is intimidating no matter what Frerin says and Nori’s sharp eyes watch her with a kind of cool calculation that she finds unnerving. Oin and Gloin keep away from both hobbits and neither of the smaller creatures can hold a conversation with Bifur without someone to interpret. They need to do something about that axe, she thinks, she and her mother have spoken about it but neither of them knows how to broach the subject and they might not be able to do help much in any case. Oin certainly thinks it would be too dangerous to do anything about it and the damage could be permanent anyway with how long the axe has been there.

“Here, lass,” Bofur smiles kindly down at her holding two bowls, “take these to the lads, will you?” She does it without argument, concern for the missing wizard is starting to coil in her gut and the soles of her feet are tingling as she draws nearer to the ponies and her friends. She has felt this a handful of times in the past and it scares her. It never happens unless something bad is coming, some danger that she hasn’t seen yet.

Neither of the princes greet her when she calls to them, they merely stare at the ponies with perplexed frowns.

How did you manage to lose two ponies?” She demands when they finally explain. “What were you doing?”

The tingling in her soles is getting worse and the sight of trees that have been torn from the ground is not remotely reassuring. If the sensation is this strong in Bluebell her mother will be feeling it too. Doubtless Belladonna and Frerin, who knows to heed the warnings, will be with them shortly. The trail of destruction isn’t hard to follow and even though she knows it’s a monumentally bad idea she follows the two lads as they stumble through a reply that is a whole lot of nothing. Given what she has occasionally caught some of her cousins doing, quite by accident, she isn’t actually sure she wants to know the truth. She glares them silently instead and a good thing, too, because a troll stumps past moments later with two more of the ponies tucked under its arms.

“That’s it,” she snaps softly as they continue to follow it, “we’re telling Thorin.” The princes protest, Thorin is in a bad mood, this will just make it worse and they will bare the brunt of it. Her raised eyebrow is less than sympathetic. Physically they’re older and stronger than she is, and their lives have been more difficult in some respect than hers, but sometimes they behave like faunts. She’s fond of them both, and she ignores the little part of her brain that points out that she’s rather more than fond of one of them, but she isn’t going to let them avoid the fact that this is the result of them not paying attention.

“What are you three doing?” Her Adad’s voice startles all of them.

“These two geniuses lost four of the ponies,” Bluebell hisses, “they somehow managed to miss a troll strolling by the camp.” Frerin’s look is speculative and he glances down at Belladonna, who apparently wanted to see what had put her on edge.

“Alright,” Frerin sighs as they ease further in the direction that the troll went, now able to hear the rumbles of a conversation.

They follow the sound, veering from the path of destruction so that they are hidden by the undergrowth, and finally come across a camp. There are three trolls gathered around a fire, the ponies in a pen near the tree line which would probably give them enough cover to free the beasts if it could be managed without the trolls noticing the loss of their dinner.

“Fili, Kili, go back and tell Thorin what’s happening,” Frerin orders and Fili looks like he’s about to object. Bluebell hasn’t missed the way the older prince avoids interacting with his uncle where possible, it’s going to cause problems sooner or later. Kili just snags his brother’s sleeve and nods, helping himself to a bowl of stew that Bluebell had forgotten she was still carrying as he walks by.

“What’s your plan, love?” Belladonna asks, eyes taking on an indigo glow as she connects to the earth beneath her feet. “I’m not sure fourteen dwarves can handle three fully grown mountain trolls.”

“No,” he agrees, “but they are susceptible to daylight, remember?”

“Dawn is a long way off,” Belladonna points out.

“I don’t exactly want these three behind us,” Frerin replies. “Nor will Thorin. Once we take the ponies back, they’ll be after us. Honestly, I’m glad the boys weren’t there when the first two were taken. They’d probably already be in that pot if they had been and us none the wiser.”

“I saw a patch of wolfsbane not far back,” Bluebell offers. It will take a lot of it to poison a troll, but it might incapacitate them enough to stop them from following, possibly even enough to get them caught by the rising sun. The only downside would be the foul taste which could stop them from consuming enough to have any affect. Then the topic of squirrel dung seasoning comes up and Bluebell realises that the taste of it likely won’t be a problem.

“I’ll handle it,” Belladonna says as she pulls a pair of soft leather gloves from her pocket. She wears them while riding and they had intended on getting Bluebell a pair but hadn’t been able to find any small enough. “These will have to be burnt after,” she sighs, “but with a little encouragement I should be able to gather enough to hurt them. Bluebell, dear, will you handle the prayer?” Her daughter nods.

“You’ll need a boost to reach the pot,” Frerin points out, also pulling out his own gloves.

“Make it the clan prayer, sweetling,” Belladonna instructs, “just in case our other companions come blundering in.”

This is far more casual than Bluebell could ever have imagined such an encounter being. Her mother and Frerin are falling back on patterns and actions established by their many decades of travelling together. Their intimate understanding of one another is so obvious in that moment that by the time Bluebell has fully processed it her mother has already returned with a tied petticoat full of the flowers, leaves and roots of the plant in question. She nods to her daughter and Bluebell begins to whisper.

“Green Mother, hear our prayer. Let us defend ourselves from this danger to our clan. Let us move with swift, silent feet, unseen on this land.”

She has never done this for more than herself, when reciting the rhyme at her mother’s insistence, and so she’s surprised when a ripple of blue light sweeps over her mother and Adad to rest in their eyes. It’s an indigo aura that is lost in Belladonna, but it circles Frerin’s rich, brown irises eerily. Her mother smiles at her and that is all the encouragement that Bluebell needs to continue with her whispered chant.

The couple are quick, although still not quick enough for Bluebell’s tastes and they are already on their way back when Bluebell feels a hand fall on her shoulder and hears the muted whispers of the rest of the Company. She turns and presses a finger to her lips, lips that are still moving with the words of the rhyme, and she can see the faint indigo ring around their irises as clearly as they must see the bright shine of her own.

“What foul sorcery is this?” Thorin demands harshly.

Bluebell shakes her head as she continues her frantic whispering. She can’t stop, not now, not until her mother and Frerin are at her side. She dare not stop just in case a troll turns and notices them. There’s little point in trying to poison the creatures only to end up in the pot anyway.

“Thorin, stop,” Fili wrenches her from the other dwarf’s bruising grip. Her continuing whispers falter as she finds herself wrapped tightly in his arms and she stumbles over the words. For a horrible moment she fears the prayer will dissipate and she races through another recital, relieved to see the glow as strong as ever in the eyes of those watching them.

“It’s a hobbit thing, Uncle,” Kili continues. “Like Fili’s Stone Sense.” That sparks her interest, Frerin has mentioned the Stone Sense a few times but she had no idea that Fili carried this ancient power of his people in the same way that she does hers.

“Frerin mentioned something,” Thorin replies and takes a step back. “He hasn’t seen fit to elaborate.”

“Because it isn’t my secret to explain,” Frerin’s voice comes from behind her and Bluebell stops her chanting. The indigo fades from the eyes of those around them and she sags against Fili a little as a sudden wave of exhaustion hits her. His grip on her tightens, as though he’s afraid she will fall, and she should push him away, this isn’t proper, but she’s too tired. She snuggles closer instead, taking a moment to enjoy the warmth and strength of him.

“Perhaps it should be explained now,” Thorin snarls, his tone making it abundantly clear that he doesn’t trust the hobbit members of the party no matter who has vouched for them.

There is a moment of silence.

“I will not explain a secret gift from our Maker, not unless you deign to explain one from yours,” Belladonna replies firmly. She reaches to take her daughter from Fili, who still holds her as though shielding her from his uncle, and both are surprised when they protest the separation. “And not now. When this has been dealt with and we’ve all had some sleep, we can discuss it like rational adults.” Frerin makes a strangled noise behind her. Bluebell half expects Thorin to protest and can see from the way that his nephews and brother are watching him that they expect it as well.

Fortunately, the discussion is cut short by a howl of agony and a flood of the most vile stench Bluebell has ever encountered. Even the dwarves gag a little. Frerin disappears for a short time and when he returns he looks a little bit green, if a touch smug for it.

“We can get our ponies back now,” he smirks. “And I think we over did it, Kurdel.”

Chapter Text

T.A. 2871 Ered Luin

Thorin paces as he waits for his brother to emerge from his chambers. Frerin arrived late the night before, already weeks later than his promised return and this conversation cannot be put off any longer. They have been on borrowed time as it is and with this final demand Thorin has found his hands rather neatly tied. He only hopes that his brother will hear him out and place the blame where it belongs rather than lash out as he usually does when the subject of his arranged marriage comes up.

“I’m not staying long, nadad,” Frerin says when he finally appears and takes a seat at the table. He grabs a heel of bread and some honey, years of travelling with his mysterious Bella have given him some odd habits.

“I called you back out of more than a desire to make sure your face hasn’t grown any fouler,” Thorin grumbles. Trading insults with his brother is more appealing, and entertaining, than having to tell him that his time as a nameless traveller with all its freedom is over. It’s also less likely to get his nose broken.

“This is about Ghruna again,” Frerin says, pushing his food away. Thorin leans against the wall next to the door with his arms folded and stares at his brother, a glare that intimidates nearly everyone around him into listening. Unfortunately, of the two people in the world that this rarely works on one is sat in front of him with a matching glower.

“You know I would change the bargain made if I could,” Thorin replies, and he has tried.

Ghruna’s father has them over a barrel. He doesn’t want his daughter married to the heir to the throne of Erebor, the one who will eventually head off to attempt to reclaim it. He wants the second son, the spare as it were, because even if Thorin disappears off to the Lonely Mountain, even if he succeeds, Frerin will remain tied to Ered Luin. Ghruna will never have to make the dangerous trip East and all of her father’s wealth will remain in the Blue Mountains untouched by the plans of a mad man. He has even offered to attempt to repay the sum of money that was loaned as part of the bargain, and more besides in place of the troops given, but the sum had come to a figure that would take them several lifetimes to repay at their current rate of growth. Unless Frerin fulfils his responsibility as a Prince of Erebor (exile or not) all of the refugees of the mountain who have spent so many years rebuilding their lives will be turned out of Ered Luin.

“You’re asking me to turn my back on my One, Thorin,” Frerin snarls. Throin closes his eyes and sighs. That complicates things. “I didn’t come back because you summoned me, I came to get Amad’s beads to give her.”

“I’m sorry, nadad,” Thorin whispers. “I’m so sorry, you can’t.”

“Give me one good reason why,” Frerin’s hands are fists on the table, though he hasn’t stormed out, yet which is something. At any other time Thorin would admire this self-control.

“Because if the two of you aren’t courting in the next two years her father will demand repayment of every coin he gave our father and grandfather to help settle our people and try to retake Khazad-Dum, with interest.” Frerin regards him with hard, dark, eyes. “I have seen the sum, our people could never hope to repay it. We would be turned out into the wilds once more with nothing and nowhere to go.”

Frerin stares at him silently.

“I never should have come back,” he says finally, “I should have had Bella write to you and tell you I had died in the wilds. I should have known this would come up.”

“You would rather we grieve your loss?” Thorin has dealt with the pain of losing his grandfather, the ever-lessening hope of ever seeing his father again. He knows that Frerin has long since mourned both of them and finds it hard to believe that his brother would force him to go through that pain again.

“To be with my One? To marry where Mahal intended instead of where a gold addled old fool and his battle mad son decided I should? To be happy instead of sacrificed? Aye, I would have.” He puts his head in his hands. “Half of New Belegost saw me come in last night and so, it seems, I have little choice. I can’t put Dis through that again, I won’t put her boys through it.”

“I am sorry, Frerin,” Thorin says because there is nothing more that he can say. He knows well the pain of losing his One, he knows how it lingers in the heart and the soul.

“You don’t get to be fucking sorry!” Frerin hisses. “I’ll do my duty, but not until I’ve told Bella myself why we must part ways.”

Thorin shakes his head. “Can I trust you will return if I allow it? You will condemn our people if you disappear now, you know that.”

“I won’t disappear,” Frerin snaps, “but I won’t turn my back on her either. She deserves the truth and more.”

There is nothing to say to that.

*

T.A. 2941 The Trollshaws.

Thorin can honestly say that Frerin’s hobbits have proved surprisingly useful, and they are Frerin’s hobbits whether or not the family ties have been made official. Until his conversation with Frerin about the possibility of a marriage to Belladonna being accepted Thorin hadn’t made the connection between this hobbit and the woman his brother had travelled with so extensively. The hobbits he normally encounters are from Bree and they don’t seem like the travelling type.

Belladonna Baggins and her daughter are an anomaly in hobbit culture, potentially in more ways than one. The one that’s bothering him the most right now is the strange indigo light that had filled Bluebell’s eyes and flared over the limbs of every member of he Company. It had been immediately clear upon finding her that it had something to do with the hobbit girl. Thorin will admit, if only privately, that he doesn’t deal with finding out that big secrets are being kept from him all that well. Frerin had hinted at it, of course, and the hobbits haven’t been subtle about the glow of their eyes in the evenings.

If he lets himself think about it, Thorin can acknowledge that it is a little bit hypocritical to be upset about this development given all the secrets that his own people keep. He prefers not to think about it.

Gandalf returns, late as usual, just as the first rays of sunlight are spreading across the sky. The ponies have been freed, camp broken, and a sleepless night exchanged for a cold breakfast and preparations for an early start on the road. Frerin is keeping himself between the hobbits and the suspicious eyes of the rest of the Company in a manner that speaks volumes about how much he cares about them. Fili, Kili and Ori seem to have more understanding of it than the others, something which Balin is also noticeably displeased about, but it isn’t all that unusual for the young to trade secrets and show off. The two young dwarves have also taken up protective positions and that Frerin allows it is less of a surprise than the fact that Fili has attached himself to Bluebell’s side. Perhaps there was more to Frerin’s questions a few days ago than curiosity or bitterness at the lot life, and his family, dealt him.

“I knew their particular talents would prove useful,” Gandalf says, following Thorin’s gaze and misinterpreting it. “I had not, however, expected it to happen so soon.” He looks in the direction of the troll corpses that have petrified in the rising sun, something that the dwarves had lingered to make certain of. “Nasty business.”

“Indeed,” Thorin grumbles, “although I find myself less interested in how three trolls came to be in this place and more so in how the hobbits were so able to deal with it.”

“In time, Thorin,” Gandalf murmurs. “The other races must be permitted their secrets if you are to be allowed yours.” Thorin grunts. “Unusual, though, to see trolls this far from their ranges. They could not have made it here and back in one night.”

“There must be a cave,” Thorin realises. A cave means the potential for a troll hoard and all the treasures it might contain. “Fili, Bofur!”

The two have the strongest Stone Sense of the Company. After a moment Bofur shakes his head with a mutter that sounds like ‘too much earth’ but Fili’s face is scrunched in a slight frown and his Durin blue eyes have been replaced with shining mithril. He expects the little hobbit girl to have withdrawn but she’s watching Fili in fascination.

“This way,” his sister-son says after a moment and strides confidently through the trees. Kili walks on his left, grinning proudly as his brother’s display of talent, and Bluebell trots to keep up with them, her hand still clasped tightly in Fili’s.

That, Thorin thinks, could become a problem.

It doesn’t take long for Fili’s senses to be confirmed. The smell of the troll hoard reaches them before they find the entrance of the cave. It doesn’t surprise Thorin that the hobbits choose not to enter, for all their usefulness the night before they are still delicate creatures with soft sensibilities. Ultimately only Gandalf, Nori, Gloin and Bofur enter with Thorin, who has Dwalin at his back as an ever-present shadow.

The hoard is exactly what he expects it to be. Coins and jewels and bits of battered armour and swords that have rusted and decayed. The elvish swords are a surprise and one that he would cast aside if not for Gandalf’s remonstration and an honest appreciation for the skill of the thing even if he dislikes its creators. It also serves to remind him of the decision that lies before him with regards to Rivendell. A part of him, a very large part, wants to avoid the place. Even before Smaug Thorin never really liked elves. He has always found them arrogant and superior, and the less said about Thranduil’s actions the better. Gandalf’s insistence on going to Rivendell sits uneasily, he’s only willing to trust the wizard so far, but Frerin’s agreement is somehow worse. Before Azanulbizar Frerin had been as mistrustful of elves as Thorin, but in the years following his first disappearance into the wilds with his Belladonna Thorin noticed that opinion shift. Obviously, Belladonna had dragged his brother to Rivendell on more than one occasion and it reminds Thorin that there are still so many lingering unanswered questions.

“You should give it to Mama,” he hears Bluebell say to Gandalf, “she’s better with a sword than I am.”

The wizard has another blade in his hands, although this one would be little more than a knife to an elf, and he is offering it to the hobbit. That either of the hobbits have any weapons training at all had been a surprise the first few nights on the road. Now seeing them practice with Frerin has become normal and several other members of the Company join them most evenings. He has often heard his brother lament the fact that he had never made Bluebell a blade as he did Belladonna.

“Your mother has a sword, you need one of your own as well,” Gandalf tells her softly. Her answering glare reminds Thorin of his brother, a clear sign that Frerin has likely been as much of an influence on the girl as her parents. Still, she accepts the sword, then flounces over to Frerin who laughs and helps her attach the sheath to her belt.

Further contemplation of his brother and the odd little family he has gathered is cut off by, first, the arrival of a possibly insane brown robed wizard and then secondly the arrival of warg scouts. Thorin doesn’t miss the way that the hobbit’s faces pale, nor the mother’s choked sob as his brother pulls her into his arms. Even as Thorin is assuring Gandalf that none but his kin know of the quest he is absently aware of Bluebell talking to mother, telling her that this time it will need to be Belladonna who invokes the hiding because if this goes wrong Bluebell will need all of her strength to heal.

He hates all of these unanswered questions.

“I will draw them off,” the mad wizard declares.

“We can help,” Belladonna is still pale, but her voice is admirably firm in the face of her obvious fear. “We have claimed them as temporary clan and can hide them from sight with the Blessing.”

“It won’t mask your scent, Mistress Hobbit,” Radagast replies and even the stranger seems to know more than Thorin.

“It will give us a head start,” Bluebell says and the wizard nods. Thorin looks at the older hobbit, she doesn’t seem steady on her feet and her eyes have darkened from the indigo shade she has in common with her daughter to a worrying shade of midnight that seems to spread.

“Are you certain your mother can do this?” He demands.

“She has to,” Bluebell responds, and her face softens when she glances at her mother who is already starting to chant. “My father was killed by orcs and wargs in front of her.” She adds and it goes some way towards explaining the reaction. He nods and sees the same flicker of indigo fire spread over him as he had the night before. The others mutter uncomfortably but they obey the order to run when it is given, imminent danger more pressing than their need for answers.

So begins a less than merry chase as they avoid wargs and their orc riders and the crazy man who is supposed to be leading them away. Belladonna’s breathless chanting doesn’t let up, although she is so quiet that Thorin can’t make out the words. Frerin stays close to her, the hobbit is apparently so focused on her task that she is unable to defend herself if need be.

Getting caught was inevitable but Belladonna keeps up her chanting until it becomes clear that the wargs have their scent and keeping them hidden has become pointless. At least this way she is more able to use a sword but Thorin notices with dismay that at some point in all the commotion the wizard has vanished.

“He’s abandoned us,” Thorin snaps when someone else notices that the old man has disappeared.

“No,” Frerin shouts. “Look, Bella, make for the entrance!” He’s pointing towards a rocky outcrop that looks no different from so many others. The older hobbit obeys, her daughter following. Fili only pauses for a moment, his face taking on that slightly absent frown once more as he considers it, then he grabs Kili’s sleeve and mutters something before following the now vanished hobbits.

“This way, you fools,” the wizard orders as he pops up from behind a pile of rocks and they all make a break for it.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2873 Ered Luin

Dori doesn’t come to this particular tea room very often, perhaps once a month if he has managed to put a little aside and more than that if he has a particularly well-paying commission. Since he is based in the poorer section of town that doesn’t happen all that often. This week he has managed to find a few extra coins and while he knows he should put them to one side in case of disaster it has been a trying few days (Nori was arrested, again, and escaped, again, and the house turned upside down in search of him by the guard, again) and Dori needs to relax.

As chance has it, he arrives early enough to find a decent table and avoid the midday rush but late enough to avoid the early morning gaggles of giggling dwarrowdams and guffawing dwarves who like to gossip about the comings and goings of all and sundry. Dori likes gossip as much as the next dwarf, but he prefers that it be done quietly in the privacy of the home where the subject is less likely to overhear it. Today he will have some peace, and he has even brought a book with him to enjoy with his tea, a rare indulgence with Nori as a brother and Ori’s excited chatter when he returns from his day as an apprentice to Master Balin of all people. His peace is shattered rather abruptly by the door slamming open and a grim-faced guard taking up position there. It’s not a warm day, even for hot dwarf blood, and more than one patron turns to scowl at him. The scowls turn to stares at the sight of the dark haired dwarrowdam who sweeps in and Dori finds himself wishing he could have just a small amount of the fabric her dress is made out of as the brocade pattern is utterly exquisite. Her complex braids and vast number of beads made of gold and precious jewels marks her as one of the most wealthy people in the city (more wealthy than the displaced royal family, though that’s only to be expected) and from all he has heard this can only be the Lady Ghruna. His assumption is confirmed by the dwarf who stomps in after her, his clothes at least three seasons out of fashion and well worn. Frerin, son of Thrain and distant kinsman to Dori (so distant that it’s barely worth mentioning).

It's no secret, Dori thinks as he sips his tea and watches them over the top of his book, that the pair of them despise one another. He wonders why Fhrna allows it to continue, Dori has never seen a pair more poorly suited to one another (and he has the dubious pleasure of being Nori’s brother and so aware of how very unsuited he is for his One). Surely it would be in the best interests of the daughter, at least, to break the entire arrangement off. It isn’t like Fhrna has missed the gold he gave Thror to fund the attempt on Khazad-Dum, in truth with the rent he collects from so many of the occupants of New Belegost he has become even more wealthy than he was before the Ereborian refugees arrived.

Conversation at the table is stilted, Frerin obviously desirous of being anywhere but here and Ghruna, while a regular, obviously wishing for better company. It’s nothing like the great romance that their people hoped for when the betrothal and alliance was announced. Ghruna had been barely into her teens when the decision was made, she’s been raised to be the wife of a prince all her life, and now that Frerin is here it’s obvious that she’s disappointed with the prince he’s turned out to be. Frerin is wild, Dori thinks, untamed in many ways. He has spent so many years wandering in the wilds and the lands of Men that it often seemed more like a stranger had come to the city rather than a prince. In Ghruna’s place Dori would be disappointed as well.

“Bella would disagree,” he hears Frerin say. Dori is just close enough that he can hear the, mostly one sided, conversation between the two.

“Of course, she would,” Ghruna sneers. “Must it always be Bella? You never speak of your sister or her sons, never speak of your brother, always this Bella. Is my company so intolerable?”

Frerin doesn’t reply, but he doesn’t really have to. Just as all of the city knows that the betrothed couple despise one another they also know that Frerin travelled for decades with an unknown female. Rumour has it she was his One. Rumour also has it that they secretly married and Frerin is trying to find some way out of the mess he is in. Other rumours say that he never travelled with his Bella but has been raising children with her and still others imply that Bella doesn’t exist at all and is simply a figment of Frerin’s imagination. Madness runs in the line after all. Dori isn’t sure what he believes, and he isn’t about to make his mind up right now, he just wants a quiet morning and with the imminent fight he knows he won’t be getting that here. He makes a quick exit and is relieved that he is almost down the street when the sound of raised voices erupts from the tea room. Honestly, someone needs to make sure that marriage never happens.

*

T.A. 2941 Rivendell.

Dori could often be accused of being too protective of Ori and now, given they have just narrowly escaped a pack of orcs while Ori had only a slingshot for a weapon, he would be inclined to agree with them. Unlike Nori, who knew their mother, Ori has been raised almost entirely by Dori and it’s only reasonable that he would want to protect his youngest brother given how the other one has turned out. Ori doesn’t have many friends, has trouble interacting with a lot of dwarves his age although that isn’t for lack of trying. Robust as he is now, Ori had been a sickly child. Born too soon of a mother who was sickly herself and who should have been beyond the age of bearing, she lived long enough to see Ori weaned from her breast and then passed to Mahal’s halls after years of agony and heartbreak. Dori had kept him inside and safe, had barely even let the lad attend weapons training when he reached ten although it was mandatory, and now he wonders if he did Ori a disservice.

Ori is walking with the young princes and the hobbit lass, listening to the girl talk in a voice too low for the others to really hear about what they will find at the end of this path. She knows this place, Dori concludes, or more likely has heard of it from her mother and Frerin. Dori likes the hobbits, although he’s more wary of them now that they’ve shown they have some strange magic. They show an appreciation for the finer things that Dori enjoys and has had so little access to in his life. Belladonna is quite happy to sit for hours and discuss knitting and crochet, sewing and weaving techniques, and has even offered to teach him how to tat lace once this quest is over. There’s a haunted look to her sometimes, one that Dori remembers seeing in his mother’s eyes during some of her darker days. She lacks the liveliness of her daughter, but steadiness comes with age and, as Dori understands it, Bluebell is several years younger than Kili. Thoughts of Bluebell draws his gaze back to the group of four and he is alarmed to notice, as they step out into the afternoon sun, that Ori’s hand is covered in blood. He picks up his pace only to be halted by a hand on his arm.

“He’s fine,” Nori says softly. Dori has long stopped being startled by the sudden appearances of his younger brother. Nori comes and goes as he pleases, and Dori no longer allows him the entertainment of knowing he has been surprised. “He won’t welcome you dashing in and fussing over him, it’s just blood.”

“You don’t know that,” Dori hisses back. “He could be hurt.”

“You think the hobbit lass would let any of them be hurt and not speak up?” Nori asks. “She’s fond of all of them, for all Balin’s got our nadadith playing the part of spy.” Dori can hear the scorn in Nori’s voice.

“I’m surprised you noticed at all, given where your attention has been these last few weeks,” Dori comments. He shouldn’t jab at Nori over this, not really, but it’s hard to let go of old patterns of behaviour and he’s been at odds with Nori for more of his life than he has worked with him.

“It won’t work,” he says, looking at Dwalin who has marched ahead of the rest of them. “I don’t know what Mahal was thinking. We’re too different.”

“It could,” Dori offers. “This is a fresh start for you, and you have other talents that will be useful once we’re back in Erebor.”

“You don’t honestly believe that,” Nori snorts. “Not everything’s a fucking romance, Dori. Not everything works out in the end,” his gaze drifts to Frerin and Belladonna who are walking arm in arm, laughing merrily. “Don’t go pinning all your hopes on a happy ending, I outgrew that dream decades ago.” He strides off to walk with Bofur and Dori finds himself falling in near enough to hear Belladonna and Frerin as they talk.

“Do you think he’ll still have our room?” She asks.

“It’s been a long time since we visited, Lindir probably had the furniture burned and the room redecorated in celebration.”

“Lindir isn’t that bad,” Belladonna laughs. “And you always got on alright with the twins and Glorfindel when they were there.”

“They always had the best alcohol,” Frerin replies dryly, “and were always up for a bit of a fight when I got restless. We’ll be bunking with the rest of the Company this time. Probably for the best really, not every dwarf is as refined and open minded as yours truly.”

“Even that’s setting a low bar,” Belladonna snorts, then falls silent as they round a corner and catch their first glimpse of their destination.

Rivendell.

Thorin, naturally, is incensed. He hadn’t wanted to come here, even though their hands have been forced by circumstances completely out of their control. He stops to fling accusations at the wizard and so misses Frerin and Belladonna striding past him, obviously familiar with their route. They are joined by Bluebell, who grabs Ori by the hand and asks her mother to tell them about the library. They’ll have to keep an eye on him, if Ori gets into that library they might never get him out. He sees a flicker of something cross Fili’s face, although he stays by his uncle rather than following straight away. Dori doesn’t know Fili and Kili all that well, in fact it’s only really the Ur’s, Dwalin and Balin that he has any familiarity with at all, but he’s been thrilled to see them take Ori under their wing as much as Bluebell has. By the end of this his little brother will likely be a completely different dwarf.

They hurry to catch up with the other four members of their party and by the time they are all in the courtyard they’re all together again. Gandalf doesn’t even get to approach the elf who makes his way down a flight of flimsy looking stairs towards them. Belladonna darts forward happily, followed by Frerin who sighs in resignation.

“Lindir!” She cries gleefully.

“Belladonna Took,” the elf smiles at her and then looks at the rest of them. His face falls ever so slightly. “Frerin,” the dwarf in question tilts his head and it’s clear there is no love lost between the pair. “Your entourage has grown, Mistress Took.”

“Technically, they aren’t mine, we just happened to be travelling with them,” Belladonna shrugs. “We’ve come to see Lord Elrond, of course, although you and I must have tea together if there’s opportunity.” Frerin’s groan is audible.

“My Lord Elrond isn’t here, mellon nin,” the elf responds. “Although we expect him to return shortly.”

As if on cue a horn sounds and a number of horses trot into the courtyard. Dori loses sight of Frerin and Belladonna as the others jostle around him but the princes, Ori and Bluebell are quickly tugged into the centre of a protective ring over the sounds of their objections.

“Oh, for Yavanna’s sake!” He hears Belladonna shout when the horses stop and one of the elves dismounts to speak to Gandalf. “Really, My Lord?” She asks as the elves all move and he can see the newcomer go down on one knee to greet her.

“Belladonna,” he says fondly. “It has been too long, my dear.” There is a note of sorrow in his voice. “Why did you not come before?” Belladonna touches her scarred cheek.

“I didn’t think I could,” she smiles sadly. “I’m sorry about all the orcs that followed us here,” she adds. “We were trying to lose them.”

“I’m sure you were,” Dori doesn’t like the amused gleam in the ancient eyes that turn upon them. “Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror,” he says then. “You seem to have rather a fondness for that particular line, Belladonna.”

“You know how I like to collect things,” she shrugs.

“Indeed,” an eyebrow arches. “Well, since you’re here I believe a hot meal, a comfortable bed and a warm bath are in order.”

That, Dori thinks, sounds wonderful.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2806 Rivendell

Hobbit maid and dwarf prince are both soaked to the skin when they finally cross the wide and, oh so, high stone bridge into Rivendell. The light is fading, although the thick clouds overhead have obscured it for most of the afternoon anyway, and even though it is barely evening it already has the appearance of early night. The pair have been wandering together for seven years, wintering in whatever settlement they happen to be near at the time and making a living from Frerin’s smithing and Belladonna’s more mundane healing knowledge.

The subject of Rivendell has come up a number of times and is always a source of contention between them. Frerin maintains the elves will turn them away without a care or thought. Belladonna argues that the hospitality of Lord Elrond is legendary even in the Shire and he would welcome them, even if only for a brief respite. Truth be told, she wants to look at the library and learn more of the history of her world and of the healing techniques she could use that wouldn’t require her to draw on the Lady’s Blessing. She doesn’t want to have to wait another three years just to have the chance to see the place and that’s only if Frerin decides to stick to the original plan and return to Ered Luin. Pledging ten years of your life to the protection of another just because they saved you is a little much in her opinion. She only did as Yavanna instructed. If she had known at the time of his offer the dwarf would turn out to be so secretive and suspicious and protective she would have gone back to the Shire and spent the next decade going slowly mad out of sheer boredom.

Next time, if there is one, she will do exactly that.

As it is, for all his irritating qualities she’s grown quite fond of Frerin and enjoys having the company. He grumbles none too subtly while they wait to see if the Lord of the Last Homely House will welcome them and she elbows him in the ribs for it, for all the good it does since he’s nearly solid muscle. She can’t do much more, isn’t even all that sure she could speak if expected to, she’s too busy trying not to vibrate right out of her skin at the hum of elvish magic that has seeped so deeply into the earth around her that it seems to sing.

*

T.A.2941 Rivendell

“Well, that could have gone worse,” Frerin says to her as they stride from the hall where a company of dwarves has managed to scandalise several elves, annoy Elrond on a level his twin sons would probably be quite envious of, entertain both Frerin and Gandalf, and embarrass Bluebell.

Not bad for only a half hour of poor behaviour.

Belladonna has long resigned herself to the fact that if one is to have dealings with dwarves, one must also accept that they will react to anything elvish with almost childish hostility. Belladonna can hardly expect more from the Company of Thorin Oakenshield, even if she had hoped he would reign them in rather than encourage them. It had taken three visits here for Frerin to be simply civil to Elrond and many more for any friendships to grow. She settles for a hum of agreement, there is still time for them all to be thrown out (although Elrond might be persuaded to let Frerin, Belladonna and Bluebell stay for a few days).

“Perhaps we should have dragged your brother around with us a few times,” she muses and, although she obviously isn’t serious, Frerin shudders.

“He’s going to want those answers.” The change of subject isn’t unexpected. “How much will you share with him?”

“The necessary,” she says with a sigh. “I doubt we’ll get many more answers from him to our questions.”

“But that’s why you have me, atamanel,” he points out with a smirk. “I will always tell you anything you wish to know should you but ask.”

“At the moment I have no wish to know anything,” she yawns, “I only wish to go to our rooms and rest.” That Frerin agrees with.

The meeting, if it can be called that, happens a little after sunset. Everyone has rested and eaten, cuts and bruises have been tended to and filthy clothes exchanged for clean. For the most part the mood is light and easy, for all they are in an elven hall, and Bluebell seems to have forgiven her friends enough to sit among them rather than with her mother. There is an undercurrent to it all, however, that is difficult to miss. Gloin, Oin and Dwalin, specifically, are more on edge as they look at Bluebell and Fili. The pair are sat with Kili and Ori (who is rubbing pensively at one arm in a manner that makes Belladonna suspect her daughter has been sharing more secrets), but they aren’t interacting with them as they usually would. There are no smiles, no laughter, no rumble of dwarf voices mixing with Bluebell’s higher pitch. Their eyes shine in the early darkness, clear even in the lamplight, and their expressions are distant and distracted. Belladonna knows hers will be as well, just as she can see a wide ring of mithril around Bofur’s eyes and flecks of it in some of the others. She probably should have mentioned the possibility of this reaction before now.

“It’s the land around us,” she says with a gesture to Bluebell and Fili. “The elves have been here with their magics for so long that it has seeped into the stones and earth. It sings with our Blessing and, apparently, with your Stone Sense too.” She sits on the edge of a chaise that has been dragged onto the balcony they all occupy, most of her companions are settled on the floor but Frerin lounges next to her and Bluebell is close at hand.

“You’ve been here before,” Dwalin glares.

“Belladonna used to drag me here quite regularly,” Frerin tells him, pulling her back to rest against his chest and she’s grateful for it.

They have been travelling together for a little over a month and Dwalin is still distrustful of her and her daughter. Events with the trolls won’t have helped matters overly. Both races are secretive, and although she understands the why of it their habit of keeping so many of the differences between them close to their chests isn’t helpful. She had learnt that in her first few years travelling with Frerin and even then it caused them constant problems right up until the day they parted ways and she married Bungo.

“I believe we were promised answers,” Balin says, his tone is reasonable, but his bearing makes it clear that he would rather avoid an argument. Given the two subjects at hand it is almost inevitable that heated words will be traded.

“I offered an exchange of information,” Belladonna replies primly.

Balin glances at Thorin, who is slightly removed from the group with his eyes on Fili. He is ill at ease here, as all the dwarves are. Except Frerin. His obvious relaxation hasn’t helped in the slightest, probably because he has been gone for so long that they no longer know what to make of him.  Thorin spares his brother a glance before nodding in agreement to the exchange. Belladonna leans forward, just enough so that she can touch Bluebell’s arm and the girl startles as it pulls her away from the song of the valley. Fili also flinches when his brother does the same, but the shine of their eyes doesn’t fade. It won’t, Belladonna knows, until they leave Rivendell. With luck the pair will have adapted by morning. She has always found that a night of sleep helps it to fade into the background in the same way the song of the Shire (which is faint but there to those who listen) always does after a long trip away.

Belladonna starts by explaining their actions the night before, that the prayers of hiding are only one aspect of the Blessing bestowed on them in varying strengths by Yavanna. There’s three ways of doing it, for an individual, a pair or a clan. The tokens she had insisted every member of the Company keep close to their skin are not some obscure hobbit good luck charm as she had told them. They are a symbol that, temporarily, the Company have become hers and Bluebell’s clan and are under their protection.

“In the Wandering years there was probably as many of twenty of the Lady’s clerics protecting hundreds of hobbits. Some of the tokens still survive in Brandyhall and Tookborough,” she shrugs. “It’s nothing to concern yourselves about, we aren’t warriors and we had to have some way of surviving our migration from our original homeland to the Shire.”

“What else can you do?” Nori asks, his eyes are narrowed, and he glances at Ori who has remained suspiciously silent. It makes Belladonna wonder how much her daughter has told her young friends.

“We can heal,” Bluebell pipes up with a slightly guilty glance at her mother. “At least, I can. Mama used to be able to, but Papa died and some things happened and she can’t anymore.” Belladonna carefully keeps her face neutral, better that the others know she can’t perform any healing. “We can encourage things to grow, usually faster and more potently than if left to nature. It’s one of the things we do most often and takes the least effort unless it’s winter. A small amount of precognition, Mama’s better at that than me, we can enhance our sight, hearing and warm our bodies for a short time. And, if we choose, we can see the life lights of those around us.”

“Life light?” Fili speaks for the first time that evening and the strain in his voice is clear. Elf magic is closer to the Blessing than the Stone Sense of the dwarves and she doubts he has ever felt anything like it.

“Yes,” Belladonna takes over, more familiar with subject than her daughter. “Even orcs have one,” she shudders. “It’s like a glow around you. Elves glitter, hobbits are usually green, and dwarves are like the bright glow of a hot forge. It can tell us a lot about a person when we first meet them. If you could see ours, you’d see that we have the indigo light of the Blessing threaded through it. Yours confused me when I first saw it, Fili,” she continues. “I’ve never seen so much silver, it almost overwhelms the rest of it.”

She doesn’t mention the touches of green and indigo that dance through it like vines, something she has only ever seen in Frerin in the past. Nor does she bring up the raw edges that, even now, are reaching for the edges of Bluebell’s. Her life light is nearly all indigo, with blooms of silver, orange and green spiralling through it. It had been terrifying to see at her birth.

“What about the Stone Sense?” Bluebell asks when no one else seems inclined to speak. They all trade glances.

“If no one else answers, I will,” Frerin rumbles. “The Blessing isn’t spoken of outside the Shire. Can you imagine what might happen to the hobbits if the world found out about their ability to make things grow? Or to heal? If not for Belladonna I would have died at Azanulbizar. Had Thror known of the hobbit’s talents I have no doubt he would have captured as many as he could and dragged them along with us. Belladonna is trusting you with a great deal and we would do well to repay it.”

“It’s isn’t like your Blessing,” Fili, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the one to speak. “We can’t heal with it or anything like that,” he casts a reproachful glance at Kili who looks poised to say something. The younger, in a rare display of wisdom, subsides. “We can feel the stone, what it’s made of and all the stories it holds. The stone remembers everything that has happened and if you know what to listen for it can tell you, it’s easy to lose yourself in it and drift too deep if you aren’t careful. We can’t lose our way underground and, if we have it strongly enough, we can use it to guide us above as well.”

“Some of us,” Bofur adds, “can find specific deposits or at least tell if a new tunnel is worth opening. We can feel all the cracks and flaws, we’re the first to know if an area is safe and we can take strength from it far greater than we would have normally. We see pretty well in the dark too, but that’s just a dwarf thing.”

“There are other stories,” Balin adds, “about dwarves with such a strong connection to the stone that they become it and it moves as they wish it. Or they can call any shape or form from it that they desire without the need to use tools.”

“Tales for dwarflings. Algirk Stonesinger and the throne of Erebor is a good story but that’s all it is,” Gloin scoffs, but Belladonna sees the way that Balin’s eyes turn upon Fili.

“I used to think so,” he says. Then he stands. “Elf bed or no, I’ll not turn my nose up at a chance to sleep without a tree root in my back.”

The fire has dwindled as they have talked, leaving the balcony lit by only two small lamps and the pale glow of the moon.

“Walk you to your room?” Fili asks Bluebell and offers a hand to help her up. Belladonna exchanges a long look with Frerin. He had better be right, she will be very unhappy if her daughter’s story takes a similar turn to hers.

As it is she hears Bluebell gasp when she takes the offered hand just as she feels the earth seem to lurch beneath her. The song shifts and, since she is still looking right at him, she sees a swirl of indigo in Fili’s burning mithril eyes as the melody around her becomes a soaring harmony. From the look on Kili’s face the opposite is true of Bluebell’s eyes and in the corner of her eye she notices Bofur straighten and shift. The two tear their hands apart, staring at one another and Belladonna knows this can go one of two ways. She’s dismayed when Bluebell wraps her arms around herself and darts away.

Belladonna doesn’t wait for Frerin, she hurries after her daughter.

Chapter Text

T.A.2941 Rivendell

In a study high within the soaring halls of Imladris the elf lord takes a sharp breath and turns to his companion. For only a moment the familiar, lilting songs of earth and stone had merged from two separate, yet complimentary, tunes into one glorious harmony.

“Mithrandir, what have you done?” He demands.

“I was right, then,” the wizard sighs. There is no joy in it, however, no pleasure in having been proved correct. There is just sorrow.

“You intend to go through with it?” He asks. “You will take them to the mountain? They are children!”

“The sickness in that mountain spreads,” Gandalf sighs. “Thror was a child when the Arkenstone, the heart, was rediscovered. It called the dragon, I am sure of it. It will take both stone and earth to repair the damage that has been done, and to keep it safe. Just as it always has. It must be done, before the sickness spreads too much further.”

“There is time yet.”

“If circumstances were otherwise, I would agree,” the wizard looks down at his interlocked fingers. “my instincts tell me that it must be now. Thorin and his heirs are being hunted, Radagast brings news of dark things gathering to the east of the Woodland Realm. Thranduil draws ever further within his boarders and the dragon slumbers under the mountain. We must deal with this now, kill him before he wakes or is convinced to do the dark work of others. If that stone leaves the mountain, or Valar forbid, is damaged by Smaug this will all have been for naught.” He puts his head in his hands. “And I cannot tell them any of this. If I were to prepare them the choice would never be accepted.”

They lapse into regretful silence until Gandalf rises to seek his bed. Elrond does the same, although his night is restless for the first time in decades and filled with visions of a future that he cannot prevent.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2875 Ered Luin

“Uncle!” Kili calls as he bursts into Thorin’s office.

Thorin and Frerin are both in there, their heads bent over some piece of parchment and their expressions serious as they talk. They both look up as he enters, Thorin frowning and Frerin with a sternness that Kili isn’t used to seeing on his face.

“What have I told you about coming in without knocking?” Thorin asks and Kili’s face falls.

“I’m sorry, Uncle,” he replies, foot scuffing at the floor. Thorin sighs and Kili knows that he is about to receive another lecture in proper behaviour.

“Wait a moment, nadad,” Frerin says, “I’m sure it’s important or Kili wouldn’t have interrupted like he did.” He fixes his dark eyes on the young prince and Kili sees the twinkle there, Frerin has remembered what day it is.

“I just,” he hesitates. “I just wanted to tell you what my chosen weapon is.” Thorin’s glare eases.

“Come, kurkarukê,” he says. “Tell us this important news.”

Kili goes to the desk with a bright grin. Once Thorin might have lifted him and set the boy upon his knee to listen to him. Now, Kili has a chosen weapon and Thorin treats him as one might a warrior, letting him stand before him to speak instead of as a child. Fili still treats him like a baby but Frerin and Thorin know better than his big brother.

“I’ve chosen the bow,” he grins.

There is a moment of silence and something unidentifiable passes over Thorin’s face at the words. Frerin, however, smiles and claps him on the shoulder hard enough to make Kili stumble to the side a little bit. Kili waits for something from Thorin, some word of pride or even just acknowledgement but his dark-haired uncle remains silent.

“I see,” he says finally, “you should tell your mother.” Kili’s heart drops into his boots. He just wants to make his uncles proud of him.

“That’s all you have to say?” Frerin asks. He stands and comes to Kili’s side, his hand gentle on the boy’s shoulder as he stares at his brother. “I will return shortly, one of us should take Kili home.”

Thorin waves a dismissive hand and the grip on Kili’s shoulder tightens. Kili feels tears gathering in his eyes at his uncle’s dismissal and follows silently when Frerin leads him from the office with a frustrated sigh. Thorin’s disappointment burns hot and bright in his chest, he had done exactly as Thorin had instructed and chosen the weapon that drew him in. Frerin had told him that the stone would sing when he touched that which he would be most proficient with and it had. The stone had sung as soon as Kili’s fingers had touched the bow and he had been proud. The bow had been his father’s weapon and he has always longed to prove that he has something of his father in him. He certainly doesn’t have Vili’s looks, which Fili got the entire share of, but he should have known how Thorin would react when he heard Dwalin muttering about elf weapons under his breath.

“Uncle’s angry with me,” Kili says softly, hating the teary sound in his voice.

“Thorin isn’t angry,” Frerin disagrees. “He’s just a little bit too set in his ways sometimes, he’s a swordsman but he can use a bow as well as any of us.”

“But it isn’t the weapon he’s chosen,” Kili argues. “He’s upset because I chose the bow.”

“So did your father,” Frerin replies. “I’ve never seen another dwarf with the skill Vili had. Your mother will be pleased, kurkarukê, and Thorin will get his head around it eventually.”

“I wanted him to be proud,” Kili sulks. “You’re always proud of us, but Thorin never is.” They stop.

“Listen to me, Kili,” Frerin crouches in front of him. “Thorin is always proud of you. You and Fili are his greatest joy, even if he doesn’t say it very much. He’s never been good at saying or showing what he feels and even though you’re a prince you won’t always hear what you want to hear. He thinks he needs to prepare you for that.” Kili pulls a face at him. “He’ll come around,” Frerin promises, “and if he doesn’t do it quickly enough your Amad will smack him with her spoon until he does.”

*

T.A. 2941 Rivendell

Kili lounges in the sun on one of the multitude of stone benches that can be found around Rivendell. The Last Homely House has been on his list of places to visit since Frerin told him about it as a child and now that he’s here he finds himself slightly disappointed. It’s pretty enough, he supposes, in that way of things that appear to have grown in place rather than constructed of good stone. Even what stone the elves have used seems thin and unsuited for the task it has been used for. He knows that isn’t the case, Rivendell has been here for centuries, but it lacks the solidity he’s accustomed to. Even the hobbit house seemed better constructed than this, but that’s probably because it was under the ground as is more proper.

He opens one eye to look at Fili who is on the ground next to him staring at nothing. He’s better than he was the night before, sleep has apparently helped him to become accustomed to the strangeness of the stone in this place, but it’s eerie to see his blue eyes completely lost to the burning mithril of his Stone Sense. Fili keeps such tight control of his ability these days, ever since they nearly lost him to the mountains when he was forty-nine and pushed too far, to have it so evident now must be frustrating.

Kili wonders if that’s why Bluebell has been avoiding them this morning, not that it isn’t nice to have some time just with Fili. He likes Bluebell and Ori, but he hasn’t had much time alone with his brother since the Shire. In Bree they had other things to talk about and Thorin usually avoids putting them on watch of any sort together because they tend to get distracted horsing around or planning new tricks to play. Which hadn’t been the case when they lost two of the ponies, Kili had been too busy trying to get Fili to talk about his problems with Frerin. Kili hates trying to get Fili to talk about the things going on in his head, but if he doesn’t his older brother lets things fester until he’s brooding almost as much as Thorin does and there’s only room for one grumpy dwarf in their family.

“So, Bluebell,” Kili says casually. That’s something else he needs to discuss with his brother.

“What about her?” Fili asks after first checking for the arrival of their little hobbit friend.

“She’s quite pretty,” Kili mutters. “You know, in a sort of beardless elvish kind of way.”

“There’s nothing elf-like about her,” Fili argues. Kili snorts.

“You’ve seen her ears,” he replies. “Almost as pointy and delicate as any elf’s, and you like her.” Fili doesn’t reply and Kili frowns. Obviously, his brother is going to be difficult today. “But if you’re not interested,” he continues, “I wouldn’t mind having a go myself, if you haven’t already.”

“Leave it alone, Kee,” Fili warns.

“It’s going to be a long journey,” Kili continues blithely, “and this is the perfect place, since we’re stuck here for a few days and all. Those beds they’ve given us are huge.” He grins at Fili who is glaring at him with murderous intent. His brother is so easy, he thinks gleefully.

“Don’t even think it,” Fili snarls. “Bluebell isn’t-”

“I’m just saying, if you aren’t interested back off and let the rest of us have a go,” Kili interrupts with a smirk.

In hindsight, he should have expected the fist. Fili is very protective of Bluebell even if he won’t admit it. She’s easy to be protective of really and she’s become a very good friend, if anyone else were talking about her like this Kili would probably join his brother in giving them a beating. Not for the same reasons but Fili doesn’t seem to have noticed that just yet. Kili ignores that line of thought as he tussles with his brother. It’s familiar, as frustrating as his Amad and Thorin find it, and it usually serves a purpose, even if that purpose is trying to convince Fili to get his head out of his ass.

Kili has been doing this since they were young, made aware of the importance of it by watching Frerin and Thorin. Fili and Thorin both brood and Kili learnt young that sometimes it’s the job of the little brother to help the older. He has seen first hand how Thorin has suffered without having Frerin around to goad him into discussing whatever bothers him. Their Amad does it as well, of course, but Frerin always seemed to be better at it, better at getting under Thorin’s skin because they were so often at odds with each other over one thing or another.

“Leave her alone,” Fili says once he’s pinned Kili to the ground. “Understand me, you leave her alone. She isn’t some plaything for you to discard when you get bored.”

“When have I ever done that?” Kili asks, offended. He’s never taken any serious bed mates, but nor has Fili, and the end of any such arrangements has always been a mutual agreement. “You know me better than that, nadad.”

“I know,” Fili deflates a little and pulls away. “It’s just hearing you talk about her like that- she deserves better than that.”

“I know,” Kili agrees, “and I’d hit anyone who hurt her the same as you would.” Fili narrows his eyes at him. Kili has gotten what he needed from the discussion and he suspects Fili has realised it.

“It isn’t what you think,” he warns.

“Of course not,” Kili smirks.

“Uncle wouldn’t allow it,” Fili continues. Kili doesn’t dignify that with a response, they both know what Thorin’s stance on that is. “And Frerin wouldn’t either.”

“I don’t think we have to worry about Frerin,” Kili shakes his head. “It’s Belladonna we need to look out for.” She has impressive aim with her little knives, Kili wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of her.

“No,” Fili disagrees, “I think we’re doing Bluebell as disservice, she can take care of herself.”

That she can, Kili thinks, and it’s a good thing that Fili can recognise it. Now if only his brother could accept the rest of it. Kili doesn’t like the thought of the hobbits going back to the Shire once this is over. For one, he can’t imagine Erebor without all of the Company there and for another he knows that if Belladonna leaves Frerin will go with her. Kili isn’t blind, he knows Frerin will go wherever his hobbit woman is and Bluebell will follow her mother, or Belladonna will follow Bluebell. Either way, if he wants Frerin to stay in Erebor, and their Amad will be over joyed to have her brother back (once she’s stopped trying to string him up by the stones for vanishing on them), he needs to keep the hobbits in Erebor. That means convincing Bluebell to stay and Kili rather suspects that will rely rather heavily on Fili.

Just once Kili would like something to be simple.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2799 Azanulbizar

This isn’t the first time that Bifur has faced orcs. If he survives it won’t be the last either. He grips his spear tightly amid the jostling bodies of his people, his voice raised as loudly as theirs in battle chants that creates a deafening cacophony. In the privacy of his own mind he can admit that he is terrified, it’s one thing to face a raiding party and another entirely to march into battle. He isn’t a War Master or even a tactician, he has no idea what plans have been made. He goes where he is told, stands where he is told and runs, still screaming war cries, when the order comes. That is the way of the common soldier, charging headlong into a mass of orcs that stream from deep within the mountain because that is the order.

He very quickly realises that this has all gone horribly wrong. When Thror and his son were gathering this army they said it would be easy to clear out the infestation, that the orc numbers could never be as high as others believe. That even the most poorly trained dwarf, even their youngest battle-ready warrior, is worth a dozen orcs. Which is all good in theory, but in practice, when they are clearly outnumbered, being worth a dozen orcs is worthless if that number has you alone and surrounded. It only takes one lucky one after all.

He quickly looses track of the others he was close to, ends up fighting among complete strangers watching the back of a young dwarf who must be in his twenties for how short his beard is and how wide his eyes have become. He turns his back on the young one for a second and when Bifur looks around again, he is staring at the sky with those same wide, dead, eyes and his torso cut clean in half. Bifur only avoids the same fate due to the flashing duel blades of another young dwarf, this one still too young for a full beard.

There are too many young, untested, warriors here Bifur realises, and too many old ones to top it off. Where are the ones like him? The warriors who have seen battle and are in their prime, at the peak of their fitness before the rigours of old age start to catch up with them. It makes him wonder if, perhaps, Thror has been set up to fail. There are whispers that he is mad and, in this moment, Bifur can well believe them. Only a madman tries to drive hoards of orcs out of a stronghold with an army made up of children and old warriors.

He’s so distracted he doesn’t see the axe that becomes embedded in his skull, even as he slaughters its wielder before he falls.

*

T.A. 2941 Rivendell.

Bifur’s injury hasn’t made him stupid. Oh, certainly, he was never the brightest diamond, but he still had wits enough then and he has them now. It’s his ability to speak, for the most part, that has been scrambled, not his ability to think or understand. True, he has his moments where he isn’t completely aware of reality, sometimes his head hurts so fiercely he needs to find a quiet place, and he much prefers a salad over a piece of bacon a lot of the time, but he isn’t completely witless.

Much like Bombur, who is often overlooked because of his soft voice and considerable girth, Bifur is regularly forgotten about. Even in a small group such as this, and with Bofur to translate should anyone get lost, he is more often than not left to his own devices. It has its uses, being so overlooked, it’s how he manages to overhear their host arguing with the wizard about the possible insanity that waits in the corners of Thorin’s mind for the future. It’s why he gets to see Kili sneaking into the armoury to test an elvish bow and see the surprise on his face when he finds two that are remarkably similar to his own. Bifur will eat his axe if this isn’t the place Frerin obtained the young prince’s weapon all those years ago.

He also happens to be present when a pair of newly arrived twin elves come across Frerin and his hobbit wife (if she isn’t Bifur’s wits have failed more than he thought) and set about quite the joyful reunion. One that draws attention from all corners and leaves their host with his head in his hand muttering a prayer to the Valar for greater patience. He sees Fili scowl at them as they make a fuss over Bluebell, paying her compliments and giving her as much attention as they can purely because she’s the daughter of an old friend. He also notices their glee when the prince storms off with a jealous huff and Bluebell’s dismay at the same.

It also, unfortunately, means that he happens to be present when Thorin and Frerin finally come to blows over the younger’s disappearance. Everyone in the mountains knows about Frerin vanishing. Even now there’s a large reward promised for information that would lead to his recovery, dead or alive. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Thorin waits until they are somewhere that they might find a measure of privacy for the discussion. Bifur has come to realise that Thorin likes to maintain the privacy of his family as much as possible. He would leave, if he thought he could manage it without being noticed. Unfortunately, the hedge he is sitting behind was chosen simply because he wanted a moment of quiet away from the noise of his kin to ease the throbbing in his head. He’s isolated, unseen, and boxed in.

“Yes!” He hears Frerin shout. “I left. What did you expect me to do?”

“You could have told me!” Thorin snaps. “Do you have any idea what it did to us? What it did to Dis? Or the boys? Fili idolised you!”

“I know,” is the reply. “I know. I didn’t know what I was going to find, and you would have tried to talk me out of it. You know you would because the only way I would have come back was if I got there to find Belladonna had passed and Bluebell agreed to come with me. The situation was too delicate.”

“’Too delicate’? She was a grieving widow!”

“There was far more to it than that! The Belladonna you know now is not the one I found in that smial. What happened the day her husband died broke her mind. It was years before she would so much as say my name or her daughter’s. How do you think she would have reacted if you had appeared? Or Dis? She’s had years to recover and Dwalin’s arrival left her terrified!”

“You abandoned us!” Thorin bellows, obviously finally coming to the crux of the matter. “For a woman who turned her back on you and married another!”

Bifur shifts quietly, Frerin has always been spoken of as flighty. It seems a reasonable assessment of a prince who was apparently incapable of staying in one place for so long. He spent nearly three decades with his family before his final disappearance, long enough for people to assume he had started to change and settle down. A short enough time, however, for it to come as no real surprise when he eventually packed up and left again. By contrast Thorin has always been as steady and unmoving as the mountains, although the cracks and weaknesses are there if unseen. Now it would seem that Frerin’s travelling was less about his unreliability and more about who was relying on him.

None of that was her fault!” Frerin cries. “None of it. Until you cornered me, I had never spoken of Ghruna or my betrothal. Bella and I were in love and the longer I left it, when I realised that she was my One, the harder it became to tell her. I betrayed her,” Thorin makes a disbelieving noise. “I did and she turned to Bungo Baggins because he offered her everything my circumstances had ripped away from her. All the happiness that you and I, and Thrain and Thror, had taken away from her. I couldn’t risk it happening again. I got a second chance and you expect me to believe that you would have let me take it?” There is the sound of a fist connecting with flesh. Bifur had wondered how long it would take them to come to blows over it. “It was unforgivable,” Frerin’s voice is slightly muffled, “both after Azanulbizar and forty years ago. I expect that Dis will beat me bloody herself the next time I see her, and I know I’ve lost Fili’s respect. Unless things have changed more than I thought, I’ve lost Kili’s too as a result. I don’t expect them to forgive me, I don’t expect it of any of you, but I’m not going to apologise for following my heart!”

“And we just have to accept it?” Thorin demands.

“It’s done! If I had my time over, I would probably do it the same way. Accept it or not, Thorin, that’s your choice. If not for a meddling wizard I would have stayed in the Shire for the rest of my life and been happy. You would have spent yours believing me dead or as crazy as Thror. We can’t change it so what’s the point in arguing about it?

"We have the information we needed and have the others to gather so that we can leave. Let us focus on that instead of the past.”

“We aren’t done with this,” Thorin growls.

Frerin makes no reply that Bifur can hear. Not that he really needs to. Both have made their positions clear and to one as out of the loop as he is it is still clear that there is much more to it than either wishes to put voice to. Thorin is right, this isn’t the end of it and there will probably be many more discussions of the matter in the future. They can’t dance around it forever.

 

Chapter Text

T.A. 2907 Ered Luin

Fili scowls at the piece of stone in front of him, listening to the way that it hums under his fingers. His Stone Sense only came in properly three years ago and already he’s stronger with it than someone twice his age. Amad and Thorin are, of course, thrilled. Fili only wishes that Frerin were here to see it and instantly chastises himself silently for thinking it. Frerin abandoned them. His mother has a stronger Stone Sense than most, which is how she met his father, but Fili has already outstripped her, and they are searching for another tutor. It had been hard for Dis to learn to make the most of her abilities, too many of those with a Stone Sense as powerful as hers had died when Smaug came, and there is little more that she can teach him. They focus, mostly, on blocking the call of the Stone. Fili has lost himself to the mountains once already since his abilities came in and they were lucky to get him back.

“Amad?” Kili wanders into the kitchen of the small house they all share.

It’s too small, really, even without Frerin living here anymore, for the four of them. They make do. Fili glares at his younger brother. Kili’s Stone Sense is still as basic as it gets for their kind, he’s a child of the sky and far more skilled with a bow, hunting and tracking, than most other dwarves. He doesn’t need to learn to block out the songs and stories that the mountains whisper, he can’t see the shapes that linger in marble or the worth of a sapphire before it has even been hewn from the stone that cradles it. He doesn’t have a throneless crown and all the extra lessons that go along with it. Kili chafes at the freedoms their peers have that they don’t, but he truly has no idea how restricted Fili is and how much worse it has become since Frerin left.

“Can’t this wait?” Fili grumbles. “I’m trying to focus.” Kili snorts and, by Mahal, Fili hates him sometimes.

“I just want to know how Amad knew Adad was her One,” Kili says with deceptive mildness. “You don’t have to listen.”

“Romantic shit,” Fili replies, and his mother cuffs his ear.

“It’s different for everyone,” Dis says with a glare in his direction. “The stone sang to me as soon as I saw him, but for most it’s just a tug or an urge to be ever in their presence. It’s the realisation that even the most beautiful and precious of jewels lose all value next to them and a fullness of your heart when you never even realised it was empty.” Fili scoffs.

“But you know instantly?” Kili asks, sounding crestfallen. It’s that which tells Fili his brother has found some other pretty face to pine over.

“Frerin wouldn’t have gotten into the mess he did if he had,” he snarls without thinking. The stone in his hand shifts and he yelps when a sharpness slices through his palm.

“You did it?” His mother questions, his words forgotten in light of this development.  He has called a shape from the piece of stone, something not even she can do. It is little more than a rough-edged knife, but it suits his current mood. “We really need to find you that tutor,” she adds thoughtfully and Fili sighs. He doesn’t want more work on top of everything else.

*

T.A. 2941 The Misty Mountains.

Fili won’t deny that he is relieved to have left Rivendell. In another time, perhaps with just Kili, he might have enjoyed the visit to the Hidden Valley. He could have delved into the stone around him (with Kili there to stop him from going too far) and listened to the song. He could have asked for the millions of stories held there and listened to each and every one. He could have recorded them to take back to Ered Luin to share with his mother and Balin. Never Thorin, Thorin’s hatred of elves is legendary and Fili is surprised it didn’t cause them more problems during their stay. For a brief eleven days centuries of knowledge had been at his fingertips. He has never been one to seek such a thing, but he had greatly enjoyed the surprise on the faces of the others when he had been able to answer their questions simply because the stone had given it freely.

It had also been a distraction, a bad one. Fili is long accustomed to the stone whispering to him. He has learnt to shut it out and close off so much of his Stone Sense that the mithril in his eyes that would usually betray its existence becomes little more than a ring of colour around the blue of Durin’s line. Rivendell robbed him of that control, and he hates it. Fili has been in control for nearly half of his life, he has to be, or his Stone Sense would drive him mad with the constant whispers and songs. To top that off, he is the crown prince. There are many duties that come with that and it has made him serious, in his own way. The only time he can really, truly, relax is where the stone is so familiar to him that its song is little more than a background hum or when he is too far from it for it to really register, as in the Shire.

Once this is over he might spend some time there, if just to be free of the crushing weight of his future and the responsibility it will hold. Eventually he will have to return to Erebor, especially if he is to be king of it one day, so that he can learn the song of that mountain without it pressing on him in the same way the Misty Mountains are now. It isn’t as bad as Rivendell, more discordant with a note that he can’t place, but it’s enough to have him slamming his barriers down as tightly as he can.

A flash of lightening breaks him from his thoughts. It has been raining for hours and everyone is wet and cold. Thorin has insisted that they press on, past several caves which would have been ideal shelter, they have to be at Erebor by Durin’s day. Fili worries for the hobbits more than their deadline as he pulls Bluebell away from a section of the path that the others can feel the need to avoid but she can’t. Gandalf might have been able to persuade Thorin that they should have halted before now, but he had stayed in Rivendell to cover their escape when it became apparent that someone wanted to stop them from departing. Bluebell shivers under his hand, although it’s the cold and wet now rather than the strange effect of Rivendell, and he inches past her to walk in front.

“Hold tight to me,” he tells her, “step where I step.”

He and Kili had placed her between them, as Belladonna is between Kili and Frerin just ahead, when the downpour had started. Bluebell nods and her lips are blue with the chill even though her eyes are glowing faintly. She must be trying to keep herself warm but there is little earth to draw from. Frerin has said that Bluebell can draw from the stone too but that probably takes more focus than she can afford to give while they are on this narrow path.

At least he can touch her now, he thinks, without feeling their gifts mixing and turning a slightly discordant song into a perfect harmony. The first time had been jarring, a little bit terrifying, but all the same he had found himself seeking it out. She seemed to as well, the harmony had been an almost seductive distraction, and seeing the swirl of mithril through her indigo eyes had made him long for tools and gems and precious metals so that he could create something to do the beauty of them justice. It made his realise just how lost to her he has become without even noticing it, but he has nothing to really offer her. He’s seen the comfort she lives in. What does an exiled prince whose people still struggle come winter have to offer a hobbit with a home such as hers? He would be in a better position should they reclaim Erebor, but he wonders if she would have him even if they fail. When all is said and done, he’ll ask her, he decides.

A sharp spike of Other drives through him, breaking his thoughts and making him grasp Bluebell tightly against him as the mountain beneath their feet begins to shift. Guilt swamps him, he had been so lost in his own thoughts that he hadn’t noticed the giant they were walking over until it was too late. The terror in his brother’s dark eyes as they are separated is chastisement enough and an image that he knows will haunt him. He promised their mother that he would watch over his younger brother and bring him back safe. Rationally, he knows that neither of them could have foreseen the truth in the ancient legends, but rational thought isn’t high on his list right now. He’s screaming his brother’s name, can dimly hear Bluebell calling for her mother and Frerin, but it’s all any of them can do to hold onto the wildly swinging ledge underneath them.

The relief of seeing the others able to jump back onto the mountain is short lived. The remaining members of the Company, still trapped on the other leg, swing past those who are safe, and the side of the mountain comes into view on rapid approach. He flings Bluebell over the gap, sees her land and scramble to her feet and breathes a sigh of relief that she, at least, is safe. Then it becomes about his own survival and avoiding being crushed himself.

The others appear around the corner as Fili is just pushing himself upright, Kili and Thorin heading straight for him and he’s almost disappointed that Bluebell doesn’t break away from her family, but Belladonna looks like she’s sobbing and Frerin is holding the pair of them so tightly Fili isn’t sure they can breathe. Not that he can speak, given that Kili is clinging to him in a similar fashion and he can’t find it in himself to object. They need to get out of this storm, Fili knows, and doesn’t object when Thorin sends him with Kili to find shelter of some kind.

It’s unfortunate that the only cave they can find is one that makes Fili’s Stone Sense scream at him to get out. It makes him want to grab Kili and Bluebell and Thorin and risk the storm and the stone giants rather than bed down here. Thorin listens to his objections, when further searching yields nothing, but he points out that they can’t possibly go any further as things stand. He doesn’t seem inclined to trust Fili’s senses either, given that he failed to warn the Company about the giants. The failure of it burns through him. They all need rest and the hobbits are less sturdy that their people, although it obviously chafes at Thorin to have to admit it, and allowances have to be made for them. There would be no point in bringing them if they took a chill and died before they even reached Erebor. The stone giants have shown that trying to continue further is the height of foolishness and so, no matter how wrong the cave feels, they will rest here. Thorin’s only concession is that they keep their packs on and their weapons in hand.

Fili struggles to sleep, huddled with Bluebell on one side and Kili on the other. They are all lying closer to Frerin and Belladonna than they usually would, even on the nights between Bree and Rivendell when he and Kili would lie on either side of Bluebell to keep her warm when she had elected to give her mother and ‘uncle’ some privacy. Everything in him is screaming that he stay alert and Frerin had heard enough of his warning (and obviously put more faith in it than Thorin) to decide to keep Fili and Kili, as well as the hobbits, close by. For the first time Fili is close enough to both hobbits when their hair is in barely bound disarray to notice the braids nestled behind their ears and the tiny gold clasps that would be unnoticeable when their curls are left free and hidden when the long braids they have taken to wearing coiled around their heads are properly pinned in place.

Frerin notices Fili’s questioning gaze, smiles and presses a finger to his lips. Something they will have to discuss another time and Fili wonders if his uncle has even explained the significance of the braids they wear so carefully concealed. They don’t keep them hidden because of the Company, he thinks (although if Belladonna’s means what he thinks it does that will cause all manner of other problems later), he suspects they hide them out of habit and very likely due to the other hobbits. Bluebell often sounds sad when she speaks of the Shire, of the way things there are and her early adulthood.

He’s finally beginning to doze when he notices the glow coming from Bluebell’s little sword. Gandalf had said it would do that when there were goblins and orcs nearby, but even that warning is too little too late. Fili has no sooner shouted a warning and the others leapt to their feet when the sense of wrong and open under him intensifies. Then they’re falling, bumping along and barely able to keep from hurting one another with their weapons. When they land he ends up pinned beneath Kili and Belladonna, dazed and addled as his eyes seek out Bluebell and his hand fists in Kili’s coat to keep his brother close. Goblins swarm around him as he struggles to his feet, clawing and tearing. He can hear the shouts of the Company and Belladonna’s terrified whimpers, but it’s Bluebell’s cry that has him moving, Kili at his side and knives in his hands as he fights his way through the stinking, grasping, creatures.

Bluebell is held by two goblins, her face scrunched in fear and disgust, one hand searching for her sword and the other holding her torn dress closed. Either it tore on the way down or the goblins did it and the thought that it may have been the latter makes Fili see red. No words or promises or anything of the sort has been exchanged between them. He doesn’t even know if she feels the same way he does but he likes to think he hasn’t imagined her blushes when he gets close enough to whisper to her (and the few times she’s seen him bathing). Still, even though nothing is decided between them, she is his friend and he will not allow the goblins to use her so, he knows what they do to their female captives. He won’t allow them to hurt her and that gives him the strength to fight his way through even though he only has his short knives because his swords are more difficult to reach with all of the goblins pressing in around him.

He is so focussed on getting to Bluebell and dealing with her attacker that he makes the mistake of leaving his back exposed to a goblin he had thought dealt with. He doesn’t realise the danger until he hears Kili shout, half turns to deal with it and feels the blinding burn of a blade between his ribs. He doesn’t feel the kick that sends him tumbling over an edge he hadn’t even noticed, but he does hear Bluebell’s terrified scream and sees her wide, petrified, eyes when she clings to him as they fall.

The, perhaps mercifully, it all goes black.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2906 Ered Luin

Kili kicks irritably at a rock as he walks through New Belegost. Things have become so much more dull since Frerin disappeared. There’s no one to spring them from their lessons when all of Thorin and Amad’s expectations seem to be getting too much. No one to tell them stories of the world beyond the mountains. He knows that Fili has it worse. His brother is so angry these days, no fun at all when Kili just wants to hide away from Thorin and Balin and Amad and all the boring things they want him to do. It isn’t like they actually have a mountain or a throne. There isn’t any point in all of this when Fili will never be a king in anything but name.

He’s made his way to the edge of town by the time Fili finds him, likely sent to retrieve him for whatever chores Amad has found for him now. Fili’s face is set in a scowl as he marches towards his brother. If Kili weren’t as bored as he is, he might turn and walk back towards his older brother. But he is bored, and Fili has been spoiling for a fight for days. It might ease his boredom just a little to indulge his brother and so Kili decides to be difficult instead. He scrambles up into the nearest tree and waits.

“Looking for me?” He calls down when Fili passes.

“Get down from there, idiot,” his brother shouts up. “Amad wants more wood and you’re supposed to be at Rijka’s this afternoon.”

“I thought I’d skip it,” he replies, twisting to hang upside down by his knees. Fili’s scowl gets darker.

“You were lucky to get this apprenticeship, Kili,” he snaps. Kili knows that, Rijka is the best jeweller in New Belegost and he never takes apprentices. Only Kili’s keen eyes, fine fingers and status had persuaded the dwarf to see his natural talent and take him on. He has no intentions of missing his afternoon of work, but he knows just how much the thought will annoy Fili, who looks set to spend his life as an architect or a miner. Kili actually thinks Fili would be a fairly decent jeweller himself, he certainly showed some aptitude for it before his Stone Sense manifested so spectacularly.

“Shouldn’t you be off studying?” Kili asks instead. “You know, turning into more of a mini-Thorin than you already are.”

“Better than turning into Frerin,” Fili growls and that pulls Kili up short for a second. His brother always adored Frerin, they both do.

“What does that mean?” He asks and although it is curious rather than confrontational, he sees his brother’s face twist. He scrambles from the tree so that he can catch Fili if he tries to bolt, his brother doesn’t like to discuss his feelings on these sorts of things.

“You know what I mean. Always rushing off places, vanishing without a trace, shirking his duties to our people and our family.” Fili sounds an awful lot like Thorin right now. Kili’s fairly certain he’s heard his uncle saying similar.

“Someone needed his help,” he replies. Frerin’s disappearance hurts, of course, for a long time he and Thorin have been the closest thing to a father Kili has ever known. He, however, has always been aware that someone else has a pull on Frerin’s heart. Maybe Fili and Thorin didn’t see it, or didn’t want to, and Kili doesn’t want to waste time being angry with Frerin when he has so many other things he could be doing. Or avoiding doing.

“How can you just let it go?” Fili demands. “How can you forgive him?”

“I haven’t!” Kili yells. “But what’s the point? He isn’t here to be angry at and it isn’t going to bring him back! It’s just making us miserable. Why are you so angry with him?”

“We need to get home,” Fili responds, much as Kili suspected he would.

“No,” Kili darts in front of him. “This has been eating at you for months. You need to get it off your chest.”

“Talking about it won’t bring him back either,” Fili deflects.

“But maybe it will make you less of a miserable bastard!” Kili shouts. The punch is hardly a surprise, he’s been trying to goad Fili into a fight after all. Amad will be angry when they finally go home, but Kili is more concerned with his brother and he can always just say he needed to work off some energy and Fili was an easy target. He’s always known how to annoy his brother just the right amount to get the reaction he wants.

“He abandoned us!” Fili snaps as Kili ducks another hit. Just because he’s taunted Fili into it (not that it took that much) doesn’t mean he’s just going to let Fili hit him.

“I know,” Kili replies, dancing away and trying to drive down the sting of his brother’s words. It isn’t like he hasn’t thought the same.

“He didn’t tell us why.”

“I know.”

Or where.”

“I know.”

“Why aren’t you angry?” Fili demands.

“I am!” He shouts again. “But there’s no point. You’re miserable, I’m miserable, Amad and Thorin are too! He isn’t coming back and the sooner we just get on with our lives the better!”

They both slide to the ground in silence. The problem isn’t solved, Kili knows that, but they’ll have to learn to live with it.

*

T.A. 2941 Goblin Town.

Kili barely feels the goblins that grab at him as he fights his way to the edge of the chasm his brother just fell into, taking Bluebell with him. Dimly he hears screaming, so focused on fighting the hands that hold him that he doesn’t realise he is the one doing it until one of the goblins hits him hard enough to daze him.

He’s dragged along, frantically searching for his uncles, Ori and Belladonna. He has lost Fili, lost his brother when they have always promised it would be them together in everything. He can’t lose anyone else. He isn’t even sure he’ll survive this in any case. In the crush of goblins and the dwarves they’re herding he finally spots Frerin. His uncle’s eyes are hard and dangerous, Kili thinks he would still be fighting if he didn’t have Belladonna to take care of.

He finally finds Thorin when they’re all gathered in front of the most grotesque creature Kili has ever seen, and he’s had the misfortune of sharing a room with Fili for most of his life. The thought, familiar as it is, brings a stab of grief with it. It’s a grief that opens a pit in his stomach and sets his ears to ringing. His brother is gone and, at a glance, Thorin doesn’t even know it yet.

Kili wants to blame Bluebell, if she hadn’t been with them or had been better at protecting herself. If Fili wasn’t so head over heels for her (and Kili knows he is even if his brother is too much of an idiot to realise it). He can’t. this is no more Bluebell’s fault than it is his or Fili’s. Fili had known there was something off about the cave, Bofur had said the same, but Thorin hadn’t wanted to hear it and they were all so tired and cold they were willing to trust to hope.

It takes a brilliant flash of light from Gandalf to bring him back to the present. His brother is gone but he can still fight. He can fight to escape, fight to live and take some small amount of revenge for that which has been taken from him. It’s odd, fighting without Fili beside him when they have always worked together. He has always been able to rely on Fili to fill the gaps he leaves, just as Fili should have been able to rely on him. The sword has never been Kili’s greatest strength but the goblins are pressing too close for him to use his bow. His postion among the Company changes constantly but Frerin always finds him. Frerin fills the same spaces that Fili would with his hobbit at his side. It should be comforting but it only makes grief flare brighter and hope dwindle.

Finally, finally, after running and falling and fighting and being crushed they find their way out of the mountain and pause for breath. Kili slumps against a tree, his eyes searching for his brother automatically even though he knows he won’t find him.

“Where are Fili and Bluebell?” Gandalf demands, apparently the first to notice that the pair are missing.

“They fell,” Frerin replies, his voice as hollow as Kili feels. “Just as the goblins took us. Fili was stabbed and they fell into a chasm.”

His words are met with outcry, horror, and eyes enough turn to Kili to make him want to shrink into the earth. Thorin’s devastation is clear, finally, and much as Kili knows his uncle loves both of his sister’s sons he has to wonder how Thorin could have lost track of Fili so easily that he didn’t even notice the other was missing.

“I’m going back in,” Kili mutters, pushing away from the tree he’s slumped against.

“You can’t, lad,” Gloin stops him. “You’ll be running straight into a nest of goblins.”

“We have to go back!” He shouts. He can’t let go of his desperate hope and he can’t face moving forward until he knows his brother’s fate. “Fili and Bluebell could still be alive!”

“They could both be hurt, please, Thorin,” Belladonna adds, the other shift and begin to add their own arguments.

“Enough!” Thorin roars over them. “We cannot,” he continues, “by nightfall the mountain will be overrun with goblins. We must move forwards. Fili would not want us to sacrifice ourselves for his sake.”

“How can you say that?” He demands. How can Thorin possibly know what Fili wants? It isn’t like he has ever asked him.

“That’s our sister’s son in there, Thorin,” Frerin snaps. He’s holding Belladonna tightly but it’s reassuring to know that he, at least, will always think of them. “Your heir,” as though Thorin needs reminding. “And my daughter.” If Fili were here, Kili thinks absently, he would owe his younger brother a nice amount of coin. Everyone knows Frerin has named Bluebell his daughter but it’s never been said.

“You think I don’t want to?” Thorin asks, stepping closer to his brother. “You think I don’t want to keep the promise I made to our sister and bring Fili home safe? I cannot always be a brother or an uncle, I do not have that luxury. I am king. You will never know the agony that responsibility brings.”

He truly means to leave them behind, Kili realises. The uncle that they have always been able to rely on, the nearest thing to a father Kili has and Thorin is going to abandon Fili and Bluebell to die in the goblin tunnels. If they aren’t dead already. He wonders if this is how Fili felt when he realised Frerin wouldn’t always be there.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2894 Bag End

Bluebell stares at herself in her mother’s mirror. Her dark hair has been pinned and styled. Her new dress for her party later is a wonderful shade of deep blue that only seems to bring the indigo of her eyes into sharp focus. Her fifteenth birthday is upon her, very nearly half way to her majority, and she is beginning to show signs of becoming a grown hobbit woman.

This party is to be the first evening celebration for the young lass and her face glows with excitement. She only hopes that her Irak-Adad will turn up, Bluebell has put a lot of work into her gift for him and he’s been visiting less over the last four years. She doesn’t understand why, and she misses the stories he always tells. Mama writes to him regularly and tells Bluebell that he doesn’t visit as much because he is helping his sister with her sons as their father is dead. Bluebell doesn’t know whether she believes it, she just knows that when Irak-Adad visits Papa gets quiet and angry and when he leaves Mama and Papa fight for days before settling back to normal.

“I suppose my wife has been telling you when I am not home,” she hears her father say through the open window. Her Mama likes the smell of lavender in the evenings and the breeze helps her to sleep so the window is rarely closed unless it is winter.

“Not at all,” Bluebell makes a small, excited noise. Frerin has come. “Belladonna said she would be home. I simply came with a gift for Bluebell’s birthday.”

Bluebell clambers onto the blanket box her mother has placed under the window, kneeling on it so that she can look out of the window and see what is happening. Frerin is barely through the gate and her father is on the steps. She can’t see her Papa’s face, but her Irak-Adad looks angry.

“I told her to inform you that your presence was unwelcome,” Bungo says and Bluebell gasps at her father’s lie. Mama misses Frerin and Bluebell always wishes he would stay longer than he does.

“I would hear the words from her own lips,” Frerin replies.

“She is my wife,” Papa snaps, “the words should be enough from me. That is the way of things here.”

Bluebell knows it is. Behind closed doors a hobbit wife may have most of the control but in all legal matters it is the husband who is favoured. Frerin slumps and Bluebell wants to cry out at the unfairness of it all. Her father is ruining her birthday when all she wants is to have a dance with her, often absent, Irak-Adad. Then, later, sit with the other teens and tweens to listen as he and Mama tell stories about their travels and the mischief his nephews get up to. Her father is taking that away.

“Would you at least allow me to give Bluebell her gift?” Frerin asks. It’s one of the stranger things about dwarves, that they receive gifts on their birthday’s instead of giving them, but she enjoys it because Frerin enjoys it.

“Bluebell is a hobbit and a Baggins,” Papa sneers, “she doesn’t accept gifts on her birthday. You will have nothing more to do with my daughter, if I see you in the Shire again, I’ll summon the bounders. I can’t stop my wife from writing to you, but I suggest you do your best to discourage it.”

Bluebell doesn’t wait to hear the reply, her childish heart wants Frerin to tell her Papa he’s going to come in and see her anyway, but her Baggins good sense tells her he is more likely to leave. She runs through the smial, Mama is at the green setting up anyway, and sneaks out of the back door. Hopefully Frerin’s path will lead him past her and she will, at least, get the chance to say goodbye.

“Irak-Adad,” she says softly as he walks slowly past her hiding place.

“Bluebell?” He’s surprised and she feels a little proud of achieving that no matter how angry she is. “What are you doing?”

“I heard what Papa said to you,” she says, and even though she promised herself she wouldn’t cry tears are forming all the same. “It’s not fair!”

“I know,” Frerin crouches to wipe the tears from her cheeks, “but he is your father, mizimith.”

“Well, I wish he wasn’t!” She replies with a sob. “I wish you were!” Frerin is kinder, warmer and more giving with his affection for both her and her Mama.

“You mustn’t say things like that,” he tells her sternly even though he wraps his arms around her. “He loves you and it would break his heart to hear you say such things.” Sometimes Bluebell wonders if her father has a heart under all his Baggins sense, but she doesn’t voice the thought.

“I’m sorry, Irak-Adad,” she whispers. “I’ll miss you.”

“And I you, mizimith,” he rumbles gently. “But today is not a day for tears. Here. Only make sure your Papa doesn’t see it.”

She takes the leather pouch he hands to her, opening it with eager fingers. Inside is a beautiful gold bead, all delicate filigree and with a single rune like the one that decorates Frerin’s beads in relief on one side.

“It’s beautiful,” she breathes. “Is it to wear in my hair like you do?”

“Yes,” he chuckles. “Have you been practicing your braids?” She nods and shows him the little braid behind her ear she had woven that morning. “Well, when you’re ready to go on your travels like your Mama did, place the bead at the end of your braid where it can be seen. Then if you ever find yourself in trouble any dwarf who sees it will help you.”

“Why?” She asks.

“Because it shows you are part of my family, and my family is important enough that most dwarves would help you. It’s dangerous as well,” he adds, “my family has enemies too.” Bluebell knows from the stories and she nods.

“Can I show Mama?”

“Of course, mizim,” he laughs. “Now go home before your father misses you.” He presses his forehead to hers gently, mindful of the fact that her hobbit skull is more fragile than his, then gets to his feet and strolls down the road.

Bluebell never finds out that the little gold bead had not been his intended gift to her that day.

*

T.A. 2941 Somewhere Under Goblin Town

Bluebell knows as soon as she sees the knife plunge into Fili’s ribs that this is it. If he doesn’t get treatment, and even if he does, Fili is dead. It’s a fatal wound, her limited ability to tap into the earth tells her that much as she draws on her ability to see his life light. For an awful moment it fades entirely, only to return weak and pulsing like some terrible countdown of his heartbeats.

She avoids looking at life lights usually, it was about the only part of the Blessing her father had ever been able to wield (and even then, imperfectly) but she knows he must have seen the bond between her mother and Frerin at least once. Little wonder her parent’s marriage had soured with such proof always lingering in front of him. Fili’s light, the forge orange nearly overwhelmed by the mithril of his Stone Sense, is edged in tendrils of green and indigo, like a climbing, flowering, vine and it makes her glad she never looked. She isn’t sure if she had hoped or feared what she would find if she did, but to see so much of her in him when she’s about to lose him is devastating. She won’t fade if he dies before they make it out of this horrible place, but she doubts she will ever recover, whether she had bothered to look at his light or not.

With that in mind she doesn’t even attempt to get out of the way when the goblin with the knife kicks Fili off his blade and towards the edge of the wide platform they are all gathered on. She just tangles her arms around him and holds on. Her mother’s agonised scream as they fall will haunt her.

The landing hurts and she loses consciousness for a moment. Or it could be hours, there’s no way for her to know. When she comes to, she panics. She can feel the blood in her hair and the sting of a cut on her forehead. Her dress, already torn by goblins, is in tatters and her shoulder hurts where the strap from her pack must have caught on something on the way down.

“Fili,” she whispers, there’s just enough earth here for her to pull it into herself so that she can enhance her vision. Not that it does much good. This is the deep dark of the inside of a mountain and she isn’t sure even a dwarf could see this deep without some illumination.

“Bluebell,” he rasps back, and his voice is wet and pained. Between the sound and her small use of the Blessing she is able to find him, her hand nudging his boot first. “What are you-?” He coughs before he can finish the question. She presses her finger to his lips and the wet there is thick, sticky, and very likely to be blood. She doesn’t have much time, it’s probably sheer chance that he’s alive, let alone conscious.

“No,” she says softly. “Shh, don’t- we don’t- I need to-”

Her seeking hands find the wound as she struggles to put words together. Delicate fingers probe for shards of metal that might be embedded and though she doesn’t find anything her hands are filthy. The ground beneath Fili is wet and slippery with his blood. She grabs for anything, everything, that the small amount of earth beneath them can give, pouring it into healing and replacing and burning but it isn’t enough. There isn’t enough to work with. She sobs, reaching further and deeper, but it still won’t be enough. Not to get Fili out of the mountain alive. She will have to take from herself too and that will kill her because of how badly injured he is and even then, he could die anyway.

“Bluebell, stop,” he says hoarsely. “You’re hurting yourself, you need to stop.”

“No!” She sobs, looking at his face to see that his eyes are glowing mithril in the blackness.

His hand, wet with his blood, finds her cheek with none of the difficulty she experienced. He traces the line of her hair and brushes the cut on her forehead. She whimpers and feels a surge of something for the briefest moment. The song of the stone.

“It’s alright,” he insists, “I knew as soon as I saw the knife. You can stop.”

She shakes her head and shifts her focus to reach for the stone. Its hard, so hard, without her mother and Adad talking her through it. She takes Fili’s hand in hers and the surge comes again. It fills her, the power of the stone, rolling and clashing with Yavanna’s Blessing and then something in her mind shifts and clicks and instead of fighting it, she welcomes it.

“Bluebell, what are you doing?” Fili demands, his voice already stronger and his concern clear.

She can see him, she marvels, even though his expression is alarmed. She can see and feel his wound knitting closed under her hands into a fresh, sensitive, scar. With just the smallest push, she thinks as she sinks deeper into the call of the mountain, it could become- Fili snatches his hand from her and just like that the stone is fighting her again. She flings herself from it, from him, and exhaustion slams into her.

“What did you do?” He demands again as he examines himself. She can’t see him anymore, but she can hear the rustling of his clothes as he moves. She can see the burn of his eyes as he glares at her.

“I needed the stone to heal you,” she explains. “I’ve never done anything that big with it before, but I wasn’t about to let you die.”

“It could have killed you!” He hisses. “You didn’t anchor yourself and you could have been lost to the stone! You nearly were!”

“You were my anchor,” she tells him, seeking hands finally finding his hair, then his cheek. He splutters for a moment and then his lips are on hers and the kiss is harsh, bruising, furious and desperate and she returns it in kind.

“Don’t ever do that to me again,” he orders, hands exploring the skin revealed by the ruins of her dress and lips forming the words between one kiss and the next.

“Don’t get stabbed again,” she replies, dragging him back with her. The ground is hard and cold beneath her, but Fili is so warm above her, alive her mind supplies, that Bluebell doesn’t care.

“I can’t promise that,” he replies, hands fumbling with the remaining ties of her dress.

Her nimble fingers are having more luck, shoving his coat from his shoulders and helping him remove his ruined tunic. She runs her fingers over his back once it is bared to her, relishing in the feeling of the thick hair that covers him under her fingers. This isn’t the place for it really, but she’s wanted him since Bag End and the only thing that has stopped her from allowing things to get to this far is her mother’s pointed advice and the fear of what would happen if he died. She doesn’t care anymore, she nearly lost him, and right how he is pressed hotly against her and even if they were in the most comfortable bed it couldn’t feel more right than it does now. It’s hard and desperate and perfect and she relishes it even as reality begins to seep through in the moments after. They have become friends during the weeks of travelling, floated on the edge of this more than once, but she had never imagined the shift from friends to this would happen this way.

“You’re hurt,” he says softly. He’s like a furnace above her and she can see the burn of his eyes as she feels his hand trace the cut on her forehead.

“It happened when we fell,” she replies with a shrug as they both sit, and she drags his coat around her. Her head has long stopped bleeding and it’s far from their most pressing problem.

“Can’t you fix it?” He asks.

“It doesn’t work like that,” she replies, blindly searching for her pack and hoping it made it down with her and isn’t caught on something a little further up. She has clothes in there that she can change into and even before their mutual moment of blind passion her dress had been beyond hope. “I can only use it to heal others, the earth won’t let me heal myself.”

“Isn’t there any way?” His voice is concerned, and she feels him press a pack into her hand. The strap is torn but the feel of the clasp tells her that it is her own.

“My mother broke that rule once,” she explains as she fumbles for her spare dress. All of her travelling dresses look the same and are, fortunately, far easier to put on than her usual day wear. “It almost destroyed her mind and left her without any healing abilities at all. It took nearly twenty years before she could touch the Blessing without any backlash. There isn’t any way and hobbits heal faster than the other races anyway, I’ll be fine.”

Fili huffs and she can hear him rummaging as she shrugs his coat off and works her way into her dress. The warmth of it is welcome but she knows she won’t feel that much better until she has something to eat and gets some sleep. She can hear him cursing as she ties her laces and tugs her pack and his coat with her as she follows the sound to him. She nearly topples over him when she does find him, crouched as he is at the base of the cliff they tumbled down.

“Careful,” he says, catching her and she feels his bare chest under her fingers. Foolishly, given what happened between them only minutes ago, she feels herself flush.

“I can’t see a bloody thing,” she grumbles. “We need to find a way out, or back up to the rest of the Company.” He releases her to continue with his previous task. “What are you doing?”

“Looking through the other packs that fell with us. I need a spare tunic and I’m hoping Thorin or Dwalin had one.” She can imagine he’s reluctant to put his blood soaked one back on. He makes a triumphant noise. “Hopefully uncle won’t mind.”

“I should imagine he will just be glad you’re alive,” she listens to the shift of fabric against skin, her hearing more sensitive now that her sight is denied to her.

“After he’s finished shouting at me for letting myself get distracted,” he chuckles depreciatively, but wraps an arm around Bluebell’s shoulders and pulls her close. She leans into his warmth with a sigh. “There’s no guarantee that the others survived the goblins, or that they will manage to escape,” it’s said gently but she doesn’t miss the hitch in his voice. “We need to get out of the mountain and find a way to discover if they made it out and which direction they went in.”

“Which isn’t going to be easy this deep in the mountain with no light,” she adds.

“I can guide us,” he assures her. “I won’t allow you to fall or lose your way.” His fingers comb through her hair soothingly until they find the little bead she usually keeps so carefully hidden.

“Do you know what this means, Bluebell?” He asks her softly.

“Frerin told me it’s a sign we’re family,” she replies. “He said that even though we don’t share any blood, in his heart I’m his daughter and he wanted it to show. Which is why he gave me the bead.”

“Why hide it?” He sounds genuinely curious rather than accusatory.

“Because,” she hesitates. “Because it isn’t done in the Shire. Hobbits typically have so many faunts that trying to claim someone else’s as your own is seen as greedy and twisted. They would have chased Frerin out had we told them the truth, so he remained ‘uncle’ and we hid the bead to prevent the questions,” she shrugs. “In the end it was enough that we knew the truth.”

“Why not say anything to the rest of us?” He demands, and she hears all the hurt that she was expecting.

“Habit,” she answers quickly, “not that it matters so much now,” she tilts her head so that she can see the mithril glow of his eyes. She can’t see his expression and she has no idea what he sees on her face, only that it makes him lean in and kiss her. This kiss is almost hesitant, now that there isn’t the frenzy of relief between them, and she appreciates the softness of his lips as they caress hers.

“I’ve wanted to do that since the moment you twisted my ear,” he admits when they part.

“Feel free to do it as often as you like,” she breathes and feels him smile. “After we get out of here,” she adds because she wants to see him, and she needs to find her family and friends.

“You’re right,” he sighs and offers her his hand to help her to her feet.

He keeps a tight hold of her hand, grabbing the salvaged packs with the other, and begins to walk. Bluebell follows his lead and careful instructions when they’re needed. The darkness of the mountain presses down on her, the earth above too far away to do any more than offer a distant comfort. She feels herself starting to panic.

“Mahal’s balls,” Fili hisses from ahead of her.

“What’s wrong?” She ignores how high and thin her voice sounds, although the way that Fili squeezes her hand makes her realise he heard it.

“It occurs to me,” they take a turn, “that if Thorin doesn’t kill me for getting distracted, Frerin will. You’re his daughter.”

She can’t help but laugh. Frerin has been asking her to let him terrorise suitors for years, but she thinks that as far as Fili is concerned, he won’t be all that threatening. Frerin would talk about Fili and Kili a lot when she was a faunt, less so when he returned during her tweens, but he always spoke of them fondly. Fili’s words, however, lessen the pressure of the mountain and helps bring her rising panic back under control.

They continue on, walking through passages and squeezing through gaps so tight they wonder if they will have to abandon the packs more than once. They are exhausted and bearing more than one extra scrape by the time they reach the exit. The bodies of goblins strewn around it tells them that someone has passed through recently. It makes hope flare anew as they rush outside into the warmer evening air. They pause, although the only place they can go is down, just to relish the fact that they have made it out and to look one another over in the light of day. Fili’s borrowed tunic is far too big, almost silly looking, but Bluebell is more focused on raising it so that she can look at the scar on his ribs. The wound is still slightly open, only a scratch now, but she soothes it closed with a whisper from the earth beneath her. It turns into a moment that Fili uses to brush some of the dried blood from her face and wince sheepishly at the marks he left on her neck during their frantic coupling. Finally, it is a brief pause for them to share a kiss that is sweet and chaste but full of promises, and then they begin to walk.

“We have to go back!” They hear Kili shout long before they find the group. “Fili and Bluebell could still be alive!”

“They could both be hurt, please, Thorin,” her mother sounds like she’s begging.

“Enough!” Thorin cuts over the rumbling sound that has to be the opinions of the others. “We cannot, by nightfall the mountain will be overrun with goblins. We must move forwards. Fili would not want us to sacrifice ourselves for his sake.” Bluebell sees Fili’s face fall.

“How can you say that?” They hear Kili ask.

“That’s our sister’s son in there, Thorin,” Frerin snaps. “Your heir, and my daughter.” Fili mutters something and she looks at him curiously.

“You think I don’t want to?” Thorin asks, and they speed up, the voices are carrying well, and nightfall isn’t far away. “You think I don’t want to keep the promise I made to our sister and bring Fili home safe? I cannot always be a brother or an uncle, I do not have that luxury. I am king. You will never know the agony that responsibility brings.”

“We’re here,” Bluebell calls. “We’re alright, we found our way out.”

She doesn’t get any more out as the Company clamour in delight and her mother wraps her in a tight hug. Frerin isn’t far behind and he engulfs them both in his arms, only shifting slightly so that Kili can attach himself to his brother’s side. Her Adad’s beard is suspiciously wet, and she can see tears in Kili’s eyes too. She doesn’t blame them, she’s near enough to crying herself. Then everyone moves aside and Thorin steps forward. He nods regally to Bluebell, the smallest smile on his lips as he touches her shoulder briefly.

“I am glad you are returned to us,” he says, and his tone is the softest it has ever been for her. His eyes turn to Fili, then, who straightens under his gaze as Thorin searches for the injury that should be there. “Fili,” he says, and it holds everything. Relief, love, gratitude. His hand is on the back of Fili’s neck, their foreheads pressed together, and for this moment they are nothing more than uncle and nephew, all the pressures of Fili’s future are gone.

In all the fuss and joy, Fili and Bluebell don’t let go of one another’s hands.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2903 Bag End

Winter has already been the longest Belladonna can remember experiencing, and she has experienced far more of them than any hobbit currently living. Food is running low, fuel becoming increasingly scarce and more than one smial has been entered by concerned neighbours to find that the occupant, usually elderly, has passed in the night due to the cold. It is a sign of how desperate they are that the food left (if there is any) is taken from the home of the deceased and passed around to other families before the body is dealt with. The hobbits cannot be the only race suffering, in fact they probably aren’t struggling quite as much as their nearest neighbours, but even with their gift for making things grow they are struggling to persuade the frozen earth to produce much at all.

Unfortunately, the Brandywine freezing over isn’t something that they could have foreseen. Wolves have been seen in the Shire, already, taking the weak and poorly prepared. Worse will come, Belladonna knows it even before the earth beneath her rouses just enough to start screaming it at her. They need help and Frerin will come, she knows he will because he has already made the offer more than once when the message birds can make it through. Belladonna has lived long enough to recognise that they need help, her distant relative’s pride as Thain notwithstanding, and if he won’t send for help, she will.

She doesn’t expect just how vehemently opposed to the idea Bungo is. She should have. More than once Bungo talks her out of sending a letter to Frerin asking him to beg his brother to help them. More than once she lets her fear of Bluebell seeing her parent’s marriage falling apart convince her not to send to Frerin until she finally realises that she may have left it too late and announces that she is writing to Frerin anyway. Any mention of her old friend this past decade has caused heated arguments and long silences. If not for the fact that they are all sleeping in the parlour for warmth Belladonna wouldn’t even be sharing a bed with Bungo anymore.

This isn’t fair on Bungo, she knows it in her heart even if she will never admit it out loud. She chose him, but not for the right reasons. She only accepted Bungo because her first choice had been taken away and she had thought that if she moved forwards and started a new life the loss of her old one would hurt less. Bungo knows, as he always did, that if not for Frerin’s arranged marriage he would never have stood a chance with Belladonna. She can’t imagine how he must feel being constantly reminded of her old lover and, in the beginning, she had truly attempted to keep her friendship to herself. It’s hard, though, and has always been. Frerin was very nearly the only person she had left by the time she met Bungo and throwing away that last person who knew her better than anyone had been too difficult to live with. Bluebell, too, came to adore the dwarf and even though she hasn’t seen him in nine years she often attaches a line or two to the end of her mother’s letters. Her daughter is a tween, old enough to recognise that Frerin is an upsetting subject for Bungo but Belladonna is also aware that her daughter holds some unnamed resentment towards her father with regards to the dwarf. Bluebell has never outright blamed Bungo for the fact that Frerin doesn’t visit anymore, but Belladonna suspects that her daughter heard Bungo telling him never to return to the Shire.

So, she should have expected Bungo to be frustrated that she would turn to Frerin to solve their problem, but it still comes as a surprise how completely he dismisses it all. Not just her asking for help, but that it will even be needed at all. Belladonna’s instincts may have softened over the years, summer camping trips within the boarders of the Shire to teach Bluebell survival techniques don’t really count as travel, but she’s sharp enough, still, to recognise the immediacy of the problem.

“You can’t possibly know that,” he snarls at her, “I’m not discussing this with you again, I’m not having this anymore. I can’t compete against your past for the rest of my life and I’m tired of fighting it. I refuse to fight for your heart anymore when I don’t think I really had it in the first place. You want your dwarf? Fine. Go to him as soon as the thaw comes.”

His words stun her and she half starts a reply more than once because she simply can’t find the words to form a response. He saves her from it by continuing himself

“I release you of our vows, I should have done it years ago.” She can hear his resignation, but all she can feel is something in her shattering once more as she sinks into a chair and numbness fills her.

This isn’t just the just the end of her marriage, a distant part of her can live with that because it has been coming for a long time. This is nearly thirty years of her life being ripped away from her. This is the life she built so carefully after everything she loved had been taken away from her once. This is a safe life with people she can love easily and dedicate her time to. This is a life with a permanent home and child just as she had so often longed for. If Frerin won’t take her in, and after everything she wouldn’t blame him for turning her away, she will be left utterly destitute and alone in the world. She had her family to come home to when she first started travelling and Frerin at her side for so many years after that. It has been a long time since the idea of being alone has been even remotely appealing. And Bluebell. Belladonna knows the laws of the Shire, Bungo will take Bluebell from her and keep them apart as long as he is able to do so. She begins to sob.

 “I’m taking some food,” he informs her. “I’ll be staying with my brother and his wife until the thaw. After that you go to your dwarf.” He spits the word with such distaste that she starts to plead with him, wanting to try and salvage at least her relationship with her daughter. “No, Belladonna,” he cuts her off. “You will leave, and you will not see my daughter again as long as I am alive to prevent it.”

 There is a noise in the parlour and Belladonna turns horrified eyes towards the heavy blanket that hangs over the doorway. Bluebell must have heard everything, and she hurries to her daughter rather than continuing to attempt to reason with her now former husband. If Bungo thinks he can separate them he will soon learn otherwise. By the time the thaw comes the whole Shire will know that he has cast her out, Camellia Sackville-Baggins will see to that, but she will be long gone, and she will have taken Bluebell with her.

Her daughter runs from her and Belladonna doesn’t blame her. She would follow but there is something else burning at the back of her mind, the kind of warning that hisses she is too late and that all there is left to do is douse the fire and hide her family. She hesitates, and it is that which will ultimately prove to be her undoing. If she puts the fire out, they may never get it going again and while she is debating it, she hears the door to the smial open. Bungo is already prepared to leave and she races to stop him. He pushes her away, striking her, and the violence of the reaction makes her freeze for the first time in her life.

She doesn’t move again until she hears him scream, pausing long enough to grab her short sword and knives from beside the door where she has been keeping them in case of wolves. She emerges from the still open gate to see him bleeding in the snow and a snarling orc standing over him. Her arm isn’t what it once was, but her knife still strikes the creature’s shoulder and it takes a few steps back. Clearly it wasn’t expecting any kind of resistance and it roars loudly enough to summon several others from other smials they have obviously been trying to break into.

Her only thought, as she attacks, is Bluebell. Her daughter has been told what to do in this sort of situation, but Belladonna knows that doing such isn’t always easy. It has been years since she has fought orcs, and this small group can only be a scouting party, but she slips back into it effortlessly. Unfortunately, she is out of shape for such an activity and she also used to have Frerin at her back. The two of them could have dealt with this in minutes, but she is alone, tired and starving.

She makes a mistake.

The blade slides through her back and emerges through her stomach as a hot knife might cut through butter and her ears are filled with the delighted chuckle of the final orc. It is larger than it’s fellows, blind in one eye, and it circles her while snarling in it’s own language. Her only thought is Bluebell, her daughter, who will likely emerge from the smial to find her parents blood staining the snow and an army of orcs on the way to avail themselves of the soft folk of the Shire and an easy meal. Bluebell will lose both parents, and likely her own life if she leaves the smial to investigate.

Belladonna reaches for the earth, trying desperately to use the Blessing to heal herself. She knows it is forbidden but she can’t die, here, bleeding out into the snow and leaving her daughter alone to face the danger that is coming. The Blessing skitters out of reach, refusing to cooperate and she pulls harder. It lashes back at her, the pain of it lost in the numbness that fills her as her life drains away, so she reaches further and deeper until she finds something else. It is dark, black, vicious but so alive. It fights when she grabs it, tugging it into her body and twisting it to do what she wants of it, until she starts to heal. It isn’t until she looks up and sees the frozen agony on the orc’s face that she realises what she has done. She has taken every year that this orc might have had and claimed it for herself, ripped every part of it away from its body and taken it into herself. For her to live another must die and even though she will never mourn the fact that she has killed the orc she can feel it’s thoughts and essence mixing with hers.

She screams, her mind breaking away from the horrors that she is seeing. She screams and doesn’t think she will ever be able to stop.

*

T.A. 2941 The Misty Mountains

Belladonna has never felt terror and hopelessness quite like the moment she saw Fili stabbed and Bluebell fall with him into the depths of the mountain. The only thing that had stopped her from losing control again as she once did is that she can’t work through stone anymore. She knows her daughter well enough to have recognised that flicker of determination on her face before she fell. Bluebell let herself be caught up deliberately, Belladonna knows, the young pair might not have taken that last step that would tie them together but if Bluebell had been willing to risk dying with Fili in the fall then his loss would have affected her more deeply than Belladonna had realised. Frerin tries to offer hope, to her and Kili both, but much of the encounter with the goblins and the fight to get out passes in a grief blurred haze. Her actions are automatic, brought on only by the hopeless thought that if Bluebell and Fili survive, they will not be happy if anyone manages to get themselves killed.

Getting her daughter back is more than she dared to hope for. Happiness fills her and for the first time in nearly forty years the tiny bit of the orc that still lingers in the corner of her mind vanishes. Then she looks closer, unable to see any sign of Fili’s injury and touches the earth just enough to look at his light. It burns bright and strong, he is obviously healed, but it’s different too. Before it was all the white silver of mithril and the orange of a hot forge with tangles of green and blue at the edges. Those tangles would reach for her daughter in much the same way the little pieces of dwarf colours in her light would reach for Fili. Now, both of them just have a swirling mass of colour, an even mix that spirals and dances. Whatever happened to them in the mountain has caused them to bond more thoroughly and completely than any other pair Belladonna has encountered.

She always knew that if they ever got to the point Bluebell wouldn’t survive losing Fili, but with how mixed together they are she doesn’t think he would survive losing her either even though it’s not the way of dwarves to fade. They are built to endure even the most extreme of griefs, such as the loss of the other half of your soul.

“Get the tunic up, boy,” Oin says and startles the small family group. “Need to have a look at that scratch, goblin blades are filthy, and you don’t need an infection. It’s a wonder you didn’t break your fool neck.”

“Bluebell needs looking at more than me,” Fili replies with a slight flush. “She healed me but apparently-”

“We can’t heal ourselves,” Belladonna finishes for him before turning to her daughter. “You managed to heal with all that stone around you?” She asks and Bluebell’s eyes light up with pride as she squeezes Fili’s hand. Belladonna wonders if she has even realised she’s still holding it.

“I couldn’t have done, without Fili,” she replies and the resulting questions from all directions have Bluebell shrinking into Fili given that she’s still unaccustomed to being the centre of so much attention. Yet another result of Belladonna’s actions that winter day.

The questions are cut short by a howl and for the second time that day Bellladonna finds herself running from a foe. This time, however, the earth is beneath her feet and she chants the hiding softly as they run, Bluebell, she knows, is likely too exhausted. With luck they will be able to find somewhere safe before the wargs smell them, they can’t run forever and she knows their luck has well and truly run out when they find themselves on the edge of a high cliff with only tall pines to climb. Death, it would seem, has found them and it breaks her heart anew. Not for her and Frerin, they have had their time. It is for Fili and Bluebell who have just begun, for Kili who is yet to find the one his light searches for and Thorin who only wishes to bring his people home.

She hears the order to climb and obeys, she has little choice other than to die and she isn’t certain she wants to consider the other alternative. She climbs and leaps through the trees and entertains the thought that hobbits are not squirrels. They are supposed to be on the ground or under it. It’s probably worse for the dwarves, who live under stone, but she still doesn’t like it. The alternative might well be the only option, however, and she reaches through the living tree for the earth it’s connected to. At least she’s unlikely to survive twisting her Blessing to a foul purpose this time, even if neither Frerin nor Bluebell will be able to bring themselves to end her future torment there is a cliff readily available to do that for her. She has barely begun to search for the dark taint of orcs and wargs when the tree, thanks to Gandalf’s burning pinecones, catches fire and collapses out, threatening to send them all hurtling into nothingness and breaking her concentration. It makes her very grateful for dwarf strength when Frerin hauls her up before her fingers can lose their grip entirely. She’s relieved to see Fili and Kili do the same for Bluebell, although their care of her daughter is likely futile in the face of their current predicament. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of a connection to the earth for her to follow through on her original plan any longer. She’s so focused on that thought, in fact, that she doesn’t notice the orc until she feels Frerin’s fingers grip her arms so tightly it hurts. She knows about this orc, has heard about it from Frerin and deep in her mind is a memory from the orc she killed. She’s known Azog survived Azanulbizar for years, told Frerin as much before she learnt to shut away the tiny piece of orc that lingers in her mind. If the devastation on Thorin’s face is anything to go by, the information has never reached him.

Azog obviously expects Thorin to try and attack, much as Belladonna truly hopes he won’t, and likely his goading of the dwarf king into doing something rash is all part of his enjoyment of the hunt. His focus, and that of his orcs, is so completely on Thorin, however, that Belladonna grabs onto the little bit of earth she can still feel through the tree and uses it to draw the hiding about them again. It won’t work as it should, the orcs know where they are and the connection is tenuous, but it will make their eyes slide off the Company and that might give them an edge. Especially when Thorin succumbs to the taunts and charges from the tree to attack the pale orc, just as Azog had obviously intended. He spurs his warg into a leap over the charging dwarf and knocks Thorin from his feet with a laugh as he turns to face the struggling exiled king. They all watch in horror and so all miss Frerin as he charges duel swords in hand and takes a running leap. He lands, by some miracle, on the orc's back plunging one blade through his ribs and the other into its neck, cutting off Azog’s roar and all but severing his head. The warg rears up, dislodging its now deceased rider and Frerin who isn’t quite quick enough to release the hold he has on his weapons to get out of the way. He lands, crushed under Azog, with an aborted scream and it’s that, along with the sudden surge of orcs around Thorin and his brother, that causes those of the Company who can to charge from the tree.

There are still too many orcs and they can’t possibly win, but they’re determined to take as many as they can with them. Then she’s snatched up in the talons of a giant eagle and she can’t think anymore as the breath is stolen from her. Thorin is also down, unconscious after being thrown like a rag doll by a warg, and Frerin is distressingly still in the grip of the eagle that holds him. They fly all night and in that time Belladonna watches and waits for the cold to come. The loss of warmth and the disinterest in life that comes and marks the beginning of the fading. It has to come at some point, Frerin is too still and quiet, and she has heard enough of the stories to know the signs.

By the time they are place high upon the Carrock she is beginning to allow herself to hope and she rushes to Frerin even as Gandalf kneels by Thorin to try and rouse him.

“Frerin?” She calls but he doesn’t stir. “Frerin?” She tries again. He is alive, barely, his breath shallow and the flutter of his pulse hardly noticeable when she finally finds it. She reaches for the earth, to heal him as she always used to only to find it out of reach and her Blessing snaps back at her in retaliation.

“Bluebell! I need you,” the words are almost a sob, but her daughter is already there, having ignored Thorin in favour of the one she calls Adad. She drops to her knees and takes a breath, ignoring the mutters of their concerned companions, and Belladonna watches as her indigo eyes shine in the early morning light. Her face scrunches into a frown and her eyes close and Belladonna fears that they are too far from the earth. She knows that Bluebell can find earth through the stone, she knows it because Fili is alive when he should be dead. Belladonna saw the scar, if only briefly, and Bluebell wouldn’t have exhausted herself as she had for a mere scratch.

“He’s bleeding inside,” Bluebell whispers finally, and Belladonna hears horrified whispers behind her. This might be beyond even Bluebell. “I can try,” she says and bows her head in concentration.

Everyone watches, barely breathing, and Belladonna can feel Thorin’s uneven steps as he approaches. Eventually Bluebell makes a frustrated noise and her eyes open again.

“There’s too much stone,” she mutters, “it’s fighting me.” She looks behind her, eyes finding Fili as though she knew his exact position when before this he was at Thorin’s side. “Fili, please,” she whispers, and the golden-haired prince looks at her seriously.

“We weren’t going to do that again,” he says softly, so softly that if not for her sensitive hearing Belladonna might not have heard him at all. There is an undercurrent of fear there that she can’t place. “The mountain nearly refused to let you go last time.”

Please,” Bluebell’s eyes are shining with tears. “You know what he means to me. If he- I can’t lose anyone else, please.” He sighs but nods and sits next to her.

“What do you want me to do?” He asks.

“Open yourself to the stone, take my hand and don’t let me get lost in the song,” Bluebell instructs. “I think that’s what happened in the mountain.”

“If you don’t think this will work,” Thorin begins.

“No disrespect, Thorin,” Bluebell cuts in, “but Frerin won’t survive the trip down if we don’t do this. Just keep everyone quiet and let me concentrate.”

It’s a measure of how worried Thorin is that he doesn’t comment on Bluebell’s rudeness. If nothing else comes of this trip it has helped Bluebell truly grow into her own woman and Belladonna will die proud of that fact. Everyone follows her instructions, not daring to question it. They’ve been travelling together for long enough that the thought of the death of one of their own must hurt all of them. The young princes and Thorin, however, will feel it as keenly as the hobbits.

Finally, after what seems like an eternity, Frerin coughs and opens his eyes. Neither Bluebell nor Fili move, so she’s obviously still working, but Frerin is conscious enough to meet the worried gaze of first his brother and then Belladonna. He gives her a weak smile and squeezes her hand, then turns his attention to the hobbit that he has taken as a daughter.

Mahal,” he breathes reverentially, “Nathith, your eyes.”

Belladonna turns to her daughter in alarm. The indigo has spread, there is no white to Bluebell’s eyes at all now and pale silver swirls through the blue as she looks silently down at him. Fili, too, has lost the white of his eyes, although it is less obvious in the morning light and she likely wouldn’t notice it at all but for the indigo that spirals through his. If Belladonna needed any further proof that the bond between these two is greater than anything she has heard of before this would be it. Frerin goes to speak again and Bluebell chuckles.

“Hush, Adad, let me concentrate,” she tells him. The strain of working for so long in such an unfamiliar way is showing. In truth, were they still in the Shire, where the earth is so saturated in hobbit magic healing is easy, this would be a strain. Frerin must have been closer to death than Bluebell had indicated.

She only continues for another moment, however, before she takes a shuddering breath and nods to Fili. The shine is already fading from her eyes as his also return to normal, locked on her daughter and Bluebell’s answering smile is almost shy. Then her eyes roll back, and she faints into his arms. There is a moment of outcry and the bottom drops out of Belladonna’s stomach. Then Gandalf is beside Bluebell muttering quietly. He casts a sidelong glance at Fili, who glares back almost defiantly, and arches an eyebrow, then he hums.

“She is merely exhausted,” he reassures the group. “Some food and rest will do wonders in restoring her.”

Chapter Text

T.A. 2868 Ered Luin

Oin knows before he even reaches the mine that this cave-in has been a bad one. The entire mountain had shaken and the tired old whisper that part of the old town had gone with it is already making the rounds. It’s utter nonsense, of course, the town is fine, no dwarf with any sense would build directly on top of mine workings. Sadly, it would appear that the same cannot be said for the dwarves who were in the mine at the time.

All dwarves know how to deal with the collapse of a mine and no matter how strong their Stone Sense no dwarf has ever been able to predict every cave-in. Sometimes it is simply all in the hands of Mahal. A nearby warehouse has already been converted into a make-shift infirmary, the crates of ore moved aside and cots that are kept stored there set up in an orderly manner that has to be used far too often. Three other healers are already there, and already hard at work. Since he is the youngest present Oin is sent to assess every miner brought in. The walking wounded (who can wait), moderate injuries, serious injuries and the dying. There are far too many of the latter coming in and Oin hates it every time he has to send another dwarf to wait to die alone. There simply aren’t enough healers, or even those in a position to help, to ease the passing of every fading life. It’s a senseless tragedy that so many lives are being taken by the very stone that created them.

That thought is only proven more true in the form of the sandy haired young dwarf brought to him roughly an hour after the collapse, a time when he knows that the chances of finding anyone still alive are decreasing with terrifying rapidity. His eyes fall on Vili, son of Arli and husband of Princess Dis, and he feels despair coil in his stomach. Vili’s left leg is crushed beyond repair, it will have to be amputated, as will his left hand which was likely caught under the same crushing weight. He doesn’t want to send this dwarf to a corner to die, although (by Mahal’s mercy) he is unconscious. He perhaps should. The amputations will be taxing on his already heavily damaged body and a death during surgery won’t be any better a way to go. He hesitates, Vili’s injuries are worse than others he has seen kill a number of miners already this day, but in the end, he sends him on for treatment. Princess Dis should at least be told that they tried.

Vili dies with a single scream as they begin to hack off his ruined leg.

Oin later hears King Thorin demanding to know what his brother-by-law was doing in the mine in the first place. Vili had a strong Stone Sense, he should have been able to detect the fault that caused the collapse. And he had. He had been in the mine attempting to convince the foreman to shut it all down and get everyone else out. The body of the dwarf in question is the last one recovered, his head the only part of him not crushed beyond recognition.

*

T.A. 2941 The Carrock

Oin has seen a great many terrible things in his long life. Too many in some respects and it makes him feel far older than he truly is. His failing hearing, the result of an injury in his youth, doesn’t help with that. He has seen all manners of injury, all manners of death. He has seen it happen instantly and he has seen it linger for weeks and months and even years. He has seen more than one dwarf suffer the kind of injury Frerin did, crushed under a great weight (although Oin suspects Azog falling on Frerin simply worsened an already existing hurt from their time in the goblin caves, Frerin took a lot of the weight of the fallen body of the goblin’s vile king after all) until their insides began to bleed. What Oin has never seen is anyone recover from such an injury. He has certainly never seen anything like the healing magic that this tiny creature has, although he has wished for it more than once.

What use is he, really, in the face of such power?

What he fails to factor in, as so many of the others obviously have, is that such a gift must have some kind of shortcoming. The fact is, the girl has performed two miracles today and returned two of their Company to them when they had been feared lost. She’s obviously going to be exhausted, particularly after little sleep and no food. To think that some of them had feared the hobbits would be useless for the most part.

He grunts as he kneels to examine the girl, the attention of most of the rest of the Company caught by their distant glimpse of Erebor. Oin was little more than a babe when they fled the dragon, he hardly remembers it, and as much as he would like to take a look now he has a patient to care for (more than one if some of the mutters and careful movements of the others are anything to go by) so he stoops to examine the girl and sends Fili along to take a look at the mountain he will one day rule with a stern glare.

Bofur and Bifur are the first to break from looking at their destination, the first to turn to the problem of getting down from this pile of rock. It comes as a surprise when it is Thorin of all of them who turns to Oin for confirmation of the wizard’s assessment. Then again, Oin would rather trust his own healer’s eyes than any amount of magical trickery. Which is why he will be pinning Fili and Frerin down as soon as they are on the ground and giving them a good once over. Just because the girl thinks she has managed to heal them fully doesn’t mean she didn’t miss something. Better to be safe than lose one of their party because too much faith was put in strange magics.

“Aye, Thorin,” he says in answer to his king. “The lass is exhausted, and far thinner than I would like given what we know of her kind, but she will wake in her own time. Likely enough to be ravenous as well.”

“I think we all are,” Thorin replies. “Which brings us to the problem of getting down. Bofur, have you found a path?”

“Aye,” the miner says it slowly. “But it’s steep and uneven. We’d be alright if we were all moving under our own power, but with injured-”

“We’ll make do,” Frerin says. “I’ll carry Bluebell.”

“You will not!” To Oin’s great surprise it is Dori who pipes up before he can. “I will carry her, I’m stronger than you are and haven’t just nearly died.”

Oin doesn’t hear most of the rest of the conversation, sees Fili step up to argue his case for taking the girl down to safety and sees the moment that Thorin declares he will not. At this point it doesn’t much matter who does what, only that they do. They are too exposed up here, though the day is a fine one, and the hobbits are not as hardy as the dwarves. They will need the shelter, and Oin would rather try to look at the various members of the Company not fortunate enough to have all their ills tended to by this girl somewhere that they can all get clean.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2929 Bag End

Bluebell has taken a trip to Bree, now gone three days of what usually ends up as a ten-day trip. There was a time when Frerin would worry for her safety, even knowing how safe the Shire is, and he has taken great pains to teach her to use the same sword and throwing knives that once belonged to her mother. Much like her mother, Bluebell has taken to it well. True it has cost her the proper hobbit figure and thus caused the loss of some of her less persistent suitors but Frerin can live with that, as can Bluebell from the way she had shrugged the changed behaviour off. It makes him miss Fili and Kili when he trains her, Fili who took to duel wielding in much the same way Frerin did and Kili with his father’s keen sight and gift with a bow even as young as he had been when Frerin left.

With Bluebell out of the house and taking a much need rest from caring for her mother, Frerin has taken some time out of the old forge in Hobbiton to take over with Belladonna. They do this every six months or so and things have improved greatly over the last twenty-six years. They still have those days that can stretch into weeks where Belladonna refuses to leave her bed, much less her room, and struggles to eat. There are nights where the orc memories overwhelm her dreams and tear screams from her throat, hours where the proximity of the earth rubs against the raw edges left in Belladonna after her actions nearly destroyed her Blessing. It has taken time and work, mostly on Bluebell’s part, but Belladonna is beginning to regain control and Frerin no longer fears stepping into her room while she is in the midst of a nightmare.

For years Frerin has entertained fantasies of his relationship with Belladonna returning to the way that it was before he told her about Ghruna. He always knew it would never be possible but with the way that Bungo died and how she managed to survive they have almost had to begin again. This isn’t helped by her neighbours, they fear her and have little love towards him. He and Belladonna are stronger for it, he thinks, for having come together through the trials that have separated them. Unfortunately, there are plenty more ahead.

Such as this one. Frerin wants nothing more than to marry Belladonna and has done since the moment he realised the depths of his feelings for her. There has always been something in the way, however, and that hasn’t changed. First Ghruna, then Bungo, then Belladonna’s own fragile mental state and, finally, the laws and beliefs of his own people.

The vast majority of dwarf marriages are between those Mahal has created for one another. Very few marry for other reasons, or politically. That remains for the high classes and royals, and even then it doesn’t happen often. Usually only where there is great need or concern over the succession. Unfortunately for Frerin there had been a great need and he and Belladonna hadn’t been the only ones to suffer for it.

“Talk to me,” Belladonna says from the door to his room. It startles him, he had believed her asleep. “I can hear you thinking down the hall. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“These,” he opens his hand to show her the gold beads held there, one for each of them. “Marriage beads,” her hand freezes over them. “I made them for us.” Made in a fit of defiance when he had intended to break his word to his brother and his people and run from Ered Luin instead of telling Belladonna that things between them had to end.

She watches him silently, even her eyes seem to have shut down, and he fears he has hurt her or set off another of her episodes until she sits next to him and closes his fingers over the beads. She is waiting for him to continue, to work his way through the problem as she always has. Belladonna prefers he help her to direct her thoughts but Frerin has only ever needed silent encouragement.

“I would marry you in a heartbeat if you would have me,” he continues, but doesn’t meet her eyes. “But because of my father and grandfather and Bungo, I can’t. You’re my One and I can’t claim you for all to see because dwarves aren’t permitted to marry more than once.”

“I’m not a dwarf,” Belladonna replies after a quiet moment. He stares at her. “By your customs I’ve never married. If a hobbit’s bonded dies, we fade. We just stop, most don’t last a week. But we don’t always marry our life-bond and a marriage here can be broken. Hobbits can marry more than once in that situation.” She meets his eyes. “I’ve had one hobbit marriage, Frerin, as it happens it was over before Bungo died. By your customs I’ve never been married.”

“Semantics,” Frerin says but he can’t deny it’s a good argument. Balin would probably pick it to pieces in under a minute, but Balin isn’t here.

“We could do it the hobbit way,” she says, “but I’ve done that, and it’s left me with a lot of regrets. Besides, there would be a big party and we would have to invite your family. I doubt most of mine would turn up, but you never know.”

“There is another way,” Frerin says after a beat. “It’s how I would have, should have, done it before in the wild. It’s ancient and not used much now, but it’s quick and private and still recognised.”

All it needs is a bead each, a promise and a particular four strand braid. It’s managed quickly and painful as it is, they agree to hide the commitment they have made. Hobbits can be frustratingly close minded about the ways of the other races, evidenced by the reactions of the few that Frerin had mention the possibility of adopting Bluebell to. They won’t view this as a real marriage, and Frerin doesn’t want his family to turn up and stick their noses in again. He doesn’t want his new family pulled apart by his old one because of ancient ideas that shouldn’t have to apply. Besides, its down to his people that he didn’t marry Belladonna before Bungo got to her and it would seem that he never grew out of his rebellious phase.

He moves into her room that night as her husband.

*

T.A. 2941 The Carrock

In the hours that it takes for Bluebell to regain consciousness the Company climbs to the base of the Carrock the eagles had placed them upon. They then proceed to take stock of what they have left after their capture by the goblins and the result is bad. They have very little food, except the small amount in Bluebell, Thorin and Dwalin’s recovered packs. Blankets and bedrolls are in even shorter supply. Everyone has cuts and scrapes that need to be clean and treated and, for his part, Frerin won’t be entirely comfortable until Bluebell can work her magic on Thorin’s head and make sure what little brains he has wasn’t damaged when the warg knocked him unconscious.

Fili and Kili are quickly dispatched to set traps for any small game that might be available. The younger’s relief at getting his brother back is palpable, Frerin doesn’t think anything is going to separate them any time soon, but his utter devastation at Fili’s loss had also been clear. Frerin had feared it would leave Kili too grief stricken to fight to escape. Instead it had made him so angry that he had left a few too many openings for an enemy strike. It had been incredibly fortunate that the entire Company had made it out of the mountain with as few injuries as they had. With everything that has gone wrong so far Frerin is starting to wonder if this whole foolish idea shouldn’t have been abandoned at the start.

Fili, Frerin notes, is obviously torn between going with Kili as ordered and staying with Bluebell. Something happened between the pair of them in the caves, he thinks. Belladonna suspects some of it but Frerin would wager his entire share of the dragon’s hoard that certain feelings were acted upon. Whether they’ve actually discussed it or come to any sort of understanding he couldn’t say but he’s fairly certain a very pointed conversation with Fili is going to be needed in the near future.

He’s sort of looking forward to it, although their timing could have been better.

Belladonna puts an end to Fili’s indecision by sitting next to her daughter and saying something to the prince. Frerin can’t hear what, but he recognises the set of her face and Fili quickly does as he has been ordered. Frankly, Frerin is amazed Fili is functioning at all, unless he’s drawing strength from the stone, healing takes a great deal out of both parties. Frerin feels like he could sleep for a month and for Bluebell to be this exhausted both of her patients must have been closer to death than she had admitted. Not to mention the affect of her own injuries.

“Brother,” Thorin’s voice cuts through his musing over his wife and daughter.

“Thorin,” he nods. There is more that he wants to say but the gratitude on Thorin’s face stops him.

“Azog is finally, truly, defeated,” the older says. Frerin huffs a sigh of relief.

“Near on took his head off.”

“So Dwalin said. I could have lost you once again, nadadith,” his brother rumbles and Frerin’s heart clenches at the familiar form of address that he hasn’t heard in too long, “if not for your hobbits.”

“Bluebell,” Frerin corrects. “Belladonna can’t heal since Bungo was killed.” It’s still a sore subject even after four decades.

“Her abilities are impressive,” Thorin says with a glance at the daughter of his heart.

Bluebell has woken up during his brief conversation with Thorin and is talking quietly to her mother. Her eyes, however, are frequently turned in the direction that Fili and Kili have gone. She looks tired, which is to be expected, and there is a light blush on her cheeks that becomes almost brilliant when the lads reappear. Fili’s cheeks also go slightly pick when Belladonna raises an eyebrow at him and Frerin grins. There was definitely more than healing going on in the time they were separated.

“Belladonna has never heard the like,” he says to his brother after a short silence to watch the interactions between Bluebell and Fili. “I gave Belladonna my bead,” he continues suddenly. “About ten years ago. As far as we’re concerned, we’re married, whether the people will accept it or not.”

“I had a feeling,” Thorin covers his eyes with a sigh. “And Bluebell?”

“Adopted as my daughter against the laws of her own kind. Which is why we’ve kept it hidden,” Frerin scowls. “Our people won’t understand why I have taken a widow as a wife against all the teaching of our kind. Bella’s people view the adoption of a child as a terrible crime against the child’s family.”

Which he thinks is awful, a feeling that only intensifies every time he thinks about it. Children are adored in the Shire, the hobbits can easily have a half a dozen or more per family if they so desire, and they treasure every single one. An orphaned child is always raised by aunts and uncles, however, and they always know they are orphaned. To adopt a child is to steal that child from his or her family, even if that child was unwanted in the first place (and it has happened).

“You will have my support, nadad,” Thorin tells him. “I bear some of the blame for you being in this position.”

“Thank you,” Frerin replies simply.

It feels inadequate, just those two words, but Frerin cannot grasp his brother the way that he wishes to until Bluebell has been able to ensure that Thorin’s stone skull has prevented any serious harm. His brother, however, has no such concerns, cracking their skulls together with a force that is more affectionate than anything. He groans in pain afterwards all the same and Oin appears almost instantly, fussing around his king and muttering bad temperedly all the while. Frerin sidles away while the healer is distracted, he has no desire to be poked and prodded and he knows full well that Bluebell won’t have stopped her healing until there was nothing more to do.

“How do you feel, nathith?” He asks, crouching beside his wife and brushing a strand of hair from Bluebell’s face.

“Hungry,” she replies with averted eyes. “Tired and my head aches a little.”

Frerin looks at the ugly cut on her forehead in concern. It will scar but Belladonna knows enough about normal healing to have looked her daughter over.

“What you did up there was dangerous,” he says with a glance at his wife. She nods, obviously of the same opinion.

“It was the only way to save you, Adad,” Bluebell hisses and Frerin’s heart clenches. Bluebell has always adored him, always loved him, and here he is all but telling her she should have let him die rather than risk her own life. Even knowing what the ultimate cost of that would be for her.

“Fili didn’t like the idea very much either,” Belladonna adds.

“He made that very clear under the mountains, mother,” their daughter replies. “I couldn’t let either of them die.” She says it with all the defiance Frerin has come to expect from her.

“How did it feel?” He asks. “Your mother told you about your eyes?” Bluebell nods, her fingers going to the short braid behind her ear in a nervous gesture she has picked up over the last couple of decades. Belladonna gently bats her hand away and pulls a comb from her skirts, running it through Bluebell’s hair as their daughter thinks.

“I can’t even describe it,” she answers finally, flinching when her mother’s comb finds a particularly difficult knot and staring that the delicate bead that she holds. “I’ve never felt as close to another living being as I did to Fili when he helped me channel the stone.” Belladonna hums, the sound carrying layers of meaning in the way that only a mother’s concern can. “It didn’t cause what happened between us, Mama,” she insists. “It would have happened eventually anyway.”

“Do I need to have a word with my sister-son?” Frerin smiles, it’s vaguely predatory but in truth he would take Fili as Bluebell’s husband over any other in Arda. He’s biased, but Bluebell has always struck him as the sort who was meant to be queen.

Her cheeks flare scarlet and he shares a look with her mother. Then she shakes her head and both sigh.

“Let me talk to him first,” she says softly. “With everything that was going on we haven’t had the opportunity ourselves.” Belladonna’s lips thin as she separates a section of Bluebell’s hair for the braid she wears.

“Very well,” Frerin agrees, ignoring the glare Belladonna sends him. He has his own confessions to make and now is the best time, before Thorin opens his mouth and welcomes them to the family himself. “I will redo your braid in a moment, Atamanel,” he says to Bella, the first time he has used an endearment whilst among the rest of the Company. “Thorin is aware and has given his support.” When the two stare at him in question he shrugs. “Now seemed the most opportune moment to tell all.” His wife shakes her head fondly.

“Off you go, dear,” she pats Bluebell’s shoulder. “Have Oin take a look at your head.”

The dark-haired girl scowls but gets to her feet obediently. Her hand brushes Frerin’s shoulder as she walks past him, and he squeezes it without a word. She will know what it means, she knows him almost as well as her mother does after all.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2873 Ered Luin

Fili adores his uncle Frerin. At fourteen it’s only natural that he would have a preferred uncle and Frerin is the one with all the fun stories of travelling. He’s the one who tells tales of visiting the elves in Rivendell when Amad and Thorin aren’t listening. Frerin is the one who made him a small wooden sword to play with and showed him how to wield it properly when he was too young to start any real sort of training. Frerin is the one who spirits Fili out of the house for a couple of days when his lessons get to be too much or his fights with Kili too loud.

“He’s a child, let him be a child,” Frerin will argue when Amad and Thorin object to the impromptu trips and missed lessons.

“We lost our childhood, Dis’ boys shouldn’t lose theirs as well,” Frerin will say at other times when the number of guards around them becomes too much. Fili think that might be why Frerin travelled so much before Adad was killed, trying to capture a childhood lost to a dragon and the battle of Azanulbizar when he barely had a beard.

“Expectations come later,” Frerin will snarl when Fili has done something Amad and Thorin disapprove of, even when that something is just the same as the actions of his peers. When he acts as a child instead of as the perfect heir they seem to think he should be. “We all did foolish things at his age.”

Except Amad didn’t, because by the time Dis was Fili’s age Smaug had already driven out Erebor’s people. Amad grew up on the road running from fire and famine and without a home until Uncle Frerin was promised to Ghruna (but even Fili can see that the pair don’t much like one another). Her older brothers may have tried to protect her from the trials of the road but Fili wonders if Amad would be so stern with him had she been permitted the childhood Uncle Frerin is so determined he have, if she weren’t still grieving the husband Fili looks so like.

Of course, Frerin never used to be around as much as Thorin, who is always short on temper these days, and, in the past, when Frerin came Thorin would always depart within days. No one would tell Fili where he went then, but Amad always looked more tired and would stay out later with Balin while Thorin was away. He should have resented Frerin for driving Thorin away, Fili has often thought, except life for him is easier when Frerin is home and Thorin is gone. Life with Frerin is more fun.

“Come on, lad,” Frerin startles him from his thoughts, which are not at all on the dry text Balin has left him to read and are, instead, on the daydream of one day reclaiming his ancestral home from a dragon single handed. “Come and sit with your brother and I’ll tell you both a tale of Algirk Stonesinger.”

“I’m too old for children’s tales,” Fili refuses with all the dignity he can muster. Besides if he doesn’t have this memorised by the end of the week Balin will be disappointed and Balin’s disappointment will mean that Amad and Thorin will be too and that’s worse than all the anger they could display.

“Take a break, Kidhuzurâl,” he replies fondly. “The dusty old text will still be here when we’re done and we both know you haven’t read a single line in over ten minutes.”

Fili sighs and obeys, leaving the table to sit in front of the fire with his brother and uncle (and to waste a further few minutes fighting with Kili over who sits where). Then he listens, enraptured despite his earlier protests, to tales of one of the first inhabitants of Erebor and the peace he helped to bring to the mountain.

*

T.A. 2941 Beorn’s Cottage

They need supplies and shelter, Fili knows. They also need a place that he can have a much over due conversation with Bluebell. They’ve really put the cart before the horses here and he knows his uncles will both be furious when they find out. He would remind them, that they have both made youthful, heated, decisions but he actually quite likes his face the way it is, thank you.

The worst of their injuries have been taken care of by Bluebell, who had comically scolded Thorin like an errant dwarfling when he tried to insist that she treat others first. Oin was dealing with everyone else and Bluebell had wanted to be sure that Thorin’s brain, if such a thing existed, wasn’t damaged. Fili had been fascinated by the way she glowed while she worked. Thorin fixed up, minor injuries cleaned and dealt with by Oin (“If I heal every little thing your bodies will forget how to do it for themselves!”), the matter of the orcs had come up.

They cannot be certain that Azog’s demise will have ended their pursuit, and even if it has it will only be a temporary respite. As soon as some other orc takes charge the chase will continue. Slaughtering the one who killed their former leader is the orc’s way and one of the reasons the Line of Durin has had such a large target on their backs for so long. Fili’s family have killed a lot of orc leaders in their time. As it is, no one is eager to wait around and find out if the power vacuum has been filled or not. They have little in the way of supplies and a deadline to make. So, when Gandalf says he will lead them to the home of a friend they follow, forgetting how the wizard has an annoying habit of only giving them as much information as he thinks they might need to make the decision he wants them too.

Which is how, two days after leaving the Carrock, they have ended up nervously awaiting the wizard’s summons while he has taken both of the hobbits with him to speak with the tallest Man Fili has ever seen.

“Perhaps Fili should accompany me and Kili you,” Frerin rumbles as they await Gandalf’s signal.

“And I suppose the two of you would go first?” Uncle asks in reply.

“My wife and daughter are over there. Pardon me for wanting them safe,” Frerin says with deceptive mildness. The hobbits have had more influence than Fili thinks he realises.

“Why take Fili and not me?” Kili asks and Fili winces.

Kili knows very well what happened in the caves while they were separated. Fili may not have been able to get a private moment with Bluebell, but he has been able to speak with his brother and Kili knows him well enough to read between the lines and draw the correct conclusions. Unfortunately, Fili suspects that his brother’s question is less about stirring the pot (which Kili is more than capable of doing but unlikely to in this situation) and more because, as so often happens, he feels like the after thought in even his own family. The pressure has always been on ensuring the colony survives and on training Fili as the heir. Kili will have his own role, of course, but it will always be a supporting one and so his lessons always seemed to be of secondary consideration leaving him at a loose end too often. Dispossessed royalty doesn’t make the best of parents, it would seem, and neither his Amad or uncles had the best examples to follow. As the second son Frerin should be aware of all this.

“Because, kurkarukê,” Frerin replies, “Fili and I have something to discuss, do we not, Kidhuzurâl?” Fili hasn’t heard Frerin address him by that name in a long time, far too long really, but it isn’t said with teasing fondness as it used to be. There is a firmness to it that shows that no matter how fond of him Frerin might be (and Fili is beginning to realise that Frerin didn’t leave because he loved them less than he did Belladonna and Bluebell) his uncle will not go easy on him either. “Shall we speak of your intentions here, or as we walk?”

“I had hoped to talk to Bluebell first,” Fili hedges, “to make sure we have the same outcome in mind.” Kili sniggers and Thorin arches an eyebrow in his direction.

“I had not thought you had progressed so far,” his uncle says and both boys gape at him. “I am more observant than you think and have seen both of you infatuated before.” Now Frerin snorts.

“I think this goes a bit beyond that,” he comments.

“That’s the signal,” Nori interrupts from nearby. For a moment Fili is grateful to him until Frerin’s hand clamps down on his shoulder and he finds himself being led towards Gandalf and the hobbits.

“My intention is to follow her lead,” Fili’s tone is stiff, if he can get this done now, he can save himself a good deal of discomfort later. “She’s my One,” he admits, he’s known it for a while and has been doing his level best to ignore it. “If it goes as I hope she’ll rule beside me one day, but only if she wants it. I haven’t abandoned the laws of our Maker just because Bluebell isn’t a dwarf.”

There is no time for anything else, they’re too close to Gandalf and their prospective host. Not to mention that he hobbits hear far better than dwarves do, and Fili doesn’t want this conversation overheard by Bluebell. He doesn’t want her to think, incorrectly, that he and Frerin are deciding her future for her.

In Fili’s opinion, and he knows that the hobbits will agree with him, Beorn is far too tall. He’s also far too delighted with their hobbit companions. To one who might not know them well they seem at ease, but Fili can see the tension in both of them. It doesn’t take any thought to move to Bluebell’s side and put his arm around her, especially as Frerin does the same with her mother and nods in approval at Fili as he does it. Beorn simply looks intrigued but doesn’t interrupt Gandalf’s story except to point out numerical inconsistencies. Ultimately, he’s intrigued enough to let them stay the night and provide them with a good meal, which they are all sorely in need of. He makes it clear, however, that if they are lying he won’t hesitate to kill them. It’s a measure of how badly wrong this whole quest has gone that the idea barely makes Fili wince. Besides, there’s still the dragon at the end to consider.

They are fed, and the less said about the fact that the attendants are dogs and sheep the better, and Fili is quick to help Bluebell onto the bench beside him as Frerin helps her mother opposite. Apparently, the others are aware of the desire to keep the hobbits from being noticed too much by their host because Kili sits on the other side of Bluebell as Dori takes up position next to Belladonna. Thorin sits beside Fili as he would at home and it reminds him that, at some point, he will also have to discuss his choice of wife with Thorin. It is a conversation that he had intended on having before things between he and Bluebell had come into the open, or indeed this far. Although Thorin has always claimed he would be allowed to marry whoever he chooses Fili doubts that his uncle had considered a hobbit as a potential choice. Since Frerin and Belladonna don’t have any children of their own it’s entirely possible that dwarves and hobbits can’t have children together (although he knows that the tea the hobbits are careful to drink every day could be just as much to blame, there would be no reason for Belladonna to drink it so religiously otherwise). It would place a pressure on Kili that Fili isn’t entirely sure he has a right to do, particularly since he knows that Kili would accept it simply to make sure he is happy. Fili would do the same were the circumstances reversed.

Once they have eaten well, and been reminded to stay in the house, the various members of the Company drift off to different parts of Beorn’s home. Of Frerin and Belladonna there is no sign, although given the utter lack of privacy available on the road Fili wouldn’t be at all surprised if they are taking advantage of it now. Most of the others have piled into family groups and begun to doze. Bifur is in a corner muttering to himself, as he sometimes does, with Bofur lounging next to him with his hat over his eyes. He appears relaxed but Fili knows that he is watching his cousin all the same. Bifur isn’t dangerous at times like this, but it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on him in case he decides to go outside no matter the warnings.

Bluebell has sagged against him, still sat at the table, her tired indigo eyes also surveying the room. Her gaze lingers on Thorin and Kili, who are, in turn, watching them.

“You need rest,” Fili says softly. They all do but he can see the lingering exhaustion around Bluebell’s eyes even two days after escaping Azog and the goblin tunnels.

“I know,” she mumbles, “but you’re comfortable and warm.” She wriggles closer and he wraps an arm around her. “Mama is a hypocrite,” she mutters, her voice barely audible but hard all the same. Fili has been aware of some tension between mother and daughter over the last couple of days.

“In what way?” He prompts when it seems like she has fallen silent.

“She knows that happened in the tunnels,” Bluebell replies, turning her gaze up at him so that he knows she means everything. “It’s always been blindingly obvious she and Frerin were carrying on like that when they travelled together, and she decided to give me a lecture about it.”

“Maybe she just wants to be certain you don’t make the same mistakes,” he offers although he agrees with Bluebell. She scoffs.

“Hardly,” she mumbles. “Besides, those are my mistakes to make. I probably won’t survive the dragon even if we do make it to the mountain.”

“Don’t say that,” he says quickly, pressing her tight against him. “You are not going to get yourself killed.”

“I don’t think I have as much control over that as you might think.”

“I mean it, Bluebell,” he hisses. “Dwalin once told me that if you go into a fight believing you’re going to lose you will. If you go in thinking you can win then you stand a chance. Don’t assume Smaug will kill you, we might get lucky.” Which hasn’t been their experience so far, but stranger things have happened.

“Positive thoughts,” she yawns.

“Come on,” he detangles himself from her. “Time to sleep.” There is a large pile of hay nearby and he all but carries her to it.

“Stay with me?” She requests.

He should refuse, he knows, because this isn’t some casual on the road fling. It isn’t a way to take off the edge that builds and builds the longer they go without physical companionship. This is his One and until where they stand with one another is clear he should avoid sleeping next to her even in as innocent a setting as this one. It will hurt less, ultimately, should she not feel the same way about him if he doesn’t become accustomed to being so close to her. Instead he removes the knives most likely to poke one or other of them in their sleep and settles next to her. Bluebell instantly rolls so that she can pillow her head on his chest.

“So much more comfortable than the ground,” he mumbles, and she hums an agreement.

“Definitely more comfortable than a rocky tunnel,” she replies.

“It wasn’t supposed to happen like that,” he blurts out the admission and feels her tense against him. “I was going to wait until we’d taken back Erebor, we were going to have a huge, comfortable, bed covered in furs and a roaring fire. I was going to take hours,” he whispers, he wouldn’t put it past the other members of the Company who are awake to be attempting to listen in.

“I would have liked that,” she sighs.

“We still could,” he assures her, “when this is over. We could lock ourselves away for a while and make up for the tunnels.”

“I don’t regret it,” she tells him, “and I wasn’t disappointed with it either.”

“Nor I,” he agrees, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve on it.” He decides to press on. “I’d like to spend the rest of our lives improving on it, as your husband.”

As proposals go, it isn’t the most romantic. Or the best timed. Or even the most private, although, to their credit, none of the other occupants of the room give any indication that they’ve heard. He could, he concedes, have worded it better. Bluebell’s head flies up and she twists so that she can meet his eyes.

“You’re a prince, Fili,” she hisses, “the crown prince.” He nods, he knows where this is probably going. “I’m a hobbit, do you really think your people will accept me as queen? Would your uncle even allow it?”

“My people will accept you as queen or I’ll give up the throne.” He’s had time to think on it over the years. No throne is worth a miserable marriage, he thinks. Bluebell raises an eyebrow and glances over at Kili. “He wouldn’t be that bad, just don’t tell him I said it.” He shrugs. “Uncle has always insisted that both of us will be able to marry where we choose. I’m not sure he thought my One would be a hobbit, but I don’t think anyone could have seen that coming even with Frerin as an example. Besides, our people will love you. How could they not? You’re willing to do what none of them are, you’re going to walk into the lair of a sleeping dragon to try and help a people not your own.”

She doesn’t say anything, and he can see the doubts flickering behind her eyes. Frerin’s story has really stuck with her, although Fili can understand why it would.

“Bluebell,” he continues when he sees confusion flicker over her face, “do you know what a One is?” She nods and it stands to reason that Frerin would have explained at some point. “You’re mine,” he states simply, just in case the implication of the previous time he said it hadn’t been clear. “Thorin isn’t of the old way of Thror, he won’t deny me the One Mahal created to walk beside me.”

“Hobbits have the same thing,” she whispers. “We call it our life-bond, but we don’t always marry them. It leads to big families and that it doesn’t always make for social advancement. Social status is important in the Shire and some can’t see past it. I’ve seen what happens when those who weren’t created for one another marry anyway. I swore I would only ever marry my Bonded, my One, if he were in a position to have me. Since that’s you-” She gives him a lopsided smile.

“Bluebell,” he breathes and her eyes twinkle. “Did you just agree to become my wife?”

“Yes,” her smile is breath taking and he pulls her into a fierce kiss.

“Oh, thank Mahal for that!” Kili exclaims, apparently having been listening more closely than they had realised.

Thorin clips him about the ear without a thought, hardly a surprise given how often his little brother manages to speak without thinking, and Kili yelps. Naturally, he starts pouting, a habit he will have to grow out of if they get the mountain back. Some of the Company, who have also been listening, laugh, but for the most part the outcome of the conversation is ignored in favour of giving the couple the illusion of privacy. At least for the night. Teasing and everything else that comes with it can wait until the morning.

Fili doesn’t even remember falling asleep.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2876 Ered Luin

The call comes in the middle of the night, the horns of a patrol alerting the city guards that orcs are on the way. Winter still has them in its grip, the snow is thick on the ground, and the orcs are not unexpected. They attack every winter at some point, earlier some years than others, when the caravans have dried up due to the poor travelling conditions and the trappers have retreated into the larger settlements with their furs. Normally an orc attack wouldn’t be a problem for the city of New Belegost, built as it was to house so many of the refugees from Erebor with a high, thick, wall and sturdy gates. It doesn’t match the kind of defence being inside the mountain would offer but the stone in this area isn’t stable enough to support a bustling city. Sadly, the walls aren’t as stable as Thorin had once believed, an illegal tunnel was discovered early in winter under part of the southern walls. Cracks had appeared due to weakened foundations and somehow an orc scout had gotten past their patrols and discovered it.

That is exactly where the orcs strike. They manage to break through into one of the more affluent parts of the city before the wall guards are able to mount a proper defence. Their enemies always charge straight for the gates and none of the dwarves are prepared for the change in tactics. In some ways, the part of the city they have broken into is a fortunate one, this area is less populated than others and the residents are better armed and better trained. Unfortunately, because there are less dwarves to defend their homes the attack is all the more devastating. Many ‘dams and dwarflings are killed before the orcs are finally slaughtered by a contingent led up from behind by Dwalin.

Frerin is at Thorin’s side throughout. Fighting with his brother beside him has become familiar once more since Frerin was forced to stop travelling. Thorin hopes it will continue after the wedding to Ghruna takes place. The pair clearly despise one another, for all Fhrna will not be moved by even his daughter’s pleas to put an end to the farce of the arrangement, and Thorin suspects Frerin will either remain in the family home with Dis or start travelling alone again rather than move into the new house that has been built for the couple. Frerin tries to put a good face on it, although he’s lost so much as a result of it all, but Ghruna is so accustomed to getting her own way that she isn’t making the situation easy on anyone. Frerin has even less patience with spoilt rich dwarves than Thorin, which is remarkable given his patience in other areas.

“We have a problem,” Dwalin says as he approaches them once the fighting is over. “You been with Thorin this whole time?” He asks Frerin, who frowns.

“Someone has to watch the idiot’s back,” he shrugs. “What happened?”

“You aren’t getting married anymore,” Dwalin replies. “Fhruna, Hvai and Ghruna are among the fallen.”

“Killed during the attack?” Thorin asks as Frerin stiffens beside him. He isn’t expecting his brother to mourn the loss of his betrothed, but they will have to make at least a small show of it.

“Aye,” Dwalin nods, “from the number of dead orcs around them at any rate. Doesn’t hurt to check, though, you know that questions are going to be asked.”

“Fuck off, Dwalin,” Frerin snarls. “Do you really think I’d go to these lengths? Now? Eight months after it became too late to undo all the damage done by this sham.”

Frerin doesn’t talk much to Thorin about his Bella, so Thorin doesn’t know the circumstances around her wedding, but obviously his brother had hoped their relationship could still be salvaged. Thorin admits he had hoped so as well. It would be nice for one of his siblings to get the loving relationship they deserve.

“Brother,” he says, “this isn’t the place.”

There is sure to be those nearby waiting to hear Frerin’s reaction, waiting to see if he will display any satisfaction at the news. Frerin’s anger isn’t ideal, but it’s better than a grin or a sigh of relief. Frerin makes a crude gesture and marches away, leaving Thorin and Dwalin staring after him. Dis will have her work cut out for her later but she is the only one who can get through to their brother when he’s like this. Thorin has other things to worry about. He will have to speak to Balin about the contract made when the agreement between Thror and Fhrna was drawn up. Provisions were made for Frerin’s death, he was about to head to war after all, but Thorin isn’t sure if the reverse was also true. As if he didn’t have enough problems.

*

T.A. 2941 Beorn’s Cottage

“This could cause problems,” Balin says as he and Thorin watch Fili walking with Bluebell.

“I have given my blessing and support,” Thorin replies evenly, “Mahal willing they will ask me to witness the ceremony. I gave Fili my word that he and Kili would be permitted to marry where they wished. I’ll not go back on it.”

“I don’t think we considered hobbits when that promise was made,” Balin points out.

“At least she isn’t an elf,” Thorin shrugs. “Think of the wonders they could accomplish with their gifts. You have seen what Bluebell can do when they work together, imagine what Fili might manage as well.”

“And the old guard?” Balin asks. “The ones who believe a prince should marry where he is told for the good of the kingdom? And what of the succession? Our people won’t be happy with a half breed on the throne.”

Thorin has thought of a lot of this in the days since Frerin blithely announced that he had, in fact, gone against the convention of their people and married his widow. Dwarves are insular as a rule, something that they share with the hobbits, and no matter which member of the line of Durin chose to marry outside of their kind it was going to cause problems somewhere. Belladonna and Bluebell now openly wear the braids that announce their connection to Frerin and it had resulted in rather a lot of what remaining coin they have changing hands. Most of it went to Nori, which surprised no one, but a great deal went to Kili as well, which just goes to prove that his youngest sister-son isn’t as stupid as he wants people to think. Nori, Thorin has come to realise, is often aware of a great many things that he shouldn’t be, and he makes a mental note to talk to the thief after Erebor is reclaimed, they will have a great need of that talent in the coming years.

“The old guard don’t have to worry about Dis castrating them,” he replies, returning to the original subject. “And, perhaps, we could pass it off as a return to the true teachings of our Maker. Mahal creates One to match us and walk with us through the trials of life. Perhaps ignoring that has been part of the cause of so many of the problems that has plagued the people of Erebor.”

“We could phrase it a little better,” Balin muses, “but it won’t solve all of our problems.”

“I am aware. If the subject of Fili’s heir becomes a problem there’s always Kili, if he has them. If not-”

“There’s always Dain,” Balin sighs. “She could die before this is over you know,” he adds. Thorin frowns unhappily.

“The thought has crossed more than one mind,” his eyes fall on the couple who are now exchanging a kiss. “Which is why they have agreed to wait until Erebor is ours once more to finalise things.”

“I would have thought it would make them want to move faster.”

“As would I,” Thorin agrees, watching as Kili bounds over to the couple and begins chattering about who knows what. “But I believe Fili is thinking of his brother, as always.” Balin glances at him questioningly, then looks at Fili and Kili who are tussling together while Bluebell shakes her head in exasperation. “He would not cost Kili his future happiness for the sake of an heir if Bluebell is taken from him.” Balin nods. “And, I believe, he is also terrified of what his mother would do to him if he were to marry the girl before she meets her.”

That draws a laugh from Balin, which is reassuring. Thorin knows they will need his old friend’s support as both advisor and steward if Fili’s marriage is to go unchallenged. Frerin’s circumstances have taught Thorin that the One created for another by Mahal isn’t always what you might expect (a lesson Dwalin could also do with learning). Besides, Fili and Frerin aren’t the first to have a One who isn’t a dwarf. It’s not common, Mahal knows it occasionally causes problems in some areas, but it isn’t unheard of. It was only a matter of time before it happened in a prominent family.

If they all die before they reach Erebor it won’t be a problem anyway. If Bluebell is killed before the mountain is theirs it will cause other difficulties but those can be overcome with time and necessity. As for the rest, Thorin has seen the strain put on a family when something like this is denied. He dreads to think of the further problems it will cause if Fili is denied the call of his heart in the same way that Frerin was. Erebor will need stability, and stability isn’t achieved when the heir to the throne disappears to marry his One against the wishes of his uncle and king.

“Frerin and Belladonna,” Balin interrupts his thoughts. “Do you also support them?”

“I have told Frerin that I do,” he replies after a moment of hesitation. Balin breathes his name disapprovingly. “He is my brother, she is his One. What would you have me do?”

“We cannot be claiming to obey one of our Maker’s dictates while ignoring another!” Balin exclaims.

“Frerin has never been married.”

“And his widow?”

“She isn’t a dwarf, and remarrying isn’t uncommon among her people.” He decides to keep the fact that hobbits typically die not long after their One passes from Balin. It may help Frerin’s case, but it will be a point against Fili’s.

“So, hobbits don’t have Ones?” Balin mutters.

“You would have to ask Belladonna about it,” Thorin shrugs, “or Bluebell. I’m not entirely sure what they call them or how they know them.”

He knows that Fili and Bluebell discussed it. At the moment, however, how the people receive Fili’s marriage (or even Frerin’s) is not something that Thorin wants to put much thought into. He has given Frerin his word, as he has Dis, but, most importantly, he has given his word to Fili. Provided they survive this marriage will happen whether Erebor is reclaimed or not. Fili deserves no less and Bluebell, well, Bluebell deserves more than Thorin can ever give her. Supporting her marriage to Fili is the least that he can do.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2913 Bag End

Bluebell has not braided her hair the way that Frerin taught her for a long time. After banishing the dwarf from their home on her fifteenth birthday Bungo had worked very hard to eradicate whatever influence Frerin might have had over her from Bluebell. She still resents him for that, even though he’s been dead these last ten years.

He would be horrified, she knows, to realise that the first person Bluebell turned to when everything went wrong wasn’t a Baggins, or even a distant Took relative. The first person that Bluebell turned to was the very dwarf whose existence had torn apart her parent’s marriage. Bluebell blames both her mother and father for that, but never Frerin. When told to leave the dwarf did, out of respect for Belladonna if not for Bungo, and Frerin has been a better father to her this past decade than Bungo ever was.

She groans in frustration as her fingers tangle in her thick curls. Frerin makes it look so easy when he fixes his own in the morning, or when he weaves her mother’s hair into complex patterns that calm the older hobbit in ways that Bluebell can’t. She can’t even manage this simple three strand braid. All because she had found that bead, the beautiful bead that Frerin had given her on her birthday some twenty years ago, tucked away in the back of a drawer she had been clearing out. Bluebell has never forgotten it, has worn it on a fine ribbon around her neck more than once when Bungo was being particularly vocal in his distaste for all things dwarven so that she knew it would be safe. Braiding, for all she knows how, his been left unpractised and like any skill left alone too long will have to be relearnt.

“Would you like some help, mizimith?” Frerin asks from the entrance to the kitchen. The rain is falling in sheets outside, a last late winter storm blowing through ahead of spring, and Frerin has opted to close the forge for the day. She smiles and hands her comb to him, his affectionate tone makes it clear that the familiar (and untranslated) word is an endearment.

“Where’s Mama?” She asks. They are settled on the rug in front of the fire and Frerin is warm against her back as he draws fingers and comb through her awkward curls.

“Resting,” he replies, “her recovery is slow. I wish she would allow me to take her to Rivendell.

“So do I.” Bluebell turns her head when Frerin gently presses to indicate that she should, and quick fingers begin to weave a braid behind one ear. “Do you think that Lord Elrond would come if we asked him to?”

“He might do,” Frerin muses. “He’s decent enough for an elf,” which is a ringing endorsement really, “but your mother would never forgive us.”

“I suppose she wouldn’t,” Bluebell sighs and passes Frerin the little gold bead she has kept so close for so long. A long breath rushes out of him and he makes an almost broken sound. “What’s wrong?”

“You truly wish to wear this?” He asks.

“Of course,” she assures him. “I held onto it all these years so that one day I could. Irak-Adad? Should I not have?”

Her words seem to shock him out of his thoughts. She rarely calls him that these days, struggles to call him ‘Uncle’ even in his secret tongue when he has come to be so much more to her.

“I never really explained what it means,” he tells her, and she hears regret in his voice.

“I remember you saying it would mark me as part of your family,” she says.

“It does,” he sighs and bows his head. “I had no right giving it to you the way that I did, Bluebell, and without explaining it properly even though you were too young to truly understand what I was offering you.”

“Do you regret giving it to me?” She’s surprised at how tiny her voice sounds.

“Never,” he insists, “but I want you to understand before you start to wear it. It wouldn’t just mark you as a member of my family. It shows you to be the daughter of my heart. Mine in all but blood, and I know that kind of adoption isn’t something that hobbits hold with.”

“It would make you my father?” She asks wistfully, remembering the day he gave it to her when she had expressed exactly that desire. A wish she has thought on many times during her life.

“Yes,” he breathes heavily, and she can see the tension in him when she turns to look.

“Put it in,” she whispers, “please?”

Her heart feels like it is going to burst from her chest. Frerin wants a daughter like her. Wants her and she sees the relief and joy in his dark eyes as he clasps the bead around the end of the braid. She squeals and throws herself into his arms, wrapping hers around him in a tight embrace that is fiercely returned. It’s nothing like the hugs she would receive from Bungo. Bungo had tried, she knows, but there was always the doubt in the back of his mind that Bluebell was not his daughter. Always the disappointment that the only child Belladonna ever gave him was a daughter who would lose his name and his wealth to a husband. A daughter who was too much like her Took mother and not enough like her Baggins father.

“What do I call you now?” She asks.

“In public? Call me as you always have,” he says firmly. “Your mother can’t afford to have me chased out for adopting you.” Taking her from Bungo is what the neighbours will say it is and Frerin knows it. “When it is just the three of us, call me ‘Adad’ if you wish, Nathith.”

“Adad,” she tries the word and smiles. “Father?” He nods. “Nathith?”

“Daughter,” he supplies, and she can’t help the happy cry that emerges once more.

Even her mother is thrilled.

*

T.A 2941 Beorn’s Cottage

“Any luck, sweetling?” Belladonna asks as Bluebell approaches Beorn’s house.

They have been there for nearly a week to allow the last of the injuries from the orcs and the goblin tunnels to heal and to give Bluebell time to recover from the two complicated healings she had performed. Beorn has also been good enough to allow them to raid his stores so that they can supply themselves for the long trip through Mirkwood. There is only one thing missing and a week searching the meadows around them has yielded nothing.

“No silphium,” Bluebell pushes her new betrothal braid behind her ear, then pulls a leather pouch from her belt and looks inside. “I have enough for one or two cups left,” she continues after a moment and shrugs. At this point there is little worth in drinking it. “We didn’t think we would find any this far from the Shire.”

“We didn’t think we would lose all of our belongings either,” Belladonna points out but Bluebell notices that she has gone a little bit pale.

Much as she dislikes the thought of her mother doing that, she isn’t silly enough to think that Belladonna and Frerin haven’t been taking advantage of the relative privacy of the safe haven afforded by Beorn’s home. Not that Fili and Bluebell haven’t, but a closer eye has been kept on them by the other members of the Company. Kili has been especially vocal in his desire not to be blinded by his brother’s romantic exploits. Belladonna sighs and gets to her feet. There is a peace to this place that has been good for her mother and Bluebell will be sorry to leave it.

“You will be careful?” Her mother asks and Bluebell blushes but nods. “I suppose that’s the best we can do,” her mother sighs and goes back into the house.

“What was that about?” Fili asks as her comes around the corner. He has obviously been sparring with the other members of the Company, his face is flushed and his chest bare and the golden hair that covers it is damp with sweat.

“Nothing we can do anything about,” she shrugs.

Silphium is difficult enough to cultivate in the Shire, miles away from its usual cliffside habitat, she had no hope of finding the contraceptive plant here so there is little use in worrying Fili with its lack. He grins and kisses her, something they have both happily taken to doing at every opportunity. They both know there will be precious little time for it on the road. As always, especially after Fili has been sparring, the kiss takes a more heated turn and since she only has enough of her herbs left for one more day of tea Bluebell thinks she might as well take advantage of it.

“Oh, Mahal!” Kili exclaims, making them startle apart. “Could you not?” He flings Fili’s tunic at him and receives a rude gesture in return. “Put some clothes on, nadad, and don’t let Uncle catch you.” He darts off before Fili has his arms through the sleeves of his tunic and Bluebell sighs.

They begin to walk together, hands clasped as they make their way through the flowering meadow. Bluebell idly plucks the odd blossom, scattering them behind her as she discards them.

“What do hobbits do when they agree to marry?” Fili asks suddenly.

She looks up at him, startled by the question and not sure why. Frerin has always been considerate of the ways of hobbits, even if the three of them have flaunted and ignored them numerous times, it stands to reason that whatever influence he may have had on Fili in the early years of his life might have taught him the same.

“There’s only one hobbit custom I would like to follow,” she says after a moment of thought. “When a couple is betrothed, they cut take a lock of hair, the two are woven together and mounted into a pair of rings or other piece of jewellery.” She pulls out a locket from where it rests under her bodice. She’s honestly surprised she hasn’t lost it. “This was my mother’s when she married Bungo, my father.”

“My mother has a broach like this,” Fili comments. “It belonged to my grandmother and is a family heirloom from Erebor. This is a hobbit custom?”

“Yes,” Bluebell smiles. “We have an old proverb that says a lock of your lovers hair worn near the heart can only increase the love between you.” Her mother’s locket is a simple piece, her parent’s hair woven in a lattice that is quite striking given the difference in their hair colour. It reminds Bluebell of a chessboard in some ways and it is an observation that used to amuse her mother and frustrate her father. “I wonder how your grandmother came to have a piece,” she muses, “it’s considered bad luck to sell the piece with the hair still in place and worse still to lose it.”

“My understanding is it belonged to a distant ancestor,” he tells her. “You have no stories of hobbits travelling to dwarf settlements?”

“None,” she shrugs, “but we lost a lot of our history during the Wandering. It’s possible during that time any number of my people took refuge among other races.”

“I will honour your tradition, of course,” he tells her, fingers finding the braid that she wears in honour of his. “Uncle may not like it but Amad wears proof of a precedent for it often enough. Although the making of it-”

“Mama knows how to do it, she will teach me as she does so that I can pass it on to our children. It’s the way of it.”

Bluebell’s words are soft, of all the hobbit traditions this is the only one that has really called to her. Flower crowns and betrothal dances have always struck her as flighty, although she understands how something that doesn’t need to be carried and transported might have grown from the Wandering. Even the hair jewellery most probably came from that time, braids of hair worn as bracelets or rings to denote marital status when there was nothing much else available. If Fili is to be believed, however, there may be evidence that it may predate their migration and that could be a precious piece of her people’s history to rediscover.

“You don’t want a hobbit ceremony?” He asks after a moment.

“Hobbit ceremonies are well enough,” she shrugs, “but the bonding is easily broken, and the vows skewed entirely in favour of the husband.” Bluebell doesn’t hide her bitterness at it. Though she will never say it aloud she has always viewed her mother’s marriage as a mistake. Even as a young child she had often feared that Belladonna’s love of travelling and dwarves would cause Bungo to cast her aside as he eventually did.

“Your father?” He asks.

“The day he died,” Bluebell whispers. “It’s why he was out there in the first place. No one in the Shire knows. I told them that Mama and Bungo had an argument. There was no one to say otherwise. Bungo was dead and Mama was lost in her own mind.” It’s the most she has said about that day to anyone in the Company other than Frerin. They all know that orcs came, and Belladonna somehow held them off but, for all their questioning, they don’t know more than that.

“I would never sever the bond between us,” he assures her, although both know it’s unnecessary. “You’re my One and even if you weren’t, I couldn’t imagine wanting to. Not to mention it’s against all of our oldest laws.”

“So is marrying a second time,” she points out, “but that didn’t stop Adad and Mama.”

“Well, Frerin never married,” Fili says with a wry grin, “and your mother is a hobbit and I understand that a second marriage isn’t unheard of. The rule doesn’t apply, or that’s how Balin’s intending to present it anyway.”

“Balin’s very good at his job, isn’t he,” Bluebell smiles.

“Yes, Mahal knows we’ll never find anyone as good as him to replace him when he retires.” Fili shudders at the thought. “Which will become our problem, you realise?”

“Ori,” she shrugs, “he’s Balin’s apprentice and I suspect he’s already begun his training. Besides, who else would we trust?”

He grins at her and they stop walking to share another kiss. Their plans are a wonderful fantasy, of course, but there is still Mirkwood to get through yet. And the dragon under the mountain. They may not survive that long and it’s nice to spend time alone like this. There will be none of it on the road.

Chapter Text

T.A 2872 Tookborough, The Shire.

It has been two months since Frerin announced to Belladonna that their romance, their love would amount to nothing other than broken hearts. Two months since he returned from an impromptu trip to Ered Luin a distant shade of himself and announced that he couldn’t avoid his duty to his people any longer. Two months since he told her that all the time they have been together he has been promised to another.

She has barely stopped crying.

The lad who finds her is young, in the way all hobbits seem young to her these days. His sandy hair is untouched by grey, his blue eyes clear and not shadowed by death or fear.  He doesn’t speak as he sits next to her, just lays a white poppy across her lap. It’s a sweet gesture, consoling her without words, and something that Frerin would never have considered or understood. Thinking of the dwarf makes despair rush through her again but now it brings anger in its wake.

This hobbit has probably never left the Shire, probably never seen the wonders beyond its borders. In fact, this is quite possibly the boldest thing he has done in his life, giving a flower to a grieving hobbit he knows little of, and it reminds her of the kindness of her people. A kindness she has long forgotten with as little time as she spends in the Took family smial these days. For many of them she is the strange great aunt whose face is frozen in time, the inconvenient one who turns up for three or four months once every few years. Her visits have been more frequent since Frerin’s brother-by-law passed and he had always told her that it was because he was helping his sister to raise her sons. Now she wonders if he was courting this other woman too.

Deep down she knows she’s doing him a disservice. Frerin was at least as heartbroken as she and she knows him too well to believe that he’s the sort to carry on with two ladies at the same time. But Belladonna is angry and hurting, bitterly questioning her own good sense and gentle heart. Had she known about this Ghruna at the outset she might have guarded her heart a little more closely, no matter what Yavanna seems to have planned for her.

“Whoever he was,” her companion says softly, “he was a blind fool.”

She has no reply to that. Nothing that won’t make her sound as rage filled and shrewish as she hopes Frerin’s future wife will be. No reply that won’t tear her heart into ever smaller pieces. Nothing to say except to thank this hobbit for his kindness.

“Bungo Baggins,” he introduces himself, holding his hand out in the way of Men.

“Belladonna Took,” she replies, sees his eyes go wide with realisation as they take each other’s hands. Her smile is watery.

Perhaps it is time to think about moving on.

*

T.A. 2941 Mirkwood

Belladonna grips Bluebell’s hand as the two stand at the entrance into what was once called the Greenwood. They have been able to feel the darkness in this forest for days, even on the back of the ponies Beorn kindly allowed them the use of. Describing it as ‘wrong’ isn’t enough. It’s slick, thick and oily. It rolls against the Blessing that sleeps within her and clags against it in the way that too much beef dripping on a slice of nearly stale fried bread coats the tongue and dulls the taste buds. It’s cloying and it screams ‘danger’ at her making her feet itch and throb with each step closer to the border.

There is something terrible in these woods, or near to it, and it isn’t killing the land as one might expect, it’s twisting it. Taking something bright and marvellous and turning it into darkness of so vile a nature that Belladonna can’t find words to describe it. She’s only felt something like it a twice in the past, once at Azanubizar as orc blood soaked the land, and once in the spot near to Bag End where she ripped the life out of one of the dark creatures. This is what beings of darkness do to the living land when there is the magic of a people soaked into it. They drain and they feed and they grow strong from it.

“This forest feels sick,” Bluebell comments.

“I’m not sure sick is quite the word,” Belladonna says. “It’s awful.”

Frerin wraps an arm around her shoulders, pressing his head to hers. Fili follows his uncle’s example and takes Bluebell’s other hand in his. She watches her daughter rest her head against Fili’s shoulder and it makes warmth bubble inside her that, for a moment, makes the slick blackness of the forest recede. She is glad that she has lived long enough to see her daughter find happiness. If only it hadn’t been achieved during a practically suicidal quest. At this point Belladonna isn’t sure that any part of it has gone the way that it was meant to, nor is she as certain that it will be successful as she once was.

“This is where I must leave you,” Gandalf announces quite suddenly. “I fear another task urgently calls for my attention.”

Wizard speak, Belladonna thinks angrily, for the fact that they are on their own now that there is no chance of them giving up and going back. It makes her wonder, again, exactly what it is that the wizard hopes to achieve from this. She knows Gandalf well enough to know that no matter how well meaning his interest in a situation may seem, no matter how interested he is in apparently helping others, he always has his own agenda. The irritating fact is that every time this thought occurs to her something happens to distract her and prevent her from asking the question. Much like now.

“You can’t leave us!” Bluebell cries, indigo eyes wide and concerned.

Belladonna wants to react the same way but the last thing she needs is to lose control of her emotions. With the blackness in the earth under her feet she isn’t sure that she will keep a complete grip on her mind and her abilities. The sickness calls to the tiny piece of the orc still inside her mind, the little part that has been so silent since leaving the Shire that she has almost been able to forget about it unless it has otherwise been unavoidable.

“I have to, my dear,” Gandalf replies, hurrying to get onto his horse. “Keep to the path, all of you,” he orders before urging his horse forward and hurrying away from them.

“I don’t want to go in there,” Bluebell whispers.

“Not the most inviting of places,” Bofur agrees. “Hard to believe the tree-shaggers could feel at home in there.”

Belladonna looks around the rest of the group. Nori is watching everyone with his sharp green eyes. As often as Dwalin curses about the thief she knows (as the guard does too) that Nori sees almost everything. He wins a lot of wagers that way. So, she knows that Nori has not only noticed their discomfort but probably has some idea that is it a greater cause for concern than they have let on. He has to, even though Thorin and the rest are ignoring the hobbit’s reactions, because she sees him almost take a step closer to Dwalin before going to Dori and Ori.

Interesting.

“Durin’s day will not wait,” Thorin says with a sharp glare at both hobbits.

Fili and Kili bracket Bluebell as they begin to walk as seems to have become their habit since leaving the Shire. It’s good to see that Bluebell gets along as well as she does with Kili, she had worried that there would be some jealousy on both sides over Fili’s time and attention. Belladonna understands, now, why Frerin kept her away from Ered Luin. It would have been nice to meet his family and get to know them. Meeting them after so many years has added an awkward layer of complexity to her relationship with Thorin and the boys. They seem to have forgiven Frerin for disappearing but Belladonna wonders if there isn’t still a little bit of resentment in them still for her part in it.

“Atamanel?” Frerin catches her attention and she takes his hand in hers as she takes her first step into Mirkwood.

Wrongness floods over her and she retches as it makes her stomach roll. Just ahead of her Bluebell seems to be having a similar reaction and knowing that they will have to spend, potentially, weeks living with it makes her want to turn around and run in the opposite direction. It makes her want to forget the quest entirely.

“I’m alright,” she assures Frerin, “come on before Thorin gets any more impatient.” Frerin’s brother is glaring at them.

She takes a deep breath, swallows down the need to vomit, and continues forward. If she can just keep putting one foot in front of the other, she can keep control and make it to the other side. She just hopes that Bluebell can do the same.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2933 Bree.

Nori is very careful never to draw attention to himself in Bree. He passes through too often, the Mannish town being the best place to pick up supplies on his way to and from the Blue Mountains, and he has noticed more than once that the Men pay closer attention to those who pass through than they do in other places. It probably has to do with the funny little creatures who live in the lush green place nearby, the few hobbits he’s encountered are soft little things that are suspicious of everything bigger than them and naïve as new born babes. Nori is more than capable of disguising himself, of course, he’d have been caught and strung up decades ago if he wasn’t very good at running, hiding, and making himself look like someone else. Darkening his skin and hair, changing the style he wears his normally auburn locks in, wearing different clothes and altering his posture. It’s a lot of effort to go to every time he passes through.

He passes through a lot and when he does, he’s usually running as fast as he can from the guard (specifically Dwalin who seems to take his continued avoidance of the consequences of his thievery as a personal insult), or on his way back to Dori and Ori with his ill-gotten gains. He doesn’t draw attention to himself because he doesn’t need to lose that which he is regularly risking his fingers (and hands and neck) to get hold of so that they can afford Ori’s apprenticeship (whether Dori wants to admit that they need what Nori brings in or not).

Which makes it all the more frustrating that he has been grabbed now when he hasn’t actually done anything. Nothing that they would be interested in here anyway. He had actually been intending to use some of his recently acquired money to buy one of the delightful smelling pies he had ben eying. He’s hungry, the pies have been tempting him for years, and his last job yielded far better than he had expected. Typical that the one time he decides to work inside the law is the one time he gets arrested by the very Men he’s so successfully avoided when he needed to.

“He hasn’t actually done anything, Bartlebus,” a half familiar voice says, “you can’t scream for his arrest just because he ‘looks shifty’.”

The funny little creature who sells the pies glares at the speaker. From behind Nori can tell it’s a dwarf with grey streaked blond hair and a pair of swords strapped across his back. Something about them niggles in the back of Nori’s mind and he sags in the hands of the guards who have taken hold of him so that he can get a moment to think, before has to start thinking about trying to escape with everything he owns.

“I know a thief when I see one,” the hobbit argues. “I’ve had enough of my pies stolen and I won’t have it anymore. Pre-emptive arrest is better than losing any more of my stock. I’ve got faunts to feed, same as everyone else.”

“Apologies,” the guard holding him says and releases his grip on Nori with an irritated grumble. “I should take you in for wasting my time, Bartlebus,” he adds to the hobbit who begins to protest at volume.

Nori’s elbow is snagged by the dwarf who spoke for him and Nori is led quickly away before anyone can get the idea to look into him a little bit more closely. Usually, grabbing him anywhere would be a guaranteed way to find one of Nori’s knives in the offending appendage, but he doesn’t want to draw more attention, just get out of town and go home, so he goes along with it.

“I’ve heard of you,” his unidentified companion says once they are a suitable distance away from the disturbance. The blond turns and Nori finds himself taking in the face of someone he has only seen a handful of times and who he knows there is a sizable reward out for information on.

“As I have you,” Nori smirks, “Prince Frerin.”

Frerin doesn’t respond, barring a barely noticeable thinning of his lips and Nori is impressed despite himself. Most others he would have encountered in this kind of situation would panic and it would show on their face. Frerin is enviably calm which means he probably thinks he has the upper hand. Nori can work with this. It will make the prince over confident.

“Why did you step in for me?” He asks, leaning against the wall.

“I don’t need Dwalin or any of his guard tromping into Bree,” Frerin replies. “My circumstances are delicate and Dwalin’s lot have this habit of upsetting such things.”

“There’s a substantial reward for information on your whereabouts,” Nori tells him.

He knows the type, Frerin and Thorin are the very image of it. Too noble and honourable, too trusting of the loyalty and integrity of their people. Too bad he’s neglected to account for the twenty-eight years Frerin has been away from Ered Luin.

“I doubt Dwalin’s opinion of you has improved that much since I left,” Frerin chuckles. “He’s more likely to hang you than listen to you. There’s a reward for you as well, or there was when I left.” He shrugs. “You and I both know that Thorin will never pay you for the information. He won’t have to. With all the charges they have against you it’ll be easier to execute you.”

The fact that Frerin is aware of that annoys Nori more than anything. Nori can get out of any cell, could probably trade the information for a pardon if it leads to Thorin’s agents finding Frerin. It won’t get him the money, but he knew that even before the prince had smirked at him and pointed it out, and a pardon won’t get him any paid work. Besides, Nori has passed through Bree a dozen times in the last five years alone and has never encountered Frerin here. There aren’t many dwarves in the Mannish town and those there are, tend to stick in one area. He’s likely living nearby but easy enough to miss.

“It raises the question about which of us knows Thorin better I suppose,” Frerin continues. “So, how about you go your way and I go mine, and neither of us mentions seeing the other.”

“If I don’t?” Nori asks.

“If you don’t and any harm comes to those I care about I will make life for you and yours extremely uncomfortable,” Frerin snarls. He has a family, Nori realises, a family he has given up a comfortable life for. A family for whom he has abandoned his brother, sister and her children.

“Touch my family and I’ll gut you,” Nori hisses. The only reason he hasn’t already is that he owes Frerin for getting him out of an awkward situation and he doesn’t need the blood of a prince on his hands or the price on his head.

“We understand one another.” Is the response. Nori nods, if begrudgingly.

“I keep quiet, you keep quiet,” he agrees.

Frerin stares at him in silence for a long moment, arms folded over his chest and face as impassive as Dwalin’s when he stands at King Thorin’s side. Finally, he inclines his head once, barely a nod, and Nori takes that as his cue to leave quickly.

He doesn’t linger in Bree.

*

T.A. 2941 Mirkwood

Nori’s head feels like it has been stuffed with cotton, his lungs feel like the smoke from his pipe has become trapped there and his eyes itch. This forest is cursed, and he knows it is affecting his judgement. He also knows that it’s worse for the hobbits. In the time that they have been following the path, guided by Fili who seems to be able to feel even that small amount of stone, the two hobbits have become pale and listless, when they aren’t twitching like rabbits. Fili and Frerin have to coax them to eat their rations when the group stop to rest at night and start in the morning, especially Belladonna who begins to become unable to keep food in her belly the longer they spend under the trees. Bluebell stumbles often, gripping Fili’s hand as tightly as she can and leaning heavily on the two princes and Ori. Belladonna has to be carried, however, her lack of food has left her weak and the sickness in the trees is affecting her far more than it does her daughter.

Guttural phrases of Black Speech spill from Belladonna’s lips every now and then, and more than once Bluebell will come back to herself with a gasp and order that her mother be placed on the ground with a panicked kind of urgency that Frerin obeys instantly. The girl refuses to explain her reasons, but every time she gives the order she will place her mother into a deep sleep using her strange magic. Frerin, when pressed, will only say that it has to do with how Belladonna survived the death of her first husband. Nori doesn’t like it, none of them do, and by the time Belladonna had become this way they had no way of knowing if they were near the other side of the forest or not. They are over halfway through their rations, however, so pushing on is all that they can do.

Maybe he should have just let them hang him, he thinks miserably, it would have been quicker than starving.

Eventually, of course, they lose the path. Fili’s Stone Sense is remarkable, but it isn’t infallible. The forest and the lack of food get to the prince as much as they do anyone else. Nori’s surprised the young prince holds up as well as he does with the short rations, he’s never imagined any of the elder line of Durin going without even during some of their harder winters, but both of the young ones bear it with grim determination. Nori wishes that the spiders they encounter, not long after they realise they have lost their way, were an hallucination brought on by hunger. He really does. He’s loathed spiders since that time in Harrad and a job went wrong and he got caught in a tunnel full of the large, hairy, kind. These are worse. These are so much worse.

Should have let them hang him, he thinks again as he dangles in a cocoon. He wriggles, the silk wrapped around him muffling the sound of fighting nearby. Then it’s torn open and he sees Bluebell, her face pale and her eyes shining as she mutters. She looks sickly and her gait is unsteady enough that he fears she will fall from the tree. He guides her to a corner, glancing down to see Fili and Gloin hacking away at spiders while Bombur groans and Dori clambers from the cocoon he’s just opened to another. Nori opens up two more cocoons, containing Kili and Bifur, before dropping down to the ground to help Fili, Gloin and Dwalin. He attacks the spiders with extreme prejudice, but there are too many and the Company are hungry and sick from spider bites.

He’s tired enough to be glad to see the elves when they turn up and finish what the Company have started. He never thought the would see the day he was actually happy to see a pointy-eared tree-shagger but this goes to prove that anything is possible. He retracts the warm feeling moments later when they are all surrounded and disarmed (and he needs to talk to Fili about some of those daggers, he has some beautiful pieces for a stone smith). Even Bluebell, who had stopped using her weird hobbit magic not long after Nori had cut Kili free, is dragged to her feet and searched. Fili, predictably, is incensed at it and it’s only the fact that Bluebell slumps in a near faint that stops him from attacking the elves with only teeth and nails.

Dwarves are a possessive lot, especially when in love (he pointedly does not look at Dwalin when he thinks that).

Nori can only think of one positive to being taken captive by the elves. They are led out of the dark and sickening forest into a healthier area. The only reason he knows that it is healthier is that the hobbits perk up rapidly. The way they become stronger and brighter before his eyes makes it seem as though the earth itself has given them some measure of sustenance.  He wouldn’t be at all surprised if it had.

Nori watches as much as he can, you don’t break out of cells as often as he has without taking note of as much as possible on the way there. He sees the suspicious gazes of their guards and hears their unguarded words in their own tongue (and he smirks internally at the assumption none of the Company can understand it, Ori isn’t the only smart one and it has been useful to him in the past). He maps the corridors they’re led down mentally, trying to remember the way out for if they manage to escape and is taken by surprise when Bluebell shouts.

The Company grind to a halt as Bluebell and Frerin fall to their knees next to Belladonna’s prone form. The older hobbit is unconscious, and Bluebell’s hands reach towards her before a red-haired elf pulls her back.

“Your tricks will not work here,” the blond leader says and Frerin glares up at him, every inch the protective husband (and how so many missed the significance of those glares is beyond Nori).

“It’s no trick,” he hisses, “we’ve been wandering and starving for days, poisoned by the filth you’ve allowed to infest this place and the darkness that covers it. Allow our daughter to see to her.” It comes out as more of a demand than a request, but Bluebell is released, and they all watch as she closes her eyes and touches her mother with the gentlest of hands.

A knot that Nori hadn’t realised had twisted inside him unravels when she smiles.

“Nothing that rest and food won’t fix,” she says, “Not to mention getting away from the poison in those trees.” Her mother stirs and opens her eyes, and the girl’s grin gets wider. “Apparently, you two should have been more concerned about yourselves and less concerned about Fili and I. Congratulations, Mama, Adad, although at sixty-two I think I might be a little bit old to suddenly become a sister, don’t you?”

Chapter Text

T.A. 2872 Bree

Frerin enters the taproom of the Prancing Pony feeling as though his boots have been filled with lead, each step is harder than the last as his eyes scan the room for a familiar head of dark hair. It is a quiet evening and he spots Belladonna easily. Bile rises as she smiles brightly at him. They have only been apart a matter of weeks and usually he would be as happy to see her as she is him. Now he wishes that he could be anywhere else, even back on the field at Azanulbizar.

He couldn’t do this in a letter, as many times as Thorin and Balin both told him it might be easier. She deserves to be told face to face and she deserves the chance to show him all of the hurt he will be causing her. He has to do this now, as much as he doesn’t want to, because he can’t put it off and hurt her even more. He doesn’t even intend to stay in Bree, even though it’s late and it will mean a night on the road in the rain. Belladonna must see something of his thoughts on his face because she leaves her table and approaches, apprehension clear on her face and in her movements.

“What’s happened?” She asks. “Your brother and sister? Your nephews? Are they-?”

“We need to talk,” he tells her, his voice hoarse. “Not here.”

“My room,” she says, “the one I always get.”

He nods and turns away, taking her hand and relishing how tiny it feels in his. After this conversation he will be lucky to ever see her again. He doubts she will ever forgive him for this. He doesn’t think he will ever forgive himself.

He explains, as best he can, about Thror and Thrain’s deal with Fhrna. He tells her how precarious the situation has become, how he had hoped that all his years of avoiding home and duty would have painted him as less suitable than Thorin. That the reason he had resisted his feelings for her in the first place had been this betrothal and that he had never told her because he had been convinced that it would never happen. He tells her that he loves her and that his only regret about the time they have had is that he had never taken the next step before it had become too late.

“I have a duty to my people, Bella,” he stares at his hands as he speaks, unable to see the heartbreak that must cover hers. “It’s time I grew up and accepted that. I’m sorry.

“Sorry?” She repeats. “You’re tearing my life apart and you’re sorry?”

Tears are streaming down her face and, truthfully, he wants to weep as well. He wants to lay all the blame for this on Thorin and Thrain and Thror, except he acted on his feelings for Belladonna, he stayed beside her for all those extra years, even knowing that this was waiting for them at the end. Belladonna should have been given fair warning, he thinks, should have been given the chance to make the decision to risk future heartache with him, but it still would have ended up this way. Tears, anger and bitter disappointment. Or they could have parted ways fifty years ago when they took that last step past friendship and into lovers.

“There’s nothing I can say,” he replies, not even sure she can hear him over the sound of her sobs. “I thought I’d solved it, I had plans for it, but I was too slow. I would have spared you this, Belladonna, I should have spared you this.”

“Why now? Why not ten years ago or twenty? Why let it go on for so long?” She demands.

“I was running, and the longer I ran the more I thought Fhrna had changed his mind. I don’t want this!” He cries. “I never wanted it! I want you, Bella, I went back to Ered Luin to see my family one last time before vanishing for good. To be with you. Either I waited too long or Thorin had some idea of my plans. If I disappear, he’ll hunt me down and our people will be driven out of their home with no chance of finding another. I can’t do that to them again. Not to my people, not to Dis. Not to Fili or Kili because they deserve a childhood. I’m a prince and I have to fulfil my duty to my people even though it’s tearing me apart!”

“What are kings and princes to hobbits?” She demands viciously. “Cowards who hide behind lies and pretty stories so that they can get what they want.”

If it were anyone else calling him a coward Frerin would take it as a challenge. But it is Belladonna, and, in his heart, he knows that she is right. Fear had prevented him from speaking of his betrothal to her. Fear had prevented him from simply proposing as well; fear of losing his family, fear of being rejected, of causing them more grief and pain when grief seems to be all that Thorin and Dis have ever known. His cowardice has hurt them both.

“Leave.”

“Bella.”

Leave, Frerin,” she orders. “Just go.”

He does as she asks, hesitating in the door to look back and wish that he could kiss her one last time. He doesn’t even try, it wouldn’t be fair to either of them, and he half wishes he had it in himself to be completely selfish even though it is his selfishness that has caused this.

Only once he has closed the door behind him does he let his own tears fall.

He leaves Bree, even though it is already dark, and the rain is harder than it was when he arrived, and he makes as much progress as he can down the road before he is forced to stop and wait until morning. He doesn’t sleep, merely slumps against the nearest tree and huddles under his oilskin cloak to wait for daylight while he curses his grandfather’s greed and his own stupidity. Then, for good measure, he curses Mahal too for abandoning his creations to gold-sickness, dragons and doomed love.

*

T.A. 2941 Mirkwood

Frerin is still reeling from Bluebell’s announcement that Belladonna is pregnant when the elves begin to split them into cells. Fortunately, he is placed with his wife, but she doesn’t react well to seeing Bluebell led further from them. Whatever foul memories the disgusting air of Mirkwood has stirred in her has left Belladonna more anxious than Frerin has seen in years and it worries him. Luckily, Bluebell is placed, alone, in the cell next to them and that brings a loud objection from Fili who is locked away with his brother (Kili lets out a yelp not long after Frerin hears him flirting with one of the elves and he silently agrees with Fili’s sentiments, the elves here are nothing like the ones in Rivendell) far enough down the spiral of cells to see Bluebell in hers.

They are brought food and water very quickly, and it is a relief to see that Belladonna’s portion is slightly larger. Much as he dislikes the idea of their captors knowing that Bella is with child it’s good to know they aren’t trying to use it against the Company. Not yet anyway. What little Frerin has heard of Thranduil over his years of travelling doesn’t fill him with much confidence that the Elf King will just let them be if he hears of it. He can’t think of any reason why this development wouldn’t be reported.

Belladonna falls asleep not long after their food is delivered, and he holds her as he thinks. A child of his own blood now rests within her. Something Frerin never dared to think that he might have. He has always been happy as he is with Belladonna and Bluebell. If he’s honest with himself, he isn’t sure he can be a father in the traditional sense. He has, if he’s lucky, maybe another hundred years left of his life. Barely long enough to see his child come of age. He’s amazed Belladonna has even managed to conceive, everyone knows that the dwarf birth rate is low and they have trouble conceiving even as young adults. He knows about her tea, of course, both hobbits have been drinking it religiously until recently. It has made them careless, he thinks, he should have been paying closer attention to whether or not Belladonna had been drinking it after their run in with the goblins. He consoles himself with the thought that he has had other things on his mind. The quest and Azog, Bluebell marching towards a dragon and her romance with Fili.

Not to mention that having a child at his age is rare.

Its only when Thorin is led past that he realises that his brother has already been to see the Elf King and that his meeting with Thranduil did not go well. They can’t stay in these cells, though they are warm and fed and out of the taint of Mirkwood. Frerin will not have Belladonna placed in a position where she might have to give birth in this place, whether or not the elves would take her to the healer’s wing once her condition is more pronounced. Nor does he really want to take her near Erebor. The fact of it is, he may have to try and persuade her to break away from the Company and head for the Iron Hills in the hope that Dain might given them shelter. That will hardly endear him to Thorin, and Belladonna may refuse to leave Bluebell in any case regardless of the fact that she has been of age for thirty years.

In his heart he knows they will be going to the Mountain, Belladonna won’t allow her daughter to face the dragon alone, and Frerin can hardly stomach the thought of it either.

Either way they need to get out of this dungeon and Frerin well knows that Thorin would more likely kiss Azog than give Thranduil anything he might want, even if it meant being freed to continue their quest. There was a time when Frerin might have done the same. He learnt a long time ago, however, that following in the lead of his father, grandfather and brother in these matters will get him nowhere. He’s loyal to Thorin but his past means that he is more inclined to put Belladonna first. Loyalty to his king and people has brought him nothing but misery. Were the circumstances different he would settle in and wait, but with something so precious he is torn between his duty to his king and his love of his wife.

His position is tested three days later.

“You!” The blond from the patrol that brought them in is in front of his cell, his blue eyes hard and his face an unfeeling mask. “The King would speak with you.”

My King has made our position very clear,” Frerin says.

In truth he suspects that this is the beginning of the elves attempting to use Belladonna’s condition against them. He doesn’t want his child born here and even this far from the sickest parts of the forest it is still clearly affecting his wife and daughter. He isn’t certain how much the others can hear the elf has not raised his voice and conversations between the Company are conducted at a yell for the most part. It’s entirely possible they haven’t heard any of the tall being’s words at all, which isn’t going to look good for Frerin when he is led out of the cell. Eventually, however, Thranduil will hear of the condition of the two hobbits, he will try and find some way to get what he wants from the others. Frerin is simply the first and it might serve him well to try and take this chance of escape with his wife and daughter in tow. He thinks Fili, at least, of all the Company would understand that. For all his sister-son’s resentment of his disappearance Frerin doubts the lad wants to spend the rest of his days listening to Kili attempt (badly) to flirt his way free while his One languishes too far away to touch.

“Think of your wife, would you have your child born here?” The elf says mildly. “Come.” The door opens and Frerin steps out, looking around to see that many of the Company are watching from various cells on both side of an open walkway. “Try anything,” the elf says as Frerin meets his brother’s dark scowl, “and it will be your wife and child who suffer first.”

“I would expect nothing less from an elf,” Frerin snarls.

He is gratified to see the elf twitch slightly and it is as much of a reaction as he can expect. The trips to Rivendell mean that he has dealt with enough elves in his time to be able to read their less obvious reactions to things and he smirks in satisfaction that he has scored a hit. He’s not remotely interested in continuing the conversation and so falls silent as he follows the taller male.

Thranduil’s throne room is different from anything that Frerin might have imagined. His throne is placed so high that even arriving elves will have to look up at an uncomfortable angle. The elf sat upon the throne is a silver blond and has a striking enough resemblance to Frerin’s escort to allow him to conclude that he must be one of Thranduil’s sons. The king’s expression is one of boredom and he raises an eyebrow at Frerin, who doesn’t bow and instead takes a relaxed posture, before waving a hand. Out of the corner of his eye Frerin sees his escort move away but he keeps his focus on Thranduil and waits. Elves are patient, but Frerin can be too when the mood takes him.

“So, you are the dwarf with the halfling wife,” Thranduil says finally.

“Belladonna is a hobbit,” Frerin corrects blandly. “She’s half of nothing.” The eyebrow arches again while Frerin considers his next words. “I suspect I know why I have been summoned. I know what it is that you want from that hoard Smaug slumbers upon. And I know you already tried to negotiate with Thorin for them.”

“He was less than willing to consider my offer,” Thranduil says. His tone sets Frerin’s teeth on edge and he has to remind himself to hold his temper, losing it will not get them out of the dungeons. “One hopes you would prove more reasonable, you have far more to lose than your brother.”

“I’m the second son, I’m hardly in a position to negotiate on behalf of my brother without his authorisation,” Frerin points out. Much as he would like to do it, Thorin would be under no obligation to honour any promises made by Frerin and would just as likely brand him a traitor for treating with his enemies.

“I would release all of you,” Thranduil says, “and give you what supplies you would need to reach the mountain without going to the Men of the Lake, if you would give me the Starlight Gems.”

“A tempting offer,” Frerin concedes, and since every member of the Company is entitled to an equal share of the treasure it wouldn’t take much to ensure that the gems the elf wants are in Frerin’s share.

“Naturally, however, your wife would have to remain here,” Thranduil continues. “She would receive the very best of care as our guest.”

“Absolutely not!” Frerin snaps without thinking. “Whatever has happened to this place is making her sick. I will not risk her health and our child.”

“You expect me to simply let you all go with only your word?” Thranduil sneers.

“I’ll need everyone to get into the mountain,” Frerin shrugs in an attempt for nonchalance, “but you could always send me back to your dungeons. Of course, if you do that you won’t get your shiny stones.”

“Do you think you can manipulate me, Princeling?” The elf hisses. A lesser being might flinch at his expression but even though Frerin doesn’t have Thorin’s unflinching pride there is as much mithril in his spine as in his brother’s. “Such an attempt would not end well for you, I know well the treachery and greed of your kind.”

After weeks of short rations and travel, nights of broken sleep watching over Belladonna and concern over her condition, Frerin feels his grip on his own temper snap.

“Should we speak of the treachery of elves as well?” He snarls. “Of the women and children who died during our desperate search for a new home? Of the elf king who sneered and turned us away when we asked for aid? I know of the greed of my people, I have seen the damage a love of gold can do. I lost my home for the sake of gold. I was used as a bargaining tool so that my insane grandfather could get his hands on the funds he needed to build us a new home, money he squandered on a slaughter and left us almost as poorly off as we were when Smaug cast us out!” He has kept his peace on this for so long, assumed that it didn’t matter to him any longer because he refused to allow the same bitterness to consume him as it had Thorin. Apparently, he was wrong. “I know the treachery of my own kind, but I know it of yours as well. You will get nothing from me.”

As soon as the words are out regret floods him. He has tried so hard not to fall into the same traps as Thorin, but some things seem too deeply ingrained in his family. Thranduil’s expression becomes neutral as Frerin rants but the dwarf can see the fires of anger that burn behind his icy eyes. The silence stretches until, finally, the Elf King flicks his hand and Frerin feels the guards come up behind him. His heart sinks.

“Return him to his cell,” the king orders.

Unless they can come up with an escape plan, Frerin thinks miserably, there is every possibility that his child may never know the sun.

Chapter Text

T.A. 1567 The Greenwood

Legolas marvels at the funny little creatures as they march along the path through the Greenwood. They’re small, smaller even than the dwarves who recently abandoned their mountain in the north for their old strongholds in the Grey Mountains. Legolas doesn’t know much about it, in truth, his attention has been elsewhere these last few centuries and the first he heard of it was his father cursing Thorin I for a fool in the weeks before Erebor emptied. This little race also lived near Erebor, around the base of the mountain in their funny homes under hills, and though they are of a size with the dwarves they are very different. Their ears are leaf shaped, their figures soft and rounded and their feet large and surprisingly hirsute given that they don’t seem to grow hair anywhere else other than the thick curls on their heads. These peaceful creatures obviously relied on the dwarves of the mountain for protection, they are not built for war and even though there is a handful of archers among them their bows are small and obviously for hunting. Another reason for Thranduil to call Thorin fool.

They are secretive, these little beings (Periannath, his father calls them). Family groups with an abundance of children huddle close together and only the leaders, a stout family with males in possession of impressive sideburns, are bold enough to approach and request escort through the dense trees. The air around the three of them as they speak with his father is thick with some unknown power and their indigo eyes glow in the dimly lit throne room.

Thranduil grants them the escort they have requested after they answer his, rather reasonable, questions about their destination. The Periannath are leaving to find somewhere safe to raise their young and grow their crops. Somewhere they will not be forced to rely on the fickle protection of dwarves. Given what Legolas knows of dwarves he is surprised that any alliance has lasted as long as it did.

It takes nearly three centuries for anyone to notice that the harvests around Dale and Erebor (when it is resettled) aren’t as abundant as they once were.

*

T.A. 2941 Mirkwood

Legolas stands in a shadowed doorway and watches as his closest friend sits and talks with one of the prisoners. Three days ago, the dark-haired creature had been flirting with her shamelessly while his companion scowled in the background (a sentiment Legolas agreed with completely), now his words are quiet and subdued. The light has seemingly left his eyes since the brother of Thorin Oakenshield was taken before Thranduil.

Thorin’s rage had been quite the spectacular sight, it seemed not to matter that Frerin had been summoned for there is obviously some source of contention between the two which had allowed Oakenshield to conclude that his brother was working against him. No matter the evidence to the contrary when the younger returned and they all remained a prisoner. Frerin’s refusal to be cowed in the face of his brother’s rage is, frankly, impressive, as is his care for his perian wife. It’s obvious that he cares for her deeply, far more than Legolas had believed possible based on what he knows of dwarves and his father’s angry ravings about the possessive and jealous greed of dwarves for their gold and jewels. If one listened to Thranduil alone, one would be forced to conclude that dwarves have no capacity to love or cherish another living being. Yet Legolas’ quiet observations of this group show how false that assumption is daily.

There are family groups in this unit. Brothers and cousins. Nephews. A mother and daughter. Nearly the entire royal family of Erebor is here, the elder line of Durin travelling in a desperate attempt to retake a lost home. At least, that’s his father’s theory. Thorin denies it, but the younger brother has almost confirmed it and, to Legolas’ mind, Frerin has more cause to be truthful. He is the one with the pregnant wife after all.

Watching them, especially when they believe themselves alone, makes his father’s new orders all the more distasteful. Yet Legolas must obey or lose his home regardless. Whatever this blight is that has begun to affect the earth, stone and trees around them over the last thousand years has also begun to creep into the minds of the older residents of the forest. It can only be a matter of time before it clouds his own thoughts and those of his friends equally as darkly. Legolas doesn’t know how to fix it, or even if it can be, only that everything he holds dear is being lost to it (and the answer to the problem doesn’t lie in the forest). It dances on the edges of his awareness even now, a shadow that calls seductively to him and he can understand how his father, who lives with the agony of losing the brightest part of his soul, must have easily accepted its tantalising caress.

The two periain, Legolas has noted, also seem to feel it but they do not welcome it. The older one, the mother, often wakes screaming of the death and sickness around her, of strangling vines of darkness that are dragging the life from the earth. The younger is quieter, restless, her silver rimmed indigo eyes glowing as she paces her cell. Legolas has watched her go for two days without rest, it is concerning and not just for the elf. The young blond dwarf, his eyes silver touched with flecks of indigo (a mystery to ponder another time) watches her from the cell opposite with concern. He speaks to her softly, lovingly, uses words in the harsh dwarf tongue that are clearly endearments, even though it sounds like the slide of gravel over a rock face to Legolas’ ears. He often sings, his voice like the deep quaking of the earth and it soothes the perian girl into slumber for a short time. He loves the perian girl, Legolas realises, treasures her and the sentiment is obviously returned.

“We gain nothing from talking to her, Kili,” the blond rebukes his companion once the guard has moved on.

“There’s nothing else to do,” Kili replies with a shrug and a roll of his head, “and it was worth a try at any rate.”

“You’ve listened to too many of Nori’s stories, nadadith,” is the response, although his voice is raised so that the rest can hear. “I doubt he has flirted his way out of any many cells as he claims.”

“I have and more besides!” Another voice shouts indignantly. “The little prince just needs more practice and less honesty.” Several of the dwarves chuckle even though the speaker yelps, no doubt having met the fist of one of his cell mates.

“Not that it matters, Fili,” Kili continues, ignoring the interruption. “I don’t think even the most skilled of us could convince one of these elves to help us. They’re nothing like the ones we met in Rivendell.”

Legolas blinks at that piece of information. Elrond has to have been aware of the dwarves’ destination. If he had allowed them to continue on regardless, and if Mithrandir is as involved as other conversations seem to have implied, perhaps there is more happening here than either Legolas or his father realise.

“I never would have thought I would have a preference in elves to visit,” Fili chuckles. “Or that the ones in Rivendell would be sort of decent.”

“Elrond was always the decent sort,” Frerin joins the conversation, “and his sons are always good for a joke or a brawl when you need one, even if you didn’t take to them all that well, Fili. They’re good to have at your back in a fight too. Rivendell certainly wasn’t the worst place I visited with Belladonna in the past but I’m glad we never bothered with this vile hole.”

Had it just been the two of them Thranduil would probably have just let them go. Not that Legolas would expect them to believe that and it makes the keys in his hand weigh heavily in a clinking reminder of his father’s orders and the measures in place to provide the opening needed. After nine days in the dungeons the prisoners all look healthier than they did when they were brought in and they are all restless, even though they still seem tired. For a change, however, they’re all fairly peaceful at the moment. The noisy and ruder ones are either asleep of have put their attempts at being more than minor aggravations to one side.

-“You must do this, Legolas, do not think to defy me.”- He hears his father’s orders echo in his mind once more. –“Let us see how Thror’s grandson likes being denied that which is rightfully his. Bring the Starlight Gems to me and bring the Arkenstone with them. We shall see if Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror knows how to beg.”-

It is nothing more than petty revenge for an old slight, one likely forgotten by the descendants of the dwarf who gave the offense in the first place. His father, however, has always been patient and has waited a long time for this.  Elrond, Legolas thinks, would be dismayed to see what Thranduil has become. Still, the elf prince has his orders and he will obey, although he fears Thorin is more likely to turn him away or run him through than to trust he has helped the dwarves out of the goodness of his heart. It’s now or never, another opportunity will not present itself for a week and his father is not in the mood for Legolas to waste or ignore that which has been deliberately engineered for him.

“If I open this door,” he says when he reaches the cell that holds Frerin, “will your people follow my instructions until we are out of my father’s kingdom?”

“I can’t speak for all of them, and we have no reason to trust you,” the dwarf replies. They don’t Legolas has noticed, look up by tilting their heads. Rather they turn their eyes up in a way that makes them appear to be permanently glaring.

“What my father is doing is wrong,” Legolas says, even if the ardency of his tone comes from the fact that he is referring to what Thranduil has asked of him rather than the imprisonment of the dwarves and periain.

“Frerin,” his companion lays a hand upon the arm of her dwarf husband and, bizarrely, the touch seems to make the fight drain out of him. “We have little choice and a deadline.”

“He is an elf,” Frerin spits, “a Mirkwood one.” His obvious disgust hits him harder than Legolas thought it would.

“I know,” she says, “and I know what his king did.” Legolas knows it too, knows how his father turned away the homeless, injured and starving people of Erebor. It hadn’t occurred to him to argue about it then, he wishes that he had now. “We can’t hold onto the past if we want to get out of here. Don’t give him reason to think he’s wrong to help us.”

Frerin sighs, hangs his head and closes his eyes before stepping back and nodding in acquiescence. Legolas finds himself extremely grateful for the level-headed perian woman.

“Give me the keys,” she says to him as she steps out of the cell, “you’ll have this argument with all of them otherwise.”

“I’d do as she says,” Frerin smirks. “Even if they don’t argue Dwalin, at least, is likely to just take them from you and lock you up. We’d probably never find our way out of this rabbit warren then.”

Truth be told, Legolas doesn’t like the idea of trying a further nine times to convince the dwarves in their cells to behave if he lets them out. They have enough time for Belladonna to try the keys until she finds the right one, so he hands them to her and watches her bustle away to complete her task. It places him in the perfect position to witness the reunion of the Company and that forces him to rethink his opinion of dwarves once again.

He watches as the other perian throws her arms around Frerin with a cry of ‘Adad’, the two young princes who regard Legolas warily but greet Frerin with almost as much fondness as the perian. Sees Fili take the girl in his arms and kiss her in a way that has Legolas blushing to the tips of his ears (much to his surprise) and causes her dwarf father to clear his throat meaningfully with a poorly concealed smirk. One by one, or occasionally in twos or threes, the rest join them and Legolas experiences discomfort like he never has before. He likes to think that in many ways he is as unflappable as his father, but with thirteen dwarves glaring at him he realises just how wrong he was (particularly under the gaze of the one who styles his hair into three points, his green eyes seem to see far more than they should).

Traitor!” Thorin Oakenshields now familiar voice roars as he approaches. “You would ally yourself with these? Over your own kin?”

“Uncle, can we discuss this once we are out of Thranduil’s dungeons?” Fili steps in as Frerin tenses for a fight. Privately Legolas agrees with the younger prince, for all the good his opinion will do, but he has seen enough of Frerin and Thorin, both, to know that neither will be easy to redirect.

“My wife is with child, Thorin,” Frerin snarls, ignoring his wife’s gestures for him to let the topic lie. “Would you have me do nothing now I’ve been given the chance? Would you have my child born in these cursed dungeons never to see the sun or the halls of his forefathers?”

“You forget your place,” Thorin snaps.

“My place is with Belladonna, as it has been these last forty years and as it should have been the seventy before that! Remembering my place and my duty nearly cost me my One, I won’t make that mistake again!”

There is a story here, Legolas thinks. As fascinating a distraction as this might prove, however, this is neither the time nor the place.

“This has nothing to do with your brother,” Legolas cuts in. “Our time is limited. If you wish to leave my father’s halls you would do well to end this discussion and follow me. Otherwise you may as well return to your cells.”

“He’s right,” the old, white-haired, one cuts in before the others can. “I don’t like it either, but we won’t get out of here without help and our deadline is rather pressing.”

This is the second time a deadline has been mentioned, except Legolas suspects this one is not the same as the perian woman mentioned. He is missing too much information, even with the little he had been able to glean in the first place. The more he realises how little he knows, the more he dislikes his father’s plan.

“Very well,” Thorin hisses and turns icy eyes back to Legolas. “But know I will kill you should you play us false.”

Not promising, but about what Legolas has come to expect.

“Would it make you feel better if we retrieved your weapons first?” He asks.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2903 Bag End

“Your mother would be better dead, you know,” Lobelia Bracegirdle says.

“How can you say that?” Bluebell demands as she watches her curls tumble to the floor and mix with her mother’s.

There wasn’t enough of her father left to take his hair for the mourning jewellery. Her mother stares blankly ahead, her once beautiful hair lying in short, tight, curls. Bluebell’s will be the same soon. Lobelia’s mother, tuts and pushes at Bluebell’s head to make her look straight.

“Your mother’s mind is gone, dear,” she says. “Lobelia may not have said it well, but she meant it in kindness. You can’t care for her alone and she’ll waste away quickly enough. No one has ever recovered from what she did. You know they left the clerics who took such actions behind during the Wandering.”

“She saved me, I can’t give up on her,” Bluebell insists as the last curl falls to the floor. She stares at her reflection in a mirror brought in for the occasion and hardly recognises herself.

Winter is finally over; the farming hobbits have been able to encourage an early crop that has helped put some fat back on the bones of most of the surviving population of the Shire. Everyone is still too thin, though, dresses sag where they shouldn’t, and crude tacks have been put into place in nearly every garment to keep them from falling down until they need to be let out again.

Bluebell’s face is still far too thin, she’s running herself ragged trying to take care of her mother. What the Bracegirdles don’t know is that this catatonic state is an improvement. For most of the winter Belladonna has been locked in the pantry with a nest of blankets and food left twice a day. A necessity after she twice tried to kill Bluebell as she slept. The young hobbit touches her neck, though the bruises are gone now, remembering the icy fingers that woke her. Only Belladonna’s fragile state had allowed her to break free and she hadn’t dared to risk there being a third attempt. It’s probably the real reason the clerics who tore life from other beings were left behind. Not because they had to be carefully led around and instructed to care for themselves, but because they became too dangerous to keep around.

Not that she will tell anyone her theory.  Given her basis for it she hates to think what they would do to her mother. The only reason her Baggins relatives haven’t removed Bluebell from the smial is the fact that they can’t agree who should take her on. Whoever takes her would also assume responsibility for Belladonna since she’s (as far as they are aware) Bungo’s widow. Bluebell doesn’t dare mention what happened in the smial that day. If she did Belladonna would be turned over to the Tooks, who are all far too distantly related to want to take care of her, and the daughter will likely find herself an orphan inside of six months.

A knock at the door interrupts Bluebell’s thoughts and she sighs. It’s probably Otho again. In a bid to solve the problem of who takes on Bag End the Sackville-Baggins line have taken to trying to convince Bluebell to court Otho. Never mind that she is in mourning and unapproachable until her hair reaches her shoulders, or that she won’t be of age for nearly ten years.

Mrs Bracegirdle grumbles something along similar lines, but everyone knows that she wants Otho for Lobelia. Even though her majority is some way off there are those with the opinion that it is never too early to think of marriage. She rushes to the door before Mrs Bracegirdle can reach it. She wants to give Otho Sackville-Baggins a piece of her mind and isn’t in the mood to be stopped by her best friend’s mother. She falls into stunned silence when she sees who is on the other side of the door.

“Irak-Adad,” she breathes.

She hasn’t seen him for nine years but Frerin hasn’t changed. The dirt of the road is thick on him and his pack is obviously heavier than she has seen in the past. It’s him, however, and if anyone can take care of her and Belladonna it’s this dwarf. She flings herself at him with a low cry, tears spilling from her eyes and she doesn’t know if it’s relief or grief.

“I came as quickly as I could, mizimith,” he comforts her softly, scooping her into his arms and carrying her into the parlour where Belladonna and the Bracegirdles are waiting.

“It’s you,” Mrs Bracegirdle sniffs, disgust clear in her voice as she and her daughter continue to scoop hair into a bag. “Couldn’t wait until Bungo was cold in his grave, could you?”

“I came because Bluebell asked me to,” he replies levelly but the hobbit knows that he is taking in everything from her mother’s vacant eyes and stillness to the hair that litters the floor. “What have you done?” He snarls.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Mrs Bracegirdle sneers. Frerin takes a step forward.

“No! Irak-Adad, stop,” Bluebell interjects, remembering the value dwarves place on hair. “This is how we mourn.”  

“You don’t have to explain to this barbarian,” Mrs Bracegirdle tells her. “Give me the word and I’ll send for the Bounders, dear.”

“It’s fine, Mrs Bracegirdle,” she replies. “Let me know when the rings are ready.”

The Bracegirdle matriarch’s lips pinch together but she grips her daughter’s arm and leads her from the smial. Bluebell watches them leave.

“Mizimith?” Frerin’s voice is gentle, reminding her that she had decided to explain their ways.

“I assumed Mama had told you,” she whispers. “It started during the Wandering. We didn’t have the resources to make clothes for mourning, like the Men do and we don’t really know what we did before. The immediate family of the dead hobbit would cut their hair and weave it into braided rings for friends and family to wear in memory and mourning. Mrs Bracegirdle should be weaving mine and Mama’s with Papa’s but,” she swallows and takes a trembling breath. “But there wasn’t enough left for even one ring.”

She begins to weep again. Her grief is raw and fresh, but she hasn’t been able to express it properly while alone caring for her mother and trying to hide the terrifying truth of her condition from the neighbours. Now that Frerin is here, she can. She knows that Bungo hated Frerin, just as she knows that Frerin tolerated Bungo for the sake of Belladonna. That doesn’t matter. He holds her and sings softly, a song he will tell her is one of mourning among his kind. He listens silently, grief growing in his eyes as she tells him what happened and what it has done to the one he loves.

All the while Belladonna sits and stares in silence. Both miss the single tear that gathers and falls from her midnight eyes.

*

T.A. 2941 Mirkwood

Bluebell clings to Fili’s hand as they follow the elf prince through the almost deserted corridors of Thranduil’s halls. His grip is just this side of painful but after nearly ten days of separation (and with the sickness of the land teasing at the edges of her awareness) she welcomes it. It has been torturous, she thinks, to be so close to him and yet unable to seek the comfort of his arms. As relieved as she is to be with her family again, however, she dislikes this plan. Gathering their belongings before escaping seems like a waste of time, she would rather write them off as lost and get out. More than one member of the Company, however, has items of sentimental value among the weaponry and outer wear taken from them. Truthfully, Bluebell would mourn the loss of her little sword were she to abandon it. Its light enough for her to wield effectively and seems to fit in her hand as though it was made for her. Fili’s throwing axes, she knows, belonged to his father, as did Kili’s sword. She can understand why they might want them returned.

She feels exposed, though, and the urge to whisper the words of the Hiding is strong. She only stops herself because it has to be their last resort. They don’t want even a single elf to know what the hobbits can do. They may need it later.

Fortunately, the store room where the Company’s belongings have been placed is unguarded and secluded. Bluebell suspects that they didn’t start here. There are a few things missing but nothing that causes much concern.

“We cannot linger,” the elf, Legolas, says softly.

Bluebell doesn’t like him. Something about him sets her on edge and it has nothing to do with any preconceived notions of his kind. Before this experience she had been inclined to think well of elves.

“On that we agree,” Thorin mutters and he makes a couple of quick gestures at Balin and Dwalin (Iglishmek, she’s seen enough of it on the journey to recognise the gestures if not the meaning).

They hurry through the corridors, the way suspiciously clear of anyone who may try to stop them. Bluebell knows she isn’t the only one to have noticed, the others are muttering about it as well. Everything is going far too well, as escape plans go, so when Legolas signals for them to halt it isn’t a surprise.

“The guards shouldn’t be here,” he hisses. Thorin grumbles something and Frerin mutters a reply which causes the King-In-Exile to look at her in question.

“He wants to know if you can make it work,” Fili clarifies as he touches a finger to the charm still hidden under his clothes. She nods, although it’s uncertain, the sickness in the land is less than it was deeper into the forest, and while she managed it against the spiders it was difficult and left her in an alarmingly weakened state. 

“Distract your guard,” Thorin growls, “we will find our own way out.”

“You must wait for me,” Legolas replies, “you will need me to find the safe path to Lake Town or you will end up back in the dungeons or eaten by spiders.”

Thorin grunts, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, but Legolas doesn’t move until he gives a short, regal, nod. As soon as the elf is gone Bluebell begins to whisper, biting back nausea as she draws from the earth beneath them. It takes several repeats before indigo light flares over the limbs of the gathered Company and she knows she won’t be able to maintain it for long. There isn’t enough for her to draw from, the land is dying even here. Something is tearing the life from it and without life the Blessing doesn’t work.

Seeing that she has struggled, Thorin urges them all to move as quickly and silently as they can, ducking in single file past the two guards who are conversing with their prince. Bluebell leaves last, flicking the elf’s finger as she passes to let him know they are done. She stops whispering behind a tree just far enough away that, so long as they are careful, the guards shouldn’t catch them,

“What have your people done to this place?” She demands of Legolas as soon as the elf joins them. He’s caught them up too quickly for Thorin’s tastes (he had been happy to risk leaving the elf behind) but Bluebell is too sick and exhausted to move quickly. He tilts his head in confusion.

“It’s like a festering wound,” her mother clarifies. “Dead flesh decaying and infecting the living tissue around it. This isn’t natural. My daughter is right, something has been done to this place.”

“It isn’t our doing,” Legolas replies. “It began sometime after Thorin I abandoned Erebor and went to the Grey Mountains.”

“We don’t have time for this,” her Adad cuts in as Thorin snarls “My people had no part in this,” over him.

“Alone, no,” the elf says, “but there was another race who lived at the base of the mountain and relied on yours for protection. When Erebor emptied they also left, and things began to change.”

Bluebell exchanges a glance with Fili, they have both discussed the theory that there has been past contact between hobbits and dwarves. His mother’s heirloom broach is proof enough of that. Her people may not be certain of where they came from or why they left but they do know that it was this side of the Misty Mountains and in response to an unknown threat. Could it actually be as simple as this? Could their people have once been this closely connected?

“Your brother is correct, however,” Legolas continues. “We don’t have time for this. It will not be much longer until your escape is noticed, and my involvement discovered. We are still several days from Lake Town. We must move quickly.”

“Do you think you can keep up?” Fili asks softly as they pick up the pace.

Bluebell shrugs, they both know that she has to keep up or be captured once more. Legolas has given her much to think about, however, so she takes Fili’s hand to allow him to guide her and sees Ori out of the corner of her eye as he comes up next to her. Kili’s presence is a reassuring warmth just behind her and she sees Fili glance back at him on occasion.

“I don’t trust him,” Kili says in a low voice. Legolas is well in front but with elven hearing being what it is there is every chance he will hear it anyway.

“None of us do,” she agrees.

The Woodland elves are not of Elrond’s ilk. They cannot afford to trust this one as they did the Lord of Imladris. They can only wait and see exactly how he plans on betraying them.

Chapter Text

T.A 2892 Ered Luin

“Again!” Frerin barks, twin blades flashing in the sunlight as Fili and Kili both dart in on the attack.

They’re gifted at the art of battle, Fili more than Kili and both more so than any other battle-ready dwarf their age. This is because Thorin, Frerin and Dwalin all still remember the utter horror of Azanulbizar, they remember the day that Smaug came and how woefully under prepared they were. While none of the older members of their family would ever wish to see either of the young princes in such a position (and Fili knows that unless they decide to lose their minds entirely and retake Erebor there are no dragons in their future) they all know that the future can’t be predicted. Much as their mother objects and worries she doesn’t stop Thorin, Frerin and Dwalin from pushing them to be the best with not only their chosen weapons, but with anything thing they might pick up.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the parties involved might assume that it’s Thorin or Dwalin who push the boys hardest. Dwalin’s craft is his dedication to his weapons, his skills as a warrior are legendary and watching him fight is like watching a living work of art. Thorin, king by birth, warrior by nature and blacksmith by craft is known to be exacting and demanding. He would never expect more of his sister’s sons than he does of himself, but his expectations of himself are almost impossibly high. It’s entirely reasonable to assume that a warrior by craft and a demanding king would expect perfection from the young heirs. It would surprise everyone, then, to find that the one who works them the hardest of all is Frerin. Frerin who has always demanded that Thorin ease up on the boys when he pushes them too hard. Frerin who sneaks them away on hunting trips. Frerin who scowls at anyone and everyone who comments on Kili’s height and skill with the bow. Frerin who laughs and encourages their mischief. Frerin who seems so carefree and light hearted, but who also disappears for six weeks every summer to places unknown to visit someone he refuses to speak of.

Frerin still wakes with battle dreams, Fili knows, and Frerin came closest to death and carries an impossible scar of a wound he should never have survived. Frerin who was barely old enough to join the march (even though he was considered battle ready) and whose training had suffered from a life on the road and an early push into a craft.

Swords clash, Fili yelps as Frerin manages to knock one of his blades from his hand due to his inattention and Kili snarls as he leaps into the gap left by that loss.

Frerin trains them to work together and apart, with their left hands and their right (easier for Fili who finds duel wielding as easy as breathing) and ranged as well as near (easier for Kili who has their father’s sharp eyes and precise aim). Their abilities complement each other, they would even if Frerin had never had any input at all. All dwarves start training with a sword or an axe at age ten, all dwarves are taken to find their chosen weapon a year later and there is nothing that their family can say which would influence that choice. Fili’s choice of duel swords had exceeded expectations, Kili’s choice of the bow had defied them (and Kili’s ability to defy expectations has always been a source of envy for Fili, who must always exceed but never defy).

“Again!” When the two boys have overpowered Frerin.

“Again!” When he has Kili at the mercy of his sword.

“Again!” When both are disarmed.

This far from the halls of the mountains it’s almost inevitable that they would come across orcs and often they do. Their mother is always furious when they return home after such an encounter, but every time it only reinforces what Frerin always tells them:

“You could be the best, you could kill a hundred or five hundred or a thousand orcs, but it only takes one. One lucky thrust or one well aimed arrow or one moment of distraction and all the training and all the natural ability won’t save you. It will buy you time. It will give you a chance, far more of one than you would get with no training at all. More of a chance than I had at Azanulbizar after years on the road trying to survive.

“If I can help it,” he will add, “neither of you will ever see that kind of horror.”

It’s a promise Fili suspects his uncle won’t be able to keep. They have a good life, but not an easy one (it will never be that, the old mines are unsafe in too many places) and everyone works hard, including the royal family, to make sure that they have what they need. Thorin wants more for their people and Fili fears, as he thinks Frerin may, that more will one day take them back to Erebor and that is why his uncle pushes them so hard.

*

T.A. 2941 The Long Lake

Fili doesn’t like the elf. He wants to, they owe Legolas a great deal for getting them out of the cells and going against his own father. He doesn’t think that, in Legolas’ place, he could take the same action against Thorin. Which is why he can’t bring himself to trust Legolas, even while he listens to Ori badger the elf with question after question about the region (something Fili put him up to in the first place). To the elf’s credit, he seems to take it all in his stride, bearing up well under the suspicious glares of the Company and apparently able to turn a blind eye to the way Nori, especially, toys with his knives and watches with dangerous eyes.

They should reach Lake Town by the middle of the next day. They had always planned to stop there for supplies so it may well end up being the only part of their journey that has gone according to plan. They would have pushed on and pushed harder if not for Belladonna and Bluebell. They aren’t as sick as they were in Mirkwood but whatever it is that has diseased the land is still affecting them. Even Fili is starting to feel it the further north they go. A sense of decay and disease that comes from the same direction as the mountain and snakes through the bedrock in black tendrils deep below them. Bofur hasn’t noticed it yet, but by the time they reach Erebor Fili fears that they will both be as badly affected as the hobbits. He has a terrible suspicion about the cause of it all too, and much as he prays he is wrong he can think of little else. He truly fears that the blackness originates in the mountain, even though there is the orc stronghold of Gundabad further north still (and if it comes from there Fili and Bluebell won’t be able to stay in Erebor), but something called Smaug to his ancestral home and Fili doesn’t think it was just the gold.

Not that he knows what, if anything, can be done about it.

Legolas seems to know, or at least suspect, something. It’s one of the reasons Fili quietly set Ori on him. His own patience for histories and information is enough for his own, necessary, education. Ori devours information, however, seems to crave it like the rest of them need food. He has a way of finding the important details in it all and even though he can be guilty of giving too many himself he’s learning to catch himself. Balin has already confirmed Fili and Bluebell’s suspicions that Ori is being groomed as his replacement and he finds he’s relieved by it. The quest is bringing Ori into himself. Four months ago, Fili would have thought Balin mad, Ori was too dominated by Dori and too naïve to fully understand the real implications behind Nori’s lifestyle. The quest has opened Ori’s eyes to a lot of things and Fili is glad of it. He and Ori were never friends before this, and it would have made working together in the future difficult.

“You mean there were hobbits at the foot of Erebor?” Ori exclaims and all eyes turn to the elf and the scribe.

“Periannath we called them,” he replies, squirming in discomfort for the first time with all eyes turned on him. “I don’t know the specifics of the treaty between them and the mountain, only that the dwarves protected them. They passed through the Greenwood several decades after the mountain was abandoned.”

“You’re certain they were hobbits?” Bluebell demands, all traces of exhaustion gone as she leans towards the elf.

Her distrust is clear, but so is her curiosity. Much of her people’s history was lost as they wandered in search of a home. Just the possibility that they might find something else, something more, is naturally going to draw her attention.

“I remember when they passed through, though it must be nearly fourteen centuries past, those few I encountered appeared much like you. Their eyes glowed in the darkness as yours do, their feet were bare but for the curls upon them and their manner quite unlike the dwarves I had encountered. I remember thinking them unremarkable, diffident and timid. Even though we knew they were passing through our land, however, there were times when they seemed to vanish entirely.”

With all that Fili knows of hobbits he wouldn’t be surprised if they actually had. Kili snorts something to the same effect, which gains him a kick from Bluebell and a curious glance from Legolas.

“There is nothing of this in either of your histories?” The elf asks.

“Not ours,” Bluebell shakes her head. “Except in the caution we feel towards the larger races and the tale we tell our faunts that it was the children of the deathless who drove us to wander. We would be more likely to assume it the work of elves than dwarves.”

“Much of the library of Erebor from before Thorin I’s time is lost,” Balin says. “What few texts remained by the time I began my studies were handled only by the oldest of the librarians and rarely examined even then due to their fragility. The truth of the matter, and whether such a treaty ever existed, is likely long lost.”

It’s an interesting development in the history of both of their people and were they already in Erebor Fili suspects that Bluebell, Balin and Ori would probably already be on their way to the library to attempt to find these old texts. Even Kili looks intrigued enough to have joined them. Only Thorin seems uncomfortable, his eyes darting between Frerin and Belladonna as though something long puzzled over and forgotten has suddenly begun to make sense. He doesn’t say anything, only sighs and tips back his head. No one comments when he gets to his feet and strides away, had they been at home his mother would have followed to find out what was going on. Dis handles her brother masterfully, no surprise given she has near to two centuries of practice, and the times that Thorin has sunk into one of his moods Fili has missed her skill.

In weeks past they would leave him to it, Thorin never goes far from camp and Fili doesn’t have his mother’s ability to draw Thorin out. Frerin falls into arguments and harsh words as often as he drives the blackness away. Now, a day beyond the border of Mirkwood they can ill afford for Thorin to fall into one of his tempers. There is still the chance of pursuit, although the elf has assured them that his people will more likely remain within their borders, and they can’t go off alone.

“I’ll go,” Frerin rises easily, wrapping his cloak around his tiny wife and letting his dark eyes linger on his daughter.

Fili nods, as relieved by his uncle’s presence now as he had once been so resentful of his abandonment. Kili frowns and gets to his feet to follow and Fili snags his tunic to stop him. Of all of them Kili has been the least exposed to Thorin’s dark sorrow and bitter anger. Kili has long been Thorin’s joy, the expectations of the younger are far fewer and with Kili Thorin doesn’t have to give the example of a good and just king, he can simply be. It’s mutual. Kili idolises Thorin where Fili has learnt (painfully) that idols can only disappoint. He adores Thorin, of course, long the only father figure that Fili has had, and he wants to make his uncle proud, but he loves Kili far more and will spare his brother as much of his uncle’s darkness and angry tongue as he can.

The hobbits are beginning to fade again, in the quiet moments after Frerin follows his brother, and Balin and Dwalin exchange a glance that speaks volumes. It’s possible that they have some suspicions of their own but it’s not something Fili can confront them about as Bluebell’s head is on his shoulder again and she’s shivering slightly in the chill autumn air. It will be some time, yet, until the cold will affect the dwarves, they are more hardy than the delicate hobbits who travel with them and it lends an element of questionability to Legolas’ claim that hobbits once lived here. The north is cold, inhospitable. Men live here, however, and it’s Fili’s opinion that the hobbits are hardier. They would have to be in order to have survived moving their entire race.

“You should rest,” he says softly, though the sun has barely set and the days are growing shorter with the approach of winter.

She hums noncommittally, her indigo eyes flickering over to the elf who is watching them with interest. Fili has noticed those oddly ancient eyes on them frequently since their escape. At first, he had believed it harsh judgement upon two beings of different races finding love in one another (now he thinks it’s just curiosity). It isn’t unheard of, dwarves and Men have intermarried on occasion, and Fili knows the same is true of elves and Men. Should hobbits have truly resided at the foot of the Lonely Mountain once it stands to reason that they would have intermarried once as well. He contains the thought that lingering hobbit blood might explain Kili’s difficulties with his beard (not that this is a bad thing for an archer). He’ll allow his brother to reach that conclusion on his own.

By the time raised voices from the direction Thorin disappeared in alerts the Company to the disagreement between the brothers Bluebell has fallen into a deep sleep against him. Frerin storms back into camp a few minutes later, his expression so thunderous that for a moment Fili can imagine Thorin in his place. Whatever his uncles have discussed has not ended well and curious as he is, Fili has no desire to get involved in that argument. For now, he rouses Bluebell enough to lead her to her bedroll, sandwiched between his and Kili’s as it has been since they came out of the Misty Mountains. He puts the problem of his uncles to the back of his mind and drifts to sleep next to Bluebell to the sound of Ori and Legolas talking.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2799 Azanulbizar

“What of my brother?” Thorin demands, his voice is flat and devoid of anything that Dwalin might call emotion.

Much like his cousin Dwalin is too exhausted from battle and his own grief to feel much of anything any longer. Nor can he afford to lose himself to his grief when his too-young-to-be-king cousin needs the support. There will be time to grieve later, away from prying eyes and in the safety of a place that will have to be called home.

Dwalin has lost his father, though he was never as close to Fundin as Balin his grief is still sharp, but at least his brother lives and is accounted for. Thror has fallen, Thrain has fled the battlefield and is likely either already dead or lost to madness. Nain is dead, Dain may not survive his injuries. So many other friends lie either dead or on the cusp of it. Now Dwalin has more ill news to deliver to his cousin and king.

“There is no sign,” Dwalin sighs. “We have found no body, no weapon, no fallen armour that might belong to Frerin.”

“No one has seen him?” Thorin asks again.

“No,” Dwalin shifts. Thorin’s world will become an even darker place than it already is if Frerin has fallen.

Thorin is changed since Smaug came and the fall of Erebor. He is plagued by dark moods and bitter thoughts. There are days when his bitterness overrides, completely, his love and reverence for his grandfather and replaces them with thoughts and words close to treasonous in nature. Time when he speaks of Thror’s gold-sickness and descent into madness as though Thorin and Thorin alone should have prevented it. Such moods have become increasingly common in the recent months, moods that often only Dis with her bright youth and adoration of her older siblings seems able to bring Thorin out of. Dwalin fears that not even she will be able to bring Thorin from his grief should the so-called Sun Prince have fallen.

Thorin walks away, bellowing orders, and Dwalin thinks (as he has many times before) that the names their people have given the two princes become more apt with every passing month. Frerin is the Sun Prince. With his golden hair and bright smile, an eye for causing mischief that makes even Thror smile on a good day and an easy laugh that is infectious in its brilliance. They call Thorin the Night Prince and at times like this it is easy to see why. At times he shines as brightly as the full harvest moon (something none of them should be as familiar with as they now are) but can be as foreboding as a fire moon and as dangerous as those nights when the moon is hiding, and the cold of winter has taken hold. Thorin is as dark and forbidding as such a night now. No one would ever be foolish enough to address either of them by these monikers to their faces, but the use them readily enough in private.

That said, Dwalin is young enough to be proved wrong.

“Any sign?” He asks Balin when his brother approaches. He isn’t holding onto much hope but for Dis and Thorin’s sakes he hopes that Frerin can be found.

“Not a one,” Balin shakes his head. His face is drawn with his own exhausted grief but, like Dwalin, he has thrown himself into his duty to his king. “One fellow thought he saw Frerin vanish like smoke, but he’s taken an axe to the skull and may not live until morning at any rate. Likely the axe blow has muddled his wits as well as his tongue.”

“Aye,” Dwalin agrees. He has taken his share of blows to the head in his time. “That would do it.”

“Dis will need watching when we return,” Balin says, then, “the news will be harder on her, I fear.”

Dis had wanted to join them, determined that it was her right and her place. Durin’s line, however, must endure and although Frerin is promised to the daughter of Fhrna in exchange for a safe home and troops it is the daughter of Thror’s line upon whom the future of Durin’s line must rest. Dwalin had feared she would need to be chained to her bed when Thorin had described her reaction to being left, but she had watched them with her head held high and her bearing coldly regal. This news will be difficult to accept.

“I will watch her,” he promises.

*

T.A. 2941 Lake Town

Lake Town is an utter shit hole. It’s the only way that Dwalin feels he can describe the place and even that feels generous. It’s a town built of wood on a freezing lake at the foot of a dragon infested mountain. It shows. The people are thin and clad in rags, their eyes carry that same desperate cast that Dwalin became so familiar with in the eyes of every dwarf who fled Erebor. They have nothing, here, nothing to trade and no major passing trade routes to draw people in except the occasional caravan from the Iron Hills and what trade they have with Thranduil and the wood elves.

Goods are expensive, even basic food seems to cost more and they saw little sign of farms between the edges of Mirkwood and the shores of the lake. The hobbits say that there isn’t enough life in the land to grow much, Dwalin doesn’t know what to make of that but he can see evidence of it with his own eyes. If he had spent all of his life in the mountain of his birth, he might never have noticed this simple fact but with the years of travelling that he has done it has become something to watch out for. Rich farmland means work, smithing for Thorin and hard labour for him. Rich farmland means money and a full belly. Barren land such as they have just passed through means empty pockets and the heels of stale bread with mouldy cheese, if there is cheese to be had at all. Dwalin doubts many of the inhabitants here have even that much. His concern about their supplies is minimal. They have gold to purchase what they need and rather more of it than they would have had if they had been forced to leave their belongings in the Elf King’s halls. A dwarf will always keep half of his gold in his travel pack and half of it hidden about his person. It is a lesson hard learnt but learn it they have and even the hobbits know it.

Money, however, is Gloin’s concern. Dwalin is more concerned with the security of their group. Apparently, that has also become Nori’s worry. The thief has already thwarted two attempts to pick pockets that Dwalin has seen, so he’s probably handled more besides. The old warrior frequently finds his gaze lingering on the thief, entranced by long, delicate, fingers and sharp, moss green eyes. It’s inconvenient and unwanted so he does his best to ignore it and turns his attention to the rest of the group.

The hobbits are in poor shape, barely recovered from the sickness that infects Mirkwood and now upon the deep water of the lake. Hobbits, he has learnt, don’t swim, they sink. Had they been given a choice Dwalin doubts they would be here. They would have waited on the other side of the bridge with Fili and Frerin, and likely Bofur and Bifur as well, for the rest to return. Thorin wouldn’t hear of it, firstly because they have no way of knowing if they are still being pursued (and that they have seen no sign of it is highly suspicious to Dwalin’s eyes) and secondly because whatever he fought about with Frerin the night before has left Thorin watching his younger brother with dark suspicion. Frerin isn’t talking to him at all.

The hobbits aren’t the only ones struggling with being on the lake. Fili is as well. The golden-haired prince is the most powerfully stone-born dwarf Dwalin has ever encountered. He would never have left the mountain had Erebor endured and in that, at least, its fall has been to Fili’s benefit. Now, however, Dwalin can see why those so closely linked to the stone rarely leave their mountains and never look upon the sky. It would appear that prolonged periods over water leave as powerful a dwarf as Fili as off kilter as a dazed child. Dwalin had almost expected this problem of the hobbits, they had struggled riding after all, but he should also have thought it of Fili. It took the prince longer to master riding than it had others of his peers (which had been their first clue that his Stone Sense, when it developed, would be strong).

Dwalin catches Thorin’s eye to find him looking at his eldest sister-son with concern. They need to get off this floating heap of kindling and back on dryland. Thorin obviously agrees and is no doubt internally chastising himself for not having considered this possibility. This town isn’t safe, not just because of the pick-pockets or the desperate gazes of the locals. The Company is drawing attention, as such a group made up of fourteen dwarves, two hobbits and a Mahal-cursed elf must surely do. They might have managed to pass as a group of travellers fallen on hard times if the elf wasn’t with them. Dwalin had wanted to leave him tied to a tree on the edge of the forest but the pointy-eared bugger doesn’t seem to sleep, or if he does Dwalin couldn’t catch him at it. Thranduil’s own son walks with them and the longer he stays the less Dwalin likes it. No one likes it, not even the hobbits and Frerin who had all seemed so cozy with the elves in Rivendell.

“I cannot go back,” the elf had said on the edge of Mirkwood. “By now my father will know that I was the one who freed you. Not even the fact that I am his son will spare me his wrath. I doubt he would go so far as to earn himself the name Kinslayer, at the very least I will be cast out or locked within the same cells I released you from. At this point all I can do I continue forward with you.”

Thorin dislikes elves, probably more than any other dwarf, but even he had done little more than grunt and allow the elf to stay. His king had spouted some nonsense about owing the elf a debt for releasing them, grudging and aware that they don't have the time to spare to argue, but Dwalin is firmly of the opinion that they wouldn’t have needed releasing if they hadn’t been locked up by the same bastard in the first place. Ori seems to have the job of keeping watch over the elf well in hand, and he can admit that Fili’s choice of the scribe had baffled him until he saw the youngest Ri brother prattling away with Legolas. The elf probably doesn’t even realise that Ori is trying to work out what motivated him to help in the first place.

“And just where do you lot think you’re off to?” A voice demands as several guards step in front of them to halt their progress.

“The market,” Balin replies blandly. They would prefer to keep Thorin’s identity a secret rather than alert these Men to their destination. These are a desperate people with nowhere to go. They will not look kindly upon anyone who might disturb the dragon. “We’re on our way to the Iron Hills and need to get supplies.”

“I see,” the owner of the voice is an oily man, skinny with bad skin and yellow teeth, careless of his appearance in a way that no dwarf would ever be unless given no other choice.

“If you’ll just allow us to continue,” Balin says, thumbs in his belt and face mild and open. His brother has always been capable of dissembling with as much ease as he uses a sword. Unfortunately, Dwalin doesn’t think the Man believes him.

“We weren’t expecting any caravans,” the Man says. “Perhaps you should come and explain it all to the Master.”

“We aren’t traders,” Kili cuts in with a bright smile. “We’re just on our way to visit our kin so that my brother can get married.”

Which is almost plausible. Dwarves guard their ways and their customs jealously. There is no way for the Men to know that they don’t actually need their family with them or to give permission for a marriage to happen.

“You can explain it to the Master,” the Man says, and several extra guards appear.

They could fight their way out, Dwalin knows, but it won’t do them any good. They’re too far into town and, as hard as Fili is trying to get his focus back Dwalin knows that he, and the hobbits, are too dazed for it. Dwalin has never realised just how much influence the stone must have on one like Fili. Fortunately, the likelihood of them ever having to fight on the water was always slim. Unfortunately, the few possibilities seem to have manifested themselves when Fili hasn’t had the chance to adapt (and Dwalin knows that eventually he would).

He glances over at Thorin, just from the corner of his eyes, and sees Thorin shake his head and make a couple of sharp gestures. Not yet, wait. So, they follow quietly, the elf included, and Dwalin wonders if they are ever going to make it to the damned mountain.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2879 Bag End

“Alright, Belladonna,” Rose Chubb says in a soothing voice that makes the other hobbit want to hit her. “One more push and we should be welcoming that precious new life into the world.”

As far as Belladonna is concerned this should have been over and done with hours ago. She’s exhausted and her mind is hazy with the pain of her contractions and the herbal teas Rose and her daughter, Iris, have been giving her to help. There is no denying that the Chubb ladies know their work well. Even the occupants of Bree, the Men and the few dwarves who live there, have been known to seek out hobbit midwives over those of their own kind. With their high birth rate (and secret magics) there is little they don’t know or haven’t tried when it comes to lowering the mortality rate of hobbit mothers and faunts.

One could argue that they are too successful, in a generation or two the Shire will be starting to become rather overcrowded.

A single last, great, push and Belladonna collapses back against her pillow as a wave of exhausted euphoria sweeps over her. There is a moment of silence broken only by the murmur of the midwives and then a wail fills the room. She huffs an ecstatic laugh at the thin sound, barely even capable of lifting her head to see her child.

“Oh my,” she hears Iris say and alarm floods her.

“Iris,” the girl’s mother berates her. Belladonna is already struggling to sit, desperate to see what has caused such a reaction. “You stay where you are, Mrs Baggins, I’m not done down here just yet. There’s nothing wrong with your faunt, I assure you.”

“But,” Belladonna objects.

“There’s nothing wrong,” Iris keeps her voice soft, but Belladonna can see that her face is bathed in indigo in the dimly lit room. The lack of light isn’t a problem for any of them, Belladonna being as strongly gifted as she is and the midwives having a little more than the average hobbit.

“You’re sure?” She winces as she feels the tingle of healing. A tear, she thinks, having done her own share of midwifery during her travels.

“I swear it,” Iris says, bringing the new born to the new mother. “I have never seen a faunt so powerfully blessed. Our Mother must have great plans for your daughter.”

Belladonna’s heart skips in her chest.

The fauntling glows. Not just her eyes, where she instinctively touches the life within the earth. It comes from every part of her and Belladonna thinks back to the stories of her birth when the midwives observed something similar, though not quite as brilliant. Every hobbit babe’s life light is visible in the first hour following their birth. It allows the parents a brief glimpse of the green which characterises hobbits and differentiates their life lights from those of the other races. Some have a barely noticeable trace of indigo, indication that they are blessed in some way with an additional gift. The more indigo, the stronger the gift. Belladonna’s always held more blue, but this faunt seems to have only the slightest trace of green.

Powerfully gifted indeed, and Belladonna isn’t sure what to make of that. Of course, she wants her child to be special, every parent does, but it fills her with dread too. The edges of her child’s ‘light is jagged and frayed, a clear sign that there is another soul out there waiting to meet and connect with her. She will never find that soul in the Shire, Belladonna recognises the colours of the frayed parts and so recognises what they mean, and Bungo will never let her leave (she should think better of her husband but she’s well aware of his failings).

“She will be like you, then,” Bungo says upon meeting his daughter. His own life light flares briefly when she is placed in his arms, smooth green without even a hint of indigo. Bungo had no fated mate, free to choose for himself. Belladonna no longer knows if that is better than her situation or not. Better than having a found the other side of her life-bond but not able to be with him, or worse for knowing that the one you have married will be forever claimed by another.

“Is that so bad?” Belladonna is too exhausted to argue, the urge to sleep flutters on the edges of her awareness. There have been a great many arguments during this pregnancy, so many questions and doubts from Bungo because it had served as a push for Belladonna to get back in contact with Frerin. Bellladonna has no control over who Yavanna chooses as her cleric to do her work and nor would she wish to.

“There is nothing to be done for it,” Bungo shrugs and hands their daughter back to her. “I suppose you would wish her named in the Tookish way.”

“It is traditional,” Belladonna says. Bungo is a great follower of tradition in all things. Many Tooks, however, are named for poisonous things and that doesn’t sit well with the staunchly practical Baggins. “But, in deference to your family, I had thought Bluebell fitting.”

Bungo mulls it over then inclines his head in a firm nod of agreement before departing the room. He leaves a chill in his wake.

*

T.A. 2941 Lake Town

Belladonna clings to her husband’s arm as they follow the Men through their water-logged town. She has travelled extensively during her long life and has never felt quite so intimidated in a place of Men as she does here. Part of that, of course, is due to the fact that she feels nauseous and disjointed. There is no living earth beneath the frigid lake, not enough to make a difference with how far down it goes. Her head feels as though stuffed with rags and it makes the stares of the town’s inhabitants harder and more dangerous than they likely are.

Of course, it’s as likely to be the pregnancy making her feel unwell as it is the sudden separation from the earth. Her Blessing has been unstable since Bungo died and it’s entirely possible her pregnancy is affecting it now as it once did when she carried Bluebell within her. She will be showing soon, she thinks, hobbit pregnancies last only six months normally given their tiny stature and they show quickly. Without their herbs most hobbit women would probably spend their entire married life pregnant. This pregnancy, she imagines, will last a little longer although she knows little of how it runs in dwarves.

“Are you alright?” Frerin asks her when they are finally led into a large hall in the most imposing building in town. Imposing, but not opulent.

They are greeted by quite the most corpulent Man Belladonna has ever laid eyes upon. There are hobbits who would be truly envious of the Man’s figure, but they would also carry it better, with less grease and dirt. Hobbit’s pride themselves on cleanliness, something they share with dwarves when it can be had (Frerin has told her tales of the great baths in the Lonely Mountain and she has never seen any take quite so much time on their hair as the gathered Company). The Man’s nails are long and cracked, he waddles and smells in such a way that turns her sensitive nose and stomach. All she can do under such an onslaught is nod in response to her husband’s question and hold onto him tightly. She hasn’t missed the way the gathered men leer at her and her daughter, two tiny females among fifteen males.

“You hear some interesting things,” the Man who must be this Master they have been brought to says. “Interesting tales from the bargemen of a company of dwarves and their halfling pets who have escaped a dungeon and kidnapped a prince.”

Silence fills the room. The eyes of the Company turn upon their elf companion. They have long been suspicious of his motives, though Belladonna has no idea at all why Thorin has allowed the prince to remain with them beyond the borders of the woods. Only that Legolas could not return home, argued that he could not after setting them free, and so he would need supplies of his own. It only made sense to let him continue with them this far.

“Interesting rumours, indeed,” Balin says, “but rumours are more often false than true. We are merely travelling to visit our kin and this elf has been our guide through the woods since the path is unsafe.”

“And these two? They are certainly not dwarves and while I have never seen a halfling these could certainly be them,” the Master leers at her and she shrinks back into Frerin.

Beside them Fili wraps his arm around Bluebell, apparently forcing his own struggles with the lake to one side when sensing a threat to her, and Kili steps closer. Their friendship has made them close, all four of them with Ori included, and it shows when a situation like this crops up. Shows when Kili steps in for Bluebell in the same way he would with his brother and in the way that Ori follows their lead and also draws near.

“My wife,” Frerin snarls and the eyes of the vile Man turn towards Bluebell, although she is all but hidden by her guardians. “Our daughter,” he adds, “also travels with us.”

The Master of Lake Town withdraws a little, but the dwarves don’t relax. Even Legolas is on edge and Belladonna wonders how much experience he really has with the Men of the Lake. She doubts it’s all that much or the rumours the Men speak of would have rung false to them.

“All the same,” the Master settles in a chair which can only be described as a throne which has seen better days. It is carved of wood, like the rest of the town, and once it must have been coated with gold and silver leaf that is now little more than a speckled memory. “We shall have to detain you until the truth can be determined one way or the other.”

“You have no right,” Thorin snaps and it’s a wonder he has managed to remain silent this long.

“As the Master of this town I have every right.”

Dwalin mutters something under his breath in Khuzdul. Likely something rude if the mutters of those around him is anything to go by.

“You cannot hold us,” their leader continues.

“Indeed?” The Man smirks. “And who are you to be so certain of that?”

“I am Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror and no Man or Elf will stop me from reclaiming what is mine!” Belladonna doesn’t hide her face in her hands, but it’s a near thing. Thorin doesn’t do well when his pride is pricked at.

The silence that follows is thick and heavy until, one by one, stunned voices can be heard speaking. Words of gold and silver. Treasure beyond imagination and wealth for everyone. ‘The dwarves have a way in-’ she hears more than once and feels the eyes upon them shift from suspicious to calculating. How best can they force the dwarves to give them a share of the wealth within the mountain, for whatever bargain may be struck here and now it will not be enough.

“You must know the tales of the times before Smaug,” Thorin continues. “When Dale and the Men of the Long Lake grew wealthy on their trade with Erebor. Allow us to obtain the supplies we need, and those days could return.”

“How are we to know your words are the truth?” The Master shrugs. “And not some pretty lie to take our goods and leave us wanting.”

“As Prince of the Woodland Realm,” Legolas speaks, “I had my own encounters with Thorin and Thrain, his father. This is, indeed, the exiled King Under the Mountain. You can accept his word as you would mine.”

“A kidnapped prince?” The Master scoffs.

“I left of my own will and released my companions of it as well. The reasons are my own and not the concern of one such as yourself.”

His cold arrogance is the same as Belladonna saw when his patrol took the Company prisoner and it makes her wonder which of his faces is the true one. The arrogant prince or the kind elf who refused to see her birth and raise her unborn child in a dim cell. In spite of herself she has found herself quite liking the prince, unable to hold the actions of his father against him in the same way many of the Company do. Even Bluebell distrusts him when she has been given no reason for suspicion. As far as the grumbling dwarves are concerned Legolas seems to have reverted back to exactly the person they had thought he was. They have no reason to trust him and centuries of history only compounds the issue. Only Ori seems dismayed by the emergence of this side of the elf, casting the tall blond sidelong looks that speak volumes to anyone who cares to see.

In the time it takes Belladonna to register the reactions of the others and her own dismay it would seem that the Master of this pitiful town has come to his own conclusions on the matter.

“We will happily supply you for your trip to the Lonely Mountain,” the Company grumble among themselves, had they been left to it they could already have achieved this. “We cannot, however, offer you the shelter of our town. Thranduil will be wroth enough that we have let you pass through, should the dragon slaughter you all, your fine promises of wealth will come to nothing. Best not to upset him any further.”

“This is an insult we will not forget,” Thorin snarls. “Remember well your treatment of us when Erebor is once more ruled by the line of Durin. You shall receive just reward and thanks at that time.” His words are a purr and one could be forgiven for thinking that Thorin means to persuade the Men to allow them to stay in town anyway, though they never intended it. The Company, except Legolas, know better.

“Perhaps, were the Prince to remain with you,” Balin offers, neatly trying to solve the problem of the elf for the group. The Master seems to consider it, consider the stronger position it would give him were he to have liberated Thranduil’s son from his captors.

“No,” Legolas speaks before an answer can be given. “I have sworn myself to see you arrive safely at your destination. The time for us to part has not yet come.”

By the time the discussion is ended, suitable payment has been agreed and the subject of Legolas resolved (he will join them to the Mountain, there are none who are capable of forcing him to remain and she can well believe that) and supplies obtained it is so late as to make it necessary for the Company to stay in Lake Town. Thorin rails angrily at the delay once they have been led to a house for their use. He rants about the fact that, should the Master wish it, they could end up as trapped here as they were in Mirkwood and helpless to do anything other than negotiate away that which should rightfully be theirs before they have even had a chance to claim it.

Belladonna retires to bed with a headache. She isn’t certain whether she is concerned or relieved when she hears Bluebell and the three boys announce they will do the same.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2881 Ered Luin

Frerin isn’t entirely sure why Dis seems to think that he would have any idea at all where her two boys would vanish to when late for dinner. True he has spent more time here in the last eight years than he has since they first settled in the Blue Mountains, but much of that has been spent working and trying to forget why he now has to be here. Besides, he’ll be leaving in a few weeks to see Belladonna and her family, to reconcile with his oldest friend even if things between them will never be as they should.

He doesn’t know New Belegost as well as he should and part of that is his own fault. This place has never felt like home. Not when they first came, not when he discovered the price of this safe haven was his future happiness. Not in the long months after Azanulbizar when he worked up the courage to tell his siblings that he was alive and resigned himself to his eventual fate, not in the months following his break with Belladonna. Even now, years later, it still has that hollow and transitory feeling that makes him long to get his feet back on the road.

He hears the lads before he sees them. Both boys sound upset and as he comes around the corner of the building he can see why. The lads have been cornered by a group of older dwarves. From their clothes Frerin can see that they are part of that fanatical group of purists that Thorin has never been able to get rid of. They are a sad fact of existence in most dwarf settlements although Frerin is always surprised by the number of them he finds here given New Belegost is mostly under sky. They believe that all dwarves should live under stone and only ever see daylight or sky when there is no other choice, that contact with other races should only happen in the case of essential trade and be limited to one or two families whose bloodlines are strong enough to withstand the taint. Knowing that Frerin has spent so many years travelling, with a companion of unknown race, has made them target him, both for his choices and as an example of why Thorin is unsuitable as a king for allowing it. They would go back to the later days of Thror in Erebor where contact with Dale and the Woodland Realm was diminishing. A time when they looked to their mines and their riches and little else.

Naturally they would find something about Fili and Kili to object to.

“Step away from your half-breed sibling, boy,” one of them hisses, laying a large hand on Fili’s still slight shoulder. It will be another five or so years, Frerin thinks, until Fili is truly broad enough to be considered battle-ready. If memory serves his father was much the same.

“My brother is half of nothing,” Fili snarls in reply, taking a step closer to his brother.

Kili is already the taller and so his head is visible, as are his wide, frightened eyes over his brother’s shoulder. He’s slender as well, with the kind of delicate features that Frerin has seen more often in the other races. It isn’t a new comment, Frerin just wasn’t aware that the comments were being made to Kili’s face as well as behind his back.

“Step away, Tarl,” Frerin orders, wishing he had come better armed but not anticipating any trouble, let alone from five full grown dwarves who would target dwarflings first.

Three of the five turn to him, Tarl, Narl and Varl are known leaders of this particular sect and the source of a lot of Thorin’s headaches. Frerin doesn’t recognise the other two, even when they look at him as Fili lets out a relieved cry of his name.

“This is none of your concern,” Tarl says. “You’re a traitor to the stone, Frerin son of Thrain.”

“My sister’s sons will always be my concern,” Frerin replies.

The two Frerin doesn’t know seem startled by that information, as though they hadn’t realised that the young dwarves they have accosted are of the royal line. Newcomers, then, they have been careful to let it be known only that Dis and Vili had two sons before Vili died. They’ve kept their names close. No sense in making them targets before they are of age if it can be helped.

“Even the elf-spawn?” Tarl smirks. “That isn’t a surprise from one such as you. Is your sister the only one who gives herself to elves or do you also enjoy such perversions?”

It’s unfortunate that Fili hasn’t yet learnt to control his temper, most dwarflings don’t until some time in their forties (and Thorin never has) when their primary focus shifts from their weapons to their crafts. That these dwarves have attacked Kili is bad enough, and Frerin can see Kili’s broken bow and scattered arrows at the boy’s feet, but now they have also insulted Fili’s uncle and mother. Frerin has heard it before, Dis has heard it before although she never dignifies it with a response. Judging by the way Fili flings himself at Tarl’s back the boy hasn’t. Tarl, sadly, knows what he’s doing and is expecting the attack. Frerin wouldn’t be surprised if this had been his goal all along, the accidental deaths of the heirs in a street brawl they were goaded into starting.

Dwarves like Tarl are one of the reasons Frerin always kept Belladonna away from the Blue Mountains.

The guard arrives not long after, breaking them all apart to leave the three princes with cuts and bruises and two of Tarl’s associates the worse off. It would have ended differently had Frerin not been present and Thorin won’t be happy later but Frerin doesn’t care. He has larger concerns as the guards lead the purists away, happy to take Frerin’s word for the fact that the boys were cornered and the others were spoiling for a fight. Frerin’s bigger concern is Fili and Kili.

“Are either of you boys hurt?” He asks, taking each of the lads’ chins in hand so he can turn them to look at their faces.

“We’re fine,” Kili snaps. “It’s nothing I haven’t heard before.” The two blonds share glances and go to the younger to wrap him in their arms.

Frerin doesn’t want this for Kili, the rumours that will follow him everywhere and make him question his worth in the same way they did Frerin during his childhood. Life as a prince isn’t easy, especially life as the spare. There is a weight on Fili’s shoulders that neither Frerin or Kili will ever understand but they have their own burdens too. They are the spare, they exist only to take the place of the eldest should the worst happen. They will be sacrificed to battle or political alliance with no thought to their future or happiness.

“Nothing they say is true,” Fili says before Frerin can speak to reassure the boy. “You know that don’t you?”

The boys may fight like cat and dog a lot of the time, but they are closer than Thorin and Frerin ever were, too often pitted against one another by their father and grandfather, and that is increasing as they mature. It will serve them well in the future, to be able to lean on one another in ways that their uncles never could.

“Of course, I do,” Kili leans into both of them.

“I don’t think your mother has ever seen an elf,” Frerin adds. “There’s nothing but dwarf in you, lad. Come on, your Amad sent me to find you and I’d rather she not have even more of a reason to contemplate shaving my beard.”

*

 

T.A. 2941 The Road to Erebor

The spend two days in Lake Town in the end. Two days while Frerin watched Belladonna, Bluebell and Fili struggle with being so thoroughly cut off from earth and stone. While it had been necessary in the Shire to keep Belladonna cut off from the earth at night, here in Lake Town it’s obviously torturous for them. Bifur, Bofur and Bombur are far less affected that Fili but by the time they all leave the Ur’s are obviously starting to struggle as well. They would have left long before, but the Master kept on attempting to strike a new bargain and demand more gold and more assurances that the dwarves will not allow Lake Town to suffer any fall out from Thranduil.

Even though it is late on the second day when they depart, they decide not to linger just in case the Master comes up with something new to stall them. They are accosted once, and briefly, by a man named Bard who tries to persuade them not to enter the mountain. He begs them to think of the children in Lake Town and not the Men. That hits Frerin harder than the rest, if he could he would leave Belladonna here and come back for her once the Arkenstone is retrieved.

He can’t.

Belladonna won’t be safe in Lake Town, no matter his reasons for leaving her the lake would kill her if she stayed upon it as surely as it would if she were to fall into it. For the same reason they decline the offer of boats if they will only wait until morning. Even Thorin hasn’t missed the effect the water is having on so many members of their party and they have a little over a week until Durin’s Day. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when they are back on dry land and they set a quick pace on their newly acquired ponies. Not in any real hurry, just because they want to put as much distance as they can between themselves and the Master of Lake Town.

The road between Dale and the lake is nothing like Frerin remembers. Before Smaug the area would have been covered in farms, rich soil with bountiful crops and vast pastures full of cattle and sheep would have stretched as far as the eye could see. Now it is little more than a wind-swept expanse of empty house carcasses, mud and dry, sparse, patches of grass. The few trees are spindly, their bare branches reaching towards the sky as though little more than skeletal fingers.

“Do you think the dragon did this?” Bluebell asks from her place on the other side of Belladonna. “You always said the land was beautiful and plentiful when you told us about Erebor, Adad.”

“I suppose it must have,” Frerin replies. “I’ll admit I never thought this might be a result of losing Erebor.”

“None of us did,” Thorin replies unexpectedly, things between the brothers are still tense since their argument.

Frerin spent more time outside the mountain than Thorin did, he had less responsibility after all. Thorin had always been eager to go hunting when he could, however, and the land around the mountain and Dale had been a rich hunting ground.

“It feels strange,” Belladonna says. “The land. Not sick like Mirkwood, I don’t think there’s enough life left in it for that. Just cold, like it doesn’t want anyone here. Not us or the Men or even the elves.”

“I feel it too,” Fili adds. “In the stone. I’ve never felt anything like it before.” Eyes turn towards Bofur who twists in his saddle to look back at Fili from under his hat.

“Don’t go looking at me for answers,” he laughs, “there’s too much earth here for me to feel anything.” His brother and cousin shake their heads as well, which is no great surprise given that Bofur’s Stone Sense is easily the strongest. It lends an unwelcome sense of doom to the journey.

Several days later, as they dismount to make camp, Bluebell lets out a surprised noise as soon as her feet touch the ground. Belladonna does the same and reaches for her daughter.

“Can you feel that?” she asks and Bluebell nods. “There were hobbits here, once.” She smiles at her husband.

“You’re certain?” Frerin asks. “How can you tell?”

They have stopped in one of the few areas near the ruins of Dale that still show signs of life. Thick blackberry bushes, still with the odd withered berry attached to their branches, surround a lush (comparatively speaking) area of grass which will provide the ponies with better grazing than they had been able to find in all the nights before. That should be evidence enough that there is something different about this little hill, but its odd shape and the strange dips also mark it as unusual.

“This was probably once a smial,” Bluebell smiles. “The earth is full of the Blessing, stronger than it is in the Shire even after all this time.”

“We’ve only been settled there a little over a thousand years,” Belladonna points out. “The Blessing used to be much stronger in us before the Wandering diminished it.”

The two walk further up the hill with Frerin and Thorin following close by. Things between the brothers are tense and that tension is building with every step that seems to confirm that hobbits once lived at the foot of Erebor. Though they are obviously curious, the others have busied themselves with making camp, using the oddly shaped hill as partial shelter from the biting wind and apparently content for the hobbits to finish their investigation.

For the first time in weeks Belladonna and Bluebell move with a lightness of step that hasn’t been seen in too long and emphasises how connected to the land beneath their feet hobbits truly are.

“Look,” Bluebell points towards the open plain that runs around what’s left of Dale and towards the base of the mountain.

It’s a strange looking spread of hills and rocky outcrops. He never would have noticed the peculiarity of them as a child in Erebor, the grass on them would have been thick and lush and there had been a forest growing here at one point as well. He does remember playing there, sometimes, and that he would occasionally find broken pieces of pot and china. He remembers how some of the hills had collapsed in on themselves in strange ways that would form the floorplan of forts and caves for his childhood games. Now that he has lived in the Shire and seen how hobbits built their homes those collapsed hills make more sense. The hills they can see now are like islands of green in a grey wasteland.

“This really could be where we started,” Belladonna breathes.

Every now and then, according to his wife, one of the more powerfully Blessed hobbits will decide to attempt to retrace the steps of their ancestors and find out where they came from. None ever return and Frerin is beginning to understand why. The hobbits must have meandered their way around this side of the Misty Mountains for decades before finding their way across to the other side in their search for a home. He and Belladonna had spent a decade doing the same, although never seriously, and to have actually found it is thrilling.

“No one will believe us when we tell them back in the Shire,” Bluebell laughs.

Thorin and Frerin share a long look. They had partially canvased this during their argument a few days before. An argument caused by Thorin admitting that there had been a clause in the contract with Frhna which could have released Frerin from his betrothal if they had only understood its meaning more clearly. A clause relating to an ancient ally and the obligation of a prince of the line to marry a child of that race should they prove to be their One. They had never known what it referred to until Legolas began to speak of ancient hobbits in the area, for all the good it would have done if they had. The only proof of it would have lain inside Erebor, if it still exists at all. Now Frerin has to wonder if Bluebell realises how unlikely it is that she will ever return to the Shire after the mountain is reclaimed. With the two hobbits distracted the topic has once again come to the fore of their minds.

“Do you see, now, why I left?” Frerin asks, his eyes on the excitedly chattering hobbits.

“I do,” Thorin is also watching them, “although I wouldn’t have then. Do you see why I didn’t tell you about the terms? We couldn’t have proven anything before coming here.” There is a moment of silence. “Will you do it a third time?” Thorin asks suddenly. “Will you turn your back on us again when this is over and vanish without a word?”

“No,” Frerin sighs. “If Belladonna wants to go back to the Shire, I will go with her and our child, of course, but I will tell you first.”

“Your place is with your family, nadadith,” Thorin huffs.

“She is my family, she was always my family,” Frerin argues. “Will you not let this go? The past is done, and it does us no good to keep going over it.” Bluebell has turned to watch them and Frerin can see Fili approaching when he turns to look. “You are not Thror, Thorin, learn to give a little before you become too much like him to go back.” Thorin turns hard eyes on him.

“I am nothing like our grandfather,” he hisses.

“No, you are not,” Frerin replies. “Mahal willing you will never become like him. If you will only learn to bend. I left, and I am sorry for how I did it. But I am not, and never will be, sorry for the outcome. I have everything I could ever have wanted, Thorin. Belladonna will not wish to leave so long as Bluebell is here, and Bluebell will go wherever Fili is.”

The young dwarf in question has his arms wrapped around his betrothed and his head resting on top of hers as he listens to her talking about what she had found. Frerin wonders if Fili is able to hear the stone in the area. He wonders what it is telling his sister-son and what stories he might be sharing. Belladonna stands to one side watching them with a fond smile, the wind blowing her dress about her calves. She is at peace, he realises, more than she has been in years.

“Promise me something, nadadith,” Thorin says and when Frerin looks at him the hard mask of the king is gone and Thorin looks vulnerable for it. “Promise me that if you see signs of the madness taking me you will take your wife and your children and our sister’s sons and leave.”

“You are not Thror,” Frerin reminds him.

“Who is to say that will still be true ten years from now? When Erebor is ours, the Arkenstone claimed and our people in their true home once more, promise it to me. If you ever see that I am falling to the gold as our grandfather did, leave.”

Thorin genuinely fears this, Frerin realises. There is madness in their family, Frerin knows it as well as anyone, and he fears he will fall to it as much as Thorin does. He also knows that of the two of them, he is the less likely to experience it. Frerin will lead a quiet life once Erebor is reclaimed, more than likely in a little house in an artificial hill on the slopes of the mountain with Belladonna’s garden and their child. She will thrive away from the Shire, he thinks. He looks up at his brother, Thorin has always been the taller, and recognising how important this is he takes a breath.

“I swear it, brother,” he says finally. “If I ever see the signs of Thror’s sickness in you I will take my wife, my children, our sister’s sons and Dis and go.”

“Thank you,” Thorin breathes in relief. “Although I think you would have to knock Dis over the head and tie her into a sack to get her to leave.”

“If Mahal likes me at all I won’t ever have to worry about it,” Frerin replies simply, nudging his brother’s shoulder with his own.

“If He likes you more than the rest of us, He shows exceedingly poor taste,” Thorin grumbles, drawing a laugh from Frerin.  

Just like that Thorin’s moment of vulnerability is gone and he turns back to camp as Belladonna comes to Frerin’s side and tucks herself under his arm. They stand this way, watching Fili and Bluebell talk, until Bofur calls up that dinner is ready.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2907 Ered Luin

Bofur regards the young dwarf in front of him. Mithril ringed blue eyes stare back at him sullenly. Bofur has heard the stories, of course, you would be hard pressed to find anyone in any of the settlements around the Blue Mountains who hasn’t. Young Prince Fili’s Stone Sense manifested abruptly and spectacularly very soon after the disappearance of Prince Frerin, his uncle. Bofur feels for the lad, no one has developed a Stone Sense this strong in an age, not here anyway. It’s more common where dwarves can live under the stone and know it as they grow. So many who live nearer to the sky don’t come to know the stone well enough to hear it properly as they grown older, they never develop beyond the basics they are born with.

Bofur, coming from a long line of miners, has a stronger sense of the stone than most and his is nothing to his father’s (Mahal rest him). Fili’s, poor young Fili’s, Stone Sense is already stronger than Bofur’s and given a few months will likely be stronger than his father’s as well. Bofur wishes he could have known Vili, gotten a read of his Stone Sense. There are no catacombs here, no deep place where a lad or lass as deeply connected as this can learn control and peace. There was, once, such a place. The stone sings of it sometimes in the night when Bofur finds it hard to sleep and once Fili learns to understand it doubtless the mountains will tell him of the same and more besides. Bofur hears the song, but he will never hear it as clearly or completely as Fili already does.

“We need to find a way to calm that anger, lad,” Bofur says.

Fili is pacing, the stone beneath his feet is cracking and rippling, shifting with every footstep as though waiting for something to lash out at. If Fili loses control it will, it will strike at whatever it can. There have been no Stone Warriors in this area since the War of Wrath and no more than a handful elsewhere since, Bofur had assumed them to be little more than a fantastical legend.

“Why?” The youth demands.

“Because using the stone is like fighting, lad,” Bofur replies. “If you do it in anger, you’ll make mistakes and get yourself or someone else killed. So, tell me, what’s got you all twisted up?”

“I don’t want to be a miner,” Fili grumbles. “It got my father killed. But with this it’s all I’m good for.” He clenches a fist and Bofur feels something deep in the stone crack.

“Rubbish,” he grins, settling on the ground and pulling out a knife and block of wood. “Most miners barely have any Stone Sense at all. They take the job because there’s nothing else for them in their own craft. Only the foremen and the managers, true delvers, have any Stone Sense. Most of the ones like me become architects and masons, builders and we need those in New Belegost. Your uncle will need them in Erebor if the dragon can ever be turned out. But you need to learn control before we can tell if the stone will tell you where to find jewels and gold or if it contains a statue or just blocks for a house.”

“What do you do?” Fili flops next to him.

“I carve,” he hands the young prince a half-finished bird, “or I play my whistle. I don’t do it so much these days, don’t have the need. Now, show me what Lady Dis has been able to teach you.”

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

“Do you feel that?” Bombur asks in his soft voice as they pass the ruins of Dale.

“Aye,” Bofur breathes.

The land around the mountain is mostly dying, aside from those patches where the hobbits once built their homes and, according to Belladonna and Bluebell, is hostile towards the dwarves as they move over it. Bofur has been taking them at their word. He has no reason not to after all.

“She doesn’t want us here,” Fili’s voice is just as soft, putting words to a thought that has obviously been plaguing him for longer than Bofur and Bombur have been aware of the song of the mountain.

Bombur hums an agreement and Bofur nods. Ahead of them Thorin throws them all a black look and leans in to mutter something to Dwalin. Thorin’s mood has been dark since they woke and if Bofur didn’t know for a fact that Thorin has almost as little Stone Sense as Frerin he would think that the mountain is affecting his king’s thoughts. Certainly, his thoughts have turned bleaker and darker the more aware of the mountain he has become. Bombur is difficult to read at the best of times with his gentle voice and tendency towards silence, but he seems subdued as well and Fili is tense in a way that is familiar to Bofur after years of teaching the boy control.

“How could the stone warriors have missed this?” Bombur asks.

He has a point. Until Smaug nearly all of the most powerful users of the Stone Sense lived in Erebor’s Catacombs. This far away, half a day’s ride, the mountain’s loathing is very clear. Inside the Catacombs deep within, it must have been stifling. It isn’t a new development, certainly older than the dwarves being driven from Erebor, but underneath it there is something else, something sad and lonely.

“Maybe they did, maybe Thror just didn’t listen,” Fili replies, his voice tight. “I begin to wonder if retaking Erebor is a good idea.”

Bofur is wondering it too. They’re too close to the mountain to back out now, however, and Bofur believes he knows Thorin too well after all these months to think that he would allow it.

“Bofur! Fili!” Thorin summons them both forwards

They respond obediently, though not without some grumbling from Fili. The lad’s tolerance for his uncle’s moods seems to be waning the closer they get to the mountain. It isn’t a surprise given his sensitivity to the stone, the song will always affect him more whether he realises it or not. Bofur did his best while training Fili but without experience of the lad’s strength he knows there are gaps in what the younger has been taught.

“Lad,” he says before Thorin can hear the mutters and Fili subsides. Bofur wouldn’t say they were friends exactly before the quest, but he knows Fili better in some ways than any of the others here.

“Can you get any sense of the location of the entrance?” Thorin demands.

“No,” Bofur answers for both of them. “But there are ways to hide these things, even from me and Fili.” Thorin glares at him. “If we had years to study Erebor’s song we could probably find clues,” he offers, “but doing it the old-fashioned way would be easier.”

“Pick up the pace!” Thorin calls and nudges his pony.

“Well, he’s a delightful, warm forge today,” Bofur mutters sarcastically. Fili huffs a soft laugh.

“You get used to it,” he says and somehow that’s worse. “He was like this for years after uncle disappeared.” There is the unspoken admission that he was the same and Bofur well knows it.

Fili is open now, free and happy, in love and without the cares of a waiting throne for the first time in his life. It shows. On this quest the focus has been on getting from one place to the next, passing through towns and wilderness where no one knows them and it’s easy to be nobody. The cares of being crown prince, of trying to take some of the weight on Thorin and Dis from them is gone out here. Fili gets to simply exist and if Bofur thought that Thorin would allow it he would tell his king to keep things that way for a few years once the mountain is reclaimed. Let Fili learn Erebor’s song and work alongside Bofur to learn about her architecture and the best way to repair the damage done by Smaug. Erebor needs to heal and Fili will be best served to help with that. Bofur’s concern is not for the prince, much as he likes the lad, his concern is for the living stone of the mountain that screams for them to leave and never come back.

That changes the instant that the hobbits’ feet touch the slopes. The song doesn’t change, as such, Erebor still wants them gone, but there is something else to it. Something deep and ancient that sends flashes of indigo fire over their skin and soars in longing. Interestingly, those same yearning notes affect Fili and Frerin too. Frerin jolts as though hearing the song for the first time, and it’s very likely he is, staring at his wife as though he has never seen her before while ripples of light waver around him with the steady glow of a forge.

All eyes, however, turn to Fili and Bluebell.

Over the weeks since Rivendell the Company have become accustomed to the fact that Bluebell’s Blessing and Fili’s Stone Sense interact in some way. Bofur can’t explain it and neither can Balin (for all his fancy books and learning). Bofur doesn’t think the young couple even realise it half the time it happens. In the evenings when Bluebell huddles close to Fili for warmth, her eyes glowing so that she can see and his infuse with the same traces of indigo. Or when Fili touches the stone to check they are going in the right direction and the same swirls of mithril appear in hers. This is far more extreme. This isn’t just the hint of each other in their eyes or the blaze of Bluebell or her mother hiding the Company from view. This is more like what happened in Rivendell. For a moment swirls of colour blaze together so brightly that they all notice and the song of the mountain soars enough for even the elf to hear. Longing, profound and heart breaking, fills him and from the expressions on the faces of the others they feel it too. The mountain is welcoming them and Bofur can’t be sure if that is a good thing or a bad one.

Then Thorin steps forward and just like that the light and song fades and Bofur is struck with a feeling of intense loathing and pain.

It leaves all of them off balance and they make camp in stunned silence, broken only by Thorin’s terse orders, the clattering of the cook stand and the clunk of fire wood. Even their meal is eaten in silence and, for the first time in weeks, Fili and Bluebell avoid touching one another.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2902 Bag End

Bluebell doesn’t like her father. She loves him but that doesn’t mean she has to like him. Bluebell is sure that if things had been different, had her Mama never left the Shire and fallen in love with Frerin, things would be better for all of them. Mama and Papa might still have married but without the desperate pull of the Life-bond between her mother and Frerin to cause this awful, constant tension between her parents.

Her parents aren’t the only ones with marital problems. There are plenty of couples without the life-bond. Some marry because, like her father, their life-light is complete without the fraying edges that reach for another. Others do it because, like her mother, the other side of their bond is unattainable. The remainder do so simply because it’s more proper and brings about fewer children. Life-bonded couples are rarely apart, frequently have larger families and are often poorer for it, although the Tooks and the Brandybucks are well enough off even though they’re infamous for marrying only for the sake of their bond. Like so many of the second kind of marriage, however, her parents’ marriage is cracking, and it won’t take much to shatter it completely.

“For the Mother’s sake, Bluebell,” her father snaps. “I wonder, sometimes, if there is any Baggins in you at all! You’re more of a dreamer than your mother has ever been.”

Bluebell doesn’t reply. She doesn’t need to. Her father has said this so many times, but it doesn’t hurt any less for having heard it more than once.

She hasn’t just heard it from her father, although that’s probably the worst, her Grandmother Baggins has said it more than once. She’s heard it in all the rumours around the Shire too, and it makes Bluebell thankful for Lobelia Bracegirdle. They’ve been great friends all their lives and her mother, has been a good friend to Bluebell’s mother since her parents married. The Bracegirdles are quick to defend Bluebell and Belladonna whenever they hear the tired old rumour surface. It isn’t as common to hear anymore, now that Frerin only writes and doesn’t visit, but every now and again it comes up. Bluebell will do something particularly Tookish or her mother will get a faraway look in her eyes and suddenly all the Shire can talk about is Belladonna’s torrid affair with a dwarf.

When it happens Lobelia will point out the brilliant indigo of Bluebell’s eyes or the fine points of her ears. Mrs Bracegirdle will make mention of her sturdy soles and the well cared for curls on her feet. It doesn’t stop the rumours, of course, though her grandmother is dead and gone her aunts and uncles put voice to it often enough. With her lineage, however, the behaviour that sparks the rumours is bound to happen. Those of the Took and Brandybuck lines are always more powerfully Blessed than the other families and the more powerful the Blessing the less proper the behaviour.

Her father is still ranting away to himself, though he knows as well as anyone in the years between her marriage and Bluebell’s birth Belladonna never laid eyes on Frerin. Bungo’s bitterness, however, comes from his inability to accept that the life-bond between Belladonna and Frerin will always draw them together and drives their need to communicate however they can when apart. He often turns that bitterness onto his wife and daughter.

“Have you heard a word I’ve said?” Her father demands.

“Leave her alone, Bungo,” Belladonna appears next to her daughter and Bluebell is startled by the tears on her cheeks. She flees, leaving her parents to run through the same argument once more.

She doesn’t like her father, but she loves him all the same and that makes his words hurt all the more.

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

Finding the small landing with the hidden door into the mountain turns out to be the easy part. They split into pairs and make quick work of it. Quick enough that they have time to spare after climbing to the top (minus Bombur and Legolas, who both opt to remain with the ponies). Erebor’s song has calmed overnight, enough that Bluebell and Fili can exchange soft touches and brief kisses without their abilities shining around them. They didn’t avoid one another over night because they dislike the feeling of the other’s abilities, truth be told Bluebell loves the feeling of Fili’s Stone Sense mixing with her Blessing and hearing the song of the mountain as he must do, rather they prefer that it happen because they want it to. Not because the magic seeped deep into the mountain (or Rivendell) has triggered it.

Thorin’s impatience is infectious, although Bluebell is also inclined to think of him as desperate no matter how uncharitable both descriptions sound, and even though they have several hours until sunset most of the Company begin the search for the hidden door. Bluebell, Belladonna and Frerin find a corner and sit to wait. Bluebell is in no rush to face the dragon and her Mama and Adad are even less eager for her to enter the mountain. Fili, Kili, Bofur and Ori join them not long after. Fili and Bofur can read the stone well enough from beside her, and they know they aren’t going to find anything anyway. Kili is happy to follow his brother’s lead and Ori is seemingly content to write up an account of the last few days. Bluebell finds herself surrounded by family and friends.

The time spent waiting for the sun to set slowly turns into the Company sitting quietly together as they gradually conclude that nothing can be done until the last light. The closer it comes to sunset the more crushing Fili’s grip on Bluebell’s hand becomes and it’s clear just how worried he is about her. She wants to tell him that it will all be well, that she’ll walk into Erebor, grab the Arkenstone and walk out without disturbing the dragon. She doesn’t even believe that herself, is terrified that she’ll walk into the treasure chamber and find an angry dragon already awake and waiting. The mountain has been making enough noise after all.

Finally, the sun sets, and they all wait for the keyhole to be revealed. There’s nothing, not even a hint, and Bluebell watches the hope drain out of Thorin to be replaced by bitter despair.

“We tried, nadad,” Frerin says.

“What use is trying when we leave with less than we started with?” Thorin snarls. “We’ve failed and all the hopes of our people have failed with us.”

“You would have us go through the front gate?” Frerin demands. “Guarantee that we would walk straight into the waiting jaws of the dragon?”

“Better death than to return a failure.”

“Now that is ridiculous!” Frerin exclaims. “What of our sister? Would you rob her of all her family at once? You’d condemn our people altogether!”

The moon is rising behind them, casting king and prince in silvery light as it creeps up the wall that held so much hope and lending a sickly cast to their faces.

“Thorin?” Bluebell tries but he doesn’t look at her. “Adad?” Frerin doesn’t pause either. Belladonna rolls her eyes, places her fingers to her lips and whistles sharply. The arguing dwarves fall silent. “Look.” Bluebell points and as one they turn. The moonlight shines clearly on the keyhole and Bluebell trembles under Thorin’s grateful gaze, wishing she had remained silent.

They watch in wonder as the door is opened, but Bluebell wraps her arms around Fili and hides her face in his chest. The moment has come. Gandalf isn’t here and she doesn’t think she can do it. Her limbs are like lead and she shakes in Fili’s arms even as, one by one, the others take tentative steps closer behind Thorin, Frerin and Balin as they go through the door.

“You don’t have to do this,” Fili tells her. “Now that we know where the door is, we can think of something else.”

“But we can’t,” she breathes. “It won’t take long for the dragon to realise that the door is open and however long that is won’t be enough to think of something else.”

“Then I’ll do it,” he insists, “or Frerin will, you know he would.”

“Fili,” she whispers. “I could no more ask you to go in than you could ask me. I have to do this, I won’t allow anyone else to do it for me.” She can feel tears forming as she looks up at him. “It’s time, if I don’t go now I never will.”

“Then I’ll come with you,” he says firmly. “Erebor will guide us and I won’t let you go alone, even if I can only come part of the way.”

Kili and Thorin both object to Fili going in with her, even only a short way, though Bluebell can’t blame them. She feels guilty for wanting him there, but she so badly needs his strength. Frerin and Belladonna object to it being either of them but there’s nothing else for it. Someone has to go in and Bluebell is the only choice. They slip in together, while the others argue over whether they should, and Fili pauses just down the corridor. For a moment the song of the mountain fills her, though she has no idea what it means, and then he begins to walk again, his footsteps certain and his grip on her hard.

“Bluebell,” he keeps his voice low,” it’s just around the corner. If- If the dragon is there, if it does live, forget about all of it. Forget the stone, the gold, all of it. Just come back out and we’ll think of something else. Promise me.”

“Without the Arkenstone you might never reclaim Erebor,” she objects. He grabs her shoulders.

“If you get burnt to a cinder, I don’t want it,” he hisses. “It won’t be worth it without you, so you promise me.”

The tunnel is dimly lit and so she can hardly make out the expression on his face, but she can see the mithril glow of his eyes and she sees them flare into a flame. His grip is tight, though not painful, and she knows he’s as frightened for her as she is. Beneath her feet the floor of the passageway seems to ripple with every breath, and she can’t look away from him. Nor can she refuse him even though she knows that she may not have a choice.

“I promise to try,” she replies. He crushes their lips together and she returns his desperate kiss with equal passion.

“Come back to me,” he gasps.

Bluebell takes a shuddering breath as she nods, reaching for the earth through the stone and thrilled at how easily she finds it. The slopes of the mountain aren’t as saturated with the remnants of the Blessing as the plains, but she finds a pocket of it quickly enough. Her voice is barely a breathless whisper as she chants, cloaking herself from view as best she can. Then she all but runs down the corridor, because if she doesn’t leave now she never will, and all too soon she is looking down upon an ocean of gold.

Bluebell has heard stories of the treasure room of Thror. She has heard of it from Frerin, on the rare occasion he would discuss the subject, and from Thorin and Balin when explaining her task. She doubts they realise what a monumental task they have given her. Just looking over it she thinks she could be given a year and barely scratch the surface of the wealth stored in this cavernous room. Quite how Thorin ever thought she could find one jewel in all of this she doesn’t know. Fili, she thinks, would have infinitely more luck if they could only get rid of the dragon.

Speaking of the dragon. There's no sign of Smaug, neither living or dead, and so she’s careful as she picks her way over the rolling hills of gold and jewels. There’s silver and a few other items mixed in as well and she only just avoids slicing the sole of her foot on a blade that looks decorative but that she knows will be as sharp as any other blade of dwarf make. The sapphires on the hilt make her think of Fili and she tucks it into her belt without a thought. She keeps moving, letting her feet guide her towards an area that pulses to a slow, but regular, beat. She can’t see anything when she reaches it, but she’s certain that she’s in the right spot. She takes a moment to consider whether she should just dig or start to make her way back and, in that moment, she hears what can only be an avalanche of coins and feels the air stir.

Smaug is awake.

The gold under her feet shifts just enough to expose something that glows with an all too familiar light. Bright white silver, mithril, streaked with orange and green and indigo that swirls beneath the surface and holds the eye of the beholder almost hypnotically. The Arkenstone. The Heart of the Lonely Mountain. She manages to grab it as the shifting gold sends her tumbling, letting herself fall in the hope that the scattering of the treasure which covered the dragon will hide the roll of her body. When she comes to a stop she freezes, moving just enough to tuck the Arkenstone into her bodice, hidden beneath the swell of her breasts and held in place by the tight lacing.

“I smell you, Thief,” Smaug purrs and Bluebell stumbles on her words, loses her connection to the earth and darts behind a pillar. “I hear your little prayer.”

Tears prick at her eyes as she reaches for the earth and feels it skitter out of reach. Her thoughts turn to Fili and the promise that she won’t be able to keep. She sends him a silent apology, nothing has gone as planned on this quest so she should have expected this part to go wrong too.

“I am no thief,” she calls back, still trying to touch the earth and finding it impossible to grasp. The stone isn’t the problem. The problem is the gold she stands on and the weird slickness that coats it. Refined metal, she realises, and it must turn the Blessing aside as surely as stone would for most other hobbits. “I merely came to gaze upon you, to see if the stories and tales of your magnificence were true.” She shifts enough to check Smaug’s location. The dragon hasn’t found her hiding place yet but he’s between her and the only way out.

“What do you think of them now?”

“That they didn’t do you justice, great Smaug,” she replies. “Truly, they failed to capture your magnitude.” She darts to another pillar, closer to the dragon but she has to find a way past him, and she can’t afford to go in the other direction and risk getting lost. She should have let Fili come with her, she thinks miserably. She’s going to die and she’s going to die alone.

“You seem familiar with me,” Smaug draws closer and she holds her breath, “but I’m unfamiliar with your kind. What are you?”

She can’t tell him what she is. She won’t risk setting him on the Shire and he will go there if he thinks the hobbits pose any kind of threat to his hoard.

“I come from over hill and under hill. I’m the child of a prince, although I am not royalty. I’m the lucky number,” she darts to another pillar. “Beloved of earth and stone, although I am no friend of water.” She rests her hands on the pillar and uses it to help her reach for the earth outside. It’s limited but she grabs for it all the same and races desperately through a prayer, hiding herself just long enough to enable her to get that little bit closer to the exit.

“Don’t stop there, those are some interesting titles,” Smaug draws closer. She stumbles behind another pillar. Nearly at the stairs now but no quite close enough.

“I would rather hear about you,” she squeaks. “I’ve come all this way to meet you, through mountains and forests and lakes. What harm is there in telling me how you came to choose this mountain?”

“The mountain called me,” Smaug chuckles. “All this marvellous gold for the taking and all offered to me by their greatest treasure. Now, little thief, let me see you.” A head appears around her hiding place and Bluebell lets out a shrill scream as she topples away from him. “Would you take it for them, thief? Would you take the beating heart of the mountain for dwarves? It will never be theirs. It doesn’t want them.”

“No dwarves,” Bluebell scrambles backwards and is relieved when her hand touches the first step back up to the entrance. “Just me, no one else,” she lies breathlessly, hoping that no on heard her scream and comes to investigate.

“I smell them on you,” the dragon roars. “Their scent is thick, and I know they await you outside. They have sent you to do what they are all too cowardly to attempt themselves. Do you think they will reward you? Do you think they will truly give you some share of my treasure? You will be fortunate if they let you leave with your life. They sent you for the Arkenstone and they sent you to die!”

The dragon rears back, his chest beginning to glow, and Bluebell abandons all attempts to hide herself in favour of simply scrambling up the stairs as fast as her feet can take her. Heat burns through her soles as the dragon roars and she cries out at the feel of it. Then Fili and Kili are there, skittering to a halt in the door as they come face to face with the beast that stole their ancestral home. They grab her, Kili hoisting her onto Fili’s back, their longer legs managing to achieve greater speed and their greater strength meaning her additional weight makes little difference. There is another burst of heat and they dart down a side corridor to avoid flames that are hot enough to make the stone glow.

“Get Thorin and the others,” Fili orders when it becomes clear that Smaug intends to find the hidden entrance and cut off their escape. “Tell them to forget the ponies and get into the mountain.”

Kili nods and obeys, leaving Bluebell and Fili in what turns out to be a hidden guardroom. There are no bodies here, although Bluebell half expected to see them, but it has the stale and dusty smell of a room long unused.

“I’m sorry,” she gasps as Fili sets her down and begins to run his hands over her. “I’m sorry. I tried, I really tried, but by the time he emerged I was already cut off and-”

He silences her with a kiss, hard and crushing, as though he is reassuring himself that she is alive. She clings to him, needing the reassurance herself. Then there is the clattering of feet and they part to the feel of arms wrapping around them, her Mama and Adad, and Bluebell sags into the three pairs of arms that hold her.

“There is no time for this,” Thorin says and all eyes turn to him. “Do you have it?”

Chapter Text

T.A. 2768 Erebor

His parents don’t see it, Thorin thinks, or they don’t want to see it. Perhaps it’s less that they don’t see the gold-sickness and more that they refuse to accept that Thror is falling prey to it. It’s the burden and the shame of Durin’s line, after all, to be ever on the cusp of disaster brought on by the deep lust for gold that takes over their heart the longer they sit on the throne. Thorin fears that he, too, will one day share this fate. One day he will roam the halls of Erebor dripping with jewels and chains of gold and mithril, hoarding the wealth of the mountain like one of the great drakes of old. He dreams of it and wakes screaming.

Erebor is easily the wealthiest of the seven dwarf kingdoms. Thror is the most powerful of all of them, able to use the Arkenstone as a call to arms from all the kingdoms. The people of Erebor should be flourishing. They aren’t. Daily Thorin sees evidence of the weak and hungry. ‘Dams with hollow eyes in search of even the most menial of jobs to earn coin to feed their young. Taxes, Thorin knows, are becoming crippling as Thror seeks to hold ever more of the gold of their kingdom in his fists.

It isn’t just Erebor that suffers. Dale has become rich through trade with the subterranean stronghold. But Thror’s grip on the gold grows ever tighter and fewer traders dare to try and leave the mountain as ever more extreme levies on their goods are charged should they dare to try and sell to the outside world. With every passing month Thror’s restrictions on entry and exit from the mountain makes them ever more unwelcome in the Mannish city.

He’s young to be aware of this, only just considered battle ready, and without a true craft of his own apart from an interest in the art of the blacksmith which he shares with his father and brother. Now that he is battle ready, however, it’s time for Thorin to learn statecraft, to begin to understand what it means to inherit the throne of Erebor. Time to learn to rule the mountain and all of Durin’s folk as wisely and fairly as he can. Just his studies leave him hoping that he will be grey of beard before he takes the throne, that he will be too old to give the gold-sickness time to take him before he passes and leaves the crown to his heir.

Food prices have increased, he notices it when he gets a chance to walk around the markets and sits in on the council sessions. The councillors are less angry about the effect it’s having on the population of Erebor and more about the insult of the doubling of the cost of staples like wheat. They are outraged that some farmers are claiming that their crops are beginning to fail no matter what they try, convinced that it is simply a ploy to bleed more gold out of the dwarves. Thorin is more inclined to believe the farmers, game isn’t as plentiful now as it was five years ago either, but the council is too pleased with how full Erebor’s treasury is as a result of Thror’s obsession with gold. They don’t seem to care about the fact that Thror is so obviously affected by gold-sickness.

Unless someone stands up to his grandfather soon things are very likely to get worse.

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

“There’s no time for this. Do you have it?” Thorin demands.

The hobbit girl stares at him from her position in the arms of his sister’s son. It makes something in Thorin twist angrily. Fili is the heir to the throne of Erebor. When the kingdom is theirs once more Thorin will have to arrange a suitable bride and make certain that this hobbit interloper vanishes. No outsider will ever become queen, no half-breed will ever become heir after Fili. As though sensing his train of thought the blond prince tightens his hold on the hobbit and the mountain shakes.

“I don’t think this is the time to worry about the Arkenstone, Uncle,” Fili says. “There’s a dragon in this mountain who just smashed the hidden door and will very likely soon be waiting in the treasury to kill us when hunger finally drives us out. We need a plan.”

“We came for the Arkenstone.”

“And what is the use of having it if we’re all dead?” The insolent boy argues.

Perhaps he is as like Frerin underneath as he is outside. Too stubborn, too defiant. Too deviant in his tastes. Perhaps the other, Kili, the younger, would be the better heir, even with his strange ideas about proper weapons and his sparse beard.

“Brother,” Frerin grabs his arms, the only one of the Company bold enough to do it. It shocks Thorin, makes the fog in his mind lift and he is glad that none of his family can see the thoughts he had hidden there, the dark contemplations that can arise from only one place. Dark thoughts that have been whispering in the back of his mind for days and have only become louder the closer they have come to Erebor.

“Perhaps we can escape from the Western Guardroom,” Balin suggests over the noise of more stone crumbling. Smaug will return soon and there will be no chance of escape through the front gate.

The immediacy of the situation causes the subject of the Arkenstone to be left to one side and Thorin is glad of it. Fili is right, whether Bluebell has found it or not there is no point in having the Arkenstone if they don’t survive to use the thing.

“Might I suggest we make our way there with all possible haste,” the elf suggests. It fills Thorin with a measure of frustrated rage that he has been forced to allow Legolas into the mountain when he had sworn to himself that he would never permit it. He refuses to trust the son of Thranduil.

“He has a point,” Kili agrees.

“Follow me,” Balin replies and no one hesitates in obeying.

No one wants to die, though it looks like that will be the outcome anyway. When they arrive, the room is full of desiccated corpses and the exit has collapsed in, as Thorin had long feared given how few escaped from that direction. Not even the expression of stunned horror on the elf’s face can cut through the grief Thorin feels and his anger at Thranduil for turning away. Perhaps some of these might have survived if Thranduil had only helped them.

Then again, perhaps they wouldn’t have.

“I won’t die like this,” he says. “I refuse to die like this. If we are to die let us die fighting.” He has a plan, half of a plan anyway, if they can only get the dragon to the great forge, they might be able to stop Smaug.

It goes about as well as can be expected and given how well the quest has gone the bar for that is very low. They even manage to get the forges lit before Smaug’s attention shifts away from Thorin. It doesn’t go to the hobbits, however, who are still a mystery to the dragon. His attention is caught by Legolas.

“An elf of the Greenwood,” he purrs. “So, even your cowardly king moves against me. It’s only a matter of time before those pathetic Lake Men join you.” The dragon draws back, away from the trap that has been set. The dwarves roar insults but Smaug doesn’t heed them. “Perhaps I have slumbered too long. Time to remind both Men and Elves of the might of Smaug!”

The hobbits rush to watch the great beast’s departure, but Thorin has only one clear thought. With Smaug out of the way for a time (and possibly permanently if the Elves and Men get it right) they will have time to search for the Arkenstone. With any luck they will be able to find it and get out before the dragon returns, though he is loath to leave the gold.

“Bofur, Bombur,” he barks, “get up on the ramparts and take watch.  Keep an eye out for the dragon and tell us immediately if you see signs of Smaug’s return. Bifur, Balin, gather the remains of our supplies and find somewhere to make camp, then get some rest. You’ll relieve Bofur and Bombur in four hours. The rest of you get into the treasury and begin the search for the Arkenstone.” He pauses. “Before you rest, Balin, send for Dain. We’ll need his army if we’re to take back the mountain.”

“I’ll be needing to look at Bluebell’s injuries first,” Oin pipes up.

Thorin glares first at him and then at the hobbit. She’s shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other and leaning heavily on Fili, who also looks a little bit singed. Anger flares. She put his sister-son in danger, and she had no right.

“Fine,” he allows. “Keep the mother with you. The rest of you begin the search.” Fili hesitates. “The girl will be fine with her mother, lad, get into the treasury. We may not have more than a day.”

He watches Fili press a kiss to the hobbit’s forehead but doesn’t comment beyond a frustrated glare. The boy is far too like Frerin in some ways. The elf hovers on the fringes, then makes to follow the rest, and Thorin steps in front of him.

“Not you,” he growls. “Never again will I put my trust in an elf. You will stay with Bofur and Bombur on watch. If I see you in the treasury, I won’t hesitate to kill you.”

“I betrayed my father for you,” the elf says. “What more can I do to earn your trust?”

Thorin sneers and turns his back. He has more important things to do than coddle the feelings of a spoilt elf prince. The Arkenstone must be somewhere in the treasury and they have to find it. Now that he has sent for his cousin in the Iron Hills it will look ill if he didn’t have the symbol of his right to rule already in his hands. To his credit, the elf doesn’t try to follow. Instead he says something to Oin about burns and follows the hobbits. Frerin gives him a reproachful glare but refrains from expressing his thoughts.

Then Thorin gets a proper look at the treasury and all thoughts cease. It is glorious, magnificent. Smaug’s hoard outshines Thror’s, he must have gathered more gold in the past seventeen decades. It gleams, shines, draws his gaze in way that is hypnotic. Something glitters next to him, on one of the great mounds that reaches his shoulders and he turns to look, reaches to take it. It’s a heavy gold chain with a large diamond mounted in a pendant. He places it around his neck without a thought and turns his attention back to the vast room and the huge mounds of treasure. The others are already working as ordered, although some have taken small trinkets for themselves. He’ll deal with it later, there must be no distractions from finding the Arkenstone. Not for Frerin and his pregnant lover, nor Fili and his little whore.

His strides among them and doesn’t notice when his sister-sons slip out.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2894 Ered Luin

Fili is the only one awake when Frerin returns from his usual late summer trip. He’s far earlier than expected, gone only four weeks instead of his normal six or seven. Fili is nursing a cup of hot milk, liberally spiked with some of his mother’s whiskey (he isn’t of an age to really be permitted to drink even if he is battle ready and on the cusp of finding a craft). He’s exhausted but unable to find any rest. Kili is snoring away happily already, Thorin is away working and Amad has taken to bed with one of her megrims. Those have become more common since Adad died.

Fili can tell his uncle is in a foul mood. Whatever has caused him to depart the home of his old friend has left him in a temper than not even days of travel can ease. He’s so like Thorin that Fili can see the family resemblance more clearly than ever before. He gets to his feet and goes to the cupboard, lifting down an earthenware mug and the same whiskey that is in his milk. At times like this he has seen Amad pour a cup for Thorin, perhaps it will help Frerin too.

“What are you still doing up?” Frerin grumbles as he takes his drink.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Fili shrugs and returns to his seat and his own mug.

“That had better be milk,” Frerin grouses.

This high in the mountains even the hottest days don’t sour the milk and it keeps well enough. Besides Thruta, their old goat, is usually good for a mug or two at this time of night.

“Mostly,” Fili shrugs. Frerin’s usually happy to let things go if they don’t happen too often. His uncle hums but makes no reply, just scowls into his whiskey as though it has all the answers. “We weren’t expecting you for several more weeks, Uncle,” he says when the silence becomes too thick and Frerin’s hands are holding his cup tight enough to crack it.

Frerin mutters something that Fili doesn’t properly hear. He doubts, quite strongly, that he was supposed to. He waits, remembering Amad telling him that sometimes it’s better to wait for answers than to push for them. Finally, his uncle pulls a cloth wrapped package from his pack and sets it on the table. Fili opens it and sees that it contains a little glass ink well with a silver lid and a silver pen that obviously matches. It’s a remarkably delicate set, not something that Fili would normally expect to be gifted or even purchased by another dwarf. Frerin must have paid a great deal for it, it’s exquisite work even to his youthful and untrained eyes.

“Who was it for?” He asks, but suspects he knows the answer. He has overheard enough conversations between Amad and Frerin.

“The daughter of a very close friend,” his uncle sighs.

“Not that good of a friend,” Fili scoffs, “not if they would send you straight home without allowing you to give her the gift.”

“Her father,” Frerin spits the word with such venom Fili is surprised that the table doesn’t catch fire, “is the one who sent me away. Had Bella been there – It matters not. It is a problem of my own making. Go to bed, Balin will be displeased if you’re tired and distracted during his lessons tomorrow.” Fili begins to do as he is told, though he dislikes the thought of leaving his uncle alone.

“What will you do with it?” He asks, nodding towards the set.

“Destroy it, it has no use to me now,” Frerin sighs.

“Let me take it?” Fili asks.

It’s too well made, too beautiful to destroy and perhaps, one day, Frerin will be in a position to make a gift of it anyway. Something about it calls to him, though he can’t think what, and he is oddly relieved when Frerin nods and allows him to take it. He clutches the cloth wrapped treasure to his chest but nearly drops it anyway when his uncle speaks again.

“Learn from my mistakes,” Frerin says softly. “Don’t love that which you know you cannot have. And if you do wake one day and find you love it anyway, walk away and never look back.”

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

Fili hasn’t thought about the inkwell and pen in years. It’s still tucked at the back of one of his drawers at home, wrapped in its cloth with the first blade Kili made for him (before Kili realised his skills lay in jewellery and not in following Thorin’s footsteps). Life in Ered Luin has never been easy and some things are simply too precious to dispose of even if one day something better made or suited to the user comes along. Now, knee deep in gold, Fili looks at the ridiculous solid gold pen covered in chips from various gems and remembers the simple and exquisitely made little set that Frerin had nearly destroyed. There is no question about who it had been made for, now that he thinks on it, the intended recipient had obviously been Bluebell.

He drops the pen in disgust, such a thing would feed a family in Ered Luin for weeks. Yet here it sits, its previous owner either dead or working as hard to survive as any other. Even to his eyes, the eyes of a dwarf, the wealth gathered in this room is obscene. Kili and Ori agree, but the older dwarves all tell them that they are too young to truly appreciate it. In a few years, the others say, they will be old enough to understand the drive in all of the children of the stone to delve and craft and keep.

It has been three days since Smaug left the mountain.

On the first day they search frantically, aware that they only have limited time to find the Arkenstone before Smaug returns. Only Fili suspects that they will not find it in the treasure chamber. He and Kili are quick to sneak away as soon as Thorin is distracted. They need to rest, and someone will need to relieve Balin and Bifur later (or that’s the agreed excuse). In reality they just can’t find it in themselves to search through the seemingly endless piles when they are so exhausted. Fili also, quite desperately, needs to see Bluebell and ensure that she is truly well.

On the second day there is an air of tension in the stone, as though Erebor is waiting for something. Fili and Kili are on watch, relieved to be out of the treasure room where Thorin has begun pacing and barking orders. Only those on watch and those resting from it are exempt from his desire to find the Arkenstone and Fili has noticed a pallor to Thorin's skin and a sheen to his eyes. He tells himself that he’s simply tired and that these first causes for concern are imagined. Legolas and Bluebell watch with them, the elf scanning the horizon constantly for any sign that Smaug has attacked Mirkwood. In Fili’s opinion that would be doing the elves a favour, better to burn the place to the ground and start over.

The raven that joins them is the largest of its kind that Fili has ever encountered, even the few who reside in Thorin’s halls in New Belegost are somewhat smaller. It tilts its head, black eyes piercing as it stares at them all. It stares at Bluebell for longer than it does the others, even Legolas, then bobs in a way that could be a bow.

“You have finally come,” it croaks, “good.” Then it turns to Fili. “You will do well.” It ruffles its feathers. “I bring news for the King Under the Mountain.”

“Fetch Uncle and Balin,” Fili tells his brother softly.

“See if you can find something for our friend to eat as well,” Bluebell adds.

“Have you news of the Greenwood?” Legolas asks the bird. Its expression becomes haughty, if a raven’s face can truly show such a thing.

“I will speak only with the King Under the Mountain.”

The wait that follows is tense, though Fili knows that it can’t be helped given the distance that Kili has to cover, and Legolas resumes his watch of the skyline. Finally, Thorin arrives wearing a fur coat that Fili has never seen and more wealth than even the wealthiest lords in Ered Luin would wear at one time.

“The dragon is dead, my king,” the raven says. “Slain by Bard of Girion’s line. His carcass lies at the bottom of the lake. Erebor is yours once more.”

Thorin’s face lights up with a joy Fili has seen only a handful of times (most recently when they discussed his betrothal) and he declares that they shall rest and feast now that the search is not so desperate. Exactly what they will feast on Fili doesn't know, but Thorin seems too pleased with the decision to hear his mutters. Bluebell, Kili and Balin watch him leave with worried eyes. Fili watches as Bluebell’s hand drifts to her bodice and the way the swell of her breasts seems more pronounced.

He has kept careful control of his Stone Sense since the door was opened. The mountain has been screaming for his attention, desperate for him to know her and yet equally eager to be rid of all of them. That conflict hits him hard when he relaxes his control and he pushes it to one side so that he can focus on Bluebell. He has only opened his sense the tiniest amount but it’s enough to feel the otherness about her. The pinprick of angry, loving, malicious, lonely, furious, caring, desperate, envious, longing, cruel, kind that she carries.

Bluebell has the Arkenstone.

On the third day he has opportunity to confront her about it.

“I know you have it,” he says when he finds her alone in a corridor near the treasury. She’s sat on a stone bench, her bandaged feet swinging. “I can feel it. It’s-”

“Awful,” Bluebell finishes. “It’s screaming, it’s so angry. It hates us. This is no ordinary stone.”

“It’s the heart of the mountain,” Fili reminds her and wonders if that name might not be more than a fancy notion of miners and previous kings.

“I’ve never heard anything like this, Fili,” she disagrees, “I shouldn’t be able to hear it at all. I think it wants me to.” Which is a worrying thought.

“Can I see?” He asks. He should tell her that they need to hand it to Thorin, now, but her words concern him. If she can feel it so clearly without his help what would it do to a dwarf, even one with as little Stone Sense as his uncle?

Bluebell eyes the corridor warily, but Fili knows that Thorin is distracted by the gold and the search for the Arkenstone. He likely won’t emerge for some time yet. Retrieving it involves unlacing her bodice and Fili steps closer, resting his hands on her, now, too slender hips to hid her from view. Any of the others, at a glance, might assume that they were interrupting an intimate moment, something there has been too little of in recent days.

The Arkenstone is breath taking, he thinks when she reveals it. There truly isn’t another like it, though the swirls of colour through it remind him a little bit of an opal. No opal shines like this, though, with a soft light that bathes both of them in moving colours. They are familiar colours, he realises, the bright silver white shine of mithril and the hot glow of a working forge, swirls of rich green like the pastures of the Shire and indigo like the fire of Bluebell’s eyes. It dances before him and he finds himself reaching for the stone without thought until heavy footsteps begin to approach. Bluebell gasps and tucks it back out of sight, pulling her laces tight as Frerin rounds the corner.

“There you both are,” he says, his tone grim. “Bluebell, I think you ought to take a look at your mother, she’s asking for you. Fili, you need to go back to the treasury and help with the search, unless you two know something that I don’t?”

Both shake their heads and Bluebell darts away with as much speed as possible on her injured feet. Fili follows, turning to make his way to the treasure chamber when Frerin takes hold of his arm and stops him.

“Be careful, Kidhuzurâl,” he says softly. “Thorin isn’t himself and I fear he will become worse as time goes on. It may be that in winning back the mountain we have lost my brother.”

Chapter Text

T.A. 2879 Bag End

Belladonna places a hand on her distended abdomen and smiles as she feels the baby kick. Even after three months of being able to feel the movements of her babe this is still a wonderous experience. As amazing as it is, however, she finds it is tinged with a melancholy that she can’t shift.  Carrying a child is as wonderful as she had hoped, as incredible as she had imagined. It just isn’t the way she had dreamed it would be.

It’s been years since she last saw or wrote to Frerin, she’s tried hard not to even think of him as much as possible. Bungo knows everything, or nearly everything, and although Belladonna has moved forward dreams of the past and what might have been still haunt her. They were together for a long time, she and Frerin, saw dangers and wonders and even though they had been hesitant to cross that last line between friends and lovers, when they had it had become everything and more. Had things been different, had he been more bold and she more careless, this house and this babe would have been his.

She pulls herself up short. Down that path lies misery. Perhaps it’s time to lay the ghosts of the past to rest. She can write to him, he likely won’t reply or even read the letter, but the need to reach out has been growing the last few months and it is time.

‘My dearest friend,

There are not the words to adequately express my sentiments on our last conversation. Or, indeed, on the reason for this very state of separation. My fondest hope is that you have found some happiness in your circumstances as I have in mine, that your Mahal will bless the union made for you as Yavanna has mine.

I have a beautiful home and a loving husband who has been a healing balm for my soul, wounded as it was by the necessity of our parting. I don’t feel the need to wander the roads and paths outside the Shire any longer, nearly everything I need is already here or soon will be. I am with child, my dear friend, the greatest gift my creator could give me, and I find my life is near complete.

I am utterly content and yet there is a hole here, where you used to be. I miss you, my friend. I find myself longing to tell you of some witticism Bungo has uttered or seeking your reassurance when my new brothers and sisters disapprove of my wild past. You were, first and foremost, my greatest friend and I reach out one final time to see if we can salvage that which we so carelessly cast aside.

I love my husband, but there are times when I wake in the night plagued by memories only you can understand. Nights when I reach for pen and paper to pour those fears out to you and remember that we are broken apart and I miss you so keenly that my heart breaks anew. Can we reclaim that friendship? Can we return to the days before and be each other’s confidant and closest companion? Will my child be permitted to know the closest thing I can give them to an uncle? Please say it can be so, dearest friend, for my world lacks without you and I fear my child’s will too with only staid and proper Bagginses as close relations.

I miss you. May this find you and all your family in the best of health and happiness.

Your Bella’

There is a formality and properness to the letter than was never a part of her relationship with Frerin, but tone rarely carries in the written word. The letter, like so many of the others, nearly goes on the fire. Her longing for her easy friendship with Frerin, however, and his understanding of their shared past has grown stronger of late. She is lonely, and even a distant friend would be better than nothing. Quite without meaning to she passes it on to a dwarf merchant who passes through Hobbiton the following week. It eases the burden of her heart just a little.

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

“You need to eat more, Mama,” Bluebell orders as her Blessing recedes from Belladonna’s body. “You’re with child. Two meals a day isn’t enough.”

“And I should take food from the rest of you? From Frerin or you? From your Fili?” She demands even though she knows what her daughter will say.

Belladonna remembers the Fell Winter. It wasn’t just the elderly who suffered from the lack of food. Faunts did too, some never really recovered from the long five months when not even Yavanna’s Blessing could encourage the earth to wake and grow just a little more food in the safety of hobbit homes. She remembers desperately trying to help starving mothers in every stage of pregnancy to keep their child alive and growing and she remembers failing. Bluebell remembers it too, she knows, even if she hasn’t said anything overt as a reminder. Her daughter came with her towards the end as more and more mothers lost babes. Hobbits almost never miscarry, the conception, carrying and birthing of a babe is almost too easy for their kind. It’s why they rely so heavily on Silphium and a few others. The Men like to say ‘it only takes once’ as a warning. For a hobbit maid without her herb tea it isn’t a warning, it’s a promise.

“I would gladly sacrifice one of my meals for you,” Bluebell says tartly, “as would Adad and likely most other members of our party.”

“It will wait until their kin arrive,” she sighs.

“No, Mama, it won’t,” Bluebell’s voice is soft. “You know as well as I that you aren’t eating enough, two meals a day is barely enough to keep an adult hobbit alive. You know you won’t keep this child if it continues. Faunts are to be born into plenty. There’s nothing more I can do if you don’t start eating more.”

“I will gladly give you one of my meals,” Legolas pipes up from his corner. “We don’t need as much to remain healthy and our concern must be the child.”

He has not long returned from his shift watching on the ramparts. The wall has been roughly rebuilt as much as they can, standing as high and firm as possible with such limited a work force. Belladonna thinks Thorin is being paranoid but hasn’t said anything. Frerin has already tried in the week since word of Smaug’s demise reached them. It has done little good. Thorin has the other dwarves working around the clock, whether posted to watch for Dain’s arrival or searching for the Arkenstone. Her friends are getting precious little rest and though they want to help the hobbits are kept out of the search and encouraged to prepare meals that barely get eaten or take watches. Legolas is barely even trusted with that but his presence on the wall frees up another dwarf for the search. The hobbits get plenty of chance to explore, the elf is almost violently encouraged to stay on the wall or in the large chamber they have cleared out as temporary living quarters.

Further comment on her eating is stalled by Bofur shouting for everyone to get up on the wall. Being closer the hobbits get there before the others and that gives them a chance to take in a sight which will likely make Thorin burst into flames. The elves of Mirkwood and the Men of the Lake have come.

“What do you see?” She asks Legolas softly, aware that the elf has infinitely better eyesight than the rest of them.

“My father,” he says equally quietly, “and one of the Men of Lake Town approach. Doubtless here to demand reparation for slights and insults, real and imagined.”

In the weeks they have been together Legolas has opened up on the subject of his difficult relationship with his father. His fears for Thranduil’s state of mind under the pressures of the sickness on the wood. His disagreements with his king on the best way to deal with the trials that have beset the small kingdom. Quite why he has chosen her to open up to in this way Belladonna can’t truly say. She clearly, however, sees the lack of a mother’s influence in his life and perhaps it is that missing piece which has drawn him to the only mother in the group.

She isn’t sure if never truly knowing his mother is less painful for Legolas than Celebrian’s fate was for Elrond’s children. The twins, certainly, bear the marks of her loss though it happened long before Belladonn’s birth. Their hatred of orcs burns hot and bright, even so many centuries later, and she knows that Frerin has gone hunting with them more than once. It makes her wonder what Bluebell would have become, if Belladonna had also died on that winter’s day.

“Do you recognise the Man?” She asks as the two mounted figures come closer. The taller, she can see, is riding some sort of horned creature.

“I believe it is Bard, the one who approached us the day we left Lake Town and the one who slew Smaug.”

Thorin, who has arrived while they were talking, glares at both of them and they fall silent.

“Who is it that approaches the King Under the Mountain?” Frerin calls. He has remained close to Thorin over the last week, quiet and watchful and it concerns Belladonna.

“You know very well who we are,” Thranduil calls back, his tone bored. “We have come to claim payment of the debts you owe.”

“I recognise no debt to the Woodland Realm,” Thorin calls back. “Unless you think to charge us room and board for our time spent wrongfully imprisoned.”

This isn’t going to end well, Belladonna thinks.

“And what of Lake Town?” Bard shouts. “Without our actions Smaug would still be a plague upon this region. You would be naught but food in a dragon’s belly.”

“He has a valid point,” Balin says too softly to be heard by any except those gathered on the wall.

“Perhaps if you were to speak to Bard alone,” Frerin adds. “Unless they decide to rebuild Dale Lake Town will be our nearest trading partner. We should at least be on neutral terms.” Thorin grunts.

“You may approach,” he replies. “But only you. I will not discuss anything in the presence of the treacherous Elf King.”

“What of my son?” Thranduil demands. Legolas steps closer so that he can be seen from below and Thorin puts a hand out to stop him from moving too close.

“As payment for his actions in freeing us your son remains in Erebor as our guest,” the ugly way Thorin says it makes it very clear that his words have been chosen for the greatest impact, no doubt Thranduil cast his imprisonment of them in a similar light. “He will remain with us for the time being.”

Even from this distance Belladonna can see the pinched look on Thranduil’s face. She doesn’t follow the others when they go down to listen to Thorin negotiate with Bard. She uses the term loosely, even in her own mind. She’s aware that the gold is affecting Thorin’s mind more than it is the others. It’s one of the reasons that Frerin is remaining so close to him, watching for signs that he may need to take his wife and daughter and flee the mountain should Thorin show signs of becoming dangerous. Only the youngest members of the Company and Frerin seem unaffected. She isn’t sure how long that will last and almost dreads Dain’s forces arriving even though they need the support. They will need it even more if Thorin follows through on his vow not to part with a single gold coin no matter who it’s owed to.

Sure enough she sees Bard ride away not more than ten minutes later, his entire bearing that of a man denied that which he believes he is rightfully owed. Perhaps he is, he did slay the dragon, but the Company left Lake Town with empty pockets bar a silver coin or two. They left no debts behind them, except one of gratitude and the unreasonable demands of the Master, who is apparently dead. If Bard hadn’t come with Thranduil, had approached before the Elf King arrived (and refugees have been pouring into the ruins of Dale for days) Thorin might have been reasoned with. As things stand, Belladonna fears things will only get worse.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2822 Rivendell

“Slow down,” the dark-haired elf laughs.

“Yes,” the other agrees, “she will still be in Rivendell if we get back in two hours or two days.”

Frerin glares at the elf twins from atop his pony. The unreasonably tall creatures seem even taller mounted on their matching chestnut mares. Everything about them matches almost exactly, their armour, their weapons, their hair and even the way that they will finish the other’s thoughts or sentences should they wish to (although they reserve that particular habit for winding up their father and several of the more stuffy occupants of their home). The fact that they are so in tune with one another makes them a formidable force on the battlefield, it also makes them capable of getting under the skin of everyone they meet, and whether they do so positively or negatively depends entirely on their mood. Their penchant for pranks doesn’t endear them to many, but Frerin has found their mischief and irreverence a welcome break. They are quite unlike any elf that he has ever had the dubious pleasure of meeting (except Glorfindel but Frerin very much doubts there could ever be another being like Glorfindel) and without them the weeks in Rivendell while Belladonna devours Elrond’s extensive library would have driven Frerin insane.

He still doesn’t like elves, but there are four in Rivendell he can spend time with and not feel the urge to break things (or people).

He graces his twin companions with a rude hand gesture in response to their teasing and continues at his own pace. They keep up easily on their larger mounts and so he decides to ignore them in the hope they will grow bored. Elves, however, tend to be infinitely more patient than the other races. They have an eternity after all.

“Unless she grows bored,” Elladan continues, blithely ignoring Frerin. “Adar can be quite the task master and not everyone has the attentiveness to keep pace.”

“True,” Elrohir agrees, “but Belladonna is motivated, and we have never seen her go anywhere without our silent companion. She wouldn’t leave him behind now.”

“Perhaps he fears she has grown tired of waiting.” The other shakes his head in mock sorrow.

“Waiting for what, brother dear?” Frerin shifts.

“Well, obviously she has feelings for him. There’s no other reason someone as delightful as our hobbit maid would tolerate one so sour and unfortunate looking as our dwarf friend. It could only be the grip of some powerful emotion that causes her to keep him around.”

“You’ve been reading Arwen’s books again,” Elrohir sniggers.

“Our sister does enjoy a good romantic tale,” Elladan says nonchalantly. “And she’s very invested in the one that’s playing out in front of us.” Frerin can almost hear the smirk on the elf’s face.

“Bella and I are friends,” he snaps. “And it’s all we’ll ever be.”

He won’t deny that, occasionally, he’s entertained the thought of more. Once he got past her lack of beard and her overall slightness (and the soft roundness of her after a winter apart) he has come to find her increasingly pleasing to the eyes. He’s young, not yet of age, and were he living in Ered Luin for more than three or four months of the year he would be expected to have taken several bed partners by now, arranged marriage or not. He’s had a few short-term partners, winters get incredibly cold in the mountains and the nights are very long, but never much more than a night or two here and there.

Now that he thinks about it, he hasn’t taken a new lover in years and even the old flings don’t interest him any longer.

“I think he’s worked it out,” Elladan says.

“About time too,” Elrohir laughs, “and look, she’s waiting for our return.”

Frerin startles from his thoughts to see that Belladonna is in the courtyard, her dark hair pulled neatly back and her face pink from exertion. She must have been in the library and she looks breath taking.

“Why don’t you just kiss her,” Elladan suggests quietly.

Frerin slides from his pony and does just that. Had he been among his own people, or even the hobbits, he suspects there would have been a great deal of cheering and cat-calling. Instead there is only respectful silence and the jangling of the twins dismounting as one of them mutters “finally”.

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

Frerin isn’t entirely sure how it is that Legolas made it past Lake Town with them after setting them free from his father’s dungeons. Recent evidence to the contrary Thorin isn’t the type to take a political hostage and use them to force his point or get his way. The only reason Frerin can think of is that, before the sickness took hold of Thorin’s mind, his brother had feared Legolas had heard too much and would lead Thranduil ahead of them, so he had agreed to allow the elf prince to stay. As it stands, the elf is definitely hiding something, and he almost wishes that the twins were here to help him get to the bottom of Legolas’ obviously increasing agitation.

Having the twins along would likely have made a great many things easier. It would also very likely have made Thorin’s head explode, a highly entertaining prospect in the short term.

As amusing as the thought is, Frerin has more urgent questions he needs answering. He finds Balin nibbling on a piece of cram and taking sips of water from an old tin cup on a bench just outside of the treasure hall. His old friend looks weary and burdened with a great many more cares than Frerin can recall seeing him bear in the past.

“What happens if we don’t find the Arkenstone before Dain’s army arrives?” He asks as he settles on the bench next to his friend. Balin sighs.

“With Smaug gone? Not much. It is here somewhere, laddie,” he assures Frerin, “and without a dragon to worry about we have the time to search for it. Thorin’s claim would be stronger if Dain were to arrive and find the Arkenstone in his grasp, but it won’t make a difference now.”

“And with Thranduil at our gates?” Balin laughs.

“The Lord of the Iron Hills has been looking for an excuse to have a tussle with that elf for decades. He’ll happily go toe to toe with Thranduil and his army for his own amusement.”

“Thorin’s going to same way as Thror, isn’t he?” Frerin asks, the weight of his promise to this brother weighing on him heavily. After a beat Balin sighs and bows his head. “I don’t remember much about Erebor at the time, but I remember that. I remember Thorin trying to hide it from Dis and I. Do you think- If we found the Arkenstone would it make things any better?”

“No,” Balin shakes his head, “I rather suspect it would make things significantly worse. It would probably be better if the damned thing remained lost.”

Frerin has his suspicions about its location. Clearly Balin does too, if the twinkle in his eye is anything to go by. Fili and Bluebell have both been a little bit too twitchy the last few days and it’s certainly more than the general anxiousness of betrothed couples to get some time alone.

Frerin would actually feel better about it if the pair of them got married sooner rather than later. He’s overheard some of Thorin’s mutterings in the last day or so and they don’t bode well for the future happiness of the young couple. As nice as a large feast following the wedding would be (Frerin knows Bluebell is already working on the hair for the ring mounts he found them in Smaug’s hoard) some things might have to be sacrificed for the sake of thwarting the cruel plans of a mad king. And thinking of the cruel plans of a mad king, Thorin is no where to be seen or heard. He is never far from the treasure chamber unless he’s in the throne room and Frerin hasn’t seen him there either.

Given Frerin’s suspicions finding Thorin has become just that little bit more urgent. If he has reached this conclusion it won’t take long for it to occur to his brother either, the only reason it hasn’t is very likely the madness that Frerin has been trying so hard to ignore (he doesn’t want to have to keep his promise, difficult as it would be with an army at the gates). Fili’s Stone Sense is too strong, too sharp, for him to have been unable to locate something as unique as the Arkenstone. He’s among only a few who haven’t been searching and he’s rarely away from Bluebell’s side. One of them has it and Frerin would put money on it being his daughter, Fili wouldn’t hover around her otherwise.

“I know you have it,” he hears Thorin before he sees his brother, turning to find him in a less used corridor.

Fili and Bluebell see him arrive, Thorin’s back being towards Frerin. Fili is protecting his betrothed and it is a sight that has become so common on this journey that it makes Frerin’s heart hurt. Bluebell has been in so much danger throughout this quest and so often it has been Fili who has stepped forward for her, even before they had come to any sort of understanding, when it should have been Frerin.

“Thorin?” He calls his brother and sees the young couple take a step backwards. “What’s going on?”

“This is your doing,” Thorin points at him. “You’ve told them to take the Arkenstone, to use it to usurp my rightful place as King Under the Mountain, to take the throne for yourself.”

“You know very well I don’t want the throne, Thorin,” he scoffs, watching the younger occupants of the corridor shuffle further away. “I stepped aside, remember?”

“I remember,” Thorin hisses, “and I remember watching you always whispering in his ear and influencing him. Then you vanish, only to reappear with a hobbit wife and an adopted daughter that you don’t hesitate to push at him over and over.”

Listen to yourself, brother,” Frerin says, putting his hand on his sword though he won’t draw it unless he has to. Their raised voices must carry because he can hear running feet from several directions. “You sound like Thror!”

Thorin snarls at him and whirls to grab Bluebell before either Fili or Frerin can react. She cries out, his grip obviously far harsher than he would usually use. Several of the others come around various corners and they freeze at the sight. Belladonna lets out a shout of her daughter’s name and Legolas reaches to hold her back. Frerin may not like the elf (and he firmly believes Legolas means to betray them) but he can be grateful to him.

“Give me the Arkenstone,” Thorin hisses, knocking Fili aside.

“Uncle!” Kili steps in. “You’re hurting her, stop!”

It is enough of a distraction for Frerin to grab his brother, tackling him and forcing him to release Bluebell. For a moment it looks as though the others are finally going to step in, but then his daughter falls, hard, and the Arkenstone falls from its hiding place to fill the dimly lit corridor with its treacherous glow. Everyone freezes and Frerin catches the triumphant expression on Thorin’s face.

“Legolas, no,” he hears his wife gasp as Thorin breaks free. Bluebell and Fili scramble for the stone, reaching it before his brother can and closing their hands over it in the same moment.

The light of the stone dims momentarily, causing sinister shadows to fall over every face, then it pulses and the brilliance of it blasts towards them, knocking their feet from under them and forcing them backwards. When the light clears it leaves spots flashing before them and the feel of the mountain has changed. It feels hollow, now, empty.

“Bluebell!” Belladonna screams as Kili roars his brother’s name.

Both are missing, gone without a sign they ever existed. They wouldn’t have run, he knows, because the corridor was blocked in both directions by the gathered Company, most of whom are still sprawled where they fell. More than that, however, Frerin knows it with the same absolute certainty that he can see dawning on the faces of the others. Bluebell and Fili are no longer in the mountain at all. He would bet his share of the treasure on that. Wherever they are it’s a place that none of them can follow and it has something to do with the Arkenstone.

“Gandalf’s here,” Bombur puffs around the corner to announce.

“About time,” Thorin snaps. “I have a few things to say to him with regards to his choice of burglar.”

Chapter Text

Year Unknown: The Lonely Mountain

Extract from the personal memoirs of Algirk Stonesinger.

I was a dwarf of but fifty-four years when we arrived at the Lonely Mountain, a displaced people searching for a homeland when so many were out of our reach. None of us were strangers to hardship or grief, so we all recognised the full magnitude of our Maker’s gift to us when we first truly beheld that magnificent peak with the brilliant, fertile, green land and forests at its feet. We of Durin’s folk are not, and have never been, farmers, but even we could recognise the beauty of such a place untouched by dwarf, Man or elf this far north of the Greenwood.

Truly, my father said to me as we drew closer, we could build a great kingdom here, one which would [here there is water damage]

…signs of cultivation! Paths which wound around neatly tended fields, herds of sheep and even the occasional small pony. And then, finally, as we came around a corner, was a door built right into the side of the hill. Surrounded by flowers and sweet-smelling herbs and painted so as to be nearly unnoticeable from a distance. A round door with perfectly square, shuttered windows on either side. Ill luck, indeed, should these people object to us settling the mountain.

We were met, then, by several of the inhabitants of those hills, and being an apprentice to my father I was permitted to be present. They were quite the strangest creatures I have ever beheld. Short and stout, with a wealth of curls in halos of brown and gold about their heads. Those curls could not hide their delicate, leaf-shaped ears that brought to mind the haughty elves of the woods to the south. Their faces, in the manner of elves and Mannish babes, were quite bare and, indeed, we would have thought them children were it not for the pipes between their lips and their feet which were far too large for their diminutive stature. Such feet they were! Shockingly bare and well covered in thick hair that was, nonetheless, neatly kept.

Then two stepped forward, both with eyes of the most vibrant indigo. From their garments we could see that one was male and one a female. In that moment I must confess that my heart was quite lost to the female with her curls of brilliant gold.

“Welcome,” spoke the male, “and be at peace for our Lady Mother has told us of your coming and bid us embrace your arrival.”

“Come,” the female continued, “let us-”

[Here the text has been irreparably damaged]

*

T.A. 2941 The Ruins of Dale

This, Gandalf thinks irritably as he’s led to the tent where Thranduil and Bard have made their headquarters, is precisely the sort of situation he had hoped to avoid. It is also exactly what he had feared would happen when he realised the sickness on the Greenwood had a darker feel than that of the land around the mountain. The death of the land around the mountain is easily traced and explained (when he has the chance to do so with the relevant parties). Being diverted to discover the source of that extra darkness had been an irritation.

“Mithrandir,” Thranduil doesn’t look at him, his pale eyes turned upon a silver goblet. The finest Dorwinion red, no doubt, and as much as Gandalf likes it, he feels that, perhaps, it’s rather too early. “I should have known you had some hand in all of this.”

“You cannot blame me for the fact that Thorin is refusing to treat with you,” Gandalf replies mildly. “Thorin Oakenshield’s distaste for elves is well known and approaching him in force when the mountain is so newly won-” he spreads his hands and raises his eyebrows.

“I rather doubt they would have come to this part of the world at all, if not for your interference.” Thranduil lounges in his chair, although it’s really more of a throne, and, somehow, he manages to make even that appear elegant. “You would expect, I suppose, that we wait until he has an army behind his fortifications. To go to him as beggars hoping for his magnanimous attention and a pittance instead of the true value of that which we are owed.”

“Whether you are owed anything at all is not the matter at hand,” Gandalf huffs.

While they debate this, disaster is only hours, perhaps a day, behind him. Man, dwarf and elf will need to come together as they might once have done when hobbits lived under the hills around Erebor and Dale. A tall order given the amount of bad blood between Thorin and Thranduil. A taller one still if the gold in the mountain has affected Thorin in the way Gandalf fears it might.

“That mountain was won on the suffering of my people,” Bard interrupts. “They unleashed that dragon on Lake Town and as a result we have lost everything. I’m not sure what you think might be of greater importance, but my greater concern is ensuring my people live through winter. We have no shelter, no food and no time to rebuild before the first snow comes.”

Gandalf can understand Bard’s frustration, he really can, but it makes his news all the more urgent. Had Lake Town still been standing they could have destroyed the bridge and, maybe, they would have been safer from the danger heading their way. At least for a time. Now they’re completely vulnerable.

Of course, none of this would be a problem if the dwarves and hobbits of old had stayed put in the first place. By the time Gandalf had heard anything of it, it had been too late to do anything about it (and he’d had a few choice words for Saruman about the whole thing after Thorin I’s departure, and Radagast when the hobbits followed). It is, however, long in the past and his focus now must be on fixing it.

“Then the army of orcs currently marching on the mountain should be of great interest to you,” he settles for saying. Bard stares in abject horror but Thranduil merely scoffs.

Really, Mithrandir, is that the best you have?”

“You don’t believe him?” Bard asks.

“This is your first time dealing with the wizard, I assume?” The elf levels a cool glare at the man, who nods. “Then you should know he is quite adept at using words to manipulate a situation to suit him. He wishes for peace between us and the dwarves and so a small raiding party becomes an army.” He pauses to take a drink. “And to think Lord Elrond values your council.” He gets to his feet. “Still, no sense in endangering my people when it is obviously Oakenshield and his gold the orcs want. We shall depart just as soon as we may.”

“What of your son?” Bard asks and Gandalf frowns. “He is still in the mountain.”

“He has made his choice,” Thranduil replies. “Had he done as I ordered he would already have departed their company.”

“I thought you said they were holding him against his will?” Bard sounds appalled and Gandalf wonders what games Thranduil has been playing now.

“If he was foolish enough to arouse their suspicion and get himself caught, I suppose they are,” Thranduil considers his wine. “If the orcs are here for Oakenshield it will be the perfect opportunity for him to escape, although his failure is irksome.”

This was definitely a mistake, Gandalf thinks miserably. He should have tried to reason with Thorin first, but he always underestimates just how little Thranduil cares for his advice. At least Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel will always consider it, though they don’t always necessarily follow. Thranduil has a nasty habit of dismissing anything Gandalf and the others of his order say out of hand. It’s probably why the orc infestation in Dol Guldur was permitted to get so out of control. Even if Erebor is the orcs primary target, however, they won’t be happy until the entire region, from Mirkwood to Gundabad, is under their control. If the mountain is their only goal it will be bad enough, it took a dragon to get the dwarves out of Erebor, if the orcs take it the region is lost anyway.

“The orcs are too close and too many,” he insists. “We have hours, maybe a day at most. You need to set aside your differences and come together against the greater threat.”

Thranduil ignores him, waving over an elleth and murmuring quiet instructions to her. Gandalf could continue to argue until the orcs get here, but there are more pressing matters to be dealt with. He advises Bard to do all he can to prepare to keep his people safe and departs in much the same manner as he arrived. He needs to get into that mountain. Now.

Chapter Text

T.A 2903 Ered Luin

Bombur is a number of things. Quiet, unassuming, often overlooked in spite of his massive girth, or possibly because of it. He’s an architect and a talented cook (although his wife is better), a doting father and a loving husband.

It’s the very fact that he’s so often overlooked that leads to him regularly being found in the corner of his wife’s shop with his drawing board working quietly. He’s seen dwarves from all walks of life pass through here, his Mala’s travel rations are the best tasting to be found anywhere and her work certainly keeps them in more comfort than his. She’s stepped out for a moment when the blond dwarf enters, and Bombur suspects she’ll be announcing another addition to their family soon enough. The stranger moves with the swift steps of someone who has somewhere to be quickly and isn’t inclined to wait patiently. Bombur assists Mala often enough to know what he’s doing and sets the board aside.

“I need cram and dried meat enough for a three week journey,” he says as he spots Bombur. His tone is sharp, brisk, and Bombur realises he recognises him.

Prince Frerin. Mala has mentioned that the prince once came in frequently to purchase supplies. Always six weeks’ worth. Obviously where ever he is going, he isn’t intending on coming back. Bombur gathers the supplies, concluding that the less he knows the better. Frerin may have told his family where he is headed, but with the way he’s shifting and how rapidly he packs the supplies away Bombur doubts it. He also doubts he’ll be told anything if he asks the questions anyway, so he holds his tongue. The prince seems to appreciate it, paying the required price and a little more besides.

By the time Mala has returned Bombur is sat with his work once more and Frerin is long gone. At least when the captain of the guard turns up the next day to ask after Frerin she can honestly say she hasn’t seen the prince. In his corner, as always, Bombur is completely overlooked. He smiles as he continues his work and puts the whole thing from his mind.

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

The elves are threatening to make war over the imprisonment of their prince. The Men are threatening it because they are allied with the elves and need their help to survive the coming winter. Dain is likely still hours away and Gandalf has appeared to declare that a massive army of orcs is also on the way. Perhaps Mala was right, Bombur thinks, perhaps they would have found a way to manage with seven dwarflings and another on the way. They would have found a way without Thorin’s insane quest and the reward of a share of the dragon’s hoard. Now he’ll never see a coin of it, doomed to die while Thorin rages about the treachery of halfling burglars.

“Whatever do you mean?” Gandalf’s shouted reply is mild.

“Your burglar has absconded with the Arkenstone and my heir,” is the reply and it certainly explains the situation Bombur walked in on. No one has seen fit to explain it, but Kili is grim and won’t even look at Thorin while Frerin holds a sobbing Belladonna. He had simply assumed Fili and Bluebell had found themselves a secluded corner for a little privacy.

Bombur has eight children, he knows how these things work. Mara was with child before they were married.

“It is done, then,” the wizard replies and even at a distance he seems to lean more heavily on his staff. Whatever it is, he knew it was coming and seems to regret that it has happened. “It was necessary, however, and you have greater concerns than the Arkenstone, Thorin. Will you let helpless women and children die while you hide in your mountain?”

All eyes turn on Thorin but Bombur already knows what his reply will be. None of them have wanted to admit it, or even put voice to the possibility, but the signs are all there. Thorin is utterly consumed by the gold, they all have been to a degree, but where this news and the disappearance of Fili and Bluebell has served to shock most of them out of it, Thorin is still completely gripped by it. All he can see is the gold and the Arkenstone and the fact that, in some way, Bluebell (and possibly Fili) has betrayed him.

“Never again will I place my trust in the words of a wizard,” Thorin replies. “Let them fight their war.”

Chapter Text

T.A 2799 Near Dimrill Dale

“I’m trying to sleep,” Frerin grumbles as Thorin paces. Their father and grandfather haven’t yet returned to their tent, planning their strategy with their War Masters for the morrow. “Rest, nadad, nothing is served by wearing a trench in the ground.”

“How can you be so calm?” Thorin demands. Frerin cracks one dark eye open and in the lamp light Thorin can see the barely hidden fear there.

“I’m not,” he admits. “but nothing will be served by wasting my energy pacing.” He sits up on his cot. “Fundin always told us that.”

“I didn’t think you ever listened,” Thorin mutters. Frerin shrugs.

“I like people to believe that.”

“You didn’t need to come,” Thorin whispers. “I have seen the battle plans, retaking Khazad-Dum will be costly. You should have stayed with our sister.”

“No,” Frerin shakes his head, “There’s nothing for me in Ered Luin. I could no more stay than you could.”

“You have a bride waiting,” Thorin points out and Frerin snorts derisively. Ghruna is nearly fifteen years his junior and has already made it very clear she loathes the sight of him. “If I fall tomorrow-”

“We could both fall tomorrow,” Frerin cuts in, “so how about we promise each other we won’t? And if we do the fault isn’t yours or mine, it’s Thror’s.”

“Brother,” Thorin breathes in warning. He understands his brother’s resentment of their grandfather but one day he will go too far.

“Very well,” Frerin sighs. “Don’t die,” he orders. “Mahal knows I’d be a useless king, even an exiled one and as disgusting as your face generally is, I’d much prefer to see it grow old than see it dead.”

Thorin chuckles, though the sound is mirthless. Then he reaches for his brother and presses their foreheads together.

“Don’t die,” he breathes, “we cannot leave Dis on her own. We cannot leave all the responsibility for the future of our line with her.”

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

Thorin paces the throne room or Erebor. It’s empty and dark, silent where it was once filled with noise, life and light. He stares at the throne, his throne, that was once connected to the mountain by a column of gold laced stone. Now it stands much as he does, broken from the stone of its birth and without so much of what once made it whole. True, Thorin has the mountain once more. He has his gold, but the Arkenstone is lost to him, as is his heir, stolen by a traitor brought among them by his own brother.

With the loss of the Heart of the Mountain the threat of the Men and elves at Erebor’s gates is all the more urgent. If there are orcs coming Thorin doubts they want Erebor. When an orc leader falls in battle the one who replaces him can only be secure in his leadership by slaying the one who removed their predecessor and proving their strength. Frerin killed Azog, the orcs are here for him, and if sacrificing Frerin is what it takes to keep Erebor in his hands, to keep his gold, then that is exactly what he will do. Better, by far, to be rid of his treacherous brother. Better too, perhaps, to be rid of the heir Frerin has had so much influence over.

“I never thought I’d live long enough to see it,” Dwalin’s voice cuts through his thoughts. There is a hard edge to it but Thorin doesn’t turn to look at him. If he wants the attention of his king, he should speak properly. “The great Thorin Oakenshield, cowering in his mountain, become the one thing he always feared above all others; his grandfather.”

“I am nothing like Thror,” he snarls.

“I may have been younger than you when we fled Erebor, but I remember well those final months. I remember your fear and frustration as our alliances began to decline. And here you stand, in Thror’s crown and Thror’s robes, at the foot of his throne wearing more gold than you have ever bothered with. Hiding behind Erebor’s walls while the Men and Elves and our kin from the Iron Hills die to protect an empty shell of a home.”

“Eloquent words from a traitor,” he replies. “I did not bring the Men and Elves here, their own desire for that which is mine did that. As for Dain, had he only done his duty and helped us when I debased myself and begged perhaps this could have been avoided entirely. I have no need to explain myself to you or any other. I am your king!”

“Aye, Thorin,” he bristles at being spoken to with such familiarity. “But you aren’t my king because you have the gold or the mountain. You have always been my king, and until today I believed you always would be. You’re as much a stranger to me now as Thror was.”

Dwalin turns as though to leave, and part of Thorin calls out desperately for him to stay. The other part rages that Dwalin would treat him with such contempt. Before he can express his displeasure Dwalin halts.

“The others have no part in this. The words are mine alone. Frerin, I’m sure, would have come with me had he known of it, but he has rather larger concerns,” he sighs. “The others follow your lead, for now, but our kin are out there fighting and dying. Eventually they will join them whether you allow it or not and I’ll have no part in stopping them. You’ve already lost Fili,” he looks over his shoulder, “will you lose Kili and everyone else as well?”

“Fili worked with the girl to steal the Arkenstone,” he responds.

“Aye, he did,” Dwalin allows, “but that lad has more Stone Sense than any dwarf we’ve ever known. If the two of them hid the Mahal damned thing perhaps they knew something we didn’t. We’ll be ready,” he continues as he walks away, “just in case you decide to start acting more like a king and less like a gold-addled lunatic.”

The words are delivered through a thinly veiled layer of disgust. Dwalin has never been subtle, never one to dance around an issue and his words lack even the basic respect one would give a new acquaintance, let alone that which is Thorin’s due as his king.

He turns his contemplation back to the throne. This has been the throne of the kings of Erebor since the mountain was settled. That it has been broken is a travesty. Fili could have fixed it, he thinks, called the stone to move and shape until the throne of the King Under the Mountain was joined with Erebor once more using the same method that Algirk Stonesinger used to call it into being. But Fili is lost to him, to the line of Durin. Taken, not by any of the dangers they faced on the way here, not even by the hobbit girl, but by the Arkenstone in a flash of blinding light. It hits him like a physical blow, the realisation that the very thing he came to retrieve has taken his heir, his sister’s son, and his brother’s daughter. Gone in an argument over a jewel and sacrificed to his greed as the peoples outside the gates are being. As the soldiers at Azanulbizar were to Thror’s desire, not for a home, but for the riches deep within the mines. A battle that his own brother might have been lost at if not for a hobbit.

Grief strikes him at the realisation that Fili is truly lost, that Dain could be dead outside and the mountain taken from them before it has truly been reclaimed. He stares down at himself in disgust, at the rings on every finger, the chains around his neck. The dusty robes that belonged to Thror and the heavy weight of the crown on his head. What kind of dwarf is he? To hide in this mountain while others die for him. Is this truly the king he wishes to become? As mad and uncaring as Thror, happy to cast aside even kin if it means another gold coin for his hoard.

He turns his back on the throne, casting the crown into darkness and stripping all wealth from him as he leaves. He came to the mountain with nothing, and nothing he will have until every orc is dead and peace is made with his allies. He owes Fili's memory that much, at least, and he should leave Kili with a stable kingdom instead of expecting him to clean up the mess left in the wake of madness.

Kili is the first to see him when he gets to the ramparts, the one who turns dark, furious eyes upon him. Who glares at him as though seeing a stranger and tightens his hands into fists, though he remains at his uncle’s side. Frerin’s eyes follow, his arms tight around his wife who has her face hidden in his broad chest. The resignation there is, perhaps, worse than Kili’s anger. Thorin has long feared becoming like Thror and Frerin knows it, more than likely expected it even before Thorin made him promise to take the lads and his family and leave if it happened. Frerin is the one who knows from experience that it is almost impossible to break through and he must only have stayed as long as he has out of impossible hope. Stayed until it was far too late to prevent the damage Thorin's insanity has caused.

“My friends,” he says, hoping they hear his contrition in his voice, apologies do not come easily to princes and kings. “I owe you more than I can ever say, more apologies than I can ever give. We don’t have the time for them. Our kinsmen are fighting and dying to defend Erebor while I have mistakenly kept us within her halls. No more. It is time we fight for our home. Will you join me?” Most of the Company cheer, reaching for their weapons. Frerin and Belladonna don’t, their grief all too clear. “You should remain with your wife, nadad. And you should stay too, Kili.” With luck Belladonna will be able to use her magic to get them away from Erebor unharmed by the masses of orcs at her gates.

“No!” Kili cries. “I belong out there with you. I will fight with you, Uncle!”

“And you will likely die with me,” he replies. “The mountain has already claimed your brother, do not ask me to risk losing you too, to deprive your mother of both of her sons.”

“I will go,” Frerin says softly. Belladonna doesn’t make a sound although her expression says clearly that she doesn’t like Frerin’s decision. “You’ll need someone to watch your back if Kili isn’t beside you.”

“I have Dwalin for that,” Thorin says, although it warms him to know that his brother will stand beside him.

“And you will have me as well,” Frerin assures him. “Kili shouldn’t go out there with you. Dis has done well enough without me all these years, I will not send her only remaining son out into a slaughter in my place.”

Thorin bows his head in acknowledgement, then departs with Kili to allow his brother a moment of privacy. In that time, he pushes Kili to promise him that he will not leave the mountain unless the battle is lost. In that situation he will need to try and get Belladonna and the child she carries somewhere safe. The Iron Hills until the babe is old enough to travel and then back to the Shire. He will need to declare Erebor lost to them, as so many of their other homes have been, and make the best of his life in the Blue Mountains. Kili agrees, grudgingly, and all too soon Thorin is charging out to the battle with Frerin on his right and Legolas, of all people, on his left.

He loses the elf quickly, although he fights as though he is dancing, and soon he is alone among orcs and goblins. It is too like Azanulbizar, the grinning faces of his opponents and the knowledge that they are outnumbered and under prepared. He has barely slept at all, hardly eaten in the last week, exhaustion drags at his limbs even as he forces himself to keep going. There is a flash of gold, Frerin against his back, but there are too many and some of their attacks are beginning to break through.

The spear finds his chest as the world falls apart.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2903 Yavanna’s Fields

Death, Bungo thinks upon opening his eyes, has a way of bringing a lot of life’s little details into sharp focus without leaving him with the need to tie himself in knots to justify it all. It’s done and there is nothing more to do about, no one else left to answer to and no more changes to make.

He was not, he thinks as he relaxes back into too lush grass, a good husband. Nor was he a particularly good father. He knew what he was getting into with Belladonna when he approached her, intellectually anyway. He had seen similar situations play out as a child in couples who had married for money or security only to discover the other side of their life-bond. He had witnessed the collapse of more than one marriage but had, foolishly, believed that it would not end the same way for him. Belladonna’s dwarf had rejected her, after all, and it was likely she would never see him again.

That had been his first mistake.

His mother had expended a great deal of energy telling him that this marriage was a fool’s dream. Doubtless she will spend much of the afterlife doing the same. Belladonna would not, could not, love him as she did Frerin. They had been made for one another after all, and that left no room for a third. On some level, however, she had loved Bungo and he had loved her. He had wanted his marriage to work and not just because he had needed an heir and the respectable image that went with it.

Belladonna was strikingly beautiful, if a little thin, and somehow her wildness (which he later came to resent in mother and daughter both) only served to make her more attractive. Her sorrow, heart break, had been a good way to ease himself into her life and in some ways, he made himself indispensable to her. Made her laugh instead of cry, paid little compliments to boost her confidence and listened attentively to her stories even when they horrified him. In short, he did everything in his power to makes her love for the dwarf transfer to him, aided by Frerin’s own reluctance to stand up to his family or accept that Belladonna might be trying to move on.

She never really did.

Even though she didn’t talk to Frerin until she was nearly ready to bring Bluebell into the world the dwarf remained a key part of her life. One he came to resent more and more after the first letter became several and then they turned into visits. His daughter, his own flesh, began to idolise the dwarf prince and adore Frerin above her own kind, her own kin.

She was a child and Frerin was the hero of so many of Belladonna’s stories. A hero who clearly adored the faunt and indulged her in all the ways an uncle could. He should have seen and understood it, but his own jealousy hadn’t allowed it. Jealousy fuelled by the rumour mill of the Shire, by the accusations of affairs even though he trusted his wife. It soured his relationship with both wife and daughter and created a distance between them that, even had he survived, he could never have bridged.

He had become bitter and angry and it had destroyed his relationship even with Bluebell long before he had uttered those words.

“I am sorry, Bungo,” a voice says, and a woman sits beside him. She is tall, beautiful, and his mind supplies her name without prompting.

“Lady,” he replies respectfully.

“I never wished this pain upon you,” she tells him, “but it was necessary.”

“Necessary?”

“Yes. Bluebell had to be born, and her life-bonded mate will join her to improve the future for hobbits and dwarves.”

Bungo sighs, it had to be a dwarf.

*

T.A. 2941 Elsewhere

These children are in a terrible state, Mahal thinks as he looks at the unconscious dwarf and hobbit. Too thin, too tired, poisoned by the earth and the stone that should sustain them and weakened by that which brought them here to make the Choice. The Arkenstone shrieks when he picks it up, the sound of a half dozen enraged voices.

“I don’t know why you’re angry with me,” he says mildly as he turns the stone over. “I’m not the one that cause all of this.” Although perhaps things would have been better if they hadn’t interfered in the first place. It was done for the best then, as it will be now.

“We should never have let it get this far,” his wife says as she joins him. All they can do, for the moment, is wait for their guests to wake.

Fortunately, in this place, time means only as much as they need it to.

“There’s nothing we could have done differently,” he replies. “The only thing left is to try to fix the damage done.”

They wait patiently and, typically, it is the girl who wakes first. It is gratifying to see that she checks on her companion first, although hardly a surprise given the amount of work they put into making these two. The boy wakes easily under her touch and they spend a minute taking stock of each other until they realise they aren’t where they started and they are being watched.

“Are we dead?” She asks.

It isn’t unreasonable and nor would it be the first time a couple has met here to chose which afterlife they would enter. This time, however, it gives Mahal a great deal of pleasure to answer in the negative.

“You are here because there is something we need to ask you to do, and some answers you deserve,” Yavanna replies, she has always been better at this part. “Come, see.”

She waves them over, leading them to a large silver basin filled with a mist that swirls with all the colours of the world. As they gaze into it the mist clears, leaving only a liquid that slowly becomes an image, and they can see a column of weary dwarves approaching the mountain in the earliest days of its colonisation.

“Hobbits!” Bluebell exclaims as her ancient ancestors greet Fili’s. The focus shifts enough to show a meeting between a young dwarf with eyes of pure mithril and a hobbit maid who bears the same indigo orbs as Bluebell.

“That’s Algirk Stonesinger!” Fili exclaims. “Frerin used to tell us about him. They said that his Stone Sense was so powerful he never died, he just became part of the mountain. They never mentioned any hobbits, though.”

“Of course they didn’t,” Yavanna hisses. “A great many of my husband’s children went to a lot of effort to erase mine from your history.”

“A lot of yours did the same,” Mahal replies mildly.

“Yours started it,” she says, a little petulantly but he knows better than to call her on it. Her people aren’t as hardy as his and suffered greatly for far longer while looking for a new home.

“Bringing your people together began as a solution to a couple of problems. They were of our making, but they were problems all the same.” He decides to get them back on track. The image in the basin shifts to show a wedding, small and intimate in the way of dwarves, but with an abundance of flowers and several other touches that also mark it as a hobbit wedding.

“The marriage of Liliana Tuck and Algirk, son of Ulirk,” Yavanna says. Fili scrunches his face as though he’s considering objecting but holds his tongue. “It was the first of many such unions and its effects were two-fold. My children, who have never been warriors, gained allies who would protect them, and the dwarves birth rate increased until their population was growing rather than declining.”

“Ors invaded only fifty years after Erebor was settled,” Mahal takes up the story. “Algirk and Liliana had seven young children of their own in the mountain and the war was going badly. Erebor was newly settled, many of her occupants were too young or poorly suited to fighting and many of the hobbits fell ill due to being cut off from the earth that sustained them. It didn’t matter how many warriors Liliana’s people healed or how high and thick they coaxed the trees and bushes around the mountain. Nor did it matter how bravely Durin’s folk fought and how quickly Algirk and his people shaped the stone. The orcs were too many and they were winning.”

Fili is obviously familiar with some version of this story but Mahal doubts that it is the true one. More than likely all he has ever been told is that the dwarves eventually won, that Algirk used the song of the stone to defeat the threat to their home and that is how he got his name.

“It was the death of their only son, after the loss of three of their daughters, that prompted Algirk and Liliana to ask us for help,” Yavanna’s voice is quiet, regretful, and Mahal reaches for her hand in support. “It was forbidden, of course, for us to help directly but we hinted that if they worked together, they might touch the living heart of the mountain and convince Erebor, herself, to help. We miscalculated.”

Their guests watch as a wave of while light sweeps from the mountain reducing the orcs to twisted wrecks. The hobbits and dwarves, however, all appear to be healed of their injuries and they stumble around the decimated enemy with faint expressions of horror on their faces, horror which is reflected in the faces of the young ones now watching. The focus shifts to a cavern that Mahal knows they must recognise as the throne room of Erebor. It has a great, unshaped column of dark stone and gold rising from the centre, and Algirk and Liliana stand before it with one hand each on the stone and one holding the other tightly. Mahal can see the moment Fili and Bluebell recognise the glow coming from them as the same light which shines from the Arkenstone.

“What did they do?” Bluebell whispers, stepping into Fili’s arms as she stares.

“They woke the mountain,” he replies, “and they became part of her as a result.”

He lifts the Heart of the Mountain into their line of sight. It’s quiet now and the light of it has dimmed from an angry shine to a patient glow. His wife touches the stone with a light finger and, slowly, the colours drain from it until nothing more than a dark rock remains and the indistinct forms of three hobbits and the same number of dwarves stand before them.

“We travelled extensively after the war was over,” Liliana takes up the tale, and her voice carries the strange echo that comes from the dead. “We realised that we weren’t aging as we should be and when we were inside the mountain we were joined so completely that our joys and our sorrows affected her. We stopped travelling when our granddaughter married into Durin’s line and the longer we stayed in the mountain, the more we became part of her. Until, one day, we woke up and we were the mountain. It was the price we paid for her help.”

“And as long as there were hobbits and dwarves in and around the mountain the land was safe and healthy,” Yavanna smiles. “Two other pairs had to join with her heart to protect Erebor and her inhabitants in the early days, but after that the people and the mountain flourished.”

“But the dwarves left,” Bluebell points out, “and Legolas told us that the hobbits migrated not long after.”

“None of this is taught in our history,” Fili insists. “Algirk Stonesinger has become a story for dwarflings. Bluebell’s people have no knowledge of any of it either, she told me it was all lost.”

“In every race there are those who believe they are superior,” Mahal sighs. “They believe that the other races are lesser, and that purity is more important than prosperity.”

“The ones that think that usually have too much wealth anyway,” Fili snorts.

“Indeed,” Mahal grins at him. “One such group gained a great deal of influence over the council of Erebor in the years leading up to their migration to Ered Mithrin. They went to a lot of effort to eliminate as much evidence of the alliance with the hobbits as possible. They even went to the extreme of delaying their departure just long enough to advise the Men who were settled in the area of certain talents the hobbits had. I believe it was done with the express purpose of driving the hobbits away, just in case the Grey Mountains proved unviable. They couldn’t remove the hobbit blood in their own lines, but they could prevent more being added in the future.”

“And my people hid our history with the dwarves to prevent any of us from coming back in case the Men remembered and tried to exploit us,” Bluebell concludes sadly.

“Yes, child,” Yavanna nods.

“But the Arkenstone felt so angry,” she says. “You hated us,” she directs this to Liliana, the only one of the shades to have spoken. The ancient hobbit woman smiles sadly at her.

“We lost half of our children,” Liliana replies. “And we were forgotten by the other half when they finally returned to us. We were sad for a long time, and without the hobbits the land sickened and mourned. But we would have recovered, in time, had our heart not been found and cut from us. Our hobbit children were gone, but we still had our dwarves and they still loved us.” Her face is wistful, sad, and so terribly lonely. “We thought they still loved us.”

“But how could they?” Algirk continues, his voice an angry snarl. “How could they when they had forgotten us? They found our heart, cut it out and shaped it. They had forgotten everything. They forgot our sacrifice, forgot our truth, forgot everything we had to give so that they would have a safe home.”

“They hurt us,” another hobbit adds, “chipped away at us and removed tiny parts of us. They reduced us, called us the Heart of the Mountain, the Arkenstone, and turned us into nothing more than an empty symbol.”

“We tried to call to them,” the final hobbit says and she’s easily the angriest of all of them. “But they couldn’t hear, they wouldn’t hear. They took our children, they abandoned us, they forgot us. They destroyed us. So, we abandoned them. We stopped keeping them safe.”

“You called the dragon,” Fili’s voice is horrified.

“We did. We called the dragon and decimated the land,” another dwarf says, his ears have slight points to them making his hobbit heritage clear. “To punish the Men too, for helping drive the hobbits away, and to give us peace, to let us rest.”

“We will spend eternity in that mountain!” The last one roars. “We should have been remembered!”

“Mahal,” Fili breathes.

“Yes?” He replies and grins when the boy flinches. Such levity is out of place in the circumstances, but he’s been ever the opportunist. “Forgive me, I haven’t had the chance to do that in far too long.”

“Being remembered isn’t what it’s about!” Bluebell sounds stricken. “You were supposed to keep them safe. It didn’t matter if they remembered you or not, you were there to watch over them! All those people! All that pain!” She begins to weep in her lover’s arms and Fili glares at them as he holds her.

“Why are you telling us this?” He demands. “It can’t just be so that someone knows the truth.”

“It’s so we can fix this,” Yavanna says. “The land around the mountain is all but dead. Without the Arkenstone the taint will continue to spread and draw in more dark creatures unless it is stopped.”

“What can we do?” Bluebell turns teary eyes onto the stone and Mahal sees understanding fill them. “You want us to join with it. You need Fili and I to become part of the mountain too.”

“In part,” Mahal nods. “We also need you, Bluebell, to convince some of your people to return. Enough of them to begin again, to heal the land as Fili and others like him will heal the stone. We need you two to help us begin once more and make it all as it should have been.”

He watches the pair exchange long looks, then breathes a sigh of relief when they nod their agreement.

“How do we do it?” Fili asks.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2882 Bag End

Bluebell is two when Frerin visits for the first time since Belladonna's initial letter to him before her daughter’s birth. They have exchanged many more in the two and a half years since and, finally, he has agreed to come and see the life that Belladonna has built for herself. Bungo isn’t happy, he rarely is where her letters to Frerin are concerned, but he wants her to be happy and so accepts that she wishes to keep her friendship alive. It has taken this long, but Frerin is passing nearby and has agreed to visit for a few days.

Belladonna cleans and bakes as she never has before, then sets up the guest bedroom, which has been unused for so many years, with glee.

“He’ll disappoint you,” Bungo keeps warning, and maybe Frerin will but Belladonna can’t help but hope he won’t. She’s missed him too much.

He arrives just before dinner, as promised, his clothes richer than they were all those years ago. There are extra braids in his hair, too, which is neater than it was. He’s armed, naturally, but she’s heedless of the weapons as she throws her arms about his neck, embracing him tightly and relieved when his arms snake around her and he pulls her as close as he can. She’s missed his strength.

“I feared you would change your mind,” she breathes.

“Never, Bella,” he assures her, then his face falls as he looks over her shoulder. “Bungo.”

His tone is polite, but Belladonna would be a fool if she thought that the pair could ever become friends. She hopes for it, but she has long learnt not to rely on hope. Her husband’s greeting is just as cold and their daughter picks up on it, clinging to his trousers with pudgy fingers and staring uncertainly from behind her father.

“Bluebell, come here, I’d like you to meet someone,” she says as she closes the door behind her friend. Frerin carefully sets his belongings aside, swords included. Bluebell, her natural curiosity coming to the fore, totters out from behind her father and stares up at Frerin with wide eyes. He crouches, though her daughter still appears so tiny and fragile before him, and smiles. “This is your Uncle Frerin,” Belladonna says.

“Hello, Gehyith,” Frerin’s voice is soft and he holds an exquisitely carved and painted horse out to her, “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Bluebell snatches the figure from Frerin’s hand, examining it in such a serious way that Belladonna sees Bungo in her where before there was no sign of him. Then her daughter laughs in delight.

“Cuddle,” she demands, holding her arms up. Frerin lifts her daughter into his arms with a gentleness Belladonna knows most assume dwarves incapable of.

“She’s beautiful, Bella,” he says, still holding the faunt. She sees the moment when Frerin loses his heart to the little girl in the way his arms tighten just a fraction. “You must be so proud, Bungo,” he adds. There’s no antagonism, just a simple olive branch.

“We had hoped for a boy,” Bungo replies and her hope that their differences can be set aside for a time is shattered.

“No,” Frerin says, “she’s perfect.”

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

Belladonna has run out of tears to cry in the hours since Frerin and the others left the relative safety of the mountain to fight alongside their kin. She isn’t sure how long the battle has been waging, only knows that she had spent the hours (or minutes or days) at the beginning sobbing while Kili stood awkwardly nearby. The dear lad had, eventually, offered what comfort he could, and she thinks that one day he will make some lucky soul a wonderful husband. It was clear that the action was unpractised and didn’t come naturally, but he had tried.

The rest of the time they have spent watching. She’s numb, now. The orcs come in wave after wave, pushed back by the smaller numbers of Men, Dwarves and Elves, but it’s clear they cannot win. Erebor and everything around her will fall to their enemies and there is nothing more to be done. Even were Fili and Bluebell here they would be out there fighting, Kili with them, while she waited for word of retreat or loss. Waiting as she is now, to hear of the demise of everyone she loves and cares about. It will be the final blow, she thinks. Bluebell is gone, lost who knows where, and Belladonna has no hope that she will be as lucky the second time as she was the first.

Her daughter is gone, her husband lost among the horde. She still has the baby, her hand rests on the barely noticeable swell of her abdomen as she thinks. She’ll fade, eventually, it was inevitable as soon as Frerin followed his brother out of the mountain, but it won’t happen until her faunt is weaned and old enough to be cared for by someone else.

“I never imagined battle could be like this,” Kili says, his voice distant and face drawn and haunted.

He’s as lost as she is. His uncles are fighting, his brother gone. Belladonna remembers how he was in the goblin caves, unfocused and desperate. Fili and Kili are so close, close enough to make her wish she had given Bungo a second child. Perhaps another babe would have eased the pressure her first husband put on their daughter. Perhaps it wouldn’t.

“I never thought I would see something as terrible as Azanulbizar again,” she replies. “Let us pray the outcome here is better than it was there.”

“I should be out there,” Kili says. “Frerin should be with you.”

“You don’t want to be out there,” she tells him. “Frerin already knows this horror and he always told me he would spare you it, if he could. You have so much ahead of you, Kili.”

“Not without Fili,” he disagrees. “We always said we would go together, if it ever came to it. I should be with him. I won’t be a good king, Aunt, if we win this and Thorin falls I’ll have to take the throne, but I won’t be a good king. I’m not Thorin, I’m not Fili.”

“You’ll do fine, if it comes to it,” she reassures him. “Your mother will help you. Frerin has told me so many stories about her. I wish I could have met her.”

“You will, once the mountain is ours.”

He doesn’t mention the possibility of going to the Blue Mountains it the battle is lost. With the number of orcs and goblins around them they would never make it out of Erebor and they both know it, she can’t work with the stone surrounding them as her daughter would have been able to. Instead she slides down the wall to sit on the floor and he follows, resting his head against her shoulder. She runs her fingers through his wild hair (Belladonna doesn’t care that she shouldn’t he needs the comfort) and he lets out a broken sob. He’s been strong, so strong in the face of losing his brother and being forced to wait for an impossible victory. She won’t keep him here, once his tears have run their course she will see if the tide of the battle has turned. If it hasn’t, if defeat looks inevitable, they will both join the forces outside. Better to die with her sword in her hand than wait to be slaughtered as a prisoner by enemy forces.

They sit together, hidden by the wall and it muffles the sound of the battle below, the screams and the clash of metal. She doesn’t dare look over the wall, there is a chill beginning to settle in her limbs and she doesn’t know if it is the air, the stone or something worse. Kili doesn’t move, just leans against her and takes deep, shuddering gasps as he gets his emotions under control.

“I think it might be time,” she says finally.

They can’t stay here, and the chill is seeping deeper. Kili looks at her with dark eyes so like Frerin’s it makes her heart hurt, then he nods and gets to his feet, offering her a hand to help her up. The blast seems to come out of nowhere, knocking them both from their feet and leaving their ears ringing and vision swimming.

When it clears Belladonna looks up.

Bluebell and Fili stand in front of them, surrounded by six indistinct forms that seem to glow. They look different, healthier than they have since Mirkwood, and it isn’t just their physical appearance that has changed. It’s their clothes too. Bluebell’s dress cannot possibly be warm enough, sleeveless and gathered in an empire waist, light fabric that pools and floats in shining emerald with blue flowers embroidered on it in vines. The colours of her life-light. Fili, similarly, wears the colours of his. A tunic in muted orange and a coat of pale velvet trimmed with shining silver fur. There are new braids in his hair, one is a braid with stone clasps that shine like the Arkenstone (though she only caught the briefest glimpse of it) and when she looks closer, she sees a similar braid in Bluebell’s hair too.

“Fili? Bluebell?” Kili is the first to speak.

Both look at him and their eyes are nothing more than the glow of that cursed stone. Empty seeming and Kili takes a step back. They turn away again.

“This cannot be,” Bluebell speaks and three of the figures speak with her.

“Agreed,” Fili and the others say. “We are not for them, we are for our Chosen.”

“Agreed,” is the reply. “We must stop this.”

“Agreed.”

Belladonna shrieks as a sphere of light surrounds them, expanding ever outwards in an unstoppable wave. It leaves warmth in her, filling her with energy as she hasn’t truly felt since Bungo died, her mind clear and easier than it has been in almost forty years. When she dares to look over the wall, however, she isn’t sure whether she is thrilled or horrified. Dwarves, Men and Elves stand tall and unharmed, surrounded by the bodies of the dead. There is not a single living orc is sight, their bodies lie twisted and burnt.

“Come to us, King Under the Mountain,” all eight speak as one.

They turn and walk together, Bluebell and Fili’s hands clasped tightly. None of them notice Belladonna and Kili following them into the throne room where the group halts before the broken throne.

“This is your task,” Bluebell speaks with the voice of seven. “Let Algirk guide you. Repair what was broken so that none may forget.”

She releases Fili’s hand and he lifts it, palm up, to reveal the Arkenstone. Tendrils of rock grow slowly from the shattered column, reaching towards those gathered until they touch the Heart of the Mountain. Kili pulls Belladonna back, his expression awed, and she hears him whisper about stories. It takes time, but slowly, so slowly, the column begins to reform, cradling the Arkenstone within it. At some point Belladonna hears running feet and feels Frerin at her side. She hears Thorin’s amazed exclamation and an unfamiliar voice demanding to know what is happening.

“We are repairing that which was broken,” Bluebell says and three speak with her.

“And we are making certain it can never be erased from history again,” the others add as Fili twists his wrist and a gold lattice snaps into place over the Heart of the Mountain, leaving it visible and protected in it’s stone mount. There are runes around it, writing that Belladonna can’t read, though she knows the dwarves can.

“Who are you?” The unknown dwarf demands.

“We are Erebor, Dain, son of Nain. But we are also Liliana and Amethyst, Rose and Bluebell.”

“Algirk and Var, Naal and Fili.”

“Our names are written in stone, our souls live in the Heart of the Mountain.”

“We kept you safe, and you repaid us by forgetting us.”

“You cut us out and mutilated us and so we drove you away.”

“We have been persuaded to forgive and allow a second chance. You, Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King Under the Mountain, have your own task in this.”

“Listen to our voice in this generation.”

“Rebuild the old alliances.”

“Remember the truth and pass it to the ones who follow.”

“There will be no more chances.”

The light around the young couple fades, the ghostly figures vanish, and the pair stare and sway for a moment before collapsing.

“Does someone what to explain to me what, in Durin’s name, is going on here?” Dain demands.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2941 Ered Luin

Dain sighs heavily as he listens to Thorin’s proposal for Erebor. He wants to support his cousin, longs to help ease the burdens on him since Smaug drove Durin’s folk from the mountain. He can’t. Dain has learnt from first-hand experience what it costs to follow the half-formed plans of Thror’s line. Khazad-Dum cost the Iron Hills too many soldiers, took Dain’s father, cost him his leg. He doesn’t blame Thorin. His cousin lost just as much, more really, but Dain can’t afford to follow his lead as Nain followed Thror’s, not without something more than a vague promise.

“I’m sorry, cousin,” he says, and he means it. “I truly am. I can’t give you my support. I won’t ask my people to face a dragon.” He had remained silent while the other dwarf lords denied his cousin aid and departed. Now it is his turn and his refusal tastes of ashes in his throat.

“If I had the Arkenstone,” Thorin snarls.

“But you don’t,” Dain interrupts, “and until you do you won’t find anyone willing to face the dragon for you.”

“And that’s all you have to say?” Thorin asks him. “You won’t help us.”

“We gave you what help we could a hundred and seventy years ago,” Dain says, “and again near on thirty years later. We learnt our lesson then.” Thorin gets to his feet. “Stay cousin, you’ve a long journey ahead.”

He isn’t surprised when Thorin marches from the room.

*

T.A. 2941  Erebor

Dain will happily admit that he’s confused. Frankly he hasn’t got the first clue what’s going on. He arrived expecting a bit of posturing, maybe a skirmish with the tree-shagging pointy-eared fairy King of Mirkwood. He’s been spoiling for that particular fight for years, only to have a perfectly nice scuffle ruined by orcs. Filthy bastards ruin everything. Still, one of his goals in life has been to thin the orc population and this is as good an opportunity as any, even if it does mean fighting with Elves. As well as staring the reality of his own mortality in the face. Again.

The day, of course, just gets weirder (which he hadn’t thought possible) starting with the mountain dealing with the orc problem and summoning Thorin and culminating with a young dwarf and a halfling (which he has only read about in books and heard rumours of a settlement full of them near the Blue Mountains) wielding some sort of weird magic inside the mountain. The kind of magic that only exists in the stories of Algirk Stonesinger, who apparently isn’t the myth Dain had assumed.

“Would someone like to tell me what, in Durin’s name, is going on?” He demands as the other halfling and the young dwarf run forward to the unconscious pair. “And you,” he turns to Frerin before his cousin can move, “what part of Mahal’s scraggly beard did you crawl out of? Last I heard you’d buggered off into the world somewhere without a word.”

“It’s a long story,” Frerin replies, his gaze turning towards the dwarves and hobbits.

“There seems to be a number of those in the making, cousin,” Dain mutters. “I’ll wager those are Dis’ boys, given the resemblance to you and Thorin.” He adds, which just goes to show that insanity clearly runs in the entire family. The young ones are waking and being wrapped in warm furs by those who reached them first. “And the halflings?”

“Hobbits,” Frerin corrects. “My wife and daughter.”

There is definitely an interesting story here, Dain thinks, and he doesn’t look likely to get any of it any time soon. Interestingly Thorin is hanging back from the group as Frerin strides past Dain to take hold of his wife and daughter. Dain knows something happened to Thorin inside the mountain. He joined the battle late and the Lord of the Iron Hills can’t think of a reason for the situation with Thranduil to have progressed past empty threats. Thorin isn’t usually as unreasonable as all that, even where elves are concerned.

“Uncle,” the young blond, Fili he remembers, speaks. His voice is hoarse and exhausted, but his eyes are pure mithril. Shame covers Thorin’s face. “Are you-? Is it gone? The sickness?”

“It’s gone, Kidhuzurâl,” Thorin replies. “It’s gone and I am myself. But what I did-”

“It doesn’t matter,” the girl pipes up. “It doesn’t, Thorin. We knew it wasn’t you. It was the taint left by Smaug, and the Arkenstone. All of this was the Arkenstone.”

Dain doesn’t want to believe that. The Heart of the Mountain has been a symbol of unity to the seven dwarf lords and their people. That said, Dain has seen miracles today, including a young dwarf whose leg was very nearly severed get back up as hale and whole as he was when he arrived. Whatever was done came too late for the dead, which would have been a miracle too far, but there are those alive now who would have died.

“The mountain is alive, Uncle,” the boy continues. “Erebor is alive and we’re a part of her now. It was the only way to make sure that she wasn’t taken by the orcs, and the only way to save everyone.”

“At what cost?” Thorin demands. “At what cost to you and Bluebell, Fili?”

“We paid it willingly,” the girl, Bluebell, tells him. He notes, however, that she doesn't actually answer the question. “There was far more at stake than any of us realised on this quest. But it wasn’t your fault, or Thror’s. It falls on us to fix it, Yavanna and Mahal showed us what was and what we need to do.”

“Is that a marriage braid, Fili?” The other young one says, plucking a braid from his brother’s hair, one capped with an eerily familiar jewel. The serious discussion derails. Fili flushes, as does the hobbit girl when her mother lifts a similar braid from her hair.

“Looks like one to me, Nathith,” Frerin smirks.

“Our Makers wanted to bear witness,” Fili mutters. “We couldn’t exactly refuse it.”

Well. Any objections to the idea of the heir to the throne marrying a hobbit die before Dain can put a voice to them. A marriage sanctioned by Mahal Himself isn’t something to be objected to. There are those who will try, of course, Thorin isn’t the only one who has had trouble with the more fanatical members of their people. Frankly, however, that’s Thorin’s problem. Dain will support it, after what he’s seen the last couple of hours, he isn’t going to risk his neck by going against a dwarf and a hobbit who wear shards of the Arkenstone in their hair.

“This is lovely,” he says, “really, it’s enough to bring a tear to my eyes and make me want to flounce through the daisies with Thranduil.” All eyes turn on him and he hears Frerin snort. His cousin may have abandoned his good sense when he disappeared but at least he hasn’t lost his sense of humour. “Would one of you be so kind as to explain?”

That, at least, gets some sheepish looks, especially as Dain can hear more feet approaching. Then there is a clamour of voices and the most ragtag bunch of dwarves Dain has ever laid eyes on surge forward.

“We feared you lost, lad!” One cries loudly enough to be heard over the others.

Thorin, in a moment of either good sense or self-preservation, moves away from the group. In fact, his expression is the gentlest that Dain has seen it in years. Many of his cares, Dain realises, have been eased by regaining the mountain, although there will be many more to come in the months and years ahead.

“Give them a moment,” his cousin says. “They have had a trying few days and we truly believed Fili and Bluebell taken from us forever. They will explain but my loyal Company deserve the answers as much as you or I.”

“This is all you had with you?” Dain asks, almost horrified. He had hoped Thorin would lead more than fourteen dwarves (sixteen with the hobbits) in the attempt to steal from Smaug.

“Aye,” Thorin smiles, “and a more loyal, willing, brave group I couldn’t have asked for.”

“Dain,” Dwalin appears, a sharp-eyed dwarf at his side. They all look the worse for battle but there’s something about the blood-spattered auburn-haired dwarf that makes Dain uneasy. “Finally decided to join us, I see.”

“Dwalin,” Dain shrugs. “You managed well enough.”

“No thanks to you,” the sharp eyed one mutters.

“Nori,” Dwalin warns, squeezing the hand he holds. “He came through when we needed him.”

“I’m missing something,” Dain admits.

“We both are,” Thorin agrees. “When did you two-?”

“While you were busy being a gold-drunk tyrant,” Dwalin smiles.

“I am your king,” Thorin reminds him, voice deceptively mild.

“Aye,” Dain is alarmed to see actual tears in Dwalin’s eyes. “Aye you are.”

Chapter Text

T.A 2939 Ered Luin

“It’ll be expensive,” Gloin shakes his head over the roll of parchment, a list of supplies a single dwarf would need for a trip to Erebor. If only half the number they need answer the call this venture could easily bankrupt New Belegost, Gloin and Thorin entirely should they fail. Even if they succeed the return may only just cover expenses and Thorin will need a larger share than most to rebuild the city.

“Can it be done?” Thorin asks. He has already stated, explicitly, that he will not borrow if he can help it. Gloin doesn’t blame him, he well remembers the last time a member of the royal family was used to repay a debt.

“It can,” he hedges. “But the risk far outweighs the rewards. And paying off the others should we fail would leave us destitute. Were it anything else, cousin, I would say it wasn’t worth the risk.”

“But it is Erebor,” Thorin says. “We’ve lived too long under the sky. Our people don’t thrive here.”

“Which is why I’m willing to consider the risk,” Gloin replies.

Building a life here has been hard, even though he has no memories at all of Erebor the ancient stronghold calls to him. More and more often Oin returns home with the news that an expectant mother has lost a babe, or that a child has been born to the stone without even the chance of a breath. His own Mimli has lost three babes, only Gimli survives, and Oin places a great deal of it on the lack of nurturing stone around them. Gloin doesn’t much care about the why, only for the pain it causes his beautiful wife and the white it has placed in her rich beard.

“You have suffered as much as any other,” Thorin says. Gloin would disagree, Mimli’s family was wealthy and, as a banker, he has been able to increase that wealth. There are those without even the smallest fraction of that as Oin reminds him daily.

He shrugs.

“The way I see it, waiting another five or ten years won’t make a difference,” he says in answer to an earlier question. “The coffers may be fuller, or we may suffer another horrendous winter like that one near on forty years ago. Costs will likely rise. You may get more volunteers in ten years time, but they’re likely to be desperate and poorly equipped.”

Thorin stares down at the roll of parchment, his eyes distant as he considers Gloin’s words. Then he nods and turns to Balin who has also been quietly considering it.

“Put out the call,” Thorin orders.

*

T.A. 2941 Erebor

Gloin has heard many tales about what some of his ancient ancestors could do with their Stone Sense. He’d thought them nothing more than fanciful tales for children until the very mountain had lashed out at the orcs and turned them into little more than twisted fragments.

He had joined the Company in racing back to Erebor, forcing his way through crowds of Men and Elves (all of whom were staring at the mountain with wary awe) to find answers from the only two who might know what had happened. They had arrived to find Fili and Bluebell alive and wrapped in furs at the base of the throne, a throne which now looked nothing like the broken pillar it had once been. The light of the Arkenstone fills the room, lending a sickly cast to the faces of all gathered and while he wants to shrug their story off as a fanciful imagining there is too much evidence to the contrary. Fili and Bluebell sit close to one another as they tell their story, as though they can’t bear to be apart. Maybe they can’t. Their marriage braids alone, capped with shards of the Arkenstone, lend some credence to their tale.

“What was it like?” Kili asks. “Being part of the mountain?” He sounds almost wistful, as though he would have wished to experience it.

“Terrifying,” Fili shudders, small looking in his pile of furs and obviously exhausted. “It was worse than that time I nearly got lost in the stone.”

“Everything that made us who we are was gone,” Bluebell clarifies. “I can still hear her, I’ve never been able to just hear the stone before.”

“She’s telling us everything we could do if we wanted her to,” Fili closes his eyes and shakes his head. “I understand why the others who did this travelled so much after.”

“What happens now?” Dain asks. He seems to be taking this far better than any of them would have expected.

“We bring our peoples to Erebor,” Thorin declares. “Both of them.”

“Both?” Dain doesn’t seem too happy with that thought, many of the refugees of Erebor took shelter in the Iron Hills and are well integrated by now.

“The hobbits and those who fled Erebor,” Frerin clarifies. He’s one of the few not shocked by the thought that most dwarves from the Lonely Mountain must have a small amount of hobbit blood.

“The land will need healing,” Bluebell adds, “just like the stone. Hobbits are as much a part of Erebor as dwarves, she wants both of her people back, as many hobbits as we can persuade to come.”

“You will need to be very persuasive, sweetling,” Belladonna smiles.

“We’ll think of something,” her daughter grins, “but we’ll probably end up with mostly Tooks and Brandybucks.”

There is a great deal to do before they can depart and winter is nearly upon them, too close to cross the mountains again any time soon. Word is sent to Lady Dis of both their success and the outcome of the battle. It will likely be late spring before the first caravan arrives but Thorin makes a point of asking his sister to wait before departing New Belegost. Come spring Fili, Kili, Bluebell and Gloin will begin the long journey back to the Shire with a small guard so that they can attempt to recruit as many hobbits as possible. It would be a shame for Dis to miss seeing her sons for another year.

Gloin spends winter focussed on the treasury and beginning to divide its contents between the members of the Company and Erebor’s new allies. Dain is paid for his timely aid, Bard is given an approximation of what must have once belonged to Dale and they will likely see a great deal of that make its way back into their coffers over the next decade as Dale is rebuilt. The Company are encouraged to choose some small, personal treasure and given a small chest of gold for immediate expenses. The rest is made a note of in several large ledgers that, should their families continue for generations, will likely never be filled. Bluebell marks her share to be used for the rebuilding of the hobbit settlement around the mountain. She has wealth enough of her own in the Shire and as Fili’s wife she has access to his share as well. Frerin, much like his daughter, has access to his wife’s share and so adds his to Thorin’s, larger, allowance to aid in the restoration of Erebor. The only thing he takes from it is a chest of gems and Gloin pretends not to see or hear when the other dwarf hands it to their elf companion with a wink and whisper of thanks for not betraying them. It is, after all, not his business what they do with their share once they have it. He also pretends not to hear the conversation that follows.

“You must have known Bluebell had it,” Frerin says softly, “you see better than any of us.”

“I did,” Legolas admits.

“Why not just take it? It is why you let us free.” Gloin tenses, although the Arkenstone is completely safe now this is possibly something that Thorin should be made aware of, just in case.

“My father’s orders were clear,” the elf admits. “I disagreed with them when he gave them to me, and the longer I spent with all of you the more I disagreed. Ultimately it was your wife. She treated me with far more kindness than I deserved, and I found myself loath to disappoint her.”

“Yes,” Frerin laughs, “she does have that way about her. You couldn’t know that I would give these to you after all was said and done.”

“No,” Legolas agrees, “and I honestly fail to see what my father wants with them. I think I will travel, once everything has been settled. It is time to get out of my father’s realm and see the world.”

“I know some people who can help with that,” Frerin’s voice is growing faint as they walk away.

Gloin files the information away in his mind. For the most part it is only confirmation of what they had always suspected of the elf. He had intended on betraying them and whether the reasons for not doing so are his friendship with Belladonna and Ori (who spends as much time as he can either in the library or pestering Legolas for answers to questions), a friendly rivalry with Kili or simply the lack of opportunity it matters little. Thorin isn’t surprised, although he decides not to act on the information in the end. Legolas has been of more help to them than Thranduil likely intended and even if they don’t much like the King of the Woodland Realm, it would easier to be on civil terms with one of their nearest neighbours, especially with the number hobbits who will very likely be on their way through Mirkwood in the coming years.

Their relationship with Thranduil doesn’t improve much until Bluebell and Belladonna (who grows larger with child daily) take over negotiations. They don’t have the centuries of animosity that dwarves do and, with Frerin’s help, they manage to hammer out some peace that will hopefully grow easier with time. Legolas, oddly, helps as much as he can with his father and Gloin finds himself actually growing to like the elf prince. Even when it is later confirmed, by Thranduil no less, that Legolas had been under orders to steal the Arkenstone and the gems that Frerin had taken such pains to return it doesn’t come as a surprise. They had suspected something of the sort, after all, and the treachery is Thranduil’s not the son’s, who had apologised to Thorin about the whole thing in private before any meeting with his father had ever taken place. The young elf, in fact, makes a point of remaining with one or other member of the Company whenever he’s in the mountain over the winter, allowing them to keep a watch over him even though it has long been proven an unnecessary precaution.

All in all, it becomes a productive winter and they number ten when they depart Erebor. Gloin, Fili, Kili, Bluebell, Bombur, four guards from the Iron Hills and, surprisingly, Legolas.

Chapter Text

T.A 2894 Ered Luin

“Fili, Kidhuzurâl,” his mother says from the door to his room. Kili is off somewhere with Frerin but Fili has studies to catch up on and for a change Frerin had listened to their mother on the subject.

“Yes, Amad?” He sets the scroll aside, something about the affect the price of corn has on the economy.

“I wanted to talk to you about your future.”

Fili gestures at the scrolls littered across his bed and the desk filled with books and sheets of parchment.

“I’ve got a fairly good idea of what my future looks like,” he grumbles.

“No,” Amad smiles, “that’s Thorin’s department. I wanted to talk to you about children, and marriage.

“Mahal, Amad!” He exclaims. “I know where babies come from!” He isn’t an idiot and between Frerin, Thorin, Balin and Dwalin he’s had ‘the talk’ plenty of times.

“I’m aware your uncles have handled that,” she smiles.

“We’re careful,” he assures her. “There won’t be any children muddying the line of succession.”

Dwarf sexual maturity hits later than in other races, a good thing given they aren’t considered of age until they hit seventy. Basic physical maturity follows the same basic timeline as Men, but that’s more to do with their craft and their skill as warriors than anything according to the theologists. He tries not to think about it.

“I’m sure you are,” she pulls a face, “as I am just as certain that I don’t need to know about it.” Fili can live with that. “I wanted to talk to you about marriage,” she continues. “I know Thorin has told you this once, but I think you need to hear it again. We won’t choose a wife for you, not unless you ask it.”

 “And if I decide not to marry?” Fili asks. “Or if my One is someone deemed unsuitable? What if my One is an elf?”

“And where would you meet an elf, Kidhuzurâl?” She chuckles. “Even if it were an elf made for you by Mahal, we wouldn’t stop it. Although, I would ask you to consider the political ramifications, and Kili wouldn’t think you for making him king.”

“I know,” Fili sighs. “I don’t think I have a One and I can’t marry for the sake of an heir. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” she agrees, “and there’s always Kili.”

“Mahal help us,” he mutters.

“Be nice,” she says firmly. “And don’t let what happened to your Adad and I, or Frerin and his One, affect how you see marriage. Vili and I only had a few years and I miss him more than I can say, but I don’t regret a single one of them. I treasure every memory I have of him and I don’t want you to avoid happiness just because you’re afraid of getting hurt like I was. Promise me, if love finds you, you won’t run away from it.”

“I promise, Amad,” he replies solemnly. He doubts he will ever have to follow through but he won’t deny her this comfort.

*

T.A. 2942 The Shire

It has been a long trip back, Fili thinks, long and dull but for the company. It has also lacked distinctly in privacy and if there is one thing, he misses about Erebor it’s the privacy. He can still hear the mountain, even this far away from her. Bluebell can as well, and he doesn’t think they will ever stop hearing her song no matter where they roam. Erebor isn’t happy about the separation, they didn’t expect her to be, but those who live in her heart understand that if anything is going to be fixed it will have to be Bluebell who goes to fetch the new hobbit colony, the other hobbits won’t listen to Belladonna and this task is theirs not hers. Besides, she’s due to give birth any day and won’t be travelling for several years. This needs to be done now not later. So, Fili and Bluebell did the only thing that they could do, they left as soon as they could to do the task given to them.

They carry a part of the mountain with them always, in their hearts as well as in the shards that decorate their marriage braids. Fili hasn’t been able to bring himself to tell Thorin about the ultimate cost of their joining with the mountain, Frerin and Belladonna are ignorant as well. Kili knows, somehow the thought of his brother remaining ignorant to the fact that Fili and Bluebell will never enter the Halls to wait with his forefathers or Yavanna’s Fields was worse than the alternative. Kili had almost wept when he realised that their souls would be trapped in the mountain for eternity, never resting and never to be reborn when the world is remade. Better, though, that Fili and Bluebell sacrifice a peaceful eternity to save the land and the ones that they love than that they doom the world.

They parted ways with Legolas in Rivendell, leaving him in the care of Elrond’s twin sons. The elf isn’t so bad, and neither are Elladan and Elrohir now that he has actually had a chance to appreciate their sense of humour, but Legolas wants to see more of the world and that isn’t going to be the plan for Fili and Bluebell for some time. Frerin had made a point of asking them to ensure that Legolas met with the twins and Fili is glad they had been able to ensure it happened.

Gloin, Bombur and two of the guards left them in Bree to head to Ered Luin and begin to gather the final caravan of the year, as well as update Dis on everything that couldn’t be put into a letter. Fili almost wishes he could have gone with them, he misses his mother, but there is too much to do in the Shire and he can’t bear the thought of being parted from Bluebell. They have about seven weeks before they will have to meet the caravan in Bree. Long enough for Bluebell to settle her family affairs and try to persuade a few hobbit families to join them. From everything she has told Fili about them it may well prove a monumental task but Yavanna has promised that enough hobbits will follow to repopulate the lands around Erebor within a few generations. Kili has opted to stay with them, obviously still more shaken by the events in Erebor than he wants to admit. Fili can’t say he blames him. He’s still having trouble processing it all himself.

“That you, Miss Bluebell?” A hobbit asks and his wife halts her pony.

“Hello, Mr Proudfoot.”

“What are you doing here?” The old man asks and Bluebell frowns. “Only, them Sackville-Baggins lot are insisting that you’re dead and gone! They’re at Bag End now with the Thain trying to get their hands on the keys.”

“I’m going to hang Otho up by his toe hair and castrate him,” Bluebell snarls.

“It’s his missus who started it,” Mr Proudfoot corrects her.

“That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest,” she hisses. “Time to deal with her as well.” She smiles coldly at the hobbit, then turns to Fili. “Shall we, my love?”

“Lead on, amrâlimê,” he gestures. They nudge the ponies to move a little bit faster, not far from their destination in any case, and as they approach the smial they can clearly hear the raised voice of Hamfast Gamgee.

“They said summer, sir,” he says to one of the three hobbits with their backs to the road. “An’, beggin’ your pardon, but summer isn’t over yet. I’ll not be giving this here key up to anyone until summer’s over and the wills have been read.”

“If they even left wills,” a shrill voiced woman says.

“Mrs Belladonna said they did,” Hamfast argues.

“Ah, yes, the word of a mad woman,” the shrill voice scoffs.

“Well, if you won’t take my mother’s word, Lobelia, how about you take mine,” Bluebell snaps as she gets off her pony. The three hobbits all turn to look as Fili and Kili follow his wife’s example. Better to let Bluebell deal with this, she knows her fellow hobbits, after all.

Bluebell tilts her chin in a manner Fili has so often seen Thorin use, something he’s done more than once recently as well. She barely looks like the hobbit who left this sleepy place a little over fifteen months ago. She’s lean and strong from hard travel, garbed in fabrics of rich blue and silver, the colours of the line of Durin, that are not the mid-calf length dresses of hobbits but thick trousers to nearly her ankles, a well-fitting tunic and light hooded cloak. Her little sword, dubbed Sting after the incident with the spiders, is belted at her hip and two harnesses cross her chest with five pairs of throwing knives attached. Her hair is neatly caught back with only the braids that indicate her status hanging free. Her marriage braid (held with a shard of the Arkenstone that only Fili can remove) hangs beside the braid with the tiny gold bead that marks her as Frerin’s daughter. On the other side is the braid and mithril bead that shows her to be the future queen of Erebor.

“I see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Lobelia comments with an arched eyebrow and a sneer.

“Well, you’d know all about that wouldn’t you,” Bluebell replies. “Surik, Freya, deal with the ponies and bring our gear inside,” her tone is far more brisk than she would usually use. In truth Fili had begun to despair of the idea that she would ever become accustomed to giving orders. Their guard simply clash their fists twice to their breastplates and come forwards to claim the faithful animals.

“My lady,” Freya acknowledges, “My lords,” she inclines her head and follows the directions Bluebell had given on the way to a pasture.

“Lobelia, Otho, get off my land!” She barks. “Rest assured that in the event of my death Bag End would go to someone who deserved it.” A portly male with a pointed nose straightens. “Our wills make it very clear that cousin Drogo would inherit everything. You wouldn’t even see a silver spoon.” She sneers.

Lobelia makes an outraged noise, stepping forwards with her parasol raised and it’s clear that she means to strike Bluebell with it. His wife doesn’t move, doesn’t even flinch, and Fili catches the blow in one hand before it can land, squeezing the flimsy thing so hard it creaks even as the thought of Bluebell’s trust in him fills him with warmth that has nothing to do with the summer day. He wrenches the parasol away from Lobelia with grin that is more a snarl and snaps it over his knee, discarding the pieces at his feet. It’s showy and more than a little bit ridiculous, but the sneering woman takes a fearful step back.

“I wouldn’t,” Kili says conversationally, “that’s my future queen. My brother gets very protective, he challenged a dwarf back home just because he looked at her in a way Fili didn’t like.”

One time, Fili thinks, one time he lost his temper with the way the Iron Hills War Master was glaring at Bluebell. Nothing came of it, Bluebell even healed the arrogant bastard’s wounds after Fili was done playing with him. Kili won’t let it lie, however, and his teasing has built Fili a bit of a reputation for protectiveness in Erebor over the winter.

“What?” The final hobbit demands. “Explain yourself, sir.”

“Hello, Fortinbras,” Bluebell smiles at this one, so either she likes him or he’s too important to upset. “I’d like to introduce Kili, son of Dis,” his brother bows, “and his older brother Fili, Crown Prince of Erebor and my husband.” Fili also bows as the other two hobbits gape. Hamfast seems to have vanished. “Fili, Kili, my cousin, Thain Fortinbras II.”

She has deliberately, Fili notes, not introduced Otho and Lobelia. He suspects there is some hobbit significance to that when she links her arm through his and leads him towards the smial. Kili’s lips quirk behind his beard (which finally started to come in over winter) as he settles one step behind and just to their left as he would were that at an official function. He suspects his brother is enjoying this.

“I’m afraid we don’t have much to offer you, Fortinbras,” she says as she approaches her cousin, “but we do have business to discuss with you. Now is as good a time as any, since you’re here.”

“Miss Bluebell?” Another voice cuts in and they turn to see Hamfast Gamgee and a pretty hobbit lass, both carrying baskets. “I hope you don’t mind, I took the liberty of asking my Bell to throw together a few baskets. It’s simple fare.”

“But better than anything we’ll have had on the road,” she smiles.

“You have our thanks,” Fili adds, making a mental note to ensure these two are properly reimbursed. “Shall we?” He asks.

Hamfast, his wife, and the Thain (which Fili understands is roughly the equivalent of a steward as Gondor has) all follow Fili, his brother and Bluebell into the smial. Bluebell holds her regal bearing until the door is closed and she’s in the parlour, then she throws her hands in the air and spins with the brightest of smiles.

“I’ve wanted to do that for years!” She crows. “Oh, Fili, you were perfect.” Then she looks at her faithful gardener. “I thought the wedding wasn’t for another two weeks?” She says. “Bell isn’t-?”

“No,” the other woman says firmly. “But at the beginning of winter we had the oddest dream. The Lady came to us and said we had to get ready to journey to our new home.”

Fortinbras makes a noise of irritation.

“Lots of other dreamed it too!” Hamfast exclaims.

“She said She would help,” Fili says to his wife. He keeps his voice soft and his wife nods her agreement.

“You may as well both stay,” Bluebell addresses the Gamgees. “We have quite the tale for all of you.”

The story of the quest and its outcome is not a short one, even heavily edited to avoid topics (like the trolls) which have no real relevance to the point they are trying to make. By the time they’re done, with Kili filling in many of the parts they missed, darkness has fallen, and Bluebell’s distant cousin is staring thoughtfully into the fire.

“This dream Mr Gamgee mentioned,” he says slowly. “Somewhere in the region of twenty families between here and Tookborough claim to have had the same. The Master of Buckland says he has a dozen of his own and the Mayor of Michael Delving has five from the surrounding area. Most of them are from long established farming families, though there’s a few seamstresses, a teacher, half a dozen healers and a couple of midwives. Including my only daughter.”

“Azalea?” Bluebell sounds surprised. “I didn’t think she was of age.”

“Turned thirty-three a month ago,” the hobbit sighs. “I don’t suppose I could persuade you not to gather those who were invited by the Lady?”

“You’re ignoring how these things work,” Bluebell shakes her head. “Now that we’re here I would imagine that those Yavanna chose to help heal the land around Erebor and build a new colony will begin to feel the Draw.”

“Would you rather they travel with the safety offered by a caravan of dwarven warriors,” Fili says pointedly, “or would you have them make their way to the mountain alone and unprotected? From what I understand the Draw Bluebell speaks of is irresistible.”

“It’s maybe forty families,” Bluebell adds, “we lost more than that during the Fell Winter.”

“And we’re still recovering!” Her cousin argues.

“Looks to me like you’re thriving,” Kili cuts in. He’s been stood looking out of the window, open in the warmth of summer. At intervals during the afternoon they have been able to clearly hear the laughter of children during the occasional silence, and even now the sound of distant fiddles reaches them.

“I agree,” Fili says. “How long can this continue until you don’t have anywhere to build new homes? Or you have to sacrifice farmland you can’t afford to lose to house your families? Bluebell told us a lot about the Shire while we travelled. You’ll have to expand soon, in the next generation or so. Where will you go? The decision will very likely fall to you, or your son, the loss of forty families to the new colony will ease that burden, and there will be plenty of space for more to join us should they decide to.” Fili has already discussed it with Lord Elrond, who has agreed to help any hobbits who come his way reach Mirkwood safely, after that it will fall to Thranduil and even he has agreed to aid them, in exchange for the hobbits help healing the damage done to the Greenwood.

“It isn’t something we’ve discussed,” Fortinbras splutters.

“My wife has,” is the simple reply. “This is a solution, one your Maker, and mine, have worked to make possible. Why turn from it?”

“Your people betrayed ours once!” Fortinbras shouts. “You said it yourself, what’s to stop it from happening again?”

“It won’t,” Bluebell cries in frustration. “Do you really think Fili and I would have given up all we have if we thought for a second it would?” She glances at Fili and he nods, he will back whatever decision she makes. She has warned him on the way here that their greatest stumbling block would be this hobbit. “They’re coming with us, Fortinbras. Hamfast, Bell and all the others. You can’t stop it. Telling you that they would be coming with us was a courtesy. We won’t stop anyone who wants to leave, and we won’t force anyone who doesn’t.” The older hobbit slumps.

“My daughter?” He asks.

“I’ll watch over her myself,” Bluebell promises. “We’re all tired,” she adds, “and it’s been a long journey. There is much still to discuss, but perhaps that should wait until we’ve rested. We have time.”

“I agree,” he gets to his feet and nods to each of them. “Goodnight, Bluebell, my lords.”

The following morning Fili rises to the smell of bacon and sausages cooking and no sign at all of his wife. Bluebell should still be in bed, her night was as late as his, but it seems the lure of her much-missed kitchen has proved too much. He stumbles into the kitchen, hair in complete disarray and trousers tugged on with little thought to whether they might have company beyond his brother and their guards.

“What are you doing out of bed?” He grumbles, scratching absently at his chest.

“I just asked her the same thing,” Kili groans. “I think someone snuck in and replaced Bluebell in the night.”

“Don’t be silly,” Bluebell chirrups from the stove.

Her curls are pulled back in a similar style to the one worn by the shrill hobbit the previous day, although she has left her braids free as is her habit. Her dwarven made clothes are gone. Instead she wears a full skirt and matching bodice of pale blue with a crisp white blouse of fine cotton. The fullness of the skirt is sign enough of ample petticoats and it’s jarring to see the Bluebell he met rather than the one he has come to know.

“What’s going on?” He asks.

“Our princess is beginning her campaign,” Freya comments. “Apparently, this requires her to be a ‘proper hobbit’. I didn’t realise that involved quite so many frills and flounces.”

“Nor did I,” he mutters darkly, dropping into a chair at the kitchen table.

“You’ll need to come with me,” she tells him. “I don’t need the others, but we do need to go to the market and be seen before Lobelia and Fortinbras can get started on their own rumours.”

“You’re not getting me dressed up like your cousin,” he scoffs. She raises an eyebrow at him as she plunks a plate of meet and eggs in front of him.

“Of course not,” she pulls a face and the proper hobbit slips away with it. “You’d look ridiculous. You’re a dwarf, dearest, just put on whatever’s cleanest and least travel worn. Let me handle the rest.”

“You’re on your own, nadad,” Kili grins around a mouthful of bacon. “I’m going back to bed.”

“Traitor,” he grumbles.

Within an hour Fili has been dressed, his hair combed and rebraided and several cups of coffee have been poured down his throat. Bluebell has located a parasol and lacy shawl from somewhere and a basket which is nearly as big as she is that she hands to him. She pauses before they leave to check her hair in a mirror near the door and take a deep breath. Her face smooths, a pleasant half smile appears on her lips, and she leads him out of the door down a half-remembered path into the local town.

Thus, begins her campaign. She wanders around the stalls, selecting produce with a keen eye as she greets many of the hobbits by name and takes a moment to introduce her ‘darling husband’. Fili makes a point of greeting them politely, although he is slightly more aloof than he used to be. Bluebell doesn’t call him on it, so he assumes that she’s content. Neither of them is quite who they once were before they joined with the mountain.

“The braids?” He turns to look at his tiny wife while she talks to an elderly hobbit. “Why no, dear, they aren’t at all savage. Quite sensible if you ask me. They all have a meaning. And Fili has been so good as to follow our custom,” she shows her ring to the hobbit who coos over the hair that has been carefully woven into the mount behind thinly cut, clear crystal. “Dwarves are all so particular about their hair, something to do with their Maker, it just isn’t done to cut it, but Fili did for me.”

“That’s love, I suppose,” the hobbit mutters and continues on.

“Miserable old bat,” Bluebell mutters as they continue, and he laughs.

She, quite pointedly, ignores a few of the hobbits, including the odious Lobelia, and quietly drops hints that anyone who was visited by their Lady in early winter is quite welcome to come and call to discuss the matter. By the time they leave the market his arm aches from the unfamiliar weight of the basket. It is so full of her purchases (and there is more, still, to be delivered) that he would wonder where she intends to put it all. He knows, however, that she has ample room for this and more, and that it will only last a few days at most.

After a week he can only marvel at the effectiveness of the hobbit gossip mill after no less than fifty separate hobbits come to call about the matter of relocation.

Chapter Text

T. A. 2800 Ered Luin

Winters in the Blue Mountains tend to be cold, even to a race as hardy as dwarves who are built for the chill inside mountains and the heat of the great forges. The young princess Dis, who has already spent nearly three quarters of her short life above ground, huddles into her furs and stares up at the moon. There is barely a slither of it left, by the following night there will be none at all, but she finds comfort in it. The moon’s changes are constant and predictable.

Nothing about her life has been constant or predictable since Smaug chased them from Erebor. Everyone is changed or gone. Her was mother too badly injured during their escape from their home to survive and had died within hours of their flight. Dis’ grandfather had barely acknowledged her existence before the mountain had fallen, after she was nothing more than an inconvenience, a confused child and another mouth to feed. Thorin lost his joy and his happiness the day Smaug came. Only Frerin had remained unchanged, until the day he had been told a wife had been chosen for him. Then he had become quiet and angry, training as much as he could and mostly ignored now that his purpose as the spare had been almost fulfilled. He had gone into battle, followed her grandfather and father and brother.

Of all of them only Thorin had come back to her.

So many friends, so many old warriors, so many of the survivors of Erebor lost trying to reclaim something that even Dis, young as she is, knows should have been left alone. She only has Thorin, now, Balin and Dwalin are his friends and they are so changed since the war she hardly knows them anymore. Thorin is changed too, he’s dark and full of rage. He isn’t the brother she remembers. She wonders, sometimes, what it would be like if Frerin had been the one to come home instead of Thorin. They don’t even know whether Frerin is alive and well, dead, or running insane somewhere like their father is.

A terrifying thought.

“There you are,” she hears Dwalin say behind her. She sighs. “You shouldn’t be out here, Dis.”

“Don’t tell me where I should or shouldn’t be, Dwalin,” she mutters.

“Thorin’s looking for you,” he tells her, “you know how he gets.”

Three months since his return and Thorin is still barely willing to let her out of his sight. Dis shoves her mourning braid behind her ear, mourning an old man who never saw her as anything more than a means to an end and a father who allowed her mother to die in agony rather than ending her pain. Then she stamps past her brother’s closest friend and heads back towards the small house they share with Dwalin on her heels.

They can hear Thorin raging before they even get close to the building. Curses in Khuzdul (an infinitely more satisfying language to swear in) are being snapped out in clipped syllables over the sound of furniture breaking.

“Stay here,” Dwalin orders. Dis is perfectly capable of defending herself, but she only has her short dagger at her hip since she left her axe in the house. So, she obeys, if only to ensure that Thorin doesn’t lose another family member if they can help it.

Several minutes later she is beginning to shiver in the cold and Dwalin’s voice has joined her brother’s. They both seem intent on seeing who can think up the most creative new curse, apparently having forgotten that she is waiting on them. Dis rolls her eyes, sets her hand on the hilt of her tiny blade, and carefully enters the house.

The kitchen is destroyed, table and chairs reduced to kindling. Thorin paces among the debris, vile words dripping from his lips that are only matched by Dwalins own imprecations. A fresh set of cracks in the stone wall bear testament to one reaction (likely Dwalin) and she slams the door closed before standing with her hands on her hips. The time for being a proper princess, it would seem, is over.

“What in Mahal’s name has gotten into you two?” She demands.

Thorin grunts something at Dwalin and flicks his hand. Dis raises her brows and waits as Dwalin huffs something back. This ability they have to communicate through little more than animal noises is frustrating in the extreme. Her fingers inch back towards her little knife and, finally, Dwalin hands her a sheet of paper.

“This is Frerin’s hand,” she whispers.

“The messenger brought it about an hour ago,” Thorin hisses. “Read it.”

My brother and sister,

My companion has been pointing out at length, and with increasing frequency, that I keep failing to assure you of my continued good health. She is, in fact, stood over me at this very moment with an iron spoon and threatening violence upon my person should I fail to do exactly that. I am, as you may gather, alive against all the odds of it. I owe my life to her as, without her help, I would have died of my injuries long before the battle was over. I have pledged ten years of my life to her in repayment of the debt, as is the way of things (and our grandfather was ever a stickler for doing things the correct way and leaving no debt behind us). We winter in Rohan, and we will begin travelling again when spring comes. I do not know if I will make it to Ered Luin at any time in the next decade. I would prefer not to. I assure you that should anything happen to me Bella will see to it that you are notified.

Frerin, son of Thrain .

“He’s running,” Thorin says as she begins to swear, not commenting on her choice of language.

“Balin warned he would,” Dwalin agrees. “Selfish bastard.” Dis, however, can see another problem and she casts the letter into the fire.

“We keep this between us and Balin,” she declares. Thorin glares at her. “We don’t need Fhrna hearing about this,” she points out, “he’ll claim we’re trying to get out of our side of the bargain.” She breathes a sigh of relief when Thorin agrees with her, then resumes her angry ranting about Frerin’s selfishness.

*

T.A. 2942 Hobbiton

Dis doesn’t think she has been ‘good morning’ed by quite so many people not her own in her life. As a matter of fact, her own people are more likely to nod or half bow than they are to wish a pleasant day on anyone. Given the skittishness of the hobbits she had encountered closer to the border of the Shire Dis had expected it to be worse this far in, even knowing that her sons have been in residence for nearly six weeks. Especially knowing that her sons have been living here, she finds it hard to believe that they will have stayed entirely out of trouble and not scandalised the gentle creatures terribly with their antics.

Truth be told, Dis is hurt that they chose to wait for her in this sleepy little place rather than come home. Gloin and Bombur had explained why as best they could, that Fili’s new wife had things she had to take care of before returning to Erebor and that her eldest was reluctant to part from her. Kili is always found where Fili is, but it still hurt that he had stayed behind as well. It makes Dis wonder what kind of harridan Fili has married, if he’s so reluctant to bring her into the Blue Mountains. She's being unfair to the girl, and she knows it, but the idea of taking second place in Fili's life (or third since he has always put Kili before everyone else) stings.

The house she finds is set into the hill in the manner of so many hobbit houses. It’s green door, bizarrely round, is open to the fresh spring air, as are the windows. The garden is neatly kept and even this side of the gate she can smell something delightful cooking. Dis lets herself in, taking the open door as an invitation to do so. There are a few crates in the entrance hall, all but one is sealed. The open crate shows straw and a glint of fine china such as her people have never truly perfected the making of. Dwarves prefer their tableware rather more robust. Fili and Kili’s weapons are laid carefully across the top of a delicately carved chest, their coats hung on a nearby stand with several others. Of her boys there is neither sight nor sound, although she hears singing coming from further in it is far too light to belong to any dwarf. Dis follows the sound, slightly put out at not finding her boys home though she knows them too well to have expected them to linger in idle stillness.

“Kili, I swear to Yavanna,” a voice says as Dis steps into the neatly kept kitchen, “if you’ve brought me more fish without cleaning them, I’ll tie knots in all your bow strings.”

When did Kili start fishing?

“Then it is fortunate I am not Kili,” Dis says and the small woman turns from the stove to face her.

Whatever Dis had been expecting this little hobbit to be like, she isn’t sure this is it. The irritation on her face smooths instantly into apologetic curiosity, marred somewhat by the wide streak of flour on her cheek. It’s a kindly face, Dis decides, but she wonders whether the interior matches the exterior. She would hope Kili would have the sense to stop his brother from making a mistake but it’s entirely possible her boys were both taken in before they realised their error. She fervently hopes that she’s being unnecessarily suspicious, that Fili’s little hobbit truly is his One and that he hasn’t deceived himself as well as her out of fear of dying unloved and unremarked. Given how warmly Bombur and Gloin have spoken of the girl (and her mother) Dis wants to like her. Besides, she seems to know how to handle the boys well enough if the only words she’s said so far are anything to go by.

“Forgive me, please,” the hobbit girl says, “I didn’t realise the door had been left open.”

“I should have announced myself,” the princess concedes, although she had wanted to see how Fili’s little wife would react. “Dis, daughter of Thrain.”

The hobbit arches an eyebrow, although it strikes Dis as more amused than offended at her omission. Given her position, however, it is not for Dis to offer her service.

“Bluebell Baggins,” she bows. “It’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. Fili, Kili and Frerin have told me a great deal about you. My husband and brother will be disappointed that they weren’t here to greet you.” A pretty little speech, Dis thinks.

“Where are they?” She asks.

“Fishing with Hamfast Gamgee,” Bluebell replies, filling a little kettle and placing it on the stove. “I’m not overly enamoured of fish personally, but I’m not going to stop them. It’s easier to sort this place out when they’re elsewhere. Please, sit, I know the boys say you prefer tea, but I have coffee, ale or some elderflower cordial if you prefer.”

In a dwarf this would seem like nervous fluttering or a desperate attempt to ingratiate herself. In Bluebell, however, it sounds like little more than an average question, some part of hobbit entertaining that isn’t present in dwarves. Among dwarves you get ale unless your host knows you well enough to know you would prefer something else. She settles in a chair at the sturdy kitchen table, hiding a wince as her ribs protest the change in position.

“Tea will be fine,” Dis answers, entirely the princess which doesn’t seem to phase her host at all. Then again, her host has spent the better part of a year with Thorin at his most bull-headed. Bluebell just smiles and sets a large plate with a selection of small cakes and biscuits upon it onto the table. Then she turns back to preparing the tea, stopping occasionally to stir whatever she is cooking.

“I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t sit with you as we talk,” she says, “there’s so much to do before we depart for Bree with the others.”

“Would it not have been easier for my sons to remain and help you?” Dis enquires. She knows her boys well enough to know that they are often more of a hindrance but that had been one of the reasons Fili had apparently elected to stay with her. Bluebell chuckles.

“They did try,” she says, “as did Freya and Surik, but it’s just quicker for me to find the things I want to take or that Mama will have wanted kept and pack them myself. They move the heavy things for me when I need them to, and we sent Freya and Surik to help those leaving with us to prepare properly.” Dis nods, she had received the letters telling her of the hobbits who would be migrating. “As for Fili and Kili,” Bluebell sighs. “They’ll have enough to do once we join your people, and more still once we get back to Erebor. I just felt they should have a chance to relax.”

“There will be as much pressure on you,” Dis points out, although her opinion is softening.

“True,” she admits, “but I can’t relax while there’s still so much to do here, for my cousin’s sake as well as mine and my mother’s. Mama and Adad are already preparing what they can for those of my people coming with us and, with luck, there will be times in the future where I will have to be idle whether I want to be or not.”

“Bluebell?” The familiar voice of her eldest carries through the underground home.

“In the kitchen,” the hobbit calls in reply. Booted feet approach and Dis stands, ready to greet her sons.

“We didn’t manage to catch any fish,” Fili is saying as he walks through, Kili close behind him. He trails off when he sees his mother, coming to a dead halt which causes Kili to crash straight into him. “Amad?” He sounds like he can’t quite believe she has arrived.

“I just got here,” she tells them, opening her arms and deliberately not mentioning that she’s been trying to work out why this hobbit is Fili’s One. She still can’t quite believe everything that Gloin and Bombur had told her and they had danced around (or outright refused to answer) several of her questions about the pair of hobbits who had managed to make off with the hearts of two princes from Durin’s line. Perhaps her problem is less with the daughter and more with the mother, she muses.

Her sons rush to her, wrapping her arms around her in a way they haven’t since they much younger. She holds them as tightly as she is able, although her ribs once again remind her that she should have been more careful in the training ring the morning before she left for the Shire. She knows she should have seen a healer, but they would have stopped her from leaving, which would have held up their return to Erebor and prevented her from seeing her sons.

“Amad?” Kili asks when particularly tight squeeze makes her breath catch. “Are you alright?” This quest has done more than add to her youngest’s muscles and take the last pieces of youth from his eyes.

“I’m fine,” she tries to brush it off. “A moment of inattention while I was training a few weeks ago. It’s just a few bruises.”

“Bruises would have healed by now,” Fili disagrees. “Bluebell, would you?” He summons his wife from her tasks.

“If your mother doesn’t object,” the girl replies.

“My objections didn’t stop you,” Fili protests.

You were trying to die on me,” Bluebell replies loftily. Gloin and Bombur didn’t mention that. “I am a healer, my lady,” she adds. “If you would sit, I’ll see what I can do.”

Dis considers objecting, attempting to brush it off once again, but her sons’ worry is clear, and she doesn’t want to upset them when they are only just reunited and there are already signs that there will be several difficult discussions ahead. They so rarely go against her wishes, but they are clearly changed, and the hobbit girl won’t be the source of all of those changes. She sits, expecting Bluebell to ask her to remove her many layers of clothing. Instead the girl looks at her thoughtfully and rests a small hand on Dis’ arm as her eyes begin to glow.

“It’s alright, Amad,” Fili says softly as he sees her shift a little. “Let her work, it’s normal.” There is a warm feeling in her chest and her breathing, along with her temper, eases.

“Well?” Kili asks.

“At least I’ve found out where your habit of hiding injuries comes from,” is the waspish reply. “Four cracked ribs and some nasty bruising in your arm,” she adds. “I’m sure you’re perfectly capable, my lady, but I wonder why your own healer let you travel.”

“I doubt he knew,” Fili says. “Amad and Uncle are very alike in that regard.” His little wife hums but doesn’t comment.

“What’s for lunch?” Kili asks abruptly, his thoughts, as ever, turning to his stomach once the immediate situation is resolved. Not even eighteen months out of Ered Luin could change that.

“Fish soup,” the girl replies promptly and Kili groans. “You caught them all.”

“I wish I hadn’t,” is the petulant reply.

“Well it’s the last of them. Unless you’ve brought more?” She sounds resigned and Dis wonder just how much fish has been eaten these last weeks.

“They weren’t biting,” Fili shrugs.

“Smart fish,” Bluebell replies. “I’ve finished packing, apart from a couple of pieces,” she continues. “We should be ready to leave in a couple of days.”

“Why not tomorrow?” Dis asks, although they aren’t in that much of a rush, she has no idea how quickly the hobbits will travel.

“You don’t feel it now,” Bluebell smiles, “but give it an hour or so and you’ll be exhausted, healing takes a lot out of you. You’ll welcome the rest tomorrow. Besides, we have to make sure the others are ready.”

“I’ll spend tomorrow checking the local families and spreading the word,” Fili says. “If we wait too much longer, we won’t make Erebor before winter.”

They leave two days later, picking up carts full of hobbits and their belongings (as well as seeds) on the way. It takes a few days to get out of the Shire, and more than once their party is stopped by others begging those leaving to reconsider. By the time they are half way to Erebor Dis has concluded that the more outlandish parts of the story of her brother's quest are probably true.

By the time they reach the mountain she has decided that she likes Bluebell after all, especially given the young princess is visibly with child.  Besides, Dis has her sights set on her two brothers, both of whom deserve a rather large piece of her mind.

Chapter Text

T.A. 2949 Erebor

Bluebell smiles at her husband as he sits next to her carefully, their eldest child in his arms. She holds their youngest, born only a half hour before and the baby still holds the glow of his life-light for all to see, a brilliant mix of green, blue and orange with threads of silver that is remarkably similar to that of his sister. All of the children born to hobbit mothers have show signs of being strongly gifted, it is this generation, after all, that will do the most with the sickened land further from the mountain. Their daughter looks at the baby with wide eyes as blue as her father’s and reaches a finger out.

“He’s covered in yuck, Mama,” she objects.

“He hasn’t had his first bath yet, sweetling,” Bluebell replies, her voice tired after a long labour.

“Can I help?”

“Later, bunnanunê,” her husband chuckles. “Let your Amad rest a while. Bringing babes into the world is hard work.”

For a moment, as her family gathers close to her, Bluebell hears the mountain hum, and she drifts to sleep to the song as Fili lifts their son from her arms.

*

T.A 3367 Erebor

Bluebell looks up from her seat by the fire as her husband walks slowly into their shared sitting room. At five hundred- and eight-years old Fili is remarkably good looking for his age, his beard and hair still thick and lustrous although they are completely white these days and have been for the last century. He sits carefully in his own high-backed chair, sighing in relief at the feel of the padding after long hours in the throne room.

“One more day, dearest,” she says, softly. He smiles wearily.

“One more day,” he agrees. “Turvig is still being difficult,” he adds.

“Turvig was born difficult,” Bluebell replies with a sniff. One would think they have lived as long as they have purely to spite the old advisor.

She’s half tempted to ask Erebor to sustain them for another handful of years just so that the miserable old coot will go before them. She feels thin, these days, stretched and exhausted. Even with the mountain slowing their aging and sustaining them until a suitable heir had been born, hobbits were never meant to live this long. She’s four-hundred-and-eighty-seven and she’s ready to rest. Such as it will be when she will become the mountain but neither of them has been further outside Erebor in ninety years than Dale and the hobbit town of Buckhill so it will make little difference. Neither of them is comfortable outside anymore, there’s too much of the mountain in them and their eyes shine with the colours of the Arkenstone all the time these days. When it had begun a decade ago, she had realised that their time was coming to an end and Erebor was ready to choose their successors.

Their great grandson, Elin, is the one the mountain has chosen. Bluebell had known it would happen, the King and Queen of Erebor will ever be tied to the mountain now so that the line will never again forget what Durin’s folk owe to their home and their ancestors. Tomorrow Elin will marry Azalea Cotton (a descendant of Bluebell’s cousin and named for her) and during the ceremony they will join with Erebor as Bluebell and Fili did all those years ago, with the spirits of the others who reside within the Arkenstone giving their blessing as they had four years ago when Elin came of age. Even several generations after the reclaiming of Erebor there are those who doubt the story. Nearly the entire population of the mountain had been there to see Elin chosen, so Bluebell doubts there are any disbelievers left.

Swirling eyes turn upon the row of portraits above the fire, their age showing in the discolouration, but she will not have them reproduced and replaced. Some are Ori’s work, others were done by her daughter, Rose. They show her family as it was when the mountain was retaken, the Company who came to mean more to her than any hobbits. Her mother and Frerin, who had two daughters after the son her mother conceived on the quest. Bluebell was always more an aunt to them than a sister, especially given the scarce eighteen months between Arin and Rose. A treasured picture of Kili, who has been gone two-hundred-and thirty-some years, and his brood sits in pride of place. His loss had been hard on Fili, his life taken during a skirmish with orcs to the north of Erebor while scouting. He should never have been out there, being late in his two-hundred-and-sixties but he had refused to let age slow him as it should have. Elin looks enough like Kili to catch Bluebell off guard some days and he responds to the name as readily as his own.

Most of the rest of the Company lived quiet lives after the quest, happy in their craft. Thorin ruled for seventy-three years, in the end, and he was good at it. The just and fair king that the people of Erebor deserved. His reign was not an easy one, shadowed by the efforts to rebuild both Erebor and the land around her. His people came out of it prosperous, however, and that prosperity has only increased since Fili took the throne. Some of the others married, some didn’t. A few had families and Bluebell watches over their descendants fondly. Most were taken by old age, some weren’t, and her eyes turn to a portrait of Dwalin done by one of her grandsons. Dwalin lived to be nearly three-hundred-and-forty but he was never the same after Nori was killed.

It was a botched assassination attempt; her friend had been dead before his body had even hit the floor so there was nothing that Bluebell could have done to save him. It hadn’t stopped her from trying. The perpetrators were found quickly, she and Fili gained a number of advantages by joining with the mountain and Erebor has always been aware of everything that happens within her. It had turned out to be Tarl, Varl and Narl, three of the fanatical purists who had caused so much trouble for Fili, Kili and Frerin in Ered Luin and who had come to make the point that Erebor was for dwarves alone. Thorin had been nearly incandescent but had deferred to Bluebell, who had been the intended target. The three had sneered and laughed at the idea that the gentle hobbit girl would give them anything more than a slap on the wrist, until her eyes, and Fili’s had lit up as they joined to the mountain. The trio had screamed when the prince and princess had crushed them between two solid walls of stone, entombing them within the mountain for eternity.

Bluebell still has nightmares about what she did to them.

“Come back, amrâlimê,” her husband says. He kneels before her, holding one age ravaged, tiny hand in his.

“Did I drift again?” She asks.

It’s been happening more frequently of late. She loses herself in her memories of times gone by. Memories of times when her family was complete and her dear friends around her. Even Thranduil is gone now, sailed to the west after leaving the care of the now recovering Greenwood to Legolas. The damage to his realm was substantial, but the affect it had on him had been harder to shake off. It had been a kind of madness, a twisting of everything that had once made the Elf King happy. Legolas, too, departed in the end and the Greenwood had been taken on by an offshoot of the Brandybucks who have built a smaller colony there. All of the elves are leaving, and Bluebell has already bid farewell to Elrond. His sons come by from time to time, so long as there are orcs Bluebell doubts they will sail west, but they are all that is left from the time before Erebor.

The land thrives, now, she can feel it in the way the mountain hums happily. There is still a great deal of damage to undo, as in all things it has proved far quicker for the damage to be caused than fixed, and it could well be another thousand years before the land is what it was meant to be.

“I’m so tired,” she sighs to Fili, this is the only place she can say it. The only time she can express it. Outside they must appear strong and timeless but even in a race as long lived as dwarves it is possible to live too long.

“So am I,” he admits. His face is lined, now, carrying the stories of all his cares. He still looks as handsome to her as ever, although she misses the blue of his eyes. “One more day,” he breathes. “One more day and we can rest.”

Yes, she thinks. Rest sounds good. It is time to pass their task onto the next in line.