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A Hobbit In Ered Luin - part 2

Chapter Text

15th Astron

Walking away from Kili was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. But the thing is, I wasn’t even angry with him, and worse than that, I loved him with all my heart and I knew he felt the same way. Why else would he have tried to stop me from leaving? But this had been brewing up for some time, ever since the article in the chronicle.

Ori had broken my – no our trust with writing and printing the blasted thing. That was not something that I could forgive easily. I was fed up of the wide spread common knowledge of it where-ever we went. It was humiliating to have my life laid bare like that. It didn’t even matter about the apology – the damage was done and there was no way at all that it could be undone, and as sad as that may be, it is the truth.

Then there was the incident in Bree. It wasn’t my fault that Trotter had confronted those men, but I knew that Thorin blamed me for the incarceration of his nephews. I just needed to go, to get away from them.

I didn’t stop walking until I came to the Green Dragon. It was beginning to get late and I was hungry. I guessed that Trotter could do with the rest. Luckily, there was a spare room for the night as I knew that I wouldn’t make it to Frog Morten before darkness fully descended and I didn’t fancy traveling on through the darkness alone.

That night, as I lay in bed, I felt more alone than ever, including the night of the day my family was killed. Was I doing the right thing, running away? Could I have done anything differently? When morning came, should I swallow my pride, head back to Bag End and follow them? I decided that the whole notion of that was folly, not because I was afraid of Thorin and what he might say if attempted to return, but because I was uneasy about traveling the road on my own. Having a companion would have made all the difference, but I was afraid of what I might encounter on the road. I was scared that I would come across some evil that I wouldn’t be able to deal with alone. Thoughts of orcs and bandits filled my head and I would not have been able to deal with any of that. So I decided the best course of action would be to go to my family. Kili knew where I would be if he wanted to come and find me, if his Uncle allowed him to do so.

Was I doing the right thing? Probably not, and I missed Kili even more than ever.

As I held on to my diary as if letting it go would be my death, I wondered if I should destroy it. It was extremely tempting to burn my diary in the fireplace and imagined, as I looked at flickering flames, my diary being consumed by it, it’s pages curling up as the fire blackened its pages until nothing more than ash remained of it.

But if I did that, I would have lost everything I had of Kili, apart from the necklace he had given me for Yule. It was hard to believe that he was gone, far, far away from me. I held the necklace in my hand and clutched at the pendant, hoping that by doing so, it would give me the strength that I needed to live. To pick up the pieces of my shattered life and begin again anew. It was not easy at all. That night was sleepless and although I was weary, with the light of morning entering through my window, I gathered up my strength, ate more because I needed to than because I wanted to, paid up with the Innkeeper (the only bit of coin that I had left) and with Trotter at my side, I went…home.

Chapter Text

15th Astron

At camp that night, I kept away from the camp fire as much as possible. I didn’t want company, at least not the company of those who would allow the love of my life to be forced away from me. The only company I wanted was that of the ponies. Even when we were traveling, I hung at the back, whispering to Bungo as we rode. He didn't need to talk to me for me to know that he understood my unhappiness and he didn't judge. We were camped on a hill overlooking the village of Hobbition and I sat on a dry stone wall looking back at the road we had traveled, wondering if somewhere among the lights of the windows in the hobbit holes Hilda was looking back at me.
 
I heard footsteps behind me, quite familiar ones and I knew before he even spoke that my Uncle was there behind me.
 
“You should be with the rest of us, not sat brooding out here all by yourself,” Uncle Thorin’s voice, stern but kind, came from behind me. “I brought you this and thought that you might want to talk to me about what happened today.”
 
He had borught me some stew, which he handed to me and I grudgingly accepted it, more out of habit than because I really wanted to eat. I was not hungry and didn’t feel like I could ever eat anything ever again, I missed her that much.
 
“I’m not really sociable at the moment, Uncle,” I replied, eating a mouth full of the stew. It tasted of nothing in my mouth, at least not to me. It could have been one of the most delicious dishes prepared for the Yule feast and it still would have tasted of nothing at all to me at that moment.
 
He leaned on the wall, and he looked me in the eye. “I know that you are taking this hard, Kili.”
 
“Are you trying to apologize, Uncle?” I asked, probably a little too sarcastically. I really wasn’t in the mood for this talk. Couldn’t he see that I just wanted to be left alone by everyone, especially him.
 
“It was never my intention to hurt you or Hilda like this,” he said, harshly.
 
My thought at that was “Oh, here we go….”
 
“Save it, Uncle,” I snapped. Hilda knows exactly what you think of her. We over heard you talking to Dwarlin about it before we left Bree.”
 
He glanced at me and I could tell that he was trying his hardest to keep calm on the matter, but it wasn’t working one bit. I couldn’t tell if he was angry at me, or at himself, but I suppose it didn’t matter either way. It didn’t change the result. Hilda was gone.
 
“What did you over hear?” he asked.
 
“You said that ever since she showed up that Fili and I have been shirking our responsibilities, especially me,” I replied.
 
“That is true ad you have. She’s been a bad influence on you in many areas.”
 
I put the bowl of stew to one side, for the temptation to throw it in his face was really strong at that moment. “That’s not the way I see it,” I said, shaking my head in disgust.
 
“Explain it to me,” Uncle Thorin could barely keep the anger from out of his voice.
 
“While you were absent, just before Yule, Fili took over your duties. It was a difficult time for him and we didn’t know if you were going to come back or not. We had no idea at all if you were alive. Both of us went out on the orc patrols. Fili offered sanctuary to the elves in case the orcs attacked and I don’t consider any of those shirking our responsibilities.”

“I have no complaints over either of you in that regard,” Uncle Thorin replied, sternly. “But there was the day I couldn’t find you when you should have been caring for the ponies. I then find out later that it turns out you had been fornicating with her. And you should have been helping out at the stall but instead you were brawling with ruffians in Brree’s Market Place.”
 
Uncle Thorin did have a point concerning the ponies and although that night with Hilda had been quite wonderful, I was now wondering if it had been worth it. I should have waited until it had been allowable for us to do such things with each other. I couldn’t deny his complaint, apart from….
 
“Bofur did say that he, Bifur and Bombur could handle the stall,” I pointed out.
 
“Don’t lay the blame of this upon Bofur. You should have stayed on the stall like you were supposed to and not go goofing off,” Uncle Thorin said, quite coldly.
 
At least the argument was now on what I should have done, or not should have done, etc, and not blaming Hilda. I could live with that, I suppose.

“It wasn’t Hilda’s fault,” I said, trying to defend her. “But you deemed it fit to lay all of the blame at her feet.”
 
“Perhaps it wasn’t her fault, not entirely,” Uncle Thorin conceded.
 
“In that discussion you had with Dwalin, you said that Hilda doesn’t pull her own weight,” I said, and I pointed out all of the times she had been indispensible. “So why the hostility towards her?”
 
“She caused you and your brother to bring shame down on to the line of Durin, that’s why.”
 
So now we were finally getting somewhere. It’s all down to family honour. I suppose I could understand where my Uncle was coming from, but most of it was my fault and not Hilda’s at all, and I had to make him see that.

“I asked her to the stables that night. I only wanted to talk to her and it went further than I’d expected it to,” I admitted. “And I should have reported the attack on Ristil to the Watch and encouraged her to do so. Maybe if I had, the Watch would have caught the men sooner, but there was no way of knowing for sure.”
 
We argued a bit more. I think I caught Uncle Thorin by surprise that I wasn’t willing to let the subject drop.
 
“You should appologise to Hilda,” I said, after he had finished tearing strips off me for behaving like a clot, but Uncle Thorin, being Uncle Thorin refused to consider it. It was typical of Uncle Thorin, prideful and stubborn.

In the end, I don’t think it mattered who was right. The result was the same. I was parted from my love, whom I doubted I would ever see again. The stew was cold by the time I got round to eating it, but I didn’t care much. When Uncle Thorin was gone, Fili joined me.
 
“Take heart, little brother,” Fili said to me. “You will see Hilda again.”
 
“I just don’t see it, Fili,” I said.
 
“I think you’ve forgotten something, Kili,” Fili said, with a smirk. “Someone will have to return her horse to her.”
 
I grinned, having quite forgotten about Hilda’s horse! Fili, dear Fili! I think that made my day. I had quite forgotten until that moment that we had Crowberry.

Chapter Text

20th Astron

I arrived at my cousin Callum’s house a few days ago to find his wife Dieardre pottering around in the garden and the children playing nearby. The joy of seeing them almost made me forget my sadness at my parting with Kili, but then I realised that the future we had talked about had evaporated like so much fog burned away by a rising sun. Unless of course…. dare I hope? Thinking of that night in the stables…. No if I was carrying a child, there would have been some evidence of it by now, and there wasn’t, so I didn’t even have that consolation, if there even was any consolation in being a single mother.
 
“So you decided to stay with us after all?” Dieadre asked, looking up from the herb bed that she was tending to. Trotter ran over to the children and they played with him, a little too boisterously for my taste. I was always worried that he may try to bite a child when they played with him.
 
I nodded as I blinked away the tears that had welled up in my eyes. As we spoke, I made her think that the sadness that I so keenly felt was due to the loss of my parents and brothers, which in a sense was true, but was only a small part of it.
 
Before leaving Kili at Hobbiton, I had only grieved for a lost past, now it was for a lost future as well. I understood now why Kili had been so cautious in telling me how he felt about me. If things turned sour, like they had, I would have a double loss to deal with. And I was still reeling from the fact that it the break-up had been over nothing that either of us had done to hurt or betray the other. Our feelings hadn’t suddenly changed towards each other, it was a lost love purely due to the cruelty of outside interference which should never have even occurred. Oh how I missed him! Dare I hope that we could still end up being together? Dare I hope that things could still be put right?
 
Of course, the future is not set. While both of us live there is some hope, however slim it may be, that things could still go as they should. I had to cling to that. But what if in the end that it was only a false hope? No hope is better than a hope that is folly. Fate has dealt me a roll of the dice that is a failure of epic proportions.
 
I spent the rest of that morning helping my cousin in the garden. We planted new herbs for cooking and for making home remedies. Whether the home remedies worked or not is another thing entirely, but I think I would enjoy having them taught to me. I made notes of how they were made so that if I ever saw Oin again that I could show him what my cousin made and ask him if they were of any use. I think that Ireiagia would be interested in the remedies as well as it would increase her knowledge, or so I hoped. Anything that could be of use to the dwarves I coveted. Perhaps if I made contact with them again, Thorin would realise how valuable an asset I was to him and his people and that he would change his mind concerning me.
 
The children played around us happily and it made me miss Dwalin’s young ones, and made me ache for my own. Would it ever happen now, I wondered….Could it ever happen? Of course, I could just forget all about Kili and find a man among my own people, but I am not sure if any of them would want me when he discovered that I wasn’t a maiden anymore.
 
Dieadre went inside to prepare lunch for Callum and my uncle because they were out working on the farm, leaving me to clear the gardening tools away. I was so busy concentrating on my own thoughts of what I should do about my future that I didn’t notice Callum enter the farmhouse garden until the children screamed his name and ran up to him. They were all excited and told him that I was here. I don’t think the young ones understood my sadness and what had brought me here. They just liked the fact that their big cousin was home. Oh the innocence of children! I wish that I still had that, but it had been buried with my family and I would never be able to regain it. It was lost to me, just like my virtue.
 
Callum greeted me with a much needed hug and it did lessen the sorrow in my heart for a moment. Being home at last was a much needed comfort, even if it did nothing to change the grave disappointment that I felt within my heart. Uncle Farnan, Callum’s father, and once the owner of the farm that my cousin ran and lived on joined us a while later and we par took in a small picnic in the garden when Dieardre returned from the house carrying a large basket filled with sandwiches, cheeses, cakes, scones, and fruit juices. There was jam and ham for the sandwiches and the children loved their jam, and the cakes, while the adults preferred the more savory parts of the meal. Trotter was given a huge bone to gnaw on and he took it to a quiet part of the garden to eat it in peace.
 
For a short while, my sadness was forgotten about, until I saw Callum say farewell to Deidre and he and Uncle Farnan went off to the field again. Spring is always busy for farmers as they deal with the birth of new animals, plant new crops that will grow throughout the summer to be harvested in late summer and early autumn. Callum and Deidre embraced each other and kissed, and I missed the arms of Kili around me. I wished he was there with me and not somewhere so far away.
 
Seeing Callum and Uncle Farnan go off to work reminded me so much of my father and my brothers that I missed them so much at that moment, more than I ever had. Why had my life taken such a bad turn? Why did it have to happen to me? Why, for the love of Eru, did I have to survive that orc attack at all and not be with my family? And would I ever be able to recover from this? Would I ever be able to rebuild what had been taken away from me? At that moment in time, my hope for the future was well and truly gone.

Chapter Text

20th Astron

Passage through the swamp was as laborious returning to Ered Luin as it had been traveling towards Bree. It didn’t matter much to me, however. We were heading in the wrong direction as far as I was concerned and I was in no hurry at all to get back home. I lagged behind the other dwarves a lot, always at the back, just in case Hilda came after us and I would be the one to greet her first. My dallying however, frustrated my Uncle on many levels and he was always telling me to hurry up. I just couldn’t. My heart was not in it and as we travelled further away from the Shire, the more I lagged behind until Dwalin was ordered by my Uncle to force me onwards at a faster pace. A bitter resentment grew between Dwalin and myself over this. I just wanted him to leave me be. It was very tempting at night to just slip away and return to the Shire to seek Hilda out, but Uncle Thorin ordered the other dwarves to keep a close eye on me and to not, under any circumstances leave me to be alone with myself. As a result, I was unable to slip away to go back to her.
 
I felt like doing very little, my powers of concentration were completely non-existent. I made many mistakes when given a task to do and this annoyed my Uncle even further. At first, he thought that it was deliberate disobedience on my part, but it soon became clear that I wasn’t doing it on purpose. I’ve not written much in my journal since we left Hilda behind. I just cannot bring myself to write in it because all I will ever write about is how unhappy I am and how much that I miss her at my side. At quiet moments, I read the past entries in my journal and I remember the times that Hilda and I spent together. If Uncle Thorin complained about my shirking of responsibility while Hilda was here, then he should now, because I just don’t want to or feel like doing anything at all. While Hilda was around, I actually cared, but now I don’t.
 
Fili is the only person I feel like speaking to these days. He is my brother and the only one I think can understand my unhappiness. I only speak to others now if I need to. I think Uncle Thorin maybe beginning to understand how unhappy I am at the situation because he no longer tells me off. Is he beginning to change his mind about things? I really, really do not know.

Chapter Text

25th Astron

Callum, like my parents, was a farmer and suddenly I felt useful again. Callum was more of a crop farmer than a livestock one, so there were no sheep to round up, but I still found that there were lots of things to do. I was no longer that clumsy, useless individual I had been with the dwarves and it suited me accept for one detail – no Kili. During the day time, there was much for me to do – planting new crops and harvesting spring ones. I made a start on a herb garden in front of the house, well, more of an extension to the one that Deidre had already started, with Trotter always at my side. My cousin also keeps a couple of hen houses with each with a small flock of chickens. One of these was for eggs only, which had no rooster, the other one a breeding colony that reared birds to sell on the market and for our table. I took over looking after them, but the slaughter was left to my Uncle, as I couldn’t bring myself to do the deed. I’ve never been any good at killing things and it reminded me too much of what had happened to the sheep and the attack on Thorin’s Gate by the orcs. I still had nightmares about those events and I worried about what was happening to the dwarves, especially to Kili, Fili, Thorin, Ori, Gimli, Lyngheid and Lofnheid. I hated not knowing what they were facing.
 
When there wasn’t any farming chores to complete, there was the children to care for. I spent a little time everyday teaching them to read. The girl, Rosie, was the easiest to handle. The two boys, Jimmy and Tom only wanted to play at sword fighting. Diedre said that it was the fault of the dwarves for filling their heads with heroic deeds and adventures. Until they had arrived, all the two boys wanted to be were simple farmers like their father and grandfather. I wondered if Fili and Kili had been like that when they were young dwarves and I could easily see them being so. I missed them both terribly, my lover and the dwarf I had come to think of as a brother. The pain of not being with them neither waxes nor wanes it stays the same, a constant source of sadness in my life. The only thing that would change it would be them turning up on our door step one day.
 
Aunt Margarita visited us regularly and my grandmother was immensely pleased that I had decided to stay. Oh if only any of them knew of the conflict that rages within my poor heart! I wondered if they knew about Ori’s article – none of them ever mentioned it if they did. When asked what had changed my mind about staying with the dwarves, I said that I wanted to be with my family – simple. I don’t know if they noticed the lie, that I wished with all my heart that I was elsewhere. They did give me some happiness and I dread to think what I would have done with myself if they had not been there.
 
Evenings were spent telling stories by around the fireplace and playing games with the children. I looked forward to those evenings and it made me think of Kili and I sat together doing the same with our children if we had stayed together and had them. Why is it that everything has to be bitter-sweet, and remind me of all my losses and failures? Why, oh why?
 
Once a week, we went round to my grandparents’ house and shared a meal. It was the only day when Callum and Uncle Farnan were allowed to relax. To any outside observers looking in, it would look idyllic – but there was a gaping hole in my life and that was the absence of Kili.

Chapter Text

25th Astron

We are out of the swamp and almost home. Traveling is much easier now that the weather is much improved, but I wished in my heart that we weren’t so near to home, because it meant that Hilda was the furthest out of reach that she could ever be to me.
 
It is an arduous journey,
Coming back to oneself,
The most difficult,
And soul-weary of them all,
Many are the twists in the path,
And the wrong turns that are taken,
It is the longest road of all to travel,
And many never find their way back home.

Chapter Text

1st Thrimidge
 
We arrived back at Thorin’s Gate at the beginning of the month of Thrimidge, if you use the calendar of the Shire to measure the passage of time. Much progress had been made rebuilding after the damage the orcs had done. The hardest part of the journey for me was passing Hilda’s farm, or rather the ruins of it. I avoided speaking with Uncle Thorin – in fact, I avoided speaking with just about everyone apart from Fili. I don’t think my Uncle noticed, though, or if he did, he passed no comment on it to me or any others. He was too involved in talking to the wizard about Erebor and how best to approach the problem.
 
When we arrived, Uncle Thorin asked Bofur to fetch the druid woman and meet them at the library. He wasted no time at all in getting down to business. He told Fili to meet them there as well, but made no mention of me. I decided that I would go, because not going might have made Uncle Thorin angry with me as when we have spoken, it has been mainly complaints to me about me not doing the things that I should. It is very difficult for me indeed.

But first, Fili and I went home to the cottage to visit Mam and to tell her that we were back. I may not like the fact that Hilda was not with us, but I was still looking forward to seeing her at least. Perhaps I could talk to her about what has happened and everything will be alright. I can but hope, I suppose.
She was working at the forge when we got there, which was hardly a surprise as she spent most of her days forging something. Bild wasn’t around though. We waited until she’d finished what she was making before we approached her.

“I’ll see to the horses,” Fili said, quietly in my left ear. “You and Mam need to have a chat and I don’t think you need me in the way. Good luck.”

And we did have that talk.

The first thing she asked was where Hilda was. She was afraid that something had happened to her because of the expression on my face.

“Nothing happened to her,” I tried to reassure her. “She has family in the Shire and she went to live with them.”

I couldn’t bring myself to say what had happened to her outright. It was way too painful still, the injury so raw…
 
“There’s more to this than you are telling me, son. We can go inside and talk if you wish.”

We did so, and she told me to sit down and tell me what the problem was. I told her what had happened, first with that stupid article that Ori wrote, thinking that she would be angry at me for what Hilda and I had done. She did frown at me when I confessed the truth of it. Of course, I'd been a bit silly thinking that I could hide from her what I had done and perhaps if I'd told her the truth before we left and told my Uncle, the disaster which followed could have been averted. "I don't think Ori's article helped one bit." I told her the rest, about the incident in the Prancing Pony with Ristil and then the night in the jail cell. Would it be shameful to admit that I was on the verge of tears at that point? Dwarf men are supposed to be strong, not emotional wrecks.
 
"Your Uncle is a stubborn idiot," Mam said, when I finished talking. She walked over to the desk which Uncle Thorin usually worked at when he was home and pulled out pile of parchments from a drawer.
 
Still struggling to hold back my tears, I asked, "What are those?"
 
"When the others came back early, they told Ori that you and Hilda had got engaged. Poor lad…He's really sorry about that dratted article and he wanted to make things up to you. So he placed an announcement in the chronicle about you and Hilda being engaged. He was really excited and happy at the news, as we all were. Young Lyngheid and Lofnheid have spoken nothing of it since, and you know how unusual it is for those two to talk about matters that females are supposed to be interested in. These started to arrive."

She passed them to me and I began to look through them. I am fluent in elven languages. As my status as a prince, I was taught by Balin from an early age to be able to read and write it, but it is by far from my favoutire of the languages. I love Khuzdul and prefer to use that when I am speaking with my own people and there aren’t any people from other races around. I longed to teach my language to Hilda – I had been going to ask my Uncle if I had permission to teach it to her. I sighed, thinking that it was useless to even dwell on it now because it was something that was never going to be. My heart is a hollow shell to what it used to be and I am not afraid to admit to it in my journal, where all my secrets are kept. I do wonder if one day years and years from now that some scholar will read my words and what he or she shall think of me. I hope they are compassionate and not judge me harshly by my actions.
 
I looked through them. Most of them were letters of congratulations from a number of people in high places. I didn’t know them all, but some names were recognisable to me. One was from Celeborn and Galdriel, the Lord and Lady of the golden wood of Lothlorien – I was surprised to get one from them, with them being elves. Both of them wished me well but said that they would like to attend if they could, but it would be difficult for them to make the journey. There was one from Saruman, asking us if we wanted him to oversee the wedding. That was unexpected, but I am sure that one of the priests or priestesses of Sindri's folk would have done it. There were separate ones from Elrond and Arwen of Rivendell. Of all the elves, they were the friendliest to us. Arwen wanted to be a bridesmaid! I suppose because of the sparseness of ladies among our people that elf women would have been welcome to fill the empty roles even if we didn’t get on with them all that well. It is important to try and push the old prejudices aside, no matter what my Uncle’s personal feelings towards the elves were, even if his reasons for them were valid.
 
There was a really nice one from cousin Dain. I was surprised that the news had gone that far, and he was on his way with a small group of dwarves to visit us in Ered Luin. I looked forward to seeing him because I had not seen him since I was a nipper. My mood was blackened when I came across a rather spiteful one from Thranduil, and Mam, seeing that I had it, snatched that one away from me before I could finish reading it.
 
“I’m sorry, son. I don’t know how that one got amongst them. I thought I’d burnt it. I shouldn’t let your Uncle see it or he’ll be wanting to start another war like the Firebeards did in the First Age!”
 
There were a rather nice ones from the queen of Rohan, expressing her delight at the news and one of congratulations from the current steward of Gondor. It is in nice to know that even in exile as we are that we have allies all around us. Perhaps once my Uncle had seen these he would change his mind regarding Hilda and allow me to marry my love.

I looked at my mother. “I didn’t know that the coverage of the Chronicle went that far,” I said to her. Really, just how much damage had Ori’s silly article caused? I will hit him when I see him, I swear. He might be sorry for having written it, but it has brought great embarrassment to myself, Hilda, my mother, Fili and my Uncle, not to mention the whole line of Durin. The nephew of their king, a possible heir to the throne, was a play boy.
 
“Neither did I, until they started arriving,” Mam said. “We may have envoys coming from the other clans.”
 
Swell, just swell. Wait until they realise that there is going to be no wedding at all because of my Uncle’s pride and stubbornness. There were lots and lots of fan mail from hobbits. They were exited that one of their own could be a princess of Ered Luin. There were so many in fact, that I couldn’t be bothered to read them all. But in the end, only Hilda’s surviving relatives really mattered.
 
There were threats from orcs to disrupt the ceremony if the wedding takes place. I didn’t take them seriously, since Lord Elrond had offered the use of Rivendell for the ceremony. No orcs would have been able to get near the place. It hurts that so many people would have been supportive of it…Uncle Thorin must be made to change his mind! I was a little bemused at it, though. I didn’t think that the orcs would bother to read the newspaper, but apparently, they did. I just hope that Ori had the sense of mind not to write anything about Erebor…
 
The one which stood out the most, however, was a letter from Smaug the dragon, or at least one that was said to be pertaining from him… If genuine, he must have terrified some poor soul into writing it for him because it was written on normal sized parchment and was in a very shaky hand writing. It was a strange mixture of insult and politeness.
 
Dear Deposed King,
 
In recent years, I have come to regret taking the mountain from you and your people and wish to make amends for my actions. The majority of the gold will remain in my procession, as I think that is only fair since I am the King Under the Mountain. However, it has come to my attention that your nephew is going to marry. As I would like to sue for peace, I am offering the Arkenstone as a wedding gift to your nephew.
 
Smaug, the real King Under the Mountain.

I looked at Mam in surprise, trying to keep my face straight, as I wanted to laugh long and hard at it.
 
“Is this genuine?” I asked, smirking a little.
 
“I don’t believe so,” Mam replied, shaking her head. “Probably just some crackpot having a joke with us.”
 
“The Mirkwood elves?” I asked.
 
“Probably,” Mam replied, sighing quite heavily. “Where is your Uncle?”
 
“He’s in a meeting in the library, or should be, why?”
 
“We should go. I may not be queen, but I am the closest we have and your Uncle should have come to me to tell me that he is home.”
 
“Fili is seeing to the horses. We should find him before we go.”
 
“Agreed.”
 
I didn’t feel better after our talk. The letters only made me miss Hilda more, if that was possible. A message came that summoned me to the library, the place where Uncle Thorin had to conduct business now. The Cabbage was still being rebuilt and Baldric had turned the Meadhall into his base of operations. Mam sent me ahead of her because she wanted to fetch Fili. On my way to the library, I decided that the plans to retake Erebor could wait and I went to the Meadhall instead. It wasn’t intentional. I had just about enough being ordered around by my Uncle. I had never knowingly deliberately shirked my responsibilities before, at least not since when I was a small child and having fun with Fili and other dwarf children had seemed the most important thing that I could do.

I found Nori in the Meadhall. It seemed that Baldric had no power at all to kick him out of the hall, even though officially he was barred from the Cabbage. He was engaged in gambling with a trio of rather rough looking dwarves from the mines, as crooked as he was. It was clear from their attitude that all four of them were hell bent on screwing each other over to get all the money that their companions had in their possession. I also guessed that they were regulars that Dwalin had to lock up in the can, though I didn’t know any of them. That was probably fortunate for me, I think.
 
It was the first time that I wished the Cabbage hadn’t been destroyed by the orcs, but after getting a barrel mead from Baldric, the thief broke off the game, much to the consternation of his fellows and sauntered over to me. We spoke for a while and I admitted that I was a little upset and the thief showed me where he went to hide from Dori when he didn’t feel like working and wanted to avoid his older brother. His hiding place was where he also kept his stash of stolen liquor.
 
During the aftermath of the orc attack, Nori’d had a field day looting the remains of the Cabbage’s wine cellar and all the subsequent missing goods had been recorded as lost in the attack.

I was skeptical at first when Nori said that no one knew where he kept his stash, not even Ori. As the day wore on and the drunker we got and no one turned up, I began to believe that no one would find us. He told me of some of his more outrageous heists (probably exaggerated or invented, due to the drink) and I told him how much I hated my Uncle at that moment in time – I will clarify that – I don’t really hate Uncle Thorin, I know that he only wants the best for Fili and myself and that he would do anything for us. But he is far from the easiest dwarf to get along with and at that particular moment, to say I hated him was a pretty accurate description of how I felt about the whole situation.

“So is this all abert t’ wee hobbit lass o’ thine?” Nori asked, taking a swig of ale.
 
“Aye,” I replied, meeting the other’s gaze.
 
“Eh, this is why ah dunt involve mi sen wi’ women. Too much trouble.”
 
“It’s not Hilda causin’ t’ trouble,” I said, slipping into Nori’s way of speaking because of the drink. “It’s mi Uncle.”
 
“Tha sees, lad, this is why ah live only fo’ mi sen, an’ no one else. Ah’ve no one but mi’ sen t’ please.”
 
“An’ why tha hides ‘ere from Dori,” I said, laughing a little bit.

“Look, lad, if tha really wants t’ be wi’ this girl, teke no notice o’ what tha Uncle or anyone else seys fo’ that matter. Tha’ livin’ tha life, not theirs. Most folks think ah’m a selfish git, an’ ah wouldn’t argue wi’ ‘em, cos’ ah ‘am. But as ah live only t’ please mi sen, an’ mi Mam sometimes, ah’m a lot happier fo’ it.”
 
“So tha’s seying ah should just goo back t’ Shire, find her an’ marry her, regardless o’ what anyone else thinks?”
 
“Aye.”
 
“Mekes sense,” I said, getting to my feet. I was a bit wobbly on my feet and would have set out to go all the way back to the Shire that very moment, if I’d not fallen flat on my face. Nori chuckled and I burst out laughing until I felt quite sick.
 
“Not so fast, lad. Tha’d better sober up fost!” Nori exclaimed, loudly, still laughing. The laughing was infectious. Who’d have thought that Nori, of all people, would have the best advice? Or at least the advice that I wanted to hear.
 
I would probably get an ear full from Uncle Thorin, Mam and others besides for choosing not to go to the library, but I am glad I had this conversation with Nori. It made things a lot simpler and confirmed what I had wanted to do from the start.
 
It was dark by the time I emerged from Nori’s hiding place. I must have found my way home somehow because I woke up in the sitting room at home with an extremely bad hang over and with Uncle Thorin, Mam and Balin standing around me, peering down at me.

Chapter Text

2nd Thrimidge

Attending a serious meeting with a massive hang-over is not something that I would recommend, but the hang over pales in comparison to the lecture I’d had from Uncle Thorin and Mam. To say they were displeased with me is an understatement. Of course, what really made me feel wretched was the absence of Hilda and not the hang over at all.
 
We met in the library that morning. Ristil and the druid woman were absent because Gandalf had spoken to them yesterday. It turns out that because I didn’t bother turning up that they hadn’t discussed anything about Erebor, which is one reason why Uncle Thorin had been thoroughly annoyed with me. I’d wasted his time. Gandalf was present at the meeting, along with Uncle Thorin of course. My cousins Balin, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin, and Gimli were present. Fili was present of course and we were sat together with Mam, as we usually were on such occasions. Bofur, Bifur and Bombur had turned up, as had Dori and Ori. For some strange reason, Nori was present too. I’m not sure how Nori had got wind of the plans to retake Erebor, but someone must have told him. I wonder if I had let something slip during our drunken discussion the day before, but I couldn’t recall if I had.
 
There were some of the dwarf women present – Bild, Gloa, Skafid, Vif, Lyngheid and Lofnheid.
 
Uncle Thorin was looking for volunteers for the venture and all of the dwarf men present, including Gimli, wanted to go. Many chose to go out of honour and loyality to their king, and I suppose for the most part, that was my motivation as well. I may have deliberately disobeyed Uncle Thorin yesterday, but it was very out of character for me and my anger with him had now gone, for the moment.
 
I expected Mam to object to Fili and I making up part of the party, but she didn’t. There was some lengthy discussion as to whether or not Gimli should be allowed to go on account of his age. In the end, it was decided, much to Gimli’s disappointment that he would stay behind. That left only thirteen of us to go, an unlucky number.
 
Uncle Thorin began the process of writing lengthy letters to cousin Dain and the heads of the six dwarf clans to discuss the matter of retaking Erebor. The druid woman employed ravens to deliver the messages, with her own companion bird going to Dain.
 
Gandalf still insisted on including this Boggins fellow as a burglar, which clearly irritated Uncle Thorin, and started a lengthy discussion on the usefulness of hobbits. There was a lot of doubt, of course and I was quite annoyed at everyone who spoke ill of hobbits. It felt like it was directed at Hilda and I tried to leave, but Mam stopped me. I needed to be there, she insisted. There was some talk on the habits of dragons, which Gandalf spoke at length on, and why we should add an hobbit to the company.

“There already is a burglar in t’company,” Nori said, meaning himself.
 
That drew a scathing look from Dori and his mother.
 
“But the dragon knows the smell of dwarf. It doesn’t know the smell of hobbit.”
 
“Excuse me, Mr Gandalf. But wouldn’t that make a hobbit stand out more?” Ori asked.
 
“Not necessarily,” Gandalf replied.
 
That started off a debate about whether or not a hobbit would just be a burden to the company. I stopped listening. Hilda had been anything put a burden while she had been with us. She had saved my life once, she had cared for me while I had been ill. Hilda had tried to hold her own during the attack on Thorin’s Gate, and she had tried to help in any way she could. Of course, I might have a biased opinion on the matter, but she had been no where near as useless as some thought her to be.
 
“We can do nothing now but wait for Dain’s response and that of the other clans,” Uncle Thorin said. “But I must impress upon you all the importance of secrecy of this mission. It must not become common knowledge to those outside this room and the dwarves I have informed.”
 
He looked pointedly at Ori, Nori and Lofnheid as he said it.
 
The meeting broke up and everyone left the library. I wondered, as we were not leaving for Erebor straight away, if there was time for me to visit Hilda before the quest started, but I decided it would be wise not to broach the subject for a few days.

Chapter Text

5th Thrimidge
 
The spring equinox passed by about a month ago and I was so preoccupied that its passing was missed completely. The days are longer, with the hours of daylight now out stripping the number of dark hours in the day. Normally this would have made spring a happy time, but not for me this year. Light, in effect, has returned to the world, but not to my heart. He did visit me one night in my room at the Prancing Pony because he wanted to comfort me. It was a risk we took of course, and we were intimate with each other again. I hoped that I was with child, but as time passes, that hope wanes as there are no signs that I am. I have still had no word at all from Kili and so I must assume that my relationship with him has ended, much to my own sadness. I am beginning to think that Kili has forgotten all about me, and that is an unhappy prospect.
 
One spring morning in early Thrimidge, I was sat on the bench in the back garden working on a patch work quilt. Deidre has been luckier than me, in both her love life and her family life, for she is expecting again. I should be happy for her, I guess, and I am, but it is difficult for me to push aside my own disappointment, I guess, because there hasn’t been enough time since I lost him to forget about him and he is always on my mind. I wanted to make something for the baby because I needed the distraction. Perhaps it would help me in getting over my loss and give me something to look forward to in the future. I needed it.
 
One day I hoped to be able to move out of my cousin’s house and set up a small place of my own. If I ever open myself up to love again remains to be seen. It is too soon for me to think of such things at the moment, but when the farm chores were done and I didn’t need to help Deidre with the children, I set to work on making the items that I would need in a new home. Perhaps one day, I would be able to retrieve the items from the farm house, if they were in condition to be used, of course.
 
Trotter is laid at my feet, sleeping in the warm spring sunshine. Trotter has become a lazy dog of late. There is no work for him now, but he is my constant shadow and I do love him for that.
 
I heard a flutter of wings and a load corak, which caused me to look up from my work. It was the raven, the druid’s companion and he had a scroll of parchment attached to one of his legs. I put down my sewing and he hopped onto my lap and allowed me to take the scroll. I carefully unraveled it, and my heart leaped for joy at the words it contained because I never thought that I would hear from Kili again. It was a letter from him, short, because the raven had to carry it, but it was the best thing I could ever have received at that moment in time.
 
The raven hopped to the ground as I read the letter. He apologised for not being in contact with me sooner, but the plans for retaking Erebor have been taking up much of his time. He misses me greatly and he hopes to come and see me soon. He finished the letter by writing his name in dwarven runes. Of course, it wasn’t a long letter, but it made my day and it restored some happiness to me that had been lacking before. I think it was the knowledge that he really did love me that uplifted me. There was hope after all!
 
I felt a like a giddy teenager as I wrote back a short response and I fed the raven and gave him some water to drink while he waited to go back, as it was only polite that he be rewarded with refreshments for his troubles. I wondered just when I was going to see Kili again. The only problem now was that time still dragged, as it had since I walked away from Bag End and that was the result of being unhappy and wanting the sadness to end. Now it dragged because I wanted to see him – the excitement of seeing him again and the longing combining to make the time pass as slow as possible because he was not here. I wanted to take him in my arms and have him place gentle kisses all over my mouth and throat. I wanted him here….

Chapter Text

6th Thrimidge
 
Fili and I were in Balin’s office, looking over the responses to Uncle Thorin’s letters to Dain and the heads of the other dwarf clans. We weren’t particularly interested in the responses over Erebor, at least not at that moment in time, though we both would be when the time came to go. We were interested in something which was a bit more personal to both of us. Within the same letters, Uncle had requested information about any high-born, eligible dwarf ladies in the settlements who might make a suitable wife for one or both of us. The prospect filled me with dread, because I still wanted Hilda. Of course, where Fili was concerned, he wanted to know what he was in for before they arrived and he was swamped with a slew of them all wanting him. I didn’t envy him and I just hoped by then that Mam had talked some sense into Uncle Thorin and dropped the whole thing where I was concerned. One could hope of course…. One could hope…
 
Most of the responses were directly from the “royal families themselves,” with a few more from common hopefuls. We only had responses from the Firebeards, Broadbeams, Stifbeards, Blacklocks and Stonefoots. We’d heard nothing at all from the Ironfists, but the Ironfists weren’t like the other dwarf clans. I shall explain that in another journal entry, I think. The women were all young enough, but –
 
“Urgh…this one is by far the worst of them, Kili,” Fili said, showing me a painting of the lady in question.


 
“I’ve seen orcs that look more attractive, brother. I hope that you don’t get landed with her!” I agreed.
 
“Who says that I will end up marrying the lass?” Fili teased. “She might end up being your wife!”
 
I thought about it for a moment. “Maybe Uncle will understand if I tell him that I want a life of celibacy?” I replied.
 
“What, and leave your poor brother to deal with these women by himself?” Fili asked. “I’m shocked that you would consider such a course of action.”
 
I sighed. “Fili, now you know how I feel about Hilda,” I pointed out.
 
“I know. You’re always moping around the place because Uncle chased her away,” Fili replied, sympathetically. “Maybe he’ll change his mind once Mam has had a few words with him.”
 
“I hope so,” I replied, but I really didn’t hold out much hope for that. Perhaps eloping would provide a solution to my little problem?
 
“Who is the lass, anyway?” Fili asked, “So that I know to avoid her when she does arrive?”
 
“She’s called Brud, the daughter of Jarl Andarvi of Uri's folk,” I replied.
 
“A Firebeard?” Fili replied. “That just about fits…”
 
The Firebeards were the clan that were involved in the trouble with the elves of Dorith, or so I’ve been told. A shameful part of our history to be sure, and no one knows who is to blame for the trouble. Was it the elves, or the Firebeards? No one knows for sure, but it is the source of our enmity with the elves. The dwarves blame the elves, the elves blame the dwarves. Balin always told me that both were to blame equally for the rift and this was long before the troubles my Great grandfather, grandfather and Uncle had with Thranduil. It turns out that Thranduil is a descendent of those very elves. I wonder if Thingol had been his grandfather. It is an awkward situation if ever there was one.

“Em, this one looks nice,” I said, passing him a painting of a dwarf lass. I really wasn’t paying much attention to it, other than the fact that she was quite pretty, her hair braided and she had no beard because she wasn’t old enough to have one. She was also depicted as carrying a fine sword which looked like it was Bild’s work.
 
Fili took the picture from me and examined it closer than I had and he rubbed his forehead. “That’s Lyngheid!”
 
“Oh yeah…” I said, taking a better look at it. Because she was a close cousin of ours, she was out of the running of a match for either of us, mores the pitty. I think she would have made a good wife for my brother, otherwise. We knew that she was brave and honourable, which is what anyone would have expected from a child of Dwalin. We needed to marry outside of our own lines and only a very distant blood relative could ever be considered a suitable wife for a Durin. Because females were rare, it was very difficult to find one in the first place.
 
“You know, I’m beginning to understand why Uncle Thorin never got married,” Fili said, in frustration. “These women are ugly, even by dwarf standards.”
 
“Uncle Thorin never married because Bild won’t accept him,” I pointed out. “On account of Uncle Frerin, even though they’re both crazy about each other.”
 
“It’s frustrating, brother. I am to be king one day and the queen at my side must be beautiful.”
 
There was an obsession among the “royal families” (the line of Durin being an exception) of keeping the bloodlines pure. That wouldn’t be a problem apart from the fact that dwarf women are few and too much close breeding resulted in some very ugly babies and only compounded fertility problems. If you did the same too much with a line of livestock, you would soon breed it out of existence.
 
“Maybe they have wonderful personalities,” I suggested. I didn’t want to see my brother unhappy and I didn’t want him to be alone. “You’ve not even looked through them all yet.”

Fili threw a crumpled piece of parchment at me, which I dodged. “I’ve met most of the Firebeards and Stiffbeards, at least of their ruling line. None of them have wonderful personalities,” my brother said. “Your toast if any of them take a shine to you and no one else takes a fancy to you, Kili."

"It won't come to that and stop teasing me."

"Alright. Let me see the next one,” Fili said, a little disinterested.
 
“She’s not too bad,” I said, passing him a painting of a young dwarf lady. She was blonde, her hair braided in an elaborate style and richly dressed. “I think she would be nice.”
 
Fili took the picture from me and studied it. “She seems a little haughty to me, brother, and snobbish. I don’t want a lady who is too vain and obsessed with hoity-toity ideals. Who is she?”
 
“She is Arinnefia, a cousin of Jarl Alf of Tulin's folk,” I replied.
 
“Ugh… a Stiffbeard? Figures. They’re obsessed with money, pomp and appearance. If one of them were on the throne, either here or in Erebor, no one would ever hear the end of it. I met Jarl Alf once and he’s a right aristocratic clod. Thinks he’s Mahal’s gift to the Durins.”

“So she’s out then, brother,” I said, stifling a laugh.
 
“Definitely out, brother. But I suppose I have to humour them a little, just out of politeness. If one of the other ladies from one of the other clans expresses interest in me, then I’ll be glad of the distraction. I can politely but firmly refuse without causing any trouble, but you may not be so lucky, not that I want such a fate for you, little brother.”
 
“Hey, it might not come to that. Hilda?”

There are times when I just want to smack my brother and today really is one of those days. I didn’t say anything to him, just looked at him darkly. I think he caught my expression.
 
With a smirk, he handed me a letter. “This one is for you, brother.”
 
I took it from him and read through it. It was from a dwarf lady begging me not to marry Hilda and it expressed her undying affection for me. My jaw dropped, until I noticed that the handwriting of the runes looked wholly familiar.
 
“You put Ori up to that,” I said, resisting the urge to punch him in the mouth.
 
Fili laughed at me. “You should have seen the look on your face.”
 
“Ori is lucky I don’t skin him alive….”

Fili grinned at me. “Hey, it was worth it just to see the look on your face.”
 
“Try to be funny like that again, brother, and I will personally make sure that Mam and Uncle Thorin force you to marry either Brud or Arinnefia,” I said, holding up the pictures of the two ladies in question. “In fact, I’ll make sure that you’re forced to take all the unmarried women of those two clans into a harem.”
 
“You wouldn’t dare, Kili,” Fili said.
 
“Want to put a bet on that, big brother?” I threatened, with a wide grin on my face.
 
Fili smirked at me, and retorted. “You’d better hurry up and marry Hilda, or I could convince Mam and Uncle Thorin that you want to marry one of these charming ladies, especially that one.”
 
Fili laughed harder and so did I, eventually. I could see the funny side of it.
 
“Maybe you should have eloped with the elf maiden. This problem would have been sorted out then,” I said, a little too loudly.

Unfortunately, Uncle Thorin, Balin, and Mam chose that moment to enter the office and had over heard our conversation.
 
“Fili, Kili, this is no laughing matter,” Uncle Thorin barked at us both, especially me.
 
I shut up immediately and didn’t argue. It was disrespectful, I suppose, discussing the ladies in that manner. I felt ashamed.
 
“No harm has been done, Thorin,” Mam said, always trying to calm the situation but from her expression, I think she was angry with us both as well and she turned to Fili. “Have you looked through them all, son?”
 
“I have,” Fili replied, but we had been goofing around so much that we hadn’t bothered looking at the ones from Linnar's, Var's and Vigdis’ folk, but neither of us mentioned that because it would probably make Uncle and Mam angrier.
 
“Have you picked one?” Uncle Thorin asked, crossing his arms across his chest, and looking at Fili in a stern fashion. The way Uncle Thorin spoke said that he better had, or there was going to be trouble. I didn’t envy Fili, but I knew that it was only a matter of time before he would turn his attention to me. I had to admire Fili’s honesty, if nothing else.
 
“None appeal to me, Uncle,” Fili replied.
 
“Dis, Kili, Balin, would you mind leaving? Fili and I need to have a private talk.”

We waited in the library while Uncle Thorin attempted to talk some sense into Fili. I told Mam and Balin that Fili didn’t really like any of them, in the hope that they would talk sense into Uncle Thorin over the issue. I think they should just leave Fili alone. He will find a lady in his own time, if he wanted to marry.
“Fili will be king one day. He has a responsibility to carry on the Durin line,” Mam said.
 
“You mean like Uncle does? If he had a wife, then this pressure wouldn’t be on Fili.”
 
“Now lad, that is uncalled for. You know that the situation with your uncle is complicated. It is unfair to say such a thing,” Balin said.
 
I think I was just angry with what had happened to be recently regarding my Hilda, and felt like having a go at everyone because of it.
 
“Balin’s right, Kili. And no matter what your problems are with your Uncle, you need to show him more respect than you are at the moment. I am just as disappointed as you are regarding what happened with Hilda, but you brought it on yourselves,” Mam said.
 
“I love her, Mam. I cannot deny my own feelings. I don’t understand why my Uncle pushed her away like that.”
 
“Lad, you are royalty and as such you need to behave in a manner which is not expected of common folk, even if they must behave in a noble fashion themselves. You may love this lass, but there are certain protocols that you must follow. That is why your Uncle is angry with ye. Give him time and he will calm down and you’ll be able to see her again, but if you behave badly, you’ll only delay your Uncle’s acceptance of her,” Balin said.
 
I suppose that what he did have to say made a lot of sense, but I didn’t want to hear it at that moment. I wasn’t thinking rationally at all. I think Dwarven puberty is to blame for it. For dwarves, the transition begins at forty years and lasts until we are in our 80s. Fili, Gimli, Ori and Lyngheid and Lofnheid are all going through it and it can drive you crazy.
 
“And Kili, you should not be using your feud with your Uncle as an excuse to be rude over Fili looking for a wife. I didn’t raise you to behave like this and neither did your Uncle. Your father, if he was still here, would be ashamed of ye, and your uncle, grandfather and great grandfather would be as well, not to mention Fundin.”

I had to concede that, but there had to be a way to compromise on the situation. I didn’t want Fili to be unhappy and stuck with a woman unsuitable for him and I said as much. I even suggested that we invite families with suitable choices for Fili to come to Ered Luin so that he could choose for himself who he wanted. That made Mam a little angry with me.

“I like your idea, Kili, but something like that would have to wait until we have retaken Erebor. We can’t host a lot of families here. The mines won’t support them. The Blue Mountains are too poor a place to hold such an event. If they saw the lodgings we kept, none would want to marry your brother,” Balin said. “Many might even turn away from the Durins completely and that would be a disaster for our race.”
 
“That is right,” Mam agreed. “These days the line of Durin must rely on its reputation alone. This is why your behaviour must be impeccable and above reproach. We cannot afford you to act irresponsibly, son.”

One thing puzzled me. If my family really were ashamed of their current situation, why did they want anyone to come here at all?
 
“But the clans have been invited to Ered Luin to discuss Erebor. If you don’t want them coming here, why invite them?”
 
“That is different, lad. It is about reclaiming what is ours. We have a responsibility to reclaim that mountain, and to reclaim Moria because without it our people have no future. It is not just about the pride of Durins, and it is not just a case of avenging ourselves upon the dragon, though some will no doubt see it in that light,” Balin explained. “If it was up to me, though, I would be happy with what we have. At least we have each other, but reclaiming Erebor means so much to your Uncle. I cannot dissuade him from it, even though I have tried countless times.”
 
“Besides, it is traveling season, now, son,” Mam said. “Some may choose to come to Ered Luin anyway.”
 
Balin chuckled at that. “Let’s hope they do,” he said. “Or Kili maybe next in line and we could have a hobbit for a queen.”
 
I really hoped that Uncle Thorin was not listening in on our conversation. He is angry enough with me already, but there’s nothing for it now. Words, once spoken, cannot be unsaid no matter how much we would wish otherwise.
 
“I have been thinking about that,” I said. “I want to visit her. Nothing can be done about Erebor until the clans are here to discuss it anyway.”
 
I had received Hilda’s reply that morning and I was excited about going to see her. I had been in my bed at the time, woken up by the raven banging his beak against the window pane. It had been the best news that I could have woken up to, other than waking up to find Hilda standing over me. Mam sighed, and looked at Balin.
 
“Go, lad, but Fili must stay – in case any of the ladies should come calling,” Balin said. Mam nodded her agreement.
 
“Your Uncle and I discussed this. He doesn’t completely approve, but he thinks that you should have a chance to make things up with her.”
 
That was the best news I’d had for ages. I went off to round up Ori, Gimli, Lyngheid and Lofnheid to see if they wanted to go with me. It was disappointing that Fili would not be accompanying us and we had spoken about going to see her over supper last night. But Fili had important duties in Thorin’s Gate. Ori wanted to apologize for what he had done in regards to the article and the two lasses wanted to see their friend. It was difficult for them because they knew so few women. Gimli wanted to get away from his mother for awhile.
 
I found Ori and Lofnheid kissing in an isolated corner of the library. Their relationship wasn’t really a secret, if you looked beyond appearances which most people didn’t often do. I’ve never asked if they have ever slept together. I don’t think they had, to be honest. Ori is very gentlemanly and quite shy. I wondered if Dwalin knew about his daughter and the young scribe? Of course, Ori had drawn everyone’s attention recently because of the Ered Luin Chronicle, but he was so quiet much of the time that you barely noticed his existence. It was probably what made him such a good reporter, and Lofnheid was even quieter than him.
 
I often guessed that there was something going on between the two of them, but finding them like that in a public place did come as a surprise. It was very tempting to tell Dwalin what his daughter and the young scribe had been up to, but I had no desire to see Ori lose his head. Now that I knew for sure about him and Lofnheid, and he knew that I knew, there would be no more of those stupid articles in the chronicle. We had come to an understanding, I think.

Chapter Text

8th Thrimidge

It would take a few days to make arrangements for going back to the Shire and I found myself impatient to be off. The main barrier of course, was getting a certain number of the older dwarves to agree to allow us to go, most notably, my Uncle, Mr Dwalin, Skafid and Gloin.

Early one morning, I was tending to Bungo and the other ponies in the field outside our home when I saw Ristal going for an early morning walk. There was a light mist that morning, and it was cool, as it always is in early spring in the mountains. She appeared more relaxed now that she'd had a chance to rest and was safe amongst friends. Smiling, I waved at her and seeing me, she walked over to me, the hem of her gown dark with the damp dew.

"How are you settling in my lady?" I inquired when she had come within ear shot. A short distance away, my uncle's pony, Minty grazed, along side Mam's pony, and Rowan, the pony belonging to Fili, rolled around in a patch of dust. Hilda's Crowberry drank from the trough. It would have been idyllic, had a certain young hobbit lass been with me in that field.

Soon, I reminded myself. Soon.

Ristal gave me a shy smile in return. "Fine, my lord. Everyone here is so kind, especially your ma, but I do miss home."

I nodded. If I'd been forced away from my home just as she had, I think that I would miss home just as badly. I took a brush from the bucket and began to brush the dried mud from Bungo's coat. It had rained the night before and now that the warmer weather is coming, the ponies are allowed out to graze in the field more, but we do have to ensure that they do not over eat, as that can be bad for their feet. Every time we allowed them out over night, though, they got muddy, no matter how dry it was and both my uncle and my mother insisted that we kept their coats as clean as we could manage, a task which usually fell to me.

Curiosity had been nagging at the back of my mind ever since I had met her and I was intrigued as to what she and Gandalf had spoken about, even if I had been a little distracted at the time they had talked in Balin's office. I thought that now might be a good time to satisfy that curiosity.

"What happened to you, exactly? Why did you have to leave your home? I know that you gave Hilda and I a brief explanation, but I would like to know more, if you are willing."

Hilda, it always comes back to her, doesn't it? Everything….

It was probably something I shouldn't have said because her eyes became all fearful and, as I ran the brush along Rowan's coat, dislodging the dried mud, I added, hurridly, hoping to put her back at ease. "It's alright - you don't have to tell me if you do not want to." I had never seen someone so frightened as she looked, not even Hilda, after the orcs had killed her family.

"No, that's alright," she said, in a small, quiet voice. "I have told you some of it already and you didn't have to have helped me that night in Bree…."

At that point, I had to stifle a laugh. "My dear lady, I am a prince of Durin and we value honour above gold, even though many would claim not. To have done any less would have been dishonourable."

I just hoped she didn't think that through my laughing I was making mirth at her, which couldn't be further from the truth of things. I would never take amusement at the distress of a lady, but to think that I shouldn't have helped one in distress when I could, was laughable.

"There are woods people who live in Mirkwood and we are under the protection of Radagast the brown, but he has not been around for some time. My people became worried that something had befallen the wizard and that is how it began, when we first noticed that something was not quite right…."

I nodded. I remembered her heritage from the brief story she had related to Hilda and myself that night in the Prancing Pony, but she had not given as much detail on it.

"If you lived in the woods, then you are used to the dangers of it. Wolves, bears, wolverines and lynx…" I rattled off the names of the creatures I knew best to be weary of, if not completely afraid. "Would not bother you, would they?"

"They can be a problem, sire," she replied. "But I am not afraid of them for I know how to deal with them."

I inwardly cringed at the word sire. Yes, I am a prince, of course, but I am not used to people pointing it out to me, lowering themselves and elevating me above them. It is not something I am used to. I think that part of it is because we don't really live as royalty. We suffer and toil with those we rule and I don't any of us, not Bofur, Bombur, and Bifur, not even Ori, Dori and their wayward brother as being anything less than myself, and I know this feeling of equality with my people is not universal amongst the high born of all the other races. I think it is something put upon us by circumstance. Would I be brushing Bungo's mane and tail right now if that wasn't the case?

I tried to put her at ease in my presence.

"Please, my lady, you do not have to call me that," I waved the title away. "So tell me a little about your people…"

She stroked Bungo's head, as she replies. "There are many small groupings of woods-people in Mirkwood, mainly at the west end. We don't tend to venture to the eastern parts because that is where the elves live, and the wood itself seems to resent our presence. I would hesitate to call them villages, because many of these groupings consist only of family members. We would meet up in the summer, around the time of the solstice, and stay together until the autumn, to gather food, and then separate again for the winter. There really is only the settlement near Rhosgobel which could be called a village," she paused for a moment in her tale. "Did you know that there is a family of dwarves there? A blacksmith, and his wife, their three sons and two daughters?"

I shake my head, wondering what a family of dwarves would be doing in such a place.

"No, I did not," I replied, "But many of our people have become scattered in the years since Smaug took the mountain, so although it is a strange thought that dwarves would be living in Mirkwood, I wouldn't discount the possibility of it."

Ristal looked thoughtful for a moment. "I do hope that nothing has happened to them."

Dwarves living in Mirkwood! How unusual, and with a high proportion of dwarrowdams amongst them. I shall have to check this out, when I have the time, and I too, hoped that the evil that had touched the wood had not touched them.

"Thank you for telling me. They may want to come and live among us one day, if we meet them,' I inclined my head towards a fallen tree trunk which my uncle and Dwalin had dragged into the field which could be used to sit upon on warm days. "Would you like to sit down, my lady?"

She nods and I took her arm in mine and we walked over there. She took a seat on the trunk and I sat down in the grass, resting my back against the trunk. I glanced up at her. "But your er settlement….what happened?"

Bungo, not wanting to be away from me, walked over to us and grazed the grass nearby, reminding me of Hilda's Trotter.

"We weren't the deepest settlement in the wood, there were others further in and it were those who had problems first. We heard rumours, whispers that settlements had been destroyed in the winter. We thought them exaggerations and we've always had the occasional problems with orcs from time to time taking slaves - for what purpose, I don't want to know."

I nodded in understanding. There are many reasons why orcs would want slaves, and all of them vile if you ask me. I kept silent on that, keeping my speculations to myself. She appeared frightened and I laid my hand on her shoulder to bring her some comfort. "We had problems with orcs in late winter, and the hobbit lass who was with us in Bree lost her home to them." I hated describing her as the hobbit lass, but what else could I do? We weren't together now…

"It's alright," I said, after a moment. "Whatever horror you faced, you are safe here." I reassured her.

She took a deep breath and I could see that relating what happened to me was a difficult task for her. "They were rumours, until my brothers came across one of the settlements which had been attacked. There were bodies," her hands trembled as she spoke. "which had been drained of all their fluids. They were just sacks of bone surrounded by skin and spider silk, with no flesh left at all. It is how they feed, you see…."

"You don't have to tell me more, if you don't want to, my lady."

"Ah, but I do - it helps, somehow, to share it."

I nodded in understanding. "Then continue, if you wish."

"That was terrifying enough, when they came back with the tale. Then, a week or so later, my uncle and my cousin encountered undead one evening. My uncle died, defending my cousin from these creatures. He only just got away from them and if he hadn't, we would have had no idea at all what was happening, not that it really mattered much, for even though we prepared ourselves, it was useless, all useless in the end."

I stood and sat beside her on the log. "It is dreadful, losing your uncle, my lady."

"That's not the only thing," she said, looking down at the grass between her feet. "People began to disappear. My sister and her baby first, and then her husband. They were there one evening at sunset, quite close by with the rest of us, and mist rolled in as it got dark. In the morning, she and her baby were gone. Her husband disappeared searching for her," she shivered, and rubbed her arms, and it wasn't the cold of the day that caused her to do that. "Then my brother disappeared, and after him, I lost my mother. It was like something was hunting us and picking us off one at a time. My father went to look for Radagast, but he never returned, and it was just my cousin and I left. He told me I that I should go, before whatever was out there got me, too. I left him, I wish I hadn't. I suppose that he is gone too, now."

I took the lady in my arms and hugged her to give her comfort. It did not matter at all that she is taller than I. At that moment, it felt like she was tiny and vulnerable and I, I was strong and large, like a bear.

Chapter Text

10th Thrimidge

Tomorrow we will be setting out for the Shire. I don't know how long we will be gone, so Fili and I are spending the evening drinking mead in the field where we graze the ponies. Why does it feel like Fili is being condemned to a frightful fate? I do wish that he was coming with us. It seems wrong to be parted from my brother as we have always been as far back as I can remember in each other's company or not far away from each other. I will miss him, but duty is duty in the end, and it must be carried out if we wish it or not. I can only hope that he finds with one of these dwarrowdams what I have found with Hilda and I hope that she is beautiful, brave and kind like her.

We built a small fire and played our fiddles. Fili, being older, has always been a more accomplished player than I, because he's had more practice, but his duties as heir mean that he doesn't have the time to compose music like I do, so eventually I will surpass him in it. A shout announced the arrival of Ori and Gimli as twilight settled upon us and they joined us. Gimli and Ori had had a difficult time getting their respective parents to allow them to go tomorrow, and I wondered of Lyngheid and Lofnheid were having the same trouble. I hoped that they would come, but dwarrowdams rarely traveled anywhere, at least, as dwarrowdams.

I thought, as we waited for the lasses to join us, that it would be a good time to bring up the subject of that article with Ori. I don't know what thoughts Hilda still had regarding it, but it had upset her greatly and I think it one of the primary reasons for my uncle turning on her as he had. It was awkward, bringing it up and Gimli got up from the fire and left us to discuss it among ourselves. He saw it was something that we needed to work out between us and he wandered over to pet Bungo and Rowan. Crowberry sauntered over and nuzzled his shoulder, which caused me to smile. Minty, ever aloof for a pony if ever there was one, stood back and grazed with my mother's mount.

The smile died on my lips as I turned the talk towards that article. I felt horrible doing it. Ori is quite a timid dwarf and he has been a friend for a long while, but if there were ever going to be trust between us again, I had to do this. Fili, a supportive presence for Hilda and I stayed silent, not wanting to intimidate the young scribe, but there to help see that the wrong was put right.

It turned out that the article had never been meant for publication. He'd written it purely for the purpose as an exercise in writing, but he'd left it in a pile of parchments he wanted to put into the Chronicle. Lofnheid, if she had been setting up the press for that edition's printing, would have recognised it for what it was and would have asked him for confirmation if he wanted it in there, but she hadn't. She'd been ill and he'd not had the time to check through the parchments himself, nor set up the press because he'd been doing a task for Balin. So he'd asked Nori to do it, because Dori was busy working in the mines. Big mistake. He'd went ahead and put the thing in the paper without a thought thinking it was a proper article.

I was still angry about it, of course, even if it's inclusion had been a genuine mistake. I could tell that Ori was telling me the truth because of how he told me. It had been humiliating to say the least, especially for poor Hilda to have our private life exposed like that. Would I be able to salvage my reputation, and more importantly, hers? I don't know, but I will try. I told him that he never should have written the thing.

Tension was lifted by the arrival of the two sisters. It had been a battle for them to convince Dwalin to allow them to come. Their father had always been over protective of them and looking at Ori, I wondered if he would survive once Dwalin found out about him and Lofnheid. We drank and sang, filling the spring evening with jollity. It was shortly before midnight, when the embers of the fire were low that we brought our celebration to an end. This was due to mam coming out from the house to tell us that we should be getting rest in the morning if we were going to set out at the time we had planned.

Chapter Text

11th Thrimidge

Mam woke me up early the next morning so that we could be out on the road at an early hour and make good use of the daylight as we traveled. She was fussy, more so than when we had gone to Bree with Uncle Thorin because it was my first journey out of Ered Luin 'alone.' She had packed provisions for me, because she had this notion that I would have forgotten to do the job myself, or not make a good job of it. She warned me profusely about bears and other scavenging predators and gave me advice on how to keep from attracting them. She knew that I knew it, from my previous hunting trips with my Uncle, Dwalin and Gloin, but she wanted to ensure that she knew that I knew. If I'm honest with myself, I think she was more concerned than I was about the trip. She needn't have worried. Uncle Throin, Dwalin, and Gloin had taught both Fili and I well in that regard. I don't know what skills Ori had, and I wasn't sure about the dwarrowdams. I know that Gimli is capable, because we have taken hunting trips together and if I thought of it as a longer version of that, with a destination in mind, then I think we will have little trouble. I shall be the leader of this expedition in more ways than one. I am not only their prince, but I am also the oldest and, presumably more experienced than any of them. I will do my best to keep them out of trouble and get them to the Shire safely, but I do worry that I will fail them. I think I would have preferred Fili to come along with me and I had some idea now of what he had felt when he'd had to take over my Uncle's duties during his absence in the winter after we had found Hilda, even if it was on a smaller scale to his responsibility.

I was checking the riding tack for wear before I saddled Bungo and preparing Crowberry for the journey when Ori and the two lasses arrived with their mounts. It wouldn't do for leather to tear while we were on the road, especially if we were in the middle of no where. I also checked the horse shoes and their feet, to make sure that there were no potential problems there before we set out. Doing this for Crowberry was quite difficult, because of her size. As a dwarf, I am extremely strong, but Crowberry leaned on me quite heavily when I checked her hind feet, and that was exhausting. She's a heavy horse, and I don't know how the hobbits managed to care for her so well. I noticed that Lyngheid was doing the same with her pony and she encouraged her sister to do the same, and I smiled at her. She is capable - I know that. Ori was just milling around.

"Have you checked your tack and the pony's feet, Ori?" I asked him.

"Oh...right...Sorry, Kili. I'll get right on it..."

That question spured him into action. The lad's just not used to dealing with ponies, that I could see. I caught a glimpse of my Uncle, who had just come out of the house and was standing by the fence to the paddock. He nodded his approval at me, which embarrassed me, but also made me feel that I had done good at the same time. We've both let each other down do much lately, and I was glad that he was proud of me still.

Of the two lasses, Lyngheid looked the most confident, but Lofnheid, always the more bookish of the two, didn't seem quite so sure of herself. I noticed that she wasn't even carrying a weapon. After I finished with Bungo, I went over to my mother's forge and fetched her a small mace that my mother had crafted for use by dwarrowdams. Our women are strong in body, and formidable fighters, but like women of other races, they aren't as physically strong as our men, so their weapons tend to be lighter. She accepted the mace, though in an awkward manner.

"Don't worry," I said to her, so that the others couldn't hear. "You will find your feet."

When traveling, many dwarrowdams choose to appear as our men do, and that is what Lyngheid and Lofnheid had done so now. In some ways, it is safer for them to do so, and after what had almost happened to Ristil, I am inclined to agree, and don't blame them for their choice. The bulkiness of their traveling clothes kept their feminine features well hidden and only the sparseness of their beards indicated that they are women, but only an experienced eye, or another dwarf would be able to tell.
Mam had sent orders to the kitchens to fetch us a good breakfast of sausages, bacon and boiled eggs, which was brought to us by one of Bombur's ladies. We ate while we waited for Gimli, who hadn't shown up yet and I was starting to become concerned that there was no sign of him, even as we finished our breakfast. Where was he?

I was starting to worry that something may have gone wrong, so I asked Ori to fetch him. Had he changed his mind about coming with us? It was sometime later when the young scribe returned with Gimli in tow, leading his pony. The young dwarrow had overslept, which we suspected that Gloa had deliberately allowed to happen in the hope that we would get tired of waiting for him and leave for the Shire without him. We set off without further delay, anxious to get going on the road.

Of course, as we set off, my heart was much lighter than it had been upon our arrival back in Thorin's Gate, for now I was traveling towards Hilda, instead of away from her, getting closer to her with every step Bungo took.

Chapter Text

11th Trimidge - Late Afternoon - Early Evening

I do wish Gimli had got up earlier than he had. If he had, it would have saved us a hell of a lot of trouble on the road. Why? About half-way through the morning, the leather on his saddle gave way and upon checking it, I could see that it was well-worn. If he'd got up earlier than he had, I would have had the chance to check his riding tack and would have spotted this sooner, and replaced it with one in better condition before we set out. It would have saved us time in the long run, but because of his tardiness, we had to rush our departure from Thorin's Gate, and we've had to walk along side our ponies ever since. I was hoping that we'd reach the dwarven settlement of Noglond by evening, as I had promised my Uncle and Mam that we would stop there, and at every other dwarf settlement between here and the Hobbit town of Needlehole, at the northern entrance to Rushock Bog. It was to put her mind at ease because I knew that she would worry about us until we returned to Thorin's Gate. By promising her this, it would mean that she would at least worry less about us. Of course, I don't think Dwalin and Gloin would have wanted us to take the lasses and Gimli along if we didn't do that. There are some elven settlements on the road, which I don't think we can avoid staying at, but they are somewhat friendly. When we came this way with Uncle and the small company earlier in the year, we by-passed a lot of these settlements and only stopped at the dwarf ones. The elven settlements lie just beyond the farm Hilda's family lived at, and the last of the dwarf settlements, Gondamon, was before the inn where Fili and I met Nori after we rescued Hilda. I think it irked my Uncle that we had elves living so close to Thorin's Gate, and that was why he didn't want to stop there. There are other dwarven settlements in Ered Luin, but they are far off our road, so we will not be visiting them. Now, reaching Noglond this evening is impossible because of this set back.

Ori and Lofnheid are inseparable now that there isn't the looming presence of Lofnheid's father hanging over them, and it made me long for Hilda, just seeing them together. There is one strange thing which Ori and Lofnheid noted as we traveled along the road, and that is a thrush that has been following us. I thought nothing of it to begin with. There were always birds around in the mountains. This was evidenced by the majestic Hendroval I had seen as we descended into the Vale of Thrain. He was magnificent! I have heard stories of giant eagles - are they just legends? - and wonder, as I watched him dive and soar if what I saw is comparable. Some dwarves do not like the creatures for they are said to prey on young goats and foals. Perhaps they do, but I saw no need to let fly an arrow at it, and just enjoyed the sight of it flying free.

While we were seeing to Gimli's pony, I noticed the curious behaviour of the thrush. It seemed to me that it was taking more of an interest in us than I would have normally expected from a bird. It sat in a Bird Cherry tree, and studied every move we made while I inspected the ruined saddle. We took the opportunity to have a small meal at our forced halt, with that bird watching us all the time. Ori, always a kind hearted soul, broke up some of his bread and gave it to the bird, which took them quite readily, disregarding our presence. That is not the behaviour of a completely wild bird, I noted. It has some tameness about it, which I found very curious indeed. Then, all of a sudden, it departed. All this happened before noon, and we stopped for a rest half-way through the afternoon, and I took the opportunity to write in my journal.

We are some distance away from where we were forced to stop now, but we have no hope at all of making the settlement today. After our mid-afternoon rest, I spied a ptarmigan on the wing, and took aim with my arrow and shot it out of the air. It will do for dinner. As the late afternoon turned to early evening, we looked around for a suitable camp site and found one. Lyngheid is now kindly plucking the bird for our evening meal, to spit over a fire and cook with a few vegetables such as carrots, turnips, potatoes and parsnips which we have on us. Ori and Lofnheid are off gathering fire wood and Gimli is seeing to the ponies - a job I normally do, but on this occasion I decided that the task was better left to someone else while I patrolled the area for danger. The summer in the mountains is not as dangerous as the winter, but I still felt responsible for the safety of our companions.

The snow which covered the ground from mid autumn through to late spring in this part of the mountains had retreated to higher altitudes and the warmth of the day had begun to turn to the chill of the night. Although it often became warm in the day-time at this time of year in the mountains, the nights were always cold. There is no getting away from that. As I walked in the woods of the immediate vicinity of the campsite, I took notice of the early summer flowers that were growing, and knowing how much Hilda loved them, I wished that she was here to appreciate them. I hoped that some would still be around when we made the return journey from the Shire. I searched for signs of lynx, bear and wolf. Each represented a danger, though that from lynx and wolf had lessened now that the summer was here. They were lean and hungry during the winter months and as well as the danger from exposure, most dwarrows didn't let their children go beyond the safety of the town for fear a predator would find them. Bears, they posed no danger in the winter, for they were usually asleep in their dens, but in the spring and early summer, they were hungry from their long sleep and it is then that they are most likely to want dwarf on the menu. It is always a disappointment when I have to kill one of these beasts to protect myself, or others. I never enjoy it, or take pride in it, other than the fact that I have kept someone safe. A few winters ago, my Uncle, Fili and I had gone out to kill a rogue lynx which had been trouble the goat herds. We succeeded in tracking it down, and Uncle made the kill. He gave the skin to Mam for a winter cloak. We sometimes have the odd goblin or troll. Those I really don't mind killing because they are minions of Melkor and kill for the sake of destruction, not for food, and have no innocence at all about them.

I found no signs, of any, thankfully, but as I was making my way back to the camp site, I encountered a dwarf, with a thrush companion, as a matter of fact. He was almost bald, with a grey mohawk and a long grey beard. He had the look of a dwarf who was used to and competent at living out in the wilds. I had never met him before, but he was my Uncle's man, and he introduced himself as Nos Grimsong. As we walked back to the camp, he told me that he was a part of my Uncle's spy network, and it turned out that we weren't not far away from the Thrushstones, the place where he had his camp. He understood the language of thrushes and the birds were useful and discreet carriers of messages, but you had to understand them to be able to gain any advantage from the messages they carried and they were too small to carry parchment, unlike the ravens. Listening to his tale reminded me of the stories Balin told about the the ravens of Erebor, and I smiled, wondering just how long it will be before we're able to renew our alliances with the birds. Ori and Lofnheid were back at the camp when we got there and were in the process of making a fire.

Lyngheid rose to her feet to greet him, having finished plucking the bird, which was ready to be spitted over the fire, once the two scribes had got one going. Nos Grimsong was taken aback a little at the presence of not one, but two young dwarrowdams in my company, but he soon recovered. Lyngheid, who had seemed to have taken on the role, (unofficially, I might add) of my second, offered him a share of our meal, which he accepted. The two scribes finally got the fire going and Gimli joined us from seeing to the ponies. He was wanting to make up for his earlier embarrassing blunder over the riding tack, and I decided not to check up on his work right now - I would do it later, while he slept. I didn't want to dash his confidence by making him think that I didn't trust him with simple tasks. I now understood some of the difficulties that my Uncle had to experience as leader. Ori and Lofnheid took over the cooking, while Nos Grimsong told related to us some news that he had.

"You all must think that the king sent word to me to watch out for you, but he did not. I did not know that your company was due to be passing this way, my lord, but I am glad that the thrushes spotted you when they did, and I think that you will be, once you learn of the news I have to impart."

Ori stopped what he was doing, glanced at me and I nodded for him to speak. "What news is that?" he asked quietly.

"There is an abandoned dwarvern settlement near here, called Orodost. Or rather, it used to be abandoned." Nos Grimsong glanced at me with a grim expression on his face. "Goblins have over run the place and have made it the base of their operations in the area."

I sighed. "I had thought we had seen the last of that trouble, Sir Grimsong. I am sure that you are aware of the trouble we had with orcs this winter past?"

Nos regarded me with a grim smile. "Not much gets past my thrushes, my lord. I know of the trouble, and how you dealt with it, but you must understand something. Orcs, and goblins are like rats. Once you've got rid o' one bunch, another swiftly takes its place. It's inevitable."

"Then what are we waiting for?" Gimli roared, brandishing his axe.

I chuckled. I didn't doubt Gimli's bravery and willingness, but it was hardly appropriate for me to allow my little company to go rushing off to deal with a nest of goblins without the back up of older, more experienced dwarves. "You'll get your chance, Gimli, but for now, it isn't our fight," I turned to Nos. "I presume that you'll inform my Uncle of this latest threat, Sir Grimsong?"

The dwarf nodded, and Gimli looked deflated. "But they will probably be gone by the time we get back."

I know how he felt, for I too wanted to roust them, but it would have to wait until we got back from the Shire. I doubted that Gloin, Dwalin and Skafid would appreciate it if I led our company on a charge into Orodost to deal with these goblins and get my charges severely injured, or worse, killed. And I would like to have Fili fighting at my side. It wasn't something I was going to risk with the lasses and Gimli, and Ori wasn't really a fighter, even if is heart is brave.

I could tell that Lyngheid, as always, was keen, but her enthusiasm was tempered in comparison to Gimli's. "Don't lose heart, Gimli. I'm sure that there plenty of adventures ahead of us, even on this little trip. You'll get your chance to use your axe."

"And I'll get my chance to use my sling-shot!" Ori declared, which elicited a smile from me.

Nos shared tales with us of happenings before Fili and I were born while we waited for the bird to cook, and it was a pleasant evening, even if I'd not anticipated spending it out here, rather than at Noglond. The bird and the vegetable stew made a pleasant meal and our unexpected guest seemed appreciate the meal greatly. Although he said that he hadn't come to check up on us, I couldn't shake the feeling that he had. I know that Mam worried about us, and that she would want to reassure herself that we were alright. Ori entertained us with his flute playing and the evening would have been perfect if Hilda had been present.

Chapter Text

12th Thrimidge

The next morning we were woken by rain. The rain had dampened the fire out while we slept and as a consequence, we ate a breakfast of dry cram and drank cold tea. Tea, drunk cold, is disgusting, by the way, but it is all we had. It is impossible to get a fire going in damp conditions, so we didn't even waste the time trying to have something warm, though we really did need it as we were soaked through to our skins in our sleep. The rain was just a drizzle when we woke up, but it became heavier as the day wore on. After our sorry breakfast, we rolled up our sodden bedrolls, tied them to the backs of the ponies and set off for Noglond. My journal, of course, was kept dry and I am writing this in the comfort of a warm study. I really hoped that we would get there today, and not have to spend another night out here in the damp and cold.

Now, in the mountains, mist is always a common sight, but it is usually a light dampness in the air. On the highest peaks, however, it is low lying cloud, and not mist. I think Lord Ulmo and Manwe must be having some fun at our expense this day. Today, because of the rain, it hung over the mountains heavily and we couldn't see even a short distance in front of us, let alone the nearest peak, though there were the occasional breaks in it. It can also be quite eerie at times, when you can see the mist surrounding a nearby mountain come rolling down the slope towards you like an avalanche of vapor. I once over heard Oin say that such a phenomenon heralded ill tidings, but I didn't take him seriously. I find he has some strange ideas, and I was perplexed by what he meant by it, to be quite honest. Some of his medicine does work wonders, and you cannot say that he is a bad healer, but he comes out with some rather odd things that could be termed mystical in nature. I don't really understand it, and I do profess that I have a practical nature and the only artistry I perform is the music I play on my fiddle, and the designs I put into my metal-working.

The road was so obscured that Nos Grimsong decided to escort us the rest of the way to Noglond. I defered to his judgement because I've not traveled around this part of Ered Luin often enough to trust that I know my way in conditions when visibility is reduced, and after the setback of yesterday, I did not want to get lost and wander aimlessly through the mountains. What would my Uncle think of me if I let that happen? And, of course, I do have a duty of care to my companions. A part of me suspected that Nos Grimsong had planned on seeing us safely to Noglond, regardless of the weather and the visibility on the road. I kind of know that he is acting on my Uncle's orders, even if he does not admit it. It seemed too much of a co-incidence that he appeared otherwise.

We did not stop to rest that morning, mainly because none of us wanted to hang around in the rain and even after only an hour of hiking, I wanted to be warm and dry in Noglond. We did eat more cram as we traveled, because the mist and the rain caused the day to be cold, despite the time of the year. Ori, usually shy, felt at ease enough to recite some poetry regarding rain as we trudged through the mud. It was a funny passage, designed to keep up the sprits of those who listened to it and it was some what successful at it. It kept us going. It certainly helped make the journey time seem to be not as long, but by the time the fortress of Noglond came into veiw, I was beginning to lose heart that I was ever going to get out of this accursed rain. The sight of our destination did renew it, to a certain extent.

It was shortly after noon when we arrived in Nogland, and the helpful stable master, a dwarf who introduced himself as Leiknir, took our ponies and Crowberry off our hands and promised to feed them and once they were dry, groom them so that the mud they had aquired on their coats would come off. He frowned at the state of Gimli's saddle and recommended a leather worker who kept a stall in the courtyard by the grocer. We would have to see to that later, after we'd had the chance to freshen up after our travels.

We were met by Rothgar, an elderly dwarf who was the steward of Noglond. He reminded me somewhat of Balin, if he was more of a warrior than a scribe. He and Nos Grimsong appeared to know each other well. The other dwarf that met us was Grimkell Stonebearer, who was the commander of the guard of this small settlement. There were no dwarrowdams here, so Lyngheid and Lofnheid did cause quite a stir when they revealed themselves. We were offered temporary lodgings, which I accepted gratefully and a change of clothing, Rothgar being apologetic when he said that the lasses would have to wear trousers and tunics instead of dresses. Lyngheid scoffed at that, and Lofnheid found the situation somewhat amusing. Lyngheid has never been fond of dresses and avoids wearing them at all costs, and even for Lofnheid, they were an encumbrance, but they were forgiving since the dwarves here rarely saw dwarrowdams. I assured them that it was fine. I was glad to get out of the wet clothes and to don dry ones.

Our traveling gear and clothes were spread out to dry in the communal mead hall, where we were served warm ox-tail soup and bread, and mead. This hospitality soon made me forget the discomfort of the day and when we had finished eating, Gimli and I went into the small market place to find the leather worker who could make Gimli a new saddle. My Uncle had given me a quite substantial bag of gold and silver coin, so I paid for it out of that. The leather worker said that the saddle would be ready in a few days.

Because it was still raining, we went back to the mead hall and, with Ori and the lasses, we entertained ourselves until it was time for the evening meal. Nos Grimsong joined us then, and we dined on roast pork and potatoes. I over heard Nos Grimsong complain to Rothgar about the lynxes which were always trying to catch and eat his thrushes, and then about a dwarf called Thrasi who resided in a hunting lodge who had a pet lynx. There is a long running rivalry between the two, and I must admit, I am unsure of which side to take, so I wisely stayed out of the discussion. I'm not even sure what stance Hilda would take on it. She might have agreed with Nos, due to her background as a farmer's daughter, but because she had a kind heart where creatures are concerned, she might have sided with Thrasi. That evening, after our meal, we enjoyed an evening of music and storytelling, brought on by my presence there. There was a small community of dwarves that lived in Noglond, and they all joined us in the mead hall that evening. It is mainly made up of guards, and a handful of traders and cooks, all of whom my small company and I would get to know over the next few days. I do not know that I am going to do with myself while Gimli's saddle is being made.

Chapter Text

I was woken early next morning by Grimkell Stonebearer. He wanted to assist Nos Grimsong in getting rid of the lynx that had been pestering his thrushes and he would very much like me to join him and the small party of hunters who were going out to track the beast. Had Gimli's new saddle been made, I would have refused because I am keen to carry on with my journey. As it is, there is very little for me to do here in Noglond, so I agreed to go. The last time I had done any serious hunting was shortly before Yule, when I was gorged by that boar which ended up on our table. If I can face that, then I doubt that a cat, or a whole bunch of them, would be any trouble for me, and if we did catch any, I could send the furs back to Mam to make into a coat or blankets for the winter.
We had breakfast, which consisted of a big slab of bread, boiled eggs, bacon and cheese - all foods which had high energy content that will keep us going throughout the day ahead. I topped my breakfast up with a hot mug of tea - mead would have been my preferred choice, but I wanted to keep my head clear. Just because we were going after lynx on our hunting trip, did not mean that there was the chance of running into something else - bears, wolves, goblins, even wild boars! Though the Blue Mountains were safer than other mountain ranges of Middle-Earth, there was still danger to be alert for.

Of my friends, only Lyngheid showed any interest in accompanying us. Ori had found that the garrison held a small library - which was poor in comparison to Balin's back home, that he wanted to investigate. I have no idea what he thought he would find there - small libraries tend not to hold much of interest, but the curious scribe wanted to look anyway. For him, books were his treasure, not gold or jewels, but if looking made him happy, then I had no qualms about him looking instead of hunting. Lofnheid, of course, wanted to investigate the library with him.

Gimli was anxious over the construction of his new saddle and wanted to over see it. As a rule, dwarves love to craft, construct and mend, and though this dwarven trait is often attributed to metal-working, jewellery-craft and stone-masonry, dwarves will gladly take an interest in any kind of craft, and there are wood-workers, tailors, spinners, toy-makers - any kind of craftsmen among our people in Ered Luin. All of us, Ori, Gimli, Fili, myself and the two lasses were at the age where we were trying to discover what our 'craft' was. Gimli had been searching for a craft to take in interest in quite diligently recently and he wanted to see how leather work was done, and this gave him the opportunity.

I had no problem with him staying behind to observe - finding a craft had been a problem for me, too. I sometimes envied dwarrows like Ori and Lofnheid - because they always seemed to certain of their path, even if, in the case of Ori, their social and financial standing had been a difficulty. I had tried many things - my sword I had forged myself, under my Uncle's guidance. A wood-worker had helped me create my bow, and I had made my archery bracers, thumb ring and gloves myself. I like taking care of the ponies, but that is not really a craft in itself, and I suppose part of my difficulty in settling on a craft is that one day I may be called up on to take the throne. There are many responsibilities that take up my time, or that I must prepare for, and as much as this puts pressure on me, the pressure on Fili is far worse. For now, I train for battle, care for the ponies and carry out what ever task I need to accomplish so that I can do these things. Music - playing my fiddle and games of hnefatafl are perhaps the only things I do specifically for my own enjoyment. Everything else as a sense of duty attached to it, as hunting these lynx do now.

With breakfast out of the way, I went outside to saddle up Bungo. The pony whinnied at me in greeting and I spoke to Leiknir, the stable master who was in charge of caring for the horses, riding goats and riding pigs. Yes, I did write riding goats and riding pigs. We do use them as beasts of burden because they can be hardier and, in the case of goats especially, more sure-footed in the mountains than ponies and horses. It is a strange sight for other races and those who aren't used to seeing them being used in that way. We didn't have a lot of them, though because when my great grand father was forced to flee Erebor, we lost most of them. There are some old dwarven settlements in the Blue Mountains that are remnant from the First Age that have them, and who have joined us in Thorin's Gate and they brought their goats and pigs with them. Balin says that Cousin Dain keeps and breeds them for his army. But my great grandfather had to make do with ponies after being forced out of Erebor, and this explains why they are more prominent here now. The riding pigs are not the soft, fat domestic creatures found in the Shire and in the farms of Men, but are wild, almost like that boar that gorged me in the hunt before Yule. Mam refuses to allow Fili and myself to have one for riding because of their aggression, even though we have tried persuading her more than once since we were forty. Her opinion on the matter is immovable, and though my Uncle secretly supports us, as her sons, he acknowledges that her decision on the matter is final. It was awfully tempting to take out one of those pigs instead of Bungo while Mam wasn't here, but if something happened, I would look a fool, so I decided to play it safe - this time. Perhaps if that saddle wasn't ready, I could take one of them out tomorrow. The riding goats are stubborn, but draw too much attention outside of the dwarven kingdoms, so it makes much sense that we have ponies instead.

Leiknir appeared to be in a jovial mood this morning and he appeared to enjoy his job of caring for the creatures in his stables. He was inspecting a worn looking bridle when I entered, and shaking his head, he tossed it on to a pile of old leather that would later be used as fuel in the fire place to warm the dining hall.

"I am planning on taking Bungo out this morning. Is he ready?" I inquired of the stable master. One of the important lessons that my Uncle and Dwalin had taught us was that ponies should not be fed before we exercise them because it can give them colic, - it was particularly important when a pony was going to be exercised intensely, which you could argue was what a hunting trip was and I was making sure that he hadn't been fed before hand. I shouldn't have worried, for the stable master knew his job well.

"Grimkell informed me the night before that there may be a lynx hunt today and I decided to wait until the party had gone out before feeding them. Your pony is good to go, my lord," he bowed his head respectfully, making me a little uncomfortable. Acknowledgement of my rank almost always makes me uncomfortable. Back home, none of the other dwarves bothered with it, unless there was an emissary of some kind visiting us, usually elves from the Refuge of Edhelion, Dullond or Celondim. When we traveled, we never traveled as a royal entourage might - we went about our business like common traders and it was a method I preferred, for it drew less attention to us. My Uncle and the rest of my close relatives were too easy a target for assassins if we traveled openly displaying who were outside of kingdoms held by dwarves. I suspect, however, with the other clans coming to Ered Luin I shall have to get used to my rank being acknowledged, though I do not have to relish it.

Chapter Text

6th - 19th Thrimidge
 
I had received word from Kili that he had set out from Ered Luin with Ori, Gimli, Lyngheid and Lofnheid. I was looking forward to seeing Lyngheid and Lofnheid, but I wasn’t so sure about Ori because of that blasted article. In fact, I couldn’t believe that Kili was still friendly with him. But I suppose I shall cross that bridge when I come to it, so to speak. The fact that he is coming to see me must show that he must have some remorse for what he did and I should give him the opportunity to apologize, even if it will be awkward, but Ori is the expert when it comes to awkwardness.

It was quite difficult for me to contain my excitement and I think my cousins and Aunt must have thought me quite mad. The children thought the whole thing was amusing. They didn’t know the reason why I was so excited of course. They only knew that the dwarf man I loved was coming to visit me. I had not told them of the difficulties I’d had. It was hard enough for them to come to terms with the loss of my parents and my brothers without giving them the burden of a hobbit lass with a broken heart. Now though, the misery of that had ended. My excitement waned when I realized that it would take some time for them to get here.

I tried to keep myself busy to distract myself, to make the time to his arrival go quicker, but instead it just seemed to drag on and drag on. The days seemed endless to me and I went to bed each day disappointed that he was not here yet. I had to stop myself from being disheartened by the wait, but it was quite tough for me to do so.

As the days passed by, I began to lose hop that he was ever going to come at all, and all kinds of irrational fears awoke in my heart. There were many dangers on the road between the borders of the Shire and Thorin’s Gate and orcs were only just one of those dangers.

One morning, more than ten days after I had received Kili’s letter, I went to the market, a job that Diedre usually did, but she was suffering from a particularly bad bought of morning sickness and I said that I would go to the market for our much needed supplies instead. My grandparents and aunt were coming round for dinner the next evening and she wanted a goose for the oven.
 
My counsin’s household did get through a lot of food, with four adult hobbits and three children living there and that was before you brought into consideration the addition of my aunt and my grandparents! If we hadn’t lived on a farm, I don’t know how we would have managed, food wise, most days. Hobbits get through a lot of food. But my cousin and my Uncle were hard workers and they deserved it.
 
Trotter, as usual, accompanied me on my errand. He is a good dog much of the time and hardly ever bothers people. The only time he strays from my side is when he smells a female dog on heat, or when he catches the scent of a rabbit that he must chase.
 
I decided to buy some extra vegetables as we always seemed to be running short of them, even on the farm. We got through lots of stews, broths, soups and on special occasions, roasts. I wanted potatoes, carrots, a bag of turnips, leeks, mushrooms and a few onions as well as the goose. I also bought the herbs and flour that I needed to make stuffing for the bird, and some milk that would make a batter mix that made puddings. No sugar was added to it – they were weren’t that kind of pudding! Those puddings and stuffing were one of the best things about the roasts we made and it would not be complete without them.
 
I was struggling along with my heavy load when Trotter suddenly disappeared into the market. There was not a thing that I could do to stop him and I could hear an excited amount of barking and yapping that filled the air. I wondered if he had got into a fight with another dog and that would be my greatest fear. Hobbits all around me turned to look at me as I called out to Trotter to come back. It was embarrassing because he ignored me and a particularly grumpy hobbit began to shout at me. I needn’t had worried about my dog’s safety and everything would turn out fine.
 
Kili emerged out of the crowd with Trotter dancing at his side. I put down my bags and in a moment, I was in his arms. We shared the longest kiss I could remember us ever sharing, and it didn’t matter to me if we were in public and everyone turned to stare at us. I had my dwarf prince back and it was a wonderful feeling, more wonderful than those times when we had been intimate with each other. Kili helped me with carrying the goods as he walked me to where Bungo was tied up.
 
“How did you know I’d be here?” I asked. The encounter seemed entirely random and unexpected.
 
“Your cousin Callum told us you were here. Ori, Gimli, Lyngheid and Lofnheid are waiting at the farm for us. I wanted to surprise you.”
 
“You did that alright, Kili! I was not expecting you at all.”
 
“Oh my dear lady, I keep my promises. It is expected of me as a dwarf and if a dwarf can’t keep his promise, it is because there is a dire problem preventing him from doing so.”
 
“Sweet talker…”
 
He flashed a grin at me and I couldn’t help but smile at him back, a little stupidly, I might add. He patted Bungo’s flank after putting down the bags.
 
“There is room in my saddle bags for this stuff. You shouldn’t have to carry it home,” he said, concerned for my comfort. The bags were heavy and we set about loading them on to Bungo, or rather, Kili did. The strength in the dwarf man’s arms always amazed me, so powerful and yet very gentle with me.
 
“No Fili?” I asked.
 
“Fili is occupied back home,” Kili replied. I could tell in his voice that there was a story behind it.
 
“That doesn’t sound good. Tell me what’s wrong.”
 
He shook his head negatively. “We can talk about it later. For now, I want to talk about us.”
 
“Alright,” I detected stress in his voice and I hoped that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I don’t think I have, but you can never tell. Dread filled me. Had he come to tell me that it was the end of things between us? I don’t know.
 
We walked back to the farm, taking our time as we did so. We apologised for the way we had behaved. Though to be honest, I didn’t know what Kili had to apologise for and I said as much. I was the one who had left, after all. He had never upset me in anyway. Things soon became clear when he admitted that he had not behaved entirely chivalrous towards me when we had been intimate and it was that which had made his uncle angry the most. In his eyes, I had led his nephew astray.
 
“That is something that we are both equally guilty of, Kili,” I said. “And it is not like I didn’t want it.”
 
“Aye, well, people think I took advantage of your vulnerability. I am a prince, after all. I should have controlled myself better than I did,” he replied. “And I should have taken better care with you.”
 
“You don’t think that yourself, do you?” I asked.
 
“Well, no, not the part about taking advantage of you. But to the eyes of others, that is what it looks like,” Kili replied, growing a little frustrated with himself. “I should have waited until we were married before I did that to you.”
 
“I suppose when you see it through the eyes of others, it could appear that way. But quite frankly, it is no business but our own, is it?”
 
“Not entirely. The line of Durin is on its knees, Hilda. We have to be extremely careful with how we appear to outsiders.”
“Ori’s article didn’t help. If we had kept quiet about…everything….”
 
“That cannot be undone now,” he replied. “I should not have let you go, or I should have at least gone with you when you left.”
 
“No, Kili,” I said. “That would have caused too much trouble between you and your uncle and…”
 
“I don’t think it would have mattered either way,” Kili said, before I could finish what I was going to say and he filled me in on what had happened afterwards.

I sighed as I listened to what he had to tell me, that his Uncle was thinking of forcing Kili to marry someone else. I was angry, to be honest. Why? Of course, it was not set in stone, but it killed my confidence somewhat.
 
“I’m surprised that your uncle let you come back here at all,” I said, fighting back tears.
 
Kili flashed me a grin, hoping to lift my spirits. “With Mam on the case, I don’t think that he really had much of a choice. But don’t be sad, Hilda. Nothing certain has been decided yet. My uncle may be king, he may be the father figure of my life, but in the end, it is my decision who I marry, not his. I will do all I can to put these ladies off and of both Fili and myself, I think it is Fili who has the bigger problem.”
 
I sniffed, wondering how I could be happy and sad at the same time? He is honest about the situation and I guess that is something. He could have lied to me to give me false comfort. He could have stayed away from me and never saw me again. The fact that he was here at all had to count for something, did it not?
 
“Please don’t cry, Hilda,” he said. Kili put his arm around my shoulders and we kissed in the lane. It was a tender kiss, full of love and gentleness. I wished at that moment that we didn’t have groceries to bring back to the farm because then we could have ridden off into the woods together. We continued on, Kili leading Bungo and holding me to him protectively. We were silent for awhile, so that I could regain control of my emotions. It wasn’t at all easy as they were so conflicted at that moment.
 
“What news do you have, dear heart?” Kili asked me after a while. He seemed quite eager to know. I smiled, thinking of my cousin and her baby.
 
“My cousin Deidre is having another baby,” I said. “I don’t want to leave her. She needs help around the farm and my aunt is unable to help her this time. My grandfather is unwell and it takes all her time to care for him and my grandmother.”
 
“So you would not come back to Ered Luin with me if I asked?” Kili asked me. I could hear the frustration in his voice.
 
“I can’t at the moment,” I replied. “You weren’t counting on that, were you?”
 
We stopped walking and he pulled me into an embrace.
 
“We will be going away to retake Erebor,” he whispered to me quietly as he didn’t want people to overhear. “I don’t know exactly when, but the timing all depends on when the clans can gather in Ered Luin to discuss it. I should be able to stay with you for awhile, my love.”
 
I kissed him again, glad of the reassurance. “I am glad to hear you say that.”
 
We walked quietly along, just enjoying each other’s company. When we got back to the farm, Callum and Uncle Farnan were busy working in the fields. The kitchen was a pigsty. Ori, Gimli, Lyngheid and Lofnheid along with the children were in the middle of a feast. It was a good thing that I had brought extra food, or there would be nothing for tea later. However, it presented another problem. There was nothing in for tomorrow’s dinner now.

I found Deidre taking a lie down in her and Callum’s bedroom because she wasn’t feeling well. Her morning sickness had not abated and she had a terrible headache. Oh boy, to say that I was angry was an understatement, I can tell you! When I re-entered the kitchen, I snapped at Ori. It was probably because of the article in the Chronicle more than because of the mess, but he bore the brunt of my anger. I just didn’t need the mess in the kitchen right now, and it was not the fault of the children in anyway. I was angrier with the dwarves than I was with them. They should have known better.
 
Kili told me to go outside and spend some time in the garden while he persuaded Ori, the sisters and Gimli to go to the market to replace the food they had eaten and to bring back extra to make sure that it would not happen again. At least that was the plan, but knowing how much dwarves loved their food, it would.
 
Even so, there was the mess to clean up and that ruined any ideas that Kili and I had of going for a walk in the woods as we had wanted to. The children wanted to help, but they were a hindrance instead, getting under our feet and throwing food at each other. That must have been something they got from Ori and Gimli. So I sent them to play in the garden while we cleared up.
 
I discovered that they had eaten the beef and vegetable pie that had been meant for Callum and Uncle Farnan when they popped in from the fields for a break That annoyed me more than the mess, to be honest. Callum and Uncle Farnan worked hard and they deserved better than to find that there was nothing to fill their stomachs when they came in to eat and have some refreshments.
 
Kili found the situation quite funny, which irritated me even more, and I snapped at him. He of course, decided to diffuse the situation. It was a nice gesture, but so inappropriate….

“I like it when you’re angry,” Kili said, with a smirk on his face, pinning me up against the kitchen table. He kissed me deeply and I almost forgot where we were. I enjoyed the sensation, but felt a little light headed.
 
“We can’t really do this here, Kili,” I whispered when we stopped for air. “Someone could walk in on us at any moment.”
 
“I know,” he smiled at me in a knowing way. “It just makes it more exciting.”
 
He lifted me onto the table and I draped my arms around his neck. We kissed, his stubble brushing up against my chin. “Does this annoy you, my lady?” he asked, flirtatiously.
 
“No, not at all, my lord,” I said, playfully, going along with the little game.
 
“A shame,” he said, pulling away from me, and smirking.
 
Smiling at him, I said, “I didn’t say that you could stop.”
 
“Yes you did,” he replied, looking at me in a teasing fashion.
 
“I didn’t…” I argued.
 
“Do I detect an hint of irritation in your voice, my dear?” He grinned at me, taking a step towards me again. “We’ll have to finish this some other time, when we don’t have the threat of someone walking in on us.”
 
“I think that will only happen once we have a place of our own,” I replied. “I need to sell my old farm.”
 
“Don’t worry about money, my love. I am a prince, a poor one, in comparison to most since we have lost our homeland, but I will find a home for you, only it may not be a palace.”
 
“Even a shack would be a palace to me if I lived in it with you, my lord,” I replied. I really did feel that way.
 
“A shack it is then,” Kili replied with a grin. “Though I would imagine that it would scandalize your sister-in-law when Fili gets married.”
 
“Is Fili going to get married?” I asked. Should I be happy that he was? I wanted him to be, but from what Kili had told me…
 
“My Mam, Uncle and Balin are merely looking for suitable candidates. From the lack of them, I think I am spared from it myself, though the threat is there. If I am, I am glad of it to be sure.”
 
“How so?” I asked.
 
Kili told me of Fili’s reaction. “My Mam was lucky, though. She found someone she could love that my grandfather approved of. Others, especially those with a good chance of inheriting the throne, aren’t always so lucky, I’m afraid.”
 
“Why did your Uncle approve of me to begin with? I’m not a dwarf. I’m not even high born, and he seemed to do his best to break us up.”
 
“My uncle is an odd sort, Hilda, especially if you don’t know him very well. He is often difficult with people he likes, or thinks has potential because he wants to test their character. He values people who are honest and loyal, but also aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. At the same time, though, if those he values shows weakness, he is let down greatly by them.”
 
“I believed that I had failed that test,” I said, sadly.
 
“Mam and Balin convinced him that you deserved a second chance. Fili did too and I think you know my feelings on the matter. But it wasn’t easy by any means.”

Chapter Text

20th Thrimidge
 
I was happy to see Kili for another reason and that was he had brought Crowberry to me. I was glad to have him back and he found a place on my cousin’s farm. I am glad because I don’t know what we would have done with him otherwise. He is a farm horse, not a riding one. Caring for a horse of his size that wasn’t a working animal was beginning to become problematic because he took a lot of looking after. I know that my cousin will look after him well.
 
Kili said that I should have a pony of my own and we went down to the farmer’s market which was on the day after he arrived. There were a lot of splendid animals to choose from and I wanted a pony that wouldn’t shy at the sight or smell of Trotter, so he came with us. In spite of the incident with Bild’s pony, Kili is a much better judge of the animals than I am. Since he was old enough to do so, Kili has always looked after the ponies belonging to his family. I also learnt of his age (insert it) and that amounted to a lot of animals over the years that he has cared for.
 
Fili helped him sometimes, but most of Fili’s time was taken up by learning about running a kingdom and caring for his people. Kili told me that he’d had some of those same lessons as well because there would be times when he would need to help his brother out and although no one liked to think about it, there may even be the possibility that he would have to take over the throne. I could see that weighed heavily on him and I wondered if it was a burden that I could help him with. Being a farmer’s daughter, I know nothing of running a kingdom. I suppose in the end all I could do was help Kili if I could.
 
It saddens me somewhat that Fili and Kili are only now nearing the end of their adoslence, and even though I will be twenty one this year, I will grow old and die long before Kili would and the thought of him going on alone without me brought great sorrow to me. It is not like those vampire romances where the vampire turns his or her human love interest into a vampire so that they could be together for all the ages of Middle-earth. There is no way to make me a dwarf, or Kili a hobbit to fix the problem.
 
I saw a small pony that would be just right for Deidre’s children and after Kili had looked at the pony to ensure that he was healthy, I spoke to the farmer selling him if he could keep hold of him until I could speak to my cousins about him. He was one of the smaller breeds, one which Kili told me that the dwarves sometimes used to help them in their mines to shift ores, coal and gems. But this pony had never seen such a life because he bore none of the injuries that such work inflicted on them. He told me that dwarves only used them for a short while for such purposes before allowing them to retire because the work was that harsh, and most dwarves cared for them very well. If they didn’t, at least in Ered Luin, they ran the risk of getting into trouble with Dwalin and the king, or worse, Kili’s mother. Kili told me that when he and Fili were young children, their first pony had been of that breed. Not even Nori, in spite of his dubious reputation, ever treated an animal badly. Caring for animals properly was a point of honour among dwarves, at least those of Durin’s line and who were directly in Thorin’s service.
 
We finally chose a mare that was docile, but unafraid of Trotter for me, and we bought riding tack so that we could both ride home. I am not used to riding horses. That day when I had ridden Bungo and rode down the human bandit had been a fluke. It had all been adrenaline based and something which I’d had to do or Kili would have died. I said so to Kili and he promised me that he would take me out riding on a regular basis until I got used to riding and could ride with confidence.
 
As we rode home, he told me to ride ahead of him so that he could see how I rode and so that he could tell me if I was doing anything wrong and advise me on how I could improve. It took us some time, mainly because I didn’t know how to tell Lily (what’s what I had named her,) what I wanted her to do. Kili was very patient with me and he rode Lily for a short distance so that he could try out commands that he had used to train the ponies he cared for. Fortunately, the hobbit who had bred and raised her had taught her similar commands, though some were slightly different, and she didn’t respond to commands in Khuzdul. He informed me that all the ponies used by his people were taught commands in his language. As not many outsiders knew it, it was a safe bet because no one could then command the pony to do something who wasn’t a dwarf and ally.
 
It was a joy to watch Kili with Lily. He was very good with her and he didn’t need to use a riding crop to get her to respond in the ways that he wanted her to. He admitted that sometimes they were necessary, but he hated using them because he considered the use of such things to be a cruelty. You still had to be firm, but gentleness worked better with them than brute force because force frightened them and made them uncooperative. I got to see that my dwarf man is a gentle soul that day, and it made me love him more.
 
We got home eventually, which was a good thing because Deidre needed my assistance. Her pregnancy was making her ever more tired and ill, so Kili and I finished the jobs which she was unable to do. We talked to her about the pony we had seen which we thought would be a nice surprise for her children. She said that if Callum was agreeable that we could get him for them.

Chapter Text

20th Thrimidge
 
I have learnt, from Hilda’s grandmother when we spoke yesterday evening that Hilda’s birthday is coming up tomorrow. It was one of the reasons why I wanted to take her to the farmer’s market to look at horses. Hobbits love a good birthday party, as was evidenced by the birthday party that we had witnessed as we passed through Hobbiton recently. So this evening, Callum, Ori, Gimli, the lasses and I met in the pub to plan a conspiracy.
 
It was a shame that Fili wasn’t here, because I think he would have enjoyed the event. In the last correspondence that I’d had with him while we were traveling that the raven had bought, he was thoroughly miserable at the prospect of having to speak to all these dwarf women who had started arriving at Ered Luin. They seemed nice at first, he said, but it soon became clear that they were interested more in the prospect of being queen one day than they were in him. The meadhall was still being used as the base of operations for the innkeeper Baldric, because as though progress had been made on rebuilding the Cabbage, it was nowhere near finished.
 
Balin’s office was being used to interview the women and they were disappointed that they weren’t being seen in the meadhall, being dined on fine foods as with the Durins and being entertained with song and poetry. They were impressed when they saw the library, the crafting hall and the outside of the meadhall, but they soon lost interest when they saw the poor state of the mines and our cottage. They expected more from the line of Durin, they said and to live above ground was unthinkable.
 
They left to seek better matches elsewhere. None of the women had been interested in Fili for being Fili – they were only interested in the rank he could give them and the wealth he had as future king. When they learnt that there was no wealth, only the prestige of hard, honest labour and that their king and his family were living in exile, it wasn’t enough. They were also annoyed because I wasn’t there to greet them. Some were insulted by the fact that I wasn’t there because they figured that if they didn’t get Fili to agree to marry them, that they could get their claws into me instead. Fili wisely rejected those women outright. The official envoys from the clans had not arrived yet, thankfully. I don’t think I needed to say more.
 
Uncle Thorin was starting to become impatient with Fili. When I related this news to my dwarven companions, a wistful expression crossed Lyngheid’s face. Dare I suggest her in my next letter to Fili? Should we have been looking closer to home, instead? I felt sorry for Lyngheid. I don’t think anyone had ever seriously considered her as a wife for my brother. Sometimes, you fail to see what is staring at you right in the face, don’t you? I don’t think this problem is going to be resolved easily. I would support her if she had the courage to make herself known to my brother. I sometimes think a lass we knew would be better than a stranger that we didn’t know. We knew her to be brave and loyal and she was the daughter of one of my Uncle’s most loyal companions. I think that counted for something.
 
Anyway, back to the party. It turns out that Hilda’s grandparents have plenty of decorations and Callum, Ori and Gimli would fetch them early in the morning to get them ready. The two lasses were going to concentrate on the food preparations. My job was to distract Hilda while they got everything ready. I do hope that Hilda will love the surprise that we are going to give her. I think she is deserving of it, after all the hardship she has suffered recently. The party is going to be a small affair for hobbits, since Hilda’s grandfather’s health was becoming increasingly fragile and he is very frail. His family fears that he will soon pass away from this world, which seems cruel to Hilda because of the losses she’s already had this year. Of course, we could make her happy with the celebrations, but the one thing that she wants more than anything none of us could give her and that was to restore the lives of her dear parents and her lost brothers, but we shouldn’t be dwelling on that at all, should we?

Chapter Text

20th Thrimidge

It is my birthday tomorrow. I have not told Kili about it because I really do not feel like celebrating it this year. With my parents and brothers gone, it really doesn't feel right. I miss them terribly and I think I always will miss them at the times in my life when something important occurs. They will not see my wedding, they will not see my child when it is born, and that is just the start. My birthday looms over me like impending doom. It is also dredging up memories of past birthdays, my own and that of those I have lost. This is painful for me. Not because the memories are bad in themselves, they were ones of good times, but because I know that it is something I will never experience again, and that is worse. It would have been easier for me if they were bad. The worst thing about these memories? I knew that I would never spend another birthday with them. They were gone, and I was never, ever going to get them back.

Chapter Text

21st Thrimidge

 

I arrived at the farm early on the morning of Hilda’s birthday. It wasn’t early enough to catch Callum and Hilda’s uncle before they began work in the fields, but I was early enough to find Hilda, Deidre and the children having breakfast in the kitchen. I had been up much earlier than that, making preparations for a surprise for Hilda. It was very difficult for me to contain my excitement, and I hoped that I wasn’t too obvious about my intentions when I arrived. The children saw me through the window and greeted me excitedly. I smiled at them. Children always seem to have a way of brightening up your day.
 
Deidre was in the middle of telling Hilda that she should take the day off.
 
“Are you sure?” Hilda asked. She looked concerned and for a moment I wondered if all our plans were going to be for nothing. I really did hope not, because I have been looking forward to giving my young hobbit lass a good day.
 
“You’ve been working very hard recently. I will be fine today,” Deidre said, looking across at me as I entered through the open door way. “You should spend the day with your young man.”
 
Hilda looked a little unconvinced at the prospect of taking the day off. I hoped that she wasn’t suspicious, or anything, because if she was, the entire surprise would be ruined.”If you’re sure you’ll be alright…”
 
“I will be,” Deidre tried to reassure her. “My morning sickness isn’t so bad today and your aunt will be coming around later to see me so if I need any help with anything, I can ask her for it.”
 
“Oh alright. If you’re positive that there won’t be any problems, I will go.”
 
Of course, Callum had drawn Deidre into the conspiracy. The children didn’t know yet. In their excitement, they would probably have let the cat out of the bag long before now. My job was to get her out of the way while the other dwarves got everything ready for the party later and I think I knew just how to do that.
 
I waited while she finished her breakfast and we went outside to sit on the bench for a few moments. Deidre asked me if I was hungry. I had already eaten, so I politely declined the offer of a second breakfast. The day was warming up quite nicely and it seemed a good day for what I had planned. Last night, I feared that it would rain today and all of our well laid plans to celebrate my love’s birthday would have been ruined on account of it.
 
“So, what would you like to do?” I asked Hilda. I did have something in mind, but I didn’t want to give the game away too soon that I knew what day it was and how special it should be for her,
 
“I suppose we could take Trotter for a walk in the woods,” Hilda suggested. The dog in question was sleeping in the shade of an oak tree which grew in the back garden.
 
“The walk in the woods sounds nice,” I said, “But Trotter will have to stay here,” I replied, hoping that not having him along wouldn’t upset her too much. I know that dog means the world to her.
 
“You’re up to something,” Hilda said, giving me a strange look. I tried not to grin too widely at her, knowing that if I did so, she would begin to suspect that something really was going on.
 
I didn’t say anything to confirm or deny it.
 
“Alright, keep your secrets,” Hilda said.

It turned out to be quite a hot day and as a result of this, Hilda was wearing a light skirt that ended at her knees and a sleeveless top. I hated to think what Mam would have thought of her outfit. But I found it quite…alluring? That would be a very polite way of putting it.
 
Dwarf women would never have worn such an outfit and I think a lot of the hobbits disapproved of it as well as we passed them. It could equally have been my presence. I mean, who ever heard of a hobbit lass and a dwarf man being lovers? I resolved to ignore the stares and I think Hilda professed to do the same. After everything she had lost, after all the things we had seen together do any of these people, hobbits, elves, men, other dwarves, have any right to judge us? I think not!
 
We eventually came to the oak wood that surrounded Frog Morten. The bluebells which carpeted the oakwoods had started to die off. For some reason, this made me sad. I liked them and I would have preferred them to be around all year forever, but that is not the way of Vana’s gifts. Her gifts are fleeting at best, unlike those of Yavanna which, like those of her husband Mahal, are made to endure for centuries, if not millennia. But Vana’s gifts are still beautiful all the same and it is their limited existence which makes them so precious and valuable. I said as much to Hilda and she smiled at the thought. It is often assumed that dwarves care nothing for green things of the world, but we love them just as much as we love Mahal’s creations, for they are the creations of his beautiful wife and her sister, and that must not be forgotten, but it often is.

We had explored the woods together before, when we had been on the way to Bree and had stopped at the farm for a few days. Back then, those visits had been brief and we had not gone far into them. Winter, or at least the last vestiges of it had been very much in evidence then, but now the Winter seemed so far away, as if it was part of another world entirely and not of Middle-Earth at all.
 
These woods were dark and ancient, which was indicated by in numerous places throughout the woods by the presence of ivy, holly and delicate wood anemones that grew in patches on the woodland floor where the canopy had failed to block light from reaching the ground floor. It had a welcoming feel to it. I almost felt at home there. We passed familiar fallen trees that had sarcophagic fungi growing all over them as over the years they slowly broke down the tough wood of the dead tree into nutrients that would eventually nurture the new saplings that were beginning to grow to eventually replace the fallen tree.
 
Some of the birches had polypore fungi growing on them. It was quite common to see this, because birches, unlike oak and beech, are quite short-lived trees. Some of them were enormous and impressive to look at. We past the dead standing tree that we knew was a roost for a pair of tawny owls. They weren’t there at the moment and I guessed that they must have young in a more secure nest somewhere that they were struggling to care for.
 
We passed the fox den that Trotter had found and if you came into the woods as dusk was setting in and approached the den right, you would see the cubs playing outside the den while the dog fox and vixen were off scavenging for food. It was difficult to get the approach right, though. We suspected that there might there was another adult fox helping to raise the litter, but we didn’t know for certain.
 
There was an extensive badger sett nearby and once, Trotter had come across a Fallow deer fawn lying in a hollow in the woods, trying to hide while its mother was feeding.
 
For the most part, the hobbits left the woodland creatures alone and this was why we had been able to see so many of them, or at least find traces of their presence in the woods. Cousin Dwalin would think I’d gone soft in the head if he knew how I viewed the denizens of the woods. I had no desire at all to hunt any of these creatures, but up in the mountains, I would have. It was a strange feeling to have, but survival was not as urgent here, or rather, it didn’t seem to be as threatened as much. Peace and tranquility pervaded the woods.

We stopped for a rest by the stream which ran through the middle of the wood and for a time, watched the water flow past us. We sat down on its banks, I draped an arm around her shoulder and kissed her forehead. I began to braid her hair, wondering just how I should bring up the subject of her birthday with her. Perhaps the action of braiding her hair would put us both at ease and make it easier for me to er…confess what I knew.
 
“I know that you are keeping something from me, Kili,” Hilda said to me. “You’ve been behaving rather oddly for some reason, my love.”
 
I stopped braiding her hair and thought about what I should say for a moment or two. I think Hilda would have got suspicious if I didn’t answer this and well, we were out here now, so why should I not tell her that I knew that it was her birthday?
 
“That makes two of us then,” I said, grinning at her, trying to conceal my awkwardness around mirth. I don’t know if I succeeded or not. “I know what day it is today. Your grandmother told me the day we arrived.”
 
Hilda sighs and I could see that she wasn’t happy about me knowing that it was her birthday. “I didn’t tell you, Kili, because I didn’t want a fuss made over it,” she replied. “I wanted this to be a quiet day.”
 
She didn’t want a party? I think we’re in trouble, and there was no way to tell the others that she didn’t want one, not now that her birthday had arrived. I sensed trouble on the horizon.

“Well, I would have wanted to celebrate it with you,” I said. “So I got you something.”
 
I reached inside my pocket and produced a beautiful ring which I had bought some time ago for her. If things had gone better, I would have given it to her as an engagement ring, but I think giving it to her as a gift to celebrate her birthday would serve a purpose just as well, and hopefully, if nothing came of this, she would choose to keep it, whereas an engagement ring she would not. It was of elvish make, I suspected, with delicately forged leaves and colourful jewels to represent flowers, and made of mithril. I had been very careful with my choice.
 
“So, this is what you have been keeping from me?” she asked, the light of a smile in her eyes. She was pleased?
 
“Of course,” I said, hoping that she would believe the white lie that I told her. I hoped that she didn’t suspect anything about the planned party and I hoped that she wouldn’t be mad when she found out about it. I took hold of her hand gently and marveled at the touch of her skin on mine. I slipped the ring on her finger and found that it fit perfectly, much to my relief. I had worried that it was too big for her… She kissed me to say thank you and I she took my breath away. I didn’t want that kiss to end, not at all. Very reluctantly, she ended the kiss. I stood up and reached down to help her to her feet, smiling as I did so.
 
“I trust that you have rested enough, my dear?” I asked her. “We have a way to go until we get to the second part of your birthday present.”
 
She looked at me, puzzled. “Second part?” Hilda asked.
 
“It’s a surprise,” I said, simply, hoping to distract her from any idea that there was a party being prepared for her. I hoped that my distraction would work, and I preyed to Mahal that what I had planned would work.

The surprise I had of course was a small meal outside a tent in a very secluded area of the woods which I had set up earlier. I was sure that we would both be hungry by the time we got there.

Chapter Text

21st Thrimidge

When we got back from our walk in the woods, it was mid-afternoon. I could forgive Kili for the ring and that other birthday surprise, an innocent meal in the woods by a tent he had set up earlier and a not so innocent intimate encounter in the tent. But he had gone and done just what I hadn’t wanted him to do, or rather he’d had conspiritors in the form of Ori, Gimli, Lyngheid, Lofnheid and my family who had.
 
It soon became apparent to me that something was up when I saw party decorations draped around the entrance to my cousin’s farm. While Kili had been busy distracting me, my traitorous family and friends had been making preparations for a party.
 
“I know that you didn’t want this,” Kili whispered in my ear as we walked up the garden path. “But please don’t ruin it for them. They’ve put a lot of effort into preparing for this and the children deserve to have the fun of a party even if the adults don’t want it. You’re lucky to even be living this day.”
 
I stopped in my tracks and turned to look at him. It was very difficult for me not to cry at that moment. Whether in sadness or joy, I’ve no idea because there were so many emotions running through me at once. I thought back to that day I’d found the dead sheep, the day when I first met Kili. If they’d not come along when they had done, I would have died, a forgotten victim for the orcs or dead from exposure. Did it really matter which? Dead was dead. There would have been no one to tell my family in the Shire what had happened. They would have gone on season after season wondering why they never heard a word from us. Then there was the day Kili and I had followed Fili’s search party and that day at the druid’s grove. Finally, there was the orc attack on Thorin’s Gate. Yep, I was damn lucky and why shouldn’t my birthday simply be celebrated simply for the fact that I had survived all of that? But somewhere, deep down in my heart, it felt wrong.
 
“It’s not perfect. My parents and brothers aren’t here to celebrate it with me,” I said.
 
“It doesn’t have to be, dear Hilda,” Kili said, touching my face with his right hand and brushing loose locks of my hair behind my left ear with the other. He gently held my head against his chest and kissed my forehead to try and comfort me.
 
“It does not feel right to me that they aren’t here,” I admitted.
 
“I have suffered my own loses too, Hilda, even if I knew them not. I should have two Uncles, not one. Dear Bild should have a husband and children of her own, whether by my king, or by my lost uncle, it doesn’t matter which. My grandfather and grandmother are gone. I never really had chance to know my dear father. Then there are the losses that Balin and Dwalin suffered, and of others, too. The line of Durin knows the pain of loss only too well, but we cannot allow it to stop us living.”
 
“It does not feel right to me,” I replied. It didn’t, not one bit. How could my life be happy with them gone? Those Kili had mentioned may represent a great loss, but if he had never really known them, how could he understand how I really felt? How could he really miss them from his life?
 
I felt his arms embrace me tightly. “Then think of it as being a party for them and not for yourself, to celebrate the good times that they had with you. I don’t really know the answer. Does anyone? But I know that my father would not have wanted Mam, Fili and I to live half a life because he was gone. He would have wanted happiness for us, and your parents and your brothers would have wanted the same for you. Do not wallow in misery.”
 
I listened to his words. They gave me some strength and perhaps one day, I would be able to see things in the way he had presented them to me. But that day is not today. It will not be so for a long time to come. But I had to take the first step towards recovering, and I think that is what Kili, my remaining family and my friends were offering to me this day and I needed to summon up the strength to take it.
 
“Alright,” I murmured. “Let’s do this…”
 
He released me from his embrace and he took my hand in his own to lend me his support. It took a lot for me to walk the rest of the way up that garden path, past the bright bunting fluttering in the wind which was draped between the trees that lined the path, into the house, through the kitchen and into the garden outback. The round front door and the round windows were just as brightly decorated, with bunting surrounding them. The kitchen was heavily laden with all the foods which were suitable for a birthday party, cakes, sandwiches, nice cheeses, party snacks and other things. It must have taken Deidre, my aunt and the two dwarf lasses great effort to produce all of that. Even though I didn’t feel like eating any of it, I don’t think that it would have gone to waste. It turned out that the children, Ori and Gimli had been the ones responsible for the decorations.
 
Callum and Uncle Farnan hadn’t played much part in it because they’d had a lot of work to do in the fields. My grandparents had enjoyed themselves directing the youngsters on how to decorate the house and to which foods were most suitable for a birthday party. In their time, they must have seen, organised and taken part in many such parties and I think witnessing this brought them a lot of pleasure, even if they were too old and tired to really part take in it themselves.
 
My good dwarven friends and the remnants of my family had put a lot of effort into organising this party and I decided for their sake, if not for my own, that I must put on an appearance of enjoying it. There was a small table in the garden which held some presents from everyone. Kili had confessed to me that Lily was also a gift from him, along with the ring. I would have been delighted with those alone. There were a bunch of letters from those of my friends who wanted to be here, but couldn’t make it, mainly from Dis, Fili, Bild and Thorin, apologising for not being here. It must have taken a lot for Thorin to write a message to me and I did wonder how they had known about my birthday in such a short space of time and I suspected that my grandmother must have sent some message to Ered Luin a number of weeks ago to inform them about it.
 
Ori had given me another journal, which I was glad for because the one he had given me at Yule was almost full now. There were only a few pages left and this will be my last entry in it. Lyngheid had forged for me a fine, dwarven sword, with the assistance of Dis and Bild. That was probably the most unexpected of all the gifts I received for my birthday, and perhaps the one I was most clueless about using. I put it away carefully so that it was out of reach of the children. Gimli had given me a fine knife which he had worked on. He told me that it was useful to have more than one weapon to hand in battle, but again, though grateful, I was a little uncertain about having such things in my possession. Lofenheid’s gift was a bit more in keeping with my character. She had given me a new writing set to go with the journal Ori had given me.
 
The gifts from my family, apart from those given to me by the two scribes, were probably a bit more sensible! My grandparents gave me a woolen shawl; much like the one Ori had given me for the cold months, but much more in keeping with hobbit design and that of dwarves. I doubted that my grandmother had made it though. In the past she might have done, but age was catching up with her at long last, though my grandfather was further down that sad path than she. The children had made me food, or had attempted to in their child-like way.
 
Deidre had given me a new dress and Callum and Uncle Farnan were making a fine saddle and bridle for Lily. They had not finished them yet. My aunt had also given me a new dress. The dresses were nice, with flower patterns on them, which I liked. Dwarven clothes are practical, which is why I like them, but sometimes having something which can be worn on special occasions was just as nice. I have become a hobbit of two worlds.
 
I did notice that the pony Kili and I had seen at the fair the day before was grazing at the bottom of the garden and it turns out that the farmer we had spoken to had brought him round while Kili and I had been on our walk in the woods. The children were delighted with him and that made me happy because it was what I had intended for them.
 
Kili poured me a pint of mead, which drew a strange look from my older relatives. Ori and Lyngheid tried to hide their amusement and failed miserably at it.
 
“Lass, you’ve been hanging around strange folk for too long!” Aunt Margarita exclaimed in dismay. My dwarven prince just laughed, which only served to annoy her even more. This sparked a debate over whether or not there was the blood of the Tooks in my family line. My aunt concluded that there must be, for my father to leave the Shire and set up a farm near Ered Luin and for me to so readily fit in with a group of dwarves.
 
“Brings shame to our family,” Aunt Margarita concluded.
 
“Naw then, Margarita, don’t goo gettin’ like those Sackville-Bagginses o’ Hobbiton! Don’t be such a stick in t’ mud!” Uncle Farnan said. This resulted in much mirth between myself, my aunt, Deidre, Callum and my grandparents. I don’t think the dwarves got the joke and the children didn’t really care. They just wanted to have fun.
 
We watched the children as they played. Ever since Lyngheid had shown up, Rosie had joined her brothers in pretending to be dwarven warriors. This of course, caused much consternation between my aunt and my grandparents. Having one wayward lass in the family was quite enough, thank you! But Deirdre, Callum and Uncle Farnan took the whole thing in their stride and didn’t seem to be too bothered about what she did. I think they just wanted her to have some fun. Of course, dwarven warriors needed orcs to slay and Ori obligingly pretended to be the orc which they could pretend to slay. They tried to get Trotter to be a warg, but I put a stop to that. I didn’t want any of them getting bitten. In the end, they managed to get Gimli to pretend to be a warg instead, which was much more acceptable. My anger with Ori over the article is almost gone now. He is friendly and I have grown quite fond of him. Like a lot of young men, his sense of humour can be misplaced at times. The children, of course, wanted a dwarf king to lead them and persuaded Kili to take on that role. And a dwarf king needed a queen…. Little rascals, but I couldn’t deny them in the end.
 
My grandparents, with my aunt looking after their needs, watched us from a quieter part of the garden.
 
While I played with the children, I wondered if Kili and I would be lucky this time round and I had the beginnings of a child inside me. I hoped so. Having a child by Kili would be wonderful.
 
Ori had brought his flute along with him, and Kili had somehow managed to bring his fiddle. I sometimes wondered how he managed to carry the instrument around with him without it getting damaged in some way, but it never did. Lyngheid had brought her drum with her and Lofnheid had brought her lute with her. Gimli was the only one among the dwarves who didn’t have an instrument with him.
 
There was some hobbit dancing, once the children had exhausted themselves, as Lyngheid and Lofnheid started to play their instruments. Deidre and Callum, danced together, as did my aunt and uncle, mainly because there was no one else for them to dance with. Lofnheid stopped playing her lute for a while and danced with Ori while Kili played his fiddle. Kili had told me about catching them together, which brought a smile to my face as I watched them dance. Lyngheid refused to dance at all, saying that it was too undignified for her, but I suspect it was because there was no one around that she wanted to dance with. I danced with Gimli a couple of times, while Kili contributed his part to the music, just so that he wasn’t left out of the dancing. The children, really excitable, just tore around the garden until they had used up most of their energy.
 
Eventually, Kili wanted to dance too, so he put down his fiddle and sitting together, Ori and Lofnheid played their instruments. I loved the sound of Ori’s flute and they must have played music together often because the melody they produced was almost perfect. Kili and I danced together and it was probably the best part of my day, apart from what we had shared in the tent together. Lyngheid added the steady rhythm of her drum to the melody, and it was almost as if our hearts were beating in time with it. I wanted to kiss him as we danced together, but I was too self conscious with everyone watching us, and I saw the same desire in his eyes too.
 
Deidre, unfortunately, had to leave the party early due to tiredness because of her pregnancy. It had been a tiring day for her.
 
My aunt and my grandparents left soon after that. My grandparents had had a good time, but no longer had the stamina of us young folks and my aunt left with them to make sure they were alright.
 
After Deidre and my grandparents had retired, the party began to die down somewhat and become quieter. By this time, the sun had started to set and Callum lit a small bonfire which we all gathered around, Kili and I sitting very close to each other. Ori and Lofnheid sat together, with Lyngheid sat close by. Gimli sat with the children and Callum and my Uncle completed the circle around the fire. We played a few party games, most of which were quite silly. Some of them were hobbit games which I had grown up with and knew quite well and the dwarves shared some of their own. It was quite an interesting cultural exchange.
 
After that we shared stories. Of course, I knew the ones which Callum and Uncle Farnan told because they were ones which my parents had told my brothers and I when we were growing up. The ones I found more interesting because they were new, were the ones told by the dwarves. Ori and Lofnheid proved to be the best storytellers, which is what was to be expected of scribes. I expected them to tell the story of Smaug and the many battles with the orcs, but they stayed clear of that and told lighter stories instead. Silly ones like how a dwarf man once fell in love with an Ent, or a tale about a dwarf trying to forge the perfect axe and failing every time. They also told a strange tale about a dwarf toymaker whose toys would come to life in the hours of darkness and play pranks on the parents of the dwarf children they belonged to and the children getting the blame for it. They even had a story about a dog stealing a bone from a dwarf butcher and who then lost the bone because of his own greediness. Tales of the folly of greed were common among the dwarves and served as a warning to not desire gold, precious metals and gems too much which sadly, is a character flaw all too common among the dwarves.
 
The children fell asleep sometime during the story telling, and noticing this, Callum said that it was time that the children were put to bed. As we didn’t want to disturb them, we decided that it was time for the celebrations to end. Kili and I walked with Gimli, Ori and the two dwarf lasses back to the inn where they were staying at. We waited until they had gone to their rooms, the sisters sharing one room and Ori and Gimli sharing another. Kili had a room of his own, which he sneaked me into. We got ready for bed, Kili lending me his night shirt to sleep in while he would sleep bare-chested. I don’t think we would have done this if it had not been my birthday, but it was very special, all the same.
 
“Did you enjoy your birthday?” he asked me, mischievously as he lay beside me. “Am I forgiven in your eyes?”
 
I smiled, thinking back on the day. “It was perfect, Kili,” I replied. “And yes, you are forgiven.”
 
“That’s a shame, you know…,” he said, pulling me towards him, so that I was straggled on top of him. “I was hoping that you were still angry with me so that I could make it up to you.”
 
“Are you flirting with me, my lord?” I asked him.
 
“I’m always flirting with you, Hilda, my love, because you’re always flirting with me,” he said, with a smirk on his face.
 
And we flirted with each other some more.
 
 

Chapter Text

22nd Thrimidge

I woke before Hilda the next morning and watched her as she slept. I would always remember the day of my love’s birthday. I would think of it during my darkest moments of despair and it would give me the strength to get me through it. After a few moments of watching her sleep, I kissed her mouth gently, hoping that it would wake her, but she carried on sleeping. I got up, and dressed, before going to the common room. The innkeeper and his wife were in the kitchen cooking breakfast for the patrons and I noticed that my companions had not woken up yet. The innkeeper’s wife called out a friendly greeting to me, asking what I wanted for breakfast and I answered her. Hobbit are wonderfully friendly folk. I do enjoy their company immensely and it is not just because of my Hilda! I went outside into the field behind the pub where we had been allowed to graze our ponies.
 
It was a bright morning, an hour or two past dawn, but I could have been wrong and the chill of the night had begun to be burnt away by the sun. The ponies belong to Lyngheid, Lofnheid, Ori and Gimli grazed together, and Bungo and Lily grazed a short distance away from them. Bungo, seeing me enter the field, whinnied at me and trotted towards me. Lily, a little less sure of herself, followed Bungo and I am convinced that she did so because she wanted to stay close to Bungo and not because she wanted to be near me, but that wasn’t really a problem.
 
When he was close enough for me to reach out and touch him, I spoke to Bungo, gently. “I don’t have anything for you, this morning, I’m afraid,” I said, and scratched him behind the ears. He loved that, I am sure. Lily nudged me with her nose and I smiled. The other ponies, noticing my presence, walked over to me and soon I was surrounded by them.
 
I heard a flutter of wings behind me and I looked to see a familiar raven land on the drystone wall that made up the boundary of the field and he called out to me. He had a parchment tied to his leg and I went over to him. He cawed at me again.
 
“I suppose you’ll be wanting some breakfast for your trouble,” I said, smiling at the bird. I am not sure if the bird really understood me or not, or I him. There were some strips of rabbit meat which Hilda had bought for Trotter from the butcher at the market which I had in my bag and I decided that they would do for the raven. They are meat eaters, after all. I relieved him of the letter and fed him before reading it, considering it was only fair. I sat down on a barrel which the stable boy who looked after traveler’s mounts used for that purpose. There was no sign of him this morning and I was glad, because the contents of the letter weren’t exactly encouraging. It was brief and to the point and from Uncle Thorin.
 
Dear Nephew,
 
You have been mooning around the Shire long enough and I want you back in Ered Luin as soon as possible. I have spoken with the horse master and I have arranged for you to apprentice with him and you need to take up this work shortly. I know your feelings for the Hobbit girl, but we need alliances with the other dwarf clans and your brother is proving most stubborn on the matter.
 
Ori needs to take his place as Balin’s assistant scribe. He is, however, no longer an editor or contributor to the Ered Luin Chronicle. I have appointed that task to Dori instead. He at least, lacks the lad’s youthful callowness. Your mother and Bild want Lyngheid back here so that they can continue to instruct her at the forge and Vif wants Lofnheid back home to help care for her younger siblings.
 
Gloin and Gloa, well, they just want their son back home as he is too young to be so far from home.
 
It was signed by my Uncle and bore his seal. I had no problem with any of the contents of the letter, apart from the edict concerning me. At the bottom of the letter, he’d added something else, which made me extremely angry indeed.
 
If you can’t be parted from Hilda, bring her back with you. She can join the kitchen staff, but be discreet with your relationship with her. We must all make sacrifices for the House of Durin, especially in times such as these.
 
I went back to my room at the inn, and noticed that Hilda was still sound asleep. There was no need for me to disturb her at all, so I let her sleep. I took a seat at the small writing desk where my journal lay. I opened my journal and carefully removed one of the last remaining blank pages from the back to write a response (I will soon need to ask Ori for a new journal myself so that I can continue writing) and this is what I wrote:
 
As my king, my uncle and the only father I have known, I will gladly defer to your judgment on most matters and I look forward to taking up my post with the horse master. I will, however, not consider taking a wife other than Hilda and you dishonour her and me by suggesting that I take another for my wife and have a clandestine relationship with her. She may even be carrying my child! Not so long ago, you had no objection to her joining the House of Durin so I must enquire, what has changed?
 
I left my response at that as I was so angry with my Uncle that if I had continued writing, I would probably have called him a lot of obscene names. How do I break this news to Hilda? I heard movement coming from the bed and I looked across and saw Hilda sat up in bed, looking at me. I hastily folded my letter to my Uncle in two and shoved his letter into my pocket before she saw it.
 
“Good morning, my love,” I said. “Did you sleep well?”
 
She yawned and stretched before getting out of bed to get dressed. She choose the dress Deirdre had given her for her birthday as we had brought her clothes with us last night so that she could ware them in the morning, and she wore the ring that I had given her birthday and the Yule gift I had made for her. This pleased me greatly. She needed no adornments in my eyes to make her beautiful, but when I saw her slender figure, I still had that desire to obtain all the gold and jewels in Erebor so that I could make small trinkets for her.
 
“What was that parchment you put into your pocket?” she asked, curiously.
 
I felt like cursing inside. What am I supposed to tell her? How could I explain it? I attempted to conceal a sigh before I tried to explain what it was, while also trying to not give her cause to worry. It was my problem, not hers, mine and my Uncle’s.
 
“A letter from my Uncle and I’ve written one back to him. He wants us back in Ered Luin and I need to inform Ori and the others that we must go,” I replied. My response was probably a little too quick, too shaky, too clumsy to put her at ease for her not to realise that something was wrong.
 
“There’s something you aren’t telling me, Kili,” she said and the hurt look in her eyes filled me with sorrow for her.
 
“There is a matter we must discuss when we have returned to Ered Luin, all of us, including you. I’m sure that it is something we can sort out, though, so there is no need for you to worry about it,” I said. I stood up from my chair and walked over to her. I took her into my arms and I placed a reassuring kiss on her lips. I was very reluctant to let her go.
 
The raven cawing outside reminded me that I had a job to do and I reluctantly broke off my embrace.
 
“Are you planning on going to the farm today?” I asked her, hoping to change the subject, anything to avoid telling her what was in my Uncle’s letter.
 
“Of course I am,” Hilda replied. “Deidre needs me there, as she always does.”
 
“I’ll meet you there, then. I have something I need to discuss with Ori and the others. You go ahead of me.”
 
I left Hilda in my room and went outside to send my response to my Uncle. On the way out, I collected my breakfast, a bacon sandwich, from the Innkeeper’s wife. After sending the raven on his way, I saddled up Bungo and took him out for a ride, hoping it would clear my head, allow me to think on what my next course of action should be. Everything is so conflicted and I hated it. Why? Why, Mahal, did it have to be like this? All the while I was wandering just what I was going to tell her. Maybe I should just let her read the letter? Should I just ignore my Uncle’s commands? No, what wouldn’t do at all. I could only resolve this by dealing with the problem head on and in person. If there was one thing I knew for sure, if I was to keep my promise to Hilda and have her as my wife, she was going to have to come back to Ered Luin with me, and what a storm that was going to create.

Chapter Text

[NEED TO WORK OUT A DATE FOR THIS. NEED TO EXPAND. MEET A GROUP, KILI PRETEND THAT HE'S SOMEONE ELSE TO KEEP HIS PRIVACY - THE NEXT ENTRY WILL NEED SOME EDITING ALSO]

 

Kili did eventually read to me what was in that letter from his uncle. To say that I was upset about it is an understatement to say the least. I discussed the matter with my family and it was decided that I must go to Ered Luin and sort the matter out. My grandmother and Uncle Farnan were most adamant that I should challenge it. It was difficult to leave Deidre and Aunt Margarita when they so needed me.
 
Standing up to Kili’s Uncle filled me with dread, but if I can deal with the loss of my parents and brothers, surely standing up to a dwarf king would not be so frightening?
 
So I am writing this as we take a short break. Callum has said that he will arrange for my parents’ farm to be sold, but I would keep ownership of the land where my family was buried. I am grateful to Callum for arranging that and making the matter out of my hands, and they were going to look after the contents of the house for me which wasn’t related to furniture and such.
 
As we traveled, one thing I did notice as we left the Shire behind was the change in climate. It was much colder in the mountains even in summer and I would never have been able to wear those light outfits which I had worn in Frog Morten, which Kili regretted the loss of.
 
However, it did give us an excuse to sit close together nearly all the time when we stopped for a rest. I don’t think that the other dwarves knew about Thorin informing Kili that he must choose someone else for his wife because none of them commented on it and it tore me apart inside keeping this secret from them, and it did the same to Kili as well. I could tell, as we traveled, that Kili’s mood became more somber as we drew closer to Ered Luin. Ori noticed his change in mood, but he put it down to the circumstances with in which they had left Ered Luin, not what we were heading towards.
 
Ori lamented the loss of his newspaper and Lofnheid disliked the idea of helping her mother out instead of being in the library like she wanted to be. She hoped that it was only temporary. Ori tried to brighten her mood by suggesting that she could teach her brother and sister the skills of a scribe, and that he wouldn’t mind helping her out with the task. The bonus of that? They would find an excuse to be in each others’ company after all.
 
Lyngheid wasn’t too unhappy about the prospect of helping Dis and Bild in the forge. It was an art which she was very much interested in and she was looking forward to learning about it. From what I knew of Dwalin, I don’t think that you could expect any less of a daughter of his than that.
 
Gimli grumbled a little every now and then because he was having to return to the care of his parents. He thought that he was old enough by now to start doing things for himself.
 
 

Chapter Text

Thorin’s Gate was a busier place than when we had left. This was because envoys had been coming from all over the place to discuss the courtship of my brother, and by proxy, myself. I found it to be all very invasive and I hoped that Fili wasn’t feeling too exposed over it. Fortunately, the influx of new arrivals meant that I could move around a little freer than usual, which was an ironic situation when you consider that most of the arrivals wanted to meet me. I found, to my delight, that the Cabbage had been rebuilt. It wasn’t as good at the old one, and there was still much work to be done on It, and it had fewer bedrooms but that could be rectified later, I am sure. I found that I didn’t want to meet Uncle Thorin straight away - to be honest, has there been any time recently when I wanted to be in Uncle Thorin’s presence? I doubted it. Although I missed Fili and my mother, I had no desire to see them just now and as a result of this, Hilda and I went to the Cabbage.
 
Ori left us because he wanted to report to Balin. I think the lad is secretly pleased with his new assignment from my Uncle and he wants to get started on it straight away. Even before we left Ered Luin to visit Bree, the lad practically lived in the library. Dwalin’s daughters went home to see their mother, and Gimli went home to see his. I felt a little guilty at that – that the first thing I did when I got home was not to go and see if Mam was around, but to go to the local boozer. Was this the kind of behaviour that started Nori off on his life of ill repute? Was I becoming just like him? I hoped not, but this might be the last few hours I would ever spend with Hilda alone. At least this way, we could put off the inevitable ending of our relationship, and pretend for a short time at least that everything was fine. I wondered if I ever should have come back and whether Hilda and I should have set off to go to the Iron Hills where cousin Dain lived instead. We could have married when we got there and then come clean with what we had done to Mam, Fili and Uncle Thorin after the event when it could no longer be undone. I think if Ori, Gimli and the two lasses had not been with us, I would have done that, but I didn’t want to leave Ori with the task of explaining to my Uncle and to others what Hilda and I had decided to do. We had discussed it, of course, when the others had been asleep and Hilda and I had lain in our bed roll together in each others’ arms. I was going to miss that.
 
We had a pint or two. For Hilda, it was definitely just one pint. I think I drank a little more than was appropriate. Alcohol seemed to be the only way that I could gather enough strength to face what I knew was coming, but eventually Hilda persuaded me that we should leave and go to the cottage. When we arrived, I wished that we had stayed at the Cabbage instead and rented a room from Baldric. It would have been a lot easier to deal with than the fall out which followed, I can assure any one reading this of that!
 
I think now would be a good place to discuss the dwarf clans. I do not know the truth of this legend, if this is how it really happened or not. It happened such a long time ago that it is difficult to know for sure. Ancient history has a habit of turning into mythology, given enough passage of time, and it is always open to embellishment and add-ons to make it sound more exciting than it actually was. But this is how I understand it. In the beginning of our race, there were seven dwarf men, whom we call the seven fathers. I think they are just the beginning of the clans, rather than the actual beginning of our race, but who can tell for sure? It happened a long, long, time ago.
 
There was Durin, the most majestic of all and he is the ancestor of my family. Every Durin, unless they married into to the family, shares his blood, even those who are only distant relations like Dori, Ori and, surprisingly, Nori of course. It is their mother who is a Durin. There were six others - Uri, the founder of the Firebeards, Linnar, the founder of the Broadbeams, Sindri, the founder of the Ironfists – the Ironfists are probably the oddest of the clans, there was Tulin, the founder of the Stifbeards, Var, the founder of the Blacklocks and Vigdis, the founder of the Stonefoots. Of course, I cannot go into too much detail, for our history is long and complex. I do not have the time!
 
Of course, my own clan, my own line, that of Durin, the task of ruling our people has been our craft. The clans, though each has their own head, have always looked to us for leadership and guidance. The Firebeards are a troublesome lot, though. Perhaps one day I shall be able to explain why, but I do not have the time to do that right now.
 
The Firebeards are master weapon and armour smiths, tool makers and makers of fine jewellery, but their history is troublesome. Linnar’s folk are crafters, mainly toy makers, and the like. Bofur and his family are of those folk, even if they follow the Durins more than their own clan leader.
 
The Ironfists are shamans and seers – they don’t have an hereditary leader like the other clans do. The leadership passes on to the shaman who is seen to be the closest to Mahal and Yavanna. Their leader can be a man or a woman – the current leader is rumoured to be a woman called Verdani and a female leader of the Ironfists is known as a Gythia. They know the secrets of the Ainur and the Maia more than any other folk. They advise the king in spiritual matters. Unfortunately, we are currently without that guidance and along with all of our other troubles, it is probably the worst, when you don’t consider the losses of Erebor and Moria and the death of my Great Grandfather and the disappearance of my Grandfather. I think that is important that we have it, or we are lost.
 
The Stifbeards are traders and after the Firebeards, are probably the least trust worthy of the clans. Profit and obtaining gold are their main focus in life. Their sense of honour is at best, questionable.
 
Var’s folk are artists and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to find that Ori’s father is of their folk, given is love of creative works and letters. Vif is of that folk, which explains Lofnheid and Fundin’s wife was as well, from the talk I’ve overheard from the older generation. I can only hope that Fili can find a lady from that clan. She may not be able to help him rule as a lady from the Firebeards or Stifbeards could, and it is too much to hope that a lady of Sindri’s folk will be found, but she would bring joy to our people and that is just as important as practical concerns given our people’s suffering.
 
The Stonefoots are, quite literally, the masters of stone of our people. Among their lot are stonemasons, builders and miners. They are the stalwart workers of our people. I doubt that Fili will find a wife among them but they are loyal and hard working. Without them, much of the line of Durin’s prosperity would never have happened. Moria and other dwarf civilizations would never have been built. We owe their clan a great debt.
 
As well as being rulers, the line of Durin are the main soldiers of our people. It is that role that we have taken upon ourselves which gives us the right to rule and lead, but the responsibility of it is more important. We have been given the task of safeguarding our people so that the other clans can do their work. I do regret making the problems that my Uncle faces worse because of my attachment to Hilda, but I owe her my honour. The question regarding which is more important, being honourable where Hilda is concerned or that which I owe my kin and people is very much open to debate, I’m afraid, but I cannot do any less than stand by her.
 
What got me so riled up is that we found out that Mam had allowed some of the visitors to stay at the cottage, notably Jarl Alf of the Stifbeards and his cousin, Arinnefia, Jarl Andarvi and his daughter Brud, Jarl Finn’s daughter, Flioth, Jarl Frar’s daughter, Feima and Bavor’s Niece, Svanni. These were the women chosen by their clans as most suitable for a match with Fili or myself. There was no one from Sindri's folk. Flioth was of Var’s folk, Svanni of Linnar's folk and Feima was of Vigdis' folk.
 
Hilda and I stood in the living room as Mam explained to us what had happened.
 
“I am sorry, Hilda. There is no room for you here, but Bombur has room for you in the kitchens’ hands quarters,” Mam informed Hilda. I could see that it embarrassed her greatly to have to do it and I sensed my Uncle’s working behind it. I found that I was doubling up with Fili, which I wouldn’t have minded, but –
 
I just couldn’t let Hilda be treated like that. I know that really it is all just political wrangling, but Hilda and I had been through a lot together in the time that we had known each other. I couldn’t just stand by and let this happen without not saying a word.
 
“I’m sorry, Mam, but if there’s no room for Hilda to stay here, then there’s no room for me, either,” I said. I could see that the words hurt my mother deeply, but what else could I do? Hilda had been promised to me, she may be carrying my child. We had been happy together. Why is everyone all intent on a sudden to tear us apart? I cannot describe just how angry the situation made me feel.
 
I went upstairs to begin packing up my belongings, all the while trying to keep myself calm.
 
“But Kili, where will you go?” Mam asked, following me upstairs. Hilda had followed us and watched in shocked silence. I began gathering up my belongings, which I found had been moved to Fili’s room, mainly the items which I thought I wouldn’t be able to do without. I ignored Mam’s protests as I packed, but I did reply to her query about where I would be staying.
 
“The Cabbage,” I replied. “If there’s room.” I packed my score sheets, but Mahal knows when I will have time to work on music again because I don’t think that I will have time to work on anything. The Hnefetafl board and its pieces were already safely in my bag, because I never went anywhere without it. I packed an unused journal too, so that I could continue writing. The main items I took were clothing, as I already had my sword, by bow and my fiddle packed.
 
“And if there isn’t?” Mam asked, her voice full of concern which I refused to hear.
 
“I’m sure that I can find a nice ditch somewhere…” I snapped. Nothing she could say to me would make me stay. Why would it? Throughout the whole thing, Hilda said nothing. I think she was too shocked to day anything as Mam and I argued. We made so much racket that we drew the attention of the ladies that Mam had allowed to invade our home.
 
 
I heard one of them ask – it was Brud, “Is that Prince Kili? He’s quite handsome…” Arrgh…Can’t she see that I had a lady?
 
 
One of the ladies, one whom I didn’t know, ask Mam, “Is everything alright, my lady?”
 
 
“Don’t worry yourself, Flioth. We’ll be able to work this out!” Mam tried reassuring her. Brud and Arinnefia gossiped together, mainly mock concern for me, which only made me want to get out of there even more, and worse, they eyed Hilda with disdain. The other three women did show genuine concern, but I just wanted to tell them that it was none of their business, but I was too polite to do so.
 

 
Why did everything have to be such a mess? I could only imagine what would have happened had my Uncle been there, but I was about to find out…
 
Unfortunately as I was making my exit, with a bemused Hilda witnessing the proceedings, my Uncle, the six Jarls and Balin and Dwalin arrived at the cottage just in time to catch my exit. Could it have got any worse, at all?
 
“Where are you off to?” Uncle Thorin asked, standing in my way. There was no friendly greeting as I would normally have expected from him, just interrogation.
 
Mam stood in the door way, her arms folded as she answered for me. I think she stood there to prevent the ladies from seeing the confrontation, though no doubt they sure as hell could hear what was being said. “Your nephew has decided to move out to an inn, of all things.”
 
Uncle Thorin must have seen Hilda and worked out the cause of the trouble. He was angry, of course.
 
“You know, Kili, this adolescent rebellion of yours is beginning to wear thin,” my Uncle said. Dwalin and Balin just stood quietly watching the confrontation and the Jarls muttered among themselves, confused a little as to what was happening, I think.
 
I don’t know what came over me, but the words just tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop and think about what I was saying.
 
“Well, maybe if you weren’t such a boneheaded imbecile, I wouldn’t have to.”
 
Balin shook his head and Dwalin just glared at me, and Mam, well she was really, really angry with me now. I really could not believe that I had just called my uncle a boneheaded imbicle in front of Balin and Dwalin, let alone five of the most powerful dwarves in Middle-earth. It felt good, surprisingly, but I knew that I would regret it later. Fili, who had been some distance behind the group, witnessed what was going on and being my brother, tried to stop me from leaving. It was no good though. I told him that we could talk later if he had the time to meet me at the Cabbage.
 
“Let him go, Fili. He needs time to cool off,” I heard my Uncle say. I could sense that he was angry, but I don’t think he wanted to make things worse in front of the Jarls. Hilda followed me, and had the presence of mind to bring Bungo and Lily along. I’d almost forgotten about them in all the ruckus. Trotter loped along in front of us. He probably just thought that we were going for a walk…. Hilda and I didn’t speak a word to each other until we reached the Cabbage.
 
 
I helped Hilda tether the ponies up outside and we reentered the Cabbage and surprised Baldric. Hilda stood beside me, with Trotter faithfully at her heels.
 
“Back so soon?” Baldric asked when I went over to the bar.
 
“Do you have a room available?” I asked him, hoping that the answer would be yes.
 
“Trouble at ‘ome, master dwarf?” Baldric asked.
 
“Aye, something like that,” I confirmed.
 
“And your lady friend?” Baldric asked as he wiped the bar top with a cloth, pretending to be busy, no doubt.
 
I shook my head. “Better not push it,” I said to Hilda and she nodded in understanding. “I’ll escort you round to the kitchens after I’ve dealt with business here.”
 
“Each t’ their own,” Baldric said. “Room is pretty basic, and costs a gold piece per night. And you are free to have your lady friend round whenever you wish, but it will cost extra if she’s staying the night.”
 
“Thanks, but I don’t think that is necessary,” I answered. I didn’t want to push things with my Uncle and I don’t think it would go down well with anyone if we spent nights together in rented rooms in public houses outside of marriage. The night in the Shire had been a one off because of her birthday and nothing more. If it became common knowledge that we were continuing our intimate relations, even if it was only occasionally, there’d be trouble and there are some lines I won’t cross. I sorted things out with Baldric and he gave me keys to my room.
 
Hilda helped me bring my belongings up to my room and assisted me with unpacking them. I only wish that we had been unpacking to make a life together for ourselves, but we weren’t. Hilda broke down and cried for a while. I just didn’t know how to deal with her upset, as the only things I could think of were forbidden to me. I held her in my arms until she finished weeping.
 
“It will be alright, Hilda. None of these women have a chance with me. My Uncle cannot make me choose a wife which I don’t want. It will be right in the end.”
 
I played some music for her to try and lift her spirits. I wondered if Baldric would allow me to play my fiddle in the common room to entertain people. I would have to ask him. We played a game of Hnefetafl. I allowed Hilda to beat me. I hope that she didn’t realise that. When Hilda was cheered up somewhat and a little happier, I escorted her to the kitchens. As Bofur was there, I got a bit of ribbing for the trouble I had caused. Gossip was all over the place by now, thanks to the Jarls and their female charges being witnesses to what had I happened. I just wanted Mahal to open up the ground so that it could swallow me.

“Mi brother, cousin an’ ah ‘ave bin taking bets on whether or not tha would bring Hilda dern ‘ere. Bombur an’ Bifur bet tha wouldn’t, an’ ah bet tha would,” Bofur said when he saw us.
 
One of the old cooks, a dwarf woman who Fili and I used to cause a lot of grief for when we were young children said hello to me. With Mam’s and my Uncle’s permission, she had disciplined us more than once over the course of our childhood, and tanned our hides more than once. Mam’s reasoning was that just because we were the heirs, it didn’t give us the right to be disrespectful to those dwarves who worked hard caring for the line of Durin, and she was right. My Uncle agreed with her. She said that I was a bigger pain now than I was when I was a nipper. She presented me with a bowl of stew without me even asking for it, which told me that she was only joking. The thing is, I don’t think that she is far from the truth.
 
She then saw that trouble was brewing up between a group of dwarf boys, Bombur’s lads, and went to sort them out. Bofur and I shared a beer which he pulled from a barrel and being here wasn’t so bad, while one of the kitchen hands took her away to explain things to her. I had forgotten what it was like because my duties had lain elsewhere of late. I don’t think that Hilda would get bored staying here anyway.
 
After I finished eating, Hilda joined us at the table and explained to me what she had to do here while she stayed.
 
“They need me to “earn” my keep while I am here. They want me to work in the kitchens five days a week, including evenings, with one day off. I am also to work in the Meadhall on feast days. I’ve been neglecting my druid studies whit all the traveling and what not, so I am afraid that we will have little time to see each other,” she said, disappointedly.
 
“Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that you are kept busy,” I replied, looking at her with sympathy. “I suppose when I am not working for the horse master, I will be escorting those insufferable dwarrowdams around in the hopes that I will choose one of them. I’m sorry, Hilda.”
 
I think Bofur took pity on our predicament.
 
“Well, tha knows, lad, Bombur has more than one missis. Ah don’t think any of us here would mind if tha visited Hilda. None of t’ kitchen staff would comment on it because it happens all t’ time ‘round ‘ere.”
 
The look I gave him soon put a stop to that train of thought. “Oh aye. That would be the best way for a Durin and a heir to the throne to behave like, wouldn’t it? I take a dwarrowdam for a wife for appearances sake when I don’t really care for her and mess around with serving staff behind her back? Bombur can do what he wants because he doesn’t have the same pressures that I do. People don’t really care. It would be unfair on the dwarrowdam and Hilda and would bring disgrace to my family if it ever became common knowledge. There is only one course of action that I can take and still retain any sense of honour, but more important than that, I love Hilda and no other.”
 
“Ah’d not thought o’ it that way and tha rayt,” Bofur conceded.
 
“I had a feeling that you hadn’t thought it through,” I replied, noticing that Hilda was a bit upset. “Are you alright, Hilda?”
 
“I don’t think I am,” Hilda said.
 
“Tha wi’ friends ‘ere, lass. In fact, tha may find that tha’s got more supporters among our people than tha thinks. Bombur wouldn’t allow troublemakers and gossipers to stay,” Bofur tried to reassure her. “We just need t’ think of a plan that ensures you two are allowed t’ be together.”
 
Bofur had all of my attention now. “What do you have in mind, Bofur?”
 
“Hey, Kili, lad, what tha does is tha mekes up excuses. Meke sure that tha’s allus unavailable when they want thee. When Bild chose Frenin instead o’ Thorin t’ be her husband, Thorin became a master o’ avoiding ‘em,” Bofur informed us. “It’s how Dwalin got saddled wi’ Vif an’ Gloin got saddled wi’ Gloa.”
 
I laughed. “I don’t think that those ladies would like people to think that their husbands were saddled with them, but I see your point,” I replied. “That might have worked, if there were more dwarves around that are closer to my age, and Fili’s, but I don’t see -”
 
“I meant in the family line,” I said. “Fili is as interested in them as I am, which is to say not at all, and Ori, well, I know that he is interested in Lofnheid – don’t let Dwalin know! Gimli isn’t old enough and Dain’s son isn’t here.”
 
“Ah wouldn’t worry about that. Gimli can run interference fo’ both o’ thee. Doesn’t need t’ lead anywhere! Nori’ll do aught as long as it annoys Dori. We don’t usually get this many unattached dwarf women in one place, so ah wouldn’t mind introducing mi sen to ‘em.”
 
“Nori! Are you sure it’s wise unleashing him on those women?” I asked, alarmed. “He’d probably start a war.”
 
Bofur chuckled. “Or he might get one of them off yer back,”
 
“Just don’t let on to my Uncle about any of this,” I said. “I really don’t think he’d understand.”
 
“What we’re doing is for t’ House of Durin’s own good, laddie. Carn’t ‘ave t’ king an’ his heirs at loggerheads wi’ each other. Tha uncle’s bin ‘aving a difficult time holding on to the crown as it is. Thee an’ yer brother need t’ be on his side if no one else is.”
 
“I know, Bofur. I never wanted to be at odds with him. It’s just sort of turned out this way. But I suppose if these women did choose someone else for a husband, it wouldn’t be much of a loss. The alliances would still be there even if none of them married Fili or myself. But it must be made to look natural, that’s all I’m saying.”
 
“Aye…” Bofur began, but stopped because all conversation in the kitchens suddenly stopped. When I turned to look, I knew the cause. Mam had made one of her very rare visits to the kitchens. She ordered everyone out, so she could speak to Hilda and myself alone. Bofur muttered a quick goodbye to me and said that he would talk to me later. I nodded.
 
“Stay,” Mam said to Hilda as she was about to follow the others out. “You need to hear this too. I’ve just been down to the Cabbage and was told by the innkeeper that you could both be found here. You, Kili, owe your Uncle an apology and I am disgusted at the behaviour you displayed today. Your Uncle needs your support now more than ever and opening defying him in front of the Jarls like that is the worst thing I’ve ever seen you do.
 
“I was working on persuading him to change his mind on the matter about you and Hilda, for you both clearly love each other and none of us want to see you unhappy. But now? I fail to see how I can do that now. If he goes back on it, he will be losing face. He will appear weak and unable to rule in their eyes. Support for your uncle has dwindled to an all time low among our people. Many want Dain to sit the throne instead, and if your uncle can’t even rely on the loyalty of his own nephew, how can he hope to retain the loyalty of his people?”
 
I didn’t say anything to counter her arguments. I just couldn’t. I felt so ashamed at what I had done. Uncle Thorin is well known for making people feel wretched about their failures and actions of wrong doing, but this time my mother had surpassed even him. Even saying that I was sorry didn’t seem enough, because the words didn’t exist that would express it adequately.
 
How to fix it?
 
Whatever I did now would cause disloyalty to one person that I care deeply for, or it would appear that way. I am damned no matter what I do.

Chapter Text

I am at a cross roads in my life. Do I stay and fight for my right to be with the dwarf that I have come to love? Even if that means bringing disaster to a kingdom that has seen enough of them already? Do I just let it go and retreat back to the Shire, knowing that I doom my love and myself to a life of misery? Or do I do what Thorin suggested in the letter and what Bofur intimated that we should do – sacrifice my honour and that of my love by attempting to live a life of lies and deceit in a vain attempt to be happy while trying to secure a good future for a failing kingdom?
 
I do not know what to do. That first night in the kitchens was the worst I’ve had since the night I spent at the inn after leaving Kili at Bog End, or whatever it’s called. I could not sleep.
 
The solution eludes me.

Chapter Text

If I was ever going to make it up to my uncle, I knew that one of the best ways I could do that would be by being competent at my new appointment. Before I left Hilda in the kitchens, I asked one of the kitchen maids (whom I knew would be up extremely early herself) to wake me up before she started work.
 
When I got back to my room in the Cabbage, I played my fiddle for a while, in the hope that it would improve my mood. It did not. How could a simple musical instrument help when what I really wanted was Hilda’s company? I did sleep, eventually, but the sleep I had wasn’t enough. It didn’t refresh me one bit.
 
True to her word, the kitchen maid called round and woke me up and she was kind enough to fix me something for breakfast, which I thanked her for before I went to the stables. I took Bungo and Lily with me and found a couple of empty stables next to each other where they could be housed. They could be together, at least!
 
It was hard work, mucking out, ensuring that their feet were picked out, - any stones or cuts could make a pony lame and if left untreated could have serious consequences for the poor beast,- ensuring that they had enough hay and water, making sure that their coats were clean and free from mud – the jobs were endless!
 
The foreign dwarf women must have caught on to where I was working because they kept coming in droves all day, or what could pass as a drove for dwarf women for there still wasn’t that many of them in comparison to the men. Fortunately, none of them were the favoured ladies of the Jarls, so I was able to put them off without it causing trouble, just the opposite in fact. I did feel sorry for disappointing the ladies. I hoped that they could find someone among the visiting men, or among the miners that lived in Ered Luin.
 
At noon, Hilda came to see me. She looked exhausted and she told me that she’d had a terrible night. She had somehow managed to persuade Bombur to assign her to the stables when it came to distributing food among my Uncle’s followers who didn’t have time to cook for themselves. Survival in Ered Luin has always been a community effort, with everyone assisting each other where it was needed. We spent some time in the stable complex where Bungo, Misty, Rowan, my Mam’s pony and Lily were housed. I made sure that they were together and had arranged it so with the horse master’s permission.
 
We played another game of Hnefetafl while we had lunch, and it was a nice diversion to our troubles. It was a risk, though, because if my Uncle should come up on us, or anyone who would report back to him what I had been doing – It did please me that most of my Uncle’s inner circle were secretly on our side, however and only those that weren’t were the ones who couldn’t be seen to be on anyone’s side other than their king’s, like Dwalin, for example.
 
I think that the time they’d had to get to know Hilda had warmed them to her. Perhaps, in the end, that was all that was needed for a happy outcome for us? I hoped so and I prayed to Mahal and Yavanna that it would be so in the end.
 
However, my luck ran out that day when Arinnefia and Brud turned up at the stables to ride out with me, along with two dwarf men who worked for their respective Jarls and acted as escorts for the ladies. Hilda happened to be there when they arrived and Brud was rude to her. Arinnefia was nicer, but also had the wits and co-ordination of a clot. I invited Hilda to come out with us and she agreed.
 
She saddled up Lily and sorted out her bridle like an expert and it made me proud of her. I chose a rather disagreeable mount for Brud and a rather docile one for Arinnefia. Brud demanded a riding crop and I was disinclined to let her have one but her escort gave her one against my instructions.
 
Hilda and I don’t need them. My experience with ponies has taught me to be patient with them and treat them with kindness and I was glad that Hilda was the same. The two escorts rode out with us to protect the ladies. It was fine with me, as I didn’t want to be alone in their company.
 
Despite the fact that I had given her a docile beast, Arinnefia still managed to fall off five times. I did wonder if this was done on purpose to make me give her attention. I don’t know! Brud treated her mount as an orc treats a slave and I felt sorry for the poor animal. The ride would have been intolerable without Hilda’s company, but I hoped that she wouldn’t get into trouble for being away from the kitchens for this long. I decided to take the responsibility if that occurred. Trotter, of course, ran alongside us and it was good to see the sheepdog run!
 
I was glad when the ride was over, however, despite the fact that I had to say goodbye to Hilda. I wrote a letter to Mam and Fili about Brud, telling them what had happened to the pony and her rudeness towards dear Hilda. Of course, I expected rudeness towards Hilda because of what had happened yesterday, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when it does happen. I asked them to try and dissuade them from riding again. I didn’t want to be responsible for Arinnefia having a serious accident and I didn’t want any of the ponies traumatised by Brud.
 
I sent for the druid to come and have a look at the pony Brud had rode to see if she could do anything to help the poor beast.
 
I also composed and sent a note to Uncle Thorin about Brud telling him that I was not, under any circumstances marrying her and suggested that he encourages Jarl Andarvi and his entourage to leave, or come up with a more suitable lady. She was the complete opposite of everything I liked in Hilda.
 
Would she have made a good queen?
 
Perhaps, if you wanted your subjects oppressed and your children to grow up to be tyrants.
 
I may have made a mistake, though. For Brud gave Hilda a hard time in the Meadhall that evening. I did consider doing something about it, but Uncle Thorin stepped in before I could say anything. He said that Hilda should only see to the needs of those in the line of Durin in the Meadhall. He stopped short of saying that she should only see to my needs, but I did appreciate it. I think it was a peace offering to me in some ways, but of course, Uncle Thorin was too proud to admit it.
 
We did have a quiet talk with each other, Uncle Thorn, Mam, Fili, Dwalin, Balin and myself over the situation with Brud and we all agreed that she was unsuitable and that neither Fili or I were expected to court her, which was a relief. We cannot have a bad queen, in other words, a tyrant, on top of everything else. My uncle gave Dwalin the task of keeping a close eye on the Firebeards. He didn’t trust them, not after the incident on the road when we went to Bree, and of course, the more recent troubles with Brud. Balin was given the task of trying to come up with something which would smooth things over with Jarl Andarvi. We cannot have dissention within our ranks and anything which divided us will only weaken us when we need to be working together to retake Erebor and return prosperity to our people.
 
I did want to know why there was a problem with the Firebeards. Why were they so hostile? Balin told me that when I had the time, I should go and see him in the library and we shall discuss the matter further. He also said that Fili should be present to, because what he had to tell us was a matter of great importance. I did hope that it was not something too terrible, but from the look on Uncle Thorin’s face, I think that it was possibly something worse than a dragon taking a mountain and stealing your home, and of course, I wondered just what that could be.

My first encounter with the women did not make me look forward to the second, so when Svanni, the niece of Bavor showed up at the stables a few days later, I almost delegated the task to someone else. The past behaviour of Brud and Arinnefia really had put me off from wanting to talk to these dwarrowdams, which did them a disservice because the rest were nothing like them. She had come alone, no companion with her and no guard and it felt unseemly, at first, to be out with a woman other than Hilda, and so the ride was uncomfortable to begin with. As she seemed nicer than the other two, I saddled up Lily for her and hoped that the presence of Hilda’s pony would remind me where my heart lay.
 
I needn’t have been concerned about Svanni’s intentions in the end. It turned out that it wasn’t me or Fili that she was interested in meeting at all, but Bofur. I was elated when she told me because it meant that Bofur’s plan to get Fili and I out of this mess was going to be much easier to implement than we had thought. She talked about her craft, how she loved it and how she had once met him at a specialist craft fair. She liked the toys he had created.
 
Her family had wanted her to approach myself or Fili, to get to know one of us well enough to ask for marriage, but she didn’t want that. It was a relief, really, not to have one of these dwarrowdams pursuing me like I was some kind of animal. Would it count as interference if I directed these women to someone they actually wanted to meet? Of course, one thing Fili and I, and my Uncle had failed to take into account was the wishes of the ladies themselves. It was clear to me that Brud and Arinnefia wanted us only for our titles, and our wealth when we eventually had it returned to us, but not all of them were like that. It was clear that Svanni wanted someone to share her life with who shared her craft and that was something which I could respect. A dwarf man and woman helping each other with their life’s work was an honourable thing to want.
 
I decided that I wouldn’t be running interference if I introduced them and told her that if she hung around I would take her to meet Bofur when I finished work as I would go straight to the kitchens after I finished work so that I could see Hilda and Bofur was usually around then.
 
When we went to the kitchens, Bofur was delighted to talk to her and they spent the rest of the evening talking. Hilda and I sneaked off to her room, or what was called a room.
 
“See, my love?” I said, smiling at her when we were alone. “It is not all bad. If it goes like this with the other ladies, we may have a chance.”
 
I braided her hair and we kissed, before I had to leave to eat in the Meadhall. Eating there was becoming a chore, though. The mean spirited spitefulness of Brud and Arinnefia towards Hilda was apparent, even when she only talked to those my Uncle had ordered her to. Even Dwalin glared at them for their behaviour. Mam didn’t say anything about it, because she could appear to take sides on the matter, but later she told me how angry it made her because despite everything, she liked Hilda and didn’t like to see her treated so.
 
Vif, Skafid and Gloa wouldn’t let the matter drop easily and they defended Hilda. Those three could be right battle axes when they got upset about something. Bild remained silent on the situation but I could see that she liked it about as much as Mam did. Lofnheid and Lyngheid would have defended her, too, but Dwalin and Vif told them to stay out of it and let the older women deal with them. So meal times in the Meadhall were probably best described as being colourful affairs. Of course, if things went too far, then Mam would have stepped in and would use her powers as the unofficial queen to great effect as she had done before. That particular evening, Uncle Thorin got fed up of their rudeness and instructed Hilda to only see to myself, Fili, Dis and him. I wondered if this meant that he was changing his mind about things, or if he was just playing some political game of power with these people. I hated it, and wished things could go back to the way they once were when things were easier to understand. There are times I hate being of the royal line, and wish that I could just live a quiet life with my family, the ponies, my music and now, Hilda.

I am sure that the horse master was monitoring my interactions with these women because a few days later Balin visited me at lunch time and asked how things were going with Svanni. I told him that she and Bofur were getting on brilliantly. It did confuse him I think because the horse master’s report had indicated that she was interested in me because of the length of time she had spent talking with me. Talk about a mix up!
 
It did amuse me, though, but I don’t think that it would please my Uncle since it turns out that Fili had rejected all of the women who had spoken to him. I wondered if he was holding out for the elf maiden who had stayed with us during the winter, or if he just wasn’t interested in a wife at all. I think I’ll have to ask him. He may not want to tell my Uncle, but he may be more open and honest with me if I brought the subject up. I hope he does find a lady to be with. I don’t like the thought of my dear brother being alone.

Flioth turned out to be a nice girl, but extremely shy. She was younger than me, and was more in line with Gimli’s age and the whole situation bemused her. Perfect. It wouldn’t look out of place then, if I got Gimli and her talking to each other. This running interference thing was quite fun, especially when it turned out that they had something in common with my friends. If the lady fell for them instead of either of us, then there is nothing we can really do about it and I think it is the best we could hope. Both Fili and I felt protective towards the girl and agreed that she was off limits because of her age. I don’t know what Finn could have been thinking, but perhaps there really was no one else in his family line whom he could have put forward. However, Gimli and Flioth just got a good friendship going and it never went beyond that. Still, at least it got her out of my hair.
 
Feima didn’t really want to be in Ered Luin looking for a husband at all. She was the last to come and speak to me. All she wanted to do was devote her life to her craft, which was being a miner. It suited Fili and myself, but unfortunately for the lady in question, a lot of pressure was being put upon her to find a man to marry from her family. It turned out that not only was she Frar’s only daughter, but she was his only child as well. If she didn’t marry and have children, his line would end. There was a brother he could pass the title of Jarl on to and it was a situation that the line of Durin knew only too well. That put a whole different stint on the situation. She would not have made a suitable queen, though. More than that, the best thing for Fili and I to do was to honour the lady’s wishes and allow her to pursue her craft.
 
The only problem with all of this was that, while I was able to off load some of the women, I had not found among them one who Fili liked. Like me, he found Arinnefia dim-witted and Brud too cruel and spiteful. Worse, I couldn’t get rid of either of them. I think Brud sensed my feelings for Hilda and bullied her as a result. Arinnefia joined in but Brud made the mistake of bullying Hilda in front of Lyngheid one day and Lyngheid decked her. Lofnheid had a physical fight with Arinnefia the same day over the way they were treating her. That shocked me and many others as I’d always thought of Lofnheid as being a quiet, gentle girl, but she had her father’s temper when it was needed and she’d just had enough of their bullying ways towards my hobbit lass. Lyngheid later told me that she had seen Arinnefia out riding when she and Lofnheid had gone out to practice sword fighting and she’d not had any difficulty keeping her seat then. So this whole helpless act with her is just that, an act to try and garner our sympathy. I don’t think that she was as dim-witted as she tried to pretend, either. But it doesn’t matter either way – dim-witted or dishonest, neither of those qualities would do for a future bride for any of the men in the line of Durin.
 
After Lyngheid and Lofnheid had their confrontation with them, they left Hilda alone after that, and as it was quite clear that Fili and I had rejected them, they began to leave us alone and bothered some poor dwarf. I pitied him, having firsthand knowledge what they were like.
 
I’ve not had chance to talk to Fili about what he wanted in regards to a wife. I’m too busy and I must make time for it when I can.
 
Dain and his envoy had yet to arrive in Ered Luin, and I wondered if there was a woman among his party who would be suitable for Fili. I think if I managed to find someone for him, Hilda and I would be allowed to go back to how things were between us, but finding someone suitable for Fili was proving difficult.

Chapter Text

I had been back in Ered Luin for about a month when I finally decided that the kitchen work was driving me crazy. Although Bombur and the women who worked with him were nice to work with, and made me feel as welcome as anyone could do under the circumstances, I didn’t like being there. The antics of the children running around the place made me laugh. The main problem, aside from the obvious, was that I found the work monotonous and dull. I missed being out in the open air. Even on my parent’s farm, I’d not spent all my time in doors preparing food. I had usually been out helping to care for our animals. I wish I was with Kili at the stables and not just for his company.
 
To make things worse, I hardly ever saw Kili and there was a lot of gossip concerning him. I wish that they would just all shut up and leave him alone. Bofur and Svanni told me to take no notice of what was said. Svanni knew that most of the tales making the rounds about Kili and these women were rubbish and I believed her, especially given the trouble Arinnefia and Brud gave me. They had to get their cruel revenge, didn’t they?
 
I knew that Kili was loyal, that it was our work schedule keeping us apart and that he was doing his best to change his Uncle’s mind. I had to keep faith that that was the case or I would go mad.
 
This particular morning was my day off and I was reading some correspondence from Deidre, which was a mixture of good and bad news. A female cousin about her age had arrived – she was no blood relative of mine, I had no others – and was assisting her around the farm. I was relieved to read that bit of news because I felt guilty running out on her like had done, given the condition she was in. When I had the chance to, I wanted to see her. The children were well, and wanted to know when they’d be seeing me again and wanted me to bring my friends. I smiled at that. Of course, the children would want that, wouldn’t they? They were still pretending to be dwarven warriors and some of the other local children had taken up the game, much to the consternation of their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. That news made me smile too and I missed them dearly.
 
News from my aunt was not so good. Grandfather was still poorly and gradually getting worse as each day passed. It made me wish I was there instead of here. I hate being torn like this. Perhaps I could go for a visit? It was still travelling season, but I needed an escort and I didn’t want to leave Kili if I could help it, and I don’t think that his Uncle would allow him to take me back to the Shire. The temptation of not returning to Ered Luin would be too great.
 
I began to write them a letter back, telling them a host of lies and half-truths that I wish were reality but weren’t. I don’t think they wanted to hear of my boredom in the kitchens, or of my troubles with Brud, or of my very real fear of losing Kili, or the bitter knowledge that I wasn’t carrying his child. Whether the last is a good thing or not, I don’t know, but no one wants to read misery after misery when one has troubles of their own, or to have misery intrude on their happiness. Some things are just better left not telling. I had my back to the door and as a result, as I was finishing my letter, I didn’t know that it was Kili entering the room when I heard the door creak open until he wrapped his arms around my shoulders and bent to kiss the back of my neck. I was almost in tears as I grasped his hand in my own.
 
I put down my pen and leaned into him.
 
“What are you doing here, Kili?” I whispered.
 
“Bofur told me that you had the day off this morning when I came to the kitchens to pick up my breakfast. When I got to the stables this morning, I persuaded the horse master to let me have some time off myself and so here I am.”
 
He ended the embrace and pulled a stool up beside me chair and sat down beside me. As he did so, I folded up my letter to my relatives in the Shire so that he wouldn’t see what I had written, but his attention was on me and not my letter.
 
“You shouldn’t cry, Hilda,” he whispered, noticing my tears. “What were you doing when I came in just now?”
 
“Oh, it’s just a letter to my relatives,” I told him about the worries I had for my grandfather.
 
“I am sorry Hilda. Is that what had you upset just now?” he asked me.
 
“Partly,” I replied. There are many things that contribute to the sadness that I feel and there is way too much of it. He told me a few of Bofur’s silly jokes in an effort to cheer me up a little. Over the past month, Bofur had become a good friend and I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without him there. There is not a lot which get him down and his good mood is infectious, even if the jokes are sometimes inappropriate.
 
I took Kili’s hand in mine as he tried to cheer me up. It did work, for now at least. I was just happy that he was here with me and I don’t think that he could have made me happier if he told me that he was going to marry me that day.
 
“I was thinking of teaching you to use a bow today, if that is what you would like to do with the time we have free,” he suggested.
 
“I don’t have a bow, Kili,” I replied.
 
He grinned at me. “That’s where you’re wrong, lass! With some help from Flioth and Lofnheid, I’ve made you one. Flioth is of similar stature to you and I thought that if she could handle a bow made for her, then you could. Lofnheid was good at working out how long it needed to be, among other things.”
 
“So all this gossip I’ve heard about you and Flioth was just you teaching her how to use a bow so that you could teach me?” I asked.
 
He frowned at me. “Gossip? Who’s been doing that?” he asked.
 
“Guess…” I replied, wiping my eyes.
 
“A certain Firebeard lady and her friend, no doubt… Nothing of what they have been saying has been true, Hilda, though I don’t know what they have told you. Besides, she’s interested in Gimli, not me and she’s too young,” Kili said, trying to keep a cool head.
 
“I’m sorry, Kili. I know that you wouldn’t do anything with anyone else, but they are persistent and they are extremely scornful.”
 
“That, my dear, is why you shouldn’t take heed of them. They want to drive us apart anyway they can. Don’t listen to them. Now, would you like me to teach you how to use a bow today?” he enquired.
 
“I can’t promise that I’ll be a good shot,” I replied.
 
“It doesn’t matter, Hilda. The real fun is just having a go at it,” he said, smiling at me.
 
How can I resist that smile? “Alright. Let’s do this.”
 
I think Kili had been a genius to come up with this way of spending time with him. He had found a way to spend time with me, in the open, whilst romancing and flirting with me while making it look like nothing more than an archery lesson. If there is one thing I’ve learnt about Kili is that he is a master of flirtation while making it look as innocent as possible, not that he is always successful at doing it.
 
I was dreadful, especially at the start. Some dwarf men who were practicing sword-play stopped to watch us. I almost shot poor Dwalin when one of my shots went wide. Fortunately, Dwalin took it in good humour. One arrow even defied gravity when it got stuck in a tree trunk and hung with its shaft and flight end pointing towards the ground.
 
“I bet you couldn’t repeat that shot,” Kili said in my ear, laughing in good humour.
 
I found my accidents more hilarious than frustrating, but there was slight improvement when I hit the board that the target was painted on, only it landed outside of the target.
 
I shook my head in embarrassment. “I’m useless at this.”
 
“No, but you are having fun, right, my dear?” Kili replied, flashing me one of his big smiles.
 
“There is that, of course. I should stop laughing at myself. I think it is that which is ruining my concentration and making me do silly things,” I admitted.
 
“Aye, well, I wasn’t very good to begin with. When we were children, Uncle Thorin and Dwalin instructed Fili and I in all kinds of combat. Fili’s a walking arsenal, as you’ve noticed. My father was an archer and I chose the bow as my main weapon to honour him, but bows are only good for long range fighting, so Uncle Thorin made sure that I could handle a sword and Dwalin taught me everything I needed to know about axes and warhammers. I do think that a bow would suit you best because you will never have the stature required to handle a warhammer. I made lots of mistakes when I was learning to use my bow.”
 
I tried again, with the same result, it hit the board but not the target and now, I was starting to get a bit frustrated with it.
 
“You’re getting better,” Kili tried to reassure me. “Your shot didn’t land as wide that time, and you need to relax. Let me help you.”
 
I nodded, but I’m not sure if I could relax. Kili helped me line up my next shot, though I think it was only an excuse he used to stand as close behind me as he could. I was only too terribly aware of his presence at my back, his breath on my neck and his arms touching mine as he guided me. He held me with his left arm and when he was satisfied that I had the shot lined up properly he dropped his right arm. Just before I let my arrow fly, he laid his right hand on my hip, causing me to miss the shot.
 
“I do believe, Kili, that that was intentional,” I said.
 
“It wasn’t,” Kili lied, as I turned around to face him. I could tell that he wasn’t telling the truth because of the silly grin on his face. I do think that he would have pulled me into an embrace and kissed me had he not noticed Dwalin and some of the dwarf men watching us, paying us a little more attention than they should have done.
 
“Yes it was. Stop distracting me, Kili.”
 
“Alright. I’m sorry,” he said, backing away from me. “Try it again, just like I showed you.”
 
I attempted to fire an arrow again, trying to remember everything he had told me. My aim was better, without his flirting to distract me. I hit the target, though it only just stuck the target inside the painted circle. Taking heart at this, I took my next shot and it landed closer to the centre. It wasn’t perfect, but I suppose that it was the best that I could hope for.

“Not a bad shot, my lady,” said a voice I didn’t recognise. Kili and I turned to look at the new comers and saw Thorin, Fili and two dwarves which were unfamiliar to me, but carried the bearing of the House of Durin. The one who had spoken was the younger of the two dwarves and from the look of him, he was a similar age to Fili and Kili. Kili walked over to them and I stayed where I was, a little uncertain about what I should do.
 
“Cousin Dain,” Kili said, to the older of the two dwarves, with a smile on his face. “And cousin Thorin.” Kili and the two dwarves exchanged bear hugs and they spoke for a while among themselves. Surprisingly, Kili’s uncle didn’t tell him off, for a change.
 
When the greeting was over, Dain’s son told me to continue. That made me very self-conscious, more so than it had been when Kili had been flirting with me. As a result, I missed the target entirely. Kili could sense my nervousness and walked back over to me and helped me line up my next shot. I followed the advice that he spoke quietly into my ear and I think his presence made me forget my onlookers. Though far from perfect, I at least managed to hit the target this time and get the arrow inside the painted circle.
 
I was running out of arrows now and only had a couple of them left, so I had to make them count for something. Kili helped me line up this shot as well, and my aim had improved. This shot was the closest to the centre of the target that I had managed.
 
“I think you can manage the last one on your own,” Kili said, giving me an encouraging smile. He backed off to give me some room. I would have preferred it if he’d helped me with the last one, but I suppose I needed to learn to do it by myself if I was going to take up archery seriously and I would never get such help in a real battle. I took a long time over the shot, and this time, I surprised myself most of all. When it hit the target, it was just off centre.
 
“But in battle, you would not have the time to make a shot like that,” Thorin said.
 
Kili waved the comment off, trying to encourage me. “You’ll improve with practice, but my Uncle is right.”
 
“Kili, a word,” Thorin said. It was an order, not a request and they moved off to the side to talk privately. I hoped that he wasn’t in trouble again, not over me, but it looked like he was. Fili walked over to me and helped me gather up the arrows that I had fired. My arms and back ached. Who would have thought that archery required so much physical strength? Fili noticed the look of concern on my face as I watched Thorin and Kili talk.
 
“Don’t worry, Hilda, Kili’s not in trouble. My Uncle just wants Kili to come home,” Fili said. “We’re all worried about him you know.”
 
I sighed. “I wish he would go back home too,” I replied.
 
As we talked, Dain’s son came over to us. “Hilda, is it? You’re the young hobbit lass I’ve heard so much about,” he said. “Stirred up quite a bit of trouble so I’ve heard,”
 
Fili looked at his cousin wearily. “It’s not really Hilda’s fault, so don’t blame her, cousin. My Uncle and little brother are as stubborn as each other when they disagree on something.”
 
I just wished they’d resolve the issue, to be honest. I hated this conflict. I hated the tension that it caused, and the division between us when we should be supportive of each other. I don’t know for how much longer that I can stand this. It is tearing us apart and destroying us.

Chapter Text

I didn’t want to go to speak to Uncle, but as he had called me out in front of everyone, I didn’t have a choice. I left Hilda to gather up her arrows and smiled when I saw that Fili had gone over to help her but that smile soon disappeared when I stood before my Uncle. I sensed that I was in trouble, or just about to be. Take your pick.
 
“I trust that you will be in the meadhall for the formal feast this evening?” Uncle Thorin asked me.
 
It wasn’t the question I’d been expecting. I had expected him to give me grief over teaching archery to Hilda. Lately I had come to hate formal feasts in the meadhall. There had been too many of them recently in my opinion because of the presence of the Jarls and their retainers. Fortunately, I had been able to avoid most of them, until now. But this one would be in honour of cousin Dain’s arrival and I really couldn’t not attending it.
 
 
“I’ll be there,” I said, hoping that would settle the matter and Uncle Thorin would let me go. Of course, he had more to say to me.
 
“Make sure that you are,” he replied. “You’ve been spending too much time hiding in the kitchens, or down at that blasted pub of late.”
 
“I will attend it, Uncle,” I said, trying to remain calm.
 
I had been avoiding the meadhall as much as possible because it meant that I avoided the venom of Brud and Arinnefia. I’d been taking my meals instead at the Cabbage, or in the kitchens. (The latter was in the hope to catch Hilda, and eat my meals with her. I didn’t always work out like that because a lot of the time she was in the meadhall during meal times.) I also found it difficult to face the disapproval of my Uncle, and the pleading of Mam to come home. That was mainly because if I did hear her pleas to come home, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist them. And, of course, I really didn’t want to be in the same house as Brud and Arinnefia for obvious reasons.
 
Of course, my Uncle had not finished with me yet.
 
“Kili, your mother wants you to come home, you know, and I do as well.”
 
There was no anger in his voice and I think that it was as close to an apology over Hilda as I was going to get from my Uncle, but I wanted Hilda home as well. She belonged there; I knew that in my heart. I couldn’t go back home until that had been ratified and I told him so.
 
“I understand, Kili,” Uncle Thorin said, and I expected him to repeat the old line that there was no room at home for her, but he didn’t. Did that mean that he was finally changing his mind about allowing me to be with her? Of course, a replacement for her had not occurred. But Hilda and I should never have been put through this. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t a dwarrowdam for me.
 
“Some good as come out of this, I believe and I suspect your hand in it.”
 
“How is that so, Uncle?” I honestly didn’t understand what he meant, but he soon reminded me.
 
“Bofur has asked Bavor’s niece to marry him, and she’s agreed. Bavor has given his consent. Not quite the outcome we wanted, but some progress.”
 
I waved it away. “You give me too much credit, for that, Uncle. It was all her idea, not mine. She wanted to talk to him about her craft as she’s met him before. I merely introduced them.” It was the truth, wasn’t it?
 
“Of course,” my Uncle replied and I had a sense of here it comes, the dressing down which I had been waiting for. “And Gimli seems to have grabbed the attention of Fin’s daughter. Don’t think that I’ve not worked out what you and Fili have been up to. But there is one fatal flaw in your method, Kili. Your brother is still without a female companion.”
 
“I am well aware of that, Uncle,” I admitted. What else could I say? None of this is my fault. I don’t really have control over how other people behave.
 
“And Frar’s daughter? I know of your rejection of Andarvi’s daughter and Alf’s cousin and I do agree with your reasons, but what of her?”
 
I sighed. Feima had decided for herself her future. Neither Fili or myself had any right to try and coerce her into doing something she really did not want to do. Neither of course, did my Uncle. “She has made it quite clear to Fili and myself that she doesn’t want marriage. She wants to concentrate on her trade and both Fili and I thought it best to honour her wishes in the matter.”
 
 
I expected my uncle to be angry at the situation, but he wasn’t.
 
“I see,” he said. “I was hoping that there would have been someone for Fili among these women. We will have to see if Sindri’s folk can succeed where the others have not, otherwise either you or Fili will have to marry one of these girls if you want to or not.”
 
“If it comes to that, Feima is the best choice. Fili will need a wife who can help him govern. Flioth is too young. Those other two I fear will only bring more ruin down on to our House.”
 
My Uncle chuckled at this. “Interesting, nephew, that you assume it will be Fili marrying the girl and not you. If the worst comes, you will be the one continuing the line of kings, just as your mother has.”
 
That made me angry and I almost countered it by asking why he hasn’t married Bild, if he was so concerned about the continuation of our family line. Instead, I asked him about the suitability of Lyngheid for Fili.
 
“She is what my brother is looking for. He told me so before I went to the Shire and I know that she likes him.”
 
“Lyngheid? Are you sure that he wants her?”
 
“He didn’t say her by name, Uncle. But she has all the qualities that he wants in a wife.”
 
My Uncle sighed. “I have considered her, many times, Kili. She will make a good soldier; maybe even take over Dwalin’s role in time. But the blood lines are too close. This makes her unsuitable a wife for Dain’s son, also.”
 
“But it may come down to that, Uncle.”
 
“Aye, it may at that.”
 
I shrugged my shoulders. “In a bit of a mess, aren’t we?”
 
“That we are, nephew, was never in doubt.”

Chapter Text

Our free day was cut short because of the arrival of Dain and his son and I was called back to the kitchens to help out with the feast in their honour. I cannot say that I enjoyed the prospect. I had been enjoying my day with Kili so much that it seemed cruelty that it be cut short like it has. Not that we didn’t get to spend any more time together, for Kili went to the kitchens with me. He flittered around me as I worked, much to the annoyance of the other women, but I didn’t mind. The more he annoyed them, the better, in my book, as long as Kili and I were together!
 
Dain’s son hung around the kitchens as well, mainly because he wanted to talk to Kili. He was charming, if a bit arrogant in the way he conducted himself and was almost as bad a flirt with me as Kili, accept that I didn’t welcome it. Although Kili liked his cousin, Dain’s son’s behaviour annoyed him and it was a wonder that they didn’t come to blows.
 
The head matron got fed up of Dain’s son being in the kitchens and eventually turfed him out of the kitchens. She tolerated Kili, mainly because he made himself useful. That was really the only rule in the kitchen. Anyone was welcome there as long as they did their bit and didn’t disrupt things too much. Kili assisted me a little, but what made him more welcome than that was the fact that his presence cheered me up greatly. That made me easier for the rest of the kitchen staff to work with and more productive.
 
It also soon became apparent that the kitchen was understaffed for such an occasion. This meant that the meadhall would be understaffed later, too. No one had expected Dain and his entourage to arrive today and many of the dwarves who normally worked in the kitchens had taken trips into the mountains with their young ones, or lovers, if they had them to take advantage of the summer weather. I began to think that Kili and I should have done the same thing and taken the ponies out for a ride, with Trotter running along beside us, and been difficult to get hold of, too.
 
I voiced my opinion as we made a variety of cakes of different kinds for the meadhall feast while the matron and Bombur were busy shouting at his unruly children and weren’t paying attention to what we were doing.
 
“Don’t worry, Hilda,” Kili said, flashing me a grin. “We’ll get to spend time with each other.”
 
“It won’t be the same,” I said, the frustration evident in my voice.
 
Kili gave me a smile and looked around to make sure that no one was watching us before he kissed me. “I’ll make sure that you won’t know that you are working.”
 
“And just how will you manage that?” I asked.
 
“I’ll think of something,” he replied. After some time helping me with the cakes, Kili was called away by Fili. His mother needed him to get ready for the feast, later. “I’ll be back later,” he promised me.
 
As he was leaving the matron asked him to take Trotter out of the kitchen, for he’d been eying the boar which was spitted at the fire place and cooking slowly. Of course, Trotter would, wouldn’t he?