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The Ever Winding Road

Chapter Text

Having finally escaped the frenzy of the very unnecessary auction outside, Bilbo Baggins let himself sag against the door behind him.

His last words still echoed in his mind, whirling around in a cacophony of guilt and pain. He had been halfway in the door when the question had been asked. For some reason he had found his eyes straying to the mark carved into his door, that odd little symbol that had started it all. Then he had turned to face the auctioneer, who was still pointing with one chubby finger to the signature scrawled across the bottom of the page, and smiled softly.

“He was my friend.”

Bilbo pushed himself off the door, peering around him. He inspected his belongings, or rather lack there-of. Nearly all that he’d owned had already been sold, leaving just dust gathered on his hard wood floors, a few trinkets laying here and there.

Inevitably, Bilbo found himself wandering through the house, reminiscing old memories. Here, at this door, he had greeted each member of the company, in the kitchen he had watched them drink, and had gotten his first taste of a dwarf’s drinking song and had proceeded to be undeniably scandalized. The doorframe that led to the pantry still held gouges from where hard dwarf armor had scraped against it as they looted his food. Bilbo smiled sadly as he moved from room to room, tears filling his eyes but not venturing to drip down his cheeks.

In the living room, he frowned as he spotted something white on the floor, just before the fireplace. He stooped to take a look, and found himself laughing at what he saw. For there, before him, with the initials BB embroidered in the corner, was his handkerchief.

“Wait!”

Bilbo thundered through the grass, eyes trained on the line of ponies ahead. He thanked the Valar that he had woken up when he had, even another ten minutes later and surely he would have been too late. As it was, he had barely caught them. “

Wait!” His screech was far louder than he thought it would have been, somehow carrying all the way to the group moving slowly up the dirt path. They jerked their ponies to a halt as Bilbo stumbled to a stop before the pony that bore Balin, holding up his contract with trembling fingers.

“Here, I’ve got the contract. It’s signed.”

As Balin took the long strip of parchment Bilbo sagged where he stood, bracing his hands on his thighs as he struggled to catch his breath. He only glanced up when, with a rumbling voice, Balin had declared that everything was in order.

“Good,” stated Thorin. Going by the dry tone to his voice, Bilbo thought that was the exact opposite of what the dwarf was thinking, but he chose not to say this. “Give him a pony,” Thorin added impatiently.

Bilbo’s attention caught at this. He was not liking that idea. “No, no, that’s quite alright, I can walk,” he insisted. Then he yelped as two hands yanked him up, and within moments he found himself clinging to the back of a chestnut colored pony, Fili and Kili grinning on either side of him.

It had been merely ten minutes later when Bilbo had anxiously called the company to a halt. “I forgot my handkerchief,” he whined, though he would never admit to whining, his voice reaching a dangerously shrill volume.

“Here you go, use this.” From in front of him Bofur had torn off a section of his shirt and tossed it back to a very disgruntled Bilbo, who held it between his thumb and middle finger like it was a soggy old sock. Immediately the company went into motion again, members of the company still counting out their gold from the bet they had engaged in. Beside him Gandalf had rolled his eyes.

“You’ll have to go without a good deal more than handkerchiefs before this journey is done, Bilbo Baggins,” the old wizard had warned.

And he had been right.

Bilbo laughed, tears rolling unbidden down his face as he chortled. He had gone days without food (an unimaginable thing for a hobbit), without water, without a warm fire or a proper bed. So many months without a proper bed. Handkerchiefs had become the least of his worries. Yet as his choked laughs became sobs, he buried his face in the handkerchief, allowing himself to crumple into a ball on the floor.

It took him days to get all of his belongings back. Many hobbits were reluctant to return the items they’d bought, and the Sackville-Bagginses had been downright nasty about the whole business, but after many headaches Bilbo had returned all his furniture to its rightful place, his chest of gold that he’d taken from a troll’s cave considerably lighter than it had been before, not that he cared too much about that. Not now that he’d seen what gold could do to a person.

And so he’d stayed there. In the confines of his hobbit hole Bilbo had hidden, not ready to face the world. For every time he ventured out of his room, he would see the ghosts of his friends in his house. True, the dirt that Kili had scraped off his boots was no longer caked on his mother’s glory box, and the pantry was once more overflowing with cheese and bread, but it didn’t seem right. For every time Bilbo looked to the front door, he couldn’t help but think of one particular dwarf.

“He looks more like a grocer than a burglar.” Thorin’s voice was deep and smooth, and he spoke simply, as though discussing something as trivial as the weather, yet Bilbo could sense a hint of condemnation in the dwarf king’s voice.

With Thorin’s words still echoing through his mind, Bilbo had followed the dwarves back into the dining room, where they had all watched as Thorin slowly ate. At this point Bilbo had been thoroughly confused. Who was this dwarf that had the others, even Gandalf, so venerated by his mere presence? And what had he been going on about with burglars? He only piped in again when talk of dragons had started up, and of course the dwarves brought up the subject of burglars once more.

“You’ll need a real good one for that; a professional,” he’d commented, peering over Thorin’s shoulder at the map spread out over his table. What creature was sneaky enough to get past a full grown dragon?

“And are you?”

Bilbo blinked rapidly at Thorin’s words. “Me? What? No! I’m not a burglar! I’ve never stolen a thing in my life!”

And so the table had erupted into chaos, until Gandalf had stood and shouted “Enough! If I say that Bilbo Baggins is a burglar, than a burglar he is!” The wizard had turned to Thorin. “Thorin, you asked me to find the fourteenth member of your company, and I have chosen Bilbo. I believe he has a great deal to offer us, more than you think. More than he thinks,” he added, peering with hooded eyes to a very flustered hobbit.

Bilbo smiled softly at the memory. Yes, he had doubted himself then; he had doubted himself until the very end of the quest. But he would never forget the moment that Thorin had stopped doubting him; that moment on the Carrock when the dwarf king had embraced him, apologizing fervently for his doubts. Bilbo had felt rather weak kneed at that point, and was glad he was leaning against a very firm muscled dwarf.

For it was at that moment that he had fallen in love with Thorin Oakenshield.

But from there it had all been downhill. As they got closer to the mountain Thorin began to change. At first it was subtle, a greater impatience to depart from camp in the mornings, more demanding in the hours they spent walking. In Mirkwood, Bilbo had hardly noticed any of Thorin’s odd behaviors, knowing that the dark forest was making them all sick. But just how far Thorin had sunk became clear to him when Kili had been hurt. When Thorin had barely batted an eyelash, simply demanding that his nephew keep moving. The Thorin that Bilbo knew would have wrapped his nephew’s injury himself, and, if necessary, carried him until they found a safe place to make camp.

He knew it to be true, for that was the man he had fallen in love with. Bilbo had changed his focus at that point. No longer was his concern taking back Erebor, the mountain could cave in on itself for all he cared, he had a king to save. For even as he and Thorin had grown closer, Thorin had also moved away, until the man he’d fallen in love with was but a ghost, and he found himself standing behind a stranger as the men of Lake Town came begging for help.

So he had done what was necessary. Even as Thorin, or the dwarf that had once been Thorin, became dependent on Bilbo’s support, Bilbo had betrayed him. He had given the Arkenstone to Thranduil and Bard the dragon slayer, and had advised them on how to use it against Thorin.

He had known the consequences of his actions, known then that there was no hope of a future for him with Thorin. But he also knew that he would much rather have Thorin alive and sane and hating him than dead. Bilbo hated that it hurt Thorin, but he could never regret it.

And he had thanked the Valar when Thorin had emerged, finally, from Erebor, joining the Battle of Five Armies. Bilbo had known that Thorin had been able to shake the gold sickness; that he was once more the dwarf that Bilbo loved. But he had thanked the Valar too soon. And he had watched from a distance as Thorin had died on Azog’s sword.

He hadn’t returned to Erebor. He was banned, even if he’d wanted to he couldn’t. But he hadn’t wanted to. He knew that he would hate the mountain now, the mountain that Thorin had died for. So he had snuck off in the night, and had only been slightly surprised to see Gandalf waiting for him past the city of Dale, his own bags packed and ready and a sad smile on the wizard’s face. The journey back to the Shire had been quiet and uneventful, and the pair had avoided discussion of anything even resembling dwarves.

Bilbo didn’t know when he would be ready to face the world. He kept his garden in order, planted the acorn he’d taken from Beorn’s garden, and finally took a red leather bound book from his shelves. There he had poured out the details of his quest to reclaim the mountain, every tear, every laugh. He poured his heart into that book, laying down all the things he’d never said that he wished above all that he had.

He felt oddly at peace when he’d finished. Empty, and oddly happy about it. And so, for the first time in four years, Bilbo Baggins ventured down the old pub that sat at the center of the Shire.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light of the bar, and when they had he found that the pub had fallen utterly silent, every pair of eyes in the place trained on him. He gulped loudly, wishing he had brought Sting with him, as he had grown to expect when so many eyes were trained on him for there to be trouble. He shook his head- this was a Shire pub, he was no longer on the road- then raised his head and made his way silently to a booth in the corner. Within moments a tankard of ale had been set before him, and Bilbo gratefully buried his head in it.

Soon he found himself peering over the rim of the mug, studying the inhabitants of the bar. Of course there were hobbits, the small creatures with large hairy feet waddling this way and that. But there were also dwarves.

Bilbo smacked himself mentally. Well of course there are dwarves, he thought. He knew that not long after he had returned to the Shire a trading network had been set up between the Shire and the dwarves of Erebor. The mayor of the Shire had come to Bilbo’s house, personally asking him if he’d like to handle the transactions, since he was so familiar with dwarves. Bilbo had politely declined, knowing that there was no way he would be able to face a dwarf at any point in the future. Besides, he doubted the dwarves would want to work with someone who had betrayed their fallen king.

But now Bilbo found himself paying attention to the dwarves that stumbled around the pub. Their braids swung as they moved, their cheeks ruddy with alcohol consumption- yes, all dwarves, Bilbo knew, loved their ale. Even Thorin, when the occasion struck and they found themselves in a safe place, enjoyed engorging himself. Bilbo had loved that about him, his ability to distance himself enough to lead without distancing himself so much that he couldn’t enjoy himself. In the quiet night of their camps, Thorin had taught Bilbo several dwarf drinking tunes.

Now a hint of conversation at the next table caught Bilbo’s attention.

“She is a pretty lass,” admitted one hobbit. He shook his head sadly, then tilted his head back to take a sip of his ale. “Still no excuse though.”

The hobbit sitting across from him snorted. “Well it’s hardly surprising,” he commented. “She’s a Took! I’m surprised the same hasn’t happened to more of them.”

Bilbo frowned. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t good. He scooted down the bench, straining his ears to pick up the conversation.

“Which one of them is the father?” asked the second hobbit. “Will she tell him?”

The first hobbit shook his head. “I doubt it,” he commented dryly. “No good would come of it. It’s not like he’d ever be a part of the child’s life. She’ll just raise the child quietly on her own.”

Bilbo felt confusion stir inside him. A hobbit had gotten pregnant out of marriage. Such a thing was relatively rare in the Shire, but it did happen occasionally. No, Bilbo knew there was something else going on here. And he had a nagging feeling he knew what. So he turned his head back, neatly draining his ale as he had learned how to do and stood, moving to stand over the table.

“Forgive me,” he stated. “But I couldn’t help but wonder what you two were discussing. What on earth has happened?”

The two hobbits gazed up at him, mouths agape and eyes wide.

“Bilbo Baggins,” observed the first. “So, you’ve finally come out of hiding, have ya?”

Bilbo waved a hand dismissively. “Yes, yes,” he stated, not bothering to contradict the hobbit’s statement. He had been hiding after all. “Now, what were you talking about?”

“You know Josie Took, right?” asked the second hobbit. Bilbo nodded slowly; he remembered her. She had always been a very pretty hobbit, with rosy cheeks, bouncing curls, and a streak for mischief that had never let up. A second cousin of his if he remembered correctly.

“Aye,” he confirmed. “What trouble has she gotten herself into now?”

The two hobbits smiled lightly, evidently pleased that Bilbo hadn’t lost his hobbit culturing on his trip. A trip that he still hadn’t told anyone about.

“She’s gone and gotten herself pregnant with the child of one of them dwarf traders,” supplied the second hobbit. Bilbo nodded slowly, his thoughts confirmed. He sighed. He was beginning to get an odd feeling in his stomach that his life was about the change- again. “What on earth could she have possibly seen in a dwarf?” asked the first hobbit. “There’s absolutely nothing to like. Their hair’s too long, their feet are all wrong, and-”

Bilbo’s fist hit him squarely in the jaw. As the hobbit crumpled onto his bench, Bilbo’s rage was replaced with shock. Had he really just done that? Then the hobbit’s words sounded in his ears again, and Bilbo struggled not to take another swing at him.

His companion was staring at Bilbo in shock, something that Bilbo was acutely aware of. Suddenly self-conscious, he hurried to grab his coat and stumble out of the bar. Outside he leaned against the wall, inhaling deeply the cool night air.

He took several minutes to collect his thoughts. Surely he hadn’t needed to hit the fellow, he was only stating his opinion. Yet there was no reason for his distaste for dwarves. Bilbo shook his head, a curly mass of sandy hair flopping against his forehead. He had been less than pleased when the rag tag group of dwarves had first turned up at Bag-End. In fact, he had spent the night trying to convince the lot of them to leave.

Well, he had gotten over his aversion eventually. He had grown quite fond of his dwarves, and they of him. And Bilbo knew that it was a deep love, and even deeper loss, that had driven his fist that night. Groaning, he swore to himself to lay off the ale.

He sighed. He knew where he had to go now. He hoped he remembered the way. He moved down the dirt road, frowning as he struggled to remember which path lead to Josie Took’s home.

Half an hour and several mistaken turns later, Bilbo approached Josie’s home. His heart was pounding, unsure what to expect. He hadn’t made a social call since several months before leaving on the quest to Erebor.

He stared at the door, which was rough and unpainted, and shook his head. He could do this. He had to do this. He suspected he was the only hobbit in the Shire who wouldn’t begrudge Josie for her taste in lovers. So, with a shaking hand, he stepped up to the door and knocked.

The hobbit that answered the door was an inch or two shorter than Bilbo. She had a tangled mess of hair, the color of the freshly tilled earth, falling in unruly, wet curls over her shoulders. Hazel eyes sparkled with that Tookish glint, and she wore a sapphire blue night gown. At the sight of Bilbo her jaw fell open in shock, a small hand coming to hover over her stomach.

“Bilbo Baggins,” she breathed. She quickly collected herself and stood back. “Please, come in,” she offered. Bilbo stepped into the house with a smile of thanks, following Josie as she pattered into the living room.

“Please, make yourself cozy.” She glanced at the fireplace, where the fire had gone out while she was in the bath, and frowned. “I’m so sorry, allow me to…”

She faded into silence as she struggled to get a fire going, and with a small chuckle Bilbo knelt beside her.

“Please, allow me,” he offered. Within moments he had sparked a small flame to life, and he steadily added wood until a merry fire crackled in front of him. He ignored Josie’s shocked gaze as he settled back into the armchair next to the fireplace. He had picked up a few things while on the road.

Soon the pair were sitting together with cups of tea, chatting quietly about childhood adventures. Bilbo found himself laughing more than he had in four years, recalling day long romps through the forest in search of elves. How simple things had been when he was a younger hobbit.

Eventually a comfortable silence fell over the pair, and Bilbo found himself contentedly sipping his tea as he gazed into the crackling flames. The sight was oddly comforting, reminding him of cheery nights on the road filled with laughter and Bofur’s never ending stories. Of course that brought a twinge of sadness as well, but Bilbo was determined to not be sad again. No, it was time for him to move on.

His solitude was shattered as Josie gave as small sigh beside him. Glancing over, he found her watching him cautiously, hazel eyes dark.

“I know why you’re really here,” she said softly. “I think it’s time to address the reason for your visit.”

Bilbo nodded, his gaze travelling down to Josie’s stomach, which was bulging ever so slightly. At his look, Josie’s hand automatically went to cradle the small bump at her midsection, her head lifting ever so slightly and a dangerous gleam taking hold in her eyes.

Bilbo ignored it. “Do you know who the father is?” he asked softly.

Josie nodded. “Aye,” she said. She sighed. “I doubt I’ll ever see him again. He was young and foolish, and forced to go on a trading trip with his father. I doubt he’ll be on another.”

Bilbo nodded. “Are you planning on contacting him?” he asked. Josie thought for a moment, and then shook her head.

“No,” she said. “I’m sure if I wished, one of the traders could seek him out, but I hardly see the point. He is too young to be a father, and his heart is too spirited to be tied down in the Shire.” Bilbo took a sip of his tea. He had thought as much. He made a decision then, and cleared his throat.

“I would like you to move in with me at Bag-End,” he declared. Josie glanced up at him sharply, startled, and Bilbo pressed on. “You shouldn’t have to raise this child by yourself, and I have no one else. Besides, I find myself with rather a soft spot for dwarves; I think a child such as yours would do me good.”

His own words shocked him. Would the child be good for him? He knew that every day with the child, whether they be a boy or girl, would remind him of a certain king under the mountain, and a future that never had been. Yet the child would give him a small portion of that future, a portion that he had never expected, never dreamed of having to begin with. Yes, he realized. This child was exactly what he needed.

“You never did say what you did,” Josie whispered. “Where did you go Bilbo? What did you see that’s put such sadness in your eyes?”

Bilbo choked out a laugh. “Oh, that’s quite a story,” he warned.

Josie lifted her chin. “If I am to trust you to be around my child, the least you can do is to tell me where you disappeared to with thirteen dwarves and a wizard that has changed you so.”

Bilbo sighed. He knew she was right. And he supposed it was time that he told someone about his quest. And so he nodded slowly.

“Alright,” he said. He smiled softly. “It was quite an unexpected adventure.”

And so he began to talk. He told her everything, beginning with Gandalf’s appearance at Bag-End one pleasant morning, and ending with his return to his home so many months later. There was only one thing he left out, simplifying his endeavors in the tunnels under Goblin Town and leaving out who- and what- he’d found there.

Josie listened in rapt attention as he spoke, eyes wide and lips parted gently. By the time Bilbo finished his tale the sun had risen outside, and Bilbo’s voice was cracking from having been used nonstop for so many hours. As he finished he faded into an uncomfortable silence as he waited for Josie to respond. Suddenly he found the sight of his feet very interesting, and promptly avoided looking at Josie’s wide eyed stare as she processed his tale.

He glanced up as her arms wrapped around him. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. Tears were in her voice and eyes as she pulled away, offering Bilbo a comforting smile.

Bilbo nodded and stood. He didn’t want to see her pity, didn’t need it. It was bringing back too many memories, and he had promised himself not to divulge himself those memories any longer.

“I should go,” he said. “I’ll let you think over my offer.” Josie blinked and nodded, evidently having forgotten Bilbo’s offer for her to move into Bag-End. He quickly slipped out the door, walking briskly home and ignoring the stares he got from the few hobbits who were outside. He didn’t care what they thought.

He promptly fell asleep, snoring softly through the majority of the day. Then he spent the rest of the afternoon tending his garden, humming quietly to himself as he worked. He laughed silently to himself as he realized that the tune he was humming was a dwarf drinking song, ignoring the perplexed stare of the hobbit couple walking by his fence.

He had just sat down to supper when the knock came at the door. Frowning, he set down his fork and approached the door slowly, heart pounding. The last time such a thing had happened, there had been a heavily tattooed, fierce looking dwarf waiting impatiently at the entrance. And Bilbo had left the mark Gandalf had scratched in his front door in place, refusing to paint over it no matter how many times the Sackville-Bagginses insisted.

It wasn’t Dwalin who stood at Bilbo’s door however, though the sight that greeted him was nearly as welcome. Josie Took stood in the dim light of the moon, a large sac stuffed with clothes in one hand, the other hovering nervously over her stomach. She looked up at Bilbo beseechingly, smiling tentatively.

Bilbo returned her smile, feeling for the first time in many months a flicker of hope within him. “Please, come in,” he stated. “I was just sitting down for supper.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo watched Josie as she stepped into his hobbit hole. Her eyes were wide as she took in the ornate, antique furniture that Bilbo had inherited, politely ignoring the scuff marks on the walls. He led her from room to room, allowing her a few minutes to marvel at each. He knew he had quite a bit more money than she did; he had inherited all of his mother’s fortunes when she had died. However, being the youngest in a Took family and a woman nonetheless, Josie had been expected to derive all her wealth from a marriage.

Eventually he led her to the table and put up a kettle for tea. He pushed his own dinner towards her as he rummaged through the pantry to find something else to eat. Soon they sat across from each other, quietly nibbling on cheese.

Bilbo sighed. Before his adventure, if he had been forced to share a meal with someone, this would have been lovely for him. Quiet, unobtrusive, and polite. Josie ate everything he put in front of her, and managed not to make a mess of it! However, he now found that he had no patience for silent dinners. He missed the rambunctious jokes and loud laughter of his dwarves, the splash of ale, the flight of food as one of them- usually Fili, Kili, or Nori- started a food fight.

“So,” he cleared his throat as he swallowed and looked over to Josie. She glanced up at him, hazel eyes curious, and he paused. What was he supposed to say?

Josie laughed at his uncertainty. It was a light sound, like the ringing of wind chimes. Bilbo felt himself respond automatically.

“Will you tell me a story?” she asked. “One that you heard on your adventure?”

Bilbo nodded, grateful that she had thought of something to fill the silence. He leaned back in his chair as he sorted through a long list of tales. Bofur had never run out of them, spouting stories to make them laugh and cry while on the road and at their campfires at night. He eventually decided to start with the first.

And so he began to talk. He was a bit fuzzy on the details, as it had been many years since he had heard the story, but he remembered it well enough. No doubt Bofur had told it better, but Bilbo did his best. He was pleased to see Josie cackling quietly in her seat, tears streaming down her face from the intensity of her laughter.

It was late by the time Bilbo’s story came to a close. The pair stood, and an uncomfortable silence descended once more.

“Come,” said Bilbo. He led Josie down the hall, past the pantry, bathroom, and small guest rooms. At the end of the corridor sat two bedrooms, Bilbo’s own master bedroom, and beside it, the just as cozy primary guest room. He opened the door for Josie, and she hovered uncertainly in the doorway.

“I hope everything is to your liking,” he said. “I can make any changes you’d like, or if you’d prefer-”

He was interrupted by Josie flinging her arms around him, pulling him to her in a very emotional hug. “It’s lovely,” she whispered. She stepped back, blinking back tears, and Bilbo began to panic. Crying! How was he supposed to deal with that?

“O-Oh, alright then,” he stammered. “I-I’ll just be next door if you need anything.” He gestured to his own bedroom door. “G-Good night,” he blurted. Then he threw himself in his room and slammed the door.

Once inside, he leaned his head back, though perhaps a bit too quickly than was wise, for he winced as his head slammed against the hard wood and a solid thwack reverberated through the room. Bilbo sank to the floor, trying to get a handle on his emotions.

Alright, he thought. She’s just a girl. You’ve faced much worse than a pregnant hobbit, Barrel-Rider!

A quiet laugh reached his ears. Evidently Josie had heard his head bang against the door. With a groan, Bilbo crawled into bed and buried his head beneath his pillows. ”Give me Smaug any day,” he muttered.

The next morning Bilbo emerged from his room with a headache and a lump on the back of his head. Josie’s mouth quirked in small smile at him, but she chose not to comment.

First breakfast was a quiet affair, after which Bilbo fled to his garden with his pipe. By the time second breakfast came around, he was feeling much better. He entered the house to find a whole array of food spread out over his table, and a rather pink faced Josie surveying her work proudly.

“Oh…” he trailed off. Meeting Josie’s eyes, he found himself blushing several shades of red. “You didn’t have to,” he blundered.

Josie snorted. “You’ve opened your home to us when you don’t have to,” she said, her hand coming up to rest on her stomach. “Yes, I did.”

Bilbo nodded mutely, then found himself being steered towards his seat. Josie seemed in a pleasant mood, filling their second meal of the day with quiet small talk. He listened with rapt attention, smiling softly as she spoke.

Once everything was cleaned up, the pair made their way over to Josie’s home. Bilbo wandered through the house as he surveyed things, wondering how on earth he was supposed to move that very large armoire across the Shire- how would he even fit it through the door?

In the end he enlisted the help of several neighbors, who, although perplexed about why Josie Took was moving in with her second cousin Bilbo Baggins- the same Bilbo Baggins that had run off with a gang of dwarves and had hardly left his hobbit hole since his return, jovially put their backs into their work. By the time the next meal rolled around they had managed to get most of Josie’s belongings into his house. Bilbo thought it was only right that he provide tea for his neighbors after their hard work, and so he soon found himself engaging in a quietly buzzing meal around his table.

Josie spent the rest of the day unpacking her belongings, and Bilbo did his best to help, though he was certain that he was just in the way. At the final meal of the day he once more shared one of Bofur’s stories, and his large hobbit hole was filled with Josie’s laughter.

And so the days progressed. Bilbo and Josie gradually became at ease with each other, quietly working together in the garden or to prepare their meals. Josie’s stomach grew larger, and with it the speed with which she moved between emotions. Bilbo was perplexed by this, unsure what to make of a hobbit that was one minute laughing and the next sobbing.

The first time it happened he had thought something was very wrong. He was coming outside for a smoke on his pipe, having finished with the dishes from second breakfast. Josie was sitting on the bench outside his door, her face buried in her handkerchief. As her sobs reached his ears he felt his pipe tumble out of his fingers, and he positively threw himself to the ground at her feet.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Josie, what’s wrong? Is it the baby?”

Josie shook her head, which was still buried in her hands, and sniffled.

“No,” she stammered. “It’s j-just, your garden. It’s s-so b-beautiful.”

Bilbo blinked rapidly for several long moments. “I-I’m sorry?” he finally managed. Had he heard her correctly?

His thoughts were interrupted as Josie’s sobs took on a renewed fervor, and Bilbo quickly sat on the bench beside her and pulled her into his arms. There she cried, his shirt replacing her handkerchief, until her tears had run dry.

“I’m so sorry,” she sniffled. “You’re shirt…”

Bilbo glanced down to where the material was soaked. He laughed quietly, hoping to dispel her worries. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said breezily. “I did tell you how I became a troll’s handkerchief, didn’t I?”

Josie immediately began to laugh. “Yes, I do believe I remember that,” she chuckled. She disentangled herself from Bilbo and sat up, rubbing the last of her tears from her red rimmed eyes.

“Come.” Bilbo stood and held out his hand. “I’d like to show you something.”

Wordlessly Josie took his hand, allowing him to pull her to her feet. He led her back inside, down the hall and to his bedroom. When Josie paused in the doorway he released her hand and entered alone, pulling the blanket off the chest he kept at the foot of his bed.

He opened the lid, ignoring the flash of the gold and silver beneath, and resisting the urge to gag at the odor that still clung to the treasure. He lifted two items off the top of the pile, closing the chest as he set them on his bed.

Now Josie entered the room, intrigued by what she had seen. Bilbo smiled to himself as he stepped back, allowing Josie to study Sting and his shirt of mithril with wide eyes.

She picked up Sting, quietly unsheathing the short sword and holding it with trembling fingers. The blade shone dimly in the light that came through the window, and Bilbo stepped closer to run his hands over it.

“We found this in the cave of the trolls that we encountered,” he told her. “Gandalf thought I might need it. It’s an elven blade, which means that it glows blue when orcs or goblins are near.” He paused for a moment, then added, “I named it Sting.”

Josie glanced up at him curiously, then resumed her study of his sword. “Why Sting?” she asked.

Bilbo grinned and related to her the details of the company’s encounter with the spiders of Mirkwood. Once again he left out the ring’s part in all of this, and he resisted the urge to feel for the small band in his pocket as he spoke. Josie shook her head in wonder, laughing quietly.

“Oh Bilbo,” she laughed. “Sometimes I wonder if you make all this up, but I know that you haven’t.”

Bilbo chuckled. “Yes, it is all a bit unbelievable, isn’t it,” he admitted.

Josie sheathed Sting and set it gently on the bed, turning to finger the mithril shirt gently. “What’s this?” she asked.

Bilbo smiled sadly. Tears were threatening to spill over in his eyes, but he resisted them, roughly wiping them away before Josie could see them. “That,” he answered. “Was a gift. It’s mithril, the favorite metal of the dwarves. It’s lightweight so as not to weight you down, but stronger than most steel.” He smiled softly, knowing that the mithril shirt was likely the only reason he had survived the Battle of Five Armies.

Josie nodded wordlessly, running her fingers down the chain linked metal. It too gleamed softly in the light, and when she lifted it to hold it up before her the sun shone through the cracks in the shirt, sending sharp pinpricks of light into Bilbo’s eyes.

“You said it was a gift,” Josie whispered. She set the shirt down and turned to face him. “From whom?”

Bilbo smiled as he looked down at the mithril shirt on his bed. For in that moment everything suddenly smelled of campfires and sweat stained leather and pipe weed.

“Thorin,” he whispered.

Josie’s eyes widened, and sensing his onrush of emotions, she quickly excused herself. Bilbo didn’t turn to watch her go, merely gazed sadly at the mithril shirt before him.

Bilbo!” Bilbo glanced up as Thorin’s booming voice reached his ears, igniting that now familiar tingle in his stomach and toes. He hurried to walk faster, to reach the dwarf king as he stood at the entrance to the treasure chamber. He only paused when he saw what Thorin was wearing. Armor. He quickly glanced behind Thorin, eyes widening when he saw that each of his friends were pulling on thick steel plates and helms. Even Ori, whose favorite weapon was his pen, was donning himself, Dori hovering over him to tighten the straps.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

Thorin smiled sadly, but declined to answer Bilbo’s question. “Have this,” he said. “It is more your size, and I fear you may need it.”

Bilbo glanced down to what the dwarf king was holding out to him. “Is that…”

Mithril? Yes.” Thorin stepped forward when Bilbo didn’t take the shirt of shining steel and slipped it over the hobbit’s head himself. “It ought to be enough to keep even you safe my burglar.”

Bilbo glanced up at Thorin, now utterly confused. “Thorin, I don’t understand, are we expecting an attack?”

Thorin nodded gravely. “The men of Lake Town and the woodland elves won’t go quietly. I fear we may come under siege.”

Bilbo opened his mouth to protest. That was insane. The people of Lake Town were starving, and looking for aid. Bilbo didn’t know what had wedged itself up Thranduil’s ass, but he knew that Lake Town, at least, posed no threat. Yet, before he could voice any of these thoughts, Thorin drew him roughly to the side, out of view of the others.

“Bilbo,” breathed Thorin. “I need your help.”

Bilbo paused, thrown off by the slight tremor in Thorin’s voice. He peered up at the dwarf, trying to study his face in the dim light.

What is it Thorin?” he asked. “Tell me.”

Thorin chanced a look behind him to the others. “One of them has stolen the Arkenstone,” he whispered.

Bilbo felt his stomach plummet. All at once he wanted to scream, wanted to run, wanted to just curl into a ball on the floor and sob. He was losing Thorin. And to that thrice damned stone too! He knew it, he could feel it, but there was nothing he could do about it.

Thorin didn’t notice the distraught look on his hobbit’s face, pressing on with his gold-sickness driven fears. “I know it,” he confided. “One of them has taken it. They wish to be king in my stead. Please Bilbo,” and here the dwarf’s voice broke, and Thorin averted his gaze. “You’re the only one I can trust. You must help me to find who stole the Arkenstone.” “

Thorin.” Bilbo’s voice was low and urgent. “You don’t really think that one of them would betray you? Thorin do you hear yourself?”

Thorin’s eyes widened in hurt as he took an involuntary step back. “You don’t believe me?” he asked.

Bilbo shook his head mutely, swallowing down tears. He had to tread carefully here. One false move and Thorin would be beyond even him.

“I believe you,” he managed at last. The look of relief on Thorin’s face both warmed Bilbo and filled him with dread.

“Thank you.” Thorin stepped closer to Bilbo, pulling the hobbit up on his toes. He pressed his lips against Bilbo’s once, a soft kiss of thanks. Then he was gone.

Bilbo opened his eyes to see the company parading solemnly past. Each was decked out in armor, shining in the dim light of the mountain. Each had strapped to them swords and axes, Kili had his bow strung and ready, Dwalin tapped his knuckle dusters together, and Oin’s metal staff clinked on the floor. On the other side of the pathway Thorin stood, watching them move past through hooded eyes. Bilbo gulped, then hurried after the company before Thorin could do or say anything else, patting subtly the stone he held in his pocket.

Bilbo sighed, folding the mithril shirt and storing it back in the chest with Sting. It may be a reminder of the darkness that had descended Thorin in his final days, but it was also a token of the dwarf’s love for him. Bilbo knew that the gift had held wholeheartedly behind it the intention to keep Bilbo safe. Safe so that the two could one day be together.

Bilbo crumpled to the floor, overwhelmed by his emotions. He had promised himself that he wouldn’t divulge thoughts of his dwarf anymore, yet here he was, on the verge of tears as he wondered after a life that could have been. Without even realizing it Bilbo found the ring in his hand, and he held it before his face as he studied it.

It was such a simple thing. It shone gold in the light, unobtrusive in his palm. For some reason Bilbo found his thoughts straying to the ring whenever he was emotionally unstable. It was as though the small gold band was an anchor in his turmoil filled mind, calling to him softly, softly.

Bilbo slipped the ring on his finger. Immediately the world went into hues of grey, the beautiful things in his house dimming under the ring’s light. Bilbo sat there for several long minutes, letting the ring’s steadiness seep into him. Gradually his thoughts began to settle, and with reluctance Bilbo pulled the ring off his finger.

Josie was in the garden once more, toes playing with the green grass beneath the bench. She glanced up and smiled softly as Bilbo emerged, embarrassment covering her cheeks red.

“I’m sorry about before,” she started. Bilbo waved his hand in dismissal.

“It’s all fine,” he said. “I’m sure it’s common among pregnant women.”

Josie smiled as Bilbo sat beside her, then leaned against him. A companionable silence settled over them, and Bilbo found himself gazing contently over Bag-End.

Perhaps this wasn’t the ending he’d wanted to his tale, but it certainly wasn’t a bad one.

Chapter Text

“Pickles,” Bilbo muttered, stumbling on the steep hill outside Bag-End. “Blasted pickles.”

He was on a trip to the market after Josie had begun to moan about how she was craving pickles. Her mood had quickly soured, and her yells had chased Bilbo out the door. He shook his curly head as he fled, wary as to what sort of mood she’d be in when he returned.

He nodded nonchalantly to neighbors as he passed them by, and as was polite, they nodded back. As soon as he passed he knew they would begin to whisper about him, but he couldn’t care less. He had finally found some semblance of peace in his life, and he was not going to let a few disgruntled hobbits take that from him.

He made quick work of his visit to the market, picking up a few other things while he was there. He returned humming softly, then braced himself for whatever mood Josie may be in and opened the door.

Josie was curled up in a ball on the floor, moaning softly. Her hands were clenched around her stomach, and Bilbo knew immediately that something was very wrong.

“Josie!” Forgotten, the groceries crashed to the floor, and Bilbo hurried to his cousin’s side. He attempted to turn her over to face him, but as his motion undid the ball she had curled into she let out a scream. Bilbo quickly withdrew his hands, face paling.

“Hold on,” he said to her. “Just hold on!” He sprinted from the house, leapt over the gate, and barreled down the hill. His neighbors stared after him, no doubt thinking that he was off on another adventure, but he ignored them.

The Shire had one healer, an old hobbit that lived on the other side of town. Bilbo had never been to Daisy Folkspawn’s house before, but every hobbit in the Shire knew their way there.

Bilbo threw himself at the door, hammering with both fists as he yelled for her to open up. After several moments a wizened old hobbit opened the door, and Bilbo nearly fell over as his leaning perch vanished.

“Please,” he begged. “Josie, she’s pregnant, and there’s something wrong, I don’t know what, please you must help.” The words tumbled out of his mouth at a rapid pace, slurring together in his haste.

The old hobbit in front of him blinked rapidly. “Slow down,” she commanded. Sky blue eyes peered up at Bilbo through white hair, and she leaned against the door for support. She waited until Bilbo had caught his breath. “Now,” she commanded, her voice low and soothing, “start over.”

“Josie Took,” explained Bilbo. “She’s my second cousin, and she moved in with me at Bag-End after she got pregnant.” At the look that flashed across the healer’s face, Bilbo quickly elaborated. “The baby’s not mine,” he squeaked, though he felt that saying that shouldn’t be necessary, she was his cousin for Eru’s sake! “The child is that of a dwarf trader. But I came back from the market and she was curled up on the floor, and when I tried to move her she let out such an awful scream.” Bilbo paused for breath, looking beseechingly down at the woman hunched over before him. “Can you help her?” he asked.

Daisy Folkspawn pursed her lips. “I will see what I can do,” she stated. She disappeared inside for a moment, appearing a moment later with a worn old leather bag. Closing the door behind her, she started up the path toward Bag-End. She made surprisingly good time, though not nearly good enough for Bilbo, and soon swept into his house, where Josie was still curled up on the floor.

The healer placed a hand over Josie’s forehead. Then she leaned down and murmured softly into her ear. Whatever she said seemed to have been a question, because Josie moaned a faint affirmative. Daisy turned to Bilbo.

“Move her to her bedroom,” she commanded. Immediately Bilbo knelt down and scooped up Josie, ignoring her groans of pain, though it pained him to do so. He set her down on her bed as gently as he could, wincing as she let out another moan. He stepped back then, allowing Daisy to shoo him out.

To say that Bilbo was anxious was an understatement. He paced up and down the hallway, then finally decided that if he was going to worry, he might as well be useful as he did. He put away the groceries, put up a kettle for tea, and then resumed his pacing as he waited. By the time Daisy emerged from Josie’s room the tea was ready. Bilbo guided her to a chair, thrust a cup in her hands, and waited impatiently for her to speak.

“She needs rest,” the healer finally began. “I did what I could for her, but I’m afraid this isn’t something that can be cured.”

“What do you mean?” asked Bilbo. Was she dying? Was the baby? He began to panic.

Daisy sighed. “She is carrying the child of a dwarf,” the healer explained. “This is a difficult pregnancy. She must be on bed rest until the child is born if there is to be any hope of it surviving.”

Bilbo gulped. “And Josie?” he asked. “Will she live?”

Daisy took a long moment before responding, sipping quietly at her tea. “I do not know,” she admitted finally. “Surviving until the birth won’t be too difficult for her, the trouble will be the delivery. Until then, I cannot say what will happen.”

She stood, leaving her cup on the table. “She is resting now,” Daisy said. “Let her do so.” Bilbo nodded and grabbed a small bag of coins off the table, wordlessly handing it over. Daisy showed herself out, and Bilbo sank numbly into his armchair.

Bed rest. He knew Josie would be less than thrilled about the idea, but he was determined to keep her resting. He reasoned that she wouldn’t cause any trouble about it, surely she wouldn’t risk the life of her baby over a bit of fresh air.

Yet, even with all of that, there was still a chance that they would die. Bilbo didn’t know if he could handle any more death. He had been so alone when he’d first returned to Bag-End, and it had only been Josie and her unborn child that had brought him out of his stupor. He couldn’t lose them. Not now.

He shook his head and stood. Fretting about what might happen in the future would be of no use to him, and life went on. He doubted Josie would be awake any time soon, so he got to work in his garden. He ran back to check on her every ten minutes, but she remained asleep in bed, curls splayed about her face.

Within an hour he had finished everything there was to do around Bag-End, and so he sat down to eat. He set a small tray of food aside for Josie, should she wake, but still she slumbered on.

When it came time for him to retire, he did not go to his room, but dragged his weathered old bedroll outside her door. He curled up in it, doing his best not to inhale the scents that still clung to it, and tried to quiet his racing mind.

Midway through the night he woke to a small moan from Josie’s room.

“Bilbo?” she called weakly. The hobbit in question sprang up from where he had been unsuccessfully attempting to sleep and raced into her room, dropping to his knees by her bed.

“I’m here,” he whispered. “It’s alright.”

In the near blackness of the dark room, Bilbo could just make out Josie’s frown. “What happened?” she asked.

Bilbo sighed. “I came back from the market and found you on the floor. I fetched the healer, and she looked after you. You’ve slept through the rest of the day.”

Josie’s eyes widened. “The baby?” she whispered. Bilbo heard the rustle of fabric as her hands crept up to her stomach.

Bilbo smiled reassuringly. “The baby is fine,” he reassured her. “But you need to stay in bed.” He continued to explain to her the healer’s instructions, and though Josie was about as pleased as he’d expected, she didn’t object.

As he finished his explanation, he heard her stomach growl.

“I’ll get you some food,” he said, chuckling lightly. He quickly left the room, returning several minutes later with a candle and a tray of supper. As Josie nibbled on what he’d brought, he put up a kettle for tea and hurried around the house, gathering as many candles as he could find. He didn’t mind the dark quite as much as he used to, but he doubted Josie was at ease without light. By the time the tea was ready her room glowed softly under the light of no less than ten candles, and Bilbo was hard pressed to find a place to sit, not wanting to disturb the bed. Eventually he sank down against the wall, watching her with furrowed brows.

“You’re staring,” Josie commented quietly. Bilbo shook himself out of his reverie, smiling softly in apology.

“What’s on your mind?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Bilbo lied. In truth he was remembering campfires from nights long past. Josie seemed to realize this, for she nodded knowingly as she settled back in bed.

“Tell me a story,” she asked. Bilbo quietly acquiesced, beginning yet another tale he had learned while on the road. When he had finished he continued on with another one, and Josie listened happily until the sun came up and the birds chirped outside.

The days passed slowly. Life went on as normal in Bag-End, or nearly normal. Bilbo did his work, rushing inside to check on Josie every hour or so. He would never worry her with such thoughts, but he missed her happy presence beside him. He missed her humming in the garden, her bubble fights when they did dishes together.

None of this he said though. He simply went about his day, bringing her meals on a tray. As she ate he would relate to her stories, and her quiet laughter filled the room. Eventually Bilbo stopped sleeping outside her door and returned to his bed, but he found that he slept lighter, alert to every movement creaking through the walls from the next room.

As the days grew on Josie’s skin grew paler from lack of sun. Her laughs, though just as loud, seemed somehow heavier, and Bilbo noticed that Josie looked constantly toward the window he kept open for her. And so, one day while she was sleeping, he gently picked her up and carried her outside.

Josie woke on the little bench in Bilbo’s front yard, with the sun on her cheeks- oh, how she had missed that- and the happy chirping of birds in her ears. She inhaled deeply, drinking in the scent of the many colorful flowers that decorated Bilbo’s garden, and slowly turned her head. Her cousin was sitting on the ground beside her, head tilted back slightly and his eyes closed as he puffed on his pipe. Josie smiled softly and touched the curls on the back of his head.

Bilbo spun, grinning broadly as his eyes met hers. Snuffing out his pipe, he set it to the side as he turned to face her. “Good afternoon,” he said, his voice low and melodious.

Josie felt tears come to her eyes. “Thank you Bilbo,” she whispered. Bilbo’s smile widened, and he allowed Josie to pull him close in a hug.

“I thought you might like this,” he said, glancing around them. Josie nodded.

Bilbo glanced down at her stomach, something he did quite a bit. Josie resisted the urge to laugh at the worried expression on his face, like that of an expectant father going through all the ‘what if’s’ in his head. She glanced down herself, noting with happiness the large swell of her stomach around the child she carried. The baby, despite her fears, was growing steadily.

She took his hand and guided it to rest on her tummy. Bilbo’s eyes widened as he felt a small pressure that soon disappeared, and then another. He glanced up at Josie with wonder in his blue eyes.

“Is that…” he trailed off, and Josie nodded. She placed her hand beside his, and they spent several content minutes feeling her baby kick.

Bilbo soon began talking quietly, telling her yet another story that he had heard on his adventure. Josie laughed, truly happy for the first time in over a month. With the sun shining, her baby growing, and her cousin prattling away happily, all felt right in the world.

The two assumed a new routine. Bilbo still brought her first and second breakfast in bed, but after that he would carry her to the garden until the sun set. Josie took to watching how the blue of the sky changed over the course of the day, from a muted blue tinged with pink and purple in the morning to a light blue midday to a frosty, almost translucent blue at sunset, overpowered by the flame like oranges and reds in the sky. Neighbors stopped by, chatting with her over the fence about this and that. Gradually Bilbo began to engage in their conversations, and Josie sensed that he was slowly returning to the ways he’d held before he’d run off so long ago.

It was several months later when everything changed. Josie had just been returned to her bed, and was waiting patiently for Bilbo to bring her supper. Her stomach was now a large bump that rose hilariously high under her sheets- for she refused to lay under any blankets, it was just too hot- and she was feeling refreshed and pleasantly tired after a day basking in the sun.

Suddenly, a cramp ran up her insides, sharp but fleeting. Worriedly, she placed a hand on her stomach, but the baby was kicking away happily.

However, several minutes later another pain ran through her, and she cried out softly.

“Bilbo,” she called. “Bilbo!”

Several moments later her cousin burst into her room, a wooden spoon still held in his hand. “What is it?” he asked.

Josie panted as another spasm shot through her abdomen, only now piecing together what was occurring. She looked up at Bilbo with wide eyes.

“I think the baby’s coming.”

Bilbo’s face paled, and he staggered before catching himself against the doorframe. “I’ll get Miss Folkspawn,” he managed. Then he was gone.

Josie cried out as another contraction ran through her, watching the doorway that her cousin had disappeared through. She hoped he’d hurry.

Bilbo ran through the Shire once more, supper forgotten. He pounded on Daisy Folkspawn’s door, though this time he waited until he caught his breath before speaking. “Josie’s having the baby,” he told her.

Daisy nodded, grabbing her medical bag from where it rested just inside the door and joining Bilbo on the path. They hurried back to Bag-End, where Josie was now doubled over in bed, sweat beading her forehead.

“Out, out.” Daisy quickly shooed Bilbo out of the room, slamming the door in his face. From inside he could hear a yowl of pain, and resisted the urge to fling the door open again. He began to pace, his appetite gone as he anxiously awaited news.

It was a long time before Daisy emerged, her hands now wet with fluid from Josie’s water having been broken. Bilbo handed her a towel, and she wiped her hands silently.

“Well?” Bilbo asked eventually. Daisy sighed and met his gaze for the first time.

“It’s going to be a difficult birth,” she informed him. “I’m not confident either will make it.”

Bilbo’s knees suddenly felt very weak, and he grabbed onto the edge of the table to keep from falling over. “What can I do?” he choked out.

Daisy’s expression was grim. “Nothing,” she said. “Just be ready.” She disappeared back into the bedroom, closing the door behind her, and Bilbo was left alone with his thoughts. He didn’t want to think about what he might have to be ready for.

It seemed his neighbors had seen his rush through the streets of the Shire, because several minutes later a knocking came at his door. Bilbo answered impatiently, displeased at being drawn across the house and away from Josie. Waiting on the other side were several neighbors and acquaintances, hobbits that had grown close to Josie during her stay with him. In front was his cousin Drogo Baggins and his wife Primula.

“What’s happened?” asked Drogo. “Is it Josie?”

Bilbo blinked rapidly. He hadn’t known so many people cared so much about her. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help but wonder if even half of them would have turned up if they thought it was him in ill health. With a sigh Bilbo pushed these thoughts from his mind and stepped back to let the group of hobbits on his doorstep in.

“She’s having the baby,” he whispered. He very much doubted Daisy wanted him making a bunch of noise. “I’m not quite sure what’s going on at the moment.”

He ran a hand through his hair, which he had let grow a bit shaggy, then allowed Primula to lead him to his armchair. Soon tea was brewing for everyone present, and Bilbo remembered, for the first time in a very long time, what it was like to be a part of a family.

There they waited, in quiet and comforting solitude, until Daisy reappeared. Her face was set in grim lines, and Bilbo jumped up to meet her.

“She wants to see you,” Daisy informed him. Wordlessly Bilbo followed the healer down the hall, where Josie panted heavily in her bed. He dropped to his knees next to her, taking one of her frail hands firmly in his own. His fingers, he noticed with a small satisfaction, were not trembling. That was good. He couldn’t let Josie see just how worried he was.

She blinked wearily, and it took a moment for her eyes to focus on his. They were cloudy with pain, but still bright underneath. She smiled softly, her other hand reaching up to smooth out the frown that had settled over Bilbo’s face.

“Bilbo,” she breathed. “Promise me you’ll take care of my baby.”

“Of course,” he responded instantly. “I always planned to be there for the baby. But you’ll be there too. You’re not going anywhere.”

Josie smiled softly, sadly. “Make her strong,” she continued, ignoring his words. “She’ll have a hard life; she’ll be hard pressed to find her place. She will yearn for the sky even as her heart sings for the stone.”

“She?” Bilbo’s eyebrows raised. “Why do you say she?”

“I just know,” Josie confided. “Promise me Bilbo. Raise her right. Make her proud of her heritage.” Josie paused as pain racked her, eyes squeezing shut. When they opened again they focused on Bilbo with a quiet urgency.

“Make her strong,” she pleaded. “Make her strong like your dwarven steel.”  Her gaze moved to the wall, past which lay the chest that contained Bilbo’s mithril shirt. Bilbo nodded mutely, at a loss for words. He only looked up from Josie’s hazel eyes when Daisy shook his shoulder.

“Time to leave,” she said. There was a scowl on her face, but Bilbo could sense at a softness beneath at the scene she’d just witnessed. He nodded and pressed a kiss to Josie’s forehead before standing. In the living room the group that had somehow gotten bigger plied him with questions, but he ignored each, dropping into his armchair.

He couldn’t quite shake the look in Josie’s eyes from his mind. It had been a long time since he had seen such a look. In that case, the bearer of said look had barely survived his ordeal.

With the arrival of the eagles, the orcs and wargs were thrown into chaos. As the other dwarves surged forward, each screaming battle cries, Bilbo allowed himself to sink to the ground. He had done it. He had saved Thorin.

When he’d seen the dwarf king rush Azog, Bilbo’s heart had filled with joy and hope. Finally something was going in their favor on that blasted night. But then he’d watched with growing horror as Thorin had fallen, first to the wicked mace that the pale orc wielded, then to the jaws of the warg that clamped around his midsection.

Thorin had managed to keep his grasp on his sword, swinging the blade up and into the warg’s jaw. The beast had released him, and Bilbo had watched as Thorin had gone flying. Orcrist had landed out of his reach, and Bilbo watched as Azog gave another orc a short command. Bilbo didn’t know what it was, but as the orc slid down from his own mount Bilbo knew that it couldn’t be good.

So he had heaved, somehow managing to pull himself back onto the trunk of the tree that the company clung to. He unsheathed his as-of-then unnamed blade, the metal glowing blue in the firelight. Wobbling as he made his way precariously back onto solid ground, Bilbo then broke into a run, tackling the orc that had been moments away from beheading Thorin.

He had stabbed blindly, barely seeing the orc through the red haze that settled over his vision. Only when the creature stopped jerking beneath him did Bilbo stagger to his feet, stumbling to put himself between Thorin and Azog. The orc in question curled his lip as he gazed at Bilbo, quickly determining, as Bilbo had done, that the small hobbit was of little threat.

Boy, had they both been surprised when the company had rushed forward, followed moments later by the cawing of eagles in the lightening sky. Bilbo glanced up to see the majestic creatures circling above, picking up wargs and orcs as if they weighed nothing and throwing them over the edge of the cliff. His breath caught as Dori, with Ori still clinging to his pant leg, slipped from Gandalf’s staff, and then he laughed as they landed safely on the back of an eagle.

He scanned around him, his heart sinking as he found Thorin. The king was motionless where he’d fallen, his arm outstretched in his final attempts to reach his blade. Bilbo crawled over, automatically fitting the sword into its sheath on Thorin’s back.

“Thorin.” Bilbo shook his friend’s shoulder gently, trying to wake him. Thorin’s eyes flickered briefly, and Bilbo barely glimpsed at the fragile look in their royal blue depths before the dwarf’s eyes rolled backwards. As panic filled Bilbo he shook Thorin all the harder, tears of urgency filling his eyes.

“Wake up,” he pleaded. “Thorin, wake up.” He allowed his head to sink against Thorin’s hard chest, noting with grim hope that it still rose and fell, though unsteadily. As the squawks of the eagles and the yells of the company as they were deposited on the eagles’ backs filled his ears, Bilbo bent his head once more over Thorin’s.

“The eagles are coming,” he whispered. “The eagles- the eagles are here, Thorin. Thorin?” Bilbo’s attempts to shake the dwarf were interrupted as he was plucked neatly from the ground by an eagle. Screaming as he was dropped, he landed on the back of another eagle just in time to see Thorin gently be scooped up in the talons of the first. His arms fell limply beneath him, and the shield he had wielded from his oak branch fell from his arm. Bilbo watched with his heart in his throat as the dwarf king was carried ahead into the rising sun.

“Bilbo! Bilbo!”

Bilbo woke to see Drogo shaking his shoulder fervently. Blinking, he glanced around him. He had fallen asleep in his armchair, and, to his surprise, the group of hobbits in his living room had grown. It seemed that most of the Shire was present at this point. And each was staring at him with wide eyes.

“What- what happened?” Bilbo asked dazedly. “Where’s Josie?”

Drogo shook his head. “No word yet,” he said. Bilbo nodded and sank back down, disappointed. Beside him Drogo frowned, and Bilbo sighed as he waited for whatever his cousin was about to ask.

“Bilbo,” Drogo began. “You were muttering in your sleep.”

Bilbo felt his heart catch. “What was I saying?” he asked. Even to him, his voice was deceptively calm.

Drogo frowned. “You were saying that the eagles were coming,” he informed Bilbo. “What eagles? And who’s Thorin?”

Bilbo stood abruptly, ignoring his cousin’s startled stare. He disappeared down the hall, but the door to Josie’s room was still firmly shut, only her half strangled cries reaching him. With a sigh he returned to the living room. He would have to give them some sort of an explanation now.

Drogo was waiting expectantly, and with a sigh Bilbo sat back in his armchair. “Thorin was my friend,” he informed him. The group in his living room strained to hear, realizing that they were about to learn something of Bilbo Baggins’s mysterious trip.

When Drogo’s stare didn’t lessen, Bilbo sighed again. “Let’s just say that we found ourselves in a bit of a situation with some orcs, and the eagles that live in the east helped us,” he said.

Across the room his aunt Mirabella gasped. “I’ve heard of them,” she declared. “I’ve heard they’re big enough to sit on.” Everyone looked at Bilbo expectantly, and he nodded

“Aye, they are,” he answered. He shuddered, he had not enjoyed his ride on the eagle one bit; he had simply been too high up for his liking. At the time though he’d hardly noticed, too busy watching Thorin’s still form ahead of him.

“Bilbo.” Primula’s voice was soft and cautious. “You said this Thorin was your friend. What happened?”

Bilbo sighed and averted his gaze, staring into the flames that crackled happily in the hearth, oblivious to the damp mood that had overtaken the house.

“He died,” he answered finally. “He’s dead.”

Silence settled over the living room as each hobbit struggled to digest what he said. No one had a chance to say anything before a faint noise came from down the hall- wailing.

Bilbo sprang to his feet, ignoring the gathering in his living room as he burst into Josie’s room. Daisy Folkspawn stood at the foot of her bed, gently cleaning off a small babe. She glanced up tiredly as Bilbo came in, devoid of even the energy to yell at him.

His gaze was enraptured by the small child she held. Wrapped in a white blanket, the baby nursed a small tuft of brown hair. Eyes closed, the baby simply wailed as it yearned for the warm arms of its mother.

“Take her.” Bilbo glanced up sharply as Daisy handed him the baby. He hardly registered the gender, now trying to peer around the healer to Josie.

“What about Josie,” he asked. “How is she?”

Daisy’s gaze darkened, and Bilbo felt his heart plummet as the old woman shook her head grimly. She tugged at his arm, and Bilbo finally managed to view Josie. She lay in her bed, blood staining the blankets under her and sweat still glistening on her skin. But her hazel eyes that had always sparkled mischievously were flat as they stared blankly at the ceiling above her.

Bilbo’s world fell in a rush. He ceased to see, to hear. He didn’t feel Daisy tugging at him again, didn’t realize he was being led to sit in his armchair once more. He only became aware of his surroundings again when someone tried to pull away the baby he cradled. Blindly he clung to her, refusing to relinquish his hold. He curled around her, to shield her from prying hands, even as tears filled his eyes.

Daisy muttered something to someone, and they rushed out the door. Soon they were back, holding a leather sac filled with some sort of liquid. With a small knife Daisy punched a hole in the bag, then held it out to Bilbo. He stared at it uncomprehendingly until goat’s milk began to leak from the hole, then he quickly placed it over the baby’s mouth. Immediately she began to gulp at the stuff, and silence descended the house as everyone watched her.

“Make her strong,” Josie pleaded. ”Make her strong like your dwarven steel.”

Bilbo smiled softly as he gazed down at the infant he cradled. Now finished with the milk, she was yawning softly, chubby little arms stretching as she settled into a comfortable position against his chest. As she did, Bilbo felt his heart shatter, the pieces then winding themselves back together again. Only this time, caught at the center of the web the pieces formed, was a small child wrapped in a white blanket.

“Mithril” he murmured softly. He leaned down to lean his head gently against hers, not really putting any pressure on the small form beneath him. “Hello Mithril.”     

Chapter Text

Arwen blinked lazily, enjoying the feel of the sun that came through the open doors of her room. She turned her head, smiling at the view of the trees that stretched past her balcony.

Now that she was fully awake she rose and dressed, donning an elegant, storm cloud grey gown that matched her eyes. Her raven hair was allowed to flow freely around her face, the way her father liked it best.

She found her brothers in the kitchens, snagging at various fruits while the chefs pretended not to notice. They grinned as they left, hands full of goodies.

“Good morning Arwen,” sang Elrohir. “You slept quite late, didn’t you?”

Arwen’s eyes narrowed slightly. Whatever her brother was thinking, it most likely wouldn’t end well. For anyone involved.

“Of course,” continued Elladan, “that’s most likely because you were up well into the night. Did you have a nice stroll last night?”

Arwen’s eyes widened a modicum in shock. Had her brothers seen her? She didn’t have a problem with them knowing her favorite path through the garden, though it did present them with the opportunity to lay some surprises for her, but she feared they’d seen the company she’d kept the previous night.

She quickly recovered her composure though, merely sending the twins a small smile. “I did in fact,” she informed them. “I found the moon most lovely.”

Elladan grinned. “Perhaps we’ll join you next time.”

Arwen fought to keep her mouth from dipping in a frown. That was not what she had wanted. Fighting her rising panic, she simply replied;, “Perhaps you will.”

With matching shit-eating grins her brothers made off, leaving Arwen to her worries.

She ate quickly, and with hardly any appetite, then returned to her room to pace back and forth. She needed to speak with her father, that much she knew, but she didn’t know what to say.

She knew the truth would upset her father, and he would no doubt attempt to prevent her plans, but the idea of lying to him unsettled her stomach. She hadn’t lied to her father in nearly two thousand years, not since she was a young elfling, and she wasn’t sure that she could succeed either. Her father was as sharp as her grandmother, and was well versed in reading his daughter.

But it needs to be done, she told herself. There’s no other way.

So, she found herself gliding silently down the hall to her father’s study, heart pounding in her chest. There she paused, one slender, pale hand hovering just above the dark wood of the door. Steeling herself with a deep breath, she knocked lightly.

“Ada?” Arwen pushed open the door, stepping into the room. Lord Elrond looked up from the papers he was bent over, pushing dark hair out of his face. As his eyes fell upon his daughter, the lines etched into his face softened.

“Arwen,” he greeted. He stood, leaving his quill on the desk as he took Arwen’s hands in his own and guided her to sit. Arwen absentmindedly hoped her hands weren’t shaking.

“You don’t usually visit me here,” he commented. His dark eyes probed her grey ones, but Arwen refused to yield under their gaze.

“I wanted to discuss something with you,” she began. “I think I should visit grandmother again.”

Elrond blinked once, but otherwise hid his surprise. “It’s been barely a year.”

“Four years,” Arwen corrected. How simple it was for her father, in all his years, to forget the time. “And I have other reasons for returning to Lothlórien than to see my grandmother, though I do miss her.”

“And what are these reasons?” Elrond’s eyebrows rose now, and Arwen fought to keep her demeanor nonchalant.

“Grandmother requested that when Isildur’s heir is of age that he be brought to meet her. He has been of age for some years now; it is time. I will escort him to Lothlórien.”

Elrond studied her quietly, analyzing her words. Arwen’s heart increased its rate, but she kept her face passive. Panicking wouldn’t help her. Besides, her words weren’t exactly a lie. Her grandmother had requested that she one day meet Aragorn, but she had never specified when, and as Elrond continued to inspect her, Arwen felt the last of her doubts about the necessity of this part of her plan vanish, especially as she thought back to her conversation with her brothers that morning. If she couldn’t even walk with Aragorn in the garden without being observed, there was no chance they could go through with their other plans in Rivendell. Lothlórien was their only option.

Elrond nodded. He saw no reason for her to not go to Lothlórien, but something about her sudden eagerness to make the trip unsettled him. Arwen was not given to rushed decisions; indeed, she seemed to consider every word she said before it was allowed passage through her lips. Still, he nodded.

“When do you wish to leave?” he asked. Arwen pondered for a moment. She wanted to leave as soon as possible, but she couldn’t very well say that to her father. She had to remain nonchalant.

“I still must speak with Estel,” she told him, using the more formal name for Aragorn that the elves had given him when he had first arrived at Rivendell. Only when they were in private did she refer to him by his true name. “But perhaps by the end of the month.”

Elrond nodded. He didn’t comment on the rashness of her choice; simply smiled warmly and stood. “I see. Speak with Estel and tell me what he says.”

Arwen nodded and stood, taking her cue to leave. “Of course,” she murmured, pushing the door open again.

“Oh, and Arwen?” called Elrond. Arwen turned slightly back towards her father in acknowledgement, not daring to fully face him least he see the panicked look on her face.

“Yes?”

“Since Isildur’s heir is to accompany you on this trip, I want extra guards with you as well. No doubt there will be twice the danger; he would be quite the target.”

“He keeps his identity well hidden while travelling, I doubt he would draw any attention to himself,” Arwen reminded him.

Elrond made a small noise in the back of his throat. “All the same,” he said. “Twice the guards.” His tone made it clear that the topic was not up for discussion.

“Yes Ada.” Arwen quickly left before her father could impose any other restrictions on her. He was, she knew, just trying to keep her safe, but he was just making her life harder. Though if he knew the true reasons for her trip he would likely send three times the usual guards to protect her from Aragorn himself, or worse yet, not let her go at all.

Arwen smiled softly to herself as she walked quickly down the corridor. Fathers, when faced with guarding their daughters from unforeseen forces, were indeed overprotective.

She made her way into the gardens, taking care that she wasn’t followed, and found her way to a secluded clearing. It was one of her favorites, well hidden among the trees, with a small stream bubbling merrily nearby. Colorful flowers dotted the grass, and just enough sun leaked through the green leaves above to warm the backs of whoever decided to lounge in the clearing. Currently that someone was Aragorn.

He was sprawled out in the grass, arms crossed behind his head and his eyes closed. Arwen might have thought he was asleep, but his eyes snapped open as she appeared, light grey irises quickly finding her steel grey ones. He sprang to his feet as she approached, a wide grin spreading across his young face.

Unconsciously Arwen grinned in return, and within moments found herself swept off her feet and into a long and passionate kiss that left them both breathless. She responded automatically, and when Aragorn pulled away so they could catch their breath she found herself relaxing in his arms. They gazed into each other’s eyes, both pairs filled with quiet content.

“Good morning,” he murmured softly. His mouth came down to brush against hers, and Arwen giggled as his stubble scraped her cheek.

“Good morning,” she whispered in return. She planted a kiss on him before pulling away, her sides feeling suddenly colder without his strong arms around them. As though feeling the same way, Aragorn spread his cloak on the ground, and they settled upon it together, her head on his chest and his arm draped across her waist.

“I spoke to my father,” she said. She felt Aragorn tense beneath her, and she rubbed the back of his hand with her thumb soothingly. “He has no issue with us going to Lothlórien,” she said. “However he wants us to bring twice as many guards, for added protection.”

Aragorn nodded. “Once we’re within the forest they will all be busy enjoying themselves, and will pay no heed to us,” he reasoned. That was him, calm and reasonable through all doubt. He tilted his head slightly to look at the woman resting on him. “Your father is truly alright with us traveling together?”

Arwen giggled. “I may not have told him the true purpose for our visit considering that I actually want our plan to succeed,” she admitted. Aragorn chuckled, and Arwen’s toes tingled.

His hand twisted so that their fingers could intertwine, and they lied there silently for some time, content in their bliss. The stream bubbled on quietly, the sun warmed their faces, and they were in the arms of the person they loved the most. All their troubles seemed to melt away.

That was, of course, until they heard a set of voices headed their way. Both scrambled to their feet, automatically blushing in anticipation of being caught. There was no time to escape; whoever the voices belonged to were moments away.

“Quickly,” Aragorn instructed her, “climb into the trees.”

Arwen instantly complied, and Aragorn knelt down so that she could vault off his shoulder. She caught a hold of a low hanging branch and swung herself up as only an elf could do, settling on the sturdier half of the limb that was closer to the trunk. A moment later Elrohir and Elladan glided into the small clearing where Aragorn had sprawled out once more, closing his eyes and forcing himself into a relaxed demeanor. One that didn’t tell of how he had just resisted the urge to look up their sister’s skirt. After all, while he considered himself a noble man, he was still a man, and she the beautiful woman he loved.

“Ah, Estel,” sang Elrohir, throwing himself onto the grass beside the man. “We were just looking for you.”

Aragorn opened his eyes and glanced at the elf beside him, then to his other side where Elladan had settled. He groaned internally, but wasn’t surprised. The boys were always looking to drag others into their mischief, and it rarely ended well for the person involved.

He kept his voice mildly curious as he responded. “Oh?” he asked. “What for?”

Elrohir grinned. “We would like to spar with you,” he stated.

“We haven’t sparred with you since we tutored you after you were old enough,” elaborated Elladan. “We would like to see if our teachings paid off.”

Aragorn flicked his gaze between the two elves skeptically. “And?” he asked. “What’s the catch?”

“You will only spar with one of us at a time, but we can change places at any point. And we won’t tell when,” Elrohir told Aragorn. Aragorn nodded. That meant that the two elves, whom tired slowly to begin with, would have time to recuperate between bouts, whereas he would have no such luck.

Even without that advantage, Aragorn knew there was no chance that he could best the two brothers. They were far more experienced swordsmen than he, and combined with their natural elven grace, were nearly impossible to halt. Still, Aragorn knew it would be in bad taste for him to refuse them, and considering what he was planning with their sister, he needed to start making up for it now. Besides, he simply lacked the ability to refuse them of anything. Despite being over two thousand years old, the two elves could pull the most adorable faces when the occasion called for it.

He sighed and nodded with mock reluctance. They may be able to convince him to do anything, but he didn’t have to admit that, and the idea did sound fun. “I suppose I don’t have much choice, do I?” he asked. The two laughed and sprang up, dragging Aragorn to his feet.

“Not at all,” they chorused. They dragged him back through the trees, oblivious of the pale face frowning down on their exchange.

Arwen settled back on her tree limb and thought. Why would her brothers suddenly challenge Aragorn to spar with them? Could it be a masked duel? One for her honor? Did they know about them? The couple had taken every precaution to keep their love a secret, but her brothers were well known for discovering just that which those around them wished to be kept secret.

Either way, Arwen knew she couldn’t miss this. She had to go, to see what would happen for herself. Not that she was worried for either party; she doubted Aragorn could hurt her brothers even if he did- and he never would- try, and Elladan and Elrohir viewed Aragorn as a third, much younger brother. She simply wanted to see the man she loved put to shame in front of all of Rivendell.

She took her time making her way out of the gardens. If someone saw her coming from the same direction as Aragorn had come from too soon, they would know something was amiss. Besides, she had no doubt that her brothers had called for all in Rivendell to view the match, and it would take some time for them all to gather.

Brushing a few pieces of grass from her gown, Arwen entered her father’s hall, winding her way up to Elrond’s study. The elf in question was still bent over his desk when Arwen pushed open the door, and he glanced up at the sound of her knock.

“Two visits in one day?” he asked. Arwen laughed lightly.

“I hear Elrohir and Elladan will be sparring with Estel, and they’ve invited the city to watch,” she told him. “I’ve come to escort you to the fields.”

Elrond’s eyebrows rose in curiosity at his sons’ challenge, but a moment later his face settled again, a small sigh escaping his lips. “I can’t,” he responded. “I have too much work to do.”

“Ada,” chided Arwen. “You do nothing but work now. You can’t spend all of time in your study. Come to the fields. You need a rest.” As her eyes moved up and down her father’s figure, she knew the truth of her words. His hands were smeared with ink, indicating he’d spent all day behind his desk, and he had a now all too familiar crease between his brows.

Elrond sighed and nodded, knowing his daughter was right. He needed some fresh air, some sun. And more importantly, he needed to spend some time with his family. His three children were all he had, and he feared that he was distancing himself from them.

“Let us go then,” he acquiesced. He held out his arm, and Arwen slipped her own arm through, their elbows interlocking. When they reached the practice fields they found that a crowd had already gathered, though more elves were still arriving. The pair found seats at the front, in two ornate chairs that had been reserved for them where they had the best view of the field.

Elladan and Elrohir stood off to the side, conversing quietly. They wore matching grins on their faces as they glanced continuously over to Aragorn, who leaned against a pillar some feet away, testing his sword. Once everyone was gathered the three men stepped to the center of the training fields. Elrohir and Elladan wielded matching blades, elegant and slightly curved. Aragorn’s sword was of simpler make, yet still lithe in its own right. Currently their swords were sheathed, and the trio moved into a small triangle on the field. Then they fisted their right hands, placed them over their hearts, and bowed to each other. The sign of respect was their promise to fight fairly.

Elladan stepped off the field, and Aragorn and Elrohir drew their blades. The pair faced each other, and with one last nod, took up ready stances.

Aragorn was the first to act. He leapt forward, swinging his sword at Elrohir’s knees, and the elf leapt up and over the flashing metal, the strength of his jump carrying him past the man. Aragorn whirled and lifted his sword just in time to block Elrohir’s swipe at his head.

They didn’t hold back as they struck at each other. The edges of their blades had been blocked with elven magic, and though it would still hurt if one of them were struck, they couldn’t hack each other to pieces. Aragorn had thoroughly checked every inch of his blade before they’d begun, and was confident the magic would hold.

Soon the boys switched places, and Aragorn barely had time to register that Elrohir was stepping back before Elladan was upon him. The elf pounced forward, and Aragorn threw himself to the side to avoid his flashing blade.

Arwen tensed at this, inhaling a quick gasp of air despite her attempts at acting nonchalant. Beside her Elrond glanced over briefly, but didn’t comment. She turned her attention back to the fight, watching with tense muscles as Aragorn pulled himself to his knees, then was forced to block Elladan’s sword before he could fully rise. Their blades locked, and Aragorn heaved to make the elf stumble back. The motion rocked him forward, leaving his back exposed, but Elladan seemed to be taking his time, and as such didn’t strike. With a small laugh Arwen realized her brothers were playing with Aragorn.

Aragorn stood and charged Elladan, his dark hair flying. The elf moved out of reach of the sword and brought his own sword in a swing at Aragorn’s hip. The man blocked, and they assumed their own dance, flashing silver at the center of it all.

The twins switched twice more. By then Aragorn was panting, exhausted. Still he pressed on, even as sweat dripped from his brow. But his fatigue loosened his grip on his sword, and Elladan knocked it at last from his hand. The blade went flying, clattering to the ground off to the side, and Elladan brought the tip of his sword to rest at the base of Aragorn’s throat.

Aragorn didn’t move, the sword pressing into his skin. The only motion coming from the field was the heavy panting of the man and the light breaths of the elf. Everything seemed to stand still as the crowd wondered what would happen next. Then Elladan sheathed his sword and grinned.

“Well done Estel,” he praised. His words were simple, yet his grin held all the pride of an older brother. Aragorn grinned back in response, still panting, and was nearly knocked off his feet as Elrohir clapped him on the back.

“Yes, very well done,” he commented. Then, trading grins, the two brothers suddenly threw Aragorn upon their shoulders, so that he rested between them with a yell of fright, twirled once in a circle with him still on his perch, and then carried him off the field, the three of them laughing. At their display of mirth the crowd of elves broke into quiet laughter. They slowly dispersed, and Arwen grabbed her father’s arm and pulled him away from their house before he could retreat back to his study. She knew the boys would be busy with Aragorn for some time more, and either way knew it would look odd for her to seek him out at that time. Besides, it had been so long since she had gotten her father outside; she wanted to make the most of it.

The pair ended up walking through the gardens, and Arwen pulled off her slippers and let her bare toes run through the grass, the small green blades tickling her feet. Elrond smiled at her, but said nothing. Soon they settled in the same clearing where Arwen had met Aragorn earlier that day, and Arwen allowed her feet to trail in the stream’s water. The father and daughter spoke quietly of small things, enjoying each other’s company and bonding in a way they hadn’t for many years.

They entered the dining hall together, and found Elrohir, Elladan, and Aragorn already seated, freshly washed and still grinning. The three traded small talk-and in the cases of the twins and Aragorn, insults- across the table. Finally Elrond stood, his plate empty.

“I must return to my work,” he said. He sighed; he had quite enjoyed his reprieve that day. And his children could see it as well. His stance was more relaxed, the lines on his face diminished. He kissed the top of Arwen’s head and squeezed the shoulders of all three boys, then left.

Elrohir and Elladan soon departed, leaving Aragorn and Arwen alone at the table. Arwen remained in her seat, nibbling on a bowl of raspberries as she waited to see what Aragorn would do. He checked to see that no one was near, then dragged his chair down the table so that he sat beside her. Snagging one of her raspberries, he sent her a small smirk before popping it in his mouth.

Arwen turned to him. “That was mine,” she declared, her voice deep and playful. Aragorn sent her another smirk as he swallowed the fruit.

“What will you do about it?” he asked, his voice just as playful. Arwen’s eyebrows rose as her face moved to just in front of his, their noses barely brushing.

“You know,” she murmured, “arrogance is not becoming, Aragorn.”

Aragorn grinned, peering down his nose at the elven maiden before him. “It seems to be serving me well enough,” he responded.

Their mouths met. Neither was sure who had closed that breadth of distance between them, or if they had acted at the same time, but frankly they didn’t care. They lost themselves in each other, their kiss growing long and passionate until they finally broke apart, gasping.

They stayed there for another hour or so, trading between quiet words and slow kisses. When they finally bid each other goodnight and headed to their rooms, they did so with small, silly smiles.

It was another fortnight before they were ready to depart for Lothlórien. But at last everything had been gathered, and the train of guards, with a single, elegant cart at the center, sat waiting in front of Lord Elrond’s house. Arwen stood on her balcony, watching Aragorn gently stroke the noses of the four white mares that were hitched to the cart’s front. She smiled as she inspected the carriage. It was made of dark wood, elegantly carved. There was a roof, in case it rained while they were travelling, but the doors had windows set into them.

She pulled her travelling cloak over her shoulders and left the room, making her way quickly to the entrance of the house. Her father waited at the doors, flanked by Elladan and Elrohir. He stepped forward to embrace her, planting a kiss on her temple.

“Travel safely,” he whispered in Sindarin. Arwen nodded and kissed his cheek, pulling back with a smile.

“I will Ada,” she promised. Elrond nodded and stepped back, pleased, and as Aragorn entered the house Arwen’s brothers moved to say goodbye to her.

“Why must you leave so soon?” asked Elrohir. “You’ve only just returned.”

Arwen smiled as she hugged him. “Will you miss me, brother?” she asked.

“Of course,” supplied Elladan. “What are we to do with our time without our little sister to torment?”

Arwen laughed softly and embraced them, pulling back after a moment. She had always been close with her brothers. “Look after Ada,” she asked them. “I fear he works too hard.”

They nodded in unison, then stepped back. “Don’t worry,” Elrohir told her, “we have some plans that will keep his life from being dull.”

Elladan elbowed him in the ribs, worried their father had heard Elrohir, and Arwen laughed softly.

“In that case I pity him,” she sang. Laughing at the outraged looks on her brothers faces, she went to the door. After saying goodbye to the twins, Aragorn joined her.

He offered her his arm, and Arwen accepted it. This, she knew, was allowed, in fact manners dictated that he do so. She enjoyed those moments when they could interact without drawing suspicion to themselves.

The doors opened, revealing the rising sun outside. It tinged the sky with pinks and purples, and Arwen moved her eyes along the streaks of light happily. Then she and Aragorn descended the stairs.

It seemed all of Rivendell had gathered to see them off. Arwen smiled at them all, meeting the eyes of several friends in the crowd. They waved, and her smile grew brighter.

Elrond said goodbye to them once more outside the doors of the carriage, a public display of affection for all to see, and then Aragorn opened the doors to the carriage. He offered her his hand, and she allowed him to help her inside. A moment later he climbed in after her, and the door shut.

Arwen looked around her curiously. The interior contained two benches that lined the front and back of the small compartment that they sat in; even still it was spacious. A set of curtains on both sets of windows could be drawn across should rain start up.

Aragorn took his place modestly across from her, and they leaned out separate windows and waved as the carriage began to move. The sound of clopping filled their ears as the procession started forward, and soon the gates of Rivendell were behind them. As soon as they passed over the bridge Aragorn moved to sit beside Arwen, draping his arm over her shoulders. She leaned against his chest, breathing in the scent of his tobacco, and smiled softly. They were on their way.   

Chapter Text

Their travels progressed for the most part without incident. The party travelled towards the Misty Mountains, taking the high pass over them. Here the guards were slightly on edge, remembering well what Gandalf the Grey had told them of the troubles Thorin Oakenshield’s company had encountered there. However, once the mountain had faded behind them and they drew level with the Anduin River, the party resumed their more carefree demeanor.

Aragorn barely noticed any of this though. He filled his days with the sight of the woman he loved. Arwen and Aragorn found that they were rarely disturbed in their carriage, and so could pass the day as they pleased.

Each night camp was set by the entourage of guards that accompanied them, and Aragorn and Arwen settled about a fire, sitting beside each other as they ate. Arwen feared that the nights would be tense and quiet as they usually were on her travels, but Aragorn managed to change things around. As he finished his dinner he stood and recited one of the many comedic stories that Elladan and Elrohir had taught him. A crowd had soon gathered around him, and as Aragorn practically danced about the campfire the elves descended into hearty laughter.

Two different tents had been set up for the two, and with some degree of reluctance Aragorn and Arwen departed for the night. They dared not try to sneak to the other’s tent; there was no chance they could pass the small distance undetected by the guards’ sharp hearing.

Mornings were a quiet, yet subtly playful time. Aragorn and Arwen would trade sultry looks as they ate their breakfast, itching to break camp. When at last they did the two would settle happily into their carriage, oblivious to the world around them.

And so time passed. Their journey progressed without incident, yet Arwen noticed that Aragorn grew increasingly nervous as they neared Lothlórien. She could tell it in the way his eyes flickered increasingly out the window, measuring the time until their arrival, in the crease that settled between his brows, and his continuous lapses into silence.

Eventually, Arwen had had enough. She pushed herself gently out of his arms, settling onto the bench opposite him and taking his hands in her own. He responded automatically, bringing her hands up to kiss her fingers gently, but Arwen could tell his mind was elsewhere.

“Strider,” she called softly. She used the play name she had fashioned for him shortly after they had first begun to meet in secret. For it was then that she’d had a vision of him traveling through all parts of Middle Earth; through forest and mountain, under star and rock, astride horse or on his own two feet. She knew naught where he headed on these journeys, just that he would make them. Her strider of the world, she had told him jokingly. And so the name had stuck.

Aragorn’s eyes found hers, and he smiled ruefully. He knew he hadn’t been paying as much attention to her as he should have been, yet he could not shake his worries from his mind. Arwen smiled softly, seeming to read all this on his face. Her thumbs began to rub circles on the back of his hands, the light pressure calming him.

“Tell me what troubles you,” she said softly.

Aragorn sighed and glanced out the window, his cheeks reddening slightly. “Forgive me love,” he murmured. “I simply…” he trailed off, then looked at her beseechingly. “You know my love for you?” he asked.

Arwen nodded. Never would she doubt his feelings, not when he looked at her the way he did, eyes filled with endless love. “Of course,” she murmured. She shifted so that she sat across his lap, her head resting on his shoulder. Perhaps if he didn’t have to look at her, but could hold her as he loved to do he would open up, she thought.

Aragorn sighed, his breath tickling Arwen’s skin. “I don’t know how…” he paused, and then continued on, his words bursting out in embarrassment. “I am frightened of our union.”

He squeezed his eyes shut, leaning his head down and resting it on Arwen’s forehead. She remained silent, and hoping to make her understand his fears, he continued on. “You must understand, elves marry in a different way than men. I had always thought I would marry a noble woman of the race of man, and would have time to adjust to being man and wife before lying together. But for elves, the act is what constitutes the union.” He turned his head to plant a kiss on her temple. “Not that I regret my decisions with you, I just…” he trailed off once more, unsure how to express his concerns. Luckily, just as always, Arwen seemed to know what he was thinking.

“You fear you won’t do it right,” she murmured. Aragorn nodded, embarrassment coloring his cheeks red. He stayed silent.

Arwen pulled back. She still sat on his lap, but now she gazed up at him, love and understanding in her eyes. “I understand,” she whispered. “I have the same fears.”

Aragorn’s eyes widened. Arwen? Surely not. The elf he loved was always so calm and collected, never seeming to doubt once she had committed herself to a course. She seemed to fear nothing, as solid as the large boulders sitting at the bottom of rivers. The flood of water pounded at them endlessly, yet they never budged. She had become his anchor, and like a drowning man he had clung to her whenever his doubts prevailed in his mind.

Arwen laughed at the expression on his face. “You forget, my love, that I have never been with another.” She leaned forward to kiss him. “This will be as new for me as it is for you.”

Aragorn laughed. “What are we to do?” he asked. “It seems that we are both nervous wrecks.”

Arwen giggled softly as she settled back into his arms. “But we are nervous wrecks together,” she reminded him. “And so, how much of a wreck can things really be?”

Aragorn smiled as he tilted her chin up to kiss her. Hope and peace flooded through his chest, and for the first time in days he found that he no longer feared their marriage. “I love you,” he whispered.

Arwen smiled against his mouth. “And I you,” she responded.

 

* * * *

 

The hottest part of the year was just descending when they arrived at Lothlórien. Aragorn stuck his head out of the carriage window as they pulled into the forest, his mouth dropping open in wonder. When he pulled back in his eyes were bright with childlike wonder, and Arwen laughed at his expression.

“It’s beautiful,” he breathed. He shoved his head out the window again, and Arwen giggled.

It really was a sight to behold she thought as they passed through the forest. The trees grew tall and strong, dripping with golden leaves that shone in the sun. The effect of this was a forest on fire. Arwen knew that even at night, the forest was still bright with light.

The border guards did not halt the precession as they proceeded, recognizing the emblem of Rivendell gleaming on their flags. Arwen leaned out her own window, watching as they drew into the clearing where they were to meet her grandmother. As the carriage passed from the shelter of the trees she and Aragorn both pulled their heads back into the carriage. For the elves of Lothlórien’s first glimpse of Isildur’s heir to be his slack jawed head sticking out a carriage window would not be becoming.

They waited silently inside, and Arwen squeezed Aragorn’s hand in reassurance. She knew that his heart pounded in terror of meeting her grandmother, and frankly she was nervous herself. Never before had she met a more observant or cunning elf, and feared Galadriel would sense their true intentions the moment she first saw the two.

The door to the carriage opened, and Aragorn nodded to the guard that waited for them beneath. He swung down neatly from the carriage, thanking the Valar that he didn’t trip as he landed, and then extended an arm up to Arwen. The elven woman resisted the urge to simply jump from her perch and let Aragorn catch her in his arms, instead using his hand to balance herself as she climbed down. Behind her the carriage doors were shut, and Arwen took Aragorn’s arm in her own as she led him forward.

Her grandparents, Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien, waited for them beneath a great golden tree. Aragorn absentmindedly noted the stairs that wound around the tree, leading to the wooden castle far above their heads, but found his gaze raptured by the lord and lady of the woods.

Lord Celeborn’s hair was silver and straight, bringing out the lightness in his blue eyes. His gaze locked on Aragorn as the couple approached, and he seemed to be analyzing the man before him. Something akin to approval clicked in his eyes, and Aragorn turned his attention willingly to Galadriel.

Golden hair hung in waves around her shoulders, and blue eyes sparkled like the sky at noon. She wore a white gown, but Aragorn could barely see that beneath it her feet were bare. She too, studied the couple before her, but with a much more playful look in her eyes.

Aragorn and Arwen came to a stop before them, and with a pounding heart Aragorn knelt down, fixing his eyes nervously on the forest floor beneath him. When a bell like laughter rang in his ears he glanced up to see Galadriel. The elf had stepped forward, and with long, slender arms reached down to draw Aragorn to his feet.

“Welcome Estel,” she greeted him. Her voice rang out loud and clear among the clearing, and Aragorn felt himself relax under it. He bowed as Galadriel stepped back.

“Thank you my lady,” he responded, placing his fist over his heart in the traditional gesture of the elves. Suddenly he was very glad for all of Elrond’s schooling. “It is an honor to be received into your lands.” His gaze flickered back and forth between Galadriel and Celeborn. Who was he to address primarily? Celeborn was the lord of these woods, but Lady Galadriel was certainly the better known of the two, and surely the most powerful.

Celeborn spoke for the first time. “Tell me Aragorn,” he said, his voice soft and wise. “How fared your travels?”

Aragorn paused. Why did he have a nagging suspicion that he was being tested? He resisted the urge to glance beside him as he felt Arwen’s gaze resting on him and gulped. He thought back over the days they had spent on the roads. He had paid little attention to what had gone on outside the carriage, trusting the elves to keep them safe, but he faintly remembered how, as they had crossed the high path, the elves had been on a higher alert, as though fearing trouble. Indeed, he had heard a few shrill cries in the night during those days, the sounds of goblins within the mountains, but nothing had dared approach the camp filled with elven soldiers.

“We heard some goblins as we passed through the high pass of the Misty Mountains, but none dared trouble us. Our journey was without incident.”

Celeborn nodded, seeming pleased, and Aragorn knew that he had just passed the test the elf had set before him. As a pleasant smile of greeting graced the lord’s face, Aragorn felt himself relax further.

Now the lord and lady turned to Arwen, and as Galadriel opened her arms Arwen flowed smoothly into her grandmother’s embrace. The two murmured quietly in Sindarin, and as Celeborn stepped forward to join the hug Arwen’s laugh rang through the clearing.

Soon a great feast was being arranged, and Arwen and Aragorn were lead up to the castle in the trees. In the arms of the wide branches they were fitted with rooms across from each other, padded with comfortable beds, and were left to wash.

By the time they returned to the clearing a great table had been set up, filled with delicacies of all sorts. With a few words of welcome spoken by Celeborn the feast began. Celeborn sat at the head of the table, Galadriel by his side. Just past where the table corner sat Arwen took her place beside her grandmother, and Aragorn sat across from her beside Celeborn. The conversation was kept light, avoiding any serious topics as the sun faded and the moon gradually rose into the sky.

It was late by the time the pair returned to their rooms, and as Aragorn began to undress for bed his door opened. Arwen slipped in, closing the door softly behind her.

Aragorn smiled as he received her into his arms, glad to have her there again. The hours spent at dinner had been agonizing, unable to share with her even the most subtle of smiles for fear of Galadriel noticing. Arwen had thoroughly warned him of her grandmother’s perception, and Aragorn knew he would walk on tiptoes during their entire visit.

With a sigh the pair disengaged, and Arwen settled on his bed. Aragorn sat on the edge, watching her.

 “I suspect it will be some days before we can finish our plans,” he observed.

Arwen nodded. “Aye,” she responded. “My grandparents will want to spend time with us both. But by the end of the week we should be able to slip away.”

Aragorn nodded. Although he was loathe to wait longer than he had to for their marriage, he had plans of his own that he would put to motion in that time. He sighed though, not wanting to allude to any of this, and settled beside Arwen. They spoke in quiet voices, and it was late into the night when she finally departed, slipping back into her room before anyone noticed.

Down the hall, hidden behind a bough dripping with golden leaves stood Galadriel. She smiled as she watched her granddaughter practically run across the hall, sending one last wistful smile behind her to Aragorn before she reentered her own room. Everything was playing out just as Galadriel had planned.

Galadriel wove in and out of consciousness. Her display of powers in Dul Guldor, although necessary, had been taxing. She barely noticed as Saruman took her in his arms, lifting her easily. They departed swiftly from the cursed ruins, Elrond following with his sword held ready.

Visions flitted across her mind. Weakened as she was, she was unable to stop their flow, and as such, images of the future overcame her. She saw an upcoming battle, a battle where man, elf, and dwarf united for the first time in centuries. She watched as a small hobbit, his face downcast in grief, slipped silently away in the night, fleeing the aftermath.

She felt silent hope fill her as the hobbit- Bilbo was his name- stood outside his second cousin’s home. The door opened to reveal a hobbit woman, with curly brown hair and bright hazel eyes. Her stomach bulged slightly with growing life.

The image changed again, and now Galadriel saw the infant, born at last. Bilbo cradled her in his arms, rocking her gently before the hearth at Bag-End. The young girl cooed up at Bilbo, and Galadriel felt drawn to the child. This child, one day, would be important.

Again the image changed, and now it was Galadriel’s own granddaughter that blessed her mind. The woman laughed as she was spun in a circle by a dark haired man, and as he stopped spinning to set down Arwen Galadriel caught a glimpse of his face. She recognized him immediately; Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur.

She watched as the man dropped to his knees before Arwen, pressing his lips to her stomach. Galadriel felt unsurpassed joy as she felt the life just beginning within her granddaughter.

But her vision wasn’t over. Her granddaughter was once again in Rivendell, teary eyed as she held her newly born daughter. At once Galadriel knew why. A child with such heritage would be in constant danger. The descendant of the elves of old and the daughter of the future king of Gondor, she would be a target for all forces of darkness in Middle Earth.

And Arwen knew it as well. Galadriel watched as she turned, handing the child to none other than Bilbo Baggins. The hobbit’s face was a mixture of shock- as though he could not quite believe what was happening- and adoration as he gazed down at the small child he now held. On a chair behind him the other child- the daughter of his second cousin- stood, peering over Bilbo’s shoulder to see the newest addition to their family. As the girl beheld the half elven child her face lit up in glee, and she giggled as her finger was seized by the baby’s small fist. Galadriel smiled in her mind, already sensing the bonds of sisterhood forming between the two.

“My lady? My lady?”

Galadriel’s eyes opened to see Saruman, Elrond, and Radagast kneeling above her. Concern had overtaken their faces. Off to the side, she could even see that Gandalf was watching her worriedly, though he seemed hard pressed to remain conscious.

“I am fine,” she assured them. She pushed herself to her feet, ignoring the dizziness that overtook her for a moment. When her vision returned to normal she found her son in law was grasping her arm to steady her, and sent him a small smile of thanks. Looking around her, she was pleased to see that they had returned to within the borders of her own land. The golden trees above her filled her with strength; already she was recovering from such an extensive use of her powers.

“Mithrandir.” Galadriel knelt beside the old wizard, pressing her hand against his cheek. “Are you alright now?”

Gandalf nodded.

“Yes,” he responded. “Thank you. All of you.” His gaze swept around to the others, then returned to Galadriel once more. “Now, what did you see?”

Galadriel smiled. Her friend knew her so well. However, she could feel the dark of oncoming war upon the air, and knew they were short on time.

“We do not have the time for me to recount to you in full what I have seen,” she told him. “You need to return to the company of Thorin Oakenshield.”

Gandalf nodded and frowned, sensing the urgency in her voice, but remained where he was. Galadriel took his hand.

“Trust me Mithrandir,” she murmured. “I will tell you all in time. But for now simply know this; Bilbo Baggins must return to the Shire after his quest.”

Galadriel returned to her own rooms, where Celeborn waited for her. “Well?” he asked as she shut the door.

Galadriel smiled. “Everything is coming together,” she told him.

Celeborn smiled and shook his head. “I do hope you aren’t planning to interfere very much,” he said. Despite his words, there was a twinkle in his eye.

Galadriel laughed as she settled into bed beside him. “Now,” she asked. “What’s the fun in that?”

Celeborn shook his head, but laughed none the less. “Of course,” he muttered.

Chapter Text

Arwen’s prediction of her and Aragorn being able to slip away after a week proved short by far. It was slightly over a month before the two could free themselves from the attentions of their hosts. Not only were Galadriel and Celeborn eager to catch up with their granddaughter, but the arrival of Isildur’s heir sparked a rare degree of wonder in the forest folk. Not just the lord and lady of Lothlórien pressed themselves to find time to speak with him; Aragorn found himself continuously hounded by the elves of the Golden Wood.

He endured their curiosity patiently however, encouraged by the pitying looks Arwen would often send him from across the courtyard. At night the two would meet, in either her room or his, and spend many long hours discussing that which they couldn’t during the day.

As their first fortnight in Lothlórien drew to a close, Aragorn found that he had more time to himself. He decided to take this time and make the last of his preparations for his and Arwen’s marriage. And so, feigning interest of the beauties of the forest to the elf that chose to keep him company that day, he bid a tour of Lothlórien’s depths.

Aragorn and a young-by comparison- elf called Haldir spent the day roaming the forest. Haldir showed him to merrily bubbling creeks and clearings dotted with a multitude of different colored flora. Finally, the pair approached the mound of Cerin Amroth, a hill dotted with small, yellow, star shaped flowers.

Immediately, Aragorn knew that this was the perfect place. The flowers, though not quite so bold in color as the shining golden leaves above, nonetheless exuded the beauty and grace the elves were so well known for. Aragorn stepped to the center of the hill, kneeling down to reverently touch the yellow petals.

“What is this place?” he asked. Behind him Haldir chuckled softly.

“This is Cerin Amroth,” the elf informed him. “Here it was that Amroth made his home before his loss. Now these hills are rarely trod upon. We say that all ill will leaves a person before he steps upon the mound.”

Aragorn nodded; he could certainly understand that. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could possibly dwell on negative thoughts amid the tranquil scene. Even an orc could find peace here, he thought.

In the back of his mind though, he committed with pleasure the knowledge that the hills were seldom disturbed. It meant he and Arwen would have their peace for some time- hopefully.

He and Haldir stayed on Cerin Amroth for some time more, quietly discussing the history of Middle Earth. Haldir seemed pleased with the extent of Aragorn’s knowledge, and as the two returned to the house of Galadriel and Celeborn, a new ease seemed to fall upon them.

At dinner that night Haldir managed to slip into a seat beside Aragorn, and the two continued their discussions. Soon the topic changed to less serious matters, and they began trading friendly insults with each other. The pair were among the last to leave supper, parting with a friendly laugh and a promise to speak again the next day.

“You and Haldir seem to be well acquainted,” Arwen noted as Aragorn slipped through her door. He smiled and shrugged nonchalantly.

“He took me on a tour of the woods today,” he told her, “and we found that we enjoyed each other’s company greatly.”

Arwen nodded as she splashed water from a basin onto her face. “Did you enjoy the sights of the Golden Wood?” she asked him.

Aragorn nodded eagerly. “Aye,” he commented softly. “But I find the most beautiful sight before me now.”

Arwen turned to find Aragorn just behind her, and the two eagerly wrapped themselves in a deep kiss. When they finished they settled on the bed with a sigh, and Arwen curled up with her head in Aragorn’s lap.

“I think we should be able to slip away in a day or so,” she told him. Aragorn nodded.

“How long will we have to ourselves?” he asked.

Arwen pursed her lips as she thought. “I have come up with what I hope is a convincing story for my grandmother, so hopefully we will have two days at least to ourselves. We will need them.”

Aragorn looked down at her. “Why is that?” he murmured.

Arwen’s only response was to grin gleefully up at him, clearly with a surprise in mind. Aragorn smiled smugly back. He would have his own surprise waiting for her.

 

* * * *

 

Two days later Arwen approached her grandmother with a nervous smile, her heart pounding. If she had found lying to her father difficult, this would surely be the hardest thing she would ever do.

Galadriel looked over from where she stood on a balcony of her castle. Here the branches parted, allowing the elven lady an uninterrupted view of her realm for many miles.

“Good morning child,” she greeted. One pale hand reached out to take Arwen’s, drawing her gently to her grandmother’s side.

“Good morning grandmother.” Arwen’s reply was softer than normal, showing her nerves, and Galadriel had to bite back a smile. She waited in silence for Arwen to speak, and finally was rewarded.

“I was thinking about taking Estel to see my favorite places in the forest,” Arwen confided. “Could you spare us both for a day or so?”

Galadriel smiled softly, pushing down the glee that was rising within her. “Of course,” she said. “When will you depart?”

Arwen smiled sheepishly. “This morning,” she responded.

Galadriel laughed. “I shall tell your grandfather not to expect you at dinner for the next night, and that you will miss the next two breakfasts,” she assured her. “I trust that is long enough?”

Arwen nodded, but didn’t have a chance to respond as the deep voice of her grandfather called out behind them, “Long enough for what?”

The two elven women turned to see Celeborn making his way leisurely towards them. Dressed in silver robes that matched his hair, he was a sight to behold among the golden leaves of the forest.

Galadriel took his hand as he approached, drawing him against her side. “Arwen and Estel are going on a tour of the forest for the next two days,” she told him.

“I see.” Celeborn adopted a thoughtful expression, recognizing that he, at least, needed to pretend to have doubts. “I trust you’ll be careful,” he warned her. “No orc has dared to cross our borders in centuries, but bring your swords just in case.”

Arwen nodded. “Of course,” she murmured.

Celeborn smiled. “Good. Now off you go.”

Arwen giggled and flounced away, oblivious to the knowing smiles her grandparents were giving her.

Galadriel smiled as she leaned back into Celeborn’s arms. “I trust you’ve made the preparations?” she asked.

Celeborn nodded against her head. “Cerin Amroth will be clear for the next two days,” he assured her. “It was all done very subtly.”

Galadriel smiled. “Good.”

Celeborn laughed into her ear. “And I have good news,” he whispered.

“Oh?”

“The border patrols have spotted a visitor approaching from the east,” he told her. “It seems an old friend is due to arrive by this evening.”

From the amused tone of her husband’s voice, Galadriel knew who was arriving. She laughed lightly; her old friend did have the most ironic timing. “Very good,” she sang. “Perhaps Mithrandir can help us with our love birds down there.” Her eyes focused on the slender figure of Arwen as she darted from the base of the tree the castle perched in. Aragorn stood several feet away, and though the two kept a respectful distance as they started off through the trees, she could see the anticipation bubbling within them both.

Celeborn chuckled. “You and your meddling,” he accused.

Galadriel lifted an eyebrow, turning her head slightly to see him. “And you don’t meddle?”

Celeborn flashed her a quick grin. “I can appreciate the beauty of letting events unfold for themselves,” he told her. “A patience that you and Mithrandir lack.”

Galadriel laughed and planted a kiss on her husband’s cheek. “You love my impatience,” she reminded him.

“Aye.” Celeborn’s response was half rueful, as though he wondered what he had been thinking when he’d married her.

 

* * * *

 

“Where are we going?”

Aragorn laughed lightly, not answering Arwen’s question. It was the fifth time she’d asked in the past hour, and he was rather enjoying her frustration.

“You’ll see,” he promised. He guided her around a tree that she could not see, fighting the urge to simply lift her into his arms and carry her the rest of the way. Arwen was blindfolded, a royal blue length of silk bound gently around her eyes. While Aragorn had no doubt the loss of his vision would reduce him to a stumbling buffoon, Arwen moved with the same grace as always.

At last they had arrived. Aragorn led her to the base of Cerin Amroth, taking one last look at the work he had done the previous day before pulling off Arwen’s blindfold. As the elf regained her vision she gasped in wonder.

She instantly recognized the hill upon which they stood. The bright yellow flowers had always reminded her of the stars in the sky, and was one of her favorite places in Lothlórien. And Aragorn had added a few things. A series of lanterns dangled in chains from the branches, ready to be lit when the sun fell. At the top of the hill Aragorn had tied together the sturdiest branches he could find to create a bed, stuffed with a mattress of golden leaves and flowers. He had even thought to bring a bowl filled with water from the nearest stream for her to wash in as she did each night. Floating at the center of the pool were several rose petals.

She turned to him with bright eyes, wonder lighting her face. “When did you do this?” she asked.

Aragorn’s face was filled with satisfaction as he watched her mouth practically fall open with wonder. “Yesterday,” he told her. “Do you like it?”

“Like it? I love it!” Arwen leaned up on her toes to kiss him, overcome with the depth of her feelings. Aragorn picked her up, ascending the hill with long strides as their kiss deepened. There, however, he stopped, setting her down gently. They both glanced towards the bed, unsure and scared.

It was Arwen who moved first. Turning her back to him, she offered her back for him to undo the straps that held her gown closed. He did so slowly, fingers soft on her bare skin. As the gossamer blue dress fell to the ground his fingers found a scar that ran along the right side of her waist and onto her back. Thin and silvery, it was barely visible against the pale skin of the elf.

Aragorn ran his fingers over the scar softly. “I remember you telling me about this,” he whispered. “You tried to sneak up on your brothers once, for revenge for one of their pranks. They did not realize it was you until it was too late.”

Arwen nodded, her cheeks coloring at the reminder. She had never liked that scar. It was a deformation, something abhorred by her kind. Not only that, but it was a reminder of her own stupidity as a child.

Aragorn, however, found something oddly comforting about the scar. It brought Arwen, with her otherworldly beauty, more to his level. It was a part of her, a memento of her childhood, and so he loved it. He sank to his knees in the flowers of Cerin Amroth and gently kissed the scar, running his lips up and down its silvery length. As tingles blossomed through Arwen’s side, she found her resentment for the line on her waist suddenly much more bearable.

She drew him to his feet, her hands grasping the edge of his tunic. Within moments he stood bare-chested before her, and she ran her fingers over his steel muscles. On his chest and shoulders stood a few scars of his own, remembrances of hours spent training or climbing the trees of Rivendell as a child.

Again she stood on her toes to kiss him, and he scooped her in his arms again. This time he didn’t pause as he made his way to the bed set at the center of the hill, laying her down gently upon it. As they settled down together he pulled back slightly, but she nodded her approval. And so, under the golden trees of Lothlórien, Arwen and Aragorn were wed.

Afterward they lay quietly in each other’s arms. Aragorn’s eyes were closed, and he basked serenely in the soft chirps of birds around him. Arwen was warm against his side, light as a feather against his chest.

He opened his eyes at last, inhaling a sharp gasp of breath at what he saw. Arwen was still sprawled sleepily across him, yet a soft glow emanated from her, more golden and fair than the leaves of the trees they lay under. It seemed to radiate from within the elf, as though she had placed the sun under her skin.

Arwen looked up at him, smiling at the awestruck look upon her husband’s face. She laughed softly as she pushed herself up, so that she leaned on him with her elbows upon his chest.

“It happens after marriage,” she informed him. “All elves, when newlywed, will shine with the approval of the Valar for the next two days after their union.”

Aragorn nodded, at a loss for words. “Why haven’t I heard of this before?” he asked.

Arwen shrugged. “My father most likely deemed it unimportant for you to know.”

“What happens if the union is not sanctioned by the Valar?” Aragorn asked.

Arwen thought for a moment. “I do not know,” she admitted. “I don’t think it has ever happened before.”

Aragorn nodded. He ran his eyes over her again, noting how the glow emanating from her brought out every curve of her body. The scar on her waist gleamed silver in the light, and her raven hair translated her luminescence into a rainbow spectrum in their locks. She was stunning.

“You are beautiful,” he murmured softly.

“Truly?” Arwen’s voice betrayed no doubt, only curiosity for his feelings.

“Truly,” he vowed. He was about to elaborate when her mouth pressed down on his once more, and whatever thoughts he’d held in his mind fled.

The two days they spent upon Cerin Amroth were quiet and peaceful. The husband and wife remained, for the most part, in their bed upon the hill. Often they spoke quietly, making plans for the future. As night fell Aragorn rose and lit the lanterns that dangled from the trees. By the time he’d finished Arwen had set out dinner, a variety of elven delicacies that she had nicked from the kitchens. In their softly glowing haven, they lost themselves in each other’s company, enjoying their love in full.

When the golden glow finally faded from Arwen’s skin Aragorn felt a degree of sadness. No longer was there any proof of their union besides the setup upon the hill, and even that, he knew, had to go. No one could know that they were married.

With reluctance the two disassembled the bed and unstrung the lanterns. Fitting the lights in a wooden box that Aragorn left nearby for him to slip back and retrieve at a later date, the two made their way silently back to civilization, hands joined. Only when they approached the great clearing above which the elves lived did they separate, resuming the same friendly but distant air they had become so practiced at.

Already the sun was setting; they had taken their time returning from Cerin Amroth. Just outside the clearing, they were surprised to see none other than Gandalf the Grey walking with Celeborn and Galadriel, the trio whispering softly among themselves.

“Mithrandir.” Arwen’s smile of surprise quickly widened to one of joy as the wizard opened his arms, and willingly the elf fell into his embrace.

“Arwen,” he greeted her. “It has been too long.”

“Indeed,” she agreed. She stepped back to allow Aragorn to enter the conversation, and to her surprise, he and the wizard embraced with a familiarity that only came from many years of knowing each other.

“It is good to see you again Aragorn,” Gandalf greeted. Arwen’s eyes widened slightly at the wizard’s casual use of her husband’s true name; she hadn’t known the two were so close. She quickly shook away her confusion. Of course Gandalf would ensure he knew well Isildur’s heir. He had most likely been a prominent figure in Aragorn’s life as he had grown up, just as he had been in hers.

“I have missed you,” Aragorn returned. When he pulled back his posture was mostly relaxed, the sort that came from a deep trust. Underneath however, Arwen could see his tension at another pair of eyes to catch them. And like Galadriel, Gandalf’s eyes rarely missed a thing.

“So,” Celeborn asked. “Have you two enjoyed yourselves these past two days?” His voice was as melodious as ever, but there was a hint of humor to it.

“Yes.” Arwen fought- and failed, to keep her cheeks from reddening. Beside her Aragorn stiffened, his own cheeks filling with blush.

Galadriel laughed at their panic, gliding forward smoothly and taking her granddaughter in her arms. “Congratulations,” she whispered. Arwen felt her world spin. How had her grandmother known? Once more she was forced to correct herself. Galadriel seemed to know everything. It had been a foolish hope to keep their wedding a secret in the first place.

However, Galadriel wasn’t yet finished. Taking Arwen’s hand in one of her own, she reached out to take Aragorn’s hand. Her eyes twinkled as the couple joined their free hands, seeing little point in keeping up their pretenses.

“This,” Galadriel continued, “is where I would normally wish you luck in your marriage and in bearing children, but it seems I don’t need to.” With that she swiftly detached herself from the couple, snagging hold of Celeborn’s arm and leading him away before he could outright chortle at the shocked look on Arwen and Aragorn’s faces.

Now Gandalf stepped forward, laughing softly. “Congratulations, my dear,” he said, kissing Arwen’s cheek. Then he shot Aragorn a trouble filled grin and clapped him on the back. “Well, my boy,” he commended. “It cannot be said that you do not move fast.”

With that the wizard made his exit, leaving Aragorn and Arwen standing frozen beneath the trees. With wooden limbs Aragorn turned to Arwen.

“What just happened?” he asked dazedly.

“I think-” Arwen paused, and Aragorn was seized suddenly with the idea that this was the first time he had ever seen his wife tongue tied. “I think we’re having a baby.”

Aragorn’s whirling mind tried to process everything. Gandalf, Celeborn, and Galadriel knew their secret. How, he had no idea, but somehow the three knew before he and Arwen had even returned from their wedding that they were now to be parents.

Parents.

“I am to be a father,” he whispered. His eyes filled with wonder as he looked down at Arwen. “I’m going to be a father.”

“And I a mother.” Arwen’s response was just as soft, and her eyes widened with her words. They stood there a moment, trying to comprehend the enormity of their realization. Then something snapped within Aragorn, and he felt joy bubbling to the surface of his mind.

He picked Arwen up off the ground, spinning her through the air as they laughed. Her arms entwined around his neck, and she tilted her head back as the trees spun above her head. When Aragorn set her down at last she was slightly dizzy, but didn’t mind in the slightest. Not when Aragorn sank to his knees in front of her and buried his face gently into her stomach.

“My baby,” he whispered. He kissed her stomach gently, reverently, as though he feared even that small display of love would disrupt the child beginning within her. “My baby,” he repeated. 

 

   

Chapter Text

Dinner that night was a quiet affair. Aragorn, Arwen, Galadriel, Celeborn, and Gandalf ate in the palace itself, and for once were uninterrupted by others. This the newlyweds were glad for. They doubted they could keep their composure in front of others so soon after news of their pregnancy. As it was they were still coming to terms with the fact, as well as the relief of not having to keep up pretenses around the two elves and wizard they dined with.

“You know,” Celeborn mused, “you don’t need to sleep in separate rooms now that you’re married. There is no longer any need for you to go sneaking across the hall each night like a couple of burglars.”

Aragorn and Arwen’s mouths hung open in shock, and Celeborn laughed. Arwen was the first to speak.

“How long have you known?” she asked. Her eyes found her grandmother’s piercing blue ones, for she knew that it was her grandmother who had first pieced things together.

Galadriel smiled. “For four years,” she answered. Arwen blinked, surprised, and then exchanged glances with Aragorn. The three elders sitting across from the couple laughed.

Galadriel stood now, moving in slow circles around the great dining hall. Arwen gulped, recognizing it as something her grandmother did when she was thinking about something. As a general rule, that something was unpleasant.

“You must return to Rivendell,” she said at last. This time, the looks that Aragorn and Arwen exchanged were panicked.

“Ada doesn’t know that we’re married,” Arwen protested. “Oh no.” She trailed off, her hand coming to rest on her stomach. They would have to tell him. There was no way they could keep their child hidden from Elrond.

Aragorn seemed to have reached the same conclusion. “It’s best we tell him sooner,” he said. His voice was calm, but inside fear and worry were swirling around him like a storm. How would they tell Elrond that they were married? The elf lord hadn’t even known they had feelings for each other. He could only hope that the news that the lord was to be a grandfather would help to soften the blow.

“Yes,” Gandalf agreed. “But there is another reason as well.” He sighed, preparing his words. “This is a unique child you carry,” he told Arwen.

The elf smiled softly. “I know,” she murmured.

“Do you?” Celeborn had arched two silver brows. “Then you realize the danger it is in?”

“What?” Aragorn tensed at this, automatically bringing his hand to the dagger he kept on him, even in the safety of the golden wood. Celeborn sighed; clearly he would need to spell things out for them.

“Your child bears a noble mixture of blood; the high elves of old and the line of Isildur. He or she has the potential to be a great force in the fate of Middle Earth, and there are many who would wish to introduce the child to the forces of evil.”

Arwen gasped as the meaning of her grandfather’s words sunk in. “The baby will be a target for all so long as its identity is known,” she stated. Celeborn nodded gravely.

“So we do as was done with me,” Aragorn offered. “We will not tell anyone until our child is of age, not even the baby.”

“It is not that simple.” Galadriel passed behind the expectant parents, lifting her hand to trail it comfortingly across their backs. “There is little chance that Arwen’s pregnancy will go unnoticed, though it can be done. However, no one in Rivendell will be able to ignore the baby’s sudden appearance, or his or hers resemblance to you. Questions will arise as to where you found the child. The truth would come out.”

Aragorn frowned. “So what do we do?” he asked. “If things are indeed so dire, would Lothlórien not be safer?”

“Safer, yes, but not what your child needs.” Gandalf looked to Galadriel as he finished speaking, and the two seemed to exchange silent words.

“What do you mean?” Arwen’s sharp gaze swept between the two. “What do you see in my baby’s future, Grandmother?”

Galadriel smiled softly. “She will be a great influence on fate,” she supplied. “More than that I cannot say. But although we may be better able to hide the child in Lothlórien, it is not the safest place, nor is it what your baby needs to become who it must.”

“So what do you recommend?” asked Arwen.

“Return to Rivendell,” Galadriel advised. “The proper path will become clear to you. I am sure that you will see it.”

“It will be difficult,” warned Gandalf. “But you must do what is best for your child.”

“Will you come with us, Mithrandir?” Arwen asked.

Gandalf laughed shortly. “No,” he said. “I think I will be avoiding the west for a while yet. There is a hobbit there that will soon be very cross with me.”

Aragorn’s eyebrows lifted. What had Gandalf done to upset one of the Shire folk? They were known primarily for their large, hairy feet, secondly for their kindness and slow tempers.

“Grandmother?” asked Arwen.

Galadriel considered for a moment. While she yearned to help her granddaughter, this was something that the young elf needed to do alone. “No,” she told her. “My presence will only complicate things.”

Arwen nodded. She knew Galadriel was right. Her father would be angry enough without the knowledge that Galadriel had known for four years of their deception and hadn’t said a word.

“When do we leave?” she asked.

“Are you so eager to go?” Joked Gandalf. At the glare Aragorn leveled at him, the wizard’s smirk faded away.

“Stay for another three months,” Galadriel advised. “While your father and brothers will know the truth, the rest of the world will not. Four months is a reasonable time for a mortal man to visit us. And we must remember our pretenses that your visit was for reasons other than to marry on Cerin Amroth.”

Aragorn and Arwen’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment, and Aragorn had an overwhelming sense to apologize. Galadriel cut him off before he could though with an airy wave of her hand.

“I do not mind,” she told him. “I enjoyed watching my visions come to pass.”

Gandalf stood, and Galadriel stopped her pacing, coming to a stop beside him. “I think it best if we leave them to think,” the old wizard commented.

“Of course.” Celeborn stood and took his wife’s hand. They were halfway out of the dining hall when he turned back.

“Don’t despair too much at the choices that lie ahead of you,” he told them. “While it may be difficult, you will see in time that they are for the best.” He allowed Galadriel and Gandalf to pull him from the room then, leaving the husband and wife in the dining hall to mull over the future of their unborn child.

By unspoken consent Aragorn and Arwen slipped off to Aragorn’s room, feeling that they were too exposed to prying ears in the dining hall. On his bed they curled up, his hand stroking her shoulder. Their hands came to rest on Arwen’s stomach, though it was too early to feel any signs of life beneath.

“What will we do?” she whispered.

Aragorn himself didn’t know, but he couldn’t very well admit that. He had to stay strong, for the sake of his wife and his child. “We will have our baby,” he told her. “And when we realize what we must do, we shall do it, and our child will grow up strong and loved. We will make the right choice, my love.”

Arwen sighed. She wasn’t so sure, but she held her tongue. There was naught that she could do but wait and hope that the Valar loved her child as much as she did already.

 

* * * * *

 

Half a fortnight later the morning sickness began. Aragorn had just sat down for breakfast when Arwen entered the room. At the sight of the feast spread out across the table his wife adopted a horrified look on her face and bolted from the dining hall. Aragorn shot out of his seat, but was stayed from going further by Galadriel’s hand on his arm.

“I will go to her,” she told him. “These are womanly matters.” With that she’d swept out of the room, leaving Aragorn staring after her in anxious confusion. Beside him Celeborn laughed.

“It’s best to let her,” he cautioned the man. “Arwen will be in no mood for your company, trust me.” A pained look crossed the elf’s face, and Aragorn suddenly wondered what Galadriel had been like as an expecting mother. Judging by the smirk that crossed Gandalf’s face, she had been quite a spectacle.

He ate quickly and nicked some food from the table, bringing it to Arwen’s room. There his wife was curled up quite miserably in her grandmother’s arms, the golden haired elf stroking her granddaughter’s hair comfortingly.

“Get that out of here,” Arwen ordered. Aragorn froze, and then realized that she was talking about the food he held. He set the tray he’d arranged down on the floor of the hall before entering the room again.

“Better?” he asked.

“Not really.” Arwen’s cheeks bulged, and she lunged for the bucket her grandmother had provided for her. Galadriel calmly held Arwen’s hair back as she emptied her stomach.

Aragorn ignored the stench from the bucket, sitting beside Arwen and pulling her into his arms. “What’s going on?” he asked. “Why is she sick? Does this concern the baby?”

Galadriel nodded. “This is called morning sickness,” she explained. “It’s a stage all pregnant women go through. Arwen will often be sick in the early hours of the day, and the mere sight of certain foods will make her sick. It is the most unpleasant time of the pregnancy.”

Aragorn frowned. If Arwen couldn’t eat without throwing up, neither she nor the baby would be healthy. Would they live? “How long will it last?” he asked.

Galadriel reached over to smooth Arwen’s raven hair behind her ear. “About three months. I’ve planned your departure for around the time when the sickness should stop.”

“That’s not what I was worried about,” Aragorn muttered. He turned to Arwen, planting a soft kiss on her temple. “Are you alright?” he asked.

Arwen sent a glare up at him. “Do I look alright?” she asked sourly.

Aragorn frowned. What was the correct answer in this case? After a moment he decided on an honest “no.”

“But you’re still beautiful,” he added.

Arwen, it seemed, wasn’t in the mood for his nonsense. “Get out,” she moaned. “You’re not helping.”

Aragorn shot Galadriel a pleading look for aid, but the elf simply pursed her lips, her eyes twinkling in amusement. Sighing, Aragorn fled before Arwen started to yell at him.

“How is she?” Gandalf and Celeborn looked up from their discussion as Aragorn reentered the dining hall, and the man shook his head.

“Sick,” he supplied. “And in a foul mood.”

Gandalf chuckled and traded a knowing look with Celeborn. “Here we go again.”

Aragorn was distracted from their guffaws as Haldir entered the room. His friend grinned in joy as he spied Aragorn, striding purposefully up to him.

“There you are,” he exclaimed. “We were supposed to be at the archer’s field twenty minutes ago.”

“I’m sorry,” Aragorn muttered. “It’s been a long morning.”

“Oh?” Haldir shot him a look of concern as he guided him out of the castle and down the steps carved into the great tree it sat upon. “How so?”

Aragorn shook his head. “You don’t want to know.” In response to Haldir’s newly raised eyebrow he said, “You really don’t want to know.”

Haldir laughed at him, no longer concerned.

 

* * * * *

 

As the fourth month of Arwen’s pregnancy began, her morning sickness started to fade. The elf had spent much of her time indoors, knowing that no pretense would hide her pregnancy symptoms from the observant eyes of the elves. And though she was glad to be able to step outside without resisting the urge to hurl into the bushes, she regretted that it was time for her to depart.

She stood from her bed, steadying herself as a short wave of dizziness washed over her. This, her grandmother had warned, would replace the sickness. She began to pull on her traveling cloak, and then paused as Aragorn slipped through the door.

“Here,” he said. He handed her a pastry that he had taken from breakfast, and she smiled gratefully as she bit into it. Though her morning sickness was mostly gone, she still found that she could only eat in small portions, and was often hungry again soon after breakfast. Luckily for her, her husband seemed more than willing to practice his burglary on the kitchens.

“Are you ready?” he asked. Arwen nodded, and Aragorn stepped forward to help her with her cloak. He already had donned his traveling cloak, and had his sword strapped to his hip. He leaned in and planted a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll meet you in the clearing,” he whispered, then slipped out the door.

When Arwen descended the stairs several minutes later, she saw Aragorn and Haldir hug goodbye out of the corner of her eye. She turned her attention away and instead focused on her grandparents and Gandalf, who waited by the carriage door.

She hugged all three, resisting the pull of tears as she drew back. “Are you sure you won’t come?” she asked. “None of you?”

They each shook their heads in turn. “This is something you must do yourselves,” Celeborn told her.

“You will do fine.” Gandalf tugged at a length of her raven hair gently, much as she had roughly pulled on his beard as a child, and Arwen smiled softly. It was always something he did to offer her comfort, but now when he did it she didn’t think of the comfort but of the small hands of her yet-to-be-born baby doing the same. Her grandmother then drew her aside briefly to give her some last pregnancy advice, distracting her from thoughts of the future.

When Aragorn approached he too said his goodbyes, though he only embraced Gandalf, then he helped Arwen gently into the carriage. Once more they waved as they pulled out of Lothlórien, then settled down together to brood over their child’s future.

 

* * * * *

 

Elrond was both relieved and surprised to hear the horns announcing the return of Arwen and Aragorn. He never enjoyed being apart from his daughter, but he hadn’t expected her back so quickly. And while he knew that this trip would be shorter, this was a little too short. He wondered if something had happened to cause such shortness.

He forced himself to take his time leaving his study. The horns had announced that the procession was simply nearing the city; there was still half an hour before it arrived. That half hour dragged, to the point where Elrond found himself willing the clock’s hands to move faster.

Finally he set down his quill and adopted a relaxed stroll through his halls, underneath though he was bursting with nervous energy, waiting to see his daughter again.

He joined the crowd that had gathered in front of his house, waiting with barely concealed impatience for the carriage to arrive. The first sounds he heard were the stomp of the guards that surrounded the carriage, and then the carriage itself. In front of him, Elladan and Elrohir all but bounced with excitement.

At last the carriage had come to a halt. Aragorn was the first to emerge, and Elrond rolled his shoulders impatiently as he waited for Arwen to appear. As she climbed down she gripped Aragorn’s arms tightly for support, seeming faint. Elrond frowned, panic rising in him -his daughter could be described by many words, but faint had never been one of them. Something was wrong.

He swept down the steps, and no sooner had Arwen detached herself from Aragorn than Elrond had pulled her into his arms.

“What is wrong?” he whispered into her ear.

Arwen frowned; she hadn’t expected her father to be quite so perceptive so quickly, but nonetheless whispered back, “We must speak.”

Elrond kissed her softly to show he’d heard her, and then pulled back. “Welcome home,” he declared loudly. Terrified though he was for his daughter’s safety, he still had pretenses to keep up. He stepped back, allowing the boys to say hello to their sister. As they pulled back he noticed a silent look pass between the twins. They had noticed something was wrong as well.

Elrond hurriedly welcomed Aragorn home, then ushered his four children -three elves and the to-be king he had raised as his own- into his house. He locked the door to his study once they were all inside, trusting the thick walls to keep out prying ears, then turned expectantly to his daughter.

She was sitting on the cushioned couch against the wall, her two brothers beside her. Aragorn leaned nervously against the wall, his hand hovering so that it barely brushed Arwen’s shoulder.

Arwen took a deep breath. She had been dreading this moment since she had first deciphered her feelings for her husband so long ago. And though she had spent every moment since then trying to plot the words she would use to explain her deception to her father, everything she’d planned fled from her mind in this instant. She was left with the fleeting hope that news of her child would help to soften the blow.

“Ada,” she began. “There is something we need to tell you.” She paused, looking uncertainly to Aragorn, and he nodded reassuringly. They’d agreed that the news would be best coming from her. And so, with one last deep breath, she told her father the truth.

“Aragorn and I married while in Lothlórien,” she told him. She stopped, inspecting the faces of the three elves in the room with her. Her brothers were staring in openmouthed shock, their eyes flickering between her and the man whose hand had now determinedly rested on her shoulder. She gulped and reached up to catch Aragorn’s hand in her own as she turned her gaze to her father.

His expression had smoothed itself out, the traces of worry that had creased his face only moments before now gone. In its place was a look so blank that even Arwen had no hope of reading it. The only sign of his emotions were his eyes. They blazed with barely contained fury as they locked on Aragorn.

“What else?” he managed at last. His eyes moved back to Arwen, and his daughter flinched at the pain visible in his dark eyes; she had never wanted to hurt him. “What else is there?”

“I’m pregnant,” she whispered.

For a moment, everything was still.

Many thoughts went through Elrond’s head at that moment, overwhelmed as he was with the waves of emotions crashing over him. He wanted to fall to his knees in despair at the knowledge that his beloved daughter was now doomed to the same tragic fate as Lúthien, to fade when her mortal husband died, never to sail. He felt as if he could stand in that spot for all of eternity just trying to contemplate why his daughter and the man he had raised as his own did not think to tell him of their love; they not trust him, he realized.

He also felt anger at their betrayal; at Aragorn’s betrayal. His right hand fingered the dagger he always he always kept on his person as he thought of the man’s treason. Elrond had taken him into his home, treated him as his own, guided him when he needed a light to help him come out of the darkness after learning his true name and all it entailed –and yet he had betrayed him. He’d taken vows with Elrond’s daughter, had not thought to consult him on the matter, ask for his blessing, mention it to him before the fact, or anything. He’d forced mortality upon his Elrond’s sweet Evenstar. Worst of all, he’d stolen Elrond’s daughter from him by stealing her heart, which that her father had held since she Arwen was a little elfling. For that alone he tightened his grip on the dagger.

In that moment, Elrond wanted to kill him.

It seemed that everyone in the room had noticed this as well.

Instinctively Arwen shot to her feet and put herself in between the two men, expecting her father to lunge, but the elf never reached her. Elrohir and Elladan shot forward and gripped firmly his upper arms, silently telling him that they would not let him attack. They looked back to see Aragorn nudge Arwen gently behind him, sending her a scolding look that sloped down to her stomach. Arwen’s face paled as she realized the risk she could have put her unborn child in.

Elrond thought to struggle, nearly oblivious to the calming words his sons were giving him. He strained to not look at his betrayer as his eyes moved past the man, automatically finding his daughter. What he saw made him pause at last to consider his actions. Arwen stood half behind her husband, her face pale and eyes wide as she stared at her father in terror. One hand was hovering over her stomach protectively- to shield the baby from him, Elrond realized despairingly.

“Arwen,” he whispered. The dagger slipped from trembling fingers and clattered to the floor as it fell out of its holder, and he reached out his other hand to his daughter. The elf flinched away, moving further behind Aragorn, whose arm curled backwards to keep her safely behind him. It tore at Elrond’s heart that they thought he would hurt her.

“You should go,” Elladan suggested, daring to take his eyes off his father just long enough to sneak a glance at the couple in front of him. Despite his turmoil filled thoughts, somewhere in the back of his mind he noted that they looked good together. They were like pieces of a puzzle, two segments that fit perfectly, though at first glance they seemed to have no resemblance.

Elrohir nodded in agreement. Everyone needed some space to think, and Aragorn needed to seek shelter quickly. The two brothers wouldn’t be able to contain their father for very long if he decided to attack, even without the dagger.

“Yes,” Elrond agreed. His voice, at first choked in sound, regained its strength as he continued. “Leave my halls, and don’t return.”

Arwen gasped, Aragorn paled, and the twins’ grip on Elrond’s arms loosened as they turned to their father in shock.

“Father,” bid Elrohir. “Surely you don’t mean that.”

Elrond met Aragorn’s eyes with his own, hardening them to steel. “I do,” he stated. His voice was like ice, and at his words he saw even his sons pale. “You have violated my trust,” he told Aragorn. “You have deceived me in my own home, taken vows with my daughter without first coming to me. I thought of you as a son, and you have betrayed me.” He wavered, fighting back tears that had not threatened since his wife had left for the Undying Lands. “I hereby banish you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You have kin in the north, the Dúnedain of old. Go to them, or don’t. I care not. You are not to step foot in Rivendell again so long as you live.”

“Ada, no!” Arwen tried to step forward, but was held back by Aragorn. The man pulled her against him as tears formed in his eyes, and Elrond felt his resolve waver. No, he thought. This has to be done. He averted his eyes as the couple before him enveloped each other in a desperate hug, trying to part what comfort they could to the other. It was Elrohir who spoke first, however.

“Let’s go,” he murmured. The twins carefully detached themselves from Elrond and moved towards the door, gently pushing their sister and her husband out and into the corridor. Elrond noticed that one of the twins always had their eyes on him as they closed the door softly behind them.

As soon as they had left her father’s study Arwen whirled to Aragorn. “You can’t leave,” she sobbed. “You can’t.”

Aragorn pulled her to him, enveloping her in a strong but gentle hug. Just before he pulled away he kissed the top of her head, and then gently pried her fingers loose from his shirt.

“I cannot refuse a banishment from the lord of the house,” he told her. “Perhaps he will come around in time, but for now we must abide by his wishes.” His eyes strayed to the study door, then back to his wife, and he buried his head in her shoulder, struggling to resist the sobs that were trying to shake free.

He packed quickly, choosing only a few things to bring with him. Elladan and Elrohir helped him silently, unsure what to say as they watched the man who was like a brother to them run his hand over childhood mementos for the last time. As they stepped aside to let the husband and wife say their goodbyes, they turned to each other and whispered fervently under their breaths.

“What -what do we do?” Elrohir’s eyes were wide as he searched his brother’s face. Usually, whenever one twin couldn’t find the answer to a problem, the other would have it ready for him, but the pale face that met Elrohir’s held only the same questions as his own.

“I do not know.” Elladan glanced over to the door to Aragorn’s room, which they had closed partially to give the couple some privacy. “I never saw this coming.”

“Nor I.” Elrohir watched his brother close his eyes as he thought, a crease forming between his eyebrows. Finally they opened again, and Elladan sighed as he looked at his brother.

“I’ll go talk to father,” he whispered. “Don’t let Estel leave yet.” He automatically used Aragorn’s formal name, though he hadn’t needed its protection since he had reached manhood and learned his true identity.

Elrohir nodded, fixing his eyes on the door to Aragorn’s room as Elladan slipped back up the hallway. Elladan paused outside the door to his father’s study, and then knocked.

“Father?” he called. There was no answer. He tested the doorknob, only to find it locked, and pressed his ear to the door. From within the room he could barely make out his Lord Elrond’s sobs.

He returned pale faced to Elrohir, merely shaking his head at his brother’s questioning look. Elrohir could tell that Elladan wasn’t telling him something, but he didn’t press his brother as the door to Aragorn’s room opened once more. Aragorn stepped out, his eyes red rimmed, and Arwen followed. Her eyes were red with the tears that still streamed down her face, and she clutched at her stomach as though it was the only thing keeping her alive. As Elrohir looked down at his sister’s midsection, he thought he could make out a faint bulge in the fabric of her gown.

They walked Aragorn to the front of the house, thankful that no one was around, and then hugged each other woodenly good bye. As Elladan pulled away from Aragorn, he saw his brother whisper something into Aragorn’s ear. The man nodded once, and then turned back to Arwen.

His wife flung herself at him, and the two lost themselves in a passionate kiss in their final moments. As the two pulled apart Arwen descended once more into tears, and with regret filled eyes her husband stepped away from her.

He gave Elrohir and Elladan small smiles as he hefted his bag and disappeared out the door, and as Elladan watched him walk down the road he leaned over to whisper to his brother.

“What did you tell him?” he asked.

Elrohir turned his head slightly to reply in just as soft a voice as Elladan had used. “I told him to meet us in Bree in a week,” he said. Elladan nodded, and then glanced back as Arwen fled back to her room, sobbing uncontrollably.

He looked back to his brother. “It’s going to be a long week,” he commented.

Elrohir nodded slowly. “Aye,” he agreed.

Neither Arwen nor Elrond emerged for dinner, and the two boys ate in silence. In some ways they were glad, for it gave them time to discuss the events of the day in peace. By the end of the night they realized that, although not nearly as much as their father, they too were angry with Arwen and Aragorn. Angry and hurt.

“Why didn’t they tell us?” asked Elrohir. “I thought they trusted us!”

“Shh.” Elladan glanced around to make sure there was no one in earshot, then turned his gaze back to his brother. “I don’t know,” he admitted. He laughed shortly- bitterly. “I don’t know anything. This morning we were plotting our next prank, and now we’re to be uncles!” He shook his head, and beside him Elrohir buried his face in his hands.

“Father can’t keep the banishment intact,” Elrohir insisted. “The baby is as much Aragorn’s as it is Arwen’s. How is he to be there for his child if he isn’t allowed inside the city?”

“We have a week before we are to meet Estel,” Elladan said. “And several months more until the child is born. Hopefully he will change his mind.”

“Do you think he will?”

Elladan thought for a moment, and then shook his head. “No,” he whispered. “I don’t.”

 

* * * * *

 

One week later the boys packed small sacks and donned their weapons. Elrohir left a note for Arwen or their father to find, whichever came looking for them first, then he and Elladan jumped lithely off the balcony outside their room, landing in the garden below.

As they made their way out of Rivendell, Elrohir found himself reflecting over the past week. Arwen had stayed in her room, and so the boys had brought her meals on a tray. They’d stood awkwardly in her room as she picked at her meals, unsure what to say. Should they comfort her? Should they tell her off for lying to them? While their hearts ached for Arwen’s sadness and they felt concern at her state of mind, they could not bring themselves to forgive her just yet.

The day after Aragorn’s banishment Elrond had resumed life as though all was normal. And though the lord never so much as mentioned Aragorn’s name, Elrohir had often seen his father’s eyes settling on the man’s empty place at the table during meals.

Earlier that night, the two boys had approached their father, begging him to withdraw his sentence to Aragorn. The lord had flatly refused, bluntly dismissing the boys to bed when they had protested as if they were still elfings. And so with heavy hearts they had snuck out.

It took several days to reach Bree. There they pulled their hoods securely around their faces before approaching the gate keeper, loathe to give any indication as to their identities. Once inside the town they made their way from inn to inn, one twin asking after both of Aragorn’s names while the other scanned the dark rooms for the man.

The last inn they tried was called the Prancing Pony. It was a small old place, with a wooden sign above the door announcing its name. Once more Elladan stepped up to the bar to inquire about Aragorn, and Elrohir scanned around the dark and smoky room. He jumped as he felt a hand on his back, and he and Elladan turned to find Aragorn standing just behind him.

He led the brothers to a booth in the back corner, where they would have privacy, and they sat with a sigh. The two elves inspected Aragorn’s face in the dim light, noting that although it had been but a week since he had left Rivendell, his face was already harder. His time apart from his wife had not been easy.

“Tell us everything,” Elladan ordered. Aragorn sighed and nodded, then began the long tale of his and Arwen’s love, beginning with her return home from Lothlórien when he had been in his twentieth year, and how he had fallen instantly in love with her. He spoke for several hours, stopping only for small sips of his ale, and the twins listened in rapt attention.

They didn’t stay long afterwards, agreeing to keep in touch and to keep Aragorn updated on Arwen and the baby. They departed only after learning from Aragorn how he wished to be contacted, and quickly took to the road. The town of Bree, filled with rough men with too little work and too much alcohol, did not feel safe to them. They had no wish to stay the night and risk anyone learning their elven identities, or worse, their noble heritage.

The sun was setting several days later when they returned to Rivendell, and they made their way first to the kitchens, responding to the chefs’ questions by stating that they had gone out of town on business. Once they had a tray of food set for Arwen they headed upstairs.

There they found the remnants of a first tray on the floor, having been thrown at someone. Judging by the smear on the back of the door, whoever Arwen had been aiming for had gotten out just in time.

Their sister was curled up in bed, facing the balcony. Her hand stroked her stomach absentmindedly, and she looked as though she had been crying. Elladan set the tray down and sat on the bed beside her, Elrohir next to him.

“Aragorn sends his love,” he told her. Though his brother in law’s name felt odd on his tongue, he suspected that its familiarity would help to comfort his sister. Arwen nodded, unsurprised; she had guessed where her brothers had gone when she had heard her father yelling about their disappearance.

“How is he?” she croaked.

Elrohir sighed. “He misses you,” he said. Evidently, it was the wrong thing to say, for Arwen’s lip trembled. Elrohir cursed quietly and slid under his sister’s head, stroking her hair gently.

“Sister,” he murmured. “All will be well. Father will lift his sentence in time, just give him a chance to cool down.”

Arwen sniffled, but said nothing, and Elrohir decided that a distraction was what she needed. “What happened to your door?” he asked mildly.

A small smile played at the corner of Arwen’s mouth, the first they had seen from her since before she had left for Lothlórien. “Father brought me dinner,” she supplied. “We got into an argument and I threw my food at him.”

Elladan barked out a laugh. “That’s all?” he asked. “I’m surprised you didn’t tear him to pieces.”

Arwen blushed. “I may have slapped him,” she admitted.

Elladan and Elrohir traded shocked looks, visualizing their little sister backhanding their father. Then, together, the three broke down into chortles.

Arwen turned over and pushed herself up, shifting so that she could look at both her brothers. “Are you still angry with me?” she asked.

“No.” Elladan reached over and tucked a length of hair behind his sister’s ear. “No longer.”

Arwen smiled, and tears of relief shone in her eyes. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” she whispered. “I just-”

“We know,” Elrohir said. “You don’t need to explain. Aragorn already did.” Like his brother, Elrohir was giving Aragorn’s true name a try.

Arwen nodded, and her hand found its way to her stomach. Elrohir grinned as he looked down at the small bulge in her dress.

“So,” he started. “We’re going to be uncles.” He traded evil looks with Elladan, and Arwen’s eyes narrowed.

“You won’t be going anywhere near my baby,” she declared.

“What! Why?”

Arwen snorted. “Because I don’t want you dying him or her purple, that’s why.”

Elladan looked at her indignantly. “The color from the bath soaps came off within a week,” he dismissed. “And it was your own fault. You should have noticed there was something wrong with the water.”

Arwen harrumphed, but didn’t respond.

They stayed with her for a while longer, loathe to leave. Now that they were no longer angry with her, they felt worse than ever for their coldness since her return. This was the time when she needed them most, and they had given her the cold shoulder. They were ashamed of themselves.

At last they stood to leave, pausing when Arwen called for them to wait. She was lying back in bed, propped up by several pillows. “What will Aragorn do now?” she asked.

“He said he’s heading north,” Elrohir supplied. “To visit the Dúnedain. He says he will try to be back by the time the baby is born.”

Arwen nodded. “I hope he’s using discretion,” she stated.

“He is,” Elladan assured her. “It took us half the night to find him in Bree. He’s going by a new name, one we’ve not heard of before.”

“What is it?” Arwen perked up at this. What name did her husband consider safe enough to bear in his travels?

Elrohir smiled as he responded, remembering the soft look that had overtaken Aragorn’s face as he had told the twins the name. Somehow, he knew that it meant something personal to the man. “He calls himself Strider now,” he answered.

The two brothers took one look at the tears that filled their sister’s eyes and fled, leaving her to her memories.

Chapter Text

“Fili, come on!”

Fili sighed as he finished tying his boots, ignoring his brother’s anxious bouncing in the background. When he finally turned Kili was shifting excitedly from foot to foot, Tauriel watching him with amusement from the corridor outside.

“Alright,” he declared, pulling an ornate red cloak over his shoulders. “I’m ready.”

Kili grinned and grabbed his brother’s hand, pulling him down the corridor. As they moved Fili lifted his eyes, inspecting the halls of Erebor as he did so often.

Smooth rock walls led up to a vaulted ceiling, holders for torches carved into the rock at the height of an average dwarf’s head. They passed several doors made of elegantly carved wood, as well as a tapestry of blue and gold that hung on the wall.

It had taken seven years, but at last Erebor was restored. Fili thought back to the arduous process of rebuilding the mountain after the Battle of Five Armies. It had been their first task once they had seen to the wounded and the dead– and there had been many of both. It had taken days just to clear the outside of the mountain of the corpses, and for the first time in centuries man, elf, and dwarf had been laid to rest together. The orcs and wargs had been tossed into a great burning pit.

From there, the dwarves had worked to clear the rubble from within the halls of Erebor. Smaug had been careless with his great sweeping tail and towering spikes, and much of the mountain had been in ruins. At the same time, bankers had counted all the coins in the treasure room, doling out the proper shares to each of the company, as well as returning to the men of Lake Town that which Smaug had stolen from Dale. In addition to that great heap of treasure, the men of Dale had received a portion of the mountain’s treasure to help rebuild their city.

This day marked the completion of the mountain. All the rubble had been cleared, the old passages rebuilt, and every last scale of the great dragon disposed of. A ceremony, followed by a great feast, was to be held.

Finally, they were there. Fili, Kili, and Tauriel made their way to where the rest of the company stood, all decked out in their finest attire. Fili surveyed them proudly. Each had washed and dressed, and he smiled as he spotted Dori trying to neaten out one of Ori’s braids. Nori laughed beside his brothers, and Dori turned to his other brother with a scowl and another comb. Nori quickly backed away.

Even Dwalin had washed and dressed, and for once was without his multitude of weapons. He bore only a ceremonial axe at his waist, his balding head with its tattoos gleaming in the light of the torches.

Fili jumped as his mother came up behind him, turning to be pulled into Dis’s tight hug. When he finally managed to free himself his raven haired mother embraced her other son, and then, to everyone’s surprise, hugged Tauriel.

The elf blinked, but eagerly returned the embrace. It was one of the first kind gestures she had received during her time in the mountain over the past six years, and she was happy for it. Although each of the company had come to terms with her and Kili’s betrothal, they weren’t happy about it.

“You look lovely Tauriel,” Dis commented.

Tauriel smiled brightly as she glanced down at the traditional dwarf attire she had taken to wearing. “Thank you my lady,” she responded.

Dis laughed. “Please,” she stated. “You plan to marry my son. Call me Dis.”

Tauriel nodded as tears came to her eyes. “Thank you Dis,” she whispered. Beside her Kili squeezed her hand, looking questioningly, but happily, at his mother.

Dis sent him a small shrug in response. She had been less than thrilled when she had learned of the elf her son had fallen in love with, for she shared the same hatred for elves as her kin, but over the past seven years she had come to slowly warm to Tauriel. The elf was unlike her own kind, and in many ways was much like a dwarf. More than that, the love she and her son shared was strong and true, and Dis found herself unable to deny it to them.

Especially, she thought sadly, with what lost love has done to my brother.

Her piercing blue eyes moved across the company, finding her brother where he quietly spoke with Balin. Dressed in robes of royal blue, with Orcrist at his side, Thorin Oakenshield looked every part the King Under the Mountain. His stance was regal, and he wore the crown of Thror upon his head. Dis surveyed it curiously. Wrought of shining gold and jewels of many colors, it was gorgeous to look at, yet her brother rarely wore it. And knowing of the sickness that had overcome him towards the end of his quest to reclaim their mountain, she did not object.

She turned her attention again to her brother. Though he hid it as well as always, she could see the sadness in his blue eyes. Sadness that Frerin, her older brother and Thorin’s younger brother, was not here with them. Since his death in their grandfather’s quest to retake Moria, the remaining two siblings had never been at peace, lacking the third part of their triumvirate.

She also knew that Thorin was sad for the lack of other faces; the faces of the dwarves who had died during Smaug’s attack, and in the hard days afterward. Sad for their father, and their grandfather, and for her own husband, Vili; but above all, she knew that the sadness in her brother’s heart was centered about one particular hobbit.

The last Thorin had seen of Bilbo Baggins had been when he had, in his sickened mind, banished him from the mountain. In the days after her arrival at Erebor Dis had listened to the company’s recounting of Thorin’s love with their burglar, and the couple’s fall from grace.

When Thorin had finally come to his senses he’d stormed from the mountain with his sword in his hand, anxiously searching the writhing crowds of fighters for his hobbit. Yet he had never found him, and had instead faced Azog alone. He had nearly lost his life in the duel that followed, and it had only been due to King Thranduil’s healing, of all people, that had saved him.

Even after the battle, none of the company had found Bilbo. They had begun to search the fields worriedly, fearing that they’d find his small body among the remains of so many dead. It had only been when Tauriel had come and told them of how she’d seen Bilbo sneak out of the camp the elves and men of Dale shared in the night that the dwarves had stopped looking.

It had taken Thorin months to accept his loss. Nearly destroyed in his grief, it had taken much longer than it should have for the king to heal from his wounds. For deep down, Thorin knew that it was his fault that his burglar had left. Thorin knew that Bilbo hated what Thorin had become, and had left rather than stay with a king who had turned violent towards him. Thorin had cried when he realized he would never have the chance to assure Bilbo that he would never again lay an unkind hand upon him.

Thorin glanced up and met Dis’s eyes, smiling softly. He didn’t try to hide his emotions from her; he knew by now that the task was impossible. As his sister returned a smile of comfort he sighed. Despite all that he’d been through, he still had Dis.

“Are you ready laddie?”

Thorin glanced over to Balin and nodded. “Aye,” he commented.

Thorin had been crowned king immediately after the Battle of Azanulbizar, following the death of their grandfather, but it had been a simple affair. A series of documents had been signed, with a teary eyed Dis bearing witness. They had been too hard pressed to ensure the survival of their people, and over the past seven years, too busy rebuilding the mountain to host the big affair that usually accompanied the coronation of a king.

Today however, Thorin would take the vows of office for all his people to see. As they celebrated the return of the mountain to its former glory, they would also celebrate the return of the line of Durin.

Thorin handed Balin his grandfather’s crown, ignoring the way his old tutor’s eyes inspected him. Beside him Balin sighed, and his large and weathered hand reached out to squeeze Thorin’s shoulder.

“Don’t dwell on the past, my boy,” Balin said. “Think to the future, and all that it shall bring.”

Thorin nodded and forced a smile to his lips. “Of course,” he responded. He moved away, and Balin sighed and traded looks with his brother.

Soon after, the ceremony began. Thorin stood on the bottom step of the stairs leading to the throne of Erebor, head held high. Balin himself stood several steps above him, hoisting the crown above the king’s head.

“Do you, Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, take willingly the throne of King Under the Mountain?” he asked.

“I do.” Thorin’s voice boomed steady and deep in the dead silence of the throne room. He looked around nervously, resisting a small smile at the encouraging grins of his nephews. His family- for his company and the elf his nephew had chosen were as much his family as his sister- stood to the side in places of honor, grinning like the fools they were. To the right of the throne stood the men of Dale and the elves of Mirkwood. Bard the Dragon-Slayer stood at the head of the procession of Dale, the emblem of lord now fixed onto his tunic. Thranduil stood with his usual cocky demeanor at the head of his own people, a circlet of silver encompassing his head. He watched Thorin with blue eyes filled with thoughts that the mountain king could not discern.

“Do you, Thorin Oakenshield, swear to uphold the laws and customs of the dwarves of Erebor, and to rule justly over the mountain?” asked Balin.

“I do,” Thorin responded. Once more his voice filled the room.

He felt Balin gently set the crown down upon his head. “Then I crown you Thorin, King Under the Mountain.”

As a cheer went up through the halls filled with dwarves Thorin allowed himself a small smile. None other than his sister saw the sadness within it.

He lifted his hands, and immediately the throng of dwarves fell silent, staring up at him expectantly. Thorin ignored the racing of his heart as he ran his eyes over them.

“My kin,” he began. “Seven years it had been since our return to the mountain. A long and arduous journey it has been, and not without great cost. For this I would like to take a moment in remembrance of those kin we have lost, those who have departed from us before their time.”

His gaze swept the room, watching as the dwarves bowed their heads, tears forming in their eyes. Even the men and elves inclined their heads.

After a long minute Thorin again spoke. “We honor the dead this day, and vow to never forget their lives or sacrifice. However, let us not let it be in vain. Though we shall not forget the past, neither shall we let it dictate the future. Once more it is time for the mountain of Erebor to shine with prosperity, and for peace to come to Middle Earth.”

He nodded, and Balin stepped forward, holding in his hand a silk wrapped parcel. Thorin could feel everyone’s eyes on him as he unwrapped it slowly, and he very nearly held his own breath. He remembered all too well what the thing contained within the cloth had done to him in the past.

A gasp ran through the crowd as the Arkenstone was revealed, gleaming brilliantly in the king’s hands. Thorin held it up for all to see, then turned and slowly made his way up the stairs. At the throne- his throne, he told himself, he reached up and gently pressed the jewel into its place in the chair’s backing. There it shone, back in its rightful place after so long.

Thorin sank into the throne, surveying the crowd before him with wide blue eyes. He felt power course through him, much the same way it had coursed through his grandfather, and understood suddenly how the dwarf had fallen so easily to the gold-sickness.

He quickly shook these thoughts from his mind. He was not his grandfather. He had overcome the gold-sickness in the end. He had ensured the survival of his people.

He looked over and caught the eyes of Dis, and suddenly couldn’t deny his smile at the pride that gleamed in her blue eyes. He swept his gaze over his hall, joy radiating through him at all that he’d accomplished in the past seven years.

Due to a silent signal from Dwalin, his company began to hum, Dis and Tauriel joining them. The deep thrum of their voices filled the hall, and realizing what they were leading up to, Thorin began to sing.

 

Far over the Misty Mountains cold

To dungeons deep, and caverns old

We must away ere break of day

To seek the pale enchanted gold.

 

Here the rest of the hall realized what was occurring, and Thorin’s people began to hum, the throaty murmur of the dwarves filling the cavern as Thorin continued the song.

 

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,

While hammers fell like ringing bells

In places deep, where dark things sleep,

In hollow halls beneath the fells.

 

For ancient king and elvish lord,

There many a gleaming golden hoard

They shaped and wrought, and light they caught

To hide in gems on hilt of sword.

 

On silver necklaces they strung

The flowering stars, on crowns they hung

The dragon-fire, in twisted wire

They meshed the light of moon and sun.

 

Far over the misty mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away, ere break of day,

To claim our long-forgotten gold.

 

Goblets they carved there for themselves

And harps of gold; where no man delves

There lay they long, and many a song

Was sung unheard by men or elves.

 

The pines were roaring on the height,

The winds were moaning in the night.

The fire was red, it flaming spread;

The trees like torches blazed with light.

 

The bells were ringing in the dale

And men looked up with faces pale;

Then dragon's ire more fierce than fire

Laid low their towers and houses frail.

 

The mountain smoked beneath the moon;

The dwarves, they heard the tramp of doom.

They fled their hall to dying fall

Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.

 

Far over the misty mountains grim

To dungeons deep and caverns dim

We must away, ere break of day,

To win our harps and gold from him.

There was another version of the song, Thorin knew; a version that hadn’t been sung until just after he had reclaimed the mountain. Yet he found that he didn’t quite like the second version. When he had heard mention in the tune of himself, standing at the gates of Erebor with hands dripping with gems, he had recoiled from the song. He feared the day when he might allow such a thing to happen again, feared falling to the gold-sickness once more.

Yet he knew he needed something- something to bring rise to their victory. And so, as the humming of the hall faded away, until only the company still voiced their low rumbles, Thorin opened his mouth once more.

We won our harps and gold from him,” he sang. As the last word drew to a close the humming ceased and silence fell over the halls. Thorin looked around to see many a wet face, and was startled to even feel a single tear trace its way down his own face. He ignored the piercing blue eyes of Thranduil, standing to address the crowd.

“We have reclaimed the mountain,” he declared. “We have much work ahead of us still, but today is a day to rejoice. Today is a day to celebrate the past and look to the future.” He sent a rather wicked smile out over the crowd. “And there is one way that we dwarves know to do that best. To the dining halls!”

A cheer went up, and the dwarves immediately began to file out. The men and elves pressed to the walls to escape them, and Thorin couldn’t help his chuckle at the many panicked looks he saw on the lanky giants’ faces. He turned and was unsurprised to see his family waiting at the bottom of the stairs.

He sighed as he descended to them. “I suppose I have to wear this thing the rest of the night?” he asked, gesturing to the crown.

Balin nodded. “Aye.”

Thorin braced himself as he caught the familiar twinkle in Balin’s eye. A moment later his tutor’s hand clapped him heartily on the shoulder.

“You did well laddie,” Balin told him. “Your grandfather would be proud.”

Thorin inclined his head. “Thank you Balin,” he murmured. He glanced behind him; by now the last of the dwarves had filed out, and the elves and men were following.

The dining hall was packed. Thorin sat at the head of a great table that looked out over the room. With him were seated his family and the nobles from Dale and Mirkwood. The rest were forced to mingle in the hall, elves, dwarves, and men sitting beside each other to take supper. Thorin sincerely hoped no fights would break out.

He only half paid attention as one by one dwarves came up to bid him well wishes for his reign. Bard the Dragon-Slayer, now finding the King Under the Mountain tolerable at the very least when his mind was not afflicted, even granted Thorin a crooked smile. Thranduil was his usual arrogant self, Thorin noted, but it seemed that he and the elf had reached a silent agreement to be civil for the night.

Thorin only glanced up again when a deep, rumbling laugh came from before him. He would recognize that laugh anywhere. Warily he looked up to meet the eyes of Gandalf the Grey, not sure if he should be glad to see the old wizard or upset. Mahal knew things were never boring when the grey robed fool was around.

“Thorin.” Gandalf held out his hand, and Thorin reached out and grasped the wizard’s arm. This act of equality the king had granted Gandalf, Thorin knew, caught the attention of many in the hall, but he cared not. Despite the trouble that seemed to follow in Gandalf’s wake, he was still one of the Istari, and had been crucial to Thorin in reclaiming the mountain.

“Gandalf,” he greeted. He gestured to an empty spot that he had reserved for the wizard not far away from where he sat. Though he’d received no word that Gandalf would come, he hadn’t put it past him to turn up. “Please, sit.”

Gandalf did so happily, lighting his pipe. Thorin cast a quick glare around the dining hall, and the dwarves who had been staring quickly returned to their ale.

“I did not know if you would come,” Thorin said.

Gandalf smiled. “Like I would miss this,” he proclaimed. He swept an appraising eye over the dining hall. “It must be nice to have returned home.”

Thorin nodded absentmindedly. In truth, it did not feel nearly as nice as he had thought it would. That, Thorin suspected, was because he had changed his ideas of what a home entailed.

Gandalf seemed to know this, and he offered Thorin a small smile of companionship. “None came from the Shire?” he asked.

Thorin shook his head, bringing his voice to a murmur as he responded. “My messenger said that Bilbo has settled down, and no other hobbits had enough interest in coming to brave the wild.” Thorin shook his head, wondering, as he so often did, how he had fallen in love with someone from so sheltered a race. At least his wonderings helped to dull the stab of pain in his heart at the mention of Bilbo having moved on.

Gandalf sighed. “I am sorry,” he said. Thorin nodded, not noticing the quiet gleam of guilt that reflected in the wizard’s eyes.

From down the table Bombur nudged Bifur and Bofur. “Look at him,” he whispered. “We’ve got to do something about him.”

Bofur nodded. “We need to meet,” he responded. Bifur nodded furiously.

“Tomorrow,” he suggested in Khuzdul. “We’ll meet in the council’s chambers at midnight.”

The three dwarves nodded in agreement, and then Bombur leaned over to whisper in Oin’s ear. “Meet us in the council’s chambers tomorrow night,” he ordered. “At midnight. Tell the others, but not Thorin.”

Oin nodded, and Bombur thanked Mahal that for once the old dwarf had heard him. Oin leaned over to whisper to Dori, and soon the entire company, including Dis and Tauriel, were aware of the meeting to take place the next night. They exchanged silent nods with each other as Thorin continued to chat with Gandalf, oblivious to their plans.

 

* * * * *

 

Gloin waited until his wife was asleep before slipping out of their room. He started down the hall, thankful that Thorin had insisted the company move into the castle. It would have been difficult indeed to explain to the guards at the entrance to the palace why he needed to be allowed inside at this time of night.

He crept down the hall, holding a single candle in his hand. He wove his way through the corridor, and soon came to the council’s chambers. Softly he pushed open the doors, glaring at the dwarves scattered within.

“I could hear you from down the hall,” he growled. “Quiet!”

Several sheepish expressions met him, and Gloin turned his attention to surveying the room they were in. A lit torch sat on each wall, and combined with the moonlight that filtered in through the great window above them, the room was lit sufficiently. Each member of the company was seated around a great stone table in the center of the room, and Gloin took his place next to Oin.

“We need someone to keep watch,” Nori insisted. He eyed Tauriel from across the table. “I say she does it.”

The elf for her part didn’t even shift under the dwarf’s glare.

“She stays,” Kili demanded. He knew Nori was just trying to isolate Tauriel; they all knew it. He had put up with it for seven years, but now that he no longer had to pour his energy into restoring the mountain, it was time to make known just how the dwarves of Erebor were to treat his fiancée. “If you want a guard do it yourself.”

Nori opened his mouth to reply, but was silenced by the glares of Kili, Fili, Tauriel, and Dis.

“No one leaves,” Dis declares. “We all need to be here.” She stood then, placing two fists on the table and leaning against them. “We all know why we’re gathered.”

“Aye,” Gloin rumbled. “Your brother.”

Dis nodded solemnly. “Every day the sadness in his heart grows,” she confided.

“I’m sorry,” Dori called. “I suggested to him that he set up trade relations with the Shire. I thought that maybe we could get back in contact with Bilbo, and that he’d eventually decide to return.” He shook his head. “I fear I’ve just made things worse for Thorin.”

Dis decided not to agree with his statement. “It does not matter what efforts we have made in the past,” she declared. “What matters is that Mr. Baggins refused to so much as trade with us.” She sighed. “Thorin knows this, and knows the reasons, but unless he knows that Bilbo Baggins has said it he cannot move on.”

“Then we will have to make him admit it,” Oin commented. The old healer frowned. “That won’t be easy. If he won’t even talk to dwarves how are we to get him to speak of the feelings he once had for one?”

The table fell silent at that, until Bofur piped up. “I’ll do it,” he declared. “Me, Bifur, and Bombur.” Beside him Bifur nodded, the axe embedded in his forehead bobbing up and down.

“You are going to go to the Shire?” asked Fili. “You’ll need a reason to go running off.”

Bofur grinned. “Trade,” he supplied. “We’re a family business, we are,” he declared, patting Bifur and Bombur. The two nodded in reference to their toy shop. The three had restarted their toy making business in Erebor over the past six years, and Bofur and Bifur spent their days carving wood into delicate figurines. Bombur occasionally helped, but he found more joy as the master chef of the castle.

Bofur continued. “It’s perfectly reasonable that since we are a small business, we don’t want merchants doing our trading for us. So we’ll just take a little trip down to the Shire to set up some relations, and side track down to Bag-End while we’re there.”

Around the table there were nods of agreement. “Do you think you can find your way there again?” Balin asked. “It was nearly impossible to do it the first time around.”

Bifur nodded. “I bet Bilbo still has the burglar’s mark carved into his door,” he declared in Khuzdul. Around the table he was met with several agreements, as well as quite a few rejections of the idea. Within minutes they had arranged a bet.

Dis cleared her throat, and the table fell silent. “Are we agreed then?” she asked. “You three will journey to the Shire?”

Bofur, Bombur, and Bifur nodded.

“We won’t leave without some answers from our Mr. Baggins,” promised Bombur. He glanced over to Tauriel. “Do you think you can keep things running while we’re gone?”

Tauriel nodded. Soon after the three dwarves had restarted their toy business in Erebor they had come to her and suggested she work with them. Her nimble elf fingers, they told her, would be well suited for the delicate carving required. Desperate for a job and a chance to fit in among the dwarves, she had agreed heartily. Seven years later she still worked with Bifur and Bofur in the shop, the trio making turning out a variety of toys for the young of Erebor to play with.

“I can keep things running,” she promised. Beside her Kili grinned happily and sent Bombur a thankful nod.

“So it’s settled.” Dis sat again.

Fili tilted his head to the side. “When do you think you can leave?” he asked.

The toymakers put their heads together. “A fortnight or so,” Bombur declared at last.

Fili nodded. “Send the paperwork for your journey to me,” he instructed them. “I don’t think it would be wise to tell Uncle about this.”

“No,” Dwalin commented. “It won’t be. He’d insist we not go through with it.”

Dis rolled her eyes. “My brother wouldn’t know what’s good for him if it head-butted him,” she stated dryly. “But yes, do send the paperwork to Fili. We’ll tell Thorin once you’ve left.”

“Are we settled then?” asked Oin. He stifled a yawn, and Gloin chuckled beside him.

“I think so.”

The two brothers stood, and taking their lead, the others did as well.

“Don’t breathe a word of this to Thorin,” Dis warned. “I’ll deal with you personally if he finds out of this in advance.”

Each dwarf nodded, knowing better than to doubt Dis. Even her sons looked scared as they scurried from the room.

Tauriel chuckled as she watched them scatter. “You’ve got to teach me how to scare them like that,” she commented.

Dis laughed and patted Tauriel on the back. “It’s all about your reputation,” she told her. She smiled as she thought to the few arguments she’d witnessed between Tauriel and Kili. They’d each ended with Kili apologizing fervently, eyes downcast. “I think you’re halfway there.”

Tauriel nodded, pleased. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she called. Dis smiled and waved as the elf went to join her son.

“Goodnight,” she responded. She peeked out the door to watch Kili and Tauriel head silently down the corridor, their hands joined. Smiling softly, she followed behind them as she headed back to her own rooms, glad that at least someone in their family was happy.

Chapter Text

“Good morning Mr. Baggins!”

“Good morning,” Bilbo responded, a cheery smile on his face. As the two hobbits moved past his gate he sat back on the bench in his garden with a small sigh, lifting his pipe back up to his mouth.

He lifted his eyes to inspect the clouds. High and wispy; there would be rain in a few days. Well, for now the sun was shining brightly, everything was peaceful, and he was happy.

“Da, da!”

Everything used to be peaceful, he corrected himself mentally. Still, it was with a wide smile that he turned to the young child running through his garden towards him.

“Da, look what I found!”

Mithril held out the small tomato, the first of the season, and Bilbo took it and inspected it carefully. It was small and ripe, a deep red under the morning sun.

“Oh good,” he crowed. “It’s about time those started to grow.” He stood and made his way to the tomato patch, Mithril bouncing along behind him.

Soon, however, he found his attention turning to Mithril. She was rummaging through the tomato plants beside him, trying to inconspicuously shove as many as possible into her mouth. Hair the color of freshly tilled earth fell in wild curls around her shoulders, and when Mithril looked up at him hazel eyes sparkled mischievously. She was, at two years old, exactly how he remembered Josie being when Bilbo and his second cousin had been young hobbits.

There were, of course, a few exceptions. Mithril’s feet were not quite so large or hairy, though they still held that hobbit trait, and she was slightly taller and thicker than the average hobbit. Yet she moved with the grace and stealth that Bilbo himself utilized.

“Stop eating them all,” he scolded gently. Mithril pouted, but did as she was told.

“Can we go to town to-ay?” she asked.

Bilbo slanted her a look. “Why do you want to?”

Mithril began to bring a tomato to her mouth, then paused as she remembered her adopted father’s order and instead handed Bilbo the small red orb. “The traders are comin’,” she told him. “I wanna see ‘em.”

Bilbo paused. He was loathe to have any more interactions with dwarfs than needed; the familiar swinging braids still caused a painful clenching in his stomach. But he knew that Mithril had the right to hold whatever interactions she wanted with the mountain folk. She was half dwarf, after all.

“Alright,” he acquiesced. “But just for a little while. And no running off.”

Mithril nodded eagerly, grinning. “Thank you Da!” she shouted. Bilbo laughed as he pulled his daughter into a hug, then set her down gently and gave her a small pat.

“Go wash up,” he ordered. “So we can get going.”

For once, Mithril was eager to obey his order.

* * * *

 

“Right then, let’s go.”

“Go where?” Bombur scowled as Bofur began to walk away from the trader’s mart and up the worn dirt path of the Shire.

Bofur rolled his eyes. “To Bag-End of course! That’s why we’re here!”

“We go tonight,” Bifur told him. “We still have a business to run.” He held up a delicately carved horse as he spoke, enjoying the way several hobbits perusing the selections of the traders stared at his craftsmanship.

“Fine,” Bofur grumbled. “But we go to Bag-End before we go to any pubs.”

Bifur and Bombur nodded in agreement, and Bofur reluctantly took his place behind their cart, helping to arrange toys for all to see. He inspected the hobbits passing by curiously. All had curly hair and large hairy feet, and held the same demeanor about them that Bilbo had sported when they’d first met. Still, despite that, Bilbo had turned out to be a great friend, and it had hurt Bofur greatly when their burglar had left Erebor without as much as a goodbye.

His thoughts were interrupted as he heard a small cry from off to the side.

“Da!”

Bofur turned to see a young hobbit girl turning in a circle, eyes wide as she searched for her father among the bustling market. She must have been separated from him amid the chaotic crowds.

“Da!”

Now the child’s cries were becoming panicked. Bofur started forward, but Bifur was already moving, scooping up the girl with strong arms and murmuring softly to her in Khuzdul.

The young hobbit initially squealed in fright, then as she realized that the dwarf holding her meant her no harm, she allowed herself to relax. She stared up at him with wide hazel eyes, then reached up to poke at the axe embedded in Bifur’s forehead. As her small fingers touched the metal shards she let out a giggle.

Bifur felt his heart turn to mush. Most people, whether man, dwarf, elf, or hobbit, shied away from him, staring fearfully at the axe embedded in his skull. But this youngling, with eyes full of wonder, didn’t care in the slightest. She was now tugging none to gently on Bifur’s beard, giggling as she ran her hands along his braids. Bifur chuckled and ran his hand through the girl’s chocolate brown curls.

“Hello there.” Bombur waddled up and gave the girl a wide smile, and she grinned as she reached over to tug at the second dwarf’s beard. “What’s your name?”

“Mithril,” she responded. Though her pronunciation was shaky at best due to her young age, all three dwarves instantly recognized the name of their favorite metal. They exchanged surprised looks.

“Where’s your da?” asked Bofur, approaching. He held back a few feet, not wanting his own beard tugged on, and Mithril nearly toppled from Bifur’s arms in an attempt to reach him. With a sigh he stepped closer, ignoring the glare Bifur shot his way.

Mithril paused, her fingers tangled in Bofur’s beard, and her lips pouted. “I dunno,” she told them. Worry filled her eyes. “He told me not ta wander off. Will ‘e be mad?”

Bifur muttered reassuringly in Khuzdul, and Bofur quickly translated. “No,” he assured her. “Not at all.”

Bifur carried Mithril over to their cart, sitting her down on his lap and handing her one of the toys he’d delicately carved. Bofur watched as his brother’s face melted as Mithril seized the toy and began to examine it with glee. He exchanged looks with Bombur.

“Who do you think she is?” he asked, reverting to Khuzdul. “What hobbit names their child after dwarven steel?”

Bombur cocked his head as he examined Mithril. “Look at her,” he chided. “There’s something different about her. I can’t quite place it.”

Bofur and Bifur both examined Mithril curiously, and found that Bombur was right. There was something off about this child. Bofur rubbed his forehead; for the life of him he couldn’t figure out what.

“We’ll find out later,” Bifur interjected. “We need to find her parents.”

The other two dwarves agreed, but didn’t have a chance to say anything more. For from behind them came a very familiar voice.

“Mithril! Mithril!”

 

* * * *

 

Bilbo Baggins was positively panicked. For one minute he had turned his back on Mithril, and by the time he’d turned round she had disappeared. Now she was running around the market with no way to find him, and he had no clue where to look for her.

“This is the last the last time I take her to see the traders,” he grumbled. He resumed his scanning of the crowd, straining his eyes to pick out the familiar bouncing curls amid the hurried feet.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Mithril sitting on the lap of a dwarf and hurried down the path towards her, calling out her name. It wasn’t until he had reached the small cart the traders had set up that he realized just who it was who had found his daughter.

“Bilbo Baggins.”

Bilbo skidded to a stop as the three dwarves looked at him. The first thing he recognized was Bofur’s hat. The great floppy thing hung over his face, throwing him into shadows. The next thing he saw was the axe embedded in Bifur’s forehead, and finally the great round dwarf that was Bombur. Each wore matching expressions of mixed emotions.

“Oh no.” Bilbo felt his heart sink to his stomach. “Oh no.”

He couldn’t do this! He couldn’t handle this! It was just too soon! It would always be too soon! Bilbo backed away from the three dwarves, a look of horror on his face, barely registering Mithril’s curiosity as she stopped playing with the toy the dwarves had given her and turned to him.

“Da!” she called happily. She wriggled out of Bifur’s arms, and the shocked dwarf didn’t have time to catch her. She launched herself at her father, and Bilbo quickly scooped her up and buried his face in her hair.

“Are you alright?” he murmured. “Don’t go wandering off again!”

Mithril whimpered at Bilbo’s angry tone, and Bilbo forced himself to calm down. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I was worried.”

Mithril nodded, and Bilbo sighed and planted a quick kiss on her head. Of course, out of all the dwarves his daughter could happen across, it had to be these three. Why did it have to be these three?

He chanced a glance up at Bifur, Bombur, and Bofur. The shock on their faces was fading, and now each dwarf wore vastly different expressions. Bilbo didn’t know what scared him more: Bofur’s anger, Bombur’s hurt, or Bifur’s stone faced look. One thing was clear: he would need to explain things to them.

“Thank you for looking after her,” he started, gesturing with his chin to Mithril, who had resumed playing with her toy. When the three dwarves simply nodded in response Bilbo sighed. “We should talk.”

It didn’t take long for the dwarves to pack up their cart. They hadn’t gotten far in unloading it to begin with. Soon they were following Bilbo up the dirt path, and Bilbo reluctantly set his squirming daughter down. His eyes followed her worriedly as she scampered ahead of them, then came tumbling back downhill amid giggles. Then, to Bilbo’s surprise, she marched up to Bifur and held out her arms in a silent demand that he pick her up.

“You better do it,” Bilbo told him, eyes twinkling. He shook his head. “She is not fun when she’s angry.”

Despite the dead silence that had before settled over the group, a small chuckle broke out as Bifur willingly scooped up Mithril.

As they approached Bag-End the dwarves ran an appraising eye over the front of the house. It was exactly how they remembered it from so long ago; Bilbo’s plants grew tall and healthy in the front garden, and his door was still painted a dark green. Bofur couldn’t help but silently point out to the others the burglar’s mark still carved into the wood.

They left the cart in the front yard, and Bilbo ushered them quickly inside. No sooner had the door closed than all three dwarves descended on him.

“You’ve settled down?”

“Who’s your wife?”

“What about Thorin?”

Bilbo couldn’t help but back away at the ferociousness in the dwarves’ questions. Even after being translated into common tongue, the anger in Bifur’s demand was clear.

He held up his hands. “She’s not mine,” he explained, subtly pointing to Mithril.

“What?” Bombur reached up to scratch his balding head. “Then whose is she?”

Bilbo sighed and launched into the story of Josie’s pregnancy. The three dwarves listened in rapt attention, each averting their eyes as Bilbo allowed a few tears to trickle down his face when he reached his second cousin’s death.

“I’ve raised Mithril since then,” he finished. “I haven’t settled down with anyone; it’s just me and her.”

Bofur was the first to break the silence. “But how could you leave Erebor in the first place?” he asked. “What about Thorin?”

Bilbo scoffed and stood, needing some distance between himself and the dwarves. He poked at the fireplace with the long poker for lack of anything better to do, then answered with his back still turned. “I’m banished, remember?” he answered.

Bifur muttered angrily from behind him, and Bombur quickly translated. “Thorin would have repealed that in a heartbeat,” he told Bilbo.

Bilbo laughed darkly, leaning against the mantle. “Well, that doesn’t matter much, does it,” he objected. “Thorin’s dead.”

“What?”

Bilbo spun at the startled tone to the dwarves’ voices. All were staring at him in openmouthed shock, identical looks of horror on their faces. Off to the side, Mithril played on with her toy, oblivious to what was happening.

Bilbo sighed and closed his eyes. “I saw it happen,” he whispered. “I couldn’t stop it.”

With the ring upon his finger, Bilbo could move unseen through the battlefield. He stabbed blindly, moving quickly away from where he had been moments before as men, elves, and dwarves looked around in shock for the invisible fighter.

Bilbo raked his eyes through the fighting masses. He had to find Thorin. The dwarf king’s name filled his mind, until all other thoughts were drowned out by it. It was the only thing he could think about. He had to find Thorin.

Finally, he saw him. Thorin stood on a frozen lake, Orcrist unstoppable in his grip as he battled the pale orc. Bilbo felt his heart freeze in his throat. He remembered all too well what had happened the last time Thorin had attempted to fight Azog.

He rushed forward, screaming Thorin’s name, but his voice was lost amid the clash of metal. He began to run, oblivious to the battle around him, his vision narrowing to a tunnel that centered on his dwarf king.

He stumbled to a stop, laughing in relief as Azog fell into the lake. Thorin had done it. He had killed him. His victorious laugh was short lived however. With a battle scream Azog shot from the water, taking Thorin by surprise.

Bilbo was shocked to a standstill. He could only watch in openmouthed horror as Azog sank the blade that had replaced his severed hand into Thorin’s chest.

Bilbo screamed. He barely registered how Thorin, in his final moments, swung Orcrist, barely registered the tumbling of Azog’s head across the ice. All he saw was Thorin as the king fell limply onto the ice.

He started to run. He ran faster than he had ever run before, screaming Thorin’s name. He tripped over a body, what race it belonged to Bilbo didn’t know. He sprawled in a heap in the blood filled dirt, pushing himself woodenly to his knees. He wasn’t anywhere near Thorin, but suddenly he found that he couldn’t go any further. Tears seized him, and Bilbo curled into a ball on the battlefield as he sobbed. He pressed his grime covered hands into his eyes, hoping to blot out the image of Thorin sprawled across the ice.

Just behind him, an orc swung its mace at an elf. The elf leapt lithely out of the way, and the orc’s mace rushed through the air and collided instead with Bilbo, curled invisible on the ground. And suddenly, with images of Thorin’s corpse still racking his mind, Bilbo found himself thrust into darkness.

Bilbo shuddered as he remembered. When he had woken, Thorin had already been removed from the field, only a pool of blood on the ice marking where Bilbo’s lover had fallen. He had stumbled numbly into the camp the elves and men of Lake Town shared, and allowed someone to treat his wounds.

He had sat to the side after that, unwilling to move. All he could see when he closed his eyes was the sight of Azog’s blade penetrating Thorin’s chest, and the scream Thorin had let out. Unable to bear the sight of the mountain any longer, he had slipped away in the night.

Now, seven years later, the image was returning to him. He opened his eyes and reluctantly met the wide eyed stares of Bombur, Bifur, and Bofur.

“I couldn’t stay,” he whispered. “Not after that. I just- I couldn’t-” he took a deep breath. “I had to leave.”

It was a long moment before anyone responded. Once again, it was Bofur who broke the silence. “Bilbo,” he said gently. “Thorin’s alive.”

“What?” Now it was Bilbo’s turn to stare at the dwarves in horror. “Nonononono,” he mumbled, stumbling backwards. It couldn’t be. “How? No, I saw him die.” He shuddered to a stop, then glared up at the dwarves. “It can’t be.”

Bombur nodded. “It’s true,” he told Bilbo. “Thorin survived the battle. We all did.” From there he gave a quick recount of the aftermath of the battle, describing how King Thranduil himself had treated Thorin, Fili, and Kili. Bilbo was horrified to learn that the bright eyed brothers had been so seriously wounded in the Battle of Five Armies, only just realizing how much he had missed. What would he have done if one of the boys had been killed, and he hadn’t been there? The thought had never occurred to him!

Above all though, he was overcome with horror at the thought that Thorin, his Thorin, was still alive. All he could see was Thorin’s dead body on the ice, despite what Bombur was saying to him. Images and emotions swirled around the hobbit’s mind, until it was all far too much.

And so, for the second time in his life- and very ironically in the exact same spot as last time- Bilbo Baggins fainted.

 

* * * *

 

“Mithril?”

Bilbo groaned out Mithril’s name as his senses returned to him. He wasn’t sure what had happened; he only remembered a gut wrenching feeling, and so automatically reached for his daughter.

“She’s fine.” Bilbo looked over to see Bofur sitting beside him, and slowly remembered where he was and what had happened. He groaned again, tears coming to his eyes.

“Please tell me I’m dreaming,” he begged Bofur. “Please tell me this is all some nightmare.”

Bofur’s eyes widened. “Why do you want this to be a nightmare?” he asked. “Isn’t this good news? Don’t you still love Thorin?”

Bilbo glared as he pushed himself up in bed. In the back of his mind it registered that the dwarves must have carried him in after he fainted. “Of course I still love him,” he snapped. He shook his head. “But all those years. I missed all that time…”

Bofur’s eyes softened, and he drew Bilbo to him in a hug. “Thorin will forgive you,” he told him. “One he understands what happened.”

Bilbo pulled away at this. “And what does Thorin think happened?”

Bofur sighed. “We all thought that you’d decided to leave him. That you didn’t love him anymore after the gold-sickness, and so you’d returned to the Shire.”

Bilbo’s head sank into his hands. Oh, how everything had gone so wrong. “No,” he moaned. “Never. I could never stop loving him.” He shook his head, then looked up as a startling thought locked into his brain. “I have to go back to Erebor,” he announced.

Bofur’s smile was wary. “And then what?” he asked.

Bilbo ran his hand through his curls. “And then, if Thorin still loves me, I stay with him.”

Bofur’s face split into a wide grin.

“Good,” he declared. He stood, tugging Bilbo to his feet, and shoved him to the door. “Let’s get something to eat. Bombur’s cooking.”

That hurried Bilbo’s feet. It had been far too long since he’d experienced Bombur’s cooking, and he was eager to taste the dwarf’s masterful food again.

He froze just inside the dining room though. Bifur and Bombur stopped what they were doing to stare at him, Bombur with a spoonful of stew halfway to his mouth, Bifur with a grape halfway to Mithril’s mouth. Ignoring their stares, Bilbo gulped and sat beside Mithril, welcoming her familiar weight in his arms as she climbed into his lap.

“So,” he asked at last. “When do we leave for Erebor?”

There was a moment of silence, and then a great cheer went up around the table. Bilbo gagged on his stew as Bifur pounded him heartily on the back.

“You’re coming back?” asked Bombur.

Bilbo nodded. “Of course,” he answered. “How can I not?” Then he glanced down worriedly to Mithril. How would Thorin react to the half dwarf child?

Bifur seemed to have read Bilbo’s mind, for he said something in Khuzdul. Bofur quickly translated.

“He’ll love her,” the dwarf assured. “Everyone will.”

Bilbo watched as Bifur reached one hand out to Mithril, and eagerly his daughter seized the hand and began to play with it. He smiled. Already he was reforming bonds that he hadn’t even realized he’d missed.

Chapter Text

The traders stayed in the Shire for a month, trying to auction off each item they’d brought with them from Erebor. Bilbo spent that time getting his affairs in order, eager to be off as soon as possible.

He left Bag-End to his cousin Drogo. Maybe he would one day have a little hobbit to raise there. He rummaged through his belongings, trying to decide what to bring with him and what to leave behind. This was different than the last time, he realized. The first time he’d gone running off, it had been completely on a whim, and he’d had every intention of coming back if he could. Now however, Bilbo felt the last of his ties to his old home fade away. He wasn’t planning on returning.

In the end he decided on bringing several of his and Josie’s childhood mementos, so that Mithril would one day have something of her mother’s, as well as the trunk of gold he’d taken from the trolls’ cave. Bofur, Bifur, and Bombur had assured Bilbo they could fit it all into their caravan. With the exception of that, there wasn’t much else that he wanted to bring. He preferred to travel light, having had far too many unpleasant experiences on the road for his comfort. He knew better than to load himself down with a bunch of trinkets.

As he organized his belongings Mithril played with his silver, or gorged herself on the vegetables in the garden. Often however, she would spend the day down at the market with the dwarves, and as Bilbo would stumble down the path to fetch his three friends and daughter for meals he would often find Mithril perched on Bifur’s lap, happily playing with the toys he so eagerly supplied her with.

They were also teaching her Khuzdul. Bilbo wasn’t aware of this until at supper one night Bifur stated something in their dwarven language, and Mithril eagerly replied. Even Bilbo could tell that her speech was broken and undeveloped, but she was young. She was barely managing common tongue, and that was her first language!

At the shocked look that took over Bilbo’s face the three dwarves all laughed.

“It’s only right,” Bombur explained. “She is half dwarf.”

Bilbo nodded. “Do I get to learn Khuzdul?” he asked.

This caused them to pause. “While I’m sure Thorin won’t have a problem with it,” Bombur stated, “we had best wait till we reach the mountain before teaching you.”

Bilbo nodded, shoving down his worry at Bombur’s words. They all knew what the round dwarf had implied. Just in case you’re not welcomed back.

He watched curiously as Mithril resumed her conversation with Bifur, smiling at the ease with which his daughter seemed to get along with his friends.

He spent much of his time warding off the Sackville-Bagginses; even now they were still itching to get a hold of his silver. He made sure to put in writing that they were to never get a hold of any of his possessions; that any and all Baggins property was to go to Drogo and his heir.

At last it was time. Bilbo entered the kitchen with his heart pounding in anticipation, eager to be on the road. His pack was by the door, his walking stick leaning against the wall, and Bilbo had made sure he had packed plenty of handkerchiefs. He was ready.

“Easy there burglar.”

Bilbo grinned as Bombur all but shoved him into a chair and sat breakfast in front of him. “You can’t travel on an empty stomach,” the dwarf scolded.

Bilbo snorted. “We’ve done just that in the past, thank you very much,” he reminded Bombur. The dwarf crinkled his nose at the mention of their time in Mirkwood, moving back into the kitchen.

Down the table, Mithril was playing happily with Bofur’s hat. Bilbo laughed as his daughter pulled it over her head, disappearing almost entirely into it. Only the tips of her feet poked out from the ends.

With a mock scowl Bofur reclaimed the hat, and Bifur pushed Mithril’s plate closer to her. “Eat,” he ordered in Khuzdul.

Mithril did so, though slowly. She could feel the tension in the air of Bag-End, and knew that something was about to happen. Whatever it was, she was eager for it to happen, and didn’t want to waste time with eating.

Father and daughter eventually cleared their plates, and as the dwarves lead Mithril out of the house Bilbo cast one last glance around. This was it. Everything he would be taking had already been loaded into the dwarves’ cart. Once he closed the door behind him, there was no going back.

It was surprisingly easier than Bilbo thought. As he tapped his walking stick on the ground he realized that, although he’d grown up in Bag-End, it was no longer his home. It had ceased to be so long ago. First Josie’s presence, and now Mithril’s had made the place bearable, but Bilbo no longer held any ties to the place. Where he was going now held much more for him, and he would be bringing Mithril.

The other traders were waiting at the edge of the Shire for them. They had learned by now who Bilbo was, and as the small group approached them Bilbo received nods and respectful greetings. It seemed everyone had heard of their king’s beloved burglar, who had braved a dragon to win back the mountain for them.

The first part of their journey passed without incident. The traders, with Bilbo and Mithril among them, made their way along the same route Thorin’s company had taken. At night he and Mithril would sit by their campfire, listening eagerly to Bofur’s stories as they ate the meals Bombur prepared. Bilbo smiled as he curled up in his bedroll. He had missed this more than he’d realized.

Mithril herself didn’t have a bedroll, so she would curl up beside her father. Often Bilbo would fall asleep with her curls splayed across his face, and wake up to her tugging none too gently on his hair.

He let her tiptoe her way around their small campfire to wake Bombur, Bifur, and Bofur. Bifur and Bofur she woke by tugging on their beards, but Bilbo always laughed as she woke Bombur by launching herself at him, bouncing off his large stomach.

They set a much more relaxed pace than Thorin’s company had held. Without the fear of missing Durin’s Day, there was no need for them to rush. And frankly, as each day drew them closer to the mountain, Bilbo became more and more terrified of the reaction he would receive upon his arrival.

Despite Bilbo and his friends’ attempt to avoid the trolls’ camp, several of the traders wished to explore it. The site of a battle, as small and pitiful as it was, of their king and his company against three mountain trolls; it had piqued the interest of the younger members of the trading party. By the time Bilbo had finished his breakfast the rest of the traders had been persuaded that it was a good place to explore, and with reluctance Bilbo led the way.

Mithril stared openmouthed at the stone statues before her, reaching out to poke at one of them. Bilbo knelt down next to her and began to tell her of his encounter with the trolls. When he told his daughter how one of them had used him to blow his nose, Mithril descended into laughter.

As Bilbo continued on with the tale, he found that the traders had paused in their investigations and were listening in rapt attention. Bilbo doubted he was anywhere near as good as Bofur at the art of storytelling, but he seemed to be doing the job. As he finished a round of applause went around the gathered dwarves, and Bilbo smiled at his success.

It was with reluctance that they kept moving. As they left the Trollshaws and passed into the open land beyond, Bilbo's eyes roamed around nervously. He remembered all too well the wargs and orcs he had once fled from here.

Everything seemed to be fine though. The traders moved swiftly, with Mithril bounding all around the group to chat happily with each trader. All the dwarves seemed to have both accepted and grown fond of her presence, and Bilbo often heard her twinkling laughter work its way back to him, coupled with that of whichever dwarf she was currently keeping company.

His peace was soon shattered, however. A dark shadow fell over the group, and Bilbo had barely registered it before a warg descended on one of the younger traders, its jaws clamping around the dwarf’s throat. As he fell to the ground under the beast’s weight he didn’t even have the chance to let out a scream.

Immediately several dwarves were upon the warg and orc it bore, hacking with swords and axes until both lay dead. Bilbo spun in a circle, and was horrified to see a whole group of orc bearing wargs headed their way.

“There’s more,” he called. Immediately the dwarves went into battle positions, and Bilbo was shoved against a rock outcropping, the dwarves putting themselves between him and the danger. Bilbo drew Sting, glad he was wearing his mithril shirt. Then he realized who was missing.

“Mithril,” he screamed. “Mithril!”

His eyes scanned around frantically, trying to find his daughter amid the battle that had just begun before him.

“Da!”

Mithril’s terrified scream tore at Bilbo’s heart, and he stumbled towards the sound. A moment later he spotted his daughter crouched under a trader’s cart, hidden for now.

“Stay there,” he called. “Stay-”

He dove to the ground and rolled as an orc charged him, then stood and brandished Sting, the blade glowing blue in the midday sun. The orc roared as it charged him, and Bilbo sidestepped its swing and stabbed the creature in the leg. With a scream its knees buckled, and Bilbo stabbed Sting into the orc’s throat.

The blade seemed to drink up the black blood, rejoicing in being used for its intended purpose. Bilbo scanned around him, ready for the next orc. And there it was. Again he dodged as it attempted to behead him, and once more an orc fell to Sting’s bite.

 This would all be much easier, he thought suddenly, if you used the ring.

Bilbo didn’t stop to think. He stuck his hand in his pocket, groping for the cool gold band, and let his guard down. He barely registered the next orc in time, and as he dove to the ground to avoid it he lost his grip on his sword.

Bilbo cursed under his breath, then rolled to the side to avoid the blade of the orc. He scanned around him. He had somehow moved away from the dwarves, and either way they were all busy with their own battles to come to his aid. There was no one to help, and Bilbo was defenseless.

Suddenly the orc roared in pain, and Bilbo’s eyes travelled to it legs to find Mithril clinging to the creature, her jaws clamped onto its shin with all her might. Bilbo stared with mixed horror and amusement. Had she just bitten an orc?

Whatever amusement he had quickly turned to fury as the orc reached down and backhanded Mithril. She flew off its leg, landing with a cry of pain several feet away. As the orc turned towards her, sword raised, she let out a scream of terror.

Oh no you don’t!

Red rage colored Bilbo’s vision, and he grabbed Sting from where he’d dropped it and charged the orc, his momentum propelling the sword into its back. It bit through leather armor and flesh, and the orc collapsed forward, dragging Bilbo with him.

He pulled the sword loose and stabbed again, screaming. “Don’t! You! Dare! Touch! My! Daughter!” Each word was punctuated with a stab.

It was only when the orc ceased to jerk under him that the red haze faded from Bilbo’s vision. He dislodged Sting one last time, stumbling to his feet.

“Mithril,” he gasped. “Are you alright?”

Mithril nodded, eyes wide as she stared at her father. Black orc blood and her own bright red blood mixed as it trailed from the corner of her mouth, and Bilbo could see a bruise already forming on the side of her face. He stepped forward and Mithril leaned away, her eyes going to the sword clenched in Bilbo’s hand.

He sheathed it, then dropped to his knees in front of the girl. Immediately she crawled into his arms, and he buried his face in her hair.

“Are you ok?” he murmured. He hugged her to him, never so happy to feel the beating of her heart against his chest. “Are you ok?”

“Bilbo!”

Bilbo turned to see Bofur making his way towards him, his own axe covered in orc blood.

“Are you alright?” Bofur called.

Bilbo nodded and stumbled to his feet. “Fine,” he responded. He started back towards the traders, who had by now finished their battle, Mithril still clutched in his arms.

It was horrible. Orcs lay strewn across the battlefield, but there were also several dwarves among the bodies. Bilbo’s stomach lurched, and he barely had time to set Mithril down before he hurled into a nearby shrub.

“You’d think I’d be used to it by now,” he muttered, wiping his mouth. Bofur chuckled.

“It’s not a bad thing that you’re not,” the dwarf offered. Bilbo nodded and reached down to take Mithril’s hand. She wasn’t leaving his sight again.

“Bilbo!”

Now Bifur and Bombur were headed their way. While Bombur proceeded to check Bilbo over for injuries, Bifur picked Mithril up. Soon he began shouting angrily in Khuzdul.

Bilbo sighed as Bifur pointed to Mithril’s face. “She bit an orc,” he explained. He ignored the way all three dwarves’ eyes widened at this; he really wasn’t in a laughing mood. “And it hit her.”

Bifur let out a growl, and Bombur’s grip on his axe tightened. “Where is it?” he demanded.

Bilbo pointed wearily to the corpse, which lay off to the side. While the dwarves had made swift but messy work of their own foes, this orc had been hacked mercilessly. Bilbo felt no pity for his excessive force. It was what happened to those that tried to hurt his little girl.

Bofur chuckled at the sight. “I think Bilbo handled it,” he commented.

“Aye.” Bombur examined Bilbo with an appraising eye. “I didn’t realize you had it in yah.”

Bilbo harrumphed. “I was in the Battle of Five Armies,” he chided. “If I survived that, I can handle one orc.”

“Apparently not without your two year old daughter distracting it for you,” Bofur translated for Bifur.

“You know what, I don’t need this!” Bilbo threw his hands up in the air. “I’m going to get enough of this verbal abuse from Fili and Kili. Do you three really have to?”

“Yes,” Bofur said simply. He said it with such a straight face that Bilbo couldn’t help but laugh.

“And if you think the boys are bad, wait till Thorin has a go at you,” Bombur added.

“Thorin?” Bilbo paused to consider this. While his dwarf had certainly been joking at times, when ale had helped relieve him of the weight of his quest off his shoulders, he had never been overly obnoxious.

“Aye,” Bombur told him. “Where do you think Fili and Kili learned all their tricks? Thorin’s the worst.”

Bifur said something in Khuzdul.

“Of course,” Bofur quickly agreed. “Dis is worse than Thorin.” He glanced over to Bilbo. “You haven’t met Dis yet, have you?”

Bilbo watched in mixed amusement and apprehension as all three dwarves began to chuckle in anticipation. “I’ve heard of her,” he offered.

Bofur patted Bilbo on the back. “The stories don’t do her justice- she’s much more terrifying,” he promised. Bilbo gulped.

“You lot! Give us a hand!”

The four quickly got to work rounding up the wounded and dead, and the jovial mood that had managed to find them quickly fled. Four dwarves out of the twenty had been killed, three of them barely out of their youth.

 The group debated what to do with them. It was agreed that they needed a proper burial, but they were loath to linger in the open following the attack. Bilbo found a seat on a rock as the dwarves bickered, Mithril sitting on the ground beside him with a toy. His heart clenched with fury every time he saw her rub her jaw gingerly.

“What do you think Bilbo?”

All eyes turned to Bilbo at Bofur’s question, and Bilbo glared at the dwarf. He seemed unrepentant, sending Bilbo a look that told him to hurry up and speak.

With a start, Bilbo realized this was a test. He knew that he would face many if he were to stay by Thorin’s side in Erebor; he had spent many nights worrying about it since he had learned the king was alive. Bofur was trying to warm him to the task. A kind gesture, but Bilbo didn’t appreciate it. Not with so many eyes staring at him.

He sighed. He did have an idea, but he didn’t think any of the dwarves would like it.

“We could go to Rivendell,” he suggested. Just as he’d predicted, the dwarves erupted into furious shouts. “Wait, wait, wait, wait!”

Bilbo’s shouts finally quieted down the group, and he ignored Mithril’s wide eyed stare from behind him as he stood to address them. “Many of us are wounded from the battle,” he told them. “Our supplies have been destroyed, and we have no way to bury our dead. Rivendell can supply us with what we need.”

“Like they’d give our kin any sort of an honest burial,” snorted one dwarf. Naggoul was his name.

Bilbo rolled his eyes. “On our journey to reclaim the mountain, Thorin made the choice to accept the hospitality of elves following an encounter with orcs in these very fields.” He gestured around him to the plains, deciding not to mention the fact that Thorin hadn’t been told they were headed to Rivendell until they’d arrived. “Are you suggesting that the elves’ hospitality was good enough for your king and his kin, but not for you?”

This seemed to give the dwarves pause. They resumed their muttering, and though Bilbo could tell they weren’t pleased with his opinion, his three friends were nonetheless happy he’d contributed. At last the dwarfs sullenly agreed to go to Rivendell, and once they had salvaged what they could and rounded up the dead Bilbo lead the way, Mithril walking beside him.

His daughter seemed to sense that now was not the time to go wandering off, or perhaps the attack had scared her away from such activities, for she stayed dutifully by Bilbo’s side. As the gates of Rivendell came into view the dwarves grumbled in displeasure, but a quick glare from Bilbo had them shuffling forward again.

They had to cross a bridge to reach the city, and Bilbo gulped as he stepped onto it. Hobbits were afraid of heights to begin with, but when you added a rushing river beneath, they became flat out terrified. He swallowed his fear though, knowing that unless he could make it over the bridge, the dwarves would never follow. The sight of Mithril bounding unworriedly across helped him to start forward.

They were stopped by guards at the gate. Bilbo sent a glare back to the dwarves to tell them to keep their mouths shut and stepped forward, hoping he would be able to work up the same charm as Gandalf had done.

“Hello,” he greeted, ignoring his pounding heart. The elves nodded in return, eyeing the bloodied dwarves warily, and Bilbo decided to just cut to the chase.

“We were attacked by orcs on our way back to Erebor,” he explained. “We were hoping to seek the hospitality of the Last Homely House East of the Sea.” He utilized the name he vaguely remembered Gandalf using, hoping it would trigger something akin to pity in the elves. Or at least a sense of duty to let the travelers into Rivendell.

They nodded. “Of course,” murmured one. “Your presence here is welcome, so long as you keep the peace.” His eyes swept over the group. “How many number you?”

Bilbo bit his lip. Here came the tricky part. “We are twenty dwarves, one hobbit, and one of mixed blood.” He nudged Mithril gently as he spoke, and the elves glanced down at her curiously. Bilbo resisted the urge to draw her protectively behind him as he continued. “Four of our number fell in the battle.”

The elves nodded. “We will find a place for you to lay them to rest for now, until you have arranged with Lord Elrond their final resting places.”

Bilbo nodded gratefully as the elves stepped by to let them pass. This was more generous an offer than he had expected. “Thank you,” he replied. He turned slightly to gesture to the dwarves, and reluctantly they followed him through the gates of Rivendell.

 

 

Chapter Text

Arwen paced back and forth anxiously in her room. Her brothers had returned from Bree over an hour ago; she had seen them sprint into her father’s house, but they hadn’t come to see her. All she knew was that since then a tense air had settled over Rivendell, as though the elves within were expecting something. She had watched from the balcony in her room as guards had been put at the gates, something that rarely occurred.

She ground her teeth as she continued her pacing. Before she would have simply found the nearest elf and demanded to be told what was going on, but she was currently not allowed to leave her room. She looked down at her now bulging stomach as she paced; though she loved the feeling of her baby kicking inside of her, she was eager for the birth. She didn’t know how much longer she could hide.

Even though she’d been distraught by Aragorn’s banishment so many months ago, she had remembered her grandmother’s warning about the danger her child would be in, and so she and her brothers had agreed that she would stay in her rooms, and they would bring her meals to her, along with anything else she required. Though at first she could slip to the gardens for brief strolls without drawing attention to herself, her stomach was now far too big to permit such luxuries.

She rubbed her belly soothingly, murmuring softly to the baby. She didn’t know if her baby could hear her, but she liked to think that he or she could. And so she spent the long hours in her room telling her baby stories or singing softly. She told her baby of Aragorn, and of the love the couple held for each other. Above all, she promised her baby that she would never let anything hurt it.

She whirled as the door to her room opened, and the twins slipped in, looking weary but unharmed. Arwen nonetheless threw herself at them, and then guided them to sit on her bed.

“What’s happened?” she asked. “What has everyone so worried?”

The brothers took their time answering, arranging themselves into comfortable positions on the bed. “We were chased back to Rivendell by orcs,” Elladan supplied.

Arwen gasped. She pulled them into fierce hugs, and for once they didn’t squirm away. “Are you alright?” she asked.

“We’re fine.” Elrohir gently pried Arwen off him and smiled reassuringly. “We used the hidden tunnels to get into the city. They didn’t follow.”

Arwen nodded. “What is Father doing about it?” She asked.

“He’s strengthened security around Rivendell, and he’s organizing a hunting party as we speak,” Elladan told her. “He refused to let us come.” Now both he and Elrohir were pouting, and Arwen rolled her eyes.

“Good,” she stated. “The two of you would get yourselves killed trying some hair brained scheme.”

“We would not,” they objected in unison. Arwen chuckled and stood. There was a cool breeze coming in from the balcony, and she gladly positioned herself before it. With the extra body heat of the baby she carried, it was simply too hot nowadays.

“What news is there of Aragorn?” she asked.

“He is well,” Elladan promised her. “He’s worried about you and the baby.”

Arwen smiled. She’d always found her husband’s concern for her endearing. “How was his visit to the Dunedain?” she asked.

Elrohir shrugged. “He didn’t speak much of them,” he told her. “He insisted we spend our time together telling him about you.”

“And he’s staying in Bree?” she asked.

“Aye; he seems anxious for the baby’s arrival.” Elladan seemed amused, and Arwen chuckled. She could imagine her husband’s worry as he pressed the twins for every detail concerning the growth of his unborn child. It was now nearing the time when the baby would be due, and true to his word Aragorn had returned from the North. “He made us promise to inform him as soon as the baby is born,” Elladan added.

Arwen nodded. “Hopefully soon,” she said. She sighed and folded into a chair on the balcony, looking out over Rivendell. Her brothers joined her, and for a minute or so they sat in comfortable silence.

“Have you spoken to Father?” Elrohir asked finally. Arwen sighed; she had been waiting for this question. It came every day, and though she had at first been angered by it, now she was simply resigned.

“No,” she answered. Her father had come to her several times since he had banished Aragorn, but she had for the most part refused to speak with him. She had allowed him to stay only long enough to enlist- albeit reluctantly- his help in hiding her pregnancy from Rivendell. Once he had agreed to the plan she’d formed with the twins she had bid him leave, and they had barely spoken since.

“I do not see us reconciling until he lifts his banishment,” she told her brothers. They nodded; they had expected this answer. Again they faded into silence, each caught up in their own thoughts.

Their musings were interrupted as they spotted a group of dwarves coming over the bridge. They were quickly hidden by the houses of Rivendell, and it was only many minutes later as they neared her father’s house that she finally managed a proper look at them.

They were for the most part dwarves, though the smaller man at the group’s head bore the hairy feet and slightly pointed ears that were characteristic of the Halflings to the west. Beside him walked a small child that bore, to Arwen’s surprise, traces of both dwarves and hobbits.

It was however the four bodies the group bore that caught her attention. Four dwarves, each brutally killed, were being carried by their brethren. She glanced over to Elrohir and Elladan and saw that their faces had paled in horror.

“The orcs,” Elrohir breathed. A moment later they were gone, having sprung up and bounded out of the room before Arwen could respond.

 

* * * * *

 

Bilbo Baggins stared around him as they passed through Rivendell. Despite the circumstances of their visit- which were ironically similar to that of their last visit- he couldn’t help but gaze with awe at the elven city. Though he had been here before, he still found the place awe inspiring to look at, and going by the begrudging murmurs of the dwarves behind him, they agreed.

He glanced down at Mithril. By now her face had set in a dark bruise, and though she still rubbed at it occasionally she seemed to have all but forgotten it as she too stared around her. Her mouth had fallen open, her hazel eyes widening in awe at what she saw. Knowing that she would soon want to run off to explore, Bilbo lifted her into his arms.

He led the way to Lord Elrond’s house, and was unsurprised to find the lord already waiting at the entrance, flanked by his two sons. Though Elrond’s face was as smooth and sculptured as always, Bilbo was surprised at the white faced horror evident on the twins’ faces. He pushed it from his mind, approaching Elrond with Mithril on his hip.

“Lord Elrond,” he greeted. “It has been a long time.”

Elrond’s eyes twinkled almost imperceptibly. “Bilbo Baggins,” he returned. “Eight years it has been. You bring different company with you this time.”

Bilbo nodded. “I do,” he affirmed. “Though three of my friends from my previous visit are here with me now.” He gestured behind him. “Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur,” he introduced.

Elrond nodded as his eyes skimmed over the dwarves. “I remember,” he said. He nodded respectfully to the dwarves. “I welcome you to my halls,” he greeted the dwarves. Then, finding the four bodies in their midst, his brown eyes widened ever so slightly, and he turned back to Bilbo. “What befell you?” he asked.

Bilbo sighed. “We were attacked by orcs outside the city,” he told Elrond. “We were hoping to seek shelter and travel supplies here, as our kind has once done.”

Bilbo’s inclusion of himself into the dwarf’s ranks didn’t go unnoticed by Elrond. However he simply nodded, keeping his face expressionless. “Of course,” he replied. “I would meet with you later to discuss your companions’ final rights. I would not ask you to bear them all the way back to the mountain.”

Bilbo nodded, grateful. He wasn’t even surprised that Elrond had guessed their destination; it was fairly obvious. “Thank you,” he said.

Elrond nodded. “Now,” he said. “Would you introduce me to your companions?”

Bilbo nodded. “You know already Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur,” he stated. “This is Naggoul, Vanmour, Thazzouth, Jozzouk, Grounem, Glaseg, Khendock, Elsgrin, Fokhaeg, Daresaec, Fonmumi, Elgruth, and Strolgrout. Our fallen were known as Yussoick, Reikrerlig, Sarraeg, and Uthouth.” Here he paused for a moment before continuing. “And this is Mithril. My daughter,” he added.

Elrond’s eyes zeroed in on the girl clutched in Bilbo’s arms, and Bilbo felt his heart rate increase. This was Mithril’s first reaction with one with whom she did not share some heritage. How would Elrond react to her? Would he be able to tell that she was of mixed blood?

Elrond simply nodded and bowed. “Welcome, company of Bilbo Baggins,” he said. “I will guide you to a place where you may rest your dead, and then you may yourselves wash and rest.” He turned again to Bilbo. “If you would, Mr. Baggins, come to my study when you have recovered.”

Bilbo nodded. “Of course,” he responded. He then followed as Elrond himself led the group to a place where they could leave their dead. As they entered the house Bilbo expected Elrond to disappear, but to his surprise it was the lord himself who brought them to the baths and showed them to their rooms. Once they knew where everything was the elf made his exit.

Bilbo cast his gaze over the bathing pool that Elrond had left them in. It was large and opened to the outside air, though fenced in by a series of trees, their interlocking branches preventing unwanted eyes from seeing in. The pool seemed to be connected to the river, for water flowed in a gentle current through it. At the edge of the water sat soap and towels.

The company quickly washed themselves, and as they did Bilbo drew Mithril to an uninhabited section of the pool and washed the grime off her. Once she was dressed he himself bathed, pulling on a fresh change of clothes.

He sat at the edge of the pool to let his hair dry, and Mithril curled up in his lap, sleepy now. Bilbo took this chance to inspect her face, sighing in dismay at the deep bruise that covered the right half of her face. Her bottom lip was split, and though it was no longer bleeding, Bilbo suspected it rather hurt. Mithril didn’t seem to mind at the moment, clutching one of her toys in her arms as sleep overtook her.

Each dwarf had a room to himself, though Bilbo doubted they would dare to space themselves so under the roof of an elf. Unlike him, they carried the distrust of the pointy eared folk that Thorin had possessed. Bilbo wondered if his king still disliked elves, or if he had gotten over his aversion in the past eight years. He pushed such thoughts from his mind. The dwarves would -hopefully- behave themselves. Bilbo needed to find his way to Lord Elrond’s study, and figure out what to do with Mithril while he was there. While he was sure the dwarves would look after her, he didn’t want to impede upon their rest, and he was still loathe to be separated from his daughter so soon after the battle with the orcs. Bilbo decided that his only option was to take her with him.

He quickly found an elf in the halls of the house, and the elf gladly showed Bilbo to where Elrond’s study was. Though Bilbo caught the elf’s eyes flickering curiously to Mithril, he luckily didn’t comment.

At the study Bilbo knocked uncertainly.

“Come in,” Elrond called. Bilbo pushed open the door, holding a sleeping Mithril as he entered.

“Welcome, Master Baggins,” Elrond said. He stood from his desk, and now a bit of the formality that had pervaded the elf earlier seemed to leach from him. Elrond remembered well the Halfling that Gandalf had spoken so fondly of, and it was always nice to host one of Gandalf’s friends. Just like the wizard, they often brought all sorts of trouble. And though not all of it was good, it was nevertheless a change from the paper-cluttered lifestyle that Elrond felt himself sinking into.

“Thank you Lord Elrond,” Bilbo answered. At Elrond’s gesture he sat on the plush couch in the room, pulling Mithril up to sit on his lap. “How are your sons after their encounter with the orcs?”

Elrond’s eyes widened, and Bilbo allowed himself a short laugh. “I saw their faces when we arrived,” he explained. “It wasn’t too difficult to piece together.”

Elrond nodded. “I must say, Mr. Baggins, I think that I have underestimated you in the past.”

Bilbo shrugged. “Seeing as the first time we met I was more concerned with handkerchiefs than anything, I would have underestimated me too.” He smiled wanly at this, and Elrond found himself returning the smile.

Elrond sat at the corner of the desk. “While we must discuss funeral arrangements for your dwarves,” he began, “I find that I would rather start with more pleasant matters; if you would do me the honor of introducing us properly.” Elrond stooped and lifted Mithril, who, unbeknown to Bilbo, had awoken, slipped from the couch, and busied herself with playing with Elrond’s robes. Bilbo felt embarrassment color his cheeks, but Elrond didn’t seem to mind. Indeed, a small smile played at the elf’s mouth as he inspected Mithril.

“This is Mithril,” Bilbo answered. He quickly recounted the tale of his second cousin’s pregnancy, and Elrond listened intently, a sad glow shining in his eyes at the mention of Josie’s death. Bilbo went on to detail the arrival of his friends in the Shire, knowing that the purpose of his travels would be Elrond’s next question. By the time he had finished speaking Elrond’s face had become expressionless.

“And what happened to your daughter’s face?” he asked. “I presume her injury is a result of the orc attack?”

Bilbo told Elrond now about the battle in the plains outside Rivendell. Though the elven lord kept his face expressionless for the majority of the recital, a small smile of amusement split his lips when he mentioned how Mithril had bitten the orc about to kill her father. As Bilbo finished with his company’s arrival in Rivendell, Elrond looked at the child he held with a new appraisal.

“She is feisty,” he commented. Bilbo nodded with a small frown; already there was a small voice in the back of his mind compiling a list of all the trouble his feisty daughter would surely get into in her life.

Elrond met Bilbo’s worried eyes. “I will see to it that a healing salve is mixed for her face,” he assured Bilbo. “It shall help her to heal faster, and reduce the pain of her injury.”

Bilbo nodded gratefully. “Thank you,” he whispered. Elrond nodded, handing a once more sleeping Mithril to her father.

“Now,” said Elrond, and suddenly the elf’s demeanor was more serious as he looked at the hobbit through hooded eyes. “We must discuss funeral arrangements.”

Bilbo nodded sadly, but allowed the elf to continue to speak. “There is a set of caves behind Rivendell,” Elrond told him, “which lie so secluded that they are seldom disturbed. I believe it is the custom of the dwarves to be put to rest in rock, yes?”

Bilbo nodded after taking a moment to think. He did remember Thorin mentioning something of the sort once, during their initial quest to Erebor. “I believe that is the custom,” he agreed.

Elrond nodded. “Then I would say that these caves are the best place for your fallen,” he told Bilbo. “What say you?”

Bilbo hesitated. While he thought that the caves would suffice nicely, and he was eternally grateful for Elrond’s generosity in offering them, he knew it wasn’t really his place to agree. “I shall have to discuss the matter with the others,” he said at last. “But I think they shall do nicely. Thank you, Lord Elrond.”

Elrond nodded. “Of course,” he said. He studied Bilbo curiously. “The dwarves you travel with would argue that I would ask something in return, yet you do not seem concerned with the possibility,” he observed.

Bilbo blinked in surprise. While the idea had crossed his mind briefly, he hadn’t really considered it. He was now wondering if he was wrong. “Would you ask something of me?” he demanded softly.

Elrond returned to his seat behind his desk. “Long ago there was an alliance between the races of Middle Earth,” Elrond said. “While I know that this,” he tapped his desk to indicate the arrangements the two had just made, “cannot restore such alliances, I would have it remembered.” Now he leaned forward. “Dark times are coming, Mr. Baggins,” he said. “I would have all of Middle Earth unite against what approaches.”

Bilbo gulped. He had no idea what dark times Elrond was referring to, but they didn’t sound good. He automatically clutched Mithril closer to him. “What is coming?” he asked.

This question seemed to pain Elrond, for he leaned back in his chair, a troubled expression taking over his face. “I do not know,” he admitted softly. “But I would not be caught unprepared.”

Bilbo nodded. “I can’t speak for either the dwarves of Erebor or the hobbits of the Shire,” he reminded Elrond, “but I assure you that I will put in a good word at the mountain.” He frowned. “I fear the Shire may actually be more difficult to persuade. The word alliance rings with adventure, and that is an idea hobbits reject vehemently.”

Elrond nodded. “So be it,” he murmured. He paused, and seemed to be thinking of something else to say when the door burst open. In ran Elrohir, white faced and panting. He paused at the sight of the hobbit, but Elrond stood.

“What is it?” he asked. Bilbo glanced between the father and son and knew that something was wrong immediately, and that Elrond had a suspicion of what it was.

Elrohir’s eyes flickered to Bilbo, and then returned to his father. He said something in Sindarin, and Bilbo barely managed to catch the name Arwen in the elf’s words. Elrond nodded and followed Elrohir out the door, turning at the entrance back to Bilbo.

“Forgive me,” he said. “There is a family matter I must see to. I shall see you at dinner tonight?”

Bilbo nodded, choosing not to comment on the panicked expression in the lord’s normally calm eyes. “Of course,” he assured him. “Good luck.”

Elrond nodded and sped off down the corridor, and Bilbo watched him go curiously. He looked down at Mithril, who by now had planted two fingers in her mouth, her other hand clutching at her father’s shirt. “Well that was odd,” he murmured softly, removing his daughter’s fingers from her mouth. He shrugged and started back to the room that had been set for them. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t his business.

Or was it? Bilbo paused just outside his room, cocking his head to the side to think. He had no idea what was happening; for all he knew it could very well effect his company’s travels. He sighed. There was only one way to find out.

“Bifur!” The old dwarf glanced up as Bilbo hurried towards him, Mithril cuddled in his arms. He was sitting in the room the elves had supplied for him, sharpening his axe. Bofur and Bombur had fallen asleep in the room, and Bifur was sure the other dwarves would soon be arriving. They were loath to be separated in the large house of the elves.

He grunted in greeting, knowing that Bilbo wouldn’t understand Khuzdul, and rose to meet him. To his surprise Bilbo all but shoved Mithril at him, and though he happily took the small child in his arms, he looked at Bilbo with confusion.

Bilbo sighed. He knew if he stated that he thought something was amiss in Elrond’s house the dwarves would insist they depart immediately. He didn’t think that was either necessary or an option, if he was being honest. They had no supplies, and had yet to bury their dead. So how was he to provide an explanation to Bifur?

“I must be somewhere,” he said. He shook his head as Bifur’s eyebrows shot up. “I’ll tell you later; I promise,” he called. He backed out the door before Bifur could stop him, and all but ran down the hallway.

Once he was away he slipped the ring on his finger. He didn’t know where he needed to be, but didn’t want to draw suspicion to himself by being seen wandering around the halls. All he knew that whatever was happening, it likely concerned Elrond’s daughter Arwen. Bilbo had heard of the elf during his last stay in Rivendell, though she had been in Lothlórien at the time. He wondered if she was as breathtaking as he had heard.

Soon he saw Elladan and another elf hurrying past him and up a set of winding stairs, a medical bag clutched in the second elf’s hands. Bilbo decided to follow them, and so took off silently, running to catch up with the elves’ long strides. Soon the burglar found himself outside a door that he could only guess led to a bedroom, and strained to catch a glimpse of the contents of the room as the pair slipped in.

His eyes instantly focused on the elf on the elegant bed pushed against the wall, a woman in a deep violet gown that could only be Arwen. Even in the obvious distress she was in, Bilbo could tell that she was beautiful. He ignored this observation however, noting the way Elrohir sat with her head cradled in his lap, stroking her hair soothingly. Elrond knelt by the side of the bed, clutching his daughter’s hand in his own as he murmured softly to her. What caught Bilbo’s attention however, was the large bulge in Arwen’s stomach. With a shock, Bilbo realized what was happening.

Arwen was in labor.

Bilbo cursed silently. His experience with pregnancies had not been good, and he fancied that perhaps he might negatively jinx the birth. He shook his head. Surely the elf wouldn’t have the difficulties that Josie had. Josie’s pregnancy had been under special circumstances.

Still, Bilbo was worried. He settled against the wall, cringing as he heard Arwen cry out in pain. He would wait here, just to be safe.

His mind soon began to wander. Who was the father? Surely he should be here with Arwen at this time. Bilbo sat up against the wall, expecting another elf to come hurrying down the corridor at any moment. After some time, however, it became clear to Bilbo that no one was coming.

And so he waited. He cringed at each cry that came from Arwen’s room, his heart aching with the memories that were surfacing. He could only hope that things would turn out differently this time around.

And then he heard it. From within the room faint cries of life, the first wails of an infant could be heard. Bilbo stood eagerly, even though he knew he would likely not get a glimpse of the baby. He had long since pulled the ring off his finger, stuffing it safely back in his pocket, and so was unprepared when the door opened.

 

* * * * *

 

Arwen panted as the last of her pain faded, allowing herself to sag back in Elrohir’s lap. Her work was at last done, the baby delivered. Elrond had ceased to whisper soothing things to her; now he had begun anxiously inspecting his daughter’s face. Arwen squeezed his hand once to tell him she was alright, then turned her attention to the small bundle that the doctor had handed Elladan so he could return to Arwen.

“How do you feel?” asked the elf.

“Fine,” Arwen assured. Her eyes were fixed on the baby- her baby, barely visible to her amid the white cloth that encased the small form. “Let me see my baby.”

The doctor chuckled and moved aside, and Elladan stepped forward and deposited Arwen’s daughter into her arms. Arwen gasped as she looked down at the child.

“She’s beautiful,” she whispered. Around her, her family could only nod in agreement. Soft black hair was beginning as fuzz on the baby’s head, and storm cloud grey eyes peered curiously up at her mother. Arwen couldn’t help the small smile that came to her face as her baby’s fist waved in the air, and she reached down to gently catch the chubby limb in her fingers.

Arwen gasped as the vision slammed into her mind, easily taking control of the elf’s senses. Elrond caught the baby before she could tumble to the floor, and the elves in the room watched Arwen’s eyes widen with what she saw.

She saw the throne room of Erebor, restored once more to its former glory. The stone floors gleamed, the intricate carvings on the pillars that held up the roof catching even the most unappreciative eye. Arwen’s gaze fell to the dais at the head of the room, upon which sat the throne of the king. Gleaming in its place in the backing of the chair was the Arkenstone.

King Thorin sat there, though he was turned to the throne that had been set beside his. The king and the hobbit that sat together laughed quietly at some joke, their eyes twinkling with love. Arwen smiled at the sight.

“Uncles!”

Arwen’s attention was caught by the child that bounded into the throne room, a wide smile on her face. The hobbit- Bilbo, she knew somehow- rose to meet her, a wide grin spreading across his face. Arwen couldn’t help but chuckle as she saw that the child was already taller than her uncle.

But why? Arwen peered closer at her, and was shocked to see pointed ears poking out of the long black hair that tumbled over her shoulders. As the child skidded to a stop and deposited a hug to each of her uncles, Arwen caught the twinkle of her grey eyes. She knew immediately to whom those eyes belonged.

“Miny!”

Arwen turned once more to see another child, this one half dwarf and half hobbit, bound into the room behind her daughter. Though she wore a scowl on her face, Arwen could see the playfulness behind the flashing hazel eyes as she pushed wild brown curls out of her face.

“Not fair,” called the second girl. “You promised to give me a head start.”

Arwen’s daughter laughed. “It’s not my fault you’re slow, Mithy,” she taunted. The two girls shared playful scowls, and then glanced towards Thorin as he sighed in mock frustration, a loving glint in his eyes as he surveyed the children.

“What trouble have you two gotten into now?” he asked. When both girls refused to meet his eyes the king stood and came to stand before him, hands planted on his hips in a show of paternal demand. “Mithril,” he ordered. “Minriel. What are you up to?”

The girls’ responses were lost to Arwen as the vision faded, and with a gasp she returned to the present. “Minriel,” she called, reaching for her daughter. Where had she gone?

“Who’s Minriel?”

Arwen turned to see Elladan watching her worriedly, but she ignored him. A moment later she spotted Minriel in her grandfather’s arms, cooing as she looked about her curiously. “Minriel,” she whispered.

As realization dawned over the faces of the others, Arwen took her daughter back into her arms.

“What did you see?” Elrond asked. He brushed at Arwen’s hair, moving it out of her face, and Arwen found her irritation at her father returning. She shoved it down though; now was not the time for an argument.

“Find me Bilbo Baggins,” she ordered. “Now.”

Elladan nodded and went for the door when Arwen offered no explanation as to her demand, swinging it open. He froze in shock, then stepped aside and drew none other than Bilbo himself into the room. Arwen smiled softly at the nervous expression on the hobbit’s face at having been caught spying.

Bilbo gulped. He was terrified of what Elrond would do as the elf’s eyes fell upon him, but the lord’s face was unreadable. Bilbo glanced to Elrohir and Elladan; both wore identical amused yet worried expressions on their faces. It was however Arwen who caught Bilbo’s attention as the healer slipped out of the room behind him. The elf wore a small, sad smile on her face as she inspected the hobbit.

“I’m sorry,” Bilbo began. “I-I-”

“Do not bother with excuses,” Arwen told him. Her voice was soft and melodious, but Bilbo could sense the same playfulness in it that had permeated Josie. “There is little point.”

Bilbo nodded as his fingers wrought the edge of his shirt nervously. “I’m sorry,” he offered.

Arwen laughed softly. “Do not be,” she said. “If my host were to run off suddenly, I would want to know what was happening, especially if I travelled with my daughter.”

Bilbo blinked; how did Arwen know all this? He quickly shook his surprise from his mind. He could see the balcony outside her room, and suspected it showed the elf all who came and went from her father’s house. Besides that, Bilbo knew her brothers had likely filled her in on the reason for his company’s visit. And besides, Bilbo thought to himself, elves seem to know everything.

He nodded slowly, not sure what to expect from here. Just because Arwen didn’t seem to mind his spying didn’t mean her family would be of the same opinion. He was therefore shocked at Arwen’s next words.

“Bilbo,” she murmured softly. “I have a request to make of you.”

Bilbo blinked rapidly. Had he heard Arwen right? “I-I’m sorry?” he asked.

Arwen smiled slightly, seeming amused by the hobbit’s confusion. Yet underneath her smile Bilbo could see a great deal of pain and sorrow.

“A favor,” she repeated. “I would ask something of you.”

Bilbo nodded and gulped. While he would do most anything to avoid being scorned for his spying, he did wonder what the elf would ask him to do. He hoped he wouldn’t regret it.

Arwen took a deep breath, seeming to brace herself. “I would have you raise my baby,” she whispered.

“What!” Elrohir and Elladan’s cries filled the spacious room, and Bilbo winced at the intensity of their exclamation. Even Elrond looked shocked, his eyes wide, but he held up a hand to silence his sons.

“Arwen,” he asked. “What is the meaning of this?”

Arwen gave her family pleading looks to beg them into silence, and then addressed her next words to Bilbo. “Take a seat,” she told him. “This will need an explanation.”

Bilbo remained where he was, his mouth hanging open. Had Arwen just asked him to raise her baby? Why would she do that? Didn’t she want the child? Could Bilbo even take an elven child to Erebor?

It wasn’t until Elrohir drew a chair from the balcony outside and set the hobbit in it that Bilbo again paid attention to his surroundings. He ignored the humility of the fact that his feet were dangling so far above the ground, instead turning his attention to Arwen as she began to speak.

“Have you heard of Isildur’s heir?” she asked. Bilbo thought for a moment, and then nodded.

“Aragorn, yes?” he asked. “I met him briefly during my last visit here.” Bilbo pushed aside memories of the young man he had encountered in the gardens of Rivendell; he needed to hear what Arwen said.

“Aragorn is my husband,” Arwen told him. She ignored the way Bilbo’s mouth fell open again. “We married in secret in the forest of Lothlórien, and during that time we were blessed with Minriel.” By the loving glance Arwen gave her daughter at her words, Bilbo knew that was the infant’s name. “A child who bears the blood of the high elves and of the kings of Gondor is in constant danger,” she warned Bilbo. “I have spent the past year hiding my pregnancy from all except my family and a few trusted friends. Yet now these precautions would be for naught once she is seen.” Now she leveled a steady gaze at Bilbo with steel grey eyes. “The only safe place for her is in Erebor. Please, will you protect my daughter?”

Bilbo was vaguely aware that his mouth had fallen open again, but he didn’t care. His mind was whirling. He was being asked to raise Arwen’s child. A child of mixed blood, a child who was practically a princess. Bilbo couldn’t believe it.

The thing that struck him to most, however, was the fact that Arwen was entrusting him with the task. She had said that she had told only those she trusted the most with the knowledge that her baby even existed. Bilbo was honored that he seemed to be included within that group. He didn’t understand it in the slightest, but nonetheless he was humbled.

“Why- why me?” he asked.

Arwen smiled. “As I said, I believe the mountain to be the safest place for her. None would think to look for such a child there. As for why you in particular, you are a rare person to Middle Earth. You possess no ill will toward any but orcs, and hold the ear of the monarchs of the west. You are the only person whom I feel is suited to raise Minriel.”

Arwen watched Bilbo as he took in everything she had said, choosing to leave out her vision. The hobbit had enough on his plate without that knowledge, and her rare gifts didn’t concern him. She studied Bilbo, watching the war that was raging in his mind play out across his face. Finally his features settled on something akin to humility, and he nodded.

“Of course,” he responded. “I would be honored to.” Now he paused, and when his sky blue eyes met Arwen’s, they were cautious. “However, I cannot assure you of the reaction Minriel will receive by the dwarves.”

Arwen nodded. She doubted that the mountain folk would at first be welcoming to Minriel, but she also knew that everything would, in the end, turn out fine. She had seen the dwarf king himself look at her daughter with nothing other than adoration in her vision. How could his people refuse?

“I trust you will find the right path,” she told Bilbo. She left it at that, and was faintly amused by the frustration that flickered across his face as her vagueness. Still he nodded, sliding off the chair and backing to the door.

“I’ll leave you now,” he mumbled. He smiled softly, and Arwen sensed he was trying to part what comfort he could. “I wouldn’t take her from you before I have to.”

Arwen felt tears come to her eyes, and was glad the hobbit had slipped out of her room, so that he did not see them. Instead she clutched Minriel to her chest and turned to the pale faced gazes of her father and brother.

“Is that what you saw?” Elladan asked. “Did you see Minriel in Erebor?”

Arwen nodded. “Aye,” she said softly. She settled back in her bed, rocking Minriel softly. “Would you like me to tell you what I saw?”

 

* * * *

 

The funeral for the dwarves was a week later. Bilbo was immensely glad that they had agreed, with relative ease, to Elrond’s offer. He simply did not have the patience to deal with stubborn dwarves. Not with everything else going on.

Bilbo was surprised to see the elves and dwarves working together to prepare the fallen dwarves for their burial. Soon the task was done, and a small group proceeded to the caves set deep into the valley of Imladris.

Bilbo supposed that even the elves of Rivendell held what he viewed as ridiculous grudges against dwarves, for it was only Elrond and his sons who accompanied the company to the caves. Bilbo was unsurprised by the fact that Arwen didn’t accompany them; if he was her he would want to spend every moment he could with the child he would soon be giving up.

At the thought Bilbo glanced down to where Mithril walked beside him. Her face had already healed, aided by the salve Elrond had mixed for her. She walked quietly beside her father, sensing the solemn mood of those around her. Bilbo didn’t know if she understood what was happening, but supposed that as long as she didn’t create a ruckus he really didn’t care.

The four dwarves were carried on wooden litters into the caves, where they were set upon several natural outcroppings of rock that served as beds. Bilbo joined Elrond, Elladan, and Elrohir outside the caves with Mithril, giving his company a chance to say their final goodbyes. As they returned Bilbo tried not to notice the many red eyes.

Elrond stepped forward and raised his arms, and the land before the caves began to shudder. At first the dwarves looked panicked, but as a series of bushes and other thick flora crept to life they relaxed.

“None shall disturb them now,” Elrond assured. The dwarves nodded and bowed, thankful, and Elrond gestured for his sons to follow him back to Rivendell. As they slipped quietly away they heard the first strains of a mourning song beginning behind them.

To his surprise, Elladan and Elrohir went straight to their rooms and grabbed packs, leaping onto the balcony rail as they prepared to slip out.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Elrohir grinned. “We’re sneaking out,” he supplied. “It wouldn’t do for anyone to see us.”

Elrond guessed immediately where they were going, and simply nodded. After so few months, the banishment of the man he’d once viewed as a son was a raw spot in his heart. “Be safe,” he told them. Then he swept down the hall. He considered knocking on Arwen’s door, but decided not to. The two were still at odds with each other, and he didn’t want to disturb what little time she had left with Minriel. Elrond instead opted to return to his study, sighing as he sank into his chair before the piles of paperwork that awaited him.

Bilbo nodded to Elrond as he entered the dining hall, and the elf nodded in return. Though Bilbo had sat with him his first night, he now sat with his company, knowing it would be odd for him to spend all his time with the race the dwarves despised so much.

The meal was for once somber; no dwarf in the mood to go through their usual rowdy drinking songs and contests. Though Bilbo was glad that we wouldn’t have to spend the next hour picking food out of Mithril’s hair, he was still worried. This was not normal behavior for dwarves.

Still, he supposed it was to be expected. They had just buried their kin, and it was setting in that they would never see them again. Bilbo knew that many of his company had spent the past week sitting with their fallen, hoping that they would, against all odds, rise again.

So he took Mithril and led her to where Elrond sat, and the elf simply ordered two more chairs be brought for the pair. Soon Bilbo was sitting, albeit with his feet dangling much higher than he would like to admit, beside the lord, watching Mithril out of the corner of his eye as he ate.

Elrond swallowed a bite of food and turned to Bilbo. “I would like to discuss your travels,” he began. “You know that the longer you can wait, the easier things will be. Minriel is still young.”

Bilbo nodded, his glance moving to the dwarves seated at the next table. “I don’t think this lot will be too eager to travel for some time,” he assured Elrond. “They need time to grieve.”

Elrond nodded. Should he feel bad about the relief he felt at the fact? He shoved aside his thoughts. “Not long enough, I’m afraid,” he told Bilbo. “How do you plan on supplying Minriel with milk during the journey?”

Bilbo thought for a moment, tilting his head to the side. “We managed to keep some goats after the orc attack,” he told Elrond. “We can use their milk.” Elrond looked uncertain, so Bilbo pressed. “It’s what I did for Mithril.”

Elrond’s face softened slightly at that, his gaze going to the small child that was currently picking at her salad with a scrunched up face. Bilbo sighed; sometimes she was such a picky eater.

“I would also have guards escort you to the mountain,” Elrond told Bilbo. Bilbo blinked in surprise, and then reconsidered. Of course Elrond would want to ensure the safety of his granddaughter.

Bilbo nodded. “I think we can pass it off as you being concerned for the dwarves after the orc raid,” he said.

Elrond looked mildly offended. “I am concerned for your dwarves,” he insisted.

Bilbo smiled. “Of course,” he placated. He then looked around. “Where are the boys?”

Elrond sighed. “They went to tell Aragorn of Minriel’s birth.”

Bilbo nodded, deciding to leave the topic alone. A couple of days after Minriel’s birth Arwen had summoned Bilbo back to her room, and had given the hobbit a more detailed surmising of the events surrounding her daughter’s conception. While Bilbo didn’t understand how Elrond could deny Aragorn the right to see his wife or daughter, he knew better than to comment on the matter.

Soon the topic of conversation changed to other matters, as the pair didn’t want to chance unwanted ears hearing about Minriel. As Mithril started to dose against Bilbo’s side he sighed and hopped off his chair, gathering her in his arms.

“Goodnight,” he called. Elrond waved a hand in farewell, watching the hobbit slip off with hooded eyes.

 

* * * *

 

It was another month before the dwarves were ready to leave. Bilbo tried to subtly encourage them to take their time in their mourning, wanting to give Arwen as much time with Minriel as possible. He also knew that the longer they put off traveling, the stronger the baby would be.

Besides, there was a part of him that was terrified to complete the journey to the mountain. He wasn’t entirely sure of the welcome he would get, and Minriel only complicated matters. Still, half elven child aside, Bilbo had missed eight years. He had no misgivings that his return would go smoothly.

He explained to the dwarves several days in advance that Elrond would be sending guards with them. Though his company was at first reluctant, once Bilbo reasoned that they would be safer with the added protection they agreed reluctantly. The hard part came when he told them about Minriel.

He didn’t mention her heritage, merely stating that he was being asked to bear her to relatives to the east. He refused to say more on the subject of whom she was, insisting that it wasn’t their business. Though no one was at all pleased by his vagueness, they eventually resigned themselves to carry the elven child with them. Bilbo Baggins was the lover of their king and the now unofficial head of their company, and they knew they couldn’t leave him behind.

On the morning of their departure Bilbo rose early. While there were certain benefits to leading the party, such as the respect that was automatically endowed him, there were still drawbacks. Bilbo was responsible for seeing that they were set and ready to continue.

There was a small group of elves ready to travel with him; Elrond knew that a troop larger than ten would draw attention to the company. Bilbo was quickly assured by their leader that they were ready, and so he went to the carts the traders had packed. They had rid themselves of the majority of their items in the Shire, and so had plenty of room for food and water. Several goats were tied to one wagon, and once Bilbo was sure that none of the wheels were loose he allowed himself to relax.

There was only one task left, but Bilbo put it off to the last minute. He ate quickly, and then slipped out of the dining hall, bringing Mithril with him. It would be best for her to acquaint herself with the new addition to their family before they set out.

Arwen was waiting in her rooms, her back turned as Bilbo stepped in the door. He sat Mithril in a nearby chair and waited patiently, not wanting to disturb the mother and daughter in their final moments. From across the room he could faintly hear Arwen whispering to Minriel in Sindarin.

“I would ask one last thing of you,” she said. Her back was still turned, so she didn’t see the nod Bilbo gave her. “Do not raise her to call you father. It is selfish of me, but I would not have another take my place as parent.”

“Of course.” Bilbo’s eyes widened, and he suddenly wondered if he had done the right thing in letting Mithril call him da. He pushed aside his worries; it was too late to think of that now. “She shall call me uncle.”

Arwen nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered. She spent one more moment with her daughter, then turned and made her way silently across the room. Bilbo politely ignored the elf’s tears as she handed Minriel to him. Arwen’s hands lingered for a moment on her daughter, and then she pulled back.

Bilbo looked down at the child he now held. This was the first time he had held her; he had insisted that Arwen hold her every chance she got during the brief time she had with Minriel. He gazed now into the steel grey eyes that were so like her mother’s and smiled softly. He still couldn’t quite believe that he was being entrusted with the task of raising Minriel.

Bilbo glanced behind him at Mithril’s curious noises, and then backed up so that his daughter could peer over his shoulder at Minriel. Mithril had stood in the rocking chair she had been set in, and was balancing on its edge as she cooed at the baby. Bilbo couldn’t help his smile as Mithril reached down, and Minriel eagerly snatched the girl’s finger in one chubby hand.

Mithril laughed. “Namad,” she giggled.

Bilbo looked up to Arwen. The elf was studying the trio before her with sad eyes, tear tracks visible on her face. As her gaze met the hobbit’s she offered him a small smile.

“Good luck to you, Bilbo Baggins,” she whispered. “Take care of my Minriel.”

With that she turned away, and Bilbo silently slipped out of the room with his niece and daughter, leaving the elf to her grief.

He went to Elrond’s study, hoping to give the lord or his sons a final moment with Minriel, but they weren’t there. With a sigh he left the house, only to find the very elves he’d been searching for on the steps. All three pairs of eyes zeroed in on Minriel, but they only gave Bilbo a small nod and sad smile.

The company, along with their elven guards, was eager to get going. As Bilbo came into sight, Bifur, Bombur, and Bofur approached, eager to get a look at the new addition to the family. Despite their hatred of the girl’s obvious elven lineage, they found it impossible not to fawn over the baby.

Elrond said a few words in farewell, and then Bilbo started forward at the head of the company. He didn’t bother with his walking stick this time, using both hands to hold Minriel to his chest. Mithril pranced along beside him, Bifur not far behind. Flanking the hardened dwarf were Bofur and Bombur, and behind those three the rest of the company. The elves walked on the edges of the group, spaced evenly apart as they formed a perimeter between the company and whatever dangers awaited them.

Bilbo took a deep breath. Here we go. 

Chapter Text

It had been barely an hour into their march when the stranger approached. At this point Mithril was bouncing several feet ahead of Bilbo, and he had been on the brink of calling her back when the sound of footsteps reached the company. Immediately they grouped together, Bilbo taking Mithril’s hand and leading her and Minriel to the center of the defensive circle that had formed. After waiting in a terse silence for several moments the company caught sight of a hooded figure approaching from the direction of the Bruinen River.

“Who hails?” called one of the elf guards. His tone was cautious, but Bilbo thought he detected a hint of recognition in his voice. Apparently the guard thought he knew the strange man.

“I am known to the world as Strider,” responded the man. He reached up and lowered the hood to his cloak, and immediately the elven guards relaxed.

“Lord Elrond’s sons warned us you might be joining us,” replied the elf. He now bore a small smile on his lips, which did not go unnoticed by the vastly confused dwarves. The elf turned to Bilbo. “Might I introduce-”

“I know who he is.” Bilbo cut off the guard before he could finish his sentence. He had no doubt that the elf would title the man Aragorn, and he didn’t know if the dwarves would recognize the name, or more importantly, what it entailed. It was best for his true identity to remain unknown. Otherwise there was little point in his pretenses with Minriel.

Bilbo inspected Aragorn. He was tall, even for those of the race of man, sporting a wild mane of dark hair and grey eyes that were somewhat softer than his wife’s. He held himself modestly, yet even Bilbo could sense at a hint of regality in his stance. He could only hope his companions didn’t see it.

“Welcome Strider,” Bilbo greeted. He nodded softly, and Aragorn returned the nod as he received the message Bilbo silently communicated to him.

“Who is this?” asked Naggoul. Bilbo sighed, trying to piece together an acceptable answer, but Aragorn beat him to it.

“I am a ranger from the north,” he supplied. “I heard of your difficulties in your travels and hoped to offer my assistance in seeing you home.”

The eyes of the dwarves narrowed. “Out of the good of yer heart?” asked Sarraeg incredulously.

Aragorn fought to hide a grimace. He had heard that dwarves were suspicious of others, but he was still not prepared for how much so. “I heard that you travel with two young ones,” he stated. “I was honor bound to come.”

This seemed to quiet the dwarves, though only for a moment. Bilbo quickly spoke up again before they could raise any objections. “Thank you Strider,” he called. “Your company is most welcome.” He shot a glare around the company, daring any to challenge him. When none did he began walking again, and Strider fell into step beside him.

“You don’t think the elves will let anything slip, do you?” Bilbo whispered from the corner of his mouth.

Aragorn shook his head minutely. “They sensed your reluctance to speak my true name; they will not divulge it,” he promised. Now the ranger’s eyes moved to the baby Bilbo cradled, and a softness crept over them.

Bilbo smiled softly. “She’s beautiful,” he said.

Aragorn nodded mutely in agreement, and Bilbo could see how he ached to hold her. The hobbit was acutely aware of the fact that this was the ranger’s first view of his own daughter, and he felt pity well in his heart that he could not grant the man’s wish just yet. The dwarves would notice his uncanny trust, and it would have made them suspicious of both hobbit and man.

For the next hour Aragorn and Bilbo chatted quietly about small things, and Bilbo found himself talking about Mithril. He told Aragorn of his adopted daughter and her unusual heritage, and their eyes flickered to where Mithril was walking with Bifur a few feet away. Although she seemed happy enough to walk and talk softly in Khuzdul with the dwarf, her eyes would occasionally glance over to her father. Bilbo wasn’t sure if it was concern for him and Minriel that guided her gaze or mistrust of the newest addition to their company. He put such thoughts from his mind, shifting Minriel in his arms with a rather loud groan of discomfort.

“Strider,” he declared. “Minriel has simply become too heavy for my small arms; would you mind carrying her for a time?”

 Aragorn’s eyes widened a smidge, but he quickly gave Bilbo a nod and took his daughter from the hobbit, a barely concealed smile of joy on his face. Bilbo stretched his arms as he relinquished his hold on the baby, noting with pleasure that the dwarves hardly paid any attention to the transfer.

He then noted that Mithril had moved subtly closer, her normally twinkling eyes narrowing ever so slightly. Bilbo saw her gaze lock protectively on Minriel, and he sighed. He would need to properly introduce his daughter to Aragorn that night, so that she would trust him.

 

* * * * *

 

The rest of the day continued without further event. Though the elven guards looked occasionally to Aragorn, they thankfully made no comment. Aragorn carried Minriel for the rest of the day, and the babe settled happily into his arms, perhaps sensing his paternity to her.

As they set up camp Bilbo glanced around. The dwarves and elves had set up separate fires, and Aragorn, after standing uncertainly for a time between the two groups, proceeded to make his own, third camp. He had dutifully returned Minriel to Bilbo as they had stopped for the night; officially he had no claim to keep her with him.

However, he came to sit with Bilbo as the hobbit began to feed Minriel. The hobbit held the baby expertly with one arm, holding a sac filled with goat’s milk above her mouth with the other. Aragorn watched him intently the whole time. Though he knew he would likely never be the one to feed and burp his daughter, he still felt the need to study every act performed in the routine.

The man and hobbit took turns holding Minriel so the other could eat, and Bilbo noted with relief that Bifur was helping Mithril with her food. Though the small child had positioned herself so that she could watch what happened with her cousin, she seemed to have by now realized that Aragorn was most likely no threat to her family.

 

* * * * *

 

Mithril finished her dinner at last, and was beginning to search for her favorite toy when Aragorn approached her. Mithril glanced up curiously at the man. He seemed nice enough, and her da certainly seemed to like him, but Mithril just couldn’t bring herself to trust him yet. She remembered all too well the last day she had been on the road, could still hear the screams of dwarves and orcs in her ears. The man’s appearance had been too much like the orcs for her liking; too silent and all at once.

Aragorn settled on the ground before her, sitting crossed legged as he offered her one of her toys. Mithril obediently took it and began to play, glancing at the man from the corner of her eyes. He was watching her silently, which by no means put Mithril’s fears to rest.

Finally, he spoke. “You don’t trust me,” he observed quietly. He went straight to the point, knowing that it was the best approach for both dwarves and hobbits. He could only hope the same was true of children.

Evidently it was, at least for this one. Mithril paused from playing with her toys in brief shock over his words. Though his tone had been gentle, her father was the only one who had ever been so blunt with her. The fact, surprisingly, helped to settle her trust for the man, if only slightly.

“I don’t know yah,” she pointed out.

Aragorn nodded, snagging one of Mithril’s toys from the ground and fiddling with it for lack of anything better to do.

“What would you like to know about me?” he asked.

Mithril cocked her head, again surprised by the man’s bluntness. She then shrugged. How was her two year old mind supposed to come up with questions that would satisfy her trust?

“I dunno.” She was silent for a minute, moving from one toy to the other. “How’s Miny?” she asked finally. She hadn’t spent any time with her cousin that day, wanting some distance between herself and the strange ranger. Though she hadn’t liked being so far from her cousin, especially once Strider had begun to carry her, she couldn’t help her own self-preservation.

Aragorn smiled. He could sense a strong love and protectiveness for family within the young girl, and he couldn’t help but wonder how it would manifest itself as she grew. “She is well,” he promised. “Sleeping now.”

Mithril was silent. She watched Aragorn from the corner of her eye, noting at how his face had softened ever so slightly at the mention of her cousin. That, she decided, had to be a good sign.

She reached out and hesitantly offered him a toy, and gently he accepted it. A smile of relief and joy flashed across his face, though the expression he settled on was gentle and rather fatherly.

Together they played, and as the night wore on Mithril felt her reluctance towards the man fade away. When he at last began to return to his own camp she latched onto his leg.

“Where’re you go-ng?” she cried.

Aragorn attempted to pry her from his shin, but it was impossible to do. He glanced to Bilbo pleadingly, only to see the hobbit watching them with mixed amusement and horror. As their eyes met Bilbo’s lips pursed, and Aragorn knew he was on his own.

“To bed,” he told her. He finally succeeded in detaching the small girl from him and began to head reluctantly to his camp, but she stomped ahead of him.

“No,” she declared stubbornly. She scooped up two fistfuls of dirt and tossed them on his campfire, and as Aragorn watched in openmouthed shock she quickly shoveled dirt onto the flames until they were extinguished. She pointed with one small finger to her own camp. “With us,” she ordered.

Aragorn was both shocked and amused, but knew better than to refuse her. He had just gained her trust, and didn’t want to lose it so soon afterward. Besides, how was he to say no to that face?

He allowed Mithril to lead him back to her father’s side, where she sat crossed legged on the ground and glared at the hobbit until he deposited Minriel carefully in her lap. Aragorn’s breath caught in worry- would Mithril drop Minriel? She was so small that despite her obvious love for her cousin, he couldn’t help but doubt her.

Mithril, however, was taking no chances. She made no attempt to lift Minriel into her arms, merely using her arms to seatbelt the baby against her. As Minriel made soft cooing sounds Mithril giggled, and Bilbo chuckled lovingly.

Aragorn glanced to the side to see the dwarves laughing heartily at Mithril’s obstinacy. The three with whom the child had spent the day had especially fond twinkles in their eyes. One of them- Bofur, Aragorn recalled, soon spoke amid chuckles.

“Well, it seems we’ve been rubbing off on her,” he declared proudly. Around the campfire there were several proud snickers from the other dwarves.

Beside Aragorn, however, Bilbo snorted. “Please,” he scoffed. “That’s all Took.”

 

*****

 

The next morning they set out not long after dawn, and Bilbo was happy to see that Mithril had resumed her usual movement around the group, babbling excitedly with everyone, even the elven guards. He had worried that she would be too distrustful of Aragorn to let him out of her sight, but it had long become clear that the ranger had been added to Mithril’s family. She still returned to her father and Aragorn frequently to gaze at Minriel, but she no longer stared nervously at Aragorn. Instead she bounced alongside him, enticing the same giggled conversations with him as she did the others.

The days passed. Fear seemed to overtake Bilbo, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur as they reached the high pass of the Misty Mountains. They made the company wait until daylight to pass over, and their eyes scanned nervously for the battles of stone giants, but the mountain was calm.

As they passed the Carrock Bilbo glanced up, and he thought he could faintly make out the wheel of several eagles in the sky, but none of the large birds approached. Bilbo’s three friends glanced at him as they realized where he was leading them, but they didn’t comment.

Beorn’s gardens were just as Bilbo remembered. He noticed immediately as they entered the grounds; the flowers were brighter and stronger, the bees larger. Mithril shouted in glee as she bounded off, and Bilbo strained to see her over the tall grass. Aragorn chuckled at her, walking slowly beside Bilbo with Minriel in his arms.

Bilbo remembered the way the shape shifter had been irritated by the way Gandalf had made Thorin’s company mosey in in pairs of two at the start of their last visit. Therefore, he decided that he would go in first with Mithril, Aragorn, and Minriel. He told Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur to follow with the rest of the company after two minutes.

Beorn was waiting just outside the house, stroking the head of one of the dogs. As Bilbo came into sight he grinned.

“Hello,” he called, emitting a short laugh. “Bilbo Baggins! I didn’t expect to see you here again!”

Bilbo smiled politely, releasing Mithril’s arm and stepping forward to respond. He didn’t have a chance. Beorn crossed the yard in several long strides and grabbed Bilbo up in a hug, and the hobbit let out a strangled gasp as the air was squeezed out of his lungs.

“What brings you back to the east?” asked Beorn. “And who do you bring with you?”

Bilbo laughed. “It is a long story,” he explained. “And I will be happy to tell you everything once you’ve met the rest of my company.”

Beorn sighed, but nodded. “Very well,” he admitted. “Let’s meet them.”

Right on cue the rest of the company appeared, led by Bilbo’s three friends. Beorn planted his hands on his hips as he looked over the odd mixture of elves and dwarves that entered the yard.

“Such odd company you bring,” he commented. Then he turned ever so slightly back to Bilbo. “You know I dislike dwarves,” he reminded.

Bilbo spread his hands in a gesture of peace. “I can assure you they will cause no trouble,” he promised. He shot a glare to the company to tell them to keep their mouths shut. “I explained to them your rules this morning,” he added.

Beorn nodded slowly. “Very well.” He turned to the company, who was watching the exchange nervously. “Welcome all,” he greeted. “Please make yourselves at home, but may you be warned; if any harm comes to my animals during your stay, I shall hold no mercy unto the one responsible. Regardless of race.” The tall man’s eyes flickered between the barely concealed terror on the dwarves’ faces, to Aragorn’s wide eyed stare, to the smooth expressions of the ever unflappable elves.

He then turned as something tugged on his trousers, only to find a small child clinging to his leg. He knelt down to inspect her, noting the bouncing curls and large feet that spoke of her hobbit heritage. Yet there was something off about her. She was somewhat stockier, and Beorn could sense a fierce temper within her. He tilted his head to the side as he turned again to Bilbo.

“Half dwarf, half Halfling?” he guessed. Bilbo nodded, watching them worriedly, and Beorn knew that the story he would soon be hearing would be quite good. He turned back to the child, who was still tugging on his pant leg, and gave her a broad smile.

“Hello.”

She looked up at him, and as their eyes met a wide grin spread across her face. “Hi,” she giggled.

“What’s your name?” Beorn plucked her with ease from the ground, and found that she was small enough to hold with one hand. Mithril didn’t mind, clutching at the shaggy hair on his arms. She quite liked this man; he seemed, despite his monstrous size, quite friendly. With his shaggy hair and wide grin, he reminded her of the sheep of the shire that she had curled up with occasionally. Her da definitely liked him; Mithril didn’t know of anyone who her father allowed to pick him up the way the giant had.

“I’m Mit-ril,” she declared. Beorn chuckled; even he knew her pronunciation was off. “Are you a giant?” she asked.

Beorn threw back his head and let out a laugh, startling many in the company that had begun to meander off. Mithril seemed pleased that she had enticed such a reaction from him, waiting with newfound patience for Beorn to answer her.

“No,” he responded. “I’m a shape shifter.”

Mithril’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Aye.” Beorn’s eyebrows wriggled, and Mithril giggled. It was then that Minriel woke, letting out several cries that Bilbo had now learned signified that she was hungry. Beorn watched as Aragorn began to gently rock her while he waited for the hobbit to get some milk for her, and Mithril squirmed from Beorn’s arms and went to the man. He obediently- Beorn actually found it rather amusing how obediently, in fact- knelt down before her, allowing the small girl to fit her finger into her cousin’s fist. Beorn examined the man that held the babe, noting how his grey eyes matched those of the baby, and pursed his lips. Something told him that the man didn’t want his relationship with the baby known.

Bilbo took Minriel back to feed her, and as he did he began to tell Beorn all that had happened to him since the last time they’d met. He gave the shape shifter the same story as to Minriel’s heritage that he had given his own company, and though the Beorn made no comment, Bilbo thought he could detect a knowing glint in the giant man’s eyes.

The company stayed for several days. Although they had plenty of supplies, Bilbo still felt the need to stock up on everything they could before they entered Mirkwood. He had no urge to repeat his initial trek through the woods, and either way, Bilbo found that he was enjoying his visit. If only Beorn would stop calling him little bunny.

Beorn often rounded a corner of his cabin to find Mithril playing in his gardens, either her father, the three dwarves that had accompanied Bilbo on his last visit, or, oddly enough, Strider watching over her. Often when it was Bilbo or Strider with her Minriel was present, and Beorn watched with a smile as the two children played together. By this point the baby was reaching the age where she could sit up on her own, and he would often find Minriel sitting in her cousin’s arms, the older girl murmuring softly to her in Khuzdul.

Beorn also noted that his animals took a liking to Mithril, much as they had done to her father. He decided that it must have to do with their hobbit blood. Often he would find the girl clambering all over his dogs, the canines letting out no objection as the child tugged playfully at their ears. Though at first whoever was watching her would grow nervous, unsure of the dogs’ reactions, the adults soon learned that Mithril was in no danger.

 

* * * * *

 

The morning of the company’s departure found Bilbo bustling nervously around, seeing to it that they were adequately stocked for their journey. The hobbit crammed food and water into every empty space on their carts, then murmured something about needing some time alone to settle his nerves and rounded the corner of the hut, his hand crammed firmly in his pocket. When he returned several minutes later he did seem somewhat steadier as he went to join his daughter and friends. By now the rest of the company was eager to be off, and they bid Beorn goodbye and started on their way. Bilbo felt his heart pound as they started on the last leg of their journey.

His nerves became rampant as they entered the forest, and he drew Mithril to his side. He scanned around them for the beady eyes of the spiders that inhabited the woods, but they seemed to have been cleared out for the time being. Still, their journey along the elven path was a restless one, and Bilbo found he slept with his hand on Sting’s hilt. He even considered giving Mithril a knife with which to defend herself, just in case, but quickly put aside such thoughts. She was only two, and would likely stab herself on accident.

“Besides,” added Bofur as Bilbo told the dwarf of his fears; “she’d probably just bite the spiders.”

This earned a round of laughter all around the group, for by now all had heard of Mithril’s attack on the orc outside of Rivendell. Bilbo had noticed that since the dwarves had learned of her actions they had treated her more as one of their own, associating her less with her hobbit heritage and more with their warlike kin.

Their journey through the forest was uneventful. They stayed on the path, they did not run out of food, and nothing attacked them. Bilbo wondered if they would see any of the woodland elves, but quickly decided that he was fine without an encounter. Being as he was sure Thranduil was still peeved at him for breaking into his dungeons, he somehow doubted he would receive a warm welcome in the elven king’s castle.

They exited the forest and came quickly upon the Celduin River, which they followed north to Esgaroth. The city of Lake Town had been both destroyed and abandoned in Smaug’s attack, but in the distance Bilbo could see Dale rising again.

Again they stopped briefly, but it was early in the day when they arrived, so they saw little point in staying. Bilbo was tempted to stop and see Bard, now the lord of Dale, before continuing, but resisted. He doubted the former bargeman would be happy to see him either, after the hobbit had unleashed a dragon upon his home, and the dwarves really were being rather fussy about getting a move on. And so with ever increasing nerves Bilbo lead his company up the mountain.

As they neared the gates of Erebor he let the Ur Family take over, falling back to walk beside Aragorn just behind them. Mithril, sensing her father’s unease, came to walk beside him, and her small hand was soon fitted into his. Bilbo found that he took comfort in it.

His breaths grew shaky as the doors to the mountain appeared before him, and as they loomed bigger and bigger Bilbo’s steps grew heavier. Suddenly he found that he wanted to run and hide, that he didn’t want to go in at all. Surely he was mad, thinking that Thorin would still want him after so many years! He couldn’t face him; he couldn’t do it; he wouldn’t! Then Mithril squeezed his hand, and Bilbo looked down at her face. Her hazel eyes were as bright as always, full of life and love, and Bilbo felt his fears being chased away by their passion. Taking a deep breath, he drew her up into his arms and started forward, through the great stone doors and into Erebor.

Chapter Text

The mountain was nothing like Bilbo remembered it. Of course, Bilbo only remembered the mountain in ruins, bits of rubble and the dead bodies of dwarves scattered around, the throne room littered with stolen jewels and gold. The Erebor Bilbo now walked through looked nothing like that.

They were in the lower levels of the city, where the homes were. Bilbo stared curiously around him at the stone dwellings. Despite their make, he could tell that they were very cozy within. Around him children were running, giggling as they played a game of tag, and Bilbo was glad he was holding Mithril, or she would have likely scurried off after them.

They moved further into the city, through the stone streets. As they neared the palace the homes grew sparser, and more and more shops appeared. Bilbo caught Bifur and Bofur looking longingly towards the other end of the city, and guessed that their toy shop was there.

It was here that the majority of the company parted with him. The elves had remained in Dale, seeing no need to continue with the company past that point, and the travelershad ascended the mountain with Aragorn as their only guard. As the traders went to bring their bought items to their shops Bilbo set Mithril down and took Minriel from the ranger. They needed to keep up appearances. Bifur quickly stepped forward and pulled Mithril’s hand into his own, keeping the child from running off.

At last they approached the castle. By now Bilbo was positively quaking, and he was amazed that he was able to keep a hold of Minriel. As they approached the gates the crowd of dwarves thinned, and where their company had before been inconspicuous, they now stood out like a sore thumb, especially with their towering guard.

Bilbo inspected the castle as they drew near. It was carved into the mountain itself, the wide gates open for all to pass in. The banners of the line of Durin hung on either side of the walkway, dark blue in the dim mountain air.

Bilbo drew back behind his friends as the doors to the castle opened, and Mithril pulled away from Bifur and came to stand by her father. She reached up to plant a kiss on Minriel’s head, and then gave her father a comforting smile, sensing his distress. Bilbo smiled in return before following the others inside.

They were in the throne room. Bilbo scanned around him nervously, resisting the anger that came over him. The last time he had been in this room it had been with a sick king. He shook his head. He knew that Thorin had rid himself of the gold sickness. Yet he still couldn’t help his worry. His heart pounded in his throat and he was forced to swallow down bile. The majority of his worry, he rationalized, was from his fear of how Thorin would react to seeing him.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he found faint amusement in the nerves that had seemed to overtake his dwarves as they crossed the room. Despite their sure strides, after spending a year with them, Bilbo knew when they were worried. He could understand why. He doubted Thorin was pleased with how they’d gone running off to the Shire. Even Aragorn was ill at ease, glancing back consistently to check on Minriel.

Ahead he could hear talking, and Bilbo gulped as he recognized Thorin’s deep baritone mixed into the conversation. What was being said he had no idea, for it was in Khuzdul, but as the group approached all voices ceased. Then Thorin said something in a rather sharp voice, and the dwarf he’d been speaking to scurried out of the castle.

All was silent, and Bilbo was fairly sure everyone could hear his heart pounding in his throat. This was it. After eight years, he would finally see Thorin again. How would Thorin react? How would Bilbo react? Bilbo again had to fight the wave of nausea that ran over him.

“So,” stated Thorin. “You have returned from the Shire.” Bilbo winced at the anger in the dwarf’s voice, and then realized that it wasn’t directed at him. From his place behind Bifur, Bombur, and Bofur, he, Mithril, and Minriel were hidden from view. The only reason why Thorin was speaking in common tongue was for Aragorn’s benefit. “Who is this?” asked the king.

Aragorn stepped forward. “I am Strider, a ranger from the north,” he introduced himself. “I offered my protection to your traders after they encountered orcs on the road, and have travelled with them since.”

There was silence for a moment, and Bilbo ran a list in his head of all the possible expressions Thorin might be making at this moment. Thoughtfulness, worry, possibly even nothing at all. The king had always been quite good at wearing a stone mask.

“I thank you then,” Thorin said at last. “I would speak with you later, but as of now I have some- family matters to attend to with these three.” Bilbo knew that now Thorin had gestured angrily to the Ur Family. In front of Bilbo, Aragorn nodded.

“Of course,” he said. He backed off to hide behind one of the many pillars in the throne room, and Bilbo cursed the ranger under his breath. Of course Aragorn didn’t want to miss the show.

When next Thorin spoke, it was with an anger that he was rapidly losing control of. “How could you do this?” he asked. “How could you sneak off in the night like thieves, to go on an errand that you knew I did not want any to complete? How could you interfere as such in my life?” The dwarf growled in mixed anger and that emotion that could only be described as being done. “Why would you go to-to-to him!”

Bilbo winced at the way he had been referred to, the word ‘him’ spat as though cursed. He told himself it wasn’t the same as last time. Thorin’s tone was not driven by a gold-crazed hate, but hurt at the rejection he thought he had been given.

Well, one thing’s for certain, he thought as Thorin continued to rant angrily. His temper hasn’t changed.

“Oh shut up Thorin,” someone said at last. Bilbo recognized the voice as female, and though he had never heard it before, he knew it could only belong to Dís. He could also hear Fili and Kili snickering faintly in the background at what Bilbo could only imagine was the extremely disgruntled expression on their uncle’s face. “They were doing you a favor, and acting on my orders.”

Thorin grumbled something under his breath, but otherwise did as his sister ordered. Bilbo couldn’t help but admire the dwarf woman for that alone. At the same time, he was already beginning to foster a growing fear for her.

Thorin sighed, and when he spoke again his voice was soft, resigned. “What did he say?” he asked.

Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur stepped aside to reveal Bilbo and the two girls, and for the first time in eight years, Bilbo saw Thorin Oakenshield. He was distinctly aware of the gasps that came from Dis and her two sons, but he paid them no mind for now. His attention was completely wrapped up in the dwarf before him.

Thorin looked nearly as Bilbo remembered him, perhaps a few more silver strands in his hair, his face somehow wearier, but yes, that was Thorin. At the sight of the hobbit standing before him Thorin’s blue eyes widened, and his mouth all but fallen open.

Thorin laughed at Thranduil and Bard, who stood below him before the barricade his company had assembled to block off the entrance to the mountain.

“You have nothing with which to bargain with me,” he reminded them.

Bilbo winced at the ice in Thorin’s words, knowing that this dwarf who had once been Thorin would willingly- happily even, shoot down either man or elf with the bow that rested ready against the rampart.

Bard’s smile was grim as he pulled a cloth wrapped bundle from his chest pocket. Bilbo instantly recognized it as the package he had delivered to the barge man the previous night. “We have this,” he called. He quickly uncovered the Arkenstone, and around Bilbo the dwarves all gasped.

Thorin went completely still, the blood draining from his face. His hands clenched into fists at his side, and Bilbo knew that the dwarf’s nails were digging into his palms.

“Where did you get that?” Thorin’s voice was dead calm, cracking with ice. Bilbo resisted the urge to shudder, unconsciously drawing ever so slightly away. Then he took a deep breath and stepped forward.

“I gave it to him,” he declared. Again the dwarves gasped as all eyes turned to him, and Bilbo forced himself to meet his lover’s eyes.

If Thorin had been horrified before, Bilbo didn’t know how to describe the look that had now come upon the king’s face. “You?” he choked. “You- betrayed me?”

Bilbo sighed and stepped closer, then thought better of it and came to a stop. “No,” he defended himself. “I may be a burglar, but I like to think myself an honest one. I took the Arkenstone as my share of the treasure.”

Thorin’s eyes narrowed, and Bilbo gulped. Those eyes had as of late changed, so that the normally sparkling blue was now nearly black. Right now those black eyes burned with hatred as they focused on the hobbit.

“You- You think that you have any claim to MY treasure?” Thorin bellowed. Suddenly he let out a great roar, and Bilbo only had time to let out a squeak of fright as the king seized him and began to shove him over the wall they had built. From there, Bilbo knew, all that awaited him was a tumble to his death.

“Stop!”

Everyone froze at Gandalf’s command, and for the first time the grey robed wizard revealed himself among the ranks of elves and men. “Stop this now,” he shouted. “If you do not like my burglar then by all means return him to me, alive and in one piece. Please Thorin, do not do something that you will only regret.”

All was silent, and the company seemed to be holding their breaths. Each were frozen, overwhelmed with this drastic change of events. They silently prayed that Thorin wouldn’t kill Bilbo; each had grown to love him as a dear friend during the past year. Yet they still felt unrivaled anger at his betrayal. For despite his good intentions, he had indeed betrayed Thorin.

They were unsure what Thorin would do. Would he comply with Gandalf or simply hurl the hobbit from the wall as he’d been intent on doing? The dwarves surrounding the couple weren’t sure what to do. A part of them wanted to help Bilbo before Thorin could kill him, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to move. They couldn’t allow themselves to lift a hand against their king, even if Thorin was only a remnant of the king he had once been.

At last Thorin made a decision, and tossed Bilbo ruthlessly to the side. Bilbo stifled his oomph of pain as he landed hard on the stone, then scrambled to his feet and backed quickly away from Thorin, his heart shattering.

At once multiple hands grabbed at him, and Bilbo found Ori, Dori, and Nori shoving him at the rope that Dwalin and Balin were tossing over the wall several feet away. The rest of the company put themselves between Bilbo and Thorin as Bilbo climbed awkwardly over the wall, giving him time to escape to safety. Each dwarf held hints of anger on their faces, but above all was hurt- and sadness.

“Go,” Bilboheard Thorin say. He turned slightly as he began to clamber down the rope to see the dwarf address Gandalf coldly. “Take him and leave.” Now the icy black eyes turned to Bilbo. “You are banished from my mountain,” he snarled. “If I see you again, I will kill you.”

Bilbo gulped and began to climb quickly down the rope, knowing that Thorin was telling the truth.

As several minutes stretched on into a tense silence no one spoke. Bilbo and Thorin stared at each other, and everyone else in the room stared at the pair, very aware of the whirl of emotions that were passing through each of the lovers’ minds. Bilbo’s knees shook, and he hardly noticed Strider come up behind him until the ranger had taken Minriel from his arms. Mithril was looking at him questioningly, but some sort of instinct seemed to be holding her tongue, for the child made no noise.

“Bilbo.” Thorin was the first to speak, and Bilbo felt himself waver where he stood as the dwarf spoke his name. He tried to sort through the emotions behind the one word, or the emotions contained in the king’s face, but found it impossible. He trembled all the more at the familiar sound of Thorin’s voice, and had to remind himself that now would not be a good time to faint again.

“You- you have returned.” Thorin’s voice was now hesitant, cautious. He took a small step forward and then froze, and Bilbo had a feeling that Thorin was also remembering their last meeting.

“Why?” Thorin whispered.

Bilbo gulped. This was where he should be saying something. Anything. He needed to explain to Thorin that he still loved him, that the only reason he had returned to the Shire was because he had believed the dwarf he loved to be dead. Now was a very good time to say all of this, but as Bilbo forced his mouth open, no sound came out.

He closed it, and then tried again. Still, he couldn’t force the words out. He made a strangled noise in the back of his throat, tried again, and then moaned in dismay. Then an idea occurred to him, and he quickly slipped his pack off his shoulders and dug around within its depths. Never before was he so glad he had thought to bring it.

In the back of his mind, Thorin knew that he would one day find amusement in the way his hobbit was floundering. It was, he decided, rather adorable to see. He quickly pushed such thoughts from his mind. Bilbo wasn’t his hobbit, not anymore. Thorin had given up any such rights to Bilbo’s hand when he had tried to kill him.

He was then immensely confused as Bilbo thrust a red leather bound book at him. Automatically his hands came up to clutch at it, and Bilbo hastily pulled away before their hands could touch. Thorin looked down at it in confusion, then back to Bilbo, who was now backing away, a silent plea in his eyes.

“Read it,” he begged. “Just- just read it. Please.” And with that the hobbit turned and fled, sprinting back through the entrance to the throne room before Thorin could respond.

“Da!” called Mithril. She took a step forward, as though to follow her rapidly retreating father, but was stopped by Bifur’s hand on her shoulder. He shook his head softly, and she stepped back towards the dwarf with a pout.

Thorin hardly noticed the child. He turned to the book that Bilbo had handed him. Why would Bilbo give him a book? What did it mean? Tentatively he flipped open the cover, his eyes skimming over the familiar handwriting that was scratched ever so carefully across the page. Immediately he knew what the tale contained, and he closed the book sharply.

“Well?” Dis was looking at him expectantly, being the first of the adults to recover from the shock of the hobbit turning up in the mountain. “What is it?”

Thorin shook his head mutely, and then made his way slowly from the room. He could feel the eyes of the others on his back, but he ignored them all as he headed back to his rooms. There he locked the door and sat at his desk to think.

Bilbo was back. Did that mean things had changed? Was he willing to give Thorin another chance? Thorin felt that he didn’t deserve it, but knew he couldn’t possibly refuse the hobbit if he accepted him back.

He glanced again to the book. Despite what he knew it contained, he was still curious. It was an insatiable thirst, one that itched to know just what Bilbo had thought at all moments of the quest. A part of him also knew that within the book were the answers he had been craving over the past eight years. Answers that he had been afraid to have.

Despite the terror that had caused his heart to pound painfully fast in his chest, Thorin couldn’t resist. He pulled the book open and stared down at the page, then forced himself to read. Soon he was lost to the world, wrapped up in days that had long since passed.

 

*****

 

Back in the throne room, Dis turned to look at the males all staring after Thorin. Bifur, Bombur, and Bofur had quickly sullened, and Dis suspected they hadn’t thought Bilbo and Thorin’s reunion would go like that. Behind her Fili and Kili were still pale faced and wide eyed, staring in openmouthed shock at where their uncle had disappeared. Then their eyes moved to where Bilbo had fled from, and then the two brothers’ eyes met, looking, as they always did, to each other.

“Well,” commented Bofur at last. “That went well.”

He immediately flaked under the glares Bombur and Bifur aimed at him.

Even Aragorn wasn’t sure what to do. He stood awkwardly to the side, Minriel cradled in his arms as he stared after the hobbit. Something had to be done here, he knew. Someone needed to go after Bilbo, and someone needed to check on Thorin. Since none of the others seemed inclined to do anything other than gawk at the scene that had just occurred until the turn of the century, Aragorn sighed and took matters into his own hands.

He passed Minriel off to Bifur. He had never spoken with the dwarf, as he didn’t speak Khuzdul, but figured that if Bifur could handle the rambunctious bundle of energy that was Mithril, surely he could look after Minriel for some time. The dwarf nodded as the man walked briskly from the throne room, only looking down again as Mithril tugged on his sleeve.

“Where did Da go?” she asked in Khuzdul. She reached up and began to play with Minriel’s hand, an action that Bifur suspected was soothing to her. He didn’t say anything in response to her question, merely ruffling her hair. 

Dis however, zeroed in on the small girl. “You speak the language of the dwarves,” she observed. Her voice was cool and cautious, yet not unkind, though Mithril seemed not to fully sense that. At the small whimper the now frightened girl gave, Dis’s expression softened tremendously. She knelt down, opening her arms for the child to come to her. After some hesitation Mithril did, and Dis gave her a hug and a quick kiss, hoping to reassure her.

“What’s your name?” she tried again.

“Mithril.”

Dis’s eyes widened at the name, and she then realized what Mithril had called Bilbo. Her eyes went to the Ur Family. “Explain,” she ordered. Her eyes went to the baby Bifur cradled, noting rather unhappily that she had the pointed ears of the elves. Mithril too had pointed ears, but they were more subtle, the same small tip that Bilbo’s ears had.

 

*****

 

It took Aragorn over an hour to find Bilbo. Erebor was very large, and Aragorn had never been there before. He had no idea where he was going, or if it was even in the right direction. He tried to avoid attracting too much attention to himself as he moved, resisting the urge to pull his hood up and over his face.

At last he found Bilbo. He was sitting behind a small cluster of stone houses, and Aragorn suspected that the hobbit had simply run blindly until he’d found a relatively uninhabited place to hide.

Bilbo didn’t look up as Strider approached and sat crossed legged beside him. Even like that the ranger towered over the hobbit, but Bilbo hardly cared.

“Do you think he’ll forgive me?” he asked finally.

Aragorn sighed as he considered. While he didn’t want to upset the hobbit, he also didn’t want to give him false hope. The truth was he simply didn’t know the King Under the Mountain well enough to be able to tell.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. He reached over and rubbed Bilbo’s back, and the hobbit groaned and all but collapsed in on himself.

It took several minutes and many shuddering breaths that Aragorn politely ignored, but finally Bilbo regained his composure. He looked back up at Aragorn, frowning as for the first he time registered the absence of Min and Mith, as the two fathers had nicknamed the girls.

“Where are the girls,” he asked.

“I left them with Bifur,” Aragorn supplied. He sighed again. “I’m sure the dwarves will have questions about them,” he told Bilbo. He paused, examining the weary looking hobbit with hooded eyes. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“Does it matter?” responded Bilbo. When Aragorn gave no response besides a glare that said he was waiting for an answer Bilbo sighed. “No,” he admitted. “But I shouldn’t have run off like that; Mithril will be frightened. I need to get back to her.”

He reluctantly pushed himself to his feet, gulping nervously. Bilbo was incredibly frightened of facing Thorin or the other dwarves again; he highly doubted any of the others would have a better reaction than Thorin. But it had to be done. Finally he steeled himself, and then turned to Aragorn with a frown as he realized he had another problem to contend with. “Do you have any idea how to get back to the castle?” he asked.

Aragorn shook his head as a laugh escaped him. “No,” he admitted. “I don’t.”

Chapter Text

It took another hour for the pair to find their way back to the throne room, and it was with more than a little trepidation that Bilbo walked in. Immediately Bilbo and Aragorn were met by a dwarf who bid them to follow him. He led them through the halls of the castle, and Bilbo had to force himself not to stop and stare at the newly refurbished walls, for the trio moved at a brisk pace.

Silently the dwarf left them outside a wide stone door, and Bilbo and Aragorn traded uncertain looks. Then Aragorn shrugged and shouldered open the door, and Bilbo froze where he stood, blue eyes widening.

Before him, thirteen dwarves, one elf, and one child of mixed blood stared at him. Bilbo suspected that Minriel would have also been staring if the baby had been awake. He gulped and forced his feet to carry him further into the room, inspecting each member of the company.

They looked for the most part exactly how he remembered them. Perhaps a bit older, all of them, a bit wiser as well, but Bilbo could still sense that they were the same dwarves that he knew. Tauriel was there too, sitting with Minriel in her arms, and based on the dreamy look that was still fading off Kili’s face, Bilbo suspected the two were in the process of making plans for the future.

Bilbo then turned his attention to Dís. He hadn’t really paid her much mind before; all his attention had been focused on Thorin. The dwarf woman who faced him now was just as stout, though shorter than the king. She had raven hair bound securely behind her head, and blue eyes that were just as piercing as her brother’s. As the dwarf turned to Bilbo with her hands on her hips the hobbit gulped, withering under her glare. He hardly noticed as Aragorn made his way to Tauriel with a forced nonchalance and neatly pulled Minriel into his lap. Beside him Mithril planted a quick kiss on her cousin’s head and stood, flinging herself across the room at Bilbo.

“Da,” she shouted. “You’re back!”

“Indeed you are,” commented Dís.

Bilbo paused in his embrace of Mithril and stared again at the dwarf.

“Tell me Master Baggins, why have you returned?”

Bilbo gulped. “It’s a long story,” he started. His gaze swept the room to find Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur. “I’m surprised they didn’t tell you.”

“They thought it would be best coming from you,” Dís said. “Allow me to introduce myself, just in case you don’t know who I am. I am Dís, sister of Thorin and mother of Fili and Kili.” Her arm swept back slightly to indicate the two boys who were still staring at Bilbo, and the hobbit nodded.

“I thought so,” he commented. He sighed and sat in one of the plush chairs in the room, only now registering that he and Aragorn had been lead to a rather comfortable family room. The room was filled with red chairs and couches, a red and yellow carpet thrown across the stone floor. With a fire going in the hearth, it was quite a homey room. It rather reminded Bilbo of Bag-End.

“What do you know?” he asked at last.

Dís seemed to be doing the talking for the group. In fact, none of the other dwarves had so much as said a word since Bilbo’s arrival, and Bilbo thought that they were waiting to see what he would say before reacting to his reappearance in their lives.

“We know that you arrived with a group of traders from the Shire,” she related to Bilbo. “Bombur, Bofur, and Bifur have told us of the troubles you encountered on the road, and of your agreement to bring Minriel to friends of her family in the east. They told me that Mithril is your adopted daughter, though they would not name her true parents. I expect you will do so, as well as inform us of your intentions here in Erebor.”

Bilbo nodded. “Well, to start off, Mithril is the daughter of my second cousin Josie. She conceived Mithril with a dwarf trader, and moved in with me at Bag-End. She died in childbirth, and I have raised Mithril as my daughter.”

Dís’s eyes softened slightly. “I am sorry for you loss,” she offered. Then she tilted her head. “Who is her father?”

Bilbo shrugged. “Josie never said. She didn’t want to involve someone who she knew would never stay for her or the baby. She had planned on raising Mithril quietly on her own when I asked her to move in with me.”

“And why did you ask this of her?” questioned Dís.

Bilbo blinked; he hadn’t expected that question. “To help her,” he stated. Wasn’t it obvious? “I didn’t want her to have to raise her child on her own, and I was rather lonely all by myself.”

Dís nodded. “And now for your return to Erebor,” she stated. She paused, then began to talk again. “I should tell you that those three,” and now she gestured to Bombur, Bofur, and Bifur, “were sent to the Shire simply to ask why you left the mountain; they were not supposed to bring you back with them.”

Bilbo nodded. “Yes, well, that was because you all assumed that I’d left Thorin.”

Everyone in the room but the Ur family and Aragorn frowned. “But you did,” pointed out Fili. It was the first time anyone but Dís had spoken, and Bilbo couldn’t help the tears that formed behind his eyes at the anger in the dwarf’s voice. “You left Uncle; you left us all.”

Bilbo shook his head. “I thought Thorin was dead,” he stated. Around the room there were gasps of horror, and Bilbo found expressions of mixed pity and confusion facing him now. He held up his hand to stop anyone who might try to say anything, rushing on with his words. “I was in the Battle of Five Armies,” he explained to them. “I saw- I saw Thorin’s fight with Azog. I tried to reach him but I couldn’t, and I was knocked unconscious. When I woke up he’d already been moved, and I thought he was dead.” Bilbo shook his head again, ducking behind Mithril’s curly hair to hide the tears that were streaming down his cheeks. “I had to leave,” he whispered. “I couldn’t stay after- after that. If I had known…”

For several minutes everything was silent. Then, to probably no one’s surprise, Dori moved and came to drape the hobbit in a motherly hug. “Bilbo,” he whispered. “It’s ok. Everyone lived. Thorin lived.”

Bilbo couldn’t help but bury his face in the dwarf’s shoulder, sniffling as he struggled to regain control. Eventually Dori pulled away and sat down, and Bilbo peered around the room. There were several wet faces staring at him now, and many of the dwarves looked like they were severely regretting the thoughts they’d held of him over the past eight years.

Dís however, seemed to be holding back her emotions. Though her face had certainly softened, Bilbo could tell she was still feeling cautious towards him. “What do you intend to do now?” she asked.

Bilbo wrung his hands, though he still had his arms wrapped securely around Mithril. “I plan to see if Thorin will still have me,” he responded. “If he does, I intend to spend the rest of my days making up for the time I have missed.”

It was like a sigh had swept over the room. Shoulders that Bilbo hadn’t even realized were tensed now relaxed, and everyone was grinning widely. Even Dís granted the hobbit a pleased smile.

“Then in that case, Bilbo Baggins, I welcome you to our family.”

A cheer went up around the room, and Bilbo allowed himself to bask in it for a moment. Then he just had to stop it, before Fili, Kili, and Nori could go ahead with whatever celebration plans they were plotting in the back corner of the room.

“Thorin hasn’t accepted me back yet,” he warned. “He might not.”

Dís scoffed, as did Dwalin. “Please,” Dís dismissed the hobbit’s fears. “As soon as my brother realizes what happened he will be in here begging you to take him back.”

“How long do you think it will be until they kiss?” Dwalin asked nonchalantly. At the glare that Bilbo hurled his way, the dwarf shrugged. “What?”

“I bet it’ll happen straight away; as soon as Thorin walks in the room,” Ori shouted. Forever the romantic.

“No,” objected Gloin. “Thorin has more sense than that. He’ll wait at least five minutes.”

From there a series of objections and agreements rose up, and even Fili, Kili, and Dís seemed not to care about the fact that they were betting on how quickly their uncle or brother snogged their burglar. As the bet evolved into who would make the first move and how long it would last, Bilbo let his head fall into his hands.

Why did I bother coming back? He asked himself. Why do I insist on putting up with these fools?

He cast a glance around the room. Tauriel too had weighed in on the bets, though with more hesitance than he had ever seen in the elf, and Bilbo felt a stab of pity for her. She was an elf living in a dwarves’ mountain. Bilbo suspected that life over the past eight years had not been overly kind to her. Yet she looked happy enough snuggling between Fili and Kili.

Aragorn sat by them, gently rocking Minriel back and forth. He had already decided that he would kill anyone who woke his daughter; by now he knew how difficult it was to get her to sleep. He highly doubted that she would settle down again once woken. He looked up to see Bilbo staring around the room in an expression that flat out said he was done. As their eyes met they suddenly burst into laughter, struck by the absurdity of the whole scene in the room.

After several minutes silence fell, and the inhabitants of the room faded into a comfortable silence. Bilbo obediently went to sit beside Aragorn as Mithril pulled him to the ranger, wanting all of her family together. She had barely sat though when Tauriel, having realized that Aragorn wasn’t sharing Minriel, stood and nimbly scooped Mithril into her arms.

Immediately she began to coo over the girl, and Mithril giggled as the elf ran slender fingers through her curls. The woman’s face was lit up with a motherly passion, and as she brought Mithril back to where she had been sitting with Kili she gave him a look that more or less said I want one.

Kili grinned and reached over to tickle Mithril. He was rewarded with a peal of laughter that sounded oh so heartwarming to him. He met Tauriel’s eyes and nodded. One day, he knew, they would have so many little children to spoil.

“Bilbo,” asked Balin. “The book you gave Thorin, what was it?”

Bilbo sighed. “It was us,” he stated. At the confused expressions that met him, the hobbit elaborated. “I wrote down everything from our quest. Every last detail.”

Balin nodded; that made sense. “And I suppose you told the story rather differently than Ori, yes?”

Bilbo thought for a moment, then nodded. While Ori, the company’s scholar, had been tasked with writing everything down from a historical standpoint- which meant nothing more than boring facts, no dwelling on happy nights around campfires- Bilbo had faced no such restrictions. He had poured everything he’d had into that book. All his feelings for his dwarf, all his fears and memories and regrets.

“Yes,” he admitted. “I think it is very different than what Ori wrote.”

There was silence for a moment, no one quite knowing what to say. Then Minriel woke with a loud wail, and Aragorn cursed none too quietly.

Bilbo sighed and disappeared to get some milk for her. When he returned he found that Aragorn had allowed Mithril to take her cousin into her lap, though he kept his hands ready should the girl drop his daughter. Bilbo smiled softly as he approached, passing the milk to Aragorn.

In hindsight, he probably should have fed the baby himself.

Dís’s observant eyes immediately focused in on the interactions. Where before she had been watching the ranger and two children with a rather gooey feeling that she hadn’t felt within her since her boys had been young dwarves, her eyes now narrowed with suspicion. The child was Bilbo’s charge; his responsibility. Why then was the ranger feeding her?

She watched as Strider stood, walking to look out a window as he fed Minriel. She moved behind him to block any chance he had at escape, and he turned, hearing her behind him.

“Who are you?” she asked. “What claim do you hold over this child?”

Aragorn blinked. Dís couldn’t tell if he was more surprised at the fact that she’d noticed his strange attachment to the baby or at her bluntness about it. Frankly she didn’t care. It was her job to be observant, and Dís never beat about the bush. Nothing got done that way. It was always best to just out and say what you meant.

“I hold no claim,” he managed finally.

Dís’s eyes narrowed to blue slits; she could always tell when she was being lied to. Her finger twitched down to the knife hidden at her waist; the only thing keeping her from drawing the dagger was the child cradled in Strider’s arms.

“Try again,” she spat. “Who are you?”

Aragorn gulped, and his eyes flickered to Bilbo for help. The hobbit in question was staring at the scene before him, trying to work out something to say in his head, and Aragorn realized that for the time being, he was on his own. He also knew that one wrong word and he would be dead.

But what about Min? Surely the woman wouldn’t dare strike with the child in his arms, but Aragorn truly didn’t know. His arms tightened protectively around his daughter, and he sent a glance down at her in fear, anxiously running through his mind for a plan. None seemed to be forthcoming.

Dís however had caught the look that Aragorn had given the baby. Filled with such love and fear, she knew a look such as that could only mean one thing. She inspected the two closer, and yes, they did have the same grey eyes.

“Oh.” Dís’s hand left her dagger, her posture relaxing. “Forgive me,” she murmured. “I had not realized.” Then her head tilted to the side. “But why the secret?”

Aragorn blinked, his eyes widening as he realized that the woman knew he was Minriel’s father. Why did this keep happening to him? His gaze swept around the room. The rest of the dwarves were still staring at Aragorn and Dís with mixed confusion and panic, and Bilbo was slowly coming to the same realization as Aragorn was. Even Mithril had paused in playing with her toys and was staring around her, sensing the tensions drifting through the air. The only person who was as relaxed as Dís was Tauriel, the elf’s eyes widening in recognition as they moved from ranger to baby. She nodded slowly to herself, having reached the same conclusion as Dís.

“Of course,” she breathed. Her eyes fell to the pointed ears of Aragorn’s baby, and she realized that perhaps Aragorn would feel more at ease speaking in Sindarin. That was of course if he knew the language.

“You are her father,” she stated. Kili looked at her in confusion; he hadn’t been a good student, and the few words she’d managed to teach him in her language hadn’t include the word father.

Aragorn took a moment, but then he nodded slowly. Dís faced Tauriel, and the elf sent her a confirming nod that was quickly returned.

“What’s going on here?” asked Oin. He frowned and wedged his hearing trumpet into his ear. “What did she say?”

“We don’t know,” growled Bifur in Khuzdul. “She spoke in elvish.”

Fili and Kili exchanged glances, and then Kili tapped Tauriel’s arm. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Tauriel simply smirked and patted her fiancée’s back. “I’ll tell you later, Love,” she promised.

Bilbo and Aragorn exchanged glances, and when Aragorn nodded in permission Bilbo sighed. “No,” the hobbit interrupted. “We might as well explain it now. You’ll all know by the end of the night.”

He cast a glance around the room. “Before I continue though, you must swear that you will never tell another soul.”

“Not even Uncle?” asked Fili.

“I will tell Thorin myself,” Bilbo promised. “And you can tell your wives.” He then shot a glance towards Gloin. “I wouldn’t tell Gimli though,” he added. From what he’d heard of Gloin’s son, he didn’t trust the young dwarf to be mature enough to keep Minriel’s secret. After a moment of reluctance Gloin nodded, and Bilbo continued, pointing to Aragorn. “Aragorn is Minriel’s father.”

Just about every mouth in the room fell open in shock. Bilbo and Aragorn exchanged glances, not sure what would happen next.

Balin was the first to speak. “Aragorn,” he mused. “Where do I know that name?” Suddenly the old dwarf’s eyes widened, and he stared at the ranger as though he hadn’t seen him properly before. “Aragorn,” he breathed. “Son of Arathorn. Heir of Isildur.”

A series of gasps ran around the room, and even Tauriel and Dís looked impressed. Aragorn now gulped and bowed his head in affirmation.

“I thought you lived in Rivendell,” stated Tauriel. “With Lord Elrond and his children. Have you left the valley of Imladris?”

Aragorn nodded. “I was banished,” he told her.

“Why?” Bombur’s voice rumbled through the room, and a pained expression crossed Aragorn’s face.

“Because Minriel’s mother is Arwen, Lord Elrond’s daughter,” he stated.

Bilbo was sure that if the dwarves’ jaws hadn’t already been hanging open, they definitely would be now. Beside him Dori began to choke on what could only be air.

“You and the Lady Arwen are married?” asked Tauriel in disbelief. Even the elf’s mouth was hanging open, lips parted to form a perfect O.

Aragorn nodded slowly, trying to gauge everyone’s reaction.

“Why were you banished?” asked Bofur.

“We married without asking Lord Elrond’s permission,” Aragorn explained. “He did not even know we held feelings for each other until we returned from Lothlórien. By then we had already married, and Minriel was well on her way.” He looked down at his daughter then with such adoration that several eyes welled with tears.

Dís sighed and turned to Bilbo. “It seems you haven’t been completely honest,” she pointed out. “Who do you bring Minriel to?”

“I don’t,” Bilbo admitted. “That was the lie Arwen and I agreed upon. In truth, she asked me to raise her child. I was planning on telling Thorin, once he gets back here, that is.” He glanced toward the door nervously, and Dís sighed. This really had gone out of hand.

“So let me get this straight,” she started. “You returned to Erebor after eight years when you found out my brother was alive. Along the way you were asked to adopt Minriel by her parents, and so you did. You supposed that you would tell Thorin all of this when you reached Erebor.” Here she paused, waiting for Bilbo to nod. “What did you plan to do if he refused the child?”

Bilbo bit his lip. “The Lady Arwen assured me that he would accept her,” he supplied. “I don’t know how she knew, she just did. I think it’s an elf thing.”

At this Tauriel seemed to adopt a rather thoughtful look in her eye, but as she was facing away from Dís, the woman didn’t catch it. Instead Dís sighed.

“I cannot speak for my brother,” she warned Bilbo, “but I know he does not like elves. I can’t assure you that the Lady Arwen’s predictions were correct.”

Bilbo nodded. “I understand,” he replied.

Dís nodded and glanced out the window to the crisp air outside the mountain. She quickly measured the sun’s position based on the shadows it cast, then turned back to the others.

“I think it best if we all go get something to eat,” she stated. There was little she could do about this new development, even if she was displeased by the fact that Bilbo had lied to them. Still, she could understand it, even if it didn’t make her happy. Dís decided that they needed to turn their minds to other things, like how they were going to drag her brother out of his rooms.

Quickly the dwarves filed out of the room, knowing better than to argue with Dís. They ate in the private dining hall of Erebor, which held a table long enough to seat twenty. Though at first the conversation was terse and slow in coming, due to Bofur’s stories the room was soon filled with laughter. The dwarf described in great detail the more exciting portions of their journey back to Erebor, and several of the gathered family choked on their drinks when inevitably the dwarf mentioned how Mithril had bit an orc.

It was late when at last they retired, and for the first time in months Bilbo again found himself in his own room. Mithril was in the first room to the right of his, Aragorn and Minriel together in the room to his left.

Bilbo couldn’t sleep. It was odd being back in Erebor. The last night he had been in the mountain he had snuck out to bring the Arkenstone to Thranduil and Bard. At least then he’d known what the results of his actions would be. But at that moment, Bilbo Baggins had no idea what the future held for him.

Thorin had never emerged from his rooms. What the dwarf was doing in there Bilbo had no idea, but he sincerely hoped he was reading that book. Bilbo’s heart pounded at the thought. How would Thorin react to the thoughts his hobbit had put down? Were Bilbo’s feelings still reciprocated?

Suddenly Bilbo found that he was having a bit of trouble breathing with all his worry, and he needed something familiar. He dug around in his pocket for the ring, slipping it onto his finger with a barely audible sigh of relief. As always, as the power of the small gold band seeped into the hobbit, he felt his emotions slowly stabilize.

He slipped the ring back into his pocket once his mind had quieted, and was then able to fall asleep. By the time he woke the sun was high in the sky. Bombur had cooked up something for everyone, taking charge of his kitchens again, and Bilbo eagerly sat down to eat. Afterwards they retired once more to the family room they had inhabited the day before, trading stories throughout the day.

It was late and nearly dinner time when he came. At this point Bilbo’s stomach was making pitiful sounds, rejecting the notion that he had skipped several meals throughout, but the hobbit ignored it. He glanced up as a silence fell throughout the room, turning with a gulp towards the door. He knew what he would see there.

Thorin’s blue eyes stared at Bilbo, and for the first time Bilbo saw that the usually stoic king was nervous. Thorin quickly regained control of himself, casting a glare around the room.

“Out,” he ordered. Immediately everyone stood and began to file out, until only Thorin and Bilbo were left. Thorin closed the door, and only now did Bilbo see that Thorin clutched the book Bilbo had given him. As the dwarf turned back to him Bilbo also made out dark shadows under his eyes, and realized Thorin hadn’t slept since his arrival, spending every moment pouring over the book. Bilbo wasn’t sure if he should feel touched by this or scold Thorin for not taking better care of himself.

“Is it true?” Thorin asked. He lifted the book slightly to show Bilbo. “What you wrote here. Is it true?”

Bilbo gulped and nodded. “Every word,” he promised.

For a moment Thorin simply stared at him. Bilbo’s heart pounded, unsure what would happen next. Then Thorin strode across the room with long strides, and before Bilbo could react the dwarf had pulled him into a frenzied, hungry kiss. Everything in Bilbo’s mind fled as his insides melted, and he knotted his fingers in Thorin’s hair and pulled the dwarf to him.

Outside the door the company was huddled, each trying to press their ear to the door.

“Ow,” muttered Fili. “Kili, that’s my foot!”

“Sorry.” Kili frowned and shoved his ear against the door. “I can’t hear anything!”

“Shut up and maybe you will,” growled Gloin.

Tauriel frowned from where she and Aragorn, being the tallest of the group, had their ears pressed to the door towards the top. “They’re not saying anything,” she informed them.

Nori snickered. “They’re kissing,” he whispered. “I knew it!”

There was a round of “Shut up Nori!”

“We don’t know that for sure,” reasoned Balin. He rubbed the back of his neck as it began to ache. “Though they have been quiet for an awfully long time.”

“Two minutes,” supplied Aragorn. Beneath him there was a series of snickering.

“Let’s find out what’s going on,” Bifur suggested. Bofur quickly translated for the ranger, and then nodded in agreement.

“Definitely,” agreed Ori. Eagerly he shoved open the door, and the unsuspecting company all fell into the room and landed on top of each other.

Bilbo and Thorin jerked apart, both flushing multiple shades of red. Despite their dog pile on the floor, the company erupted into cheers. Before them Bilbo groaned and buried his face in his hands.

“Get out!” Thorin shouted. He strode forward and hauled each of his soon to be dead family to their feet and positively shoved them back out and into the hallway. “Everybody out!”

Finally alone with Bilbo once more, Thorin considered blocking off the door with a chair, but decided not to. Bilbo had thrown himself onto the nearest piece of furniture, and Thorin chuckled as he came to kneel in front of him.

“Don’t worry,” he assured the hobbit. “They’ll pay.”

Bilbo nodded. “Good.”

Thorin grinned and pulled Bilbo’s chin up gingerly, and Bilbo rewarded him with a smile filled with so much love that the dwarf’s breath caught. He pulled Bilbo forward for another kiss, this one much gentler and less hurried than before.

Finally Bilbo pulled away with a sigh. “Thorin,” he started. “We need to talk.”

Thorin nodded, and for the first time in many years he slurred his words in his effort to get them out. “I’m so sorry,” he pleaded. “So, so sorry. I will never be unkind to you again, I swear it. I was ill at the time, I was crazed, I would never hurt you, I-”

“Thorin shut up.”

Thorin froze as Bilbo hushed him, frowning as the hobbit placed his hand over the dwarf’s mouth for good measure. “I don’t mean about that,” Bilbo assured him. “I know perfectly what happened, and I forgave you long ago. There are other things we must speak of.”

Relief washed over Thorin. Never had he been so glad for Bilbo, his loving, caring, forgiving hobbit. The hobbit who had crossed the world and fought a dragon for him, who had been willing to sacrifice everything, including his own life, for a rag-tag group of dwarves that had just turned up at his doorstep and raided his pantry. Who had followed Thorin to the mountain and loved him even when he betrayed his hobbit, and who had then crossed the world a second time just to be with him. He didn’t deserve Bilbo, he told himself. But if Bilbo would have him, he would do his best to make up his wrongs to him. Starting with Forever.

Still, he couldn’t ignore Bilbo’s words. There was something on his mind. Whatever it was, Thorin would move the mountain itself to make his hobbit happy. And so he planted a quick kiss on Bilbo’s nose. “What is it, Love?” he asked.

Bilbo sighed. “Mithril and Minriel,” he stated. “I need to tell you about them.”

Thorin nodded. Yes, he did vaguely remember the small girl and the babe that Bilbo had arrived with. He had hardly paid attention to either at the time, but he had still noticed enough to know that the girls were not blood related.

“Who are they?” he asked.

Bilbo smiled fondly. “Mithril is the daughter of my second cousin,” he explained. He might as well start with the easier child. “My cousin died in childbirth, and I have raised Mithril since.” He held up his hand to stop Thorin before the king could murmur his apologies for his cousin’s death. “She’s half hobbit, half dwarf,” he finished.

Thorin blinked. “Who is her father?”

Bilbo shrugged. “Josie never told me,” he said. “She only said he was a trader from the mountain, and that she didn’t want to weigh him down in the Shire. For all intents and purposes, I am Mithril’s father.”

Thorin smiled at the love that was clear on Bilbo’s face. “Then I shall be her father as well,” he declared. The grin that split Bilbo’s face at his words gave Thorin the happiest feeling he’d had in a long time. However, the smile quickly darkened.

“Minriel is… a more complicated subject,” Bilbo continued. He paused, trying to consider how to word this. “Do you remember Lord Elrond?” he asked. When Thorin nodded he continued. “What do you know of his family?”

Thorin thought. “I remember meeting his two sons when our company stayed in Rivendell,” he reflected. “I know he has a daughter, but she was not in the city at the time. Why?”

Bilbo nodded; he had thought as much. “And what do you know of the name Aragorn?”

Thorin’s eyes widened a fraction. “It is said that that is the name of Isildur’s heir.”

Bilbo nodded. “Aragorn is the true name of the ranger that accompanied us to the mountain. Aragorn is also the husband of Arwen, Lord Elrond’s daughter, and Minriel is their daughter.”

Thorin paused. He was unhappy at yet another person of elven blood under his mountain, but just because the child was here didn’t mean she was staying. He turned slightly narrowed eyes to Bilbo. “Where is this heading?” he asked.

Bilbo sighed. Here came the tricky part. “Arwen and Aragorn have asked me to raise their daughter.” He placed his hand over Thorin’s mouth, cutting off his words. “No one can know who she is; of course the company, Dís, and Tauriel know; your sister figured it out, but no one else can know. This is the only safe place for her Thorin. I won’t turn her away.”

Thorin stood and began to pace. He hated elves. He hated them with a burning passion. He could barely stand to be in the same room as Thranduil, and dreaded every meeting they held to go over trade arrangements. Now Bilbo was asking him to house another elf in his mountain! He couldn’t do it! He wouldn’t!

No. The solidity of the word shocked even Thorin. You will not turn the child away, he told himself. She has done nothing dishonorable. Do not turn the mistakes of her ancestors into her burden. This is what your grandfather would do.

That stopped the king. He had spent the past eight years striving, fighting to be a better dwarf, a better king than his grandfather had been. Thorin thought his grandfather had been a great king, until the gold-sickness had taken over his mind. Then he had turned into a greedy, rage filled madman. The same thing Thorin himself had become at the end of his quest. He had vowed never to let it happen again, but was turning away the child the first step to breaking that vow?

He turned back to Bilbo with pleading eyes, and seeing how his dwarf was so torn, Bilbo stood and wrapped his arms around Thorin’s waist. The dwarf buried his face in the hobbit’s neck, forcing himself to relax in the familiar and comfortable embrace.

“Thorin,” Bilbo murmured. He pulled back at last, looking Thorin with suddenly hard blue eyes. “I know how this troubles you. So allow me to make it quite easy for you. These girls and I, we are family. I was elected Minriel’s guardian, and I will fulfill that job. If you send her from the mountain I will go with her, and I will not return.”

Thorin’s breath caught, and he began to shake in Bilbo’s arms. He couldn’t let that happen. He had only just gotten Bilbo back. He couldn’t lose him. Not again.

He steeled himself. He had, just a few minutes ago, been thinking of how he would try to be a better dwarf for his hobbit. This was his chance to prove that he meant it. So, with an internal sigh, Thorin nodded softly.

“Then she stays,” Thorin promised. “I shall be her father as well.”

“Uncle actually,” Bilbo corrected. Now that Thorin had agreed to let Minriel stay, Bilbo had relaxed quite a bit. He was no longer tense and worried, that last of his fears drained out of him. He was now the carefree spirit that Thorin had fallen in love with. “Arwen and Aragorn don’t want their places filled entirely. They asked for me to be her uncle, not her father.”

Thorin nodded. It did make sense. He felt that if he were in their position- although he hated the idea of looking through the eyes of an elf- he would wish the same. That he not be forgotten.

“Then I am her uncle,” he promised Bilbo. He then tilted his head. “What do the girls know of their heritage?”

Bilbo shrugged. “Frankly, they’re too young to know much of anything. Mithril’s background need not be a secret, but I think we should use the cover story I’ve travelled with for Minriel’s family. At least until she’s old enough to handle the truth.”

“And what is the story?” Thorin asked.

“That she is newly orphaned, and I am brining her to live with a friend of her family in the east.”

Thorin nodded. “Do you think Tauriel would pretend to be that friend?”

Bilbo nodded eagerly. “I was thinking she’d be perfect. She seemed quite taken with the girls. In fact, we had better get out to them before she kidnaps the two of them.”

Thorin laughed at that. Despite himself, he had warmed slightly to the elf over the years. It was hard not to when he saw the way she and his nephew looked at each other.

“Then let’s go,” he said. Bilbo nodded and grinned, and the two joined hands as they went out to greet their family. Of course by greet, both Bilbo and Thorin were thinking kill.

Their family were now sitting against the wall, looking all too pleased with themselves. The only ones missing was the Ur family.

“It’s about time,” called Gloin. He seemed about to add something else, but Thorin held up his free hand.

“One more word and you’ll be mucking out the cattle stalls,” he warned. Though the mountain folk got the majority of their farm animals through trade, they did have a sizeable farm within the mountain. Immediately every dwarf crowded in the hallway stopped grinning.

Bilbo rolled his eyes, then gladly accepted Mithril into a hug as she bounded up to him, chocolate brown curls bouncing.

“Da,” she whined. “I’m hun-ry!”

Bilbo chuckled. “Then let’s go eat,” he suggested. Mithril nodded eagerly.

“Bofur, Bifur, and Bombur have already got something cooking,” Fili said. “I have a feeling they’re planning a feast.”

Bilbo nodded happily. His stomach, currently making small noises at the mention of food, would not mind a feast in the slightest. Then he glanced down again as Mithril returned from bounding ahead of them and came to a stop straight in front of Bilbo and Thorin, demanding to be picked up.

To everyone’s surprise, before Bilbo could move Thorin had reached down and scooped Mithril into his arms. She initially squealed, then laughed as he swung her easily up and onto his shoulders. From her vantage point she could stare at everyone she had recently decided was her family. Not to mention she could also pull on this new dwarf’s hair.

Thorin ignored the gawks that were aimed his way, simply stalking ahead of the group with Mithril perched on his back. Bilbo fell into place beside Aragorn, peering up and over the ranger’s shoulder to get a view of Minriel. Miraculously, she had fallen asleep once more.

“Everything’s settled,” he assured Aragorn. “Thorin has agreed to take her in.”

Aragorn nodded, relief flooding over him. “Thank you,” he whispered. He glanced ahead to where the dwarf king was now carrying Mithril down the stairs. He hoped Thorin would be as loving to Minriel as he was to Mithril.

Sure enough, Bombur, Bofur, and Bifur had a great feast being spread out on the table. Quickly everyone set to eating, and Bilbo was able to focus on getting Mithril to eat her peas. When Aragorn took his turn eating, Tauriel gladly accepted Minriel into her arms.

“What are we telling everyone?” Oin asked at last. He gestured to Minriel to clarify his question. “I assume you don’t want the whole mountain knowing who she is?”

Bilbo nodded. “I was rather hoping you two could help with that,” he said, pointing to Kili and Tauriel.

They blinked in surprise, but quickly recovered. “What do you need?” asked Kili.

“The story I have been using so far is that after the death of Minriel’s parents I agreed to bring her east to some family friends. I was hoping that you, Tauriel, would pretend to be that friend.”

“Of course.” The elf’s answer was immediate and whole hearted. She didn’t even need to look at Kili to see him nod beside her. “On one condition,” she stated.

“Oh?”

Tauriel grinned. “I get to spoil her,” she demanded.

Bilbo let out a laugh, as did the rest of the table.

“I think we’re all planning on that, lass,” Balin responded. He was met with several nods.

“Ok,” started Dori. “Here’s the question. If Mithril is part dwarf and part Halfling, what does that really make her?”

The table fell into silence as they considered, and it was Thorin who finally responded. “A quarterling,” he answered. Bilbo’s eyes narrowed at the smug look on the dwarf’s face as he grinned. He was so proud of himself at having titled their daughter before Bilbo.

Still, Bilbo had to admit it was a good title. He nodded as he slowly chewed a bite of his food. “I quite like that,” he complimented. Thorin’s smile grew broader, if that was at all possible.

“Stop grinning like that Thorin, your face’ll freeze that way,” Dwalin bellowed. Thorin laughed and elbowed the dwarf who was like a brother to him in the ribs, and Dwalin returned the jab.

Beside him Bilbo grinned. He had done it. He had returned to Erebor, and he was going to stay. He and Thorin would be together, as they should be, and the girls would grow up loved, safe. Bilbo stared around him at the table, marveling in the family that he had missed so much. He was home. And he had never been happier. 

Chapter Text

Almost immediately the mountain was abuzz with news of the return of Bilbo Baggins. Despite the fact that everyone was curious about the hobbit that had travelled the world and taken on a dragon to reclaim their home for them, they also were eager to meet the soul their king had fallen in love with.

Everyone noticed the immediate change in Thorin’s demeanor. With the arrival of his burglar, the previously brooding and sad king was now radiating happiness. There was a spring in his step that none had seen since before the arrival of Smaug so long ago, and Dís even walked into his room one morning to find him humming if rumors were to be believed.

Bilbo settled down happily into Erebor, staying- for now- in the spare bedroom that had been arranged for him. Mithril, who the people of Erebor soon fell in love with, was in the room next door. Nearby was the ranger who had escorted the hobbit and his daughter to the mountain, who had been titled a dear friend and honored guest by Thorin due to his actions. Minriel was placed under the protective care of her new guardians, Kili and Tauriel, though she was often seen with others, such as the ranger or her mixed blood cousin. The people learned that though Kili and Tauriel were her official caretakers, she would grow up calling all of the company Aunt and Uncle, and that the raising of the two girls would be more of a group effort than anything else.

The arrival of Bilbo in Erebor signaled the start of a wedding planning frenzy, headed by the royal family itself. The royal family, the people had come to learn, included the entire company. However, even as preparations were begun, there were some unpleasant topics that had to be broached. For one, the day after Thorin ended his isolation in his rooms he summoned Bilbo’s company and heard of the death of the four dwarves. There was little the king could do to ease their suffering, though his heart went out to them.

There also was some trouble with Bilbo and the girls being accepted into Erebor. The council had to be persuaded to agree to let Bilbo learn Khuzdul, and though it hadn’t been too much trouble, their reluctance still put Thorin in a foul mood at dinner. Mithril had been accepted readily enough, her dwarf blood helping in the matter, but it was still determined that Fili would remain Thorin’s heir. All in all, the reaction to the king’s betrothed and their adopted daughter went fairly well.

Minriel was an entirely different story.

The dwarves vehemently objected to her presence under the mountain. It was bad enough, they said, that the king allowed one elf into the royal family, a second was unheard of! Thorin had to remind the council that Minriel was only half elf, and that as an infant, she had done nothing wrong to deserve the hate the mountain folk reserved for the woodland folk.

It had taken a heated argument spanning several days, but at last the council had agreed. Their agreement had been under the conditions that Minriel could never, even if she somehow became the sole survivor of Thorin’s family, ascend to the throne. Although Bilbo had sensed that Thorin had agreed with the council’s insistence on that fact, the king was forcing himself to support Minriel in every way possible, and as such the halls of the palace were filled with his yells as he argued with the council. Still, Thorin acquiesced to the council’s demands, and with great reluctance on the part of the dwarves Minriel was permitted to stay in the mountain.

With the matter settled Aragorn relaxed for the first time. His daughter’s future was secured, and though the dwarves of Erebor were disinclined at best to accept the babe, Minriel’s new family stood strongly with her. He remained in the castle as wedding preparations went on though, loathe to part with Minriel until he had to. He spent as much of his day with her as possible, though either Tauriel or Kili were always there, needing to keep up pretenses, and of course Mithril rarely left her cousin’s side. While at first the dwarves glared distrustfully at Aragorn as he strode through the castle, sometime into the second week of Mithril running at him, arms spread wide and a cry of ”Uncle Strider!” on her lips the dwarves’ cold demeanors began to soften.

 

* * * * *

 

The day of the wedding found Bilbo pacing anxiously around his rooms, eyeing in terror the red and gold robes spread out over his bed. Beside the robes rested an ornate belt that was ready to hold Sting, which had been polished the night before until it positively shone. A knock on the door announced the arrival of Aragorn, who had Minriel balanced on his hip. The ranger had managed to purchase some clothes more suited to the occasion in Dale, an embroidered tunic of sky blue and dark trousers. Minriel wore a dress of violet, and she was-for now- asleep.

“You’re not even dressed,” Aragorn commented. He eyed Bilbo, noting how the hobbit, still in his bathrobe, was pacing around his room like a caged animal.

“I can’t do it,” Bilbo declared. He collapsed into a chair, burying his face in his hands. “I can’t!”

Aragorn rolled his eyes and sat on the bed. “Of course you can,” he chided. “You love Thorin, do you not?”

Bilbo nodded fervently. “Yes, I love him.” He sighed. “But what if I mess up the vows?”

Again Aragorn rolled his eyes. He sometimes didn’t understand how Bilbo Baggins, the most crowd-shy hobbit he had ever met, had faced a dragon.

“Pretend the dwarves are Smaug,” he suggested. “You did well enough then.”

Bilbo frowned. “You want me to pretend that if I say the wrong thing they’ll douse me in fire and eat me for dinner?” Then the hobbit cocked his head to the side, nodding slowly as if that was perfectly reasonable. Aragorn suspected that Bilbo’s fears had already been going something like that- if not worse.

“You’ll do fine,” the ranger assured. He stood and tossed Bilbo’s robes at him. “Now get dressed. Thorin is waiting.”

The name of the dwarf set a determined and loving smile on Bilbo’s face that Aragorn couldn’t help but chuckle at as he closed the door softly behind him.

He decided to check on Mithril next. He knocked on the next door and was about to ask the child if she was ready yet, only to find Bifur already with her. The dwarf was holding up a violet dress that was very similar to Minriel’s, and wore a rather pained expression on his face. Based on the angry tone of the words the two exchanged in Khuzdul, Aragorn assumed that Mithril was in objection to wearing her dress.

“No.” Mithril crossed her arms and sat on her bed. “I won’t wear it.”

Bifur sighed. “You must,” he insisted in Khuzdul. For the seventh time that morning Mithril shook her head, and Bifur resisted a groan as he tilted his head back and closed his eyes. Then he tossed the dress on the bed and stalked out of the room, brushing roughly past Aragorn.

Aragorn decided that it was his turn to try to persuade the girl. He knelt down in front of her, adopting a smile on his face.

“Won’t you put on your dress?” he asked.

Mithril shook her head, glaring at him with a determined no in her eyes.

Aragorn sighed. How was he supposed to persuade her? After having crossed Middle Earth with the girl, he knew how stubborn she was. Things weren’t looking in his favor.

His thoughts were interrupted as Tauriel swept into the room. Clad in a forest green gown, the elf was stunning, somehow the image of both grace and fierceness all combined into one elf. Her hair, braided in an elegant pattern down her back, stood out brightly against the dark fabric. Aragorn felt his heart twist, reminded of his wife so many miles away.

Tauriel stopped in front of Mithril, twirling for the girl to see her. “What do you think?” she asked.

Mithril stared in awe, hazel eyes wide. “Pretty,” she murmured.

Tauriel smiled. “Do you want to be this pretty?” she asked. Mithril nodded, her mouth slightly agape, and Tauriel pointed to Mithril’s dress. “Put that on,” she commanded. “You’ll be stunning.”

Mithril looked down at the dress, back to Tauriel, then again to the dress. “No,” she declared, shaking her head.

Aragorn buried his face in his hands.

Tauriel sighed. “What will persuade you?” she asked.

“I won’t wea-it,” Mithril objected.

Tauriel pursed her lips. “What if I promise that you won’t have to wear a dress at my wedding?” she asked.

Mithril considered, then shook her head.

Tauriel sighed. “Give it a try,” she pleaded. “Have you ever worn a dress before?”

Mithril shook her head.

“Then you don’t know what they’re like,” Tauriel stated. She sat beside Mithril on the bed and pulled the child into her lap. “I remember I used to hate dresses. I never wanted to wear one. But one day I decided to give it a try, and I found that I loved them. That doesn’t mean you have to wear them all the time; I don’t, but they are fun to wear sometimes.”

Mithril was now considering. “Fun how?”

Tauriel grinned and stood, picking up the dress. “Put it on and find out.”

With a sigh of defeat Mithril nodded.

Their work done for them, Aragorn and Bifur exited the room, trading glances with each other as they did. Girls.

Several minutes later Tauriel opened the door, and both men blinked in surprise. Mithril was now wearing the gown, her hair braided much the same way Tauriel’s hair was, and she was spinning in a circle in the middle of her room. She laughed in glee, fingers trailing along the thin fabric of the dress that flared around her.

Tauriel smiled. “I told you dresses were fun,” she reminded the girl. She sashayed her own hips, and her gown swept from side to side. From within the room Mithril nodded happily.

 

* * * * *

 

Thorin stood in his rooms, inspecting himself in the mirror that stretched from floor to ceiling. Clad in elegant robes of royal blue that made his eyes stand out like sapphire flames, the king looked regal indeed. Orcrist was strapped to his side, and his grandfather’s crown sat atop his head. Although Thorin disliked wearing the crown, he knew that today of all days it was expected of him.

A moment later Dís knocked, slipping quietly into the room. She was clad in a royal blue gown which did as much to bring out her eyes as the color did for her brother. Those eyes currently shone with joy as she stepped forward to straighten Thorin’s cloak around his shoulders.

“You look beautiful,” Thorin told her.

Dís chuckled. “I always do,” she scolded.

Thorin felt a nervous smile crack his lips, and Dís reached out to pat his hand.

“You look dashing Thorin,” she promised. “Bilbo will be stunned.”

Thorin nodded nervously. He had no idea what his hobbit would be dressed in; the company had handled all arrangements and insisted that the couple be kept completely in the dark. Which also meant that Thorin had no idea what the ceremony’s decorations would be like. He sincerely hoped that his family hadn’t set any pranks. One never knew with Fili and Kili.

Speaking of the two, they now popped their heads into the room. Fili was dressed in red and yellow, a bright contrast to his blue clad brother. They both grinned as they saw their uncle.

“Let’s go,” Kili shouted. “The guests are all waiting.”

Thorin nodded, heart pounding. “And Bilbo?” he asked.

“He’s about finished up,” Fili told him. “Tauriel is trying to get Mithril into her dress.” He let out a chuckle that Thorin couldn’t help but match. After only a few weeks he already loved his daughter and her fiery attitude. She would fit right in among the dwarves.

“Then let’s go,” Thorin stated. He swept from the room, his sister and her sons trailing behind him.

 

* * * * *

 

When Bilbo had arrived at the mountain he’d had no idea how dwarves married. Hobbits, he told Thorin, did a simple ceremony; one partner was walked down an aisle by his or her father or mother, and vows were given. After that the hobbits naturally celebrated with a great feast and, more often than not, a drinking contest.

Dwarves, he learned, did the affair somewhat differently. Dwarves loved their axes, and it was all but a requirement that each household bear an axe should they ever receive an unwanted visitor. Over the years it had become something of a tradition. The couple who married would each bring with them a segment of the axe, and before their guests they would wield the two pieces together.

The company had decided to mix the two services. First Thorin and Bilbo were to exchange vows, and then they would wield their family axe. The one tradition that both races shared was the feast that followed, and Bilbo shushed the rumbling of his stomach at the thought of what Bombur had cooked for the occasion.

At last it was time. Bilbo and Thorin were to enter the throne room from opposite sides, walking across the room to meet in front of the king’s throne. As a small orchestra positioned at the side of the chamber started a rather romantic sounding symphony Bilbo took a deep breath. This was it. He was moments away from marrying Thorin.

He had to pause before entering the throne room to keep from becoming sick.

For what seemed like eternity but was actually more like a second he wavered where he stood, unable to force his muscles to continue forward. His hand came down, fingering at the gold band he had shoved in his pocket that morning. Though he didn’t slip it onto his finger the ring somehow managed to lend the hobbit some strength, enough to allow him to continue forward.

The entire room was filled with dwarves, each straining to get a glimpse of the couple. Even the elves and men of Dale had come, and Bilbo felt his heart pound even more as he realized that he was about to meet, for the first time in eight years, Thranduil and Bard. He didn’t know how the two would react to him.

He then surveyed the decorations of the throne room and gasped. Jewels had been strung across the ceiling of the hall, shining in the light of the torches spaced along the walls. Each jewel had been carved into some sort of flower in representation of the Shire, and Bilbo examined the gem wrought roses and tulips that dangled through the air. As Bilbo looked to Thorin’s throne, where the Arkenstone gleamed brilliantly, he spotted a second throne beside it. Slightly smaller, the perfect size for Bilbo, the throne was elegantly carved. An intricate design of vines and flowers trailed up and around the throne, and the back of the chair flowed outward into an oak tree.

Bilbo’s eyes watered at the sight; he had not known that the throne was even under construction. He then looked past the thrones, past the equipment for the finishing touches of the axe that sat before the thrones, and his eyes fell on Thorin.

The king had donned robes of royal blue, and the result was that Bilbo could see clearly his eyes from across the hall. These eyes gleamed with joy and love, and Bilbo felt himself respond automatically, a wide smile spreading across his face. Suddenly all he could see was Thorin, and as the rest of the hall blurred into the background he felt his nerves steel.

He could do this.

Balin hosted the ceremony, giving a short speech about the couple’s love before gesturing for them to begin their vows. Bilbo hadn’t paid attention to a single word; he was too busy staring at Thorin, memorizing every wrinkle, every crease on his dwarf’s face. It was clear Thorin was doing the same, and it was only a loud clearing of Balin’s throat that signaled the start of the vows. Bilbo was to go first.

“Thorin,” he began. His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “Thorin, when you first turned up at Bag-End, I had one thought in my mind. Go away.

At this the assembled guest let out a roar of laughter, and Bilbo waited for them to quiet again before continuing.

“I didn’t want to go off on a quest,” he told the dwarf. “I was terrified. When I finally ran out after you, I highly doubted that I’d be returning home. When I finally did return to Bag-End, I realized that I was right. Because it wasn’t home any longer. Home is with you, and with you is where I shall remain forever.”

Bilbo stopped as tears overcame his eyes. He had spent many hours pouring over his vows, struggling to come up with the right words. He had toyed with the idea of bringing up how he had thought Thorin had died, then decided against it. Why dampen such a joyous occasion? He had been nervous of the result his speech would have, but it seemed to have worked brilliantly. Tears ascended to Thorin’s eyes, and Bilbo felt his heart swell.

“My burglar,” Thorin began. The king laughed; much like Bilbo, he had decided to start his vows with humor and blunt honesty. “I didn’t think much of you at first,” he recalled. “I didn’t see how you could complete the task I required of you. Then I saw you- really saw you, and I realized how wrong I was.” The king paused. “You saved me Bilbo,” he stated. His voice had grown deep and husky with emotion, and a dead silence fell over the halls as the king addressed his hobbit. “You saved my life in the Misty Mountains, and you saved my mind after the defeat of Smaug. I owe you everything, and I shall spend the rest of our days giving to you all that you desire. I love you Bilbo Baggins, now and forever.”

“And I you,” Bilbo whispered. For a moment the two simply stared at each other, lost in the other’s eyes, until Balin cleared his throat from behind them. When the old dwarf spoke, his voice was shaky with emotion.

“Now for the axe,” he declared. Bilbo and Thorin approached the equipment that had been set out for them, a small stone table with a length of cord and other such binding materials. Fili and Kili stepped forward, each bearing one half of the axe. With trembling hands Bilbo took the handle, and Thorin gingerly took the blade.

It was Thorin who bound the pieces together, being the one who was experienced in such matters. Bilbo held the pieces together while his dwarf wrapped the cord around, and within minutes the two segments were bound securely together.

“I declare you husbands,” Balin shouted. Tears of pride streamed down his face as he turned slightly to face the two. “Married at last!”

A chuckle ran through the hall, but it faded as the newlyweds fell into a passionate kiss. When they at last pulled apart Thorin ran his hand along Bilbo’s angular cheekbone, noting with pleasure how the hobbit had grasped his shoulders during their kiss.

The king and his husband led the way to the dining hall, and Thorin couldn’t help but laugh as Bilbo’s stomach growled beside him. The hobbit sent him a quick scowl, but his eyes were lit up in joy.

Bombur had taken no shortcuts with the feast for their wedding. For the party to sample were meats of all sort, cooked in several different fashions. Rich stews and spicy wines were set out, as well as dozens of barrels of Erebor’s best ale. A wide array of desserts was sitting at the ready, and Bilbo knew that by the end of the night Mithril would be simply covered in chocolate. Bombur had even taken the courtesy of providing salads and other non-meat courses for the elves, something that Bilbo hoped did not go unnoticed by Thranduil.

For a time the couple were able to eat in peace, and then the guests began to crowd them. Bilbo and Thorin were bombarded with well wishes and wedding gifts, each of which was carefully set in a pile to the side. Bilbo turned his head at one point as a great clatter sounded behind them, only to find Mithril sitting amid a sea of gold and jewels. The child didn’t look at all sorry that she had disrupted the so carefully stacked gifts, instead seizing the heavily bejeweled sword she had sought and unsheathing it. Bilbo let out a strangled cry and dashed forward, quickly pulling the sword from her grip before she could hurt herself.

He decided that she would have to sit with him for the rest of the night, least she decide to raid the dessert table next. Mithril sat in her Da’s lap, happily stealing bits of his food. Eventually she crawled over to Thorin, who she had taken to calling Papa, and began to play with his beard.

Tauriel and Aragorn took turns holding Minriel so the other could eat, though for the majority of the night it was the elf who held the babe. Pretenses had to be kept up, and so with reluctance, whenever they were in public, Aragorn relinquished his daughter to the elf’s motherly embrace.

Bilbo’s heart pounded as first Bard, and then Thranduil approached them. Bard was, to Bilbo’s relief, quite civil; indeed he seemed incredibly happy for the couple. After giving a whole hearted wish for fortune in their union the man stepped back, and now the elven king approached.

He was clad in silver robes, a matching crown upon his head. Blue eyes twinkled with undiscernible thoughts as Thranduil approached, and for a minute he surveyed the couple silently. Bilbo’s heart pounded. The last time he and Thranduil had met they had been in a rush to prepare for the arrival of the orcs, and as such Thranduil hadn’t had a chance to properly scold Bilbo for his burglary in Mirkwood. Now, eight years later, Bilbo knew that the elf had not forgotten.

He gulped nervously, wishing that if the elf was going to yell he would at least get on with it. Thranduil seemed to sense this, for a mischievous twinkle set in his eyes. At last he spoke.

“Bilbo Baggins,” he greeted. “Eight years it has been.”

Bilbo nodded. “Hello King Thranduil,” he responded. He came to a stop, unsure of what to say next. Should he apologize for breaking into Thranduil’s dungeons?

“I never did have a chance to meet with you after the Battle of Five Armies,” Thranduil began.

Bilbo kept quiet, though his hand did come out to rest on Thorin’s as the dwarf tensed beside him. Thranduil continued, either oblivious or uncaring of the couple’s tension.

“I deem you elf friend,” he declared. Now he bestowed Bilbo with a smile that was oddly warm for him, and Bilbo blinked rapidly. What had just happened?

“I-I’m sorry?” he asked.

Thranduil’s smile turned to a smirk. “Your actions helped to prevent far more bloodshed than otherwise there would have been. For that you have my thanks.”

Bilbo blinked, then nodded rapidly. “Of course,” he muttered. “Thank you- um, you’re welcome.” A floundered look came over the hobbit’s face, and Thranduil had to force down a snicker as Bilbo bit his tongue to shut himself up.

Now the elf king leaned forward slightly, his face taking on a serious demeanor. “I do have one request of you,” he whispered.

Bilbo gulped and nodded, not liking how Thranduil’s eyes were moving toward Tauriel. “What is it?” he asked.

“Minriel, I believe that is her name, yes?” Thranduil’s eyes settled on the baby, and it was Thorin who responded.

“Yes,” he stated. He allowed a protective tone to overtake his voice. “What about her?”

Thranduil smirked at the king’s displeasure. “I wish that I tutor her,” he stated. When the king and his husband responded with dumbfounded looks Thranduil continued. “She should be exposed to elven culture, being that she is of elven ancestry. I shall provide that for her. I would also be willing to tutor her- cousin, so that she has some taming.”

Bilbo bit his tongue again, this time to stop a flow of rather rude responses. He also squeezed Thorin’s hand in warning, stopping a series of what he was sure was much worse retorts from escaping the king.

“We shall consider your offer,” he said at last.

Thranduil nodded, looking pleased, and took a step back.

“Congratulations on your marriage,” he called. Then he sashayed away, leaving Bilbo and his husband staring after him.

Bilbo looked to Thorin, noting the dangerous gleam in the king’s eyes. “We shall discuss it later,” Bilbo told him. He didn’t want to ruin the night with thoughts of Thranduil.

Thorin nodded, and Bilbo was glad that Mithril had crawled to her papa’s lap, because she soon distracted him. Quickly the king’s mood lightened again.

The rest of the night passed in a blur. Bilbo soon lost track of the many who came up to wish them well, but then he spotted a familiar flash of grey within the dining hall. His eyes narrowed. Those robes could only belong to one person, and Bilbo had quite a bone to pick with him.

Sure enough, Gandalf the Grey soon approached Bilbo and Thorin, beaming down at the couple.

“Hello,” he boomed. He started to speak, to wish them well, but Bilbo held up his hand to stop him.

“Gandalf.” The hobbit’s greeting was sardonic, and Gandalf resisted the urge to gulp. He kept his smile fixed on his face, feigning ignorance.

“You lied to me,” Bilbo accused. He crossed his arms over his chest, and Gandalf sighed.

“My dear Bilbo,” Gandalf defended. “I never told you a false truth.”

“Well you didn’t tell me Thorin was alive!” Bilbo knew several people had been shocked into silence at his outburst, but he didn’t care. “You let me return to the Shire for EIGHT YEARS, and not once did you mention that Thorin was still alive!”

“If you had not returned, you would not now have Minriel and Mithril,” Gandalf reminded Bilbo. “Do you wish that were the case?”

Bilbo ground his teeth. “No,” he spat. “But I don’t like that I missed so much time.”

Gandalf sighed. “I am sorry,” he stated. He drew out a chair that had been vacated by Ori, sitting and pulling his hat off his head. “But it was necessary.”

Bilbo’s eyes narrowed.

“Why is that?” asked Thorin. His eyes went from the wizard to his daughter to his niece. “What do you know of the girls?”

Gandalf blinked, sensing the hidden question. “I know everything,” he said quietly. His eyes went pointedly between Minriel and Aragorn, though the motion was subtle enough that only Thorin and Bilbo caught it.

Thorin nodded, cursing the wizard and his meddling in his head. Somehow Gandalf had known about Minriel’s eventual birth, and had arranged things so that Bilbo took her in.

Bilbo realized this too, for his eyes widened a fraction. “How?” he asked.

Gandalf simply sent them a smirk. He would never betray Galadriel’s confidence, even to such close friends.

Bilbo sighed. Although he was still peeved to say the least at Gandalf’s deception, all had turned out alright in the end. He and Thorin were together, and they had two additions to their family. They could forgive the wizard.

“You might as well join us,” he muttered.

Soon a chair had been fetched for Gandalf, and the wizard sat happily, allowing Ori to return to his seat. Mithril reached over and stole a piece of chocolate off Ori’s plate, and Bilbo stood with a sigh and brought her to the dessert table.

 

* * * * *

 

The rest of the night passed without incident, and Bilbo and Thorin retired, for the first time, to the same bed. Dís watched from the down the hall as the two entered nervously together, and she grinned bemusedly as her brother and his husband both blushed several shades of red. She stopped to check on her niece before retiring to her own room, smiling softly at the way the child was curled up on her side in bed, two fingers planted in her mouth.

 

* * * * *

 

Two months later Kili and Tauriel were married. Though many of the guests were far less enthusiastic about this union, the couple nonetheless received a pile of presents equal in height to what Thorin and Bilbo had gotten.

Again Thranduil made his request to Minriel’s official caretaker, and as Bilbo and Thorin had done the elf promised to consider his offer. Aragorn had since departed the mountain, having left not long after Bilbo and Thorin were married. Though Tauriel pitied how the man could not stay with them and share in his daughter’s life, she knew that it was necessary.

Aragorn had headed west again, planning to meet with his wife outside of Rivendell. Tauriel smiled softly, seeing the longing in the man’s eyes. By the time he returned to the west, she knew, it would be two years since he had last seen Arwen.

She glanced around the table, pushing thoughts of the ranger out of her head. Her family was feasting, laughing happily with each other. Beside her Kili was holding Minriel so that his wife could eat, but as Tauriel looked to him he lifted his eyes, catching her gaze. They grinned, and she leaned down to give him a soft kiss that he eagerly returned.

Bilbo, Thorin, and Mithril sat nearby. The king and his burglar were as happy as always; indeed Tauriel had never seen Thorin so happy. Mithril bounced excitedly in her seat as she babbled on about children’s things, more often than not stealing someone else’s food. She had deigned to wear another dress for Tauriel and Kili’s wedding, having decided that the gossamer gowns were fun to wear for one night at a time. Still, Tauriel knew that come bedtime, the girl would be crumpling up the gown and throwing it carelessly to the corner of her bedroom.

Soon Mithril came to stand by Tauriel and Kili, and Tauriel pulled Mithril into her lap and let the girl take Minriel into her arms. Tauriel smiled softly as the elder cousin cooed over the baby, and the quarterling let out a giggle as Minriel seized Mithril’s finger in her fist.

Tauriel often found her eyes wandering to the two at random points throughout the day. Mithril was rarely to be seen without her cousin, and often when Minriel woke it was Mithril who was first able to quiet her cries. Tauriel wondered what bonds they would form as they grew. One thing she knew; they were bound in a sisterhood so deep that it would take a world’s distance to keep them apart.

 

 

Chapter Text

“That’s it! I can’t do it anymore! I’m sick of elves!”

Bilbo sighed as Thorin stalked into their rooms, the king throwing his hands in the air in exasperation. The hobbit set down the book he’d been reading in his lap and fixed his husband with a bemused smile.

“What did Thranduil do now?” he asked.

“He keeps pressing me about tutoring the girls.” Thorin growled in annoyance. “Besides being his usual arrogant self. That pointy eared bastard.”

Bilbo bit his lip to keep from chuckling in amusement. “Minriel is reaching the age where she should start lessons,” he stated.

“Balin is more than capable of teaching her,” Thorin rebuffed.

“I know, I know, but Min is part elf. She should be able to interact with her own kind, and not just Tauriel.”

Thorin frowned. “I don’t like it,” he objected.

Bilbo rolled his eyes. “You don’t like anything,” he reminded the dwarf.

Thorin scowled, but didn’t object to the hobbit’s statement.

At last Thorin sighed. “Fine. I’ll tell Thranduil he can tutor her. But I need to get away from him. Even trade relations are becoming unbearable.”

“I actually had an idea for that,” Bilbo stated.

“Oh?” Thorin fixed him with a wary look, and Bilbo nodded.

“Tauriel could be our ambassador,” Bilbo suggested.

Thorin pursed his lips, considering. “She’s banished from Mirkwood, remember?”

Bilbo shrugged. “So get Thranduil to unbanish her. Tell him it’s your condition for allowing him to tutor Min.”

 Thorin nodded slowly. “I’ll see if Tauriel is in agreement,” he decided. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

Bilbo nodded. A moment later Thorin was plucking his book neatly from his lap, inspecting the title.

The Line of Durin,” Thorin read. “Why are you reading about my ancestors?”

Bilbo sighed. “Balin insists that I integrate myself into dwarven culture,” he stated. “He’s always giving me new things to read. I swear, half this book is your predecessors coming up with new insults for the woodland folk.”

Thorin laughed at that. “Then I shall have to read it myself,” he stated.

Bilbo chuckled. “Come,” he said. “We have a meeting in ten minutes with the bankers.”

Thorin grumbled; he really did hate meetings. Still, he followed Bilbo out of their room.

Thorin had found that meetings were much more bearable with Bilbo by his side. Not only was his hobbit able to reason with their people much better than Thorin, having the sense to not let his stubbornness get in his way, but he was often able to come up with new solutions that the king would not have thought of on his own. He had come to depend on Bilbo, and the annoying thing was, his husband knew it.

The meeting didn’t take long; it was a basic yearly report on the financial status of the mountain. As the meeting came to a close Tauriel and Kili tried to slip past, but Thorin stopped them with a loud clearing of his throat.

“And where are you off to?” he asked.

Kili shrugged. “To explore the outside of the mountain,” he stated.

Thorin nodded. It was something the couple did frequently. Tauriel longed for fresh air, for despite her acceptance of her life in the mountain, she could only take so much of the dry air and the distrustful glares she still received from many. Kili was more than happy to draw his wife away from the attention of others, and Thorin knew it would be late at night before they returned.

“I want to talk to you about something once you’ve returned,” he stated. “Tomorrow, if it pleases you.”

Tauriel shrugged. “We can speak now,” she said. “What can I do for you?”

Thorin sighed. “I wanted to know if you would be willing to become Erebor’s ambassador with the elves. The two of you. I believe I can convince Thranduil to repeal your banishment, and I simply cannot deal with him anymore.”

Tauriel chuckled, but Thorin could see that her eyes were growing misty eyed at his proposal. Though she loved Erebor and the life she’d made there, she did miss her home. “I- I will consider,” she said. “Thank you.”

Thorin nodded and let the young couple slip out the doors to the castle. Beside him Bilbo smiled happily. A moment later their peace was shattered as yells sounded from down the hall.

“Get off! Off! Stop that!”

Thorin and Bilbo exchanged glances and bolted from the throne room. They came skidding to a stop as a hunched over, writhing form stumbled down the hall towards them. Then the shape passed under the light of a torch, and the couple could make out what it was.

“Mith! Min! No, not my beard!” Gimli scrabbled to pull Minriel’s hand off the puny beard that he had recently begun to sprout, and the two girls clinging to him laughed. Bilbo shook his head as he watched them. They were both latched onto Gimli, trying to topple and pin him as he struggled down the corridor.

“Give it back,” Mithril ordered. She lunged upward, trying to climb the back of the dwarf who was, for all intents, her cousin.

“Never.” Now a laugh escaped Gimli as he brandished a basket of chocolates above his head, out of the girls’ reach. Bilbo recognized it as the sweets Bombur had given them that morning.

“Then fall!” Minriel shouted. She swung herself onto Gimli’s back, raven hair swinging. A moment later Mithril had scrambled up beside her, and together they managed to topple Gimli.

“Oh, bother.” Bilbo watched as the basket tumbled from Gimli’s hand, the chocolate falling everywhere. Beside him Thorin laughed.

“No, don’t eat that.” Bilbo rushed forward and grabbed Minriel’s hand as she snatched a chocolate off the ground.

“Three second rule,” she objected.

“There is no such rule,” Thorin shot back. Still, his eyes were twinkling as he lifted Mithril, and the seven year old girl giggled.

Bilbo glanced down at Minriel. At five, she was already as tall as her cousin, with the same wild, dark hair and grey eyes as her father. Her figure, however, bore the slenderness that Arwen had demonstrated. Not that it did the child much good. She was constantly tripping, and Bilbo was fairly certain he had met orcs who were more graceful than his niece.

“Well, there go our chocolates,” pouted Mithril.

“I’m sure Bombur will make you more,” Thorin stated.

“Can he dip fruits in the chocolate?” asked Minriel. “I like those.”

Bilbo laughed. “I’m sure he will.”

Gimli now pushed himself to his feet, surveying the chocolates distastefully. “I was going to eat those,” he whined.

“But they were ours,” Minriel reminded him. He scowled at her, and she returned the look. A moment later her cousin chuckled and seized up the girl, spinning her in a circle.

Minriel shrieked. “Gimli, put me down. Mith!”

Her other cousin responded immediately, jumping from her father’s arms and launching herself at Gimli’s legs. Within moments the trio had again fallen to the floor.

Bilbo sighed and left them to it, tugging Thorin away. He knew from experience that soon Gimli would be screaming defeat. He suspected that the dwarf often let his two little cousins win in their mock fights, despite the devastating blow to his reputation.

 

* * * * *

 

An hour later Minriel and Mithril were perched in one of their hiding places in the castle, a little niche known only to them. Having begged a fresh batch of sweets from Bombur, they had hurried to their favorite hideout before Gimli could try to steal them again. There they laughed and giggled about unimportant things, curiously watching the dwarves of Erebor that bustled about outside the castle.

Minriel’s attention was drawn by Ori and Nori below. The two were practicing their fighting, striking at each other with axes and swords that frankly were rather big for their scholarly uncle. Her Uncle Dori sat to the side, calmly pointing out his younger brothers’ errors.

Minriel’s head turned as a great battle cry sounded to her right. She found herself looking not at Mithril, as she expected, but at the outer levels of the mountain. Where she sat she was surrounded by tall, waving grass, the sun shining brightly above her. It would have been a rather peaceful scene were it not for the dwarf rushing her, axe brandished in readiness to strike.

Minriel pushed herself back on all fours, scrambling to get away from the ferocious dwarf. However, the soldier moved swiftly for his small size, and within moments had reached her. As his axe descended towards her head Minriel let out a terrified scream.

“Min! Min!”

Minriel jerked out of what had been playing in her mind to find herself sprawled across the floor. Mithril was holding her up, gripping her upper arms with an iron grip. Hazel eyes burned in fear at her cousin’s state of mind.

Mithril frowned as Minriel began to cry, and she pulled her cousin into her arms. She had no idea what had just occurred; one minute they had happily been eating their chocolates, the next Minriel had been screaming and crawling away as though she’d seen an orc. Whatever it was, it worried her.

“What was what?” she asked. “Min, what’s going on?”

Minriel took a moment to regain her composure. Then she divulged every detail of her vision, watching her cousin’s face eagerly. Though Mithril was only seven, she was two years older than Minriel’s five, and Minriel had come to depend on her to have the answers for everything.

She was at once disappointed and hurt by the look that crossed over Mithril’s face. Torn between incredulity and worry, it was clear that Mithril didn’t believe her.

Mithril shook her head. “There was nothing there,” she insisted. “No one attacked us.”

Minriel gulped. Suddenly it felt as though the Arkenstone itself had fallen to the pit of her stomach, and it was getting hard to breathe. She needed to get that look of Mithril’s face. She couldn’t stand it.

“Right,” she whispered. She forced a small smile to her lips. “Just my imagination. Sorry.”

Mithril nodded, still eyeing Minriel worriedly. She however decided not to comment, and as the girls returned to their chocolate Mithril soon forgot about the incident.

 

* * * * *

 

Two weeks later Tauriel, Kili, Minriel, and Mithril were setting out for Mirkwood. The husband and wife had eagerly accepted Thorin’s offer, and after some mild persuading Thorin was able to convince the woodland king to allow Tauriel back into his kingdom.

“Does Mithril have to go?” he asked. He watched from his throne as Tauriel checked the girls’ boots, making sure they were bound tightly.

Bilbo chuckled. “Do you want to be the one to try and keep her apart from her cousin?” she asked. “She’ll just sneak out after Min.”

Thorin sighed, but knew it to be true. Since before their arrival in Erebor four years ago the two girls had been inseparable. Trying to part them was like trying to part a dragon from its gold.

At last the four were ready. Bilbo and Thorin hugged them goodbye, knowing that they wouldn’t see them again for another week or so.

The journey to Mirkwood was uneventful, but Tauriel’s eyes scanned expertly around as they entered the forest. After her banishment from Thranduil’s realm the disassembling of the spider nests beyond the elven borders had become the elf maiden’s primary focus. Though she hadn’t heard or seen any signs in the past years that the eight legged creatures were returning, she still worried.

It didn’t take them long to reach Thranduil’s castle. Grown with magic from the very trees of the forest, it was a sight to see. The small group passed over a bridge, beneath which roared a sparkling, foaming river, and Kili couldn’t help the uncomfortable feeling that settled over him. The last time he had walked this bridge his hands had been bound, and Tauriel had been his capturer, not his wife.

King Thranduil was perched on a throne high above the ground level of his hall, where he could easily survey his guests. On his head sat a crown wrought of twigs and berries, the bright red orbs standing out against his pale blond hair. Kili stepped up beside Tauriel as they approached, joining their hands to show the king that despite Tauriel’s former position as his captain of the guard, she was now his wife, and of the mountain folk.

Together they bowed, and it was Tauriel who spoke first. “Greetings King Thranduil,” she greeted. She placed her fist over her heart in the traditional sign of respect of the elves, and Thranduil nodded.

“Tauriel,” he responded. “And Kili, son of Dis. You are welcome in my forest.”

Kili couldn’t help but wonder how sour those words tasted on the elf’s tongue. As it was, the king quickly turned his attention away from them. “Minriel and Mithril,” he greeted. “It is good to see you again.”

Kili turned to see the girls where they stood behind him. Together they bowed, their fists over their hearts as Tauriel had taught them, but as they straightened the two girls wore vastly different expressions on their faces. Minriel was gazing around her in wonder, her grey eyes alight with curiosity. Mithril all but glared at her surroundings, and as she took in the king before her she shifted ever so slightly in front of her cousin.

Kili couldn’t help but feel a bit proud of the girl’s suspicions. She had been raised, he knew, with Thorin lecturing her about how elves were, for the most part, not to be trusted. Though he knew Mithril trusted Tauriel and Minriel, loving them whole heartedly, the girl knew nothing of the woodland king but what her parents had told her.

Thranduil stood, descending the throne. To Kili and Tauriel’s surprise, he offered the two girls his own hands to grab. “Come,” he stated. “Allow me to show you my home.”

Minriel, the more trusting of the two, eagerly latched onto his hand, and after a moment of hesitation Mithril did as well. Kili and Tauriel trailed behind as they were led on a grand tour of the palace. The king was ignoring them for the time being, focusing on the girls with a fatherly demeanor Kili hadn’t thought him capable of. This left Tauriel free to gaze around her with eyes wide with memories, and as they walked Kili squeezed her hand comfortingly.

At last the girls were settled into a large double bedroom that they would share during their stay, and Thranduil led Kili and Tauriel to a place where they could discuss political matters. By the time they returned to check on the girls they found the room empty, and Kili groaned.

“Uncle is going to kill me,” he muttered.

Tauriel patted his back. “I’m sure they’re fine,” she stated. She moved down the hall, and Kili followed her. He suppressed a smirk as they entered the kitchens several minutes later. If Mithril and Minriel were to go off and look for one room in the palace, it would definitely be the kitchens.

He scanned around, searching for them amid the elves. It was Thranduil who spotted them, pointing with a bemused smile to where the two girls made their way silently along the counters. Each time an elf would pass by Mithril would grab Minriel and dive behind the nearest object, only poking her curly head out again when the danger had passed.

The three adults watched as the girls continued onward, inching towards a large bowl of fruit that had been left out. Filled with berries of all sorts, as well as several apples, the girls had naturally identified it as the treasure of the kitchens.

They reached the counter, jumping in vain to reach the bowl far above their heads. They exchanged furtive words, then Kili watched in amusement as Mithril knelt to the ground. Minriel stepped on her shoulders, and again her cousin stood. Now they could barely reach the bowl.

Minriel’s fingers scraped at the side of the wooden bowl, and she stood on her tiptoes to reach it better. Evidently that was a mistake, because she lost her balance on Mithril’s shoulders and toppled over. Mithril tried to catch her, which resulted in the two of them collapsing in a heap on the ground. Unfortunately their escapade had pushed at the bowl just enough that it now toppled from the counter, and Tauriel jumped forward to grab it. Deftly she moved it through the air, catching the majority of the berries that had begun to scatter.

“Uh-oh.”

The girls pushed themselves into sitting positions, staring wide eyed at Tauriel. The elf pursed her lips as she tapped her foot against the ground, letting them bask in fear of punishment for a moment. Then she grinned and took an apple for herself before handing the bowl down to the girls. Eagerly they seized it, grinning. Soon their fingers and mouths were covered in berry juice.

Thranduil’s face was as stoic as ever, but Tauriel could see a quiet gleam in his eyes. He strode forward and picked the girls up, setting them down again only once they had left the kitchens.

“It is time your lessons begin,” he stated. “Bring your snack.”

Tauriel and Kili settled to the side of the girls’ room, watching as Thranduil sat the two girls down with books. He had decided to start them off with lessons in Sindarin, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they already had somewhat of a basis in the elven language.

He sent Tauriel a quick nod of approval, doing his best to ignore how she was curled up with her dwarf. Then he turned his attention back to Minriel and Mithril. The two were polishing off the last of the fruit, and now they turned all of their attention to their tutor.

Each morning the five met for breakfast, and Thranduil made it his mission to drill proper eating etiquette into the girls. It was simply disturbing to see how they shoveled food into their mouths. Kili of course made a show of eating sloppily when the elven king began to lecture Minriel and Mithril, and Thranduil resisted a sigh.

From there he and the two ambassadors would spend an hour or so discussing political matters, and the rest of the day was devoted to the two children. Thranduil remembered what his own son Legolas had been like growing up, and knew better than to bore them with books and maps all day. He took them on long walks through his gardens, and even took them on rides with his elk. This the girls seemed to love, and despite himself, Thranduil felt his heart thaw for the first time since Legolas was a child as their exited giggled filled the air.

When the girls finally departed for Erebor it was with warm goodbyes to the elven king. He allowed Minriel to hug him, patting her back awkwardly. Mithril didn’t embrace the king, but the smile she gave him as she went to join her cousin was warmhearted. When they next approached the elven castle a month later, it was with an eager light in their eyes.

Chapter Text

Time passed. The last week of each month Mithril and Minriel went to study under Thranduil, and Bilbo and Thorin found that though their castle was much more peaceful with them gone, it was also much more desolate. Bilbo would look around a corner, ready to scold the girls for whatever mischief they were into, only to find the next room empty. Thorin simply looked lost without his daughter to dote on.

Three years later, Mithril and Minriel entered Mirkwood eagerly. Despite herself Mithril had warmed to the elven king. Though she still didn’t trust him completely, she could at least appreciate the sass with which he dealt with those around him. Minriel of course took great joy in this, and Mithril suspected that her cousin would soon be trying out the elf’s sarcasm for herself.

She and Minriel approached the throne before Tauriel and Kili, and with a small, fond smile Thranduil greeted them. As the king turned to greet Tauriel and Kili a door on the side of the throne room opened, and when Mithril saw who it was who entered she let out a squeal of excitement. Though it had been many years since she had last seen that face, she remembered it well.

“Uncle Strider!” she cried. She flung herself across the room, and eagerly the ranger swung her up and into a hug.

“Hello Mithril,” he greeted her. His grey eyes twinkled happily as he set her down. “How are you?”

“Good.” Mithril stepped aside then as Minriel ran up, grey eyes alight with curiosity. Eagerly Mithril introduced the two.

“Miny, this is Strider,” she said. “He came with Da and I to Erebor.”

Minriel nodded eagerly, a grin spreading across her face. “Hi!”

Aragorn laughed as his daughter bounced in place, torn between excitement and shyness. He knelt down before her and opened his arms.

“You were but a baby when last I saw you,” he said. “You have grown.”

As Minriel giggled and fell into his arms, only Thranduil saw the sadness in the ranger’s eyes. His own blue eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. Aragorn- for despite the man’s modest title, the elven king remembered him as the child he had once met on a visit to Rivendell many years ago- had arrived two days ago with the Lady Arwen from the valley of Imladris. The elf claimed to be visiting for diplomatic reasons, Strider accompanying her as guide and protector. Though at first Thranduil had assumed the man had in truth joined her simply to visit an old childhood friend, he was now realizing the truth.

By the time Thranduil arrived at the girls’ room after his meeting with Kili and Tauriel, he found that Arwen had joined the ranger and the two children. Both girls were curled up between the two on one of the beds, and Arwen was singing softly as she ran her fingers through Minriel’s hair. As the king entered both adults shot to their feet, looking guilty, and Thranduil’s lips crooked up in a smile.

Mithril and Minriel didn’t notice this, and as Thranduil observed their demeanor with the couple, he realized that they didn’t know who the pair really were. He decided to hold his tongue.

He was rather lenient in his lessons with the girls that week, and allowed Arwen and Aragorn to sit with them. When Mithril mentioned how Dwalin was beginning to train them to fight the elf’s eyebrows went up.

“Oh?” he asked. “What have you been fighting with?”

Mithril shrugged. “Everything,” she stated. “Swords, axes, even bows.” At the last weapon the child crinkled her nose in distaste.

Thranduil frowned. “Bows,” he stated, “are far better weapons than axes.”

Mithril turned her nose at this. “Uncle Dwalin says differently.”

Thranduil scoffed, noting with pleasure how Minriel watched him, eager for his opinion. “What happens when Master Dwalin’s axe breaks?”

Now it was Mithril’s turn to snort. “Axes don’t break,” she stated. “Arrows do. They’re flimsy things.”

Thranduil’s eyebrows rose further. “Arrows can be replaces with ease,” he told her. “And despite what Master Dwalin may have said, axes break regularly.”

Mithril scowled, and Thranduil had to fight down the victorious smile that threatened.

“I like bows,” Minriel offered. Beside her Mithril scowled, ignoring the pleased nod the king gave her cousin.

“I like swords better myself,” Mithril told him. “But I don’t like bows.” She shook her head. “Not one bit.”

Thranduil resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands. Despite the fact that he had been tutoring Mithril with her cousin for three years, he was still constantly amazed by her stubbornness.

A moment later his thoughts were interrupted as Minriel leapt from her chair and seized his hand. “Thrandy,” she asked. “Can we go see Horoth now? You said I can go for the first ride this time.”

Thranduil sighed, knowing that before long the girls would be asking to ride not on his elk’s back, but on his antlers. Not to mention he really hated their nicknames for him. Thrandy was only one of many.

He chose not to comment on this. He had done so once before, and had needed to excuse himself until the headache they’d subsequently given him had subsided.

“Alright,” he sighed. “Lady Arwen and Strider, would you like to join us?”

Eagerly the couple nodded, Aragorn looking none too pleased at the thought of his little daughter riding on the back of Thranduil’s large stead. Thranduil led them all from the room, observing subtly how they all interacted.

When the girls departed for Erebor a week later Thranduil was unsurprised to find that Arwen and Aragorn were leaving with them. They claimed that it was time they paid homage to the King Under the Mountain, and though Thranduil knew better, he did not correct them.

Bilbo’s jaw dropped open as he saw the two visitors that trailed behind his family as they entered the castle. With a gulp he nudged Thorin, who turned slightly so Bilbo could whisper in his ear.

“That’s Arwen with Aragorn.”

Thorin’s eyes widened a fraction, but he merely nodded. He stepped forward to embrace his daughter, then his niece. Finally he sent them scurrying off to unpack, and as Kili and Tauriel had already disappeared, he and Bilbo were left alone with the married couple.

“Lady Arwen,” he greeted. “Aragorn.”

Both nodded in unison. “Greetings, Thorin Oakenshield,” Arwen spoke. “And Bilbo Baggins. I hope your acceptance into the mountain went well?”

Bilbo nodded, sensing the hidden question. “A few difficulties, but family is a strong support,” he told her. “And I have quite a family.”

Arwen nodded, pleased. Thorin then cleared his throat.

“Shall we go somewhere more private?” he asked.

The couple nodded and followed Thorin to the same family room that Bilbo had spent his first couple of days in Erebor in. They spent many hours talking, and for the first time Thorin found that he actually listened to what an elf outside his family had to say.

“Do you think she is ready?” murmured Arwen. Her eyes flickered to the door and Bilbo followed her gaze, lips pursed. “You know her better than we do.”

Bilbo couldn’t help but notice the pain that came to the elf’s eyes at her words, and Aragorn reached out and took her hand in his.

“I think so,” Bilbo said. “She’s young, but mature for her age.” He shook his head and then looked to Thorin. His husband was nodding slowly, a considering look on his face.

“We will have to tell Mithril as well,” Thorin pointed out. “Minriel will refuse to keep the secret from her cousin.” He chuckled. “There is little point in trying to keep her from knowing. Minriel would tell her immediately.”

Aragorn nodded. “Even when Mithril was young, I sensed a strong protective instinct within her. She would not betray her cousin.”

Thorin and Bilbo nodded in agreement. The two girls were like Fili and Kili had been as youngsters, Thorin had noticed. While both could handle themselves separately, they preferred to be together, and always looked first to each other in a new situation.

“When should we tell them?” asked Arwen. A worried frown had taken over her face. She knew that once the girls knew the truth, they would never be the same again. She didn’t want to destroy their carefree demeanor.

“How about tomorrow,” suggested Bilbo. Everyone agreed, and with a sigh of relief they put the topic aside for the time being.

The next morning found the girls up to their usual antics. Bilbo pulled them away from whatever prank they were planning for Gimli, drawing them to the family room. There Thorin, Aragorn, and Arwen waited. The rest of the company, though aware of the conversation about to take place, had not joined them. It had been agreed that with fewer people present, Minriel might feel less overwhelmed about the truth of her heritage.

“Sit girls.”

Minriel gulped at the serious tone to her uncle’s voice, but she and Mithril climbed into one of the wide armchairs by the hearth. She examined the faces of the adults that stared at them. Uncle Thorin’s face was unreadable, while Uncle Bilbo’s held a note of worry- though her Uncle Bilbo always seemed to be worrying about her and Mith. Strider and Arwen watched her silently from the side of the room, fear, sorrow, and something else that Minriel couldn’t quite discern in their eyes. If she hadn’t been so busy wondering why everyone but her cousin was staring at her, she would have noticed how Aragorn and Arwen leaned against each other for support.

Uncle Bilbo knelt down in front of them, taking Minriel’s hands in his. “You know that we love you, right?” he asked.

“Of course.” Minriel looked around her in confusion. “What’s going on?”

She traded scared looks with Mithril, hoping her cousin would have the answer. Unfortunately, the hazel eyes that met hers were filled with the same worry that was tearing apart Minriel’s mind. Nonetheless, Minriel saw Mithril push it to the side, putting on a reassuring face to comfort her little cousin. Minriel tightly squeezed Mithril’s hand as her cousin’s fingers wound around her own, taking comfort in the familiar presence of her cousin. Sealing herself, she looked back to her uncle. No matter what he was about to tell her- for she knew something was going on- she would still have Mithril. She would always have Mithril.

Bilbo sighed, trading looks with Strider. Minriel reflected quickly back on the week she had spent with the ranger and the elf he stood beside. Both had been kind, and had treated her lovingly. While Minriel was used to being treated differently than Mithril by most; as their dwarven family unconsciously favored her cousin, these two had shown no such tendencies with her. In fact, now that she thought back, while they had made sure to spend equal amounts of time with both girls, they did seem to favor her over Mithril. How…strange.

“We have not been completely honest with you about your past,” Bilbo told her. “Before I tell you the truth, you must know that these secrets were kept so that you might be safe. We always have planned to tell you when the time is right, and now is that time.”

“What is it Da?”

Bilbo turned his gaze to his daughter to see her watching him worriedly. Though Mithril held no doubts that what her father said was true; he would never do anything that he believed would not benefit their family, she didn’t like what he was saying about how they needed to keep Min safe. Her grip tightened on her cousin’s hand at the thought. What danger was she in?

Bilbo bit his lip and then stood, nodding to Aragorn and Arwen. As the pair took seats on the floor in front of the girls Mithril tried to work out an answer in her mind. She knew it did not lie in the past week, and instead turned her attention to when she had first met them as a toddler. Her interactions with Arwen had been brief, and she had hardly paid the elf any attention. Strider she remembered as well as she could after not seeing him in years; by the time he had departed Erebor she had viewed him as another uncle. Though that view had not changed over the past eight years, she now realized that she knew very little about her uncle.

“My true name,” began Strider, “is Aragorn. Do you two recognize that name?”

Minriel nodded. “Balin says he’s gonna be the king of Gondor one day.” Her eyes widened. “That’s you?”

Aragorn nodded. “I grew up in Rivendell, in the House of Lord Elrond. I was in my twentieth year when I first met Arwen, after she had returned from a trip from Lothlórien.” Now he gave the elf a love filled look, and Minriel smiled. “I fell in love with her immediately,” Aragorn confided.

Arwen sent him a small smile. “Our love was a secret,” she told the girls. “I am a descendant of the high elves, an old and noble family. Aragorn is the heir of a fallen king. You see how our relationship would be a danger to those we love?”

Both girls nodded, and Arwen continued. “So we met in secret. Eventually I devised a plan; that Aragorn and I should marry in Lothlórien, away from the eyes of my father. And so on the mound of Cerin Amroth we did so.”

“When we returned to her grandparents’ house,” continued Aragorn, “we were met with a surprise. The Lady Galadriel was able to sense the life of our child beginning within Arwen.” Aragorn gulped now. “We knew that we needed to secure our baby’s future. With our blood lines, we knew that he or she would be in constant danger from the forces of evil. Despite the grief it caused us, we knew, though we dared not admit it, that we would not be given the chance to raise our child.”

“Then luck shone upon us,” Arwen said. “A hobbit returned to the mountain of Erebor, to reunite with the lover he had thought dead. With him he brought a child of mixed blood.” She turned a small smile to Mithril, recalling watching the bright eyed child bound through Elrond’s halls during the month Bilbo’s company had stayed in Rivendell. “I knew then that this hobbit, who loved so willingly, would be the best option my baby had. In the mountain she would be safe, away from the suspecting eyes of those who might discover her lineage. And so I gave him my baby to bring here with him.”

“Minriel.” Aragorn’s voice was soft and deep. The girl met his gaze, and saw a swirl of emotions behind his grey eyes. “You are our daughter.”

The mouths of both girls dropped open.

“What?” Minriel looked back and forth between the two seated before her. They were her parents? It couldn’t be.

“But- but my parents are dead,” she objected. “Right?”

She looked to her uncles, but instead of objecting, they only stared at her with pity. Now she turned to her cousin. “Mith?” she asked.

Mithril only shook her head, eyes wide. “I dunno, Miny,” she whispered.

That was the last straw. Minriel’s breathing increased, panic overtaking her mind, and Mithril grabbed her in a hug. “I got you Miny,” she whispered. “I’m here. I’m always here.”

Minriel forced her cousin away. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked. She glared at her uncles furiously, not caring that her Uncle Bilbo was fighting back tears.

“It was for your safety,” he pleaded. “Min-”

“No!” Minriel leapt off the chair, stumbling as she hit the ground. “Go away!” She tugged on the door, fell backwards, and then attacked with a renewed energy. The door fell open just enough for her to slip out, sobbing.

Her family stared after her in shock, a silence descending over the room. That silence was broken a moment later.

“Min!” shouted Mithril. Immediately she followed, flinging open the door and dashing into the corridor. By now her cousin had vanished, and Mithril had to fight back the stream of curses that she often heard Uncle Gloin and Uncle Dwalin use. Picking a random direction she dashed off, knowing that she needed to find her cousin.

It took quite some time. Mithril, after wandering the palace for some minutes, decided to look in her and Minriel’s usual hide outs. Her cousin wasn’t in the first two, but as she ascended the rope ladder that lead to the third she could only just hear sobbing from above. A minute later she found Minriel curled up on the upper levels of one of the cattle barns of the mountain, sobbing.

“Miny.” Mithril made her way forward, pulling her cousin against her. Immediately Minriel’s sobs came anew, and she buried her face in Mithril’s shoulder.

“Tell me it isn’t true Mith,” she blubbered. “Tell me.”

Mithril squeezed her eyes shut to prevent her own tears from leaking out. She needed to stay strong now for her cousin. “I think it is,” she admitted softly.

Minriel’s sobs increased in fervor.

Mithril sighed, thinking. What could she do?

A song;maybe a song would help. Mithril racked her brain, finally pulling up one of Bofur’s drinking songs that he so often sang. She then discarded it. She needed something different. With a silent curse she decided to just make up her own.

“There once was a lass

Who lived by the sea

Tra la-la

Tra la-la-la-la-la

 

“She braided her hair

With shells and seaweed

Tra la-la

Tra la-la-la-la-la

 

“She swam and she sang

She played all day long

Tra la-la

Tra la-la-la-la-la

 

“But one summer day

A strong wind came along

Tra la-la

Tra la-la-la-la-la

 

“It carried twigs, berries, and one feathered friend

And now her hair is that lil’ birdie’s nest

Tra la-la

Tra la-la-la-la-la-la”

 

Mithril stopped, thankful as Minriel began to giggle in her arms. She had been fast running out of ideas for the lyrics; inventing songs had always been Min’s strong suit, not her’s.

Minriel pushed herself out of her cousin’s arms, giving the older girl a small smile. “Thanks Mithy,” she whispered. Though she was nowhere near happy again, her cousin’s song had at least allowed her to focus on her thoughts. Once more she was in control, her tears at bay.

“Of course,” Mithril responded. Her hand came up to rub Minriel’s back soothingly, and for several minutes the two were quiet. Mithril was the first to speak again. “You know we can’t tell anyone,” she said. “Right?”

Minriel looked up at her with wide grey eyes. “Not even Gimli?”

Mithril bit her lip. “I don’t know if he knows,” she mused. “If he doesn’t it’s because Da and Papa don’t think he can handle the secret. It’s best if we only confide in those who already know. No one else needs to be involved. Not even The Eyebrows.”

Mithril had the satisfaction of seeing her cousin giggle at the reference to Thranduil.

A moment later Minriel sniffled.

“I suppose we have to go back?” she asked.

Mithril shrugged. “We can stay here for a while. You waited eight years for the truth; they can wait a small while for you to return to them.” She paused then. “When you do, I’ll stay with you,” she promised.

Minriel leaned over to pull Mithril into a hug, tears of love burning her eyes. “I know,” she whispered. “Thanks.”

It was two hours later when the girls returned to the family room. By then the entire company was there, and Bilbo was pacing anxiously around, just about ready to send out the company and some guards to find them, and Thorin’s blue eyes followed his every step. Aragorn and Arwen were silent as they sat by the hearth, but the pain on their faces said all. Everyone glanced up as the door opened to reveal Minriel and Mithril. Their hands were joined, and though Minriel seemed frightened of the gathering that had appeared, she nonetheless fixed a pleasant smile on her face.

“Sorry,” she whispered. “I shouldn’t have-”

“Don’t apologize,” Mithril ordered her. Her hazel eyes were narrowed; while her cousin was eager to please their family so that she might keep their love, Mithril had no such qualms. Despite their family’s good intentions they had hurt her cousin, and that was not something she took lightly. She cast a stony glare around the room. “Everyone but you, you, you, and you get out,” she declared.

Silently everyone but Bilbo, Thorin, Aragorn, and Arwen slipped out of the room, not bothering to criticize Mithril’s manner of addressing her elders. As the door closed behind them once more Minriel squeezed Mithril’s hand in thanks.

Though she was terrified, Minriel felt that she now had to do the rest on her own. She couldn’t depend on Mithril for everything, after all. Besides, she felt that the next conversation was one that she needed to have by herself.

“Mith,” she whispered. “Can you and our uncles wait outside too? I need- I need to do this myself.”

Mithril bit her lip, but then nodded. Though she wasn’t happy, she wouldn’t refuse her cousin her request. “Sure,” she responded. She squeezed Minriel’s hand. “I’m outside if you need me.”

With that she shot her fathers a glare that told them to keep quiet and follow her before stalking from the room. As the door closed a final time Minriel took a deep breath. She hardly dared look at the couple- her parents, she told herself as she slowly moved back to the chair she had vacated hours before. Only once she had settled herself comfortably did she finally look at them. Both held worried and fearful expressions on their faces, but as it became clear that their child was ready to listen, they sat gladly before her.

“Ok,” Minriel said. “Tell me everything.”

Chapter Text

“I won’t be going into that cursed forest,” Gloin stated. He trailed angrily at the back of the small group of travelers, his hand ready on his axe. “I refuse to enter that place. It crawls with elves.”

Bilbo sighed. “Yes Gloin,” he said, trying- and failing- to keep the annoyance out of his voice. “I heard you every other day of our journey.”

Behind him Gloin scowled at the hobbit’s back, even though the only ones who saw it were Mithril and Minriel. The two giggled, but chose not to tell Bilbo what their uncle had done.

Bilbo was bringing Minriel to meet her great-grandparents, the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn (though they claimed it was simply to create a good relationship between the two nations and to let Minriel become more in touch with her elvish heritage). With them came Mithril and several guards. Though the majority of those guards were dwarves, Tauriel also accompanied them. Kili had remained in Erebor, so that the mountain was not lacking both ambassadors to Mirkwood, and both the elf and the hobbit were sorely missing their husbands.

Thorin had protested vehemently to Mithril accompanying her cousin to Lothlórien. For a time it had seemed that the girls would be parted, but then Bilbo had received word from the Shire; Drogo had been blessed with a son. The babe was named Frodo, and Bilbo had hastened to ready to return to Hobbiton to welcome his nephew into the world. With him, he would bring Frodo’s eldest cousin.

True to his word, Gloin refused to so much as step under the shadow of one of the golden leaved trees of the forest, as did the other dwarves, and so Tauriel, Bilbo, Mithril, and Minriel proceeded on their own. Though Tauriel’s keen eyes glimpsed the shining metal armor of the elves of the golden forest slipping silently alongside of them, none of the border guards made themselves known to the travelers. Tauriel suspected that this was due to an order by the lord and lady of the forest.

Soon they entered the clearing at the center of the forest. There, obviously waiting for them, were Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. Both wore welcoming smiles on their faces, and the travelers had not so much as bowed when the couple began to speak.

“Lord Bilbo, Lady Tauriel,” greeted Celeborn. “We are honored by your presence.”

“Nay,” Tauriel objected. “We are honored by yours.” She stepped forward, placed her fist over her heart, and bowed. After taking a moment to regain his composure, Bilbo mimicked her.

He had been entranced by the Lady Galadriel, for he faintly remembered her from Rivendell many years ago. He had but glimpsed her fleetingly then, a white clad, ghostly figure slipping through Lord Elrond’s gardens, but the identity of the mysterious woman had always plagued him. Now, given the answer to his question, he found himself in a state of awe.

“And Minriel and Mithril,” Galadriel said. She stepped forward, opening her arms in a motherly embrace. “Come here children.”

It was with some hesitation that the girls approached, and as they allowed the elf to kneel down before them Bilbo found himself watching their faces. Minriel stared at her great-grandmother with mixed awe and apprehension, unsure of what degree of love she would receive from her. Mithril watched her with a hint of suspicion that Bilbo blamed Thorin for, but the hobbit knew that his daughter was not nearly as suspicious of elves as she had once been. Her time studying under King Thranduil had done some good.

Galadriel began to murmur softly to the girls in Sindarin, and though Bilbo had no idea what she’d said, it caused Minriel to break into giggles. Mithril soon followed, and as Galadriel stood and offered her hands the children gladly reached up to take them.

They were to stay a month in Lothlórien. The first week of this month was spent with the girls curled up with the lord and lady of the wood, spending long hours talking about whatever pleased the children. Though the lord and lady could not personally give Minriel and Mithril tours of the forest- they knew it would be too suspicious- they dispatched their most trusted guard to show them. As Haldir gave Bilbo a respectful bow the hobbit had to force back a small laugh, knowing the elf was unaware of what role he had played in Minriel’s creation.

By the end of the week the girls had grown bored of trading stories with the elves, and were allowed free reign of the forest. Bilbo knew the inhabitants of the forest watched them curiously, and though occasionally they would speak briefly with them, none seemed to doubt the story of Minriel’s heritage.

Bilbo’s one worry came just over two weeks into their stay. He had just returned from the river, having washed himself, only to find Mithril and Minriel sitting in the laps of Minriel’s great-grandparents. Both girls were dirtied, with several scrapes on their arms and faces. Bilbo immediately rushed over, only slightly calmed as Galadriel’s magic healed the girls.

“What happened?” he cried. He threw himself to his knees and began to check the girls over for more injuries, much to the amusement of Galadriel and Celeborn.

“They fell out of a tree while playing,” Tauriel supplied. Though her face was set in a stern expression at the girls’ foolishness, her eyes twinkled. “They were not harmed seriously.”

Bilbo muttered something unintelligibly under his breath. Finished with inspecting Mithril, he turned to Minriel. As he did he couldn’t help but notice that Haldir was watching her curiously, an unreadable look in his dark eyes. Bilbo didn’t comment, studying the elf from the corner of his eye. With blonde hair, the front corners of which were braided back across the sides of his head, the only features distinguishing him from what Bilbo remembered of Prince Legolas of Mirkwood was his dark brown eyes and the sterner set of his face. Still, like all others of his kind, he bore a slender body and pointed ears.

Bilbo made sure to keep his eye on Haldir throughout the rest of their visit. Though the elf was as cordial to the visitors as he had been at the beginning of their stay, Bilbo could sense that Haldir held a slight fascination for Minriel. If anyone else noticed it Bilbo didn’t know, but he decided that mentioning it wouldn’t be the best idea. Thorin would likely have an aneurism. Bilbo didn’t want to know what Aragorn would do.

* * * * *

The morning of their departure Bilbo and Mithril went searching for Galadriel, only to find her sitting with Minriel. The two were murmuring softly in Sindarin, and as the hobbit and his daughter approached the two ellith broke off their conversation. Though Bilbo wondered at what they had been discussing, he didn’t ask. He didn’t get the chance to, for Mithril’s eyes had locked onto their second activity. Her cousin sat between her great-grandmother’s legs, the elf’s slender fingers deftly plaiting back Minriel’s raven hair.

“I wanna braid hair too,” Mithril whined. She turned to her father, a pleading look in her eyes, and Bilbo bit his lip.

Galadriel’s light laughter sounded in his ear. “Come Mithril,” she called. “You can braid my hair.”

Bilbo watched with his mouth partially agape as Mithril bounded eagerly forward. Soon her fingers were twisting the Lady Galadriel’s hair back and into a rather sloppy but hard-worked braid. With pride Mithril surveyed it, letting the blonde rope fall over the elf’s shoulders. As Galadriel finished her work on Minriel’s hair she inspected what Mithril had done, and to her credit, didn’t even seem to notice the poor craftsmanship.

“Very nice,” she complimented. “Would you like me to braid your hair?”

Mithril pursued her lips, then shrugged. She rather did, but she also felt that as the older cousin she had to be more mature. Which meant no letting adults do your hair for you.

Galadriel seemed to know what she was thinking, for she smiled wanly. “How about I teach Minriel how to braid hair, and she can practice on you,” she suggested.

Mithril nodded. Being the guinea pig for her little cousin’s braiding experiments was very grown up, in her opinion.

When an hour later the group departed, the girls embraced Galadriel and Celeborn lovingly and sadly. They had enjoyed their time there, and were eager for their next visit.

“Behave yourselves girls,” Celeborn warned. “Don’t listen to a thing my grandsons have to say.”

The girls giggled; by now they had heard myriad stories of the mischief Minriel’s Uncles Elrohir and Elladan were constantly involved in. They were hoping to learn their tricks and take them back to Erebor with them.

“Oh, we will,” promised Minriel. She was rewarded with a small chuckle by the lord of the forest.

“Have a good journey,” Galadriel said softly.

“Yes G- My Lady.” Mithril had to cut off mid-sentence to keep from calling the elf great grandmother. Despite the fact that she shared no blood with the elf or her husband, the two had insisted that not only Minriel, but Mithril as well, call them great grandmother and great grandfather. Even they seemed to realize that there was to be no separating the two, and so they did what they could to lessen the gap between them.

A few more parting words were exchanged, and then they were off. Bilbo was rather amused to see Gloin in perhaps an even edgier mood than when they had first arrived, his eyes flickering suspiciously around.

“It’s about time,” he growled. “Let’s get away from here. There is a witch in those woods.”

“A witch?” Bilbo blinked in surprise at Gloin’s words. The dwarf had always been superstitious, but this was a bit far, even for him.

“Aye,” growled Gloin. “I heard her voice in my head. Trying to lure us in, she was.” He shook his fist. “Not this dwarf!”

Bilbo had to turn away so that Gloin wouldn’t see him roll his eyes.

*****

Mithril had only been two years old when she had last crossed the high pass of the Misty Mountains, Minriel not even a year old. Then Minriel had been oblivious to her surroundings, nestled safely against her father’s chest, and Mithril had bounded ahead with that note of nonchalantly that only toddlers possessed. A note that Bilbo had not shared as he had edged along the cliff after her. Now, however, Mithril made sure to walk in between her father and cousin, ready to catch either should they slip. This Minriel noticed, and gave Mithril an eye roll for it, but as she was soon slipping on the loose rocks that were strewn across the path she couldn’t outright complain. Indeed, a half hour after they had first stepped onto the narrow path Minriel had the misfortune to step on a loose section of the slope. As it gave way beneath her she let out a startled gasp, and though it was unclear if she would have fallen to her death far below, only Mithril’s firm grip on her upper arm kept her from finding out.

Unfortunately for Mithril, her leap backwards toward Minriel had put her at such a position that she could see clearly the sheer drop beneath them. When she had been younger she had been all but oblivious to the dangers of the world, haughty in a little girl’s feeling of security. Now, nearly faced with the idea of losing her precious cousin, and finding herself looking out over the heights that she knew her father despised, she was herself barreled with the same fear that plagued Bilbo. With a gulp she stepped quickly back, removing her hand from Minriel’s shoulder before the girl could notice its shaking.

“Are you alright?” she asked. When Minriel nodded with eyes only slightly widened to betray her own moment of panic, Mithril gave a short nod and turned back to the path. “Try not to trip again,” she barked.

For the rest of their journey across the high path Mithril took care to sweep away the loose stones from the path, ignoring the very long time it was before she heard the clunk of them finally landing on the ground below. She also tested the ground, pointing out to Minriel where it was weaker.

 

* * * * *

The rest of their journey was uneventful, but as the party grew ever closer to Rivendell Minriel felt her heartrate increase. She had by now heard all there was to hear about the circumstances surrounding her birth, and knew that the lord of Rivendell, her grandfather, had been positively murderous at the knowledge of her conception.

As they neared the wide bridge that was all that separated them from Rivendell Minriel paused, her breathing growing labored from anxiety. As Mithril reached over to take her hand Minriel felt her heart steady ever so slightly. She looked over to her cousin, and as she received a comforting nod from her, Minriel lifted her chin. She could do this. She started forward, slowing slightly as Mithril involuntarily resisted her cousin’s pull. Frowning, Minriel looked back to see Mithril staring at the high bridge and the river rushing beneath, hazel eyes wide in terror.

Minriel’s jaw nearly dropped open. Was Mithril afraid of heights? She thought back to her cousin’s curt attitude on the high pass, which had begun only after Mithril had looked over the edge of the ravine they traversed. Somehow, she found the idea of her cousin’s fear preposterous. Mithril, with her temper like fire and nerves as hard as the metal for which she was named, was as solid and steady to Minriel as the rock the dwarves loved. Her mind blatantly rejected the notion that her cousin was afraid of anything.

Yet here Mithril stood, unable to take as much as one step onto the bridge. Minriel had to bite back a sudden peal of laughter, and then turned her mind to how to get Mithril to cross the bridge. What would be enough to force her cousin to overcome her fears?

“Mith,” she whispered. “I’m scared.”

Mithril’s head snapped round at her cousin’s words, following Minriel’s wide grey eyes to where Lord Elrond’s house stood high above the valley. As Minriel gulped nervously beside her Mithril felt her nerves steel. Minriel needed her. Mithril couldn’t let her own fears stop her; she had to take care of Min. That was her job, and Mithril would not fail at it.

“I’m right here,” she whispered back. She squeezed Minriel’s hand comfortingly, passing her an encouraging smile. “Elrond’ll love you. Or he’ll have me to answer to.”

That caused Minriel to giggle, and with a lighter feeling in her heart Mithril stepped forward. Determined now to not show any weakness for her cousin’s sake, she didn’t slow as she crossed the bridge, though she suspected she may have unconsciously held her breath. Once across she looked back to her da, but, encouraged by the sight of his daughter crossing in seeming fearlessness over the rushing water, Bilbo had also started forward. Soon the company had reformed at the gates to Rivendell.

Minriel’s fear returned to her full force as they left the bridge behind. Panic rose within her, quelling all other sensations, until her breathing grew haggard. Not even the presence of Mithril by her side could staunch her worry.

Standing at the entrance to Elrond’s house was Arwen and three male elves. Minriel had to resist the urge to fling herself into her mother’s arms, knowing that the elves who were beginning to gather around them would notice the action. She turned her attention to the three elves that stood behind her mother. On the step behind her, wearing identical grins on their faces, were two dark haired elves who Minriel assumed were her uncles Elrohir and Elladan. It felt odd to her, seeing her own family after so long believing them to be dead. After spending her whole life as an adoptee in a mountain of dwarves, Minriel was finding herself unused to having a family of her own. Nonetheless, based on the stories her mother had told her of the elf’s two older brothers, Minriel suspected that she would enjoy that particular part of her family.

With more than a little trepidation she turned her gaze to the lord of the valley. Lord Elrond stood on the uppermost step, observing the company with hard brown eyes and an unreadable face. As the elf’s gaze fell on her, Minriel had to fight not to cringe away from his stern expression. Vaguely she was aware of Mithril glaring a silent challenge to the elf, just daring him to hurt her cousin in any way, shape, or form.

It seemed like they stood assembled in silence for many minutes, though in actuality it was likely only seconds. Then Elrond slowly descended the stairs, coming to a stop before Bilbo, who had pushed his way to the front of the group.

“Bilbo Baggins,” Elrond began. His voice was young, unreflective of his many years, yet it echoed with wisdom. “I see you have returned from the mountain of Erebor. Do you return permanently to the Shire?”

“I have received news that my cousin Drogo and his wife Primula have just had a child. I journey to meet my nephew,” Bilbo stated. “We were hoping to rest here for some time before completing our journey.”

Elrond nodded. “Of course,” he stated. “I welcome you all to my house. I recognize three of your companions, the two children who accompanied you on your last visit and a dwarf who was your peer in the company of the mountain king. But who are the others?”

Bilbo quickly made introductions, and though Elrond did give a blink of surprise when it was mentioned that Tauriel was the wife of not just any dwarf, but Thorin Oakenshield’s nephew, he otherwise gave only a quick welcome before leaving the company with some house staff who could show them where to wash up.

The girls washed quickly, and were unsurprised to find Arwen waiting for them in the room they were to share. As soon as the door closed behind the girls Minriel shot forward and into her mother’s waiting arms, and when, a full minute later, the two finally pulled apart, Mithril too let herself be pulled into the elf’s embrace. After spending some time catching up on their lives Arwen flung open the door once more to reveal her brothers waiting impatiently on the other side. The two all but bounced into the room, and Mithril and Minriel exchanged knowing glances as they were reminded instantly of their uncles Fili and Kili.

“Hi,” began one. “I’m Elrohir. Your uncle Elrohir.”

Minriel turned her gaze between him and his brother. They were identical in all ways, and wore grins that were halfway between joy at finally meeting their niece and mischievous.

“No you’re not,” Minriel decided. She pointed to the other elf. “You’re Uncle Elrohir. You’re Uncle Elladan.” She pointed back to the elf who had addressed her, and had the satisfaction of seeing both boys’ mouths fall open in shock. On either side of Minriel Arwen and Mithril snickered.

“You,” began Elladan. “Are good.” He dove forward and pulled Minriel into a bear hug, and she giggled as he swung her in a circle. Instead of setting the girl down he simply handed her off to Elrohir, and his twin swung her back and forth.

“Welcome to the family,” he whispered. As Minriel was finally set down she felt tears in her eyes, and all three elves avoided each other’s gaze.

“You must be Mithril,” Elladan exclaimed a moment later. Needing something to break the awkward silence that had settled over the room, he had latched onto the small girl that stood back, giving the elven family room to greet each other. As Mithril’s hazel eyes met his Elladan pulled her into a hug as well, and then Elrohir did the same.

“You were barely out of your infanthood when you last were here,” Elrohir reminisced. He grinned, studying the young girl the toddler had grown into. Though she wasn’t nearly as giggly as she had once been, more serious as her eyes kept careful track of her cousin’s movements, there was little else different about her other than her height.

Mithril grinned up at them. “I remember you two,” she stated. “I remember-” and here she slowly reached to her belt to withdraw her water skin, uncapping the nearly full container, “that you threw me into the river and got my clothes all wet. I looked like a drowned rat.”

The boys erupted into laughter at the memory, laughter that was immediately cut short as Mithril lashed out with the water skin. Water splashed across both their fronts, and for good measure Arwen lifted her so that she could dump what was left of the skins onto their heads. Behind her Minriel broke into guffaws.

“You.” Elladan’s mouth opened and closed, and Mithril laughed as water dripped into his mouth. “You-”

“Come here!” Elrohir lunged for her, and she nimbly stepped to the side. Together, as if of one mind, she and Minriel bolted for the door, pausing in the doorway just long enough to shoot matching grins at the twins.

“Catch us if you can,” sang Minriel. Then they were gone.

By the time the two boys had recovered from their shock and entered the hall, the girls were gone. They ignored Arwen’s laughter from behind them- their sister would pay later- and split up. Each plotted what they would do to the two girls once they were found. Maybe they’d throw them in the river again. Or perhaps they’d stuff them in barrels and roll them down the valley hill.

Minriel and Mithril ran through Elrond’s house, giggling quietly as they went. They had no idea where they were in the mansion or where they were going, but they knew that the moment they stopped moving one of Minriel’s uncles would catch up with them.

As they came to a set of staircases at the end of a hallway they debated if they should go up or down. Down would lead them to the main level of the house, where Elrond might be dining with Bilbo. Either way, they knew Bilbo would be there, and didn’t want to risk him ordering them to stop their game. They ran up the stairs, glancing behind them as they heard the teasing calls of one of the twins.

Soon the sounds of both boys filled the air behind them, and the girls picked up their pace. They blindly turned a corner, desperate to escape before they lost the chase, and Minriel crashed head first into the elf that was walking down the hall.

Lord Elrond’s hands came up automatically to catch the child before she could fall, but as soon as she had regained her balance he released her and stepped hastily back. To the side Mithril skidded to a stop and came to stand by her cousin’s side, tense with wary eyes.

Elrond barely noticed her. He was studying his granddaughter, trying to read who she was in her expression. Grey eyes- eyes so much like Aragorn’s- were wide with terror and a tinge of hope. As Elrond pulled away hurt flashed through those eyes, though it was quickly done away with. For a moment they stood there, staring at each other, and were only interrupted when Elrohir and Elladan barreled up the hallway. They nearly crashed into the girls, but were able to skid to a stop. Now the two elves and the quarterling stood watching the lord and his granddaughter fearfully.

Then, before Elrond could even work his tongue to ask what in the name of the Valar was going on, Minriel stepped forward and wrapped her slender arms around his waist. As she buried her face into his stomach Elrond felt himself respond automatically, lifting his arms to draw her into their circle. As he became aware of his actions he nearly drew away. This was not how he wanted things to go; warm and gooey. He wanted time to observe the girl before he decided if he would love her. Now, with the feeling of her heart pounding against him, he found that he couldn’t resist.

He pulled away just enough to kneel down before her, then drew his granddaughter more firmly against him. They stayed like that for a minute, until Elrond finally pulled away again. He planted a kiss on the side of her head and stood, smiling down at her with eyes that were much softer than before.

Elladan and Elrohir let out sighs of relief, and Mithril visibly relaxed. Elrond cast a smile around the group gathered in the hallway.

“Why don’t we retire to my study,” he suggested. He led the way, his family trailing behind him. They stopped briefly to gather Arwen, and she joined them warily, her gaze drifting between her father and daughter.

Elrond knew why. He had been vehemently opposed to Arwen’s marriage with Aragorn; her pregnancy had been nearly too much for him to handle. Though Arwen could see in her father’s eyes that he had fallen under his granddaughter’s spell, they both knew that deep down, there was a part of him that wished, and always would wish, that Minriel had never been born.

He determined to push those thoughts to the side, taking Minriel into his lap as they all sat in the study. Arwen sat in between her brothers and Mithril, the young girl seeming to want distance between herself and Elrond’s sons. As Elrond took in the water on their shirts and recalled the chase he had intruded upon through his house, he could only guess why.

 

* * * * *

The next morning Mithril woke as she was shoved into a barrel. She squirmed, but whoever had pushed her in had now righted the barrel, and Mithril only succeeded in tipping it onto its side. Not far off she could hear Minriel’s shouts as the same was done to her.

She glared up at one of the twins as he poked his head into her view. “Morning,” he called. “We were thinking,” and now he effortlessly lifted the barrel, “that your father is known as Barrel-Rider. Now you can be too!”

Minriel and Mithril screamed as they were tossed into the river. Their ride was short but fast, filled with Minriel’s screams of joy. Mithril squealed in terror; hobbits hated water, being denser than most folk, but a child that was part hobbit, part dwarf was especially dense, and thus Mithril suspected she hated large bodies of water more than most.

Despite that fact her barrel was holding its own as it clunked down the river, and with Minriel’s laughter in her ear Mithril felt herself enjoying herself- if only slightly. The twins bounded along the river beside the barrels, and as they drifted to shore the twins grabbed the girls from within and set them on their feet. As soon as that was done they ran for it, knowing better than to stick around.

When Mithril and Minriel sloshed into Elrond’s house some minutes later, Elrond and Bilbo only exchanged amused looks at the state of the two.

Calmly, Elrond pointed to the kitchens. “The boys are in there,” he told them.

 

* * * * *

Bilbo was quite relieved that Elrond seemed to adapt to Minriel so easily. He had worried if the elf would be able to show his granddaughter compassion. And though he felt sorry that he had to at last part them, he was nonetheless pleased by the sorrow in the eyes of the lord of the house and his children as the company finally left Rivendell.

Mithril, Bilbo, and Gloin all grew tense as they passed through the fields outside of Rivendell, all three remembering orc encounters in those fields. Yet their journey passed without incident, and Bilbo determinedly kept his group away from the remains of the three mountain trolls. It seemed that they triggered their skirmishes.

They stopped briefly in Bree, and though Bilbo inquired at the inn they stayed at, the Prancing Pony, for Strider, he was told that the ranger hadn’t been seen in some time. Bilbo wasn’t surprised; Aragorn had to lead the Dúnedain, and would likely venture south to visit Gondor, his homeland. One would want to see the land they were meant to rule, even if their future as king of said land was in question.

At last they approached the Shire, and Bilbo found himself bouncing with excitement as they entered town. Though Erebor was his home and he was quite happy there, he did occasionally miss his family so far away. Thoughts of the newest addition to his family caused his feet to hurry up.

Mithril bounded ahead with a sense of familiarity, pointing out to Minriel places where she had played as a toddler. Her cousin gazed around her in wonder, seemingly oblivious to the stares of the hobbits who exited their homes to watch the group. Mithril found herself blushing ever so slightly as many hobbits’ gazes were drawn to the boots on her feet. She knew that she was remembered, and her shoes were considered an abhorrence in the Shire. Still, she refused to pull them off. She had taken to wearing them in Erebor, where boots were the normality near the sharp edges of so much rock. Though Mithril’s feet were somewhat larger and tougher than a dwarf’s feet, she had still cut her soles occasionally, and her papa had gotten her boots. Sometimes, however, she did go barefoot, though carefully. She decided that she would have to do so while visiting the Shire.

Bilbo led the group straight to Bag-End, frowning slightly as he saw that Drogo had repainted the front door a rather ghastly yellow. In the process the burglar’s mark had been wiped clean. Bilbo pushed thoughts of it to the side, striding to the door and knocking on it.

Drogo answered with a wide smile, and the two hobbits embraced warmly.

“Bilbo!” he exclaimed. “I was wondering how long it would take you to return.”

Bilbo laughed. “We stopped to see some old friends along the way,” he explained. “Also, I am coming from quite a ways away.”

Drogo nodded seriously, though there was a twinkle in his eyes. “Very well,” he said. “Come in. Frodo’s just woken up; you have good timing.”

They found Primula sitting in Bilbo’s old armchair, cradling a small bundle in her arms. Mithril smiled softly, remembering vague memories of sitting with her da in that very chair. Beside her Bilbo smiled softly, recalling the same moments.

Introductions were quickly made, and Mithril was pulled into a hearty hug by her Uncle Drogo. Minriel was introduced as her cousin, and though Drogo and Primula both raised their brows at this, Bilbo was not asked for the story that he still used to explain Minriel’s family.

As Drogo drew Bilbo to the side to talk Gloin shouldered his way into the pantry. As the only one of the company besides Bilbo and Mithril who had been in Bag-End before, he had decided that it was his responsibility to look after the others since no one else was. Soon he had the dwarves raiding the pantry the same way that he and a different company had done so long ago, and with a smile Bilbo stood back and let them.

While the dwarves and elf set to arranging something for them all to eat, Minriel and Mithril approached Primula, peering over her shoulder at the baby she held. He was smaller than Minriel had thought he would be, with a tuft of dark hair and wide, piercing blue eyes.

Much the same as she had once done with Minriel, Mithril glared at her aunt until, with a small chuckle, the hobbit handed over her son. Mithril folded onto the floor, sitting with baby Frodo in her lap. Her fingers toyed with the small fist that waved at her, and Minriel giggled and reached forward to let Frodo take her finger in his. Mithril smiled softly as she shifted her gaze back and forth between her two little cousins, forming promises in her mind to keep them safe from all harm.

Chapter Text

Thranduil studied the two girls in front of him. At fourteen and twelve years old, Mithril and Minriel were, in his opinion, the Valar’s idea of a prank on all of Middle Earth.

The two were constantly getting into mischief. Whether it was raiding his kitchens or scaring the gentle animals that gathered around the Greenwood- for his forest would always be called Greenwood, not Mirkwood in his mind- castle as they romped past. When they would approach his kingdom their loud singing, along with the voice of Kili, would fill the air. Every time Thranduil heard that singing approach he steeled himself for a week that was due to be anything but boring.

Yet at the same time, he always found his heart growing lighter as the girls approached. Despite the ruckus they caused they were children, and such spirited children that even the frosty elven king couldn’t resist them. Over the years the interactions between the three had grown increasingly informal, until he had begun to consider himself their unofficial uncle. He even allowed them to call him their silly pet names.

Minriel looked up, feeling his gaze on her, and he came to stand behind her to gaze over her shoulder at her work. Although the girl’s papers were dotted with doodles, her work was nonetheless thorough.

He reached down to squeeze her shoulder in a subtle gesture of love. He cared for both children, despite Mithril’s dwarven heritage, but he found that he favored Minriel slightly. It was only fair; Thranduil suspected the opposite was true within Erebor. Here in Greenwood, Minriel was near someone who was, for once, partial to her.

The girls were growing fidgety with their work, their attention span shortening more and more. At last Thranduil sighed and crossed to the door.

“Come,”he commanded softly. “There is something I would like to show you.”

Eagerly the girls stood to follow him, and Thranduil couldn’t help but rejoice that Mithril had long since lost the distrust that had plagued her steps as a child. Though he suspected she didn’t trust him completely, or any elf for that matter- with the exception of her cousin and Tauriel- due to Thorin’s training, she had long since decided that he wasn’t going to attack them when she wasn’t paying attention.

The three pattered softly through the halls, trailed by Tauriel and Kili. As always, the couple stood back and let Thranduil interact freely with the children, knowing that he rejoiced in every moment of the week he had with them. As Minriel and Mithril realized where Thranduil was leading them they sped up eagerly.

   “Are we gonna ride Prophoeir?”asked Minriel. Her eyes were alight with hope, and Thranduil almost felt bad when he shook his head no.

“I believe what I have planned is better,”he stated.

Soon they came to the fenced in courtyard where his elk lived. The grass here was strong, perfect for grazing, and a small hut with an open door provided shelter for Prophoeir during bad weather. The elk in question was lying in the center of the courtyard, but the girls ignored him for the first time in their lives. Their gazes were raptured by the small elk that was curled up between its father’s legs.

“Oh!”Mithril rushed forward, reaching out gently to stroke the elk’s soft fur. Although Prophoeir watched her cautiously, he had known the girl long enough to realize she was of no threat. A moment later Minriel had joined her cousin and the two began to coo over the elk.

“Does he have a name?”asked Mithril.

Thranduil tore his gaze away from where the baby elk’s mother had just exited the hut and shook his head.

“Not yet,”he told them.

Minriel turned to him at that. “Can we name him? Please?”

Thranduil sighed as she turned a puppy-dog look towards him. How did a child so rotten manage to look so sweet?

With pretend reluctance he nodded. “But nothing foolish,”he warned them. “And no dwarvish names.”

The girls nodded and put their heads together to think. A minute later they straightened again, and Minriel turned to Thranduil.

“Bambi,”she declared.

Thranduil pursed his lips as he mulled over the name, and then nodded.

“Very well.”He crossed over to them and knelt down beside them, running a gentle hand over Prophoeir’s flank. “When Bambi is old enough, he shall be yours.”

The girls squealed in delight and threw their arms around their secret uncle, and Thranduil smiled happily.

 

* * * * *

 

The girls wanted to spend as much time as possible with Bambi, and so for the next several months Thranduil allowed them to bring their studies to the courtyard. There he would lean against Prophoeir, and the girls would curl up with Bambi as he lectured them. The result was that the elk grew to trust them immediately, and so when he was finally big enough to be ridden he didn’t tap dance around as Prophoeir had once done.

That didn’t mean he liked the saddle that Thranduil slung over his back. The elven king showed the girls how to properly tighten the straps, and then lifted Minriel onto Bambi’s back. He led the pair at a slow walk around the courtyard, and then allowed Mithril to take her cousin’s place.

By the time he allowed them to bring Bambi back to Erebor, the elk was large enough for both girls to sit on at once. Often the two girls and Thranduil would go on adventures throughout Greenwood, riding together on their elks. Sometimes they would quietly talk, but more often than not they would simply listen to the merry chirping of the forest’s wildlife.

 

* * * * *

 

Bilbo hurried outside to welcome his family home, eager to see them again. Though they were only gone for a week at a time, Bilbo always disliked those weeks. He missed Mithril and Minriel especially. He also knew what sort of trouble they could get into, and worried about them.

Naturally, he was surprised to see the girls ride through the gates atop a proud elk. With a saddle that could only be of elven make, the elk walked with ease despite the added weight of the girls, and Bilbo knew that the cousins were practiced at riding the creature. Nonetheless, he bolted forward in near panic and pulled them from the tall creature’s back before one of them- namely Minriel- could fall.

“What is that?”

Bilbo glanced back to see Thorin staring in openmouthed shock at the elk. Around the courtyard several other dwarves were doing the same. The girls didn’t care, hopping forward excitedly.

“His name is Bambi, Papa,”declared Mithril. “Thrandy gave him to us!”

Thorin’s face twisted at the mention of his least favorite elf, and Bilbo placed a calming hand on his husband’s arm. He did remember the girls telling them how the elven king’s elks had given birth, and that the baby had been given to them. He’d just never expected that they would use the elk as a steed, or that they would bring their steed back to Erebor.

Well, he wasn’t about to deny them their elk. He waved over a dwarf, pointing to the Bambi.

“Please arrange a place in the castle stables for…Bambi,”he said.

The dwarf nodded and led off the elk, though he wore a confused frown upon his face.

Thorin had let his head fall into his hands, and was muttering under his breath. With a chuckle Bilbo pressed a kiss to his cheek.

“Really,”he scolded. “We should have known this would happen.”He shook his head and laughed lightly. “They never cease to amaze me.”

As Thorin sighed in dismay, Mithril and Minriel beamed up at them.

 

* * * * *

 

It started with Gimli and Minriel. Gimli said something- what, Bilbo had no idea- that offended his cousin. So, that night when Gimli went to bed, the young dwarf found a cluster of bugs scampering across his pillow and a snake curled up under his blankets. Bilbo suspected the entire mountain heard him scream.

Gimli retaliated the next day, putting a spider he found on Minriel’s back during breakfast. Mithril was the first to notice, and when she pointed out the eight legged creature Minriel screeched and threw it off her. Mithril rushed forward and stomped on it, and then together, the two turned deadly glares on Gimli, who was laughing not far away.

So a war began; Gimli against the two girls. Gloin stepped in to help his son, and Oin followed suit. Not to let the girls lose, Tauriel, Kili, Fili, and Dis had begun to whisper ideas to them. Soon the entire company was involved, everyone picking a side. Although Bilbo sided with his daughter and niece, he soon found that the war turned to a boys against girls sort of thing. So anyone with any sense- which seemed to be limited to Bilbo- bowed out and hid in the library, letting the others have at it. To his amusement, the girls, despite being vastly outnumbered, were winning.

A week later a package arrived from Gandalf, and judging by the excited grins of the girls as they’d grabbed it, Bilbo could only wonder what the wizard had sent them. Eros only knew the wizard gave them half their ideas. He toyed with retreating to Beorn’s house for some time, but reconsidered. Chances were his giant friend would, upon hearing of the war, decide it was time to take a trip to Erebor.

Matters only got worse- or, in the girls’opinion, better- when Arwen, Aragorn, Elrohir, and Elladan arrived from Rivendell. Gladly they joined the prank war, and Bilbo began to fear for the safety of Erebor.

He kept them, from the most part, from launching any pranks during dinner. Towards the start of the war someone- who, Bilbo had no idea- had put some sort of awful spice in the food when Bombur wasn’t looking, and Bilbo’s meal had been ruined. He had quickly laid down some ground rules; his family could do whatever they liked to each other, but they were to keep Bilbo and his dinner out of it. After all, one does not simply mess with a hobbit's food.

That didn’t stop them, however, from launching insults and food across the table. Bilbo ducked to avoid a piece of bread, considering crawling under the table. Beside him Thorin was calmly eating his supper, the only one besides Bilbo who desisted from the food fight. He was a king, and a dignified one at that. He refused to be seen walking around with mashed potatoes in his hair, even if the rest didn’t mind.

Unfortunately for him, his daughter seemed to forget this. The table froze as she hurled a glop of food at him, and the mess hit him right in the face. The mixture of mashed potatoes and gravy dripped slowly down and into Thorin’s beard, and Mithril gulped, on the verge of regretting her actions.

Everyone stared with wide eyes and agape mouths to where the king himself was motionless. Thorin failed to even blink, and Mithril exchanged worried glances with her cousin.

Thorin reached up to wipe away some of the gook with his hand, inspecting it. His blue eyes went to Mithril, and then back to the gook, his expression unreadable the entire time. Then, with an amused smile and twinkling eyes, he threw the food back at her. Within moments the food fight had resumed with a new fervor, and with a sigh Bilbo launched a couple of pieces of carrot at Nori. If he couldn’t beat them he might as well join them, even if it pained him to waste perfectly good food.

 

* * * * *

 

Thranduil braced himself as the dwarves approached his castle. The end of the year was approaching, and he had decided it was time for Minriel to experience an elf’s celebration of the occasion. He had of course invited Mithril and the ambassadors of Erebor, and had been slightly alarmed when several others of their family had decided to join.

Bilbo was curious at the occasion. After hearing several stories from Arwen and her brothers, who would be attending the event with Aragorn, he was eager to see the festivities for himself. He told Thorin that some cultural diversity would hurt no one, and reluctantly the king agreed to come. Fili was convinced by his brother to join them, and Dis declared that she wasn’t staying behind. She knew that the girls were planning to continue the prank war while in Mirkwood, and she was not going to miss that. When Thorin objected, insisting she stay behind to look after Erebor, she rolled her eyes.

“Balin can manage things,”she declared. Coupled with her narrowed eyes, her statement caused her brother to shut his mouth, and the matter was settled.

As soon as Thranduil heard of the prank war happening within the family he frowned.

“Don’t involve me,”he warned. “Or you’ll be sleeping in the dungeons.”

Mithril and Minriel giggled and brought Bambi to see his parents, and Bilbo had quickly sought out a place to hide. Soon, the forest had echoed with giggles and screams as the prank war continued.

 

* * * * *

 

The girls, using Tauriel’s knowledge of the forest’s herbs, slipped something into the boys’dinners that night. Only Bilbo and Thranduil had been spared. Thranduil himself supplied the barrels they needed, and the dwarves, two elves, and man woke to find themselves crammed into barrels in the cellar. Bilbo stood at the lever, tapping his foot as he waited for them to rouse themselves.

“What-”Aragorn moved his head around groggily, slowly becoming aware of the wooden planks around him. He poked his head out of the barrel to see the others slowly waking, and then saw Bilbo standing off to the side.

“Good morning,”called the hobbit pleasantly. He grabbed the lever, and Aragorn’s eyes widened. “Have a nice ride.”

As the floor opened beneath the barrels, the men could only give shouts of fright.

 

* * * * *

 

Bilbo went to join Thranduil on one of the upper floors of the castle, watching the barrels rush downstream. Thranduil pursed his lips together; the screams of the prank victims were audible even from there.

“You realize they will want revenge,”he reminded Bilbo.

Bilbo nodded. “I know,”he sighed. He gave Thranduil a quick glance. “Can I hide here for a while?”

Thranduil laughed softly, but nodded.

 

* * * * *

 

The barrels finally drifted to a stop, and Thorin recognized that it was the same place they had ended up at the last time he had been in a barrel. The last time had not been pleasant either, but at least now they weren’t being chased by orcs all the way down the river.

He groaned as the barrel clunked against shore, and he began to shove his way out. He fell ungracefully into the water, and began to mutter a stream of curses under his breath. Bilbo was going to pay, Thorin decided. He didn’t know how, he didn’t know when, but Bilbo was going to pay.

Around him the others were sloshing their way to shore, each muttering a series of curses under their breaths. Thorin spun as a rather large wave of water rushed at him, nearly knocking him off his feet. Approaching from the direction of Dale was an old barge that the mountain king recognized.

“Need help?”called Bard.

Thorin resisted the urge to begin cursing again at the delighted gleam in the lord’s eyes. How in the name of Mahal had he known what was going to happen? Then he remembered that Arwen had made a brief stop in Dale with her brothers on the way to Mirkwood, wanting to show them the city, and groaned.

Bard laughed at the sight of the three dwarves, two elves, and ranger standing on the side of the river. Each was soaking wet, looking like half drowned rats. Or some sort of half drowned creature. Bard threw a wooden plank over the side of his old barge, and each clambered on board. They huddled at the center of the boat, and Bard almost wished he had brought them blankets. Almost, but not quite.

The girls were gathered at the entrance to the Mirkwood castle when Bard escorted the men to the gates. They sat munching on cheese and fruit, and as the still wet men tromped across the bridge the women pressed their lips together to keep from laughing, though they couldn’t resist a few smirks and chuckles. Minriel and Mithril, who were sitting as far away from the bridge as possible, made no attempt to quiet their guffaws.

“Have a nice dip, brother dear?”called Dis. Her eyes twinkled mischievously, and Thorin’s stony glare only made her break into laughter.

“Kili,”scolded Tauriel, “you really shouldn’t scowl like that. Your face might freeze that way.”

Arwen leaned over to the red haired elf. “They look rather like half drowned rats, don’t they?”She commented slyly.

Tauriel nodded eagerly, and Bard chuckled.

“That’s what I thought,”he agreed. He vaguely registered the prank victims shooting him glares as they stomped into the castle.

“I’ll be off then,”he declared. He bowed briefly. “Thank you for allowing me a part in this.”He laughed. “It was much fun.”

Tauriel nodded. “Of course.”

“Won’t you stay?”asked Dis. She was eyeing Bard like he was a piece of meat, a barely contained smile twitching at her lips as the mischievous gleam in her eyes gave away her forming agenda against the lord.

Bard snorted. “Why, so you can torment me? No, thank you. Besides, my son Bain is about to be a father; I couldn't miss the arrival of his child.”

The eyes of all three women and the two children brightened considerably at that.

“Congratulations,”said Arwen. There was a smile on her face that was tinged with sadness as she stepped forward to embrace the lord of Dale.

“Can we see the baby when it’s born?”asked Mithril. She was nearly bouncing in anticipation at the thought of the babe. Bard suspected that the girl added about everyone she met to her family.

He chuckled. “Of course,”he said. “You’re welcome in Dale always.”

The girls grinned, and Bard sent them a soft smile. “A good day to you ladies,”he called. He clambered into his boat, which he had salvaged after Smaug’s attack on Lake Town so many years ago. Though he no longer needed it to provide for his family, he had been reluctant to part with it.

As the girls sitting by the doors of the elven castle waved Bard noticed splashes of pink on their hands and clothes. Somehow, he doubted it was from an art project.

 

 

* * * * *

 

“Ok.”Aragorn shut the door to Elrohir and Elladan’s room behind him, throwing himself on a bed. “What are we going to do to Arwen?”

The boys gave him incredulous looks. “You want to prank Arwen?”exclaimed Elladan. “Are you mad?”

Aragorn tilted his head as he considered. “Probably,”he admitted.

The boys grinned. “I have an idea,”said Elrohir. His grin became increasingly wicked. “Did you know that Arwen hates birds?”

Aragorn nodded. “Aye,”he said. “She’s terrified one will drop its scat on her head.”He chuckled. The few times a bird had flown over them while they had been out and about, Arwen had all but screamed and dove for cover.

Elladan was catching on. “I know quite a few bird calls,”he told them. “And Arwen loves to stroll through the courtyards.”

 

* * * * *

 

Arwen was enjoying her walk. The sun was high, the wind was soft, and she had just had the enjoyment of enacting the prank of the century on her husband and brothers.

Her quiet peace was disturbed by a series of loud squawks overhead. Arwen glanced up at the sky, and was horrified to see dozens of birds flying overhead. Birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and all were flying right at her.

Arwen screeched, but before she could retreat indoors the birds were upon her. By the time they flew off, the Evenstar was covered in multiple bird droppings. Standing there in shock, she knew that many birds could only have been summoned by one person.

Her suspicions were confirmed when chortling sounded off to the side. Glancing over, Arwen saw Elladan, Elrohir, and Aragorn lurking in the shadows. Now they were all doubled over laughing, Aragorn leaning against a vine wrought column of the palace, Elrohir and Elladan leaning against each other.

Aragorn was the first to realize they’d been spotted. Frantically he shoved at the boys until they glanced up, and their eyes travelled to where Arwen stood. Dripping in white bird poo, she was leveling a glare at them that told all three boys that they would suffer.

“Run,”recommended Elrohir.

They ran.

 

* * * * *

 

Thorin, Fili, and Kili pounded through the halls of Thranduil’s castle. They had just made the mistake of tossing buckets of water on Dis and Tauriel, who had been sitting in the perfect spot for it playing cards. This was of course, after using a carefully softened quill and pot of ink to paint the faces of Minriel and Mithril while the girls napped. After their move on Tauriel and Dis they had run for it, knowing that they needed to hide, and fast.

Thorin skidded to a stop, holding up his hands for his nephews to slow behind him. A small noise in a broom closet had taken his attention, a noise that came from something that was too big to be a rat. Thorin approached slowly, half expecting Mithril and Minriel to jump out at him, and flung open the door.

Aragorn, Elladan, and Elrohir were hiding in the broom closet, wide eyed panic on their faces. Clearly they had been expecting someone else, probably Arwen, to be on the other end of the door.

Thorin ran his eyes over the men’s attire; like the dwarves’clothes, every article of clothing had been dyed a pale pink. This had been discovered when the group had returned from the river, eager to put on something dry. Each had rifled through their belongings in increasing despair, but the women had been thorough with their work. Thorin, Fili, Kili, Aragorn, Elrohir, and Elladan were stuck wearing pink for the rest of their stay in Mirkwood.

For a moment the three sets of eyes stared at each other, and Elladan was the first to react. He grabbed Thorin’s arm and pulled, and Thorin stumbled forward.

“Get in,”Elladan commanded. “Before Arwen finds us.”

As Fili and Kili joined him and closed the closet door, Thorin cocked an eyebrow at the note of fear in the elf’s voice. The closet was crammed with all six in there, but they dared not leave. In hurried whispers they explained to each other what they had done, and then quickly became quiet as a series of footsteps sounded outside.

“They’ve got to be here somewhere,”Dis said.

Thorin froze, panic flaring through him, and he and his nephews all but held their breath.

“Maybe they went that way,”suggested Minriel.

Thorin didn’t know which direction the girl pointed, but she and Dis moved off. The group huddled in the closet let out relieved breaths.

They stayed there for a half hour, until they were thoroughly cramped. Surely the women had given up by now.

“Do you think it’s safe?”asked Aragorn.

“I think so,”said Fili. He pressed his ear to the door. “I don’t hear anything.”

“The girls have their lessons with Thranduil about this time of day,”Kili interjected. “I doubt the others would continue without them.”

Thorin wasn’t so sure of that, but the others seemed confident that the coast was clear. So, with one last deep breath he swung open the closet door, and the group stepped out.

Then they were hit with some sort of powder, which rained down from above. Thorin cursed, but he couldn’t duck back into the closet. The others were in his way, and by now it was too late.

On a balcony above, Tauriel, Dis, Arwen, Mithril, and Minriel roared with laughter. Arwen had bathed and was now dressed impeccably in a clean gown of deep violet. The water on Dis and Tauriel had by now dried, and Mithril and Minriel stroked the ink painted beards on their faces mischievously.

Thorin glanced down to inspect what they had thrown at him, and then groaned.

“Mahal,”cursed Fili.

They were covered in some sort of glittery powder. Thorin had no idea what the stuff was made of, just that Gandalf had given the girls a small amount when they were younger. The stuff had gotten everywhere, and was impossible to clean off. Thorin had quickly restricted its use to a single room in the castle. Somehow, the girls had managed to get their hands on entire buckets of it. Now the men all looked like something from out of the stories Gandalf often told the children.

 

* * * * *

 

From a higher balcony that was conveniently hidden from view, Bilbo and Thranduil watched the proceedings. Bilbo shook his head as the men were doused with the glitter. They really should have known better. Beside him Thranduil pursed his lips, but couldn’t resist a smile as the glitter doused men below began to plead for a truce and with smiles of victory, the women agreed.

“I do believe I shall never forget this visit,”the elven king commented. “When you are around, Master Baggins, things are never boring.”

 

* * * * *

 

The next morning found the men grumpily eating their breakfast. Much to the delight of the women, they had been unable to entirely scrub off the glitter, and still gleamed when they moved. Of course Mithril and Minriel still had black ink on their faces, but they didn’t seem to care very much. In fact, Thorin thought that there were several new lines on their faces; the girls had decided that his artwork wasn’t sufficient and had added to it.

Bilbo had joined them warily, taking his seat as far away from his husband as possible. He hid between Minriel and Mithril as Thorin greeted him with a sardonic smile.

“Good morning Bilbo dear,”Thorin called.

Bilbo gulped. “Good morning Thorin,”he responded.

“Where’s King Thranduil?”asked Arwen. Her grey eyes scanned around the table, but the elven king was nowhere to be seen. She was met with nonchalant shrugs from around the table.

Several minutes passed in terse silence. Tauriel was the first to break it.

“I wish Bard would have stayed,”she commented. “I believe it would have been much fun to add him to our war.”

Arwen grinned from across the table. “Don’t worry,”she said. “I gave his daughter Sigrid the same dye we used on the clothes. Something tells me the lord of Dale will soon be sporting a whole new wardrobe.”

The entire table erupted into laughter.

They ate slowly, giving Thranduil time to join them, but he never did. As they all finished their breakfast they agreed to go and find the elven king. It wasn’t like him to neglect spending time with his guests, unless of course they were prisoners.

Minriel and Mithril lead the way, skipping down the corridor towards the king’s bedchambers. They were met by two guards, who moved to block their entrance.

“The king has declared that he will not be emerging today,”said one. “He asks that he is not disturbed.”

Minriel and Mithril exchanged glances, and then gave the guards matching glares that everyone knew Dis had taught them. After barely a minute the two guards sighed and stepped to the side, not daring to refuse them. The two girls marched into Thranduil’s room, letting the doors swing shut behind them.

The group waiting outside exchanged worried glances as sounds of a struggle came from within the room. The only thing keeping Thorin and Aragorn from rushing in was the giggles that accompanied the noises.

“No!” They heard Thranduil shout. “Minriel, I will not- Mithril, let go of my arm!”

A moment later the girls reappeared, dragging Thranduil with them. The mouths of those gathered fell open at the sight of the king. Dressed still in his night clothes, his hair- all of it, including the eyebrows that Minriel was constantly commenting on- was dyed a bright shade of purple. Arwen instantly recognized it as the dye her brothers had put in her bath so many years ago.

“Boys,”she called. She cast an amused glare over her shoulder, but her brothers were as flabbergasted as she was.

Before them Thranduil cast a glare around the hall, daring anyone to laugh. Unfortunately for him, everyone did.

 

* * * * *

 

It was soon after that the latest visitor arrived. Thranduil had decided that now that his condition was known, he might as well get something to eat. This involved crossing through the entranceway of the castle, and he was halfway across the room, Mithril and Minriel bounding ahead, when the castle doors were flung open. In strode Gandalf, and as the wizard took in the state of the castle’s inhabitants he froze, an amused smile taking over his face.

“Ahh,”he greeted them. “Minriel, Mithril, I see you received my supplies.”

As the all the men but Bilbo groaned the hobbit sighed. He really should have known better.

Chapter Text

“Aunt Prim!”

Primula Baggins laughed and eagerly reached down to pull her two nieces into hugs. First was Mithril, with her wild, chocolate brown curls that could suffocate a person, and then Minriel, who all but tripped into Primula’s arms.

“Oh, I’ve missed you,” Primula cooed. She examined the girls before her, noting that with the exception of a bit more height, nothing was different about them from the last time. “How’ve you been?”

“Good!” Mithril beamed up at her aunt, and Primula reached down to ruffle her curls gently. She turned briefly from them to hug Bilbo as the hobbit ambled up the path, having been far outstripped by the two girls who had sprinted ahead.

“How’s the baby?” he asked.

Primula adopted a motherly smile on her face. “She’s well,” she told him. “She’s very well. Sleeping now.”

“And Frodo?”

As if to answer Bilbo’s question, a young hobbit came bounding up the lane behind Bilbo. Dark curls bounced as he ran, falling into wide blue eyes. He was covered in dirt and grass from a day of romping through the forest, but he looked thrilled.

“Ma!” he shouted. “Pip said there’s visitors coming! Have they-” his question drifted to a stop as he spotted the company standing in his front yard, and his mouth was left to hang open at the sight of the strange hobbit, two children, one elf, and four dwarven guards now staring at him.

“Umm, hello,” he managed.

Minriel burst into laughter. Doubling over, her chortles only intensified as Mithril elbowed her in the ribs. A blush overtook Frodo’s cheeks, and with a final scowl to Minriel, Mithril clopped down the path to her cousin.

“Hello Frodo,” she started. She kept her voice cheery, not wanting to scare the ten year old. “I’m your cousin Mithril. That oversized klutz is Min.” She jabbed a finger in Minriel’s direction, and finally the half elf stopped laughing.

“Oversized?” she demanded. “I think you mean to say that you’re little!”

Mithril harrumphed and lifted her chin. “I do not,” she stated. She had to crane her neck to look at her cousin, something she despised greatly.

“Girls,” warned Bilbo. He wore a slightly pained yet loving expression on his face, one that spoke of having put up with many similar quarrels. Frodo was looking back and forth between the trio with an amused expression, and Bilbo sighed and moved to his nephew to pull him into a hug.

“Hello Frodo,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”

“Yes Sir,” Frodo answered. Though he had by now figured out that this was his Uncle Bilbo, his father had raised him to be a respectful hobbit, and he would show Bilbo the utmost manners.

Bilbo snorted. “Please don’t,” he said. “Call me Uncle.”

Frodo nodded. “Yes Uncle,” he answered.

Primula cleared her throat. “Let’s go inside, shall we?” she suggested. She could see several neighbors eyeing them from over their fences, pausing in the middle of elevensies. Her family quickly followed, and the door was shut behind them.

Drogo was found in one of the many rooms of Bag-End, rocking gently a small cradle that held his daughter. He grinned at Bilbo as his cousin entered the room, standing to clasp Bilbo’s shoulder.

“Isn’t she beautiful,” he murmured.

“Aye,” Bilbo agreed. He felt a small smile coming to his lips as he surveyed the hobbit, with her tuft of sandy hair. Though neither Mithril nor Minriel had looked anything like her when they were babes, Bilbo nonetheless felt old memories resurfacing.

“What’s her name?” he asked.

Drogo smiled fondly. “Lila.”

Bilbo nodded. “A good name.” He patted Drogo on the back, and his cousin grinned.

They left the room soon after. They didn’t want to chance waking Lila, and Bilbo was feeling suspicious about the lack of noise coming from the rest of the house. Dwarves and children, all made noise. Silence, Bilbo had learned, generally meant mischief was afoot.

The dwarves were sitting down to a hearty meal, Tauriel and Primula sitting at the head of the table. The two talked in quiet voices, and Bilbo noted with some amusement how the dwarves automatically catered to them. Judging by the slightly scared looks they traded, Bilbo suspected that Dis’s training had worked its magic.

He moved to the living room and found Minriel, Mithril, and Frodo sitting by the fire. Mithril had pulled off her boots, having decided to discard them while in the Shire, and she and Minriel watched as Frodo inspected them curiously.

“But what do you need them for?” he asked.

“To protect my feet,” Mithril explained. “I’m only half hobbit, so my feet aren’t as tough as yours.” She wriggled her toes as she spoke.

“Which means,” Minriel added, “that her feet are also much more ticklish than yours.”

Mithril tensed, but wasn’t fast enough. Before she could move away Minriel had leapt at her, and the two shrieked and rolled around on the floor.

“Frodo, help me,” cried Mithril. “Get her shoes off!”

Mithril held Minriel down while Frodo pulled off her boots, and Mithril shot Minriel an evil grin.

“You forget, cousin dear, that your feet are even more ticklish than mine,” she sang. She gave Frodo a quick nod, and as the young hobbit tickled Minriel’s feet the three children erupted into giggles.

Bilbo shook his head, trading looks with Drogo. Drogo then clapped his hands together, and the three bolted upright.

“Time to eat,” he commanded.

Immediately the children rushed to the kitchen, taking their places at the table. They ate quickly, then, before Bilbo could as much as call out to them, they bounded out of Bag-End and down the hill.

“Should I be worried?” he asked Primula.

She laughed. “They’ll probably go to the forest to look for elves; Frodo does it all the time. He takes after his uncle that way.”

“Hmm,” mused Bilbo. “Maybe one day he’ll go on an adventure of his own.”

Primula’s face twisted into a light scowl at that. “I do hope not,” she stated. She shook her head. “Yours turned out fine, but most quests are nothing but trouble.”

 

* * * * *

 

They spent a month in the Shire. There was plenty of room in Bag-End for the entire company, and Frodo was more than happy to have his distant cousins visit. He and the girls spent the day romping through town, and the day after they arrived, Frodo proudly introduced Mithril to her cousin Peregrin Took.

The hobbit, two years younger than Frodo, was down at the market when Frodo located him. He was hiding behind a barrel, peering around him anxiously, and Frodo sighed. Pippin was always getting into trouble, and generally with his best friend Merry. Where one was, the other was never far off.

“What are you hiding from Pip?” he called.

Pippin whirled to face Frodo, holding a finger to his lips.

“Shh,” he cautioned. “Merry and I are playing a game. He’s trying to find me.” Then he yelped and ducked behind Frodo as Merry came into view, and Frodo resisted the urge to sigh.

“Frodo!”

Merry jogged over, a grin on his face. “Who’s this?” he asked.

Frodo grinned, happy to introduce his cousins. “This is Mithril and Minriel,” he said. “My cousins from Erebor.”

Merry gave the girls a flirtatious smile and bowed as low as he was capable. “Hello, ladies,” he greeted them. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Merria-”

 “Erebor?” Pippin asked, revealing himself as he noticed Mithril and Minriel for the first time. “Wait- that makes you my cousin too!” He pointed eagerly to Mithril, and with a small smile she nodded, ignoring Minriel’s amused snickers from behind her.

“Mithril Bagginshield,” she greeted him. She used the combination of both her fathers’ names that she and Minriel had come up with many years ago.

Pippin’s eyes grew wide. “I’m Pippin,” he said. He held out his hand, withdrew it, held it out again, and then simply leapt forward and hugged Mithril. She staggered under his weight, but managed to hold herself upright.

“I’m Min,” Minriel added.

Mithril pushed Pippin off her and allowed Minriel to receive a hug from him. Not to be outdone, Merry bestowed both girls with hugs as well.

Though Merry and Pippin were somewhat reluctant to pause their game of tag, they followed the girls and Frodo to the edge of the Shire. There they settled down in the tall grass, joking and laughing amongst themselves until the light began to fade from the sky.

The rest of the month found the five of them together, and soon they added Frodo’s best friend Samwise Gamgee to their group. The son of the gardener who kept Bag-End in order, Sam often followed behind his father as the older hobbit tended to the flowers Bilbo had spent so many years cultivating. Even the oak tree Bilbo had planted was beginning to rise, and Sam had taken a special liking to it.

The day before the company was due to return to Erebor, Mithril and Minriel were careful to spend time with each of their friends. These friends, like all others, had been adopted into their ever growing family.

Around midday Mithril found her thoughts drifting away from their current activity. Sam had, the day before, expressed an interest in learning how to braid, and now Minriel sat in the grass several feet away, demonstrating on her own raven hair. The four hobbits stared at her, nodding softly as she explained the steps, but Mithril just couldn’t focus. She already knew how to braid, though she had never been very good at it. And so she lay back in the grass, staring up at the fluffy white clouds drifting lazily overhead. She found herself, as she often did while in the Shire, thinking about her mother. This was where Josie had been born, and where she had died. Mithril loved her fathers, but she did often miss her mother. A task that was hard, considering that she hadn’t met the hobbit, and didn’t know exactly who she was missing, but she guessed that she missed the chance to find out.

She began to sing softly under her breath, a soft, sad song. When she had finished she found that, although Frodo, Sam, Minriel, and Merry were still talking, Pippin was now staring wide eyed at her, having crawled over.

“What was that you were singing?” he asked. “I thought you only sang happy songs.”  

Mithril nodded. “I’m a firm believer that a happy song can cure all,” she told him.

“But that one’s sad,” Pippin commented.

Mithril sighed. “It was a song my mother used to sing, one she made up for Da after his quest,” she informed her cousin. “Da taught it to me so I had something of her. I sing it sometimes when I miss her.”

Pippin blinked. “Oh,” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t-”

Mithril shrugged. “It’s fine,” she promised. “She was your aunt.”

Pippin cocked his head, and then nodded slowly. “Can you sing the song again?” he asked.

Mithril nodded, and then cleared her throat.

 

Home is behind, the world ahead

And there are many paths to tread

Through shadow, to the edge of night

Until the stars are all alight

Mist and shadows, cloud and shade

All shall fade

All shall fade.

 

* * * * *

 

They stopped again at Rivendell and Lothlórien on their way back to the mountain. Again Bilbo kept his eye on Haldir, but the elf was careful to keep his interactions with Minriel completely platonic. Still, Bilbo could sense a fascination within the elf for Bilbo’s niece, and he fought a growing protective urge in him.

They then made for Beorn’s house. In the past Bilbo had avoided visiting his friend’s lands, knowing how the shape shifter hated dwarves. He sent the dwarven guards ahead now, trusting Tauriel to keep him and the girls safe.

Beorn’s hounds greeted them at the edge of his property, and Bilbo chuckled at the fact that Beorn was expecting them. Sure enough, Beorn met them all with wide grins in front of his house, and Mithril bounded forward into his arms.

“Hedgehog!” he boomed. “It’s been twenty-two years! You’ve grown big!”

Mithril grinned at the sound of the nickname Beorn had given her so many years ago. “Hi Beorn,” she greeted him. She felt suddenly like a two year old again, and as Beorn swung her around she allowed herself to relax and descend into childish giggles.

“And Minriel,” Beorn called. “You were only this big when I saw you last.” He spaced his hands about a foot apart, and Minriel giggled. Then she squealed as Beorn lifted her into a hug.

“Bilbo Baggins, you’ve kept them from me for too long,” he stated.

Bilbo blushed.

“Yes, well, umm-” His excuses were cut short as he too was swept up in a great bear’s hug, and as Minriel’s eyes widened at the shape shifter’s casual treatment of her uncle, Mithril simply chuckled.

“Tauriel, yes?” asked Beorn. He surveyed the elf curiously, remembering seeing her during and after the Battle of Five Armies so many years ago.

Tauriel nodded, stepping forward and bowing. “Greetings, Master Beorn.”

“And to you,” Beorn responded. “Is that king of yours still isolating himself in his forest?”

Tauriel stiffened slightly. “Thranduil is no longer my king,” she told him. “I reside in Erebor now, and Thorin is my king. His nephew Kili is my husband.”

Beorn blinked; this was an unexpected turn indeed. “I think you have a tale or two to tell,” he wagered.

Tauriel offered a thin smile. “I would think so.”

Soon they were settled around Beorn’s table, and as they ate together they traded stories. Beorn listened in rapt attention, and as Bilbo brought up the most famous prank war in the eastern lands Beorn descended into laughter.

The group spent the majority of their weeklong visit outdoors. All were avid lovers of nature, and Beorn’s gardens, with their larger than average foliage and wildlife, all completely tame, were a small step from heaven.

At last they departed, and to Bilbo’s surprise they found an elven entourage awaiting them at the edge of Mirkwood.

“King Thranduil has requested that since you have sent away your dwarven guards, we accompany you to the city of Dale.”

Bilbo raised an eyebrow, but graciously accepted the guides. Though after his first journey through Mirkwood so long ago he had never had any more problems with the forest, he still worried constantly.

True to their word, the guards departed with them at Dale, and Bilbo told them to tell Thranduil that the girls were perfectly fine, thank you very much.

In Dale, Bilbo sought out Bard’s house, where he always spent a few days on his trips to and from the Shire. To his surprise, when the maid answered the door there were tears in her eyes.

“Lord Baggins,” she greeted him. “You’ve arrived just in time. Hurry, before it’s too late.”

Bilbo frowned. “Whatever do you mean?” he asked. He followed the maid into the house, pausing as she turned back to him with startled brown eyes.

“I thought you were here for the Lord Bard,” she said. Confusion creased her brows.

“Of course I am,” Bilbo said. “I always visit when I pass through Dale. Is something the matter?”

The woman nodded, and Bilbo was alarmed to see her lip tremble. “The time is come for him to return to Valinor,” she whispered.

Bilbo’s mouth dropped open, but he quickly shook his mind clear. Surrounded as he was with dwarves and elves, two races that aged at a far slower rate than hobbits and men, it was often easy to forget how fragile the men of Dale were. Bard had already been middle aged when he had first met Bilbo; of course he would have aged.

Bard was lying in his bed when Bilbo arrived at his rooms. He was covered in fur blankets and clothed in an embroidered tunic, and Bilbo couldn’t help but think of how far the lord had come from the Bargeman he had met. Bard’s hair had long since greyed, wrinkles now prominent on his face, and when the hobbit entered he was asleep. As Minriel tripped over the doorway- how, Bilbo had no idea- Bard woke. His eyes came to meet Bilbo’s, and he smiled warmly.

“Bilbo,” he greeted. His voice was shaky with age, and Bilbo resisted tears as he went to sit by the bed.

“Hello Bard,” he whispered. “How are you?”

Bard chuckled softly. “Not as well as I used to be,” he confessed. He suddenly erupted into a fit of coughing, and Bilbo and Tauriel helped him to lean forward as he cleared his throat. As the Lord settled back onto his pillows Bilbo noticed Minriel and Mithril leaning against the wall, watching Bard with wide eyes.

“Hello girls,” he called. “No greeting for me then?”

Minriel was the first to recover, stepping forward with a forced smile. “I would never deny you,” she choked. She stooped down into a hug, and as she pulled away Mithril followed suit.

“How were your travels?” Bard asked.

Bilbo snorted. “Our travels were fine,” he promised. He reached out to take Bard’s hand in his. “When last we met you were as fit as Fili and Kili,” he noted. “How long have you been ill for?”

Bard rolled his eyes. “I am not ill, Bilbo, I am old. All fades in the end. Now it is my time.”

Bilbo nodded. His tears were becoming harder to hold back, for he knew that Bard was right. This became all the more clear as Bard erupted into yet another fit of coughing, and again Bilbo and Tauriel helped to support him.

Finally Bard settled back again, and when he did Bilbo was alarmed to see his eyes fluttering open and shut. He shook Bard’s arm.

“Bard,” he called. “Bard, stay with me. Come on now, stay with me.”

Bard sighed. “Farewell Bilbo,” he whispered. “Enjoy your family, treasure them above all else, for they are worth all the world. Tauriel, you are a fine elf and a wonderful soldier. I am proud to have fought beside you and to have known you. Mithril, Minriel,” and now the lord forced his eyes open, searching the room for the girls. “Do not be afraid to live and love. The worst thing you can do in life is to hide from who you are.”

The girls nodded, and Bard smiled, pleased. He allowed his eyes to drift shut, and his senses slowly began to fall away, one by one. At last all he was aware of was Bilbo’s hand clasped in his own, the small hobbit’s hand shaking violently. He forced one last smile to his lips, or at least hoped he did. He couldn’t tell if it worked.

“Goodbye, Master Burglar,” he whispered.

Then Bard the Dragon-Slayer took his last breath, and went to Valinor to meet his wife. 

Chapter Text

The morning of the funeral found the girls sitting in the throne room as they waited for their family to join them. Thorin and Bilbo were the first to arrive, dressed in dwarvish robes of mourning. Embroidered onto the robes were funeral vows in Khuzdul, the gold thread standing out against the black garments.

The girls were sitting in Thorin and Bilbo’s thrones, conversing quietly. Mithril sat in Thorin’s, her legs dangling high above the floor, and Minriel sat in Bilbo’s throne. Somewhere in the back of Bilbo’s mind he was amused at the fact that she was already tall enough to sit comfortably in it. As the husbands entered the throne room the cousins turned to them, their eyes red rimmed.

“I don’t understand,” Minriel stated. “Why did Uncle Bard die?”

Bilbo sighed. It was a question she had been asking continuously over the past couple of days, and despite the number of times the company had explained things to her, the girl still didn’t understand.

“He was old,” Thorin answered. “He died of old age.”

Bilbo frowned; his husband’s tone was perhaps harsher than he would have liked, but he allowed Thorin to slip by. He knew that although Thorin would never admit it, he had grown fond of Bard over the years.

Minriel’s frown grew deeper. “How?” she asked. “How do you die of that? How do you grow old? I don’t understand!”

Bilbo wasn’t sure how to answer. Minriel’s family consisted primarily of elves and dwarves, both of which aged at a much slower rate than men and hobbits. With the exception of the men of Dale, the only man she knew was her father, who was of the Dúnedain and thus slow in aging. As a result, the girl simply couldn’t grasp the concept of deterioration by age.

Bilbo doubted his own lifespan helped her at all. He knew that his lifespan was very similar to Bard’s; it was something he worried about constantly, but for some reason his hair had not yet begun to grey, and no wrinkles coated his face. Though the suspension of his youth would only add to Minriel’s confusion over the concept of old age, he couldn’t say he objected to his vitality.

“It just happens,” Mithril told her cousin. She shrugged nonchalantly, but there were tears in her eyes. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”

There was a certain bitter note to her voice at those last words, Bilbo noted. It was almost as if she were trying to convince herself of that fact. Bilbo knew his daughter was intensely protective of her family; she spent her days watching her cousins’ every move like a hawk. Though Mithril knew she could not have prolonged Bard’s life, Bilbo suspected that she still felt that she should have done something.

“How are you holding up?” asked Thorin. His question was phrased to both girls, but Bilbo noticed that Thorin unconsciously looked solely to Mithril as he spoke. It was something he did often, though the dwarf didn’t seem aware of it.

“I’m fine,” Minriel promised.

Thorin nodded, sensing that she spoke the truth; indeed, although she had been crying, and was both upset and confused over the loss of her uncle, she didn’t hold that look in her eyes that spoke of the shock of one’s first experience with death. Almost as though she was used to its bleak blackness. Thorin knew this was preposterous; what death had his niece experienced in her short life?

“Mithril?” he asked. His blue eyed gaze went to his daughter, and she nodded silently. Still, there were tears in her eyes, and Thorin could read her expression well enough to know that she wasn’t telling the truth. He opened his arms and both girls, Minriel with the smallest hesitance, came to him for a hug.

Before he could say anything else the rest of the company began to enter the throne room, and Dis clapped her hands.

“Let’s get a move on,” she called.

Obediently her family began to file out of the castle.

 

* * * * *

 

The funeral was an emotional mess. All of Dale was there, its citizens crowded into the town square and lining the streets to say their last farewells to their king. They joined Mithril and Minriel in their tears, and grievous wails rose into the sky. Thranduil attended as well, and though the elven king remained as placid as ever, there was a hint of sorrow in his eyes.

Bard lay on a pyre at the center of the square, hair neatly combed and his bow and sword in his hands. He was dressed not in his finest attire, as was customary, but in pink dyed robes from the great prank war of the eastern lands. A few specks of glitter still stuck to the garments, and Bilbo couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight.

It was the first meeting of the three kingdoms after the great prank war. They met once a year to ensure that the old treaties and trade arrangements were still satisfactory for all involved. Of course if there was an issue an emergency meeting could be called in the interval, but as of yet none had ever been requested.

The meeting took place, as always, in Dale. Situated between Erebor and Mirkwood, the city of men was neutral for both dwarves and elves, and Bilbo doubted that the meetings would ever be held anywhere else. He and Thorin had already been led to the chambers in which the meeting was to take place; a wide room with stained glass windows that did odd things to the light that shone on the stone table within. There Thranduil was already seated, and he exchanged respectful nods with Thorin and Bilbo as they took their seats.

Bilbo set to trying to quiet the impatient tapping of Thorins fingers, but it was clear that wasnt going to happen. To the side one of Thranduils eyebrows twitched slightly in amusement, but the elven king wisely chose not to comment.

Bilbo all but sighed in relief as the doors opened. The tension in the room was palpable, and he didnt see Thorin and Thranduil sitting in silence for much longer. Bard strode into the room, and Bilbos mouth dropped open.

Accentuated by his shit-eating grin, the lord of Dale was clothed in the pink dyed robes that Sigrid and Tilda had sabotaged during the great prank war. Bilbo knew Bard had access to other garments; new attire would have been arranged for him immediately after the prank. Yet Bard had chosen to wear those clothes, which were still covered in Gandalfs glittering substance. He looked like- what he looked like Bilbo had no idea.

Bard didn’t so much as pause at the flabbergasted looks on his guestsfaces. He took his seat at the table, set down the files he had brought with him, and laced his fingers together, shoving the smirk off his face and replacing it with a look of intense seriousness.

Pleasant day,he commented airily. Now, shall we start with-

Bilbo couldnt help it; he burst into laughter. Doubled over in his seat, his guffaws had only deepened as hed looked again at Bard. The king somehow managed to maintain his serious expression, and soon Thorin was roaring as well. Even Thranduil descended into snickers, and at last Bard allowed himself to break into laughter.

For once, the meeting between the eastern kingdoms had been almost pleasant.

Bilbo rubbed tears from his eyes and backed away from the pyre, taking Thorin’s hand in his. Thorin squeezed comfortingly, and Bilbo allowed himself to lean ever so slightly against his husband. In front of the pair, Minriel and Mithril were standing side by side, their hands clenched into the others’ as tears streamed silently down their faces. As Bard’s son Bain, the new king of Dale, began his father’s eulogy Mithril burst into sobs. Bilbo’s heart clenched, but he held back from drawing her to him in a hug as he watched Minriel do just that. The girls clasped the other to them, and Bilbo studied them curiously. Despite her tears Mithril was still doing her best to part comfort with her hug, but Bilbo sensed that Minriel didn’t need it quite so much. Minriel was crying as well, but not with the ferocity with which Mithril was. She too sought to give her older cousin comfort with her embrace, and Bilbo sighed.

The feast after the funeral was a somber affair, devoid of laughter. The only sound in the great dining hall of Dale’s castle was the clinking of silverware and the occasional sob. Bilbo knew Bard wouldn’t have wanted that, and to his relief Bofur seemed to have realized this too. The goofy dwarf was soon belting out an improvised song from atop a table, and soon many of the assembled mourners were stamping along to the tune.

Mithril and Minriel seized the hands of Brand, Bain’s little son, and the trio skipped and twirled through the dining hall. The child, who had spent the day pale faced with uncertainty at the somber occasion, descended into lighthearted giggles, content in his cousins’ arms. Soon the men and women of Dale were taking to the floor to dance, and Kili and Tauriel were the first of the company to join. With a sigh Thorin allowed Bilbo to drag him to his feet, imagining Bard laughing at him from Valinor.

It was late by the time the company returned to Erebor, and no one commented as Mithril and Minriel slipped into Mithril’s room. They knew that on this occasion, the girls required the presence of the other beside them.

 

* * * * *

 

In the following weeks Bilbo could tell something was on Minriel’s mind. He didn’t press her though, and soon enough she came to him, a nervous look on her face.

“I want to visit Great-Grandmother Galadriel again,” she told him. “I know we just got back, but-”

Bilbo nodded. “I know,” he answered her. “I understand. I’ll make the arrangements.”

He was rewarded with a hug that was teary eyed from joy and relief, and Bilbo happily returned it.

 

* * * * *

 

Thorin was spending his morning with Mithril, sitting on her bed and combing her curly hair. Suddenly Minriel bounded in and gave her cousin a single nod that caused Mithril to grin. Thorin’s eyes narrowed.

“Bilbo!” he called.

“Yes dear?”

Bilbo leaned casually in the doorway, smirking at his husband’s raised eyebrow. Thorin glowered at him, pointing with one finger to the girls who were now whispering a few feet away.

“What’s going on?” he demanded.

Bilbo sighed. “Minriel would like to visit her great-grandmother again,” he stated.

Thorin frowned. “She just got back from visiting her!”

“And was greeted by the death of her uncle,” Bilbo reminded him. “I think it’s a perfectly reasonable request.”

Thorin ground his teeth. “Fine,” he growled. “But Mithril stays in Erebor.”

He was met with a chorus of “No!”

Thorin threw up his hands as he stood. “I’ve barely seen my daughter at all over the past year,” he yelled. “You are hogging her! Share her! Give me my daughter back!” As he spoke he grabbed Mithril and held her to him in a still slightly playful gesture, and Mithril squealed.

“I’m going with Miny!” she objected. To the side Minriel nodded, and Bilbo aimed one of his deadliest glares at his husband.

“Do you really think she’ll stay?” he asked. “She’ll just sneak out after us.”

Thorin scowled. “No, she won’t,” he asserted.

Bilbo rolled his eyes. “That girl can sneak past anything,” he stated. “And I don’t think they should be parted right now.”

Thorin rolled his eyes. “They need to learn how to function separately,” he retorted. “This shall be their first practice. I need my daughter here, with me.”

Bilbo sighed, taking note of the pleading look in Thorin’s eyes. Bard’s death had reminded Thorin of the mortality of his husband, and Bilbo had felt Thorin’s eyes on him over the past weeks.

The concerns in the dwarf’s mind had also brought up the question of Mithril’s mortality. She was half dwarf and half hobbit, the first of her kind. No one knew which race’s lifespan she would adopt, and Thorin was beginning to realize that he might in fact outlive his daughter. Combined with the hardly safe journey to Lothlórien and Rivendell, he feared their final parting might come sooner than he expected. No, Bilbo was surprised Thorin had even let Mithril out of his sight over the past weeks.

“Fine,” he acquiesced.

“Da!”

“Uncle!”

Bilbo didn’t allow himself to meet the heartbreaking gazes of the girls as he responded. “He has a point,” he admitted. “You need to learn how to get along without the other, and Thorin does have a right to spend time with you.” The last words were aimed primarily at Mithril.

“Then he can come with us,” objected Mithril.

Her papa snorted in her ear, ignoring Bilbo’s glare. The husbands put up with over an hour of objections from the girls, and then fled to their office, for once eager to do some paperwork. By the time dinner had come around the entire company had heard, and Thorin and Bilbo shifted under the intensity of the many glares aimed at them throughout the meal.

* * * * *

A month later Bilbo, Minriel, and Tauriel departed for Lothlórien, accompanied by a small entourage of dwarven guards. While Bilbo knew that they would- as always- refuse to enter the golden forest, Thorin still demanded he bring them.

Mithril attempted to sneak out of the castle and meet the company at the entrance to the mountain, but had been caught by the guards outside the castle gate. She had then been confined to her room, and somehow, the next anyone saw of her she was halfway through Erebor.

A guard was placed outside her door, but she still managed to break loose. As she was brought back to the castle for the third time around midday Thorin sighed and brought her into his office with her. He sat her in Bilbo’s chair while he worked, but when he glanced up a few minutes later to check on her he found that she had disappeared.

He cursed and left the room quickly. He found Mithril making her way through the halls, a bag filled with traveling supplies slung over her shoulder. Thorin frowned, knowing that someone had helped her to pack-who that was he would work out later. Several more times he brought her back to his office, and even tried locking the door while he worked. However, each time he turned his attention to his papers Mithril would slip away on silent feet, and Thorin would have to chase her through the castle.

At last he gave up on his work. Retreating to his office with her, he put away his papers and resorted to staring at her. Mithril glared back, her arms crossed and lips pouted, and Thorin knew that if he glanced away for so much as a second she would be gone. So, when Dis came to collect them for dinner several hours later, she found the father and daughter having a silent glaring contest.

Mithril skipped dinner, retiring to her room. At this point even she had to acknowledge that Minriel was too far away for her to chase after, and she decided to make her displeasure at being left behind quite clear. She locked the door behind her and flung herself into bed, ignoring each member of her family as they pleaded with her to come to dinner from the other side of the door.

“Mithril,” called Thorin. “It’s Papa; open up.”

Mithril scowled at the wall. “No!” she shouted. “Go away!”

“Mithril please,” Thorin pleaded. “At least eat supper. Bombur’s made your favorite meal.”

“I’m not hungry,” came the angry retort.

Thorin sighed and retreated, knowing that when a hobbit- even a half hobbit- refused food that it was best to leave them alone. He returned often, but each time Mithril refused to see him. The only one she would allow into her room was Bifur, the old dwarf bringing her a tray laden with all her favorite food. When Bifur finally left her, Thorin was relieved to see the tray bare.

“This is not how I was planning this to go,” he commented grumpily. “We were supposed to be having father-daughter time.”

Bifur rolled his eyes.

Thorin ground his teeth, but didn’t respond. He knew what Bifur said was true, and it only aggravated the worries that had been growing in him as of late.

It was a week before Mithril finally emerged from her room. She stomped down to breakfast and planted herself at the table, sitting as far away from her father as she could. Dis and Bifur neatly arranged themselves on either side of her, Fili and Kili on either side of them.

Fili sighed. He knew well how Mithril felt; he shared the same protective instincts for Kili that Mithril held for Minriel. In many ways he felt that the girl strongly resembled himself, albeit with larger, hairier feet, and of course there was the whole gender thing.

No one dared comment, and there was a distinct tension in the air as the assembled family began to eat. Bombur and his wife Heathrey exchanged glances, but the dwarf woman merely shook her head for him to keep quiet. The tension in the air only grew as Mithril turned to glare at Thorin.

Thorin sighed. “Mithril,” he began. “What can I do to make you forgive me? I wanted us to spend time together, but I’ve not seen you all week. How do I make this right?”

Mithril’s scowl deepened, and for a minute it seemed that she would either not respond or respond cruelly. Finally she decided on something better, for a gleam that Thorin had come to fear shone in her eyes.

“A tea party,” she demanded. “I want a tea party.”

Thorin nodded reluctantly. While he had never been a fan of sitting around sipping at cups of tea while making small talk, he was desperate to get back on his daughter’s good graces. He would have done a song and dance for Thranduil at that point if she had asked.

Beside Mithril, Dis nodded approvingly. She had been one of the strongest advocators for the girls in the days leading up to Minriel’s departure from the mountain, and her glare over the past week had caused Thorin to cower away and hide in his chambers.

“You will all be there,” Dis added. “Every single one of you. And the usual rules apply.

“What rules are those?” asked Oin.

Dis smiled cruelly. “Dresses are mandatory.”

They were instantly met with a steam of objections, and Mithril giggled. The two exchanged grins, and Dis was happy to see some glee returning to her niece’s eyes.

She glanced around the table. The majority of the company was protesting vehemently, and several members were turning rather unappealing colors in the faces. The only ones not objecting were Thorin, Bifur, and Dwalin. Thorin’s face had taken on a pained expression, but with reluctance he gave his daughter a short nod, knowing that it was the only thing that would please her. Bifur, having sat through a great deal of tea parties over the past twenty-two years, no longer cared about the dress code.

Dwalin let out a nonchalant shrug. “Alright,” he agreed. “I don’t care. What sizes have you got lass?”

 

* * * * *

 

An hour later all members of the royal family reported to the family room for the tea party. There were of course many family rooms, but over the years they had found themselves more often than not inhabiting the red and yellow room where Bilbo had spent his first days in Erebor. His first days unhindered by a mad king, of course.

Each wore dresses that Dis and Heathrey had supplied them, doing their best to work out the best way to move in the flowing garments. The majority of them seemed to be trying to hide behind someone else, not wanting to be seen should someone come through the door. Dori seemed to have decided that if they were all going to be in dresses, they might as well look good, and was giving the company fashion advice.

“No Bofur. That’s not an appealing color on you. You must pick something else.”

Bofur sighed as he glanced down at the pale green dress he’d chosen. Relatively easy to hike up should he need to run, it had seemed the best choice.

“I don’t really think that matters much,” he stated. “No dress is appealing on me, but I’m still wearing one.”

Dori scowled, but continued making his way around the room. As he reached his two brothers he all but screeched. Nori had decided to see if dresses could be used to his advantage in thievery, and Ori had become his unfortunate guinea pig. Sitting at the head of the little table set up in the center of the room, Mithril giggled.

A moment later Dis entered, shoving before her a very sour faced Thorin. Clad in a pink dress complete with little frills, the mountain king had been given no chose in his attire of the most obnoxious dress in Erebor. His cheeks reddened a touch as the door closed behind him, but he simply raised his chin and took his place beside his daughter at the table, forcing a pleasant smile to his face.

“Pass the tea please,” he asked her.

Mithril did so, making no attempt to hide her giggles, and the rest of the company filed into their chairs. The ladies were very amused to see their men fidget throughout the tea party. The only ones who seemed at ease were Bifur and Dwalin; Bifur by now being used to such attire, and Dwalin simply not caring. He could, he decided, wear a dress without fear of losing his status as a dwarven warrior. Anyone who objected would get his axe in their ass.

Reluctantly the company settled down for the tea party, having accepted their gowns. Mithril seemed to forgive Thorin for separating her and Minriel, for soon she had crawled into his lap and was giggling with as much cheer as always. Thorin decided that however much he despised the dress Dis had forced him into, it was worth wearing ten times over to make his daughter happy.

 

* * * * *

 

Elrond was surprised to hear the loud stomping of the dwarven caravan through the streets of Rivendell. He knew that it could only be an escort from Erebor, and while he was overjoyed to see his granddaughter again so soon, he wondered what had prompted her to return.

Arwen, Elladan, and Elrohir were already waiting on the steps of his house when he arrived. They exchanged confused but happy looks as they waited for the group to near, and Elrond sighed as Arwen automatically shifted closer to the twins. Though he and his daughter had made peace following Aragorn’s banishment, he knew Arwen would never truly forgive him, and they would never have quite the same relationship as they had once had.

He wiped such thoughts from his mind as Bilbo appeared, Minriel striding along beside him. As the girl caught sight of her family her face split into a wide grin, and she had to visibly restrain herself from launching at them.

The second thing Elrond noticed apart from his granddaughter was who was not there. Mithril, Minriel’s ever protective shadow, was for once absent, and Elrond felt a note of worry rise within him. Had something happened to her? What could be so bad as to keep the girl away from her beloved cousin?

The four elves exchanged worried and confused looks.

Elrond parted a formal greeting, and then drew Bilbo, Tauriel, and Minriel to his study. There Minriel sat in her mother’s lap, her uncles on either side of her. Elrond sat behind his desk, and seats were brought in for Bilbo and Tauriel. It was a bit crowded, but they really didn’t care.

“Why have you returned so soon?” Elrond asked. He then winced mentally; perhaps that wasn’t the best way to greet Minriel. He tried again.

“I am glad to see you,” he assured her. “But you would have barely been back at Erebor for two months before returning; I am confused as to why. Also as to where your cousin is.”

Minriel’s eyes dimmed slightly. “Uncle Bard died,” she told them. She didn’t mention her confusion on the subject of old age. Though she was still upset over the inconceivable concept, she did not want to discuss it at this time. Besides, her great grandparents had done a well enough job of explaining things to quiet her questions for some time.

Arwen’s hand came up to stroke through Minriel’s hair, and her mother leaned forward to press a soft kiss to the top of her head. “I’m so sorry baby,” she whispered.

Minriel shrugged. Although her uncle’s demise had upset her greatly, she was by now used to death. Plagued by visions of death for as long as she could remember- and none of them pretty- she liked to think that she and death had something of an intimate relationship.

“And Mithril?” asked Elladan. “Why hasn’t she come?”

Bilbo scowled from by the door. “Thorin is hogging her,” he stated sourly.

“I’m pretty sure that’s what he said about you,” Tauriel commented. Everyone assembled burst into laughter but Bilbo and Minriel, Bilbo’s scowl deepening. Minriel simply glanced around her sadly, looking lost.

Her family attempted to keep her spirits up during her stay in Rivendell. They kept her occupied learning one craft or another. Her uncles and mother worked on her weapons training, and Elrond began to teach her the art of elven healing. This Minriel seemed to excel at, her normally klutzy hands skillfully binding injuries and applying salves. Still, they could tell that Minriel was disheartened by Mithril’s absence. She had never been more than a few feet away from her cousin for the majority of her life, and found that she didn’t quite know how to function without her. Often when Elladan or Elrohir would crack a joke Minriel would glance over amidst her laughter to see Mithril’s face, and then abruptly fall silent as she remembered that her cousin was not there.

To Minriel’s relief, she wasn’t the only one who was disconcerted by Mithril’s absence. While Frodo, Sam, and Merry certainly missed their eldest cousin, they simply upped the volume of their own laughter to fill the void left. And though Minriel felt a bit ill at ease, knowing that she wasn’t actually related to them and feeling that as a result she didn’t quite deserve to visit them, she followed along.

Pippin, however, was just as lost as Minriel. Though he had only met Mithril once, he had spent that brief period following her around like a puppy. As the doting younger cousin, Pippin had thought of his older cousin from the distant mountain as something akin to a goddess.

As a result, when the company finally returned to Erebor Minriel all but ran into the castle, sprinting first to Mithril’s room. It was empty though, and she began to make her way to all the places where Mithril might be. Eventually she found her way to the courtyard, where Mithril and Thorin were practicing their fighting together, Thorin using dulled swords to teach his daughter. While Bilbo positively squeaked at the sight of the metal blade in his daughter’s hands, Minriel shrieked and ran forward.

“Mith!” she screamed.

Immediately Mithril whirled, and a huge grin broke upon her face as she caught sight of Minriel bounding across the courtyard to her.

“Min!” she returned.

Mithril dropped her sword and sprinted forward to meet Minriel halfway across the pavilion, and as the half elven child stumbled Mithril caught her safely in her arms. They squealed and bounced up and down, places in their hearts that had ached over the past months finally making themselves whole again.

Thorin sighed; Bilbo was already ripping into him for not using wooden sticks to train Mithril. Stepping forward, he cut off his husband’s objections by drawing him into a long kiss.

“Hello to you too,” he murmured when they finally parted.

Bilbo scowled. “Hello,” he greeted. He cast a glance towards Mithril. “How was your time together?”

Thorin scowled. “She wouldn’t speak to me for a week after you left; she locked herself in her room. The day you left she tried to sneak after you every time I took my eyes off her. And I’m not exaggerating!”

Bilbo chuckled. “That sounds like her,” he commented. “So, what got her to finally forgive you?”

It was then that Tauriel and Kili joined them, the rest of the company trailing behind the couple.

“A tea party,” Kili stated. “I had to wear a dress.”

“We all did,” Gloin added.

“Oh!” Pulling herself out of Dis’s embrace, Minriel’s eyes lit up. “I want a tea party!”

“No!”

The girl was taken aback slightly as the gathered company all screamed the word at the same time, looking horrified at the prospect. From the sides the women, Bifur, and Bilbo chuckled.

“Meh,” Dwalin agreed. “Why not?”

 

Chapter Text

“Uncle?” Minriel knocked timidly on the door to the study her two uncles shared, and her Uncle Thorin glanced up. He was currently the only one in the room, pouring over a pile of papers. As the girl entered his office his face softened somewhat, and he put down his quill and folded his hands neatly.

“Min,” he greeted her. “What can I do for you?”

Minriel bit her lip and glanced backwards. From just outside the door Mithril gave her an encouraging nod, telling her silently to continue. Minriel knew her cousin wanted to be right beside her; she could see Mithril’s hand twitch as though aching to wrap around Minriel’s, but the two had agreed that Minriel needed to do this alone. So, with one last sigh, Minriel turned to her uncle.

“I would like to learn Khuzdul,” she told him. “Do you think that would be allowed?”

Thorin sat back in his chair as he considered. “I do not know,” he admitted. He sighed, knowing the hopeful look on his niece’s face could so easily turn to crestfallen. “I will ask the council. We have a meeting tomorrow; I’ll bring it up then.”

Minriel nodded. “Thank you Uncle.”

Thorin nodded, watching through hooded eyes as Minriel backed out of his office.

Truth be told, he didn’t really want to ask the council if Minriel could learn Khuzdul. It was the ancient, sacred language of the dwarves, and although Thorin loved Minriel, he couldn’t help but feel that she didn’t hold the right to learn it. Besides the fact that she had not a drop of dwarven blood in her, she was part elf of all things. Although Thorin had grown to care deeply for the child over the years, he couldn’t help but feel a familiar twisting in his stomach whenever his eyes fell on her pointed ears.

But he had promised her, and he would keep that promise. So, the next afternoon at the council meeting, he proposed Minriel’s idea. The council’s reaction was just as he had suspected; utter outrage. He and Bilbo departed with their ears still ringing, and despite himself, Thorin couldn’t help but feel relieved. At least now he didn’t have to make the decision to say no to Minriel himself.

He glanced over to Bilbo, who was striding along beside him. The hobbit moved quickly, his jaw working silently and his shoulders squared, and Thorin gulped. Something told him Bilbo’s anger wasn’t directed solely at the council.

“What is it?” he asked.

Bilbo whirled to him, and Thorin drew to an abrupt halt at the fire in his husband’s eyes.

“You didn’t even try,” Bilbo snapped. “You folded like a pile of cards. You don’t want Min to learn Khuzdul, do you?”

Thorin scowled. “Alright, fine,” he admitted. “I don’t. She’s not a dwarf!”

One of Bilbo’s eyebrows rose dangerously high on his forehead. “Not a dwarf?” he asked. “I’m not a dwarf! You didn’t have a problem with me learning Khuzdul!” As if to iterate his point, the hobbit began to dispel some rather nasty curse words in the ancient language, and Thorin sighed.

“Bilbo,” he pleaded. “You know I love her, I-”

“You just don’t love her completely,” Bilbo guessed. “Because she’s part elf. Thorin, the mistakes of her people, mistakes that were made long before she was born, are not her own. She has done nothing, she has never hurt a single creature, and yet you refuse to treat her as she should be treated. I’ve let little things slide in the past, but no more! I don’t care what it takes; you convince the council that Minriel is to learn Khuzdul!”

Thorin’s breath escaped in a sharp hiss, and his blue eyes narrowed. Though he loved Bilbo, he loved him more than almost anything, Thorin Oakenshield was a dwarf, and a king at that. No one told him what to do.

“I will not,” he growled. “I will not go against every tradition of my people to spare the feelings of one child. The council has spoken; their ruling shall stand. Minriel will not learn Khuzdul!”

With that he turned and stalked away, leaving Bilbo glaring after him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he was going to regret his words.

That night found him sitting in the family room, smoking his pipe with several of the company. He had not come to dinner, hiding in his office, and to his relief Bilbo had not joined him. He knew his hobbit had not kept silent though; the air in the family room was tense, and he knew that Gloin, Oin, and Balin were staring at him disapprovingly. He was about to snap at them, to ask that if they were going to rebuke him for the events of that day would they just get on with it, but before he had a chance in stalked his very worst nightmare. Minriel, flanked on either side by Bilbo and Mithril, and all three were furious. Frankly, Thorin didn’t know who he should be more afraid of.

“Why did the council say no to me learning Khuzdul?” asked Minriel. Thorin saw that the girl was more saddened than anything, as though she had been half expecting the negative answer. He did, however, see a small fire burning in those grey eyes of hers, and knew that Bilbo and Mithril had likely worked her up to approaching him.

“Because you are part elf,” he told her. “They do not want an elf to learn our sacred language.”

Mithril snorted. “They?” she asked. “Try we. You made no attempt to argue her cause. Minriel has as much right to learn Khuzdul as I.”

Thorin shook his head. “You are part dwarf,” he tried to explain. “It is your language. Not hers.”

“It’s not my language,” Bilbo growled. “Yet I was allowed to learn it. Minriel has grown up in the mountain; her home is among the dwarves. She holds as much right to the traditions of Erebor as I do.”

“No.” Thorin stood. He was growing tired of their pestering on the matter. “The council has decided, and their answer shall stand.” He tried using the same lines he had presented to Bilbo earlier. They didn’t work this time either.

“I don’t care!” Minriel’s outburst was sudden, without warning. Everyone in the room turned to her, and Thorin saw that her eyes were filled with tears, her body trembling. “You can convince them! Why won’t you convince them? Why don’t you love me?”

Thorin knelt down in front of her. “Of course I love you,” he told her. “You know I do. But I cannot permit an elf to learn the sacred language of my people.”

“She’s not an elf!”

Thorin’s eyes yanked to Mithril. The girl’s hazel eyes were alight with fury, her small hands clenched into fists. “Don’t you dare separate her,” she snarled. “Don’t you dare exclude her from this family! I love her like a sister, and you will not tell me that a difference in blood lessens that bond! If that is the case, then I am not your daughter!”

Thorin’s face paled slightly, but he held his ground.

“You know you don’t mean that,” he told Mithril.

Mithril lifted her chin. “I do.” Her voice was soft, and Thorin knew that meant she was at her angriest.

At that moment, he really didn’t care. First Bilbo, now Mithril had turned against him. What was it with these damn elves? He rounded on Minriel, eyes blazing as he stood and towered over her. “You will not learn Khuzdul,” he snarled. “That is final.”

The fire seemed to leave the girl’s eyes, and her shoulders slumped. “Yes Mr. Thorin,” she murmured.

A gasp ran around the room, and it took Minriel a moment to realize what she had done. Then she gasped too, and she looked up at Thorin beseechingly.

“Uncle…” she pleaded.

Thorin turned away. “Go,” he ordered her. “Leave my sight.”

Minriel trembled, and then she turned and ran. She ignored Mithril’s shouts behind her, she just ran. Her vision blurred with tears, and even as she sprinted through the halls of the castle her breath became choked with sobs. When Mithril found her a minute later she was curled against a wall, head buried in her hands.

 

* * * * *

 

Back in the family room, Bilbo was the first to speak. With Minriel’s words everyone had gone into shock, and as always, Mithril had been the first to break free of it. She had instantly sprinted after her cousin, pausing just long enough to shoot Thorin a deadly glare.

“You apologize,” Bilbo ordered. “You go apologize to her right now.”

Thorin shook his head, still facing the fireplace. “I will not,” he stated.

Bilbo opened his mouth, considering saying some very unkind words. At the last moment he bit his tongue, and his hands clenched into fists at his sides. He did however say one thing to Thorin.

“You remember my terms for remaining in the mountain,” Bilbo reminded Thorin. “You have one day to rectify this, or I will return to the Shire with both Mithril and Minriel. You will never see us again.”

With that Bilbo spun on his heel and stalked from the room. He didn’t need to look back at Thorin to know that the dwarf’s shoulder’s had stiffened and his grip on the mantel of the fireplace had tightened.

 

* * * * *

 

The next morning Minriel woke to find her aunt Tauriel softly stroking her hair. She blinked her eyes open slowly, her memories of the previous night coming back to her. After Mithril had found her the two had returned to Minriel’s room, and she had fallen asleep with her cousin curled up beside her, their hands clasped together. Mithril was still there, her curly hair splayed out over her face, and Minriel pulled her hand gently loose from her cousin’s firm grip.

“Good morning,” whispered Tauriel. “How do you feel?”

Minriel shrugged. She didn’t particularly want to talk about what had happened the night before. Though she was still angry with her uncle, she felt horribly for what she had said to him.

Tauriel sighed, reading the child’s emotions on her face. She stood, reaching down to offer Minriel her hand.

“Come with me,” she whispered.

Wordlessly Minriel nodded, taking her aunt’s hand and allowing her to lead her from the room. She drew Tauriel to a halt outside the next room, Mithril’s; the door, which had been open the previous day, was now firmly closed.

“Bilbo slept in there last night,” Tauriel told her. “Mithril was sleeping in your room, and Bilbo needed a bed. It seems he isn’t speaking to Thorin at the moment.”

Minriel bit her lip. While she felt bad for igniting such tension between her uncles, it was nice to know that her uncle Bilbo supported her. She nodded, and Tauriel continued through the halls with her.

In Tauriel’s room Minriel stepped behind the changing screen to pull on clothes they had brought from her room, ignoring her uncle Kili’s soft snores from the bed. Then Tauriel led her to the castle stables, and the two went straight to Bambi. The elk was now fully grown, and there were a few specks of grey showing on his muzzle. Nonetheless, he was still as sprite as the young elk Minriel had helped to tame, and he gently nuzzled his head into the girl’s shoulder, careful to avoid snagging one of his antlers on her. He seemed to sense her distress, and so for once didn’t make any trouble as Minriel expertly saddled him.

She and Tauriel sat on the elk together; with their elven blood they were extremely light, and thus easy for Bambi to carry. They rode out of Erebor, and Tauriel guided them to her favorite place on the outside of the mountain. There Tauriel and Kili had spent long days together, escaping the hard glares and harsh mutterings of the other dwarves.

“I’m sorry,” Tauriel said at last. “I truly am.”

Minriel nodded. Tauriel, she knew, understood best of all what she was going through. Minriel blinked back tears and leaned against the elf’s chest, reaching out absentmindedly to stroke Bambi’s flank.

“How did you handle it?” she asked. “I assume the council didn’t let you learn Khuzdul either.”

Tauriel shrugged. “I never asked,” she told the girl. “I knew they would say no, and I decided that I didn’t need to put myself through that.”

Minriel nodded. “I wish I’d never asked,” she admitted.

Tauriel’s hand came up to stroke her hair. “Don’t say that,” she pleaded. “Your uncle will come around in time, and he will persuade the council.”

Minriel shrugged. “But I know now how he truly feels about me,” she pointed out.

“He loves you,” Tauriel promised.

Minriel shook her head, tears coming to her eyes. This time she didn’t resist them, letting them stream silently down her face. “Maybe,” she acquiesced. “But not the way he should. Not the way he loves Mith.”

Tauriel sighed, but didn’t object. “He will come around,” she said again.

Minriel didn’t respond, and for a time both were silent. Suddenly Tauriel sat up, eyes wide in alarm.

“What is it?” asked Minriel. She stood, and the elf sprang to her feet, hand reaching behind her as if to draw an arrow. Then the elf muttered a curse in Sindarin; she had not brought her bow. She had ceased to carry it some time ago, and only took it out when she accompanied Bilbo and the girls across Middle Earth to visit their family or for practice- which was often as firing arrows at dwarf sized mannequins was one of Tauriel’s favorite forms of stress relief. Instead her hand dropped to the knife sheathed at her waist, and she was glad she at least had that.

Tauriel’s keen eyes raked around the exterior of the mountain, until she spotted the group she’d heard approaching. Footsteps thundering, armor clanking, Tauriel had known immediately that they were up to no good. As the weapons they bared at her came into view that thought was only reiterated, and several more curses escaped her lips.

“Aunt Tauriel?”

Minriel’s questions were cut short as Tauriel picked her up. With a gentle nudge of her foot she had Bambi standing, and was glad they had not bothered to unsaddle the elk. Minriel hadn’t learned how to ride bare backed, and now wasn’t the time for her to learn. Tauriel dropped the child onto Bambi’s back and handed her the reins.

“Head for the mountain,” she ordered. “And don’t look back.” With that she gave Bambi a sharp slap on his rump, and the elk tore off, Minriel clinging to him.

Tauriel turned to the dwarves rushing at her and drew her small dagger. Ignoring the heavy feeling in her chest, she pushed her hair out of her face and narrowed her eyes, challenging the group’s approach. They rushed on, heedless, swords and axes ready to strike her, and Tauriel sighed.

To battle.

 

* * * * *

 

Minriel shrieked in fright as Bambi reared into motion beneath her, and as the elk bounded off she turned to watch her aunt. The elf turned towards some threat that Minriel could not yet see, and Minriel’s eyes widened as Tauriel pulled a small dagger from the sheath on her hip. What was happening?

Her worrying was interrupted as Bambi leapt over a rock, and Minriel wrapped her arms around her steed’s neck. Thankfully, Bambi seemed to know the way back to the entrance to Erebor, for he made straight for it. Minriel doubted she could steer him without falling off. He was simply moving too fast.

Then something blurred by, on her right, and Bambi stumbled. He fell down, forward and to the left, and Minriel was pinned under his weight.

“Bambi,” she yelled. “Get up!”

She glanced down at her elk, and her eyes widened as she took in the spear that protruded from his side. Blood was pouring from the wound, soaking his hide, and Minriel made no attempt to quiet the scream that tore from her lips.

“Bambi?” she whispered. Tears filled her eyes, and she pushed gingerly at the elk, willing him to move. The elk didn’t stir, not even his ears flicked, and Minriel dissolved into sobs.

She only glanced up again as she heard the thump of footsteps. Stomping toward her was an armor clad dwarf, axe bared. Minriel knew that the axe was meant for her.

She whimpered, shoving at Bambi. At first it was of no use, then the elk slid off her, and with a last glance at her friend she scrambled to her feet and ran. She had no choice but to make her way in the direction from which she’d come, the dwarf pursuing her.

In the tall grass outside of Erebor, it was hard for Minriel to see where she put her feet. As such, she didn’t see the stone, didn’t know it was there until her foot struck against it. With a cry she fell forward, and she hurriedly pushed herself up. Her hands were slick with Bambi’s blood though, and she was trembling too fitfully to struggle to her feet. As the sound of pounding steps echoed behind Minriel she turned. Her attacker was still coming at her, and Minriel pushed herself back on all fours, scrambling to get away from the ferocious dwarf. However, the soldier moved swiftly for his small size, and within moments had reached her. As his axe descended towards her head Minriel let out a terrified scream.

Tauriel’s dagger connected with the axe just in time, sliding under it and bracing against the metal, stopping it moments before it connected with her niece’s head. The dwarf glanced up at her in shock, and his eyes widened as he took in the blood sprays that covered the elf.

Tauriel didn’t waste time with words. She shoved forward and the dwarf stumbled away from Minriel and fell to the ground, weighed down by his heavy armor. Tauriel was on him in an instant, her knife driving down with skillful precision, lodging in a chink in his armor. It sank down and Tauriel pushed, sending the dagger into his heart. As the dwarf’s eyes grew dark she pulled out the dagger and shoved it back into its sheath..

“Min,” she asked. “Min, are you alright?”

Min was staring at the dead dwarf with wide grey eyes, and Tauriel dropped to her knees beside her. She opened her arms, and Minriel immediately crawled to her, not seeming to care that the blood covering Tauriel was smearing on her cheek as she buried her head against Tauriel’s chest. As the child clung to her aunt she began to sob, and Tauriel rubbed a soothing hand up and down her back.

“It’s alright,” she murmured. “It’s alright. You’re safe now; you’re safe.”

 

* * * * *

 

Thorin was pacing around his office. Minriel’s words and the words of Bilbo were swimming in his mind, tearing the king to pieces. Mahal knew he loved that girl, but he simply could not allow her to learn his sacred language.

Yet, he knew that if he didn’t, Bilbo would leave the mountain. He would return to the Shire with the girls, and Thorin would never see any of them again. That was a prospect the king simply couldn’t handle.

So, he stalked. He paused to study various objects placed here or there, hoping that one of them would provide him with the answer he sought, but if they knew, they did not say.

Thorin’s brooding was interrupted by a knock at the door, and with a sigh and a heavy scowl he flung it open to reveal a messenger. The dwarf gulped, wringing his tunic beneath his fingers, and Thorin had to struggle not to snap at him.

“Sir,” the boy spoke at last. “The ladies Tauriel and Minriel have just returned from outside the mountain. There has been an attempt on their lives.”

Thorin froze, and as his blue eyes turned icy the dwarf gulped and took a step backwards.

“What did you say?” Thorin growled. His mind was swirling. Had he heard correctly?

The dwarf gulped again. “There has been an assassination attempt on-”

Thorin took off down the hall. He didn’t need to hear any more of what the dwarf had to say, he needed to find his niece. Someone had tried to kill her? Thorin shook his head, fighting back red waves of fury. How dare anyone hurt his little niece! What would he have done if something had happened to her?

This caused Thorin pause, and he nearly stumbled as he sped down the hall. He loved Minriel. He had always known that, but until then he hadn’t realized just how much the child meant to him. He loved her with the same fatherly passion that he reserved for Mithril, and Mahal help him, he would sooner die than see her depart from Erebor.

He started forward again, knowing that Minriel would have been brought to the red and gold family room. He was correct, and already everyone else was there, worrying over Minriel and Tauriel. Kili was all but clinging to his wife’s side, and Bilbo and Mithril were clutching at Minriel as if she would vanish should they let go. Thorin’s heart clenched as he saw that both elves were covered in blood, but it didn’t seem to be their own.

“Min!”

Everyone glanced up at the sound of Thorin’s voice, and the dwarf’s heart tore in two as Minriel shied behind her cousin. He ignored the sinking feeling in his stomach, barreling into the room and making straight for her. There he fell to his knees, grabbing her and bringing her into a desperate hug.

“Are you alright?” he asked. He didn’t even care that his voice was choked with tears, he only cleared his throat and tried again. “Min, are you alright?”

Minriel nodded, but Thorin could feel her trembling against him.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry Min. I love you. I love you, I swear. You can learn Khuzdul. Whatever you want. Whatever you want. I love you.”

Minriel nodded, and there was relief audible in her voice when she responded. “Thank you Uncle.”

Thorin nodded, still clutching the girl to him. The company averted their eyes as tears rolled down the king’s face, and with shaking hands Thorin reached out to draw Bilbo and Mithril to him. Faced with the idea of losing them, he found that he would do anything to avert that possibility. His other arm came out, stretching for Tauriel, the elf that his nephew loved, the woman who had fought for and with Thorin. He had never shown her the appreciation she deserved, and he decided that it was high time he rectified that mistake.

From where he was pressed against Thorin’s side, Bilbo sighed. “Tauriel,” he pleaded, “would you please get over here before my husband breaks his arm trying to reach you.”

Tauriel gave a small laugh, but moved closer so that Thorin could draw her into the group hug.

“I am so sorry,” he whispered to them. “I love you. All of you.”

“We know Thorin,” said Bilbo. He sighed. It was clear to him, based on Thorin’s reaction to the attempt on Minriel’s life, that the dwarf had undergone a serious change of outlook. Bilbo knew that what Thorin had promised Minriel was true; they would have no more problems with Thorin excluding her.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Bilbo promised.

Chapter Text

Arwen had just returned home from spending the day with a friend. Married now, and with a small elfling padding behind her, Halaema had positively radiated with joy. Arwen had found herself cuddling her friend’s son close to her as they sat in Halaema’s house, and if her friend noticed the sadness in Arwen’s eyes she did not comment.

Arwen flopped back onto her bed and closed her eyes softly. Spending the day running along after the young elf was tiring indeed, but fun. She made a mental note to spend as much time with Halaema and her son as she could.

Minriel was sitting in the grass outside of Erebor, leaning against Tauriel. At her side was the elk King Thranduil had gifted her, and Arwen watched her daughter reach out to stroke her steed’s flank. There were tears in her eyes as she exchanged words with Tauriel that Arwen could not hear, and for a moment both were silent. Then, suddenly, both sprang up, and within moments Tauriel had sent Minriel galloping away on Bambi’s back.

The vision changed, and Minriel was sprinting, running in wide eyed terror from an axe wielding dwarf. Arwen’s heart squeezed as she saw the corpse of her daughter’s beloved pet in the grass, but she forced her eyes onto Minriel.

The girl tripped, falling into the tall grass, and quickly twisted so that she was on her back, staring at the dwarf approaching her. Arwen’s heart pounded as he bounded forward, and Minriel began to crawl away, a scream on her lips. Arwen’s own scream was lost within her mind as the dwarf struck at Minriel, and she didn’t see Tauriel appear until the elf was standing above Minriel, shielding her with only a small dagger. Within moments the dwarf was dead, and Arwen watched as the elf pulled Minriel into her arms.

Arwen bolted out of bed the moment her eyes snapped open. Her vision still echoed through her mind, and she found that she was incredibly relieved to not have heard what occurred. Her daughter’s scream would no doubt have haunted her for years to come.

She grabbed a bag from the corner, stuffing in a couple of changes of clothes. She pulled on her boots and cloak, and then rummaged around for her sword. Where was it?

“Elrohir! Elladan!” Arwen stormed from her room, and with matching grins the twins emerged from their own rooms. “Where is my sword?”

Their grins only grew bigger. “Why, what need have you of it?” asked Elladan.

Arwen growled and resisted the urge to put her brother through a wall. “I need to go to Erebor,” she stated. “Minriel has just been attacked.”

At once the humor vanished from the boys’ faces, and they exchanged pale looks of horror with each other.

“I’ll get the sword,” choked Elrohir. “You tell Father.”

Elladan nodded, and the two sped off in either direction. Arwen followed Elladan, and by the time she had finished explaining to Lord Elrond her vision Elrohir had arrived, Arwen’s sword clutched in his hands.

“Is she alright?” Elrond demanded. “Did you see the outcome?”

Arwen nodded. “She is unharmed,” she promised. “But I must see her.”

Elrond nodded; this he understood. “I will prepare a caravan,” he told her.

Arwen shook her head. “I will not wait that long. I depart immediately.”

Elrond looked about to object, but Elrohir jumped in. “We will accompany her,” he promised. Arwen glanced over to see him strap his own sword to his belt, handing Elladan the matching blade. “We are going with her.”

Elrond pursed his lips, but at last nodded. “Very well,” he said. “I will join you when I can; I must make arrangements for Rivendell in my absence.”

Arwen nodded, and then led her brothers from the study without another word. She ran to the kitchens and packed food while they packed their own clothes, and no more than a half hour later they tore out of Rivendell, the hair of their white steeds billowing behind them.

 

* * * * *

 

Thorin’s first task when he had finally released his family was to launch an investigation into the attempt on Minriel and Tauriel’s lives. He knew the small group of dead dwarves could not be all who were involved in the plots against the royal family; they had likely only seen Tauriel and Minriel heading out alone and seized at the perfect opportunity. The king would not rest until he had personally seen that every last conspirator had paid.

Everyone was on edge, and Balin made no attempt at lessons with the girls that day. Instead, everyone resorted to staring at Minriel and Tauriel for the next hour, fearful that should they look away for one moment some harm would find them.

This was interrupted as Mithril, catching the trembling of her cousin, took Minriel’s hand and led her from the family room. Bilbo made a strangled cry and made to follow them, but Balin caught his arm.

“Let them go,” he ordered. “You know how those two are; the best comfort for them is to be alone with each other.”

Bilbo nodded, but as he returned to his seat there was a worried frown on his face.

Back in Minriel’s room, Mithril curled up on the bed with her cousin, wrapping her arms around Minriel’s slight form.

“What happened?” she pleaded. “Min, tell me what happened.”

Minriel, now crying, shook her head. While she longed to share with Mithril her attack, she just couldn’t part those details to Mithril. She knew how strongly Mithril felt for those around her, and how, despite her façade of infallible strength and comfort that day, Mithril was really as scared and pained as Minriel herself was. Minriel would not, could not relate to Mithril the details of their pet’s death. Could not tell her of how Minriel had nearly faced her own end, or the terror she had felt in those moments. She knew the knowledge would tear her cousin apart.

So she cried in Mithril’s arms, letting her cousin do her part to comfort her. They stayed there, the younger girl cradled in her cousin’s arms for over an hour, both sobbing. Both cried for Bambi, their loyal steed who had carried them across Middle Earth, but Minriel also cried for herself. She had tried so hard, she had spent her entire life trying to fit in at the mountain. Yet it made no difference. They would never accept her, she realized. Erebor was her home, yet she could not truly be at home there.

As Minriel cried, Mithril’s tears soon flowed to a stop. Terror took its place as images of Minriel’s blood stained body from earlier crept through her mind, and she squeezed her eyes shut against the terrible memories from fields of yellow grass that surfaced.

Anger filled her as she tried to fight away her fear. She channeled it, reapplying it to a new source. Someone had tried to kill Minriel. Someone had tried to hurt Mithril’s little cousin, the cousin that Mithril had fallen in love with instantly, who she had watched over for the majority of her life. No one, Mithril had long ago decided, attacked her cousin.

Apparently, she needed to make that more clear.

 

* * * * *

 

Dinner that night was a silent affair, and the company was unsurprised when the two girls quickly excused themselves. The adults’ eyes followed them worriedly, but in the castle at least, they reasoned, Minriel and Tauriel would be safe.

“She is tired,” observed Tauriel. The elf’s own eyes were drooping wearily; the attack had been emotionally draining on her. She could only imagine how her little niece was feeling.

The others nodded, and they resumed their silent meal.

Thorin had never come down for dinner, locking himself in the study he shared with Bilbo to oversee the investigation. Bilbo himself carried a tray up to him, and the two spoke late into the night about what they would do when the conspirators had been caught. At last they made their way quietly to bed, hands joined together. They paused as they passed Minriel’s room, staring openmouthed at the girl asleep against the door.

Mithril was snoring softly, head leaned back against the stone wall. In her hands she clutched the family axe Bilbo and Thorin had wielded at their wedding, having appointed herself Minriel’s personal guard. The two husbands smiled softly as they tiptoed up to her, and Thorin tried in vain to gently pry the axe from her grip. Even in sleep however, the girl’s hands were locked firmly around the handle, and Bilbo pulled Thorin back before Mithril woke and began to wildly swing.

“What do we do?” asked Thorin. “I don’t want her sleeping with an axe in her hands.”

Bilbo bit his lip, then shrugged and sat against the opposite wall. “We will stay with her,” he decided.

Thorin nodded, sliding down next to Bilbo. Both wanted to pull Mithril into their arms, but they dared not approach her. When the girl’s eyes fluttered open the next morning, her fathers were unsurprised to see her immediately rush to Minriel’s room, checking that she was alright. She left the axe leaning against the doorway, and Bilbo quickly snatched it up.

“We are lucky we are not in the wild,” Thorin stated once Mithril had returned. “Guards should not fall asleep on watch.”

“Thorin,” hissed Bilbo. He elbowed his husband in the ribs, ignoring the small chuckle the dwarf gave. Mithril’s eyes had become downcast, her cheeks blooming red as she silently berated herself.

“Oh Mahal.” Thorin made his way over to Mithril, scooping her up as he had done when she was a giggling two year old. “It is not your job to protect Min,” he told her. “That is my job.”

Mithril crossed her arms, and Bilbo sighed.

 

* * * * *

 

That night he asked Tauriel to put the axe high out of reach, where Mithril couldn’t get to it. Confident that Mithril would decide to return to her own bed, Bilbo and Thorin retired to their own room. When they emerged the next morning, they were shocked to see Mithril again curled up outside Minriel’s door. There were tired bags beneath her eyes, but her gaze was steady as she met her fathers’ eyes. In her hands was the axe Tauriel and Kili had forged at their wedding.

And so the frenzy began. Each member of the company was forced to hide their weapons or else lose them. Fili discovered this when he searched frantically for two of his knives, only to rise the next morning to find them clutched in Mithril’s hands. Oin’s steel staff was taken by the girl, and Mithril even decided to resort to stealing both Tauriel and Kili’s bows. Even Dwalin’s knuckle dusters were nicked from his room, though Bilbo didn’t know what damage his daughter hoped to do to an attacker with them.

The kitchen staff was under strict orders to hide all silverware and never let Mithril near anything sharp unattended, yet the child still managed to procure knives, forks, cheese graters, and even a frying pan. At this point Thorin arranged for security on the barracks of Erebor to be tripled and hobbit proofed, just in case.

Mithril took to taking naps throughout the day, in between studying and playing with Minriel. Bilbo and Thorin both worried greatly for her health, but Mithril quickly learned how to sleep lightly, so that she could rest during her watches and still leap into action should danger approach. Still, her family attempted to persuade her to abandon her guard duty- and were met with determined rejections.

A week after the attack an entourage of guards from Mirkwood arrived, led by Thranduil himself. Bilbo sighed as he went to greet the elven king; he should have known Thranduil would react so strongly.

“Where is Minriel?” Thranduil’s blue eyes were ice cold as they rested on Bilbo, and the hobbit resisted an eye roll.

“She is studying with Balin,” Bilbo informed him. “She is quite safe.”

Thranduil nodded, though Bilbo could tell he didn’t believe him. “Nonetheless,” Thranduil stated, “help would not go amiss. Tell me burglar, what efforts is the mountain king making to ensure Minriel’s safety?”

Bilbo began to fill Thranduil in on the investigation, leading him to the office he shared with Thorin. A spare chair was brought for the elven king, and they stayed there for many hours as they discussed the matters at hand.

As they headed to the dining hall for dinner Bilbo held up a hand to pause Thranduil.

“What weapons have your guards brought?” he asked.

One of Thranduil’s eyebrows rose. “Why?”

Bilbo sighed. “Just tell them not to leave even a single arrow unattended.”

Thranduil frowned, but deigned not to ask. The king did not spend the night in the mountain, but made the trip to Dale, unwilling to bend his pride enough to accept the hospitality of the dwarves. The next morning he returned to his own kingdom; however much he wished, he could not personally guard Minriel in Erebor.

 

* * * * *

 

With Thranduil’s guards taking up residence in Erebor, Thorin felt slightly more confident of the safety of Minriel and Tauriel. He would never admit it to anyone, but the presence of the elves helped to put his mind at rest. The king truly had no idea who was involved in any conspiracies against his family, and as much as he liked to believe his palace safe, he simply could not allow himself such luxuries.

He left the girls in the guards’ care, making his way to the forges. He had wanted to come for over a week, ever since the attack, but had not yet had the chance. Now, with no leads presenting themselves and the girls for once in safe care, he took advantage of a rare segment of free time.

He fell easily into the task of wielding; recalling long days spent in the forges of the Blue Mountains. There he had hardly been a king, and had scrounged for every last coin to feed his family. Now however, he was a king desperate to protect the girl he loved as a daughter.

When he emerged from the forges many hours later, he made straight for Minriel’s room. There she and Mithril sat together, idly braiding each other’s hair. Thorin paused in the doorway and cleared his throat, and both girls glanced up with large grins.

“Papa!”

“Uncle!”

Thorin chuckled softly and moved into the room, holding the item he had crafted behind his back. He knelt on the floor in front of Minriel, waiting until she had focused her attention completely on him before speaking.

“I have made you something,” he told her. “I hope you never have another need of it, but I felt the need for you to be prepared.”

With that he drew out the item he had been holding, and Minriel gasped. Her eyes raked up and down the dagger her uncle presented her. Small enough to be easily concealed among her clothes, the shining steel blade worked into a subtly bejeweled hilt. Tiny gems were crusted along the pommel of the knife, providing that slight feminine touch Thorin knew Minriel craved.

“Uncle,” she breathed. “It’s beautiful.”

Thorin smiled as he allowed Minriel to take the dagger. “It is also very dangerous,” he warned her. “Use it only if absolutely necessary, and show it to no one. It would not do for all of Erebor to know where you hide your weapons.”

Minriel nodded, and Thorin was pleased to see that her grey eyes were completely serious as she set the dagger gently in her lap.

“Thank you Uncle,” she whispered.

Thorin nodded and wrapped his niece in a hug, burying his head in her raven hair. Never, he swore to himself, would he allow anything to hurt her.

“Oh,” he said, pulling away slightly. “Under no circumstances are you to allow Mithril to take that dagger tonight.”

He turned stony eyes on his daughter, who had now begun to pout. Encased still in Thorin’s arms, Minriel began to giggle.

 

* * * * *

 

Arwen, Elrohir, and Elladan drew to a halt as they heard a noise on the forest path ahead of them. Swiftly dismounting for full use of both hands, they left their horses on the path and crept ahead, arrows nocked.

“Aragorn!” Arwen threw herself at her husband, and after dismounting his own horse, the ranger gladly received her into his arms.

“Arwen,” he greeted her. Finally pulling back from their kiss, he glanced back and forth between the three siblings. “To where do you journey in such haste?”

“Erebor,” Arwen answered. “Someone has attempted to kill our daughter.”

Aragorn’s face paled, and he reached out to steady himself on his horse.

“Let us go,” he said. His voice was deep, barely shaking with fury, and Arwen quickly nodded in agreement. The husband and wife galloped ahead, and exchanging nervous glances, Elladan and Elrohir followed.

 

* * * * *

 

The end of the month found the girls making their usual trip to Mirkwood. Though neither Thorin or Bilbo were happy about Minriel and Tauriel being out of their sight for so long, Tauriel assured them that they would be safe in Mirkwood. However, as the elf led the way to the castle gates, her eyes cast about nervously.

Thranduil was visibly impatient during the meeting with his ambassadors, and as soon as the required time was through he rushed to Minriel and Mithril’s room. There the two sat together, for once uninterested in wreaking havoc, and Thranduil felt a wave of fury wash over him. He pushed it down; for Minriel’s sake he could not let her see how the attempt on her life had upset him.

The next morning found him searching frantically about his chambers for his sword. Cursing under his breath, he stalked from the room. He had wanted to take Minriel out that day, to bring her to a solitary place in Greenwood where she could for some time grieve silently. He could not do that without his sword.

Kili raised his eyebrows as the king all but threw himself into his seat at the table.

“Bad morning?” he guessed.

Thranduil scowled ever so slightly, but didn’t respond.

“Where are Tauriel and the girls?” he asked at last.

“The girls are asleep; Tauriel has gone to wake them,” Kili stated.

Thranduil nodded, glancing up a moment later when Tauriel bounded into the room, a resigned and slightly amused smirk on her face.

“You should see this,” she told them.

Instantly the two men followed her, and Thranduil’s heart pounded as the elf led them towards the girls’ room. He glanced over to Tauriel, but she didn’t seem worried enough for the girls to be in danger.

Sensing his gaze, she turned to him.

“We did warn you about this,” she told him.

Thranduil frowned, and behind him Kili sighed and cursed in Khuzdul. Truly worried as he tried to guess what had happened, Thranduil bounded ahead, and then skidded to a stop as the door came into sight.

“It was locked up in my chambers! How in the name of the Valar did she even get a hold of it?”

The sound of his voice woke Mithril, who leapt upright with as ferocious a battle cry as she could manage. Hurriedly she unsheathed Thranduil’s sword, swinging the blade wildly about her in an attempt to ward off whatever had dared near her cousin. The sword however was too large for her, and it drooped almost to the floor in her grip. It took several moments for her eyes to focus on the two elves and dwarf that watched her, and as soon as she stopped brandishing the sword Thranduil darted forward and roughly pulled it from her grasp.

“A plague on the stiff necks of dwarves!” he snapped. “Give that here before you hurt yourself!”

Mithril lifted her chin and glared at the elf. “Stiff necked perhaps,” she retorted, “but not one that shall leave my cousin unprotected.”

As Thranduil shoved his sword into its sheath he could only sigh.

 

* * * * *

 

With his sword returned, Thranduil soon whisked Minriel out of the castle. The girl clung teary eyed to his elk, and Thranduil silently berated himself for not bringing a horse this time. He sighed; it was too late to turn back.

He brought Minriel to a waterfall at the edge of his kingdom. Gushing silver streams of water, the droplets sprayed up in a great arc as they collided with the river at the bottom of the fall. On a ledge overlooking the scene the two sat, cloaked by heavily leafed trees and thick, flowering bushes.

Minriel sniffled as she watched the waterfall. Given the chance to at last reflect on the attack, she replayed it over and over in her head. Before she had not had the chance to dwell on it; she had been constantly surrounded by her family, but now, with only a patiently silent king beside her, Minriel’s thoughts were again her own.

She was not so much shaken by the attack itself as the fact that it was eerily familiar to her. Over every spare moment she’d possessed over the past few weeks she had played it through her mind, searching for the answer to why it was so familiar. Then she remembered- a vision from many years ago; a terrified five year old that had pleaded for her cousin’s understanding. She had long since realized that Mithril had meant no harm by the look she had given her cousin; it was unlikely she even remembered the incident. Minriel knew that should she again tell Mithril of her visions, she would be met with the utmost love and understanding. Her cousin would never judge her, now that she was old enough to understand.

Yet Minriel couldn’t tell her. Again she harkened back to Mithril’s irrational urge to protect those she loved; Mithril would seek to shield Minriel from the visions. Though her visions were rarely of anything even remotely pleasant, Minriel would never have that. They were a part of her, as much as her raven hair or wide grey eyes.

Besides, she doubted Mithril could handle the truth. She would never judge Minriel, but the knowledge that her cousin suffered such visions would destroy Mithril. Minriel loved her cousin more than anything, and as much as Mithril sought to protect her, so did Minriel shield Mithril.

Her mind again returned to the fact that she had seen her own assassination attempt. Perhaps, she mused, if she had realized beforehand what the vision signified, she would not have put herself in that position. Perhaps Bambi would still be alive.

Perhaps… perhaps… Minriel knew it did no good. Yet she couldn’t help her thoughts, and her lip began to tremble as she fought back tears. Beside her Thranduil glanced over, and he pressed his hand to her back, imparting a silent gesture of comfort that meant more to the girl than any kind words would have. There they stayed, watching the waterfall as they lost themselves in the emotion racked tumbles of their own thoughts.

 

* * * * *

 

It was several more months before the four travelers arrived at Erebor. They did not even stop to visit Dale or Mirkwood, making straight for the mountain. On the slopes of the Lonely Mountain Arwen walked calmly abreast her brothers, but frowned as her husband bolted ahead, eyes focused on his destination.

Aragorn paid no heed to the staring eyes of the dwarves as he tore through Erebor. He made straight for the castle gates, and wordlessly the guards leapt aside to let him pass. In the back of his mind, Aragorn made a note to later thank Bilbo for ensuring his unhindered arrival. He threw open the doors to the throne room, skidding to a stop. There Bilbo and Thorin sat on their thrones, neither looking at all surprised to see the frantic man.

“Hello Strider,” greeted Bilbo. His voice was light, almost playful, and Aragorn scowled at the lack of severity to it.

“Where is she?” he demanded. “Where is my-”

“King Thorin, Master Baggins,” Arwen called. She entered the throne room with a hastiness that only her family could discern, shooting Aragorn a warning glare as she came to stand by his side. “I am pleased to see you once more. Forgive my friend’s bluntness, for he adores the cousins under the mountain and is eager to see them.”

“Aye, I feel the same,” Elladan agreed, sauntering in behind Arwen with Elrohir. The two bowed briefly. “Though it is good to meet you again as well.”

Elrohir chuckled. “Where are the girls?”

With a small smile Bilbo dismissed the dwarves he and his husband had been meeting with, and with curious looks the two swiftly departed.

“Follow me,” he ordered.

Bilbo led them to the red and gold family room that Aragorn remembered so well, and Thorin disappeared to fetch Minriel and Mithril. As soon as Minriel entered the room her parents launched themselves at her, and while Arwen eventually detached herself, patting her eyes dry, Aragorn had to be pried from Minriel’s small form. As her uncles descended upon her the rest of the company flooded in. Immediately Dis’s eyes went to Arwen. The elf was staring around her curiously, a pondering look in her steel grey eyes, and Dis’s eyebrows came up.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“Hmm? Oh, I was just musing over the most painful ways to kill whoever was involved in the assassination attempt,” Arwen informed.

Dis and Tauriel both nodded, for they had been making similar plans. The men all eyed them warily.

 

* * * * *

 

The end of the week announced their return to Mirkwood for their monthly lessons with Thranduil, and there was no question that Aragorn, Arwen, Elrohir, and Elladan would accompany them. Thranduil was unsurprised to see them; indeed, he had for some days wondered when they would be showing up.

“Greetings,” he addressed them. “What word is there from Rivendell?”

Elrohir shrugged. “The lands of the west are calm. Lord Elrond should be journeying here himself soon, however. He thought it time he visited his eastern brethren.”

Thranduil hid a knowing smile as he turned away from the elf. “And the rangers?” he asked Aragorn.

Aragorn stood a tad straighter as he gave his official report. “The northern lands carry on as usual,” he assured Thranduil. “I journey not for official ranger purposes, but to escort old friends safely on their journeys.”

“Of course,” allowed Thranduil. He turned to the girls, offering them his hands, and trustingly they latched onto him. “Shall we?” he asked them.

 

* * * * *

 

Later that night he drew Minriel subtly to the side. Her family had busied themselves with a card game off to the side of the room, and Thranduil suspected Elladan and Elrohir were teaching Mithril some of their tricks. He glanced around him to ensure no one was within earshot- or in the cases of the elves, listening- before addressing Minriel.

“They seem quite cozy, don’t you say?” he asked her, pointing towards Aragorn and Arwen. Minriel stiffened ever so slightly, but she kept her response nonchalant.

“Perhaps,” she said. “But they are old friends.”

“Yes,” agreed Thranduil. “But there is something there. And I couldn’t help but notice, and find rather amusing, the fact that if you combined their features, the resulting child would end up looking rather like you.”

With that he slipped silently from the room, leaving Minriel staring wide eyed after him. He hoped that with the knowledge that there were no secrets between the two of them Minriel would feel open to discussing with Thranduil that which she hid deep within herself. He sensed a sadness within her, a need to hide her deepest thoughts from those around her, for their own protection. Perhaps she would at least let him in.

 

* * * * *

 

The next morning Thranduil brought the two girls to where his elk, Ondroth, was stabled. The elk was still rather young, and therefore somewhat shy of people. Thranduil rather hoped that the girls, with their calming way with animals, could help him in taming the creature- Mithril especially. He sometimes mused that the girl could tame anything, and when he had complimented her with the fact he had been rewarded with one of her rare, pure smiles.

This morning, however, Mithril paused by his side. When Minriel turned to look back at her cousin the girl waved her on.

“Go ahead Min,” she told her. “I’ll be along in a minute.”

Minriel sighed, seemingly guessing the reasons for her cousin’s procrastination, but she wordlessly moved ahead. Mithril glanced around to make sure that the rest of her family was thoroughly occupied off to the side before turning to the king.

“I know that you know,” she declared. Her voice was soft, but there was a deadliness to it that Thranduil identified immediately.

He made no attempt to conceal the truth, merely nodding. “It was quite obvious really,” he told her. “I’m surprised more haven’t yet discerned the truth. I suppose we should be grateful for the thickness of dwarves.”

Mithril ground her teeth, but didn’t disagree. Instead, she took a step closer to Thranduil, until she was standing right beneath his nose.

“Listen to me,” she ordered. “If you ever tell anyone about Minriel’s secret, I will kill you myself. Are we clear?”

Thranduil’s eyebrow rose. Had she really just threatened him? The small quarterling who barely stood above his knee at the present time?

Mithril immediately spotted his disbelief, and she stood on her toes, her lip curling in a snarl.

“Don’t look amused,” she ordered. “My cousin, my hand that will skin you if you betray her. Don’t speak, just look frightened.”

Thranduil couldn’t help but notice how Mithril’s threats got progressively more violent, and he had the good sense to feign what he hoped was a look of terror. It didn’t quite work, but ultimately Mithril seemed pleased that she had at least made her intentions clear, and with a smug nod she turned away, moving to join her cousin.

Thranduil shook his head. Those two girls never ceased to amaze him, and he doubted they ever would. His musings were interrupted as his keen ears picked up approaching footsteps from outside the castle, and he quickly headed back to his throne room. The others followed, either hearing the same sounds as him or noticing his urgency, and Minriel and Mithril brought up the rear of the group. As the doors to the castle were flung open everyone made to subtly stand in front of Minriel, taking up positions in front of her self-appointed body guard, and Thranduil turned to face his newest visitor, hand on the hilt of his sword.

He blinked in surprise at the sight of the dark haired elf that strode through the doors, though he quickly rebuked himself. Elrohir had mentioned that he would be arriving shortly.

Thranduil stepped forward, adopting a pleasant smile on his face as he bowed ever so slightly. “Lord Elrond,” he greeted. “Welcome to Greenwood.”

Chapter Text

“King Thranduil,” replied Elrond. “It has been a long time.”

His eyes roamed around the hall, and he received small nods from his three children. He also spotted Aragorn, but he quickly averted his eyes, as did the ranger. Just behind Tauriel and Kili he saw Mithril and Minriel, and he couldn’t help how his eyebrows rose a smidge at the sight of Mithril standing protectively in front of her cousin.

Thranduil’s eyes moved back and forth between Elrond and Aragorn, and he gave a knowing nod. “Shall we go somewhere more private?” he asked.

Elrond nodded, following Thranduil through his palace. The king stopped briefly at the kitchens to allow the girls to grab snacks, and then he continued on to their room. Elrond felt a bubble of amusement rise in him at the sight of the proud elven king catering so to the two girls, but he made no comment.

As they reached the girls’ room Thranduil excused himself to deal with some brief official matters, and as the door closed behind him Elrond dropped to his knees. Immediately Minriel came to him, and he wrapped her up in a fierce hug.

“How are you, child?” he asked.

Minriel pulled away to look at him. “Fine Grandfather,” she promised.

Elrond inspected her, and then nodded. Despite what had happened to her, she did seem for the most part unbothered by it.

“I am glad.” He stood, carrying Minriel as he sat on her bed. The girl settled happily in his lap, allowing him to coo over her until Thranduil knocked on the door. Minriel shifted so that she sat on the floor in front of Elrond, Mithril at her side, and she studied Thranduil as he entered. The elven king didn’t so much at blink at how everyone hastily arranged themselves into more platonic positions; he merely sat down at the small desk in the room. Before they could speak Arwen cleared her throat, drawing attention to where she sat beside Aragorn.

“Strider was hoping to teach the girls some swordplay,” she told them. “I’m sure my brothers would love to participate. Why don’t we leave you two to your discussions?” She pointed to her father and Thranduil, and the two nodded.

Aragorn stood, and had to force himself not to bolt from the room. Arwen followed with a sigh, and as the doors closed behind the group she reached out to take her husband’s hand.

He leaned his head against hers. “I have not seen him since my banishment,” he admitted. “I did not expect it to be so hard.”

Arwen leaned up to plant a kiss on his lips. “I know, my love,” she whispered. She squeezed his hand and started down the hall, and Aragorn followed her.

They spent the rest of the day in the courtyard, and when Elrond and Thranduil came to fetch them for supper they found the girls fighting Elrohir and Elladan back to back, Aragorn making comments from the side.

No one was surprised when the next morning Aragorn departed, stating that he had simply too much to do with the rangers to remain any longer. Teary eyed, he hugged his daughter goodbye, and Thranduil took care to only show himself once the man had departed.

“Did I miss Strider?” he asked. “It is a shame; I had hoped to see him off.”

Elrond turned away from the door Aragorn had just walked out of, and Thranduil noticed a certain wetness to his eyes.

“He had no time to spare,” Elrond commented.

 

* * * * *

 

That night Thranduil and Elrond sat by the fire in the chambers Elrond was staying in, each thinking their own thoughts. Presently, Thranduil glanced over to Elrond.

“You know,” he mused. “I once banished Tauriel from Greenwood.”

Elrond glanced over, brown eyes widened slightly. “Oh?” he asked.

Thranduil nodded. “Aye.”

“You have since lifted the banishment,” Elrond observed.

Thranduil nodded. “Thorin and Bilbo’s demands for my tutoring of Minriel were that I redact it. I decided that the benefit I wanted to provide for Minriel outweighed my own pride, so I obliged.” He paused for a moment. “I have never regretted my actions,” he finished.

With that he stood, taking his leave with a small smile. He hoped his words provided Elrond with some thought, and perhaps in the future, Aragorn would not feel the need to flee the eastern lands just because they were inhabited by his father in law.

 

* * * * *

 

Time passed, and the girls grew older. Twenty one years flew by, and once more Bilbo prepared to journey to visit Frodo and Lila. He sighed as he listened to Thorin grumble beside him, brushing a few locks of his silver bangs out of his face.

“But your birthday is coming,” objected Thorin. “You’ll be gone for your birthday!”

Bilbo rolled his eyes. “It is Frodo’s birthday as well,” he reminded Thorin. “His thirty third; he is coming of age. I have decided that a welcome present for him is a visit from his distant uncle, who he has not seen in over two decades.”

Thorin growled under his breath but nodded. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to let the girls stay here?” he asked.

Bilbo slanted Thorin a glare. “I think the bigger issue would be convincing them to remain behind.”

Bilbo made off soon after to oversee preparations for the trip. What he hadn’t told Thorin was the true reason he was so eager to leave Erebor. There had been a nagging suspicion within him for some time, a mistrust that he had widely ignored. Over the years it had grown, and now, fingering the gold band in his pocket, Bilbo could ignore it no longer.

He knew Thorin had fallen once to the gold sickness; he had been there for it after all. Bilbo would do anything to prevent such a thing from happening again, and for several years a small voice in the back of his head had been warning him of how Thorin had been eyeing Bilbo’s ring in secret. How Thorin was waiting for the right time to take it, and would do whatever it took to obtain the gold trinket.

Bilbo knew he had to get rid of the ring. He needed to get it out of Erebor before Thorin could fall mad again. He ignored the pestering voice in the back of his mind, the voice telling him that he didn’t need to get rid of the ring. It told him there was a way, there was always a way to keep both it and Thorin, but Bilbo shoved it roughly back. He would take no chances.

It was a month before his one hundred and eleventh birthday when they arrived in the Shire. By now his hair had begun to turn grey, and a few wrinkles coated his face, but not many. Somehow, Bilbo noted, he had been preserved beyond his time.

Frodo and Lila were thrilled to see him, though they soon bounded off with the girls and the rest of their friends. Bilbo sighed and set about making arrangements for a birthday party for him and Frodo, with Drogo and Primula happily helping. It was to be a large party, perhaps the biggest the Shire had ever seen, and it quickly caught the attention of many. Many hobbits asked Bilbo his reasons, but to them he would only reply with a shrug and mischievous twinkle of the eyes. Deep within him though, he had his reasons.

Bilbo might be sprite beyond reason, but even that would eventually fade, and Bilbo highly doubted he would ever again return to Bag-End. In fact he meant not to. If he was to never see his childhood home again, he planned to leave with as large an event as he could.

To his joy, Gandalf arrived the day before the party, bringing with him a wagon filled with fireworks. Mithril’s eyes went quickly from the fireworks to Merry and Pippin, and as the two started toward the wagon she promptly seized their hands and dragged them away. Gandalf chuckled, but joined Bilbo where he sat on the bench in the front garden of the house. Now shaded by the oak tree Bilbo had planted so long ago, it was a welcome reprieve from the sun, which was still unnaturally hot for the season. From within the house drifted the smells of the food Primula was preparing, and from behind Bag-End they could hear Drogo humming as he chopped wood for the hearth.

“Are you quite ready?” Gandalf asked Bilbo.

Bilbo glanced up at him, pipe poking out from in between his lips. “Ready for what?”

Gandalf chuckled. “Bilbo, my friend, I know you. You plan on making an exit worthy of a king tomorrow; what you plan I know not. But something tells me that once you leave, you won’t be coming back.”

Bilbo shrugged, but there was a certain gleam to his eyes as he cast a glance about him. “I don’t think I shall,” he stated. “I love Bag-End, and I enjoy my visits here, but it stopped being my home long ago. Erebor is my home now, and I highly doubt I shall be able to make many more trips after this. I think I shall go back to my mountain, and Thorin will finally get over his fear that I’m going to go out for a stroll and not return.”

Gandalf chuckled, and the two faded into a companionable silence.

 

* * * * *

 

“Well, this has been a merry gathering indeed, and I have enjoyed it greatly, but now I must wish you all a very fond farewell,” Bilbo shouted. He cast one last glance around the assembled party, ignoring how the remnants of his cake smoldered to the side. Off in the distance, several tents that had been set up with celebrations had also been recently extinguished, thanks to Merry and Pippin’s fooling around with fireworks. He sighed; he was sure Gandalf had handled the two quite nicely.

Several cheers rose up among the crowd, but Bilbo hadn’t finished.

“I shall miss you all,” he declared. “Though I think I don’t know half of you as well as I would like, and like the rest half as well as you deserve.”

There was a strained silence after that, and Bilbo winced at the stares aimed his way. Several hobbits seemed confounded by his twisted words, while others had grasped them and were clearly offended. Off to the side Minriel snickered. Bilbo shot her a quick glare, but some of his thoughts must have been reflected in his eyes, because Mithril’s own eyes narrowed. She leaned to the side to whisper first in Minriel’s ear, and then Frodo’s. Soon her message was being passed down the line of her cousins, and Bilbo sent her a quick wink.

Of course, the cousins had already gleaned an inkling of what Bilbo was planning when the elderly hobbit had told them to say goodbye to Merry, Pippin, and Sam before the party, but beyond that they didn’t know what was to occur. He had only told Gandalf his plan, and he could feel the wizard’s wary gaze on him.

He gulped as he turned back to the assembled crowd. His hands came behind his back, and in his fingers he toyed with the ring.

“I- I’m going now.” Bilbo paused and took a deep breath, fighting back his nerves. It was time things ended. “I won’t be coming back. Goodbye.”

There was a flash of light and smoke, added by Gandalf. The hobbits cringed backward and blinked in the brightness, and by the time they had focused again Bilbo had vanished. A gasp ran up among the crowd, and no one noticed how the hedges at the edge of the clearing parted slightly as Bilbo passed through, invisible.

* * * * *

 

Gandalf was waiting for Bilbo at Bag-End- how the wizard had beat him there he had no idea. He opened the door for his friend, and Gandalf stood back and watched Bilbo pack the last of his bags. He had, upon Bilbo’s request, bid the dwarven traveling party to wait for Bilbo and the girls on the edge of the Shire, and now all the hobbit needed was Mithril and Minriel. Soon enough the two ran up the hill, accompanied by Frodo and Lila, and Gandalf swung the door open for them.

“We should have a few minutes before the whole of the Shire comes knocking to find out if Uncle is here,” Frodo stated. “Ma and Da are distracting them for now.”

“I don’t understand,” Minriel stated. “Why are we sneaking off like this?”

Bilbo shrugged. “Because I don’t like dealing with long drawn out goodbyes,” he told her. “And because it is more fun this way. Like burglars in the night.”

“Well you would know, wouldn’t you,” commented Gandalf.

Bilbo scowled at the wizard as he strapped Sting to his belt, and Mithril and Minriel said a quick goodbye to their cousins.

Mithril sighed as she stepped back from Lila, and as Minriel joined her at the door Mithril ran her eyes over her cousin, checking that Minriel was ready to leave.

“Stop,” admonished Minriel. “By Mahal, you’re worse than Uncle Dori.”

Mithril scowled. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” she defended.

She glanced over to her father, and then back to Minriel. At forty four years old, Mithril stood several inches above her father, a gift of her dwarf blood. It was a fact she found quite amusing, and she made sure to point it out often. Minriel was, however, taller than them both. She had inherited the enormous stature of both the elves and her taller than normal father, and stood at six feet. As such, she towered above Mithril, and like her cousin, she never failed to point out the fact. While her own added inches above her father were amusing, Mithril reflected, Minriel’s towering height was simply annoying.

Bilbo pulled Lila to the side, wrapping her in a soft hug.

“Take care of your brother,” he told her. “He worries too much.”

Lila, a pretty hobbit of twenty five, nodded. “I know,” she said. She shook her head, and chocolate brown curls bounced back and forth, falling into eyes that were rather doe-like in appearance. “I’ll keep his life interesting,” she promised.

Bilbo grinned and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Atta girl.”

Lila grinned, and Bilbo stepped back slightly.

“Know you are always welcome in Erebor,” he told her.

Lila nodded. “Thank you Uncle,” she said. “But I don’t think I’m much for traveling.”

Bilbo laughed. “We shall see,” he said. Next he turned to Frodo, and the lad gave him a quick hug. As they separated Bilbo pulled his nephew to the side, presenting him with a small envelope.

“I want you to have this,” he told Frodo. “It is something I found on my quest to reclaim Erebor; I thought you might like it.”

Eyes wide, Frodo reached out to take the envelope from Bilbo, and the hobbit had to resist the sudden urge to pull back, to withdraw the gift. He held his hand in place, watching as Frodo slowly opened the package to reveal the ring.

Tears were in Frodo’s eyes as he looked back to his uncle. “I- thank you,” he whispered. He slipped the ring, his uncle’s most prized possession, into his pocket, and once more seized Bilbo in a hug. Bilbo nodded against his shoulder, and then planted a kiss on the fringe of Frodo’s dark curls.

“Take care, my boy.”

Bilbo joined Minriel and Mithril at the door.

“Ready?” he asked.

Minriel nodded. “Ready. What about you, Shorty?”

Mithril scowled. “Always ready, Ginormo.”

Bilbo sighed and started out the door, shaking his head softly. Together the three made their way down the hill, and Bilbo let the last of his ties to the Shire fall away in the dust.

 

* * * * *

 

Several years later found a small cluster of spiders making their way back into Mirkwood, and Thranduil prepared to send out a hunting party to dispatch them. He had long since given up the prospect of hiding within his borders; Tauriel had showed him how that was not an option, and he wanted the eight legged creatures dealt with as soon as possible. He was sitting at the annual meeting between the eastern kingdoms when the topic came up, alone with Thorin and Bilbo, as Bain had slinked off several minutes ago to deal with personal matters. Sighing at the man’s perfectly timed escape, Thranduil proposed an idea that Tauriel had presented to him only a few weeks ago.

“I think Minriel and Mithril should accompany us to deal with the spiders,” he suggested. “It would be good experience for them.”

He watched the reactions of Thorin and Bilbo carefully. Neither looked happy, but Bilbo at least looked like he might be persuaded. Thorin’s face had outright paled, and he was shaking his head vigorously to say no.

“Not a chance,” he snarled. “I will not send my daughter and niece against those foul creatures.”

Thranduil rolled his eyes. “They will be surrounded by elven guards; there will be no danger to them. It will be only a small exercise to get them used to striking at a true opponent, and even then there will always be someone with them.”

Bilbo pursed his lips, considering. Thranduil felt a pang in his heart at the sight of the hobbit; his once sandy colored curls were now silver, his face and arms lined with wrinkles. Though he still moved with a spring to his step, Thranduil doubted even that would last, and he had convinced Bain to add a few drops of a medicine Thranduil had made to the hobbit’s meals. The tonic added a tint of color back to Bilbo’s cheeks, and Thranduil hoped it would slow time’s ravishing of his features. Even Thorin, he noticed, had begun to wither in old age; his hair, before only streaked with silver, had now almost entirely changed color, and there were several wrinkles coating his skin.

“Thranduil has a point,” the hobbit admitted. When Thorin opened his mouth to object Bilbo held up a hand to cut him off. “They need the experience.”

“What for?” Thorin stood and began to pace. “What dangers are we expecting them to face? They are perfectly safe in Erebor!”

“Do you not remember the attack on Minriel and Tauriel’s lives?” Thranduil reminded Thorin.

“Of course I do,” scowled Thorin. “But that was many years ago, and each conspirator was dealt with. I am quite confident there are none left who would dare harm them.”

Thorin’s eyes softened with tears as he remembered the day so many years ago.

At last all the conspirators had been uncovered, twenty six still alive following the failed assassination attempt. Their trial was short, for none denied the charges brought against them nor showed any regret.

“Then, though it pains me to do so,” said Thorin slowly, “I sentence you to death.”

A week later the executions occurred. All of Erebor came, and the royal family watched from atop a balcony of the royal palace. Thorin shook the entire time, and were it not for Bilbo’s hand in his, he doubted that he would have lasted through the event.

The ropes snapped taught, and the sound caused Thorin to wince. Several dwarves died immediately, but there were many who lived. Their choked gurgles chopped through the still air, and each frantic twitch and jerk of their bodies stabbed at Thorin’s heart. He longed to look away, but forced himself to hold his gaze. Though the dwarves may have been traitors, they were still dwarves of Erebor, and he owed it to them to honor their passing that much.

The rest of the company were stricken by the hangings, and many of them did look away. Tears rolled silently down several faces. Dis remained the most stoic of them all, staring straight ahead with a stony expression, yet Thorin could see a slight tremble to her hands as they clutched the banister in front of her. To hide this, she crossed her arms.

Thorin’s eyes fell at last to Mithril and Minriel. The girls stood hand in hand, and both had glanced away when the lever to drop the platform beneath the dwarves had been pulled. Now they held each other, both occasionally looking with wide eyes to where the last of the dwarves came to a sickening stop on their ropes. Each time they hurriedly glanced away, huddling further against the other.

For two days after, the bodies of the twenty six traitors hung swinging outside the castle gates, an ominous warning to Erebor to not entertain thoughts against the royal family.

Thorin yanked himself out of his reverie. “As I said, they are perfectly safe within the castle,” he promised.

Bilbo’s eyebrows rose. “Surely you don’t expect them to remain in Erebor their entire lives,” he scolded.

The look on Thorin’s face made it clear that was exactly what the dwarf had expected.

Bilbo sighed. “Thorin,” he pleaded. “I never thought anything out of the ordinary would happen to me, and look where I am now. Even though we are certain there will be no more attempts on Minriel’s life, what if we are wrong? Don’t you think it wise that the girls have a real experience with their swords? It will be in a controlled environment; nothing will go wrong.”

Thorin growled, but at last relented. “Fine,” he allowed. “But I will be there. The entire company will be.” He narrowed a glare at Thranduil, daring him to challenge his request, but the elven king only nodded with a smile on his face.

“As you wish.”

 

* * * * *

 

A week later found the company packing bags to journey to Mirkwood. Dis was to care for Erebor in their absence, and though she was not at all pleased at being left behind, she also knew that with Balin, Oin, and Ori having departed several years ago for Moria, she was the only person Thorin trusted to run the mountain in his stead.

Kili sighed as he and Tauriel finished packing their bags, and he glanced over to his wife. Now clad in the elven armor she had not worn in many years, enforced with several lightweight dwarven plates of steel, she had strapped her twin blades and quiver to her back. She hefted her bow and did a few practice twirls, checking to ensure that she still possessed the same dexterity as before.

“How does it feel?” she asked.

Kili glanced at his own bow, fighting back an onrush of sadness. The dark wooden weapon sat on their bed, beside it a quiver of arrows. Gingerly Kili lifted the bow, pulling back the drawstring with three fingers. He had hardly extended his arm half the required length before a flare of pain shot through his shoulder, and with a small cry he released his hold.

He shook his head. “I can’t,” he told her.

Tauriel sighed, guilt reflected in her green eyes. It was an old injury, one he had sustained during the Battle of Five Armies, and though Kili had regained the use of the majority of his arm, it seemed he would no longer be able to use his bow.

“I am sorry,” she whispered.

Kili shrugged, fighting to remain nonchalant. “It’s alright,” he promised. “I’ll just give it to Minriel.”

Tauriel nodded, but she noted a depressed look in her husband’s eyes as he set the bow down again.

 

* * * * *

 

The company stayed for one night in Thranduil’s castle, taking one night of rest before advancing on the nest. As soon as they arrived at the palace Thranduil, Thorin, Dwalin, and Tauriel drew the girls to the side to practice their fighting, and Tauriel watched Kili present Minriel with his bow. Tears were in the young girl’s eyes as she accepted the gift, and she threw her arms around her uncle in thanks. Though the bow was much too short for her, built to be used by a dwarf and not an elf, the girl made do gladly.

The soldiers set out early the next morning. Mithril and Minriel were at the center of the group, beside them Gimli, who had grown into an almost exact replica of his father. Warrior beads already hung in his bright red hair, his footsteps clomping on the ground and leaving sizable prints the girls wagered they could follow in their sleep. Surrounding them was the company and Thranduil, and though the elves moved with a relaxed pace, their eyes flitted about alertly.

It was midday when they finally reached the nest. Instead of stepping under the trees the spiders had made their homes in, the party took up positions nearby, facing outward. Minriel nocked an arrow while Mithril drew a small sword, and the two put themselves back to back.

It didn’t take long for the spiders to appear. There were more of them than the girls had expected, but the elven soldiers surrounding them didn’t even pause. Arrows flew, swords flashed, and the shrieks of the spiders filled the air. Minriel soon fired off her first arrow, catching a nearby spider in one of its many eyes. She was rewarded with a shriek of pain and rage, and she ducked as it stabbed at her with a pincer. A moment later another scream filled the air, and a hard thump sounded on the ground nearby. Mithril had struck out with her sword, dismembering the pincer. Before either could finish it off Thorin was there, stabbing Orcrist through the spider’s torso.

From there the dwarf took up a fighting stance directly in front of the girls, Orcrist bared and ready. Mithril watched her father’s powerful strokes with the blade, admiring the sure, swift cuts, the way the sword seemed to drink in the blood of the spiders.

From the side Thranduil sighed. “We are supposed to be allowing the girls experience,” he reminded Thorin.

Thorin scowled. “They helped to kill one spider,” he replied. “I believe they’ve had enough.”

Thranduil rolled his eyes, twirling out of the way of a pincer. Instead of leaping onto the spider and stabbing it as he normally would have done, he allowed the creature to creep closer to the girls. Quickly several of Minriel’s arrows had blinded the creature, and Mithril’s sword finished it off.

Thranduil nodded as he moved back into place. “Good teamwork,” he complimented them. “Try to fight separately though; the other will not always be there to aid you.”

“They will never need to fight!” insisted Thorin. The dwarf was busy grappling with a rather large spider, and Dwalin stepped forward to help him. Within moments the spider was dead, and Thorin again leapt in front of the girls.

Minriel sighed, and before anyone could react she had snuck up behind her uncle, smacking him hard about the head with her bow. The king fell to the ground, and Mithril, Gimli, and Bilbo all stared at her in shock.

“What?” Minriel asked. “It’s time he took a nap.”

Bilbo chortled. “Behind you,” he warned.

Before the girls could turn to see the spider charging them the hobbit had leapt forward, dispatching the creature with Sting. He surveyed his small sword proudly as he stepped back.

“You know,” he mused. “It was in these very woods where I named my sword- fighting spiders actually.”

“Aye,” agreed Nori. “I can still remember your insults. Tomnoddy? Really?”

Bilbo shrugged, not bothering to answer.

 

* * * * *

 

By the time Thorin woke the battle had ended, and he was again in Thranduil’s castle. The back of his head throbbed and there was a large red welt where Minriel had hit him, but he was otherwise unharmed.

He muttered under his breath as he staggered from his room, heading straight for the girls’ chambers. There they sat with Bilbo and Gimli, joking quietly among themselves.

“Morning Papa,” called Mithril. There was a smirk on her face as her eyes moved to the back of Thorin’s head, and he sent his daughter a mock scowl that was only returned.

“How’s your head dear?” called Bilbo.

“Aching,” Thorin answered.

“Hmm. Would you like me to kiss it and make it better?” Bilbo’s voice was deceptively sweet, and Thorin sent him a scowl.

“Do we get warrior beads?” asked Minriel. She was twirling a segment of her hair through her fingers, staring enviously at the warrior beads in the hair of the men. “Don’t we get those after our first battle?”

“That was hardly a battle,” Gimli told her. “You two were so well protected by the rest of us that it doesn’t really count.”

“What?” Mithril glared back and forth the between her fathers and Gimli. “A battle is a battle, no matter how much aid you receive!”

Thorin shook his head. “We only take our first beads when we participate unaided in our first battle,” he told her. “That doesn’t mean you must fight alone, but you can’t be body guarded the whole time.”

Minriel groaned. “I’m never going to get my beads,” she complained. She shot an accusing glare at Mithril, and her older cousin only shrugged.

Thorin sat on the edge of the bed, allowing himself to relax. While he had been standing he had run his eyes over each member of his family, and had at last satisfied himself that they were unharmed.

“Was anyone hurt?” he asked. He ran through a list of the rest of the company in his head, taking stock of where each had been last he’d seen them.

Bilbo shook his head. “None of the company,” he promised. “An elf was stung once by the spiders, but he’ll recover. Thranduil allowed Minriel to help with the healing.”

Thorin looked over to his niece, noting the proud gleam that now shone in her eyes. “Well done,” he complimented.

Minriel beamed.

“Come.” Bilbo stood, pulling his husband with him. “It is about time for dinner; the others will be waiting.”

Thorin grumbled at the prospect of another meal consisting of nothing but salad, but followed his husband through the castle.

 

* * * * *

 

“Alright Gandalf, why are you really here?”

Gandalf slanted a look over to Bilbo. The hobbit was sitting beside him on the exterior of Erebor, the two smoking their pipes together.

“Why Bilbo, can’t a person decide to just visit old friends?” he asked.

Bilbo pursed his lips. “Yes, a person could. Not you though.”

Gandalf harrumphed, but didn’t object. For a minute all was silent, and Bilbo waited patiently.

“Alright,” admitted Gandalf. “I have come for a reason.”

Bilbo nodded smugly.

Gandalf sighed. “I would like you to journey to Rivendell,” he said. “It is time that Minriel again visits her family, and there is an event that shall be occurring in October that I think you would like to witness.”

Bilbo frowned. “And what event is this?” he asked. “Does this have to do with Moria?”

Gandalf turned away slightly so that the hobbit couldn’t read his face. “That,” he declared, “I cannot say. I can tell you I have heard no news of the Misty Mountains, and I strongly urge you to seek Lord Elrond’s advice. You must be in Rivendell by the twenty-fifth of October. Bring the girls.”

Bilbo nodded. “Of course,” he agreed. He paused. “You really won’t tell me what is to happen?”

Gandalf sighed. “Let’s just say Frodo will be there, along with a trusted friend of his,” the wizard confided. “And that the matter concerns an item you gave your nephew.”

Bilbo frowned, his mind going automatically to the ring. He had missed it often in the years following his parting with it, but each time he pushed the longing from his mind. For Thorin’s sake the ring had gone, and for Thorin’s sake it would stay gone.

Besides, thought Bilbo. It’s just a ring. What can possibly be so important about it that Lord Elrond would involve himself? No, it must be something else.

For the life of him, Bilbo couldn’t figure out what.

Chapter Text

“I don’t like this,” Thorin insisted.

“Why?” asked Bilbo.

“Because Gandalf has asked you to bring the girls. He specifically said for them to be there. What reasons can he have for that?”

Bilbo sighed, not slowing his pace down the corridors of their palace in Erebor. “Who knows,” he commented. “I doubt we shall ever know the reasons Gandalf has for what he does.”

Thorin scowled beside him. “I still don’t like it. And neither does Dis.” He gave his husband a triumphant look, as though that settled everything.

Bilbo rolled his eyes. “You know, Dis is wrong occasionally. We’ll be fine. Besides, even if Gandalf hadn’t said to bring the girls, I still would have. It’s been nearly twenty years since they have visited their family west of the Misty Mountains; it is about time they do so again.”

Thorin harrumphed, but otherwise scowled ahead of them as they walked.

The two soon reached the throne room, where the rest of the travelling company were already waiting for them. Tauriel and Kili were saying goodbye off to the side, Tauriel wiping tears off ten year old Vili’s face and smoothing back two year old Cúiel’s hair, who was balanced on her hip. Thorin knew both children had been yearning to make the trip with their mother, but they were still too young. Mithril and Minriel were sitting in Bilbo and Thorin’s thrones, checking that the laces to their boots were securely tied. Mithril’s boots reached only to her knees, whereas Minriel’s boots stretched halfway up her thighs. They had been crafted specifically for her, as Bilbo had feared her catching an illness in the cold mountain. Minriel acold, yet she wore the fur lined boots constantly. As he watched, he noticed her poke a finger inside her right boot, checking to make sure her small dagger was present.

Even Gimli was there, strapping several axes to his back and waist. He had decided to join the company as one of the guards. An idea the girls had found quite amusing, and Thorin cringed internally at the torture the dwarf would be enduring at their hands while on the road.

As Bilbo and Thorin entered the throne room the girls ran up to them, and each hugged Thorin goodbye. As they stepped back, Thorin noticed their eyes taking note of the sword on his back and the package in his hands, and he smiled softly.

“Are you coming, Papa?” asked Mithril.

Thorin shook his head. “I cannot,” he told her. “However, I have a gift for you both.”

He handed the package over to Minriel, and gingerly she unwrapped it. In her hands sat a quiver of arrows, accompanied by a long, slender bow carved from a yew tree.

“I used the best wood I could find,” Thorin told her. “And Kili and Tauriel have both checked over my craftsmanship. It should be more suited to your size than Kili’s bow. I hope you have no need of it though.”

Minriel’s eyes were wet as she slung the quiver over her back. “I hope so too,” she told him. “All the same, thank you Uncle.”

Thorin nodded and wrapped her in a hug. When his niece finally stepped away he turned to Mithril, enjoying the way her hazel eyes watched him, burning with curiosity. With a small smile he reached up, pulling Orcrist from his back and handing it, sheath and all, to his daughter.

Mithril gasped. “Papa, I couldn’t,” she whispered.

Thorin smiled softly. “I saw you eyeing it in Mirkwood,” he told her. “I have little need for it now. May it serve you well, though I hope you never need its services.”

Mithril gulped, and with shaking hands she accepted her father’s sword.

“Thank you Papa,” she whispered. Hesitantly she drew the sword halfway from its sheath, and then sheathed it again and swung the sword around her shoulder so that it sat on her back the way a quiver might. She shrugged her shoulders, settling the sword into a more comfortable position, and reached up to make sure she could easily reach the blade. Somehow the hilt was in the perfect spot for her to grasp, and as she wrapped her hand around it she noted that it fit into her palm perfectly.

Thorin drew his daughter into a crushing hug, burying his face into her curls. When he pulled away he cleared his throat harshly, stepping back.

“Are you both ready?” he asked.

The girls nodded, and Thorin nodded and stepped further away. He always hated saying goodbye to his family whenever they left on their trips; he always feared that they would not return.

From beside him Bilbo sighed. “Do not worry,” his hobbit soothed him. “We will be fine.”

Thorin made no comment; he simply pulled Bilbo to him in a soft kiss. As they pulled apart he gave a sigh, squeezing Bilbo’s hand once.

“I shall see you soon,” he stated.

Bilbo nodded. “And once I’ve returned, I’ll not leave the mountain again for the rest of our lives.”

Thorin laughed. “I shall hold you to that, burglar.”

Bilbo chuckled, then leaned forward to press a last kiss to his husband’s lips.

“Goodbye Thorin,” he said. Then, before either could break down, the hobbit started for the doors, and the rest of the company followed him. Thorin leaned in the doorway of the castle as he watched them go, ignoring the heavy feeling settling in his stomach.

 

* * * * *

 

Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin were standing on a stone outcropping. It had once been a place of importance, with stone columns reaching towards the sky. Now it was merely a ruin.

Minriel paid no attention to this, though she did feel a tinge of sadness at the fact in her mind. She was too busy focusing on the swords her cousins held in trembling hands, and on the nine figures slowly drifting out of the shadows towards them.

Minriel’s blood chilled as she saw them. Figures cloaked in black, they carried wicked looking swords and moved with an ethereal quality that surpassed even the elves. The hobbits trapped within the circle of the deadly fighters put themselves back to back, watching the shadow-like creatures advance.

It was Sam who made the first move. “Back you devils!” he screamed. With that he charged forward, swinging his small sword, and the figure he had attacked easily sidestepped.

Minriel watched as Merry and Pippin each attempted something of the same. Frodo slipped backwards, edging away from the creatures as his hand drifted down to his pocket. Then Minriel saw a flash of gold, and Frodo vanished.

The next she knew of him was his scream as one of the creatures stabbed downwards with its sword, and there was a spurt of vivid red that could only be blood.

“Min!”

Minriel jerked upright with Mithril’s hand on her arm, panting. Her cousin was staring at her in wide eyed concern, curls sticking up in different directions from having been slept on.

“What was that?” asked Mithril.

Minriel bit her lip, knowing that in the dark room Mithril couldn’t see. “Nothing,” she managed. “Just a dream.”

Mithril nodded slowly, unconvinced. Still she returned to her bed, and Minriel shifted so that she was laying on her side as she thought.

She had no idea what she had just seen. So many questions were swirling through her mind. Where were her cousins? What were those creatures? When did the scene happen? And, most importantly, was Frodo alright? Minriel barely held back a shudder at the thought of her little cousin lying dead out in the wilderness, and again she bit her lip to keep from crying.

Dawn found her still worrying over her vision, and she rose quietly from her bed and slipped to the balcony outside, letting Mithril sleep in. There she looked out over Rivendell, observing the city as it woke.

“Girls, are you up?”

Minriel turned as her mother padded into their room, chuckling as Mithril emitted a groan from her bed.

“I am now,” grumbled the quarterling.

Minriel chuckled and hopped onto Mithril’s bed, bouncing up and down. “Come on Mith! Get up! Get up, get up, get-”

Minriel’s chanting was interrupted as her cousin kicked her off the bed, and with a small yelp she tumbled to the floor. She laughed and leapt to her feet, noting how Mithril was now smiling as she rolled out of bed.

Seeing her cousin’s curls reminded her of Frodo and her vision, but Minriel pushed it out of her mind. She had long since learned that there was little she could do about her visions; this time was no different. She would simply wait and see how things played out.

However, she also knew she needed to keep up appearances. Knowing her cousin would suspect something was amiss should Minriel so much as frown, the girl plastered a wide grin on her face and grabbed Mithril’s hand, keeping up her foolish façade that she had grown so adept at over the years.

“I’m hungry,” she whined.

Arwen chuckled and grabbed her daughter, spinning her in a circle.

“Then let us get some breakfast,” she sang.

Minriel and Mithril nodded, following the elf to the dining hall.

The morning progressed slower than usual. The girls were kept busy with various activities, yet Minriel felt her mind constantly drifting back to her vision. She had experienced many over the years, yet they rarely concerned someone she knew and loved. The knowledge of who the subject was disconcerted her, causing her heart to pound anxiously in her chest.

“Alright,” asked Gimli finally. “What is wrong with you?”

Minriel glanced over at her cousin sharply. “What do you mean?” she asked.

Gimli rolled his eyes. “I mean you’ve been acting strange all day,” he told her. “Is it that pointy eared giant?” He gestured with his chin to a blond elf conversing with Tauriel, and Minriel followed his gaze.

“Yes,” she lied. “I feel that I’ve seen him before, but I don’t know where.”

“Mirkwood,” supplied Mithril. She took a seat on the steps of Lord Elrond’s house beside Minriel, her gaze joining her cousin’s. “We saw him in Mirkwood several months ago. He arrived at the same time as Gandalf, and they left together.”

Minriel nodded. In truth, she did vaguely remember seeing the elf before, and though she knew that it had been in Thranduil’s palace, she had never caught the name of the elf who slinked silently from shadow to shadow.

“What is his name?” she asked.

As though hearing their conversation, the elf approached on silent feet. Gracefully he bowed, blond hair blowing in the breeze.

“Ladies Minriel and Mithril,” he greeted them. “I am Legolas, son of King Thranduil. It is an honor to finally meet you; my father speaks highly of you both.”

Mithril and Minriel exchanged shocked looks.

“You’re Legolas?” asked Minriel. “But you’re- you’re- where are your eyebrows?”

Legolas’s eyebrows, distinctly disappointing in comparison to his father’s, rose up. On one side of Minriel, Mithril chuckled, while on her other side Gimli groaned and let his head fall into his hands.

“My eyebrows?” he asked, utterly perplexed.

Minriel nodded. “Thrandy has such great eyebrows,” she told him. “We dyed them purple one time.”

Legolas’s eyes looked like they were about to bug out of his head. “You did what now?” he asked.

“The great prank war of the eastern lands,” Mithril supplied. “Surely you’ve heard of it.”

Legolas shook his head. “I can’t say I have.”

“How tall are you?” asked Mithril. When Legolas raised an eyebrow questioningly she continued. “I’ve been trying to convince this one,” Mithril jabbed her thumb at Minriel, “that she is simply too tall, even for one of the race of Man or an elf. It simply isn’t natural to be that tall.”

Legolas chuckled. “I am six foot two,” he supplied.

“Ha!” Minriel leapt up and did a little dance on the steps of the house. “I told you! You’re just short!”

Mithril scowled. “You’re a lanky, klutzy giant,” she snapped.

“And you’re a stubborn, grumpy midget,” responded Minriel.

Mithril leapt to her feet, and before Legolas could so much as blink the two had run off, chasing each other through Rivendell. They ended up in the gardens, darting among the trees and leaping over the river that trickled merrily by. As they neared the top of a hill Minriel spun to meet Mithril, and her cousin barreled right into her. Together they rolled down the slope, coming to a stop at Lord Elrond’s feet.

The elf shook his head as he exchanged glances with Bilbo. “And this is what my bloodline has come to,” he mused. Still, there was a playful twinkle in his eyes as he switched his gaze back and forth between the two girls, and they were unabashed as they straightened again, brushing grass from their clothes.

Suddenly Elrond wavered where he stood, and he squeezed his eyes shut as a dark feeling overwhelmed him. The feeling surged from beyond the gates of Rivendell, originating in the lands beyond. As the wave of dark energy shuddered to a halt Elrond opened his eyes, a sense of urgency in him that he had not felt in many years.

“There is something approaching,” he said quietly. “Something dark.”

Minriel’s face paled. “Mother isn’t in the city,” she cried. The elf had departed just after breakfast, a cheery smile on her face. Somehow she had known that her husband was approaching, and Minriel suspected that her mother had received a vision of the man.

Elrond’s eyes widened, and together the four bolted for the barracks. Elrond and Minriel skidded to a stop as their keen ears picked up the thundering of hooves through the streets, and they rapidly changed course. Instead of making for the barracks and stables they cut through the lord’s house, emerging on the steps as Arwen’s horse drew to a stop. The girls immediately recognized the small body the elf carried, and Minriel was fairly certain that all of Rivendell heard Mithril scream.

“Frodo!”

 

* * * * *

 

Elrond paused at the door, somewhat reluctant to open it. He knew there would be a barrage of questions awaiting him, and wearied from using his magic to heal Frodo, the lord of Rivendell really was not in the mood for the worrying of hobbits.

He sighed though, and with a well-hidden cringe, opened the door. Immediately two faces popped into view, father and daughter wearing matching looks of concern.

“How is Frodo?” asked Bilbo.

“How is he? Can I see him?” Mithril asked at the same time. The girl’s face was pale, her eyes wide in panic.

Elrond sighed. “Frodo is asleep,” he told them. “He was wounded by a Morgul blade; I was hard pressed to return him to the world of light.”

Bilbo frowned. “Morgul blade? Like the one-”

Elrond nodded. “Like the one Radagast the Brown gave to Gandalf just before you journeyed to Rivendell for the first time,” he confirmed. He turned to Mithril, knowing she would be lacking in tales of dark magic. “The blades were wielded by nine kings of Middle Earth,” he told her. “Mortal men doomed to die. Due to a gift by the dark lord Sauron, their souls were trapped here, becoming dark forces loyal only to him. Today they are called ring wraiths or Nazgûl.”

Mithril nodded, her face paling. “Uncle Balin taught me about those,” she told him. She thought back, and her eyes widened further. “Is Frodo going to turn into one of them now?”

“No.”

Minriel came up behind her grandfather, wiping her hands clean on a towel. “We were able to save him. He’ll be alright Mith.”

Mithril nodded. Her cousin had been the first to react to Frodo’s half dead appearance in Rivendell, quickly taking him from her mother’s arms. Mithril had then rushed forward, and Minriel had allowed her only half a moment to sob over him before she and Elrond had rushed him inside. They had then locked themselves in one of the rooms of Elrond’s house with him, and between both their healing touches, they were confident that Frodo would recover from his injury.

Elrond sighed. “You may see him,” he allowed. “But do not attempt to wake him. If you might excuse me.” With that he slipped past Bilbo and Mithril, moving silently down the hall.

“Sir!” Elrond turned as Lindir came trotting up behind him, and the elf resisted a scowl. Couldn’t official matters wait a minute? He needed a rest.

Lindir skidded to a stop. “Sir, there are three hobbits waiting for you in your office. They arrived shortly after Frodo.”

Elrond nodded. “Are they harmed?” he asked.

Lindir shook his head. “No, but they are worried for their companion.”

Elrond nodded. Based on the stories he had heard from the girls, he knew already who the three hobbits were. Sure enough, when he entered his study he found none other than Peregrin Took, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Samwise Gamgee waiting for him.

“Is Frodo alright?” asked Sam.

Elrond sat behind his desk with a sigh, nodding. “He will live,” he promised. “He is resting now.”

He watched as the shoulders of all three hobbits relaxed.

“What befell you on the road?” asked Elrond.

It was Merry who took him through the story, and none of the three tired hobbits noticed how Elrond’s eyes widened at the mention of Strider.

“Where is Strider now?” asked Elrond.

“He refused to enter Rivendell,” Pippin told him. “He said he wasn’t allowed, and he wouldn’t even set foot on the bridge.”

Elrond closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, resisting the urge to let flow a stream of curses.

“Thank you gentlemen,” he said. “You are welcome in my home; I shall have you shown to rooms. Once you have rested you may visit Frodo. That is of course, if Mithril and Minriel let anyone else in.”

At his words the hobbits’ faces brightened considerably, and Elrond allowed himself a small smile as he left the study. He sighed then, and started for the bridge to Rivendell.

“Aragorn!” he shouted. He crossed the bridge with sure, swift strides, eyes scanning about. “Aragorn, show yourself now!”

It took several moments, but at last Aragorn revealed himself, stepping from the shade of several trees. Elrond studied him in the morning light, the man who he had not seen in so long. He looked much the same, a bit wearier perhaps, and with several new scars, but that was still Aragorn. Elrond fought back the pang the sight of the man caused his heart.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked.

“I am banished,” Aragorn reminded him. “I cannot cross into the city.”

Elrond muttered several curses. “Under these circumstances, that does not apply,” he stated. “Get inside the city before the ring wraiths show up.”

Aragorn shook his head. “I will not disobey your banishment,” he swore.

“Then I unbanish you,” Elrond snapped. “Now get inside the city.”

Aragorn considered, and then shook his head. “That is not a good reason to unbanish a person,” he scolded. “I am not truly welcome, therefore I will not come.”

Elrond ground his teeth. What was it with this man’s stubbornness? Then he sighed, trying the one thing he really should have thought of from the beginning.

“Minriel and Mithril are-”

He was cut off as Aragorn bolted by him, having guessed how his words ended. Something, they were both sure, along the lines of the two girls leaving the safety of the city to force Aragorn inside. Within moments the man had disappeared among the houses of Rivendell, and Elrond blinked in surprise.

Well that worked, he thought. Still, it was a heavy heart that he followed Aragorn into Rivendell.

Chapter Text

Aragorn made straight for Elrond’s house, ignoring the stares of the elves in the streets. He knew his appearance- ragged and dirty and following an absence of over sixty years- would be the talk of many. Yet, despite the fact that it had been many years since he had last stepped foot in the valley of Imladris, he remembered the way perfectly. Inside Elrond’s house he dashed up the stairs, picking a direction and starting down the corridor.

He knew immediately when he had found the right room. That most likely was because Mithril was sitting protectively outside the door, Orcrist resting in her lap. Leaning against her shoulder was Pippin, and Minriel sat on the hobbit’s other side with Sam and Merry.

Before Aragorn an elf stalked down the hall, clutching a bundle of blankets. The elf paused just outside the doorway, staring at the blade that had suddenly appeared in his way. Then his gaze travelled slowly down the length of the sword until it came to rest on its wielder- Mithril.

She had fixated a smile on her face. It was a pretty smile, but there was a certain baring of the teeth to it, as well as a gleam to her eyes, that gave the girl a wild, dangerous look. Quickly the elf took a step back.

“Mithril,” called Bilbo from inside the room. “Don’t terrorize the elves.”

Mithril’s smile didn’t waver as she responded. “They won’t be terrorized so long as they stay away from my cousin.”

The elf gulped. “I- I have only come to bring Master Frodo more blankets,” he pleaded.

Aragorn resisted a small chuckle at the sight of the cowering elf, hiding himself in the shadows at the end of the hall.

“Pippin, take the blankets,” ordered Mithril.

Obediently Pippin took the blankets from the elf, and Mithril only lowered Orcrist once the elf had fled down the hallway. Pippin disappeared into Frodo’s room, and when he reemerged he sat beside his cousin again, resting his head on her shoulder. Mithril’s hand came up to stroke his curls gently, and a kiss was planted on his head.

Aragorn cleared his throat, stepping out of the shadows. Immediately the assembled family glanced up, and Mithril again brandished Orcrist. As her eyes fell on the ranger she grinned and fit her sword into the sheath on her back.

“Strider!” she greeted him.

Minriel threw herself at the ranger, substituting the title ‘Da’ for a warm hug. Mithril watched as Merry, Sam, and Pippin’s eyes went back and forth between the three.

“You know him?” asked Sam.

Minriel nodded, detaching herself from her father. “He was the ranger who escorted us to Erebor when I was a baby,” she told him. “And he has visited Erebor several times since. Why?”

Sam bit his lip, a guilty look on his face, and Aragorn chuckled.

“No need to feel ashamed Sam,” he told the hobbit. “I admire your loyalty to your friends.”

Sam nodded, a pleased smile touching at his face. All his doubts about the ranger were now falling away; if his older cousins trusted Strider, surely he was an honest man.

“How is Frodo?” asked Aragorn.

“Asleep,” Minriel told him. She sighed. “He arrived just in time; if he had come but a few minutes later he would have been lost.”

Beside her Mithril tensed, and Minriel reached out to take her cousin’s hand.

“But he will live?” pressed Aragorn.

Minriel paused, but then nodded. “He will live,” she promised.

Aragorn’s shoulders relaxed, and he nodded. “Might his bodyguard allow me to see him?” he asked, slanting an amused look to Mithril.

The girl grinned, and her hand automatically went up to touch the hilt of her sword.

“You may,” she allowed.

Aragorn smiled softly and slipped into the room, and Mithril resumed her guard’s position outside the door.

 

* * * * *

 

It was some days before Frodo woke. Bilbo had retired to his room at that point, exhausted and sore from sitting by his nephew’s side. Mithril had not budged from her position by the door. Minriel had taken Pippin’s place, stretched out along the wall with her head on her cousin’s shoulder. Merry, Pippin, and Sam spent the hours playing a card game beside the two cousins, and though Minriel occasionally joined, she mostly sat silently with Mithril when not attending to Frodo’s wound. Together, the five cousins took up most of the space in the hallway. When Gandalf had come he had been hard pressed to tiptoe around them, but had at last managed.

Minriel sat up as she heard soft murmuring from within the room. Mithril turned to her, and as their eyes locked a signal passed between them. Immediately they sprang up, pulling the others with them.

“Frodo!”

Frodo yelped as his cousins all barged into his room at once, crowding around him. Plied with questions about how he was feeling, he could only switch his gaze back and forth between them.

“Slow down, slow down,” chuckled Gandalf. The wizard was now pressed to the wall to escape the five cousins, though he didn’t look at all upset. “One at a time,” he commanded.

Minriel was the first to speak. “How do you feel?” she asked. She gently pushed Merry out of her way as she unwrapped the bindings around Frodo’s shoulder.

Frodo winced. “Not very well,” he admitted.

Minriel nodded. “That is to be expected,” she informed him. She quickly applied a fresh salve and bandages, her normally fumbling fingers working the cloth bindings with ease. She then leaned down to press a kiss to her cousin’s forehead.

Mithril was next. First she too kissed Frodo, then crossed her arms and narrowed her gaze. “What were you doing in the wilderness?” she asked. “What happened to you? Do you realize how close to death you were? Never do-”

The rapidly increasing volume of her voice was cut off as Minriel’s hand clamped over her mouth, though she still continued to rant.

“Mithril, hush,” commanded Gandalf. The wizard sighed. “Frodo was journeying here when he was attacked, and you should be glad he was on the road when it happened. The ring wraiths that came for him would have done so in the Shire, where he would have been too far from Rivendell to seek aid.”

Mithril’s face paled, and she all but threw herself at Frodo, forgetting his injury in her worry and haste to hold him. The hobbit yelped as his shoulder was disturbed, and Mithril quickly detached herself.

“Let’s go,” Gandalf said. He took Mithril and Minriel’s hands and led them from the room, all but shoving them at Gimli at the bottom of the stairs. “See to it that these two eat,” he ordered. “I must find Lord Elrond.”

Gimli steered his cousins to the kitchens, and soon food had been brought. He scowled at the green stuff on the plates, picking at the food. All three cousins looked up as a man with dark brown hair and grey eyes appeared in the doorway. He wore a sword and white horn strapped to his belt, and an emblem of a white tree was on his breastplate.

“Pretty design,” muttered Minriel absently, staring at the tree.

“Where might I find Lord Elrond?” asked the man.

Mithril was on her feet instantly, putting herself in front of Minriel and Gimli as alarms went off in her head. Her nerves hadn’t quite calmed with Frodo’s waking, and when she closed her eyes she still heard screams in the bloody air of the past.

She wouldn’t let any more of her family get hurt. Not even from this stranger, whoever he might be.

“What is it to you?” she asked, barely resisting the urge to reach for Orcrist. “What is your name, stranger?”

The man’s eyebrows rose. “I am Boromir, son of Denethor the second, who is Steward of Gondor,” he claimed. “Who are you to challenge me?”

Mithril raised her chin. “Mithril, daughter of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield, who is King Under the Mountain.”

Boromir blinked, and then bowed. “Forgive me, my lady,” he murmured. “I had not realized who you were. Who are your companions?”

Mithril didn’t give either of her cousins a chance to answer for themselves. “My two cousins,” she told him. “Minriel, ward of Lady Tauriel and Prince Kili, who is the second heir to the throne of Erebor, and Gimli, son of Gloin of the royal family of the mountain.”

Again Boromir bowed. “Greetings,” he began. “I meant you no disrespect; I have simply travelled many miles, and must speak to the lord of Rivendell.”

Mithril nodded, but it was Minriel who stepped forward, nudging Mithril gently to the side.

“Follow me,” she declared.

Boromir analyzed the three cousins carefully as Minriel led them through the house. Gimli, he decided, was a sure, strong dwarven soldier. Mithril, though young, held a fiery passion and bull-headed stubbornness within her, a trait which reminded the man of himself. At the head of the group Minriel all but skipped along the corridor, and Boromir couldn’t help but notice how Mithril’s eyes always strayed to her. Combined with the sad look deep within Minriel’s eyes, as though some great burden weighed upon her shoulders, Boromir was reminded of his younger brother Faramir.

        Minriel knocked softly on her grandfather’s study door, and so, with her hovering in the background, Elrond was able to fix a pleasant smile on his face to welcome Boromir. The cousins quickly left, deciding to find Tauriel.

 

* * * * *

 

“Shhh.” Mithril pressed a finger to her lips as she crouched behind a pillar. Beside her Minriel rolled her eyes, but did as she was commanded. The secret meeting soon began, and the girls watched as the council discussed the fate of the One Ring– the very same ring that Bilbo had carried for many years, and was now carried by Frodo. Soon those assembled descended into bickering over who would bear the ring to Mordor.

“I will do it!” Everyone stared at Frodo in shock as he stood, lifting his chin as he addressed the crowd. “I will bring the ring to Mordor- though I do not know the way.”

As Minriel felt Mithril tense behind her she resisted a groan, knowing that there was a firestorm of alarms going off in her cousin’s head. All the same, both her and Mithril’s heart beat in unison at the prospect of the quest; a chance to prove themselves. They were children of the mountain, trained by both dwarf and elf. Surely, they thought, they could handle the quest. Minriel even went so far as to reckon it would be fun.

Minriel curiously watched the group, wondering who, if any, would volunteer to help Frodo. Surely her da would.

Gandalf was the first to react. At Frodo’s declaration he had closed his eyes in what seemed like grief- Minriel wasn’t quite sure why- but now he straightened, wiping the sudden weariness from his face as he turned to Frodo. He fixed a benign smile on his face.

"I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long as it is yours to bear."

He approached Frodo slowly, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

With that, the rest of the circle seemed to be roused. Aragorn stepped forward next, and Minriel ignored Mithril’s groan beside her.

“If by life or death, I can protect you, I will,” he said. He knelt before Frodo and looking him in the eyes. Though Minriel was at a bad angle and couldn’t see his face, she knew her da had that calm, steady look in his eyes. The same look he always had when he left her, promising that he would be back again. The look that Minriel had always trusted. “You have my sword.”

Yet, as he stood and took his place behind Frodo, Minriel felt her heart twist in worry that maybe, this time, he wouldn’t come back.

“And you have my bow,” stated Legolas. He strode forward, coming to stand next to Aragorn as he took his place beside Gandalf. Minriel couldn’t help but wonder what Thranduil would say about his son volunteering for this quest.

“And my axe!” shouted Gimli. As he stomped forward, shooting a scowl toward Legolas, Minriel couldn’t help but chuckle- especially as Mithril let out several colorful curses to her right.

For several moments the council was silent. Just when Minriel thought the volunteering was over, Boromir stepped forward.

“You carry the fate of us all, little one,” he said slowly. He paused several steps away from Frodo, and Minriel watched the man curiously. There seemed to still be some bitterness in him that the ring could not be used for Gondor, but also a nobility, a desire to help.

Boromir shot a look around him as though weighing his next words. “If this is indeed the will of the council, then Gondor will see it done.”

He stepped forward and took his place among the volunteers.

“Alright,” Minriel whispered to Mithril. “Not too bad. Frodo should be safe enough with them.”

“He will be once I’m there,” Mithril growled back.

Minriel chuckled. “Well of course.”

She glanced up in surprise as someone gave a small shout, drawing everyone’s attention. Sam popped up from behind a couple of bushes, darting forward and all but latching himself to Frodo’s side.

“Mister Frodo’s not going anywhere without me,” he declared.

Beside Minriel, Mithril made a choking sound.

Elrond’s eyebrows lifted in amusement as he looked down on Sam.

"No indeed, it is hardly possible to separate you even when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not."

For a moment Sam looked sorry, and then he lifted his chin in a look of stubborn determination that Minriel knew Mithril had taught him.

“Wait, we’re coming too!”

Minriel wasn’t sure what was funnier as Merry and Pippin darted out from behind pillars across the courtyard: Elrond’s rapid glances back and forth between Frodo and the two younger hobbits, or the tirade of curses Mithril was choking out beside her.

Upon reaching Frodo, Merry crossed his arms in a cocky look, and Pippin quickly copied his stance.

"You'd have to send us home tied up in a sack to stop us!” announced Merry.

Minriel thought Mithril might just do that.

"Anyway,” Pippin added. “You need people of intelligence on this sort of mission, quest… thing."

Beside him Merry sighed as Minriel giggled. “Well that leaves you out Pip,” he shot from the corner of his mouth.

Pippin elbowed him in the ribs, and Bilbo had to clear his throat before the two could start to wrestle on the stone ground. Still chuckling, Minriel looked toward Mithril and gestured with her head to the courtyard.

“It’s time we join them,” she whispered.

Mithril shook her head slightly. “They will refuse us,” she told Minriel. “It would be best to just follow in secret.”

“They didn’t refuse those idiots,” objected Minriel. “Glass half full, remember!” With that she shot Mithril a grin and stepped out from behind their pillar.

“Don’t forget about us!” she shouted. She rushed forward to join the council, tripping in the process, and Mithril followed with a sigh. She and Minriel stood on the edge of the group, fixing determined glares on their faces that dared anyone to refuse them.

“You don’t really think I’m letting my little cousins go to Mordor without me, do you?” asked Mithril.

“No!”

The shout came from Aragorn, Elrond, Bilbo, Tauriel, Gimli, Legolas, and Boromir all at once. Aragorn’s eyes had bugged out of his head, and he and Bilbo exchanged horrified glances.

“What are you doing here?” Aragorn asked. “Elrohir and Elladan are supposed to be watching you!”

Minriel shrugged. “They experienced a slight problem with their boots,” she supplied. “Somehow they got tied together.”

Aragorn groaned, imagining the twins tripping around Rivendell, bound together at the ankles. “Go back to Lord Elrond’s house,” he commanded.

The girls both raised their chins in a glare that only Dis could have taught them.

“No,” they chorused.

“This is not a mission for little girls,” stated Elrond.              

Mithril snorted. “Who are you calling little?” she asked.

Minriel’s eyebrow rose as she glanced down at her cousin’s small frame. Mithril, for her part, simply locked eyes with Elrond and attempted to glare him down, her muscles tensing as she readied for an argument Thorin would be proud of. Behind Elrond, a couple of elves looked away. Minriel suppressed a grin at the sight.

Small but mighty, she thought.

“You are not going!” objected Bilbo. “Go back to the house!”

Still, the girls didn’t budge.

Elrond sighed. “So the nine of you shall journey to Mordor together,” he stated. “The Fellowship of the Ring, you shall be called.”

Mithril frowned. “Eleven,” she corrected.

“Nine,” affirmed Elrond. He pointed to the house. “Go. Now.”

The girls’ objections were cut off as Elrohir and Elladan rushed into the courtyard, and Mithril was yanked into Elladan’s arms.

“Put me down,” she ordered. “Elladan-”

“Lock them in their room,” ordered Bilbo. “We’ll need to stand guard outside the door until the fellowship leaves, or they will sneak off after them.” He sent an accusing scowl to Mithril. The girl didn’t see, too busy trying to squirm out of her uncle’s arms. It was of little use, and soon she and Minriel were shoved into their room, the door locked behind them.

                                      

* * * * *

 

It was some hours later when Gandalf slipped into the room. The two girls turned away from him, crossing their arms and glaring out over the balcony. Gandalf chuckled and sat beside them on Minriel’s bed.

“Come now girls,” he pleaded. “I didn’t object to you joining us.”

At that the girls turned to him.

“No,” mused Minriel. “You didn’t. Why was that?”

Gandalf chuckled. “Because it would be of no use,” he stated.

He was rewarded with matching grins.

“Why have you come?” asked Mithril.

A twinkle played in Gandalf’s eyes. “I came to give my farewell to you.” He shot a glance back at the door, where no doubt at least two guards were listening. “The path we shall take is a dangerous one. Saruman will be watching the high pass, so we will have to travel the Pass of Caradhras. It is much more dangerous, and I would not chance it before saying goodbye.”

The girls exchanged gleeful looks as they absorbed the information Gandalf had parted to them.

“Don’t worry,” offered Minriel. “You will be fine, and we shall see you all again shortly.” She stood and hugged Gandalf, and he squeezed her shoulder warmly.

“Good luck,” Mithril said. She too hugged the wizard, but there was a grumpy tone to her voice that had Gandalf pressing his lips together in amusement. Mithril’s eyes darted to the door, and she then gave Gandalf a wink. “I want my cousins back in one piece,” she warned.

“Of course,” said Gandalf. “They shall have the best bodyguards in all of Middle Earth.”

He slipped from the room then, leaving the girls to their plotting.

 

* * * * *

 

Bilbo chuckled as Frodo pulled the shirt of mithril over his head. It was odd, he decided, seeing his armor on someone else, but he was glad that it had gone to Frodo.

“Wear it well,” he told him. “I hope you don’t need it –or this.” Bilbo hefted Sting from the bed, and with wide eyes Frodo accepted the sword. He drew the blade, and Bilbo felt a pang in his heart as the light flashed on the metal surface. Oh, such memories had been caught up in the graceful curve of that sword.

Frodo sheathed the sword at last and buckled it to his belt. “Thank you Uncle,” he whispered.

Bilbo nodded, pulling Frodo to him in a hug. Frodo had begun to back out of Bilbo’s room, tears watering his eyes, when Bilbo called him back.

“Might I see it?” Bilbo asked. “The ring? Just one last time.”

Frodo bit his lip, but then nodded. Gingerly he pulled at the chain around his neck, and the gold band dangled between his fingers. For a moment Bilbo simply stared at it, enraptured, and then he leapt at Frodo. His face had somehow hollowed out, his eyes widening until the heavily veined whites were prominent in his skull. His hair receded, becoming hardly more than greasy strings on his head, and Bilbo snarled, shockingly sharp teeth bared.

Frodo all but screamed as he jumped back, shoving the ring back under his tunic. As it vanished Bilbo again regained control of himself, and his features returned to normal.

“My boy,” he gasped. “I am so-”

“It- it’s fine.” Frodo gulped as he slowly inched away, his heart pounding in his throat. “It’s fine Uncle.” He gulped again, now at the door. “Farewell,” he whispered. Before Bilbo could respond he was gone, dashing through Elrond’s house to join the rest of the fellowship.

 

* * * * *

 

Minriel glanced up as she heard the gates to Rivendell creak open, and Mithril followed her gaze.

“They have left?” she asked.

Minriel nodded. “How long should we wait?” As she spoke she shoved the last of her clothes in her bag, hiding it under her bed in case someone came in.

Mithril pursed her lips. “A half hour,” she decided. “And we’ll have to be quick; we still have to stop at the kitchens.”

Minriel nodded. As they waited Mithril pulled her hair back and carefully secured it in a braid, then copied the plaiting on Minriel’s hair. The half elven girl scowled and undid Mithril’s work.

“You’re horrible at making braids,” she commented.

Mithril scowled as Minriel began to re-braid her hair. “Shut up.”

Minriel chuckled, and as she finished with her hair she undid the messy braid that had been worked into Mithril’s hair. Her cousin sat patiently as Minriel’s fingers wove in and out of her curls, and as Minriel finished the two sat quietly.

At last it was time, and the two girls did up the laces on their boots. They then pulled on the arm greaves that their Uncle Fili had gifted them the previous year, Mithril’s supplemented with two small daggers hidden against her wrists. She also had two large daggers strapped to her waist, and Minriel scowled as her cousin swung Orcrist across her back. She didn’t see why Mithril insisted on so many knives; a bow was much simpler.

Both set a letter on their beds; one addressed to Bilbo, the other to Arwen.

“Ready?” asked Minriel.

Mithril nodded, and Minriel jumped over the balcony to their room. She landed easily below, for once not stumbling, and stood waiting for her cousin.

Mithril eyed the drop beneath her warily. Minriel had covered it easily enough; surely if her cousin could manage it then so could she. Still, images of broken bones kept flashing through her mind, and her breaths grew labored.

“Mith,” hissed Minriel. “Come on. Frodo is waiting.”

Mithril blinked, clearing away her doubts. Taking a deep breath, she clambered onto the railing of the balcony, then, squeezing her eyes shut, allowed herself to slip off. She had to bite her lip to keep from screaming as she fell downwards, and it was only when Minriel had set her gently on the ground that she dared to look around her again.

“Let’s go,” Mithril ordered.

The two made first for the kitchens, and Mithril, being the quieter of the two, snuck inside. She quickly stuffed the remaining room in their packs with food and water, and then met Minriel outside. The half elf had settled in a cluster of bushes to wait, and was in the middle of braiding flowers into her hair.

There was a back entrance to Rivendell; Elrohir and Elladan had made the mistake of showing it to the girls once. Together they slipped silently through the streets of Rivendell, and it was without incident that they escaped.

They moved in a wide arc around Rivendell, taking care that they were out of sight of the city before attempting to follow the fellowship. Soon they had found their tracks; Gimli’s large footprints were unmistakable, and they set off after them.

 

* * * * *

 

Bilbo sighed as the sun faded beneath the horizon, and he glanced over to Tauriel.

“I suppose at this point it’s too late for them to have snuck off,” he commented.

Tauriel nodded, and Bilbo went to free the girls from their room.

“Any trouble?” he asked. From outside the door four elven guards shook their heads, and Bilbo sent them away with a few words of thanks.

“Girls?” he knocked lightly on the door. “It’s time for supper.”

He received no answer, and sighed. He should have expected it, he realized. He wondered how long Minriel and Mithril would be giving him the silent treatment.

“I’m coming in,” he warned. He pushed open the door, eyes scanning around the room. “Mithril?” he called. “Minriel?”

Only silence met his ears.

 

* * * * *

 

The others were just sitting down to eat when Bilbo arrived. Elrond sat at the head of the table, Arwen on his right and Elladan and Elrohir on his left. Beside Arwen there were two empty chairs for the girls, and Bilbo and Tauriel were to sit beside the twins. Each glanced up as Bilbo stormed into the room, two slips of paper clutched in his hands.

“They’re gone,” he declared. He thrust one of the papers at Arwen, and with growing panic she skimmed over her daughter’s words. Nearby Tauriel was muttering a stream of curses as she took Bilbo’s letter from him, no doubt written by Mithril.

“How did this happen?” demanded Elrond. “There were four guards outside their door!”

Tauriel sighed. “That has never stopped Mithril in the past. Did you put guards in the garden below their balcony?” she asked.

“No, it seemed unnecassary.”

“Then that’s how they got out.”

Bilbo cast a glare around the table, studying the faces of everyone there. Elrond’s eyes were widened slightly, though, as always, he was keeping his composure near perfect. Tauriel was pacing back and forth, muttering angrily to herself, and Arwen and her brothers looked half panicked.

“Did you help them?” Bilbo asked.

The twins’ faces paled as they realized Bilbo was speaking to them, and they shook their heads vigorously.

“Of course not!” said Elrohir. “We would never.”

Elladan nodded. “We may have done some foolish things, and we may encourage their pranks, but we would never have permitted them to go running off to Mordor.” The elf’s words descended into curses, and beside him, Elrohir threw himself in his chair.

“Well, what do we do now?” asked Tauriel. “Can we go after them?”

Elrond shook his head. “It would draw too much attention to the Fellowship,” he warned. “The girls will be safer if we allow them to continue. Once they join with the others they will be kept safe.”

Bilbo frowned. “I don’t like it,” he decided.

“Neither do I,” stated Arwen. She sighed, knowing that her father was correct in his predictions. “But Ada is right; it is the only way. To go after them would only draw Saruman’s eye to them, and to Frodo.”

Bilbo ground his teeth, but eventually had to admit that the elves were correct. He settled down at the table and placed his head in his hands, unsuccessfully fighting back a headache. A terse silence had long since fallen over the table when he glanced up again, panic on his face.

“Oh Mahal,” he muttered.

Tauriel glanced over. “What?” she asked.

Bilbo gave her a horrified look. “I have to tell Thorin,” he stated. “He’s going to kill me.”

Chapter Text

They could be hiding behind that tree, mused Boromir. Or that boulder.

He shook his head and gave a low chuckle. The two girls had been locked in Lord Elrond’s house when the fellowship had departed; there was no chance they had managed to follow them. Boromir didn’t even know why he was thinking of them; he had only met them briefly. Still, those two short visits had stuck in his mind, and there was a certain fondness in his heart for the two cousins. He glanced back at the four hobbits trudging along behind him. Not all of them, he knew, could be the girls’ family, they had simply adopted them as their kin. The thought that they loved so easily warmed his heart, and Boromir decided that it was a good thing the girls were not present. Despite their stubbornness and confidence, they likely wouldn’t last five minutes in the wilderness.

He glanced at the hobbits again. Three of them were joking amongst themselves as they walked, Sam leading Bill the pony by the reins. Frodo however, remained silent and brooding. Every so often his fingers would go to where the ring hung around his neck, and Boromir felt his heart squeeze. Why, he thought, was that ring so dangerous? Surely the right person, the right man could control the ring, use it for the good of all.

Boromir pushed those thoughts from his mind as he continued to study the hobbits. Sam, although just as lively as the others, glanced continuously to Frodo, checking on how his friend was faring. Merry, sensing the other’s distress, was joking and laughing loudly, and he nudged Pippin. The hobbit stumbled to the side, and came back with a flaring elbow of his own. Still, Boromir noticed that the small hobbit looked rather lost, and he glanced around him continuously, perhaps wondering the same things as Boromir had been thinking.

Boromir chuckled at the realization and turned to the other members of the fellowship. Gimli was walking nearby, ready to defend the four hobbits, one hand on his axe. Legolas was at the side of the group, perhaps as far from the dwarf as he could be. Every so often the two would shoot each other scowls, and Boromir rolled his eyes.

Aragorn and Gandalf were leading the group, conversing quietly. Boromir felt a flare of dislike within him at the sight of the ranger. That grungy, wild looking man. How was it that he was Isildur’s heir? Boromir couldn’t see it, wouldn’t accept it.

He turned back to his musings, and had soon pinpointed a small cluster of trees that the two girls could potentially be hiding behind. As they passed the trees, however, no one jumped out at them, and Boromir felt a tinge of regret at the fact.

He glanced over as Aragorn fell back to his side.

“What are you thinking?” The ranger asked. He studied the Gondorian soldier warily, and Boromir chuckled.

“I was just thinking, all these trees and rocks, those two girls from the council could be hiding anywhere.”

Aragorn scowled. “They aren’t,” he stated. “They are safe in Rivendell.”

Boromir nodded. “I know,” he said. “I don’t know why I was thinking about that.”

From the front of the group Gandalf chuckled. “Because you’ve met them,” he called. “Mithril is half dwarf, half Took, and Minriel is just as stubborn. If there is a way for them to sneak out and join us, they will find it.”

“They won’t,” insisted Aragorn.

“What do you mean, part Took?” asked Boromir.

“I’m a Took,” Pippin told him. There was a proud look in the hobbit’s eyes as he jogged ahead to walk closer to Boromir, and his friends followed. “We’re known throughout the Shire for being very stubborn. We’re also more adventurous. They say that it was the Took blood in Mr. Bilbo that had him running off with those dwarves so many years ago.”

“And it was just as difficult trying to persuade Bilbo what to do as it is those girls,” Gandalf told Boromir. He shook his head, remembering a very stubborn hobbit who had always, even when the mountainside was swarming with orcs, insisted on returning to Thorin’s side.

“So it is a possibility that the girls will be joining us?” asked Legolas.

Gimli chuckled. “Once Minriel went on a trip to visit the western lands,” he said. “Thorin decided that Mithril would stay in the mountain, and she spent the entire day trying to sneak off after Minriel.”

“Aye,” said Merry. “And Minriel said that she made Bilbo wait for an hour by the entrance to the mountain. She even had a bag packed for her cousin.”

“But she didn’t sneak out,” Aragorn insisted. “And neither of them will now.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Frodo said. “Min may be klutzy, but she can be quiet at times. She used to sneak up on me and start shrieking and waving her arms.” He shuddered, remembering times his cousin had sent him sprinting across the Shire in fear, and the assembled fellowship laughed.

“They aren’t coming,” Aragorn said. The ranger’s face had turned slightly pale, and he was glaring at the group around him.

“From what I hear,” said Boromir, “I wouldn’t be so sure.”

Aragorn ground his teeth. “They aren’t coming! They are safe in Rivendell, and they will not be following us!”

Boromir chuckled, noting how Aragorn now sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as the others. With a sigh Aragorn again went to join Gandalf at the front of the group. The wizard said something to him with a chuckle, and Aragorn scowled.

“They aren’t coming!” He shouted.

 

* * * * *

 

“We can’t join with the others straight away,” Mithril pointed out. “We’re too close to Rivendell.”

Minriel nodded. “Da will march us back to the city himself,” she agreed. “We need to wait until they’re too far away to turn back.”

“How far to you reckon that’ll be?” asked Mithril.

Minriel snorted. “Mordor.”

The two chuckled, and then fell silent.

“What if we go ahead,” Minriel suggested. “We know which direction they’re going; we can go ahead of them and keep watch. Take care of any unpleasant surprises.”

Mithril cocked her head to the side, and then nodded. “We need to move fast then,” she said. “We have to go in a wide arc around them, or we’ll be seen.”

Minriel nodded. “Then let’s go.” She started off ahead, stooping suddenly to pluck a few small pebbles and acorns from the ground. After lifting one pea sized stone to her eye to study it, she launched it sideways at her cousin, and it bounced off her shoulder. Minriel giggled as Mithril shot her a scowl.

“How long until nightfall?” Minriel asked.

Mithril raised an eyebrow. “Feeling lazy?”

“No!” Minriel chucked an acorn at Mithril, and then scowled. “Yes.”

Mithril shook her head fondly. “A few more hours,” she promised.

 

* * * * *

That night the girls crept closer to where the fellowship had camped. Minriel had them pause when they were just close enough for her to see, her elven eyes stronger than Mithril’s.

“They’re fine,” she whispered. “Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are all curled up together, and they have Bill nearby. Gimli’s not far off; I think he’s afraid of what we’ll do to him if our little cousins get hurt.”

“He should be,” Mithril muttered.

Minriel snorted, and then continued. “Legolas is about as far away from Gimli as he can be, Gandalf is near him, Boromir is near Gimli, and Da is keeping watch.” She cocked her head to the side. “He doesn’t look happy.”

“He rarely does,” Mithril told her. “He broods almost as much as Papa.”

“He does not,” insisted Minriel.

“Yes he does.” Mithril crept away from where they crouched. “Come on, let’s make camp. We’ll have to set up far enough away that Legolas won’t see us if he takes watch at some point.”

“It might be better if we just don’t use a fire,” Minriel suggested.

Mithril scowled, but had to agree.

“Look at the bright side,” Minriel sang. “We get to cuddle together to keep warm.”

The two curled up together not far away, eating their dinner cold. Mithril took the first watch, waking Minriel halfway through the night. Her cousin shook her awake at dawn, and again they ate their meal cold, setting out ahead of the fellowship.

It was around midday when Minriel heard the orcs. She rushed ahead of Mithril, coming to a crouch at the peak of the next hill. Beneath them trudged a group of the fowl creatures, waiting for the fellowship to venture by.

“What do we do?” she whispered.

Mithril unsheathed Orcrist from her back. “What do you think?” she asked. She and Minriel traded grins, and as Minriel set an arrow to her bow the two crept forward.

“Attack from the sides,” Minriel told Mithril. “They won’t expect that.”

Mithril nodded. “I’ll go left, you go right.” She pointed to a set of boulders on the right side of the hill. “Get to those, and then distract them. I’ll sneak up behind.”

Minriel nodded and darted off, and Mithril slipped into position. Soon arrows were being fired, and as the orcs scrambled for cover she darted forward. She caught the first two orcs off guard, Orcrist making quick work of them. Her father’s sword felt right in her hands, perfectly balanced.

She ducked the next orc’s sword, and Minriel put an arrow through its leg, unable to find another exposed place facing her. The orc fell to the ground, and Mithril stabbed downward, Orcrist lodging in its stomach.

The sword refused to come free, and Mithril cursed, throwing herself to the side as another orc charged her. She drew the twin blades from her sides and attacked, and soon the orc fell. Several more were instantly upon her, and Mithril twirled her daggers about, ignoring the pounding of her heart.

Minriel glanced over toward Mithril just in time to see a group of five orcs descending upon her. She quickly lost sight of her cousin, and she lowered her bow. She couldn’t risk hitting Mithril with an arrow, and the battle happening to her side was simply too chaotic for her to be sure that she wouldn’t.

She went into a roll to avoid an orc’s charge, quickly firing off an arrow that went between its eyes. She stood and spun, sidestepping a swipe from an orc and delivering a kick that sent it stumbling back. Within moments she buried an arrow in its chest. Minriel unsheathed her sword; a present from her mother, and turned to deal with two orcs that were coming at her. She was just finishing with them when there was a crash behind her, and she spun to see another orc toppling to the ground. One of Mithril’s small knives was stuck in its neck, and another orc not far behind had the second knife sticking out from a chink in its armor.

Minriel turned to find Mithril, her breath catching as the small girl dove at an orc that had rushed the half elf. Weaponless, Mithril wrestled with it on the ground, and the two rolled behind the boulders Minriel had begun the fight on. Minriel cursed and started forward, but had to pause to deal with two more orcs. When she reached Mithril a minute later her cousin was rolling to the side to avoid the axe wielded by the orc. As the axe came down again Minriel raised her bow, giving a quick whistle. The orc spun to face her, and was greeted with an arrow to the eye.

“Are you alright?” Minriel called.

Mithril stood, brushing dust off her. “Fine. You?”

Minriel nodded and tossed back her braid. “Fine.” She spun as three more orcs came at them and nocked an arrow. Mithril seized the axe that had been left in the ground, coming to stand in front of her cousin.

“Ready?” Minriel asked.

Mithril nodded. “Always.”

 

* * * * *

 

Legolas called softly for the fellowship to halt. Raising his head, he sniffed at the air. There was a metallic tint in the wind that he knew well; orc blood.

“What is it?” asked Aragorn. His eyes were roaming about cautiously, not missing a single detail.

“There has been a battle,” Legolas said. He crept forward, and the others fell in line behind him. As they rounded the top of the hill they stared at the bodies littering the ground. Over twenty orcs were scattered around, bearing either slash marks from a blade or puncture holes from arrows.

“Who killed the orcs?” demanded Gimli. His eyes narrowed as he stalked between the bodies, inspecting them. “Who else travels these lands?”

“It could be anyone,” Boromir pointed out. “Orcs are friendly with no civilized race; any traveler, if confronted by them, would have taken up arms.”

“Not with this skill though,” Legolas pointed out. He gestured to one orc, which held a puncture wound between its eyes. “I’ve rarely seen this sort of skill with a bow,” he commented.

“And these sword marks are expertly placed,” added Aragorn. He glanced over to Gandalf. “The question is, whoever encountered the orcs, where are they now? And are they friendly?”

The wizard peered around them, eyes falling on a clove of trees nearby.

“They are waiting to ensure that no more surprises greet us as we pass here,” he told Aragorn. “Isn’t that right girls?”

With a scowl Mithril stepped out from behind a tree, followed by Minriel. At the sight of them Aragorn let out a stream of curses. At the same time Pippin gave a squeal of delight and rushed forward, throwing himself at Mithril.

“Mith! Min!”

Mithril chuckled. “Like I said,” she addressed them. “My cousins are not going to Mordor without me.”

Minriel nodded. “Or me,” she added. “And it’s a good thing too, this lot was waiting for you.”

“No, no, no, no!” Aragorn stalked forward, furious. “What are you two doing here?”

Mithril rolled her eyes. “I told you,” she began. “My-”

“You cannot be here!”

Minriel reached out and pinched his arm. “Yes we can,” she insisted. “See?”

“Go back to Rivendell!”

“No!” they chorused indignantly.

“I will turn this entire fellowship around,” Aragorn warned. “Go back to Rivendell!”

From behind him Gandalf cleared his throat. “You will do no such thing,” he declared. “We have come too far; we cannot risk this mission by turning around.”

“It’s not safe!” objected Aragorn.

“Of course it’s not safe,” Boromir interjected. “But that hasn’t stopped anyone here. I say they stay.” He glanced around them at the battlefield with an appraising eye, reevaluating his earlier appraisal of the girls.

“You’re not the leader of this company,” growled Aragorn.

“No, I am.” Gandalf tapped his staff on the ground to accentuate his point. “And as long as I am alive, I make the decisions. Not you.”

Aragorn fixed the wizard with an appraising glare. “That can be rectified,” he growled.

Gimli gave a rumbling laugh. “Even if we march them back to Rivendell and tie them to poles they will still find a way to follow us.”

Aragorn glanced behind him to the girls, and was given a nod of agreement from them both.

He turned back to Gandalf. “How long have you known they were there?” he asked.

“The whole time,” Gandalf supplied. “I told them which direction to head in once they left Rivendell.”

“You know, that may have prompted their escape,” commented Legolas.

“Why would you tell them where to go?” demanded Aragorn. “Why would you help them at all?”

Gandalf rolled his eyes. “I knew they would sneak out, and I didn’t aid them in that. I simply told them where to go once they’d left. Or would you rather they be wandering around the wilderness until Saruman’s spies found them? Or the ring wraiths?”

At the mention of the wraiths Frodo’s face paled, and he inched closer to his cousins. Aragorn sighed, staring around him at the fellowship. Gimli looked resigned, as though he had half expected his cousins to arrive. Frankly, Aragorn felt the same. He didn’t know why he was so surprised at their appearance. Boromir looked simply amused by the whole affair, as did Gandalf. At least Legolas had the decency to look slightly worried for the girls. But it was the looks on the hobbits’ faces that struck at Aragorn. Instead of looking amused, or even worried, they looked relieved at the arrival of their cousins. Pippin was all but clinging to Mithril, and the others had conveniently positioned themselves inches away. Aragorn sighed; Gandalf was right, it was far too late to turn back, and the girls did seem to be useful in a fight.

“Fine,” he growled. “But you stay near me. Both of you. And as soon as this quest is finished I am marching you straight to Erebor and handing you over to Thorin.”

He had the satisfaction of watching Mithril’s face pale slightly.

Gimli grinned at his cousin’s fear, and then glanced around him. “This is your first battle,” he realized. He laughed. “First blood! Come here girls; it is time for your warrior braids!”

The girls beamed and scurried to Gimli as he sat on a nearby boulder. He sat first Mithril, then Minriel down and wove a section of hair on the sides of their heads into braids. He had to stand to reach Minriel’s hair, but at last he finished, inserting his own beads into their hair to keep the braids in place.

“It is customary,” he explained, “for your first beads to be taken directly from the hair of your family. A parent generally, but I will have to do.”

Minriel turned to hug him. “You’ll do perfectly,” she insisted.

Gimli hugged her back with unnatural tenderness. Quickly though he pulled back.

“Hold still,” he commanded.

Minriel chuckled at her cousin’s gruff voice but did as he said. Only her foot moved, tapping out a quick rhythm against the ground.

“Girls?” The fellowship glanced over at the sound of Merry’s voice. The hobbit was inspecting one of the dead orcs closely, frowning. “Why does it look like there is a bite mark on this orc?”

For a moment there was silence, and then several eyes went to Mithril.

“Really Mith?” asked Minriel.

Mithril shrugged. “I ran out of knives,” she defended herself.

“Where was Orcrist?” asked Sam.

“Lodged in that one’s stomach.” Mithril pointed to another orc at the opposite end of the battle field.

“So you bit it?” asked Frodo. “Really?”

Mithril threw her hands in the air. “It worked!” she defended herself.

Aragorn let his head fall into his hands, moaning softly.

 

Chapter Text

The company moved on quickly. Gimli made quick work of the girls’ braids, which the cousins twirled through their fingers as they walked side by side. The braids hung just in front of their ears, situated on either side of their heads. The rest of their hair they rebound in single braids down their backs.

To everyone’s amusement, Aragorn insisted on walking beside them. Despite Minriel’s many attempts to cheer him up, he remained dour faced for the rest of the day. As they made camp the fellowship began to spread out in a search for firewood, but Minriel and Mithril were stopped as Aragorn grabbed their arms.

“Not you,” he commanded. “You’re staying here.”

“Seriously?” Mithril rolled her eyes. “We’re grown adults; both of us are fully trained.”

“I don’t care,” Aragorn stated firmly.

“I really don’t think anything’s going to attack us while we’re gathering firewood,” pointed out Minriel. “Unless there are some vicious squirrels I don’t know about.”

Aragorn turned a slit eyed glare to his daughter. “This is not the time for jokes,” he all but growled. “The two of you shouldn’t even be here. I will not take any risks with what little safety you have left, and if you wish to remain in this company, you will do as I say. Now sit, both of you, and don’t leave my sight.”

Minriel sighed but slouched down on a fallen, moss covered tree. Mithril however, took a moment to glare at her uncle.

Aragorn locked eyes with her, and off to the side, Minriel gulped.

“Sit,” he commanded slowly.

“Mith,” Minriel called. “It’s not worth it. Not this fight.”

Mithril’s face twisted up, but eventually, with a roll of her eyes, she threw herself on the log next to Minriel.

“You’re as bad as Papa,” she complained loudly to Aragorn.

Minriel cocked her head to the side. “Perhaps, perhaps not,” she mused. “We’ll see when we get into a battle.”

At her words Aragorn tensed, and his eyes scanned around them as though he expected something to leap out of the trees at them right then and there. The Fellowship, which was now returning with small stacks of wood, chuckled at the sight.

“There will be no battles,” he insisted. “And if there are you will be staying safely behind me.”

Minriel rolled her eyes. “You see,” she told him, “this is why I had to knock out Uncle Thorin.”

Boromir’s mouth dropped open briefly before he snapped it shut. “You knocked unconscious the King of Erebor?” he asked bewilderingly.

Minriel nodded, not even blinking in the face of the man’s shock. “Yep,” she affirmed. “Why?”

“Why did you knock him out?” asked Legolas before the Gondorian could reply. He studied the girl carefully, recalling his own experience of the mountain king.

“Because he wouldn’t let us do any fighting,” Mithril said. “We were all fighting spiders in Mirkwood, and he wouldn’t let us do a thing.” She pouted slightly at the memory, and to her side Gimli chuckled.

Aragorn however, had the exact opposite reaction. “Spiders?” he screeched. “You were fighting spiders? When?”

Minriel bit her lip. “Right. Ummm, about that…”

“What were you doing fighting spiders?” Aragorn shouted.

“Thrandy and Da thought it might be good experience,” Mithril told him. “Except Papa didn’t care. I’m pretty sure he’d be happy if we never left the castle again.”

“So would I,” choked Aragorn.

“Oh, come now,” said Gimli. “They’re not that bad, those spiders. Sure, they’re big and hairy, and they’ve got pincers as sharp as swords, but if you can avoid those and all their legs, they’re really not that hard to beat.”

“Of course you can’t let them squash you,” chirped in Legolas. “I once saw a spider sit on a Greenwood soldier; broke most of the bones in his body.”

Aragorn was turning a rather green color, much to the amusement of the audience.

 “There were a bit more than we expected there to be,” Minriel added. “It was fun, especially once Uncle Thorin was out of the way.”

“Aye,” agreed Mithril. “And you could do a little dance with them too. They move surprisingly quickly. One second too slow and you get speared.”

Aragorn muttered a series of curses under his breath, and then sank slowly against a tree, breathing heavily. For a moment everyone simply laughed at the expression on his face.

“Why do you care so much?” asked Boromir. He gestured to the two girls. “What connection do you bear to them?” His eyes had narrowed slightly, for he had noticed the ranger’s irrational protectiveness towards the two over the course of the afternoon. Almost a paternal bond.

Aragorn tensed. “I am a friend of their family.”

“He escorted Da, Min, and I to Erebor when Da found out Papa was alive,” Mithril added.

At the same time, Minriel said, “He knew my mother well.”

Boromir blinked, deciding to address Minriel’s answer first. “Your mother?” he asked. “Who is she?”

Minriel winced; maybe she shouldn’t have said that. She recovered from her error quickly enough, and as she thought of the best way to answer a saddened expression drew over her face like grey clouds over a sunny sky. “A beautiful elf,” she told Boromir. “However, she was unable to raise me. I grew up in the mountain as the ward of the Lady Tauriel and Uncle Kili.”

Boromir’s face paled, and he blinked several times, gulping. “I- I’m so sorry,” he managed. “I had not realized.”

Minriel shrugged. “There is nothing to forgive,” she promised.

From there Boromir was all too eager to stray away from the subject of mothers, as now memories of his own were stirring in his mind. As though sensing his sadness, Minriel offered him a smile of companionship from across the fire that was now flickering, and he returned it.

“Now,” he said. “What was that you were saying about one of your fathers thinking the other was dead, Mithril?”

Mithril launched eagerly into the story of her fathers’ love, and the Fellowship gladly listened. When she invariably told the group a more humorous version of the orc encounter outside Rivendell on her journey to Erebor for the first time she was met with several chuckles, as well as a rather resigned sounding groan from Aragorn. By the time she’d finished she was watching Minriel from the corner of her eye, remembering the chubby cheeked baby she had dotted over so long ago.

The story took up their time through dinner, and as Mithril drew to a close several of the company was yawning. Gandalf chuckled and stood.

“I think it time we head to bed,” he announced. “I shall take first watch. Legolas, I shall wake you after some hours.”

The elf nodded, and all but the wizard curled up to sleep. Minriel and Mithril set up their bedrolls next to the fire, side by side. Pippin put his bedroll so close to Mithril’s that they were all but touching, and Merry set up his bedroll beside his. This put him rather too close to the fire for Mithril’s liking, and she stood just long enough to drag the four bedrolls away from the flickering flames. On Minriel’s other side Frodo curled up, Sam settling down on his other side after going to feed an apple to Bill the pony. Legolas, Aragorn, Boromir, and Gimli all spaced themselves out around the fire, but both Gimli and Aragorn positioned themselves rather close to the group of cousins, ready to come to their defense should anything attack in the night.

The next morning Mithril was the first to rise, giving Legolas a small nod as she sat up. She glanced around the Fellowship, doing a quick head count. Everyone was there still, Minriel by her side where she belonged, Sam fencing Frodo against Minriel’s side. At some point during the night Pippin had rolled over, and now he all but laid on Merry as the two slept. Aragorn, Gimli, Boromir, and Gandalf were all sleeping still, each with weapons lying easily within their reach.

Within moments Aragorn was awake, and he set about waking the others. They all ate together, exchanging jokes and small insults as the sun rose.

As they began to roll up their bedrolls Mithril glanced around her to the others, biting her lip. Ten there were, ten family members now for her to protect. How could she manage it all? She turned as someone tapped on her shoulder, finding Sam and Merry standing behind her. Merry handed her a handful of berries he had gathered, and then caught her eyes with his own. He glanced purposely toward Pippin, then back to Mithril, giving a nod that promised her that he would look out for his little cousin, just as he always did. Then Sam glanced to where Frodo sat, giving Mithril a nod identical to the one Merry had imparted.

Mithril smiled slightly. With Merry and Sam helping her to look after Frodo and Pippin, her job would be much easier. It left her free to see to the safety of Minriel- who was too klutzy to be left alone- and Gimli- who was too rash. She was not, however, going to completely desert her four hobbits. She demonstrated this by sweeping a purposeful gaze around the Fellowship, giving Sam and Merry a nod that clearly said you look after your two; I’ll worry about everyone. The two hobbits nodded in agreement, and with their jobs planned out, they parted to finish preparing for the day’s journey. Off to the side Legolas noticed the odd exchange, and though he said nothing of it, it nonetheless stuck in his mind.

By the time the pinks in the sky reached a rather vivid color they had set out. Now Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin were at the center of the group, Mithril and Minriel on either side of them. Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir each were at the back of the assembly, Boromir positioning himself between the elf and dwarf that were still glaring at each other. Gandalf and Aragorn led the way, Aragorn’s eyes flickering back every so often to check on the girls. Occasionally Legolas would move up to chat with them, but he would invariably move back to the rear of the cluster.

They had stopped briefly for a rest around noon, no more than a half hour permitted, when Gimli sidled up to Mithril. “Look at him,” he whispered, gesturing to Legolas. “The prancing princeling. He’s just as arrogant as his father.”

Mithril sighed. “Not quite,” she stated.

Gimli harrumphed. “Still,” he said. “I would like to see him without that precious hair of his. He might not be so cocky then.”

“You’re just as attached to your beard,” Mithril pointed out. “But I do think that would be amusing. Perhaps something right around here?” She mimed snipping motions with her fingers, moving her hand in a straight line at the height of her chin. Gimli nodded and grinned.

From off to the side Minriel made a strangled noise. “Absolutely not!” she declared. “Not the hair. Hair is precious; as precious to elves as beards are to dwarves. Even more so. It is beautiful. No touching the hair!”

Both Mithril and Gimli descended into laughter, and Legolas glanced over warily. “Should I be worried?” he asked Minriel.

Minriel shot her cousins a glare. “No,” she told him. “They wouldn’t dare.”

As it turned out, they did dare.

The next morning Minriel woke to the sound of Legolas’s screams. She bolted upright, drawing her sword from beside her. Around her everyone but Mithril and Gimli leapt up in alarm, drawing their own weapons. From where the two sat keeping watch against a tree they began to guffaw.

“My hair!”

Minriel’s mouth dropped open as she took in Legolas. Her two cousins had been thorough in their work, undoing each of the braids lining the sides of the elf’s head. Then they had cut in a straight line across his hair, giving him a cut of hair that framed his face in a rather unappealing fashion.

Minriel turned a deadly glare on Mithril and Gimli, which only made them laugh harder. Even Aragorn was chuckling, and Gandalf and the hobbits were making no attempt at doing otherwise.

“You are going to pay,” Minriel declared.

Gimli had the good sense to look nervous, but Mithril only giggled as she stood. “Whatever you say, Miny.”

“I am serious,” Minriel snapped. “I told you how precious hair is to elves. Why couldn’t you listen?”

Mithril’s eyes widened. “Wasn’t that a joke?”

“No.” Legolas came to stand next to Minriel, giving the two dwarf cousins dark looks. “Not that I would expect dwarves to understand.”

His harsh tone made Gimli’s finger’s twitch in a fashion Minriel knew well. It meant her easily irritated and highly defensive of his kind cousin was losing his temper.

“Understand this,” he growled. He jumped forward, fist raised, but Minriel and Mithril grabbed him, restraining him and talking him down. The whole while Legolas watched on, arms crossed and one fine eyebrow arched.

“His folk are no good,” Gimli stated to his cousins. “I wager he’d like to lock us up in his Mirkwood dungeon and take the ring for himself. Just like his father.”

“He’ll do no such thing,” Mithril insisted.

“Besides,” said Minriel. “Thranduil and Uncle Thorin have found it in their hearts to make peace. They hated each other for one hundred and fifty years. If they can get along, so can you and Legolas.”

Gimli made a noise deep in his throat, but at last, after a good few seconds of glaring at Legolas, nodded. Warily the girls released him, and he stalked off, disappearing into the forest.

Mithril turned so she could see both Legolas and Minriel. “You say hair is important in the elvish culture, but I had not heard this before. Explain.”

“Hair is seen as highly beautiful by our kind,” Legolas explained. “It is said to hold some of the grace of the Valar. The longer our hair is, the closer we are to them, the more grace and good will we hold. To cut our hair is to sever our ties to our creators. Also, the length of hair has become integrated into elvish beauty standards. I thought you had studied under my father for years. Shouldn’t you know these things?”

Mithril shook her head. “I have sat through some lessons on elvish culture, as they often came up when Min and I had our lessons with King Thranduil, or I would often keep her company through them. Not all though.”

“Some lessons on our culture came up in natural conversation, when Mith wasn’t there,” Minriel said. “Or we would ask her to leave as we studied some of the more intimate traditions of the elves.”

Legolas nodded. His eyes followed Mithril as she stepped forward, a guilty look on her face.

“I truly did not know the importance your hair held to you,” she said to him. “If I had, I would not have cut it off, as Gimli and I truly intended to enact a harmless prank and nothing more. I apologize for any ill will I have created.”

Legolas studied her for a moment, and then sighed. “Your acts were caused by ignorance. I forgive you, so long as it does not happen again. An apology from your cousin would also help.”

Mithril snorted. “No offense to you, but Gimli would just as soon kiss an orc as apologize, especially to you or your bloodline. But I am sure he recognizes the harm in his actions and regrets it, even if he won’t admit it.”

Legolas grimaced. “Very well. There shall be peace between you and I, but expect no good will of mine towards your cousin.”

“We never did,” Minriel stated.

Gandalf clapped his hands. “Now that this matter is settled, I say we eat. Breakfast won’t take long to prepare, and I am sure Master Gimli will return to us shortly.”

Slowly the fellowship drifted off to commence their morning routines, though an air of tension remained. By the time breakfast was ready Gimli was indeed back, and he sat angrily as far from Legolas as he could. He didn’t speak another word the rest of the morning, except to bark at Sam, who was having a bit of trouble tying some packs to Bill, to hurry up.

The air of that day was terser than before, though it did lighten up gradually. Legolas, spying his reflection in a stream as he knelt to draw water, couldn’t help a chuckle, and was forced to admit that he did look amusing. This didn’t lessen his anger at the removal of his hair, but, recognizing that it had been done with no ill will intended- at last on Mithril’s part- he was able to look past it somewhat.

He wasn’t the only one who found his appearance amusing. Throughout the day, whenever someone glanced over to Legolas, they instantly descended into chuckles. Legolas began to highly consider cutting of Gimli’s beard in his sleep, but something told him that Minriel would extract his vengeance for him.

Sure enough, that night found everyone but Aragorn and Minriel sitting round their fire, joking amongst themselves. Aragorn, not wanting to chance something sneaking up on them while they were unawares, especially with his daughter present, was sitting a ways away, back to a tree as he scanned the darkening sky. He glanced up as Minriel appeared, holding two writhing bundles in her hands as she made her way to where the bedrolls were already spread out.

“Minriel,” he called. “What kind are those?”

Minriel paused just long enough to glance back at him, a devilish gleam in her eyes. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “They’re non-poisonous.”

She showed him briefly what she carried, and when he nodded his approval she proceeded forward. Soon the two parcels were tucked into Mithril and Gimli’s bedrolls, and Minriel succeeded in tugging her father over to the fire with the others.

Dinner was filled with the exchange of small stories, childhood times spent romping with friends. At last it was time for the Fellowship to head to bed, and as Sam prepared to sit watch he heard a scream behind him.

He whirled, eyes flaring, but found that the scream- which had been rather shrill in volume- belonged to Gimli. The dwarf was scrambling away from his bedroll in horror, visibly restraining himself from pulling his axe out. Sam glanced down at the bedroll curiously, smiling softly.

“Ah,” he said. “A kingsnake.” He glanced up as everyone but Gimli descended into laughter. “Nice choice Min.”

As Gimli sent him a glare, Mithril, who had been expecting the snakes in their bedrolls, calmly approached her own. She threw back her blankets, exposing the red, black, and white reptile curled up by her pillow, and gingerly grabbed it.

“Gimli,” she called.

Gimli turned to face her, automatically grabbing at what she threw to him. Then he saw that he was holding the second snake and threw it away from him, squealing. Again the Fellowship descended into laughter.

“I hate you all,” he grumbled.

Minriel laughed lightly, scooping up the snakes in her arms and stroking their heads. “What’s wrong Gimli?” she asked. “They’re just little snakes.”

Gimli wrinkled his nose as he stared at the reptiles. “Those are not little,” he admonished. “Now get them away from me.”

Minriel snorted, but did as he said. As she returned to the group she received a nod of thanks from Legolas, and she returned it with a small smile. To her amusement Gimli thoroughly checked over the rest of his bedroll before putting so much as one toe in it, but Mithril crawled unworriedly into hers.

“Really,” Mithril scolded her older cousin. “You should have known she was going to do that.”

From the side Aragorn grinned. “If I recall, this is how the great prank war of the eastern lands started,” he commented. “Are you three about to begin another one of those?”

“Maybe,” Minriel returned. She and Mithril chuckled.

“Would this be the prank war that ended with my father’s hair and eyebrows dyed purple?” asked Legolas.

Mithril nodded. “And him, Lords Elrohir and Elladan, Uncles Fili and Kili, and Papa all sparkled by the end.” She pointed to Aragorn as she spoke, and the ranger sent her a good natured scowl.

“Ah yes,” recalled Gandalf. “You also left some supplies for Sigrid and Tilda to use on their father, yes?”

Mithril nodded. “Uncle Bard actually loved what we did,” she said. There was a sadness in her eyes as she recalled her deceased uncle, and Minriel reached over to squeeze her hand.

“What did you do?” asked Merry.

“We put Uncle Thorin, Uncle Fili, Uncle Kili, Aragorn, and Lords Elladan and Elrohir in barrels and dumped them in the river,” Minriel explained. “Uncle Bard came to fish them out, and while they were all heading back to the Mirkwood castle we dyed all their clothes pink. Sigrid and Tilda added glitter to Uncle Bard’s clothes, but we didn’t do that till later.”

“Aye,” said Aragorn. “The last time I’m coming out of my hiding place when Thorin tells me.”

This excited several laughs from around the Fellowship, and soon Mithril and Minriel were taking turns telling the rest of the great prank war of the eastern lands. At last the assembled group began to doze, only Sam remaining awake on watch.

So they continued on. As time passed Aragon grew used to the girls’ presence, and he allowed them to leave his sight for brief periods of time. As they would go to collect firewood they were trailed by the four hobbits.

The Fellowship also began to train their hobbits. This began one night when Merry and Pippin decided to sneak up on Boromir. This ended in the two plastered to the ground, a previously hidden dagger inches from Merry’s face. From the side Mithril let out a strangled cry and shot over, and a moment later Orcrist was hovering between the soldier’s shoulder blades.

Mithril then took it upon herself to train her cousins, and soon the entire fellowship was helping. Except Gandalf of course. The wizard sat to the side handing out encouraging, and often annoying, comments.

Much as Mithril had once admired her papa’s skill with Orcrist, now Merry and Pippin stared openmouthed at her as she wielded the blade. She, Minriel, and Gimli lost themselves in a lethal dance, and though Aragorn remained tense and ready to intervene, none were hurt. The trio had sparred together so many times before that their steps were all but rehearsed.

They made no attempts to train the four Halflings with Minriel or Legolas’s bows, knowing that their small arms were nowhere near strong enough to pull the strings with the required force. They could barely withstand the solid blows dealt by whoever they were sparring at that time, and often their instructor would have to purposely lose their fight in order to boost the hobbits’ spirits.

As they travelled, the Misty Mountains grew gradually larger in the distance. As they neared them Frodo’s heart pounded, and he scanned the tall, snowcapped peaks as though expecting to see thirteen dwarves, one hobbit, and one wizard sprinting down the side, pursued by orcs on wargs. Noticing his stare, Gandalf pointed out the general direction of where the company of Thorin Oakenshield had first encountered Azog the Defiler, and the entire Fellowship listened in rapt attention as he then retold the story of the quest to Erebor. Bilbo’s daughter, niece, and nephews had heard the story many times in their lives, but as told from Gandalf’s perspective, the tale was made altogether new. Even Minriel and Mithril, who had heard the story so many times that they had acted out scenes from the adventure as children, listened in rapt attention.

At last, on the tenth of January, the Fellowship bedded down at the foot of the Misty Mountains. Gandalf stood in their shadow, gazing up with hooded eyes, trying to discern what lay in their path. First Legolas, then Aragorn, then the rest of the Fellowship came to stand behind him, staring together at the snowy paths.

“The Pass of Caradhras,” Gandalf told them. “Prepare yourselves; tomorrow begins the true peril of our mission.”

Chapter Text

The Pass of Caradhras was a nightmare. The fellowship found themselves trudging over a narrow ridge overlooking a drop far sheerer than that of the High Pass. The path curved more as well, and often the company lost sight of each other around the bends of the mountain. Even when they were moving in each other’s line of sight, their vision was more often than not horribly constricted by the snow spinning through the air. Just as they’d started over the pass a fierce blizzard had begun, wind whistling and tugging at hair and clothes, snow blinding and freezing the travelers. Soon it piled over two feet high, and the shorter members of the fellowship were all but drowned in it.

Sam was immensely grateful that he had released Bill the pony; under Gandalf’s guidance the hobbit had lifted from the pony his burdens and slapped his flank. Bill had galloped back in the direction of Rivendell as the fellowship began the trek over the mountains, and Sam dearly hoped that he managed to find his way back to civilization.

He turned his mind away from the horse as Boromir approached, Frodo clutched in one arm. Before Sam could object the soldier scooped him up in his other arm, pans clanking along the hobbit’s back. The three staggered forward, but Sam found himself glad at no longer having to swim through the snow.

Ahead of him, Aragorn had hefted Merry and Pippin, and his dark head was bowed low against the raging storm. Between Aragorn and Boromir were Gimli, Mithril, Minriel, and Legolas, and Gandalf was in front, staff raised with a bluish light emitting from the end as he attempted to deflect the worst of the storm. Sam had no idea if it was working, but if it was, he didn’t want to know what the storm would be like at its full capacity.

Minriel tapped Mithril’s shoulder, and her older cousin turned to her, eyebrow raised. “Come here,” Minriel called. She had to shout to be heard over the wind, and even then the majority of her voice was lost to the dark crevices beneath them. “I can carry you.”

Mithril scowled. Though she was faring almost as badly as her hobbit relatives had been, she refused to accept help. Besides, she reasoned, her cousin would likely stagger over the cliff face trying to move them both forward.

“No,” she shouted. “I can manage.” She turned around, holding her breath as she struggled not to let her eyes focus on the sheer drop beneath them.

“Get Gimli for me,” Minriel told her.

Mithril rolled her eyes. “He’ll say the same.”

“Just do it!”

Mithril sighed and tapped Gimli on the shoulder, quickly telling him of Minriel’s idea. The dwarf sent a fierce scowl back to Minriel, and though his reply was lost on the wind, Minriel doubted it had been friendly. She trudged ahead, gently pushing Mithril ahead of her. Otherwise she doubted that her cousin could make it across the pass. In some ways, reasoned Minriel, the snow was helpful. Blinding as it was, it prevented Mithril from seeing the full extent of the drop beneath them. Minriel, however, caught occasional glimpses of the full height, and even she gulped in fear.

Legolas bounded forward and alongside Gandalf, the fellowship having reached a rather broad section of the pass that allowed them to stand side by side. He was light enough that he didn’t sink into the snow, something that Minriel envied him greatly for. While she too had a lighter density than their other companions, her human blood caused her to sink somewhat.

Legolas peered ahead, squinting his eyes to see through the whirling snowflakes. “We can’t go on like this!” he shouted. He turned to Gandalf, who had one hand clutching his hat atop his head, the other firmly wrapped around his gnarled staff.

“We have no choice,” Gandalf responded.

Whatever retorts anyone may have made were cut off by a rumble from above, and Legolas dove against the cliff face just in time before an avalanche descended upon them. When the snow cleared he glanced back. Everyone seemed unharmed, huddling against the mountainside. Mithril was practically clinging to the rock, eyes squeezed shut, but with a few calming words parted to her by Minriel she resumed her posture in front of her cousin, eyes steeling.

“We must turn back!” shouted Aragorn. The ranger had pulled up his hood several times; now he had given up, and the dark grey fabric whipped in the wind behind him. “We cannot endure this!”

“I have kin within the mountain,” Gimli called. “Lord Balin of Moria. Let us go to him; he would aid us in any way he could.” From behind him both Minriel and Mithril nodded agreement, both pairs of eyes lighting at the thought of seeing their three uncles again.

Gandalf groaned. How could he explain to them that going through Moria was not an option? How could he reveal the truth to them without telling of the fates of Balin, Oin, and Ori? He couldn’t, he knew, and so he kept his mouth shut, merely shaking his head grimly.

“We can take the Gap of Rohan,” Boromir suggested. “It is a fair path to travel.”

“Yet far too close to Orthanc, and to Saruman,” Aragorn shot back. “Besides, there are reports of the Rohirrim sending horses South to Sauron.”

Boromir rolled his eyes. “Rumors! False tales!”

The two men fell into an argument, and soon Mithril and Minriel, with twin eye rolls, were yelling at them to stop. Gandalf groaned as he shifted his hold on his staff.

A sudden strong rasp of wind shook the mountain, breaking off the argument between the ranger and soldier, and even Legolas was hard pressed to keep his footing. All that kept Minriel from going over the edge was Mithril’s hard grasp on her arm, and though Gimli didn’t need her support as he dug his axe between a crack in the rocks, Mithril nonetheless reached out to steady him as well. This seemed to convince Gandalf of how dire their situation was, for he gave a grim nod as he inspected the fellowship.

“Let the ring bearer decide,” he called. “Frodo, which path shall we take?”

Frodo paused, feeling the eyes of all on him. Fidgeting uncertainly with where the ring hung cold beneath his shirt, he ran over his options. The Pass of Caradhras was miserable, and while Frodo doubted they would all make it across unharmed, they had come this far, hadn’t they? Perhaps luck was in their favor. Besides, he trusted Gandalf, and the wizard seemed keen, for whatever reason, on avoiding Moria. As for Rohan, Frodo had no desire to go anywhere near so powerful an enemy as Saruman; he was daily growing to regret his decision to try his odds against Sauron. Aragorn seemed convinced the Gap of Rohan was no good option, and a gut feeling in Frodo forced him to agree.

Which left Frodo with two options. Brave the treacherous conditions on the outside of the mountain or venture into the unknown of the interior. Neither prospect seemed particularly hospitable to him at that moment. However, the decision was his to make, and he had to make it.

Frodo cast a glance over the fellowship. They were all soaked from the storm, shivering, even the most hardy of them. Frodo himself was trembling against Boromir’s side, and felt he would give anything for a warm fire and hot meal, anything to be out of that blasted blizzard. Frodo remembered his uncle describing just how impossible the company’s trek over the High Pass had been so long ago, and how King Thorin’s decision to keep moving over the mountain in a storm had nearly cost them their lives. Looking around him at his miserable family, family who were clearly about ready to drop from exhaustion, Frodo determined that didn’t want to be the one to send them to their deaths.

“Moria,” he called. “We will go through Moria.”

From the front of the group Gandalf gave a resigned sigh, but nodded.

“Moria it is,” he declared.

The trek back the way they had come, though in no way easier than ascending the mountain had been, was somehow happier. Perhaps it was because now they had hope of the shelter of the mountain. They rested for the night in the same place where they had slept before attempting the Pass of Caradhras, shaking snow from boots and clothes. Halfway through the night they were forced to drive off a small incursion of wolves, who apparently were likewise attempting to flee from the storm over the mountain, resulting in them building the fire especially high to keep away more predators as a guard was set up for the night. The next morning they set off, and at last reached a hidden door on the side of the mountain, sheltered by a black lake whose surface, they doubted, had been disturbed for some time.

Each peered around Gandalf to inspect the door they now faced. The door itself was invisible, marked only by a flowing tree etched into the mountain. Above that were several words in Sindarin, which Gandalf quickly translated for those who did not know the language.

Speak friend and enter.

For many long hours they sat there, Gandalf running through every possible password in his mind. He spoke in Sindarin, in Khuzdul, in Common tongue; in every language that graced his mind. Yet nothing opened the door to the mountain.

Eventually the younger members of the fellowship grew bored, and set about exploring the shore of the lake. To the side Pippin stooped to pick up an object, studying it in the dim light of the mountain.

“What’s this?” he asked. He held it up, trying to get a better look at it, then turned as to his side, Minriel gasped. She was staring at the object he held with eyes wide with horror, and with somehow steady fingers she pried it from Pippin’s grasp.

“Oh no,” she murmured. “Oh no.”

“What?” Mithril, having noticed immediately her cousin’s odd reaction, made her way quickly over. Wordlessly Minriel handed over the object she held, and to Pippin’s horror Mithril was now trembling as she beheld it.

“Uncle Oin’s ear piece,” she whispered. She whirled suddenly, clambering back up the slope they were on and to where Gandalf sat.

“Gandalf!” she shouted.

The wizard looked up with a scowl at having been interrupted, but Mithril paid this no mind, shoving the ear piece under his nose

“What happened to my uncle?” she asked.

Gandalf sighed. “I am not sure,” he admitted reluctantly. “This is not really the time.”

Mithril scowled and was about to object when Frodo slipped past her and the wizard, gazing thoughtfully at the mountain.

“Gandalf,” he began. “What is the elven word for friend?”

Gandalf blinked as he considered the question.

“Melon,” he supplied.

To everyone’s surprise, a loud crack broke the terse air, echoing off the mountainsides. Within moments a door had appeared, and with a small heave it was propped open.

Gandalf chuckled. “Well done, Frodo,” he praised.

Frodo beamed, then stepped back to allow Aragorn to slip inside the mountain with a torch.

That issue settled, Mithril stepped forward again. “What. Happened. To. My. Uncle?”

Gandalf sighed, but his answer was cut off as Frodo screamed. The fellowship whirled to see that a tentacle had shot from the previously calm lake, wrapping around the hobbit’s ankle. Now it dragged him closer to the water, and he scrabbled at the dirt and rocks on the ground, seeking some handhold to anchor him.

Mithril had cut off the tentacle within moments, Orcrist flashing. She began to unwind the tentacle from Frodo’s leg, but was knocked out of the way by another. This wrapped around Frodo’s leg with more strength than the last, and within moments the hobbit was dangling above the lake. The water, previously calm, now exploded as several other tentacles shot out. Each waved about, slapping at the fellowship seeking to defend Frodo.

Minriel and Legolas both loosened arrows, and Frodo slipped slightly from the creatures grasp. The motion jostled the chain around his neck, and now the One Ring hung free for all to see, flashing gold just above the lake.

Mithril, Aragorn, and Boromir jumped forward with their swords, hacking at the remaining tentacles. Even Sam, Merry, and Pippin joined, though they did their best to remain on shore. Gandalf murmured a spell under his breath, and the creature under the lake thrashed in some agony. Their combined attack, along with the arrows Legolas and Minriel were firing behind them, soon had Frodo slipping with a shrill scream to the water. Instantly Mithril sheathed Orcrist and dove for him, and panic surged through her as she kicked for footing and found none.

“Mith!” she heard Minriel scream. From the corner of her eye she saw her younger cousin edge forward, but Minriel kept back, knowing that as she didn’t know how to swim either, she wouldn’t be of any help.

A moment later Legolas jumped into the water, swimming with graceful strokes to where Mithril was struggling to hold her and Frodo’s heads above the water. He wrapped one slender arm around Mithril and started swimming again, and despite the two people and multiple weapons weighing him down, quickly brought them towards shore. Aragorn and Boromir stood there, defending them from the tentacles still attacking them, and as the three swimmers began to touch on solid ground Mithril scrambled out of the water, dragging Frodo with her. Legolas came after, grabbing the bow and quiver he’d discarded from the ground and slinging them over his shoulders again.

“Inside the mountain! Now!”

The fellowship instantly obeyed Gandalf’s command, Mithril pulling Frodo with her. As Gandalf stepped inside he lifted his staff and brought it down upon the stone floor with a sharp thwack. The sound reverberated through the tunnel they were in as a blinding light lit it up, and the entrance to the mountain caved in.

“Are you alright? Frodo, Frodo, are you alright?”

Gandalf, once he had lit the end of his staff, turned to find Mithril crouched on the stone floor of the mountain, cuddling Frodo in her lap. Both were shivering, having been soaked from the lake water, yet Mithril didn’t notice her own state. She rubbed her hands up and down her cousin’s back, and he nodded against her chest. Sam knelt beside the pair, murmuring softly with Frodo.

“Here.” Minriel pulled her cloak from her shoulders and wrapped it around Frodo. It was far too big for him, and she was forced to wind it around his small body like he was a babe, but she reasoned that the action would in fact keep him warmer.

Gimli then shrugged off his own heavy jacket, tucking it around Mithril’s shoulders. It was too big for her, and she was barely able to wrap it around both herself and Frodo. Legolas, standing shivering off to the side, smiled at the uncharacteristically tender moment from the dwarf. He glanced over in surprise when, a moment later, Boromir thrust his own cloak at him.

“Take it,” his friend insisted.

There was a glint in the soldier’s eyes that said he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. With a quick thank you Legolas wrapped the cloak around his shoulders, hugging it to him.

Gandalf pushed back Aragorn as he surged to go to Minriel and Mithril’s side, stepping forward himself. “The ring?” he asked. “Do you have it?”

Frodo groped at his neck, ignoring the glare Mithril was now aiming at Gandalf, and then nodded. “It is safe,” he promised.

Gandalf breathed a sigh of relief. If the ring had been lost in the lake then their mission would have been for naught. That matter settled, he raised his staff and barked a short incantation, and the energy that sizzled from the gnarled end dried the clothes of the two cousins and elf within moments. They quickly returned their borrowed cloaks, but Frodo was not permitted to leave his place in Mithril’s lap (despite the fact that he was fully grown adult and could take care of himself, thank you very much). Whenever he tried to squirm away she would scowl and squeeze him that much closer to her chest, until at last he gave up.

“Mith,” called Minriel. “You’re worse than him.” She twitched her head in the direction of Aragorn, who had only left the two cousins alone after thoroughly checking that both were unharmed. Now he had positioned Mithril and Minriel where he could see them both, unnerved at his inability to keep them from battle.

In response to Minriel’s comment Mithril sent her a look that told her cousin just how much she cared about how overbearing she was being. She then returned to subtly nudging Pippin and Minriel closer to her, much to the amusement of the others.

Their attention turned to Gimli as he went to where Legolas was leaning against a wall. For a moment the two stared at each other, and everyone held their breath.

“Thank you for saving my cousin,” Gimli growled. Going by the sour tone to his voice, the words had tasted like vinegar on his tongue, but they were nonetheless genuine. Gimli held out a hand, and after a moment Legolas took it almost numbly.

“I think this moment will go down in history,” commented Gandalf. “Also, I believe, to the east, both your fathers are having simultaneous conniptions.”

Laughter echoed around the stone chamber, and absolutely no one objected.

There was a yelp off to the side, and everyone looked over to see that Mithril, who now had Pippin and Minriel next to her, had reached to the side, grabbed Merry and Sam by the back of their cloaks, and dragged them closer. With indignant noises the two settled into more comfortable positions, but didn’t dare to move away.

Another round of laughter went through the chamber. Mithril dutifully ignored it, and at last Gimli joined them, ordered to do so by a hard glare from his cousin.

At last she released her cousins, and Gimli went to where the tunnel forked as he tried to discern which direction to head. Gandalf remembered soon the proper route, but he listened attentively to Gimli’s tellings of Moria. It was largely based on stories passed through the generations, but, as all dwarf tunnels were built essentially the same way, he was able to lend a hand in finding a proper path for them. As such, when the fellowship set out, the wizard and Gimli walked abreast each other, the former of the two lighting their way with his staff. Much to the amusement of all, Mithril had, before allowing them to move one inch, organized her cousins into a line in between herself and Aragorn. The ranger walked in front, and each cousin scurried to fall into place behind him, eager to escape Mithril. Minriel, then Merry, Sam, and Frodo surged ahead. Only Pippin was glad to remain by Mithril, and as such had the amusement of listening to her mutter under her breath about the others as they walked. Soon, seeing that his little cousin was not beside him as he usually was, Merry decided to fall back to walk with Mithril and Pippin. Behind the trio were Boromir and Legolas, the elf still occasionally fingering the shorn edges of his hair. It had by now grown to his shoulders, and Legolas had proudly recommenced his usual braids before they set out that morning.

* * * * *

That night when they stopped Frodo approached Gandalf, whispering to him for a few brief moments in the quiet of the tunnel. As Frodo at last moved away Mithril approached her cousin.

“What’s going on?” she asked quietly. “Is something the matter?”

Frodo bit his lip, uncertain if he should tell Mithril of Gollum’s presence. He quickly decided not to. Following the attack of the watcher, Mithril had taken no oversights when it came to the safety of her cousins. He didn’t want to risk her charging down into the depths of Moria to take on the creature by herself.

“Nothing,” he said. “Just asking how long we’ll be in this blasted mountain.”

Mithril frowned. “It’s just a mountain,” she told him. “There’s nothing to fear by them.”

“That’s because you grew up in one,” reminded Sam. The hobbit ambled over with Frodo’s dinner, and gladly Frodo took it. “To you a mountain is home, but to us they’re dank and filled with unforeseen monsters.”

“I shall keep you safe,” Mithril promised.

“I think you’ve made that quite clear Mith,” called Minriel. “Come eat.”

Mithril scowled, but did as she was told. Soon the topic of conversation was changed, and the dark tunnels of Moria were filled with the laughter of the fellowship.

* * * * *

Two days later found them in a wide cavern within Moria. As they entered Gimli sighed in relief, taking long strides forward.

“At last,” he declared. “Now, we shall all rest under the fine hospitality of-”

His words trailed off as he turned a corner and saw, littering the floor, the bodies of dwarves. Gone were both flesh and cloth, leaving only weathered skeletons behind, still clutching swords and axes. From their chests cavities and eye sockets protruded arrows, and the trail of bodies led to an open door. With a small cry Gimli started forward, but was outstripped by Minriel and Mithril. Together the three burst into the small antechamber, staring in shock at what awaited them there.

There were even more bodies, each encircling a stone box in the center of the room. One dwarf sat on the edge of a well nearby, giving the fellowship a toothless grin that was rather unnerving. Minriel scanned around the room, her grey eyes finding, leaning against the front of the box, a rather small dwarf that still clutched a large leather book.

“Uncle,” she whispered. Numbly she knelt down, and yes, that was her Uncle Ori. He wore on his right hand a ring she and Mithril had together forged for him as children, and his quill was still clutched in fleshless fingers. She hardly noticed as Mithril joined her, taking Ori’s hand in her own.

Why was she so shocked? Minriel blinked at the realization that Ori’s death had taken her entirely by surprise. She quickly reached a conclusion. Her Uncle Bard had died when she was young, and since then, she had foreseen whatever harm befell her family before it actually occurred. As such, she had spent the majority of her life knowing the worst before it occurred, and though saddened by it, was never surprised. She had known days before a letter had arrived from the Shire several years ago that her Aunt Prim and Uncle Drogo had died peacefully in their sleep.

This was different. She’d had no visions of the deaths of any of her uncles; she had never suspected anything was amiss within Moria, for her Uncles Bilbo and Thorin had hidden their own fears well. For the first time in over four decades, Minriel was confronted by a sudden, crushing loss, and she had no idea how to handle it.

Mithril also was at a loss. Grief welled within her for her three uncles. For surely if Oin and Ori had fallen, so had Balin.

Sure enough, Gandalf brushed a thick layer of dust off the box Ori had fallen against, reading sadly; “Here lies Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria.” He then sighed. “So it is true then.”

Mithril didn’t register what the wizard said. Her mind was still absorbing the shock of the death of her family. She had not lost family since Frodo’s parents had died several years ago, and though she had grown close to losing Frodo several times over the past few months, she had not had to face the possibility of burying someone she loved in many years. Now it was here, and all Mithril could see was their three uncles. Balin, the gentle tutor, who had always done his best to impart what wisdom he could to his nieces. Ori, with his sweet naiveté, who had never objected to staying up into the night to read the girls stories. Oin, who had been both fierce and gentle at once, gingerly bandaging their scrapes while scolding them for their stunts.

None would be seen again. Mithril reached out to clutch at Minriel’s hand, and as a tear dripped down her cousin’s face Mithril pulled Minriel to her. Minriel obliged, for once in need of her cousin’s insistence of comforting her family. For a long moment they cried together, until Aragorn knelt behind them. He placed a hand on the shoulder of each girl, bringing his head forward to rest it gently against theirs.

Mithril sniffed then and stood, leaving Minriel in the comfort of her father. Aragorn gave her an almost imperceptible nod of thanks, and Mithril stepped away. The rest of her family was still living, and there were members there that were depending on her. Indeed, her four Halfling cousins were standing uncomfortably to the side as they watched the proceedings. Neither seemed sure what the right reaction was. None were sure how to carry on when their two eldest cousins, usually so stable, were stunted by events. Seeing that, Mithril roughly wiped away her tears, sending them a small smile. Merry stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her waist, and soon Frodo, Sam, and Pippin followed. For a moment they stood there, until Gandalf knelt by Ori’s body, taking from his grasp the book that he had poured his final words into. He flipped it open to the last page, and though Mithril could not read the words he had written from several paces away, she could see the jagged scribble that followed, inscribed during his death. She glanced away with a grimace.

As Gandalf began to read he captured the attention of all present. Minriel and Aragorn stood, though they remained close together, and Mithril released her other cousins to watch. Gimli too shook himself out of his reverie, staring with wide eyes at Gandalf as the wizard conveyed to them the words on the final page.

“They have taken the bridge and the Second Hall,” he read. “We have barred the gates, but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes,” and here Gandalf paused, squinting, then he finally skimmed over words that had been blotted out by smeared blood before continuing on. “Drums, drums in the deep. We cannot get out. The shadow moves in the dark. We cannot get out.” Gandalf looked up at the fellowship watching him as he finished with the final line, watching the faces of each pale.

“They are coming.”

Chapter Text

Pippin had been slowly backing away at Gandalf's words, unnerved by them. It wasn't the fact that they were the smeared, blood covered last words of a dwarf- and Mithril and Minriel's uncle at that. It wasnt even the ominous way the wizard spoke, as though he was enjoying the horror filled suspense he was creating in the room. No. The thing that scared Pippin most was the vagueness of the words themselves.

The shadows move in the dark.

What could that possibly mean? Pippin had no idea, but he really didn't want to find out. His eyes drifted, as they automatically did, to Merry, but his elder cousin's eyes were as wide as his own. This didn't bother Pippin too much; he knew Merry had no more experience outside of the Shire than he did. So his eyes moved next to Mithril, his eldest cousin. The half dwarf, half hobbit princess from the Lonely Mountain- surely she would know.

If Mithril's wide eyes were anything to go by, she didn't know either, and with a shudder, Pippin stumbled back another step. He knocked into something hard and lanky and yelped. Pippin whirled as the dwarf that had been sitting atop the well tumbled backward and down, and there was a series of loud clanking sounds. The rope on the well fell as well, dragging with it the water bucket, and Pippin winced with each sharp bang. Slowly he turned back to the others; each was staring at him with mixed expressions of horror and disbelief. For a moment, all the noises of the falling objects were quiet, and just when Pippin was beginning to hope that was the last of it, there was a final bang, a noise much harder and louder than the others. This caused the hobbit to grimace, and with a heavy scowl Gandalf stalked forward.

"Fool of a Took," he spat. He thrust Ori's book at him, as well as his own hat. "Next time throw yourself in, and rid us of your stupidity."

Pippin's ears reddened with shame, and he barely noticed how Mithril gave a low growl at the wizard's words. Merry took his hand and drew him to his side, and Pippin leaned against the cousin that was, for all intents and purposes, his brother.

Suddenly, there was a bang in the distance, and the ears of all present perked up.

"What was that?" asked Sam. He glanced around worriedly as another bang echoed, and it was Boromir who answered.

"Drums," he recited. "Drums in the deep."

"Orcs," Legolas realized. As he spoke Boromir shot forward, to the door that they had, only minutes ago, come through. He peered out, glancing left and right. Pippin held his breath. Suddenly Boromir yanked back as something dark whizzed by his head. A black arrow quivered as it lodged in the wooden door. Another joined it moments after.

"Get back!" shouted Aragorn. He shoved the hobbits behind him and sprang for the door. "Stay close to Gandalf!"

The two soldiers shoved the doors shut. A loud roar echoed through the mountains. Boromir let his head fall back on the wood.

"They have a cave troll," he commented bitterly.

A moment later Legolas threw him an axe. He fit it into the door handles. The elf gave him and Aragorn more weapons, and in moments the door was barricaded. Everyone else busied themselves with finding good positions from which to fight.

Mithril darted forward to grab the torch Aragorn had dropped. As she did she inspected the door. It was rotted and falling apart. Even with the barricade, it wouldn't last long.

"Well," she observed as she stepped back again. "This isn't going to end well." Still, it was with a casual air of calmness that she drew Orcrist from her back, giving the now blue glowing blade a few test twirls. She settled it in her right hand, the torch in her left.

Beside her Minriel shrugged. "Maybe they'll be nice and kill us quickly. Before they eat us."

Frodo made a choking sound, and Mithril scowled and drew her cousin roughly behind her. "This is why I don't let you wander off on your own," she informed Minriel. Then she glanced over to her four hobbit cousins, gesturing behind Minriel. "Behind us, now."

They were more than happy to oblige as Minriel drew her bow, setting an arrow to the string. Gandalf grabbed his hat from Pippin and replaced it on his head, drawing his sword and holding it parallel to his staff. Boromir stood closest to the door, his own sword drawn, and Legolas was to the right of Balin's tomb, bow held ready. Aragorn started forward to stand in front of the girls, and they both scowled.

"Keep walking," ordered Minriel. Aragorn scowled and moved to stand a few feet ahead of them, and the girls glanced over as Gimli leapt onto the tomb, brandishing an axe.

"Let them come," he declared. "There is yet one dwarf in Moria who still draws breath." He paused then, glancing over to Mithril. "Two dwarves," he corrected.

The girl groaned. "You too," she ordered. "Behind me, now."

Gimli only scowled and turned towards the door, and with a quick eye roll Mithril darted forward and yanked him back. Almost immediately he had clambered back onto his perch, but before Mithril could again grab him there was a cracking sound, and all turned to the door.

A jagged blade, crudely wrought in the Orcish fashion, hammered through the door. Planks split, wood splinters flew, and Legolas released an arrow. With a squall the orc fell back. As another stepped forward Minriel released an arrow of her own.

The door finally gave away, crumbling onto the stone floor. Each hobbit drew their own swords. Aragorn, Boromir, and Gandalf rushed forward, taking on the first orcs that barreled through the open doorway. Minriel and Legolas continued to fire arrows. Mithril cut down any orc that slipped past the small, feathered spears, handing the torch off to Merry. The air before her was alight with fire and Orcrist's blue light.

Within moments the cave was overrun by goblins. The girls were lost in the throes of the combat, and with battle cries the hobbits surged forward. It was a decision they quickly regretted.

There was a great roar from outside, and then the mountain troll filled the room. Sam stood frozen and gawking at its feet. Seeing that, Mithril took back the torch and launched it at the troll. It had no effect. As the troll swung its huge mace Sam rolled under it, crashing into a pile of rubble on the monster's other side. The creature rounded on him. Mithril jumped forward, but she was too far away. Sam screamed as the troll raised its mace again.

It suddenly yanked backwards. Aragorn and Boromir had seized the chain attached to the troll and were pulling it. It was enough of a distraction for Sam to scramble to his feet. Mithril dragged him away. A moment later there was a yell, and Boromir went crashing into a wall. A goblin jumped on top of him. It crashed into the wall, Aragorn's sword embedded in its neck.

Boromir and Aragorn exchanged nods. As Gimli threw an axe into the troll's chest Boromir scrambled to his feet and dislodged the sword, tossing it back to the ranger.

Gimli threw himself off Balin's tomb. The troll's mace shattered it a moment later with a loud crack and explosion of stone. He was swarmed with goblins. Minriel jumped forward to help him. She whirled away from a blade, striking out with her own sword. As the goblin's head toppled to the floor she kicked out, and another orc was sent into a pillar. Gimli hacked two more orcs as he jumped to his feet. There was a thump behind them. Mithril had cut down an orc that had been creeping up on Minriel's back. There was a fierce scowl on her face, black Orcish blood shining in Orcrist's light. The three cousins put themselves back to back.

Legolas, standing on a ledge on the wall to the side, fired arrows at the troll. He frowned as they stuck from the mountain troll's neck. They seemed to have no effect other than angering it, and with another roar it turned to the elf. The neck chain was clutched in its right hand, wrapped around its forearm, and the troll whipped it at Legolas. He ducked once, twice, a third time. That time the chain caught on a pillar, wrapping around it. Legolas quickly used his foot to anchor it. He jumped onto the chain, using it as a tightrope as he climbed to the troll, then leapt onto the creature's head. Three arrows went into the back of its skull. As it snarled and thrashed in fury Legolas cursed and leapt off. He glanced around; Sam had decided to forgo using his sword, and was instead clocking orcs on the head with one of the pans he carried on his back. Legolas blinked as an orc crumpled to the ground. Sam grinned.

"Hey," he exclaimed. "I think I'm getting the hang of this!"

He yelped as something toppled to the floor by his feet, finding Gimli standing where moments before an orc had stood, ready to stab the hobbit in his unprotected back. "Not quite," the dwarf growled. He disappeared again, axe knocking heads from shoulders.

 

* * * * *

 

Frodo, Merry, and Pippin soon realized that they weren't very good at fighting. They retreated against the wall, their backs to the stone as their eyes scanned around them. In the chaos of the battle they couldn't make out any of their family or friends, and each was imagining the worst.

"There's Legolas," whispered Merry. He pointed at the elf, who was trying to fire arrows into the mountain troll's head. It didn't have the desired effect, and Legolas leapt from where he was so precariously balanced, rolling as he touched down on the stone floor. He stood and deflected a swipe from an orc. A moment later that orc had Legolas's knife in its eye.

Frodo squealed as the mountain troll appeared above them. He dove to the right, and Merry yanked Pippin to the left. Frodo found himself in a corner. He exchanged terrified looks with his cousins. The troll began swinging its head around, and Frodo knew it was looking for him. For the ring. Panicked and panting, he ducked behind a pillar. He sensed the troll begin to move around the pillar, and edged away, first to his left, then his right, then left again. A moment later he found the troll's horrendous face inches from his own.

Frodo screamed.

In turn, the troll let out a roar that would have been powerful enough to make Frodo stumble backwards had he not already been scrambling away.

"Strider!"

Frodo shrieked and dodged the wicked looking spear the troll stabbed at him- where was it getting all those weapons? At the sound of his voice Aragorn glanced up, and seeing the situation the ring-bearer was in, leapt towards him. The troll saw him coming, and swatted at the ranger. Aragorn was thrown into the wall, and there was a sickening crack. He slumped to the floor and didn't move. Off to the side Minriel screamed.

 

* * * * *

 

Minriel's head twisted as a dark shape was hurtled at the wall. Even without Frodo screaming his name, she knew it was her father. As he crumped to the floor in a heap, Minriel screamed his name. She ran to him, dispatching several goblins between him and her with a roar. At last she was able to throw herself to her knees beside her father.

His head was limp in her arms. A trickle of blood ran down the side of his scalp, and Minriel gently wiped it. The red lifeblood smeared in Aragorn's hair.

"Da?" Minriel's voice cracked. In the din of the battle she knew that no one, save Mithril, who had accompanied her, could hear her. At the moment, she wouldn't have cared if they had.

"How is he?" demanded Mithril. The girl stood at her cousin's back, guarding her as she looked over the ranger. Minriel shook her head- she really wasn't sure, and the midst of a battle wasn't the best time for a proper examination. She was about to say so when she heard Pippin and Merry yell.

"Frodo!"

Both girls whirled, just in time to see the mountain troll ram its spear into Frodo's chest.

A scream chocked in Minriel's throat. For a moment Frodo stood pushed against the wall, eyes widened in shock and pain. Then he slumped forward.

At the same time, there was an ear shattering scream.

Mithril's vision colored red, tunneling in on the monster standing over her baby cousin's body. With a scream of anguish and fury she leapt forward, Orcrist swinging sloppily.

Mithril slashed brutally at the muscles in the troll's legs, still screaming. Sprays of blood across her face went unnoticed. A moment later Merry and Pippin added their screams and swords to the fight. Sam came from another direction, and together, the four cousins drove the mountain troll into the pillar Frodo had only moments ago been hiding behind. It shuddered and began to tip. With a gasp, Minriel dragged her father out of the way. A moment later it crashed where they had just been.

 

* * * * *

 

Aragorn coughed as he regained consciousness. The first thing he heard was Mithril screaming Frodo's name, and as his memories returned to him he bolted upright. His head spun, and he nearly went straight back down.

Minriel caught his arm, gazing at him with worried grey eyes. Aragorn paused just long enough to run his eyes over her, checking to ensure that she was unharmed, then he turned his eyes to Frodo. Aragorn gasped in horror, and tears filled his eyes. There was a spear protruding from Frodo's chest.

"No," he whispered. Aragorn tried to stand, but his legs would not yet support him. Instead he crawled forward. Mithril was kneeling on the ground, Frodo cradled in her lap, and she jostled him roughly.

"Frodo," she pleaded. "Wake up. Wake up!"

Minriel, who had come forward with Aragorn, opened her mouth. Aragorn thought it might be the healer in her objecting to such a shaking of an injured person. Minriel didn't say anything though, just let her mouth fall shut. They knew there was no surviving a blow such as that.

"We need to go," called Legolas. He twirled out of the way of an orc, then decapitated it. By now the rest of the fellowship was finishing with their own battles, and were slowly taking stock of each other. As their eyes one by one drifted to Frodo they gasped, horror and grief seizing their faces. Sam gave a shrill cry and darted forward, and Mithril allowed him to pull Frodo from her. Her fingers stayed tangled in his curls.

Suddenly Frodo groaned, then reared up, coughing. Shock and relief sprang through Aragorn's chest. Based on the cries throughout the chamber, he wasn't the only one.

"Ow," Frodo groaned.

A tension seemed to release from the others at the sight, and several even gave small laughs. Immediately the hobbit's cousins were upon him, and as they finally stepped away Aragorn knelt down before him.

"I am sorry," he whispered. "I am so sorry." His voice broke, and he glanced downward, cheeks reddening in shame. What sort of king would he be if he could not protect those he'd sworn to guard? How was it that he was descended from the great kings of old if he so easily allowed his friends to be hurt?

Frodo placed a hand on his shoulder. "There is nothing to be sorry for," he promised. "Are you alright?"

Aragorn gave a small chuckle, but didn't answer. Was Frodo really asking if he was alright? The hobbit had just been stabbed in the chest with a spear, and he was worried about others?

"How did you survive?" asked Gandalf. He was eyeing Frodo curiously, and with a small laugh Frodo tugged at the collar of his shirt, revealing the mithril shirt underneath.

"Uncle Bilbo gave it to me," he told them. "It's a good thing too."

Mithril nodded, then pulled her cousin to her. "Don't do that again," she ordered.

Frodo smirked. "I didn't exactly have a choice," he reminded her. "But I'll try."

Mithril scowled, then glanced up as Gandalf cleared his throat.

"Legolas is right," the wizard stated. "We need to leave; others will be soon in coming. To the Bridge of Khazad-Dum."

He started for the door, and the fellowship followed. The warriors formed a ring around the four hobbits, Aragorn and Mithril positioning themselves on either side of Minriel. The girl rolled her eyes at this, but allowed them to do so.

There came the sound of scampering feet and clicking teeth in the shadows behind them. Minriel suddenly found herself happy to be between Mithril and Aragorn.

"They're coming!" she cried.

The fellowship sped up. Minriel knew it wasn't fast enough.

They began to cross a wide cavern, with pillars spaced every few meters. Thousands of eyes began to peek out of the dark at them. Minriel and Legolas, the first to see, shouted a warning. Soon it was unneeded. The eyes became twisted limbs and ghoulish snarls. Goblins surged forward, forcing the fellowship to run single file.

Suddenly, Gandalf, in the lead, stopped. The fellowship nearly collided with each other. There was a mad scramble as everyone bunched together, back to back. Boromir's shield clunked against Minriel's side as he held it next to him to protect the hobbits.

Within moments they were surrounded. More goblins than Minriel had ever seen- ever wanted to see- clambered across the stone floors and down the stone pillars. She swallowed, but her throat was dry. They were doomed.

Then the drums sounded again. Steps thundered from behind them, and Minriel knew that something else was coming. Gandalf whirled, and as the wizard's eyes widened Minriel saw the light of flames reflected in them. She spun and squealed. There was what seemed to be a very large bonfire moving towards them. At the sound of her distress Mithril turned, and she gave a small gasp of horror.

"What is this new devilry?" asked Boromir in a low, trembling voice.

"A Balrog," whispered Gandalf. "A demon of the ancient world. This foe is beyond any of you." He glanced around him to the fellowship, who had by now all seen the balrog, and were staring openmouthed at it. "Run!"

They ran.

Gandalf fell back. Boromir and Legolas took the lead. The elf nearly pushed the Gondorian out of his way. They turned a corner, and it was only Legolas's sure arm around Boromir that kept the soldier from toppling into the vast, flame filled mines beneath them. Minriel herself only knew to stop from hearing the sounds of the pair struggling against the stone around the corner. She skidded to a stop and grabbed at Mithril, who nearly went over the edge.

Mithril's face blanched. Minriel shoved her down the stairs to their left, and so didn't hear whatever Gandalf and Aragorn were saying behind her. She didn't stop to ask.

Soon they reached a gap in the path. Immediately Merry and Pippin were thrown across, Sam following soon after. The bridge began to crumble, pieces falling away, and at Minriel's side Mithril whimpered in fear. As the bridge shuddered Minriel couldn't blame her. As Boromir leapt over, Minriel grabbed her cousin by the neck and hurled her across the ever widening chasm. Mithril gave a shout of fear, but was caught securely in Boromir's arms. Minriel then followed with Legolas, and received a glare from Mithril.

"Don't do that again," she growled.

Minriel rolled her eyes and stepped aside for Gandalf, then held still as Mithril checked her over for injury. They both glanced up at the sound of Gimli's voice.

"No one throws a dwarf!" he declared. He brushed Aragorn's hand off his shoulder and leapt to where the others stood. His feet slipped on contact, and he began to fall backward. Legolas barely managed to catch him by grabbing his beard. Gimli howled. Legolas pulled. For some reason, Minriel found herself thinking of the time she and Mithril had cut off a teenaged Gimli's scruffy beard. She couldn't help a chuckle.

A crack echoed through the mines. The bridge was now visibly wavering- with Aragorn and Frodo still upon it.

"Come on!" Minriel shouted. She waved her arms to tell them to jump, and Frodo shook his head, pale faced. By now the bridge was swaying back and forth. The man and hobbit staggered across its surface, trying to keep their footing. The stone platform tipped towards them, and as Mithril shoved Minriel behind her, the half elf found her eyes glued to her father's face. The man's eyes were shining with fear, but he held his position, hand on Frodo's shoulder to steady the smaller being. At the last possible moment he clenched Frodo's tunic in his fist and jumped forward, dragging the hobbit with him. Minriel held her breath. The pair barely cleared the gap, staggering into the others. As soon as Aragorn regained his balance Minriel was upon him, and he buried his face in her hair.

"Hurry," ordered Boromir. The soldier was beginning to move ahead, and the others followed quickly.

They soon reached a bridge, a thin and long length of rock that stretched out over the mines. Beyond it Minriel could see a staircase that wound around a wall, and somehow she knew it led to the outside of the mountain.

"We're almost there," she shouted. "Hurry!"

They surged forward. Minriel darted to the other side, glancing around her as the others thundered to a stop next to her. To her horror, two members of their group had not yet crossed. Gandalf had paused in the center of the bridge, turning to face the oncoming menace. Mithril, however, paused not with the intention of defending her family, but out of terror. She had skidded to a halt just before the bridge, gaping at the long drop beneath. Minriel knew that she wasn't going to budge.

She muttered a curse and darted back the way she'd come, ignoring her father's shouts behind her. Mithril was so entranced by her fear that she didn't even hear her cousin approach, and as such gave a scream of fear as she was slung over Minriel's back. Minriel ignored it as she ran back the way she'd come. There was a loose stone at the end of the bridge that tripped her, and burdened with her cousin's hefty weight, Minriel nearly staggered over the edge of the bridge. Mithril gave another shriek. As soon as they reached the other side Minriel set Mithril down, and Aragorn seized them.

"Don't do that!" he ordered. "You nearly got yourself killed!"

Minriel ignored him as she pulled from his grasp. Gandalf was still on the bridge, and he showed no signs of coming to join them.

"Gandalf!" shouted Mithril. "Come on!" She took a step forward, saw the drop awaiting her, and then stumbled back, shuddering. Gandalf didn't even look back as he raised both staff and sword, barring the path of the balrog as the creature met him at the center of the bridge.

For the first time the fellowship got a true look at the creature. Monstrous in size, with curled horns and a cruel face. Its wide girth was wreathed in flames. These flames flickered up and down the whip it brandished, and as the weapon was slashed through the air it sizzled. Minriel could feel its heat from afar. The balrog gave a deafening roar, and all but Gandalf stumbled back a step.

"You cannot pass," Gandalf declared to it. He squared his shoulders. Minriel wanted to run to his aid. She didn't dare.

"I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass! The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass!"

The balrog snarled and struck with its flaming whip. Gandalf thrust his staff into the air, and a bubble-like shield enveloped him. It was enough to send the balrog stumbling back a step. It recovered quickly. Minriel's breath caught.

"YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"

Gandalf's voice filled the stale air of the mountain, and he clutched his staff with both hands, so that it pointed downward, his sword upwards. Raising the staff, he brought it down upon the bridge, and as a blinding white flash lit up the space around him there was a deep rumble. By the time the light had cleared a wide section of the bridge had crumbled, and as it fell to the mines below it carried the balrog with it. Gandalf breathed a sigh of relief. Minriel began to cheer as Gandalf turned to join them. She was interrupted by a sharp whoosh and flash of heat.

The balrog's whip wrapped around Gandalf's ankle. Minriel could smell his flesh burning beneath it. She was too shocked to gag. With a grunt Gandalf fell to his knees. Even as the balrog fell it dragged Gandalf with it. He was pulled over the ragged edge of the bridge, grasping at the jagged rock with bleeding hands.

Gandalf cried out in pain. His fingers slipped. He had only moments.

 

* * * * *

 

Gandalf glanced up and over to the fellowship. Each was gathered on the other side of the bridge, frozen in horror as they watched the proceedings. He surveyed them quickly in his final moments, calculating them based on what he saw. They were both ready and not. It was unfair. So unfair.

Gandalf thought of fallen kings and rings burnt with dark magic. Of dragon fire and flaming mountains and of tortured creatures writhing in the dark, villains who were victimized by a power they couldn't understand. It was all so unfair.

He'd thought he could spare them though. The halflings he so loved. His dear friends from the mountain and forests. They were all his family, even those he had only recently met. Gandalf knew they could do this without him. They had to.

He also knew, from memories of grief in dwarf and man and elf eyes alike, that they would never be ready to.

Arrows began to soar over his head. They clattered against the stone wall. The fellowship didn't react, still gawking at him. Gandalf wanted them to go, he wanted them to stay. They needed to go. He needed one last moment, his last moment, with his friends and family. The very last moment of a whole and untarnished fellowship.

He couldn't have it. An arrow barely missed Pippin. His hands were clutched to his chest like Gandalf's hat was still tangled in his fingers. His young eyes were wide with horror. He didn't even notice the arrow.

Fool of a Took, Gandalf thought fondly.

"Fly, you fools," he whispered. It was that or goodbye, and as Bilbo had said countless times, Gandalf the Grey hated goodbyes.

The whip tightened around his leg, and Gandalf fell.

 

* * * * *

 

"NO! GANDALF!"

Frodo was the first to react, jumping forward with his arms outstretched. Aragorn saw but was too slow to stop him. The world seemed tunneled on where Gandalf had fallen. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else was real.

Boromir caught the Halfling around the waist. Mithril screamed, and she stepped forward, then back, then forward again. She leapt backward as an arrow bounced off the stone at her feet, and she hurriedly resumed her position in front of Minriel. She shoved her cousin backwards, towards the stairs carved into the mountain behind them. The two began to ascend, eyes locked on where Gandalf had fallen.

"Aragorn!"

The ranger whirled at the sound of Boromir's voice. He was the last one in the caverns of Moria; even Frodo had fled. Only the soldier waited for him at the top of the stairs, waving his arms. Aragorn glanced back to where Gandalf had just been, then ducked as an arrow whizzed over his head.

Perhaps the wizard would come soaring up in a moment. He always had some trick up his sleeve. Surely he had something now.

Aragorn knew he didn't. He knew he couldn't stand around hoping futilely for things that would never be. Cursing, he spun and ran, dodging from side to side to avoid arrows. Boromir disappeared at the top of the stairs, and Aragorn paused at the bottom. He spared one last glance to where Gandalf had fallen. A breath shuddered in his throat.

Aragorn forced himself ahead, to the doorway before him, where the girls were waiting for him. As he reached them he grabbed at Minriel, fingers tangling in hair that had come loose and was knotted on her shoulder before moving to her hand. Her fingers curled around his. The touch was his life line. His anchor.

Mithril was waiting by the door, hand outstretched. Aragorn stumbled towards her. Thoughts of the child he'd cooed over next to her traveling fire with his little baby girl in her arms mingled with terrible thoughts of volcanic mountains and dark lords. Panic seized Aragorn, and he nearly ran back. Back for Gandalf. He couldn't do this without him. He couldn't go there, not to that dreaded place. Not with his girls.

He had to anyway.

So, he latched himself to his anchors and ran to the ajar door, sending Mithril and Minriel ahead of him. Their hands stayed joined, and together, the three burst forth into the light of day.

Chapter Text

The outside of the mountain shone under the light of the afternoon sun. Normally it would have seemed a bit dim, shaded as it was by clouds, but to the eyes of those who had been underground for the past two days, it was blinding.

The fellowship stumbled onto the exterior of the mountain, turning back as the doors slammed shut behind them. Legolas stared around him blankly, observing numbly. Gimli turned suddenly, as though to bolt back for the doors, and very well might have if not for Boromir, who grabbed the dwarf from behind and held him fast against his chest. For several moments he struggled, and then was still, except for his quaking shoulders. Merry and Pippin were almost directly in front of the door, having fallen as soon as they had passed through the mountain. Now Pippin was curled up in his older cousin’s lap, sobbing. Merry was also crying, but he was shaking Pippin gently, as though trying to bring him back to reality.  Legolas thought maybe he was also trying to bring himself back. Sam was nearby, kneeling on the rocks with tears streaming silently down his face.

All this Legolas observed, and he did not understand it. Did not understand the emotions swirling through his own mind and heart, the sharp pain in his chest, the burning of his eyes. For, although the oldest of them all, he was the least experienced with death and grief, and could not yet understand it.

Aragorn watched as Minriel moved towards him, arms already opening for a hug. She barely made it two steps before her own tears overwhelmed her, and she sank to the ground. Before Aragorn could go to her side Mithril was there, cradling her younger cousin’s head to her shoulder. Together they cried, and as Aragorn saw that their defenses were completely shattered, the two open to attack, he realized that they could not remain there. He pushed back his own grief, stepping forward.

Gandalf had told him to take charge, should he fall. He had whispered it to him as they had run from the balrog. At the time Aragorn had insisted it wouldn’t be necessary, but he wondered now if Gandalf had known even then that he would fall.

Did it matter? Aragorn wasn’t sure. There was one thing he was sure of: they could not stay there. And it was up to him to ensure they reached safety.

“We need to get moving,” he shouted. “Come on Sam, up on your feet.” He hauled the hobbit to a standing position, patting him on the back. Next, he moved to Minriel and Mithril, extending his hands down to them. It took a moment for them to respond, but at last they allowed the ranger to pull them to their feet.

“Are you insane?”

Aragorn spun as Boromir stormed forward, livid. “They have just- we have just lost our friend. Give them time to grieve.”

Aragorn scowled. He had known from the start that he and the Gondorian soldier would butt heads, but this was too far. Now his stubbornness was putting the fellowship in danger. Aragorn wouldn’t allow it, especially while his daughter and niece were a part of that company.

“By nightfall the mountainside will be swarming with orcs. We need to keep moving.”

To his surprise, Minriel was the first to jump into the argument brewing, bypassing her usual instincts to avoid conflict. “Lothlórien,” she announced. “We’ll be safe there.”

Aragorn nodded, and Mithril and Minriel went to pull Merry and Pippin to their feet. Aragorn scanned around them, doing a head count. Who was missing?

“Frodo!”

Everyone turned in the direction Aragorn was facing. Slowly Frodo drew to a stop, several meters away. He turned, and when Aragorn caught sight of the hobbit’s eyes he swallowed heavily. Gone was the light, the playfulness that had so often shone when he had goofed around with his family. In its stead was a weariness, a heaviness that Aragorn had never seen in him before.

Frodo shook his head. He opened his mouth to say something, but all that came out that was a strangled sob. Almost immediately Mithril and Minriel were with him, their other cousins not far behind. Aragorn turned to the rest, gesturing to the south. “Let’s go.”

As Frodo finally regained his composure they started forward, Aragorn at the head of the group. Behind him was Legolas, then Frodo and Sam, then Merry and Pippin. Minriel and Mithril were just behind, their hands joined, though Mithril had her other hand wrapped around the hilt of Orcrist, now once again sitting on her back. Behind the two girls were Boromir and Gimli, the former of the two shooting the ranger several dirty looks. As they walked Aragorn was acutely aware of the absence of Gandalf beside him, but he forced himself to push such thoughts from his mind. He had to be strong now. The fate of Middle Earth depended on it.

* * * * *

“You called?”

Bilbo didn’t bother knocking on the door to Elrond’s study. It was slightly ajar, waiting for the hobbit to step in. As he did Elrond glanced up from his papers, setting down his quill. He nodded briefly to the elf that had brought Bilbo to him, and he made off, slipping quietly down the hallway. A moment later the elf was replaced by Elrohir, Elladan, Tauriel, and Arwen.

“Yes,” said Elrond. He sighed, gesturing for the group to take seats. They did so, studying the lord with hooded eyes, and Elrond laced his fingers together. “I feel that it is now safe for you to return to Erebor.”

Bilbo raised his eyebrows. To anyone else, Elrond’s words would have seemed like a demand to get out of his house, but Bilbo knew better. Something else was going on.

“Why do I need to return home so soon?” he asked. He crinkled his nose, not entirely pleased at the idea. To return home would be to face Thorin, and the thought of telling his husband that their daughter and niece had gone running off to Mordor was not an appealing one.

Elrond sighed. “The forest of Mirkwood grows dark once more, poisoned by Dol Guldor. It is time the eastern lands unite against it.”

Bilbo nodded, but it was Tauriel who spoke. “You say it is safe for us to return,” she stated. “Why is that?”

Elrond’s eyes grew cloudy. “Saruman has turned his eyes to the South. He no longer watches the Misty Mountains.”

Bilbo’s heart pounded. Did that mean the fellowship had passed through safely? Was his family alright? Elrond glanced over, and seeing the look on Bilbo’s face, sighed.

“I do not know what has befallen the fellowship,” he said. “I do, however, know that Dol Goldur must be brought down.”

Bilbo nodded. “I’ll set Thorin and Thranduil to it,” he stated. “Once I’ve calmed them down over the disappearance of the girls.”

Tauriel gave a snort of amusement beside him, and reached over to pat the hobbit’s shoulder. “Calm them down?” she asked. “That’s not likely to happen. Don’t worry Bilbo, I’ll remember you fondly.”

Bilbo rolled his eyes and stood. “I’ll prepare to depart,” he told Elrond. With that he and Tauriel left the room, leaving Elrond alone with his children.

“What have you seen?” asked Elladan. He and his siblings were watching their father carefully.

“I see rangers of the north meeting the armies of Rohan under the mountains of Ered Nimrais. There can be only one place to where they march.”

“Gondor,” whispered Arwen. Her grey eyes were wide as Elrond nodded confirmation. “Did you see Aragorn? Or the girls?”

Elrond shook his head, then held up a hand to quell the panic rising in his daughter. “That does not mean harm has befallen them,” he stated. “Be at peace.”

Arwen scowled, then stood. “I should go to Gondor,” she said.

Elrond shook his head. “You must remain in Rivendell,” he told her. “Aragorn cannot fight if you are in danger; he would worry too much for you. He has enough of a distraction looking after those two girls.”

Arwen’s scowl deepened. “I can take care of myself,” she stated. “And my husband. As for my girls, their presence in a battle is all the more reason for me to join the fellowship.”

With that she too swept from the room, leaving her father and brothers alone. Elrond sighed and sat back in his chair, resisting the urge to lower his head into his hands.

“We will gather the rangers,” Elrohir said. He stood, and his brother stood with him. “Once they are gathered we shall ride south, and meet the fellowship for battle. For better or for worse.”

Elrond nodded, then stood and took his sons’ hands in his own. “Be careful, my boys,” he whispered. Both nodded, then they too, were gone.

* * * * *

Galadriel turned to face Haldir as the elf padded silently towards her. She was standing at her favorite spot within her home, where she could view Caras Galadhram from above.

“You sent for me, my lady?”

“Yes.” Galadriel smiled, running her eyes up and down Haldir. He had been a loyal soldier his entire life, and though he was yet young, he had quickly risen through the ranks in the army of Lothlórien. Moreover, he was a brother. A protector.

She thought fondly of two young girls who would need quite a bit of protection. And with some of what she had seen brewing in Minriel’s future, she would not in the least mind someone she trusted to report back to her. For while in battle she was a formidable opponent, Minriel had no experience with matters of the heart, which Galadriel refused to risk.

“I would like for you to return to the northern border of the golden forest,” she told him. “See to it that nothing hostile crosses our borders.”

Haldir nodded, looking slightly perplexed. It had been many centuries since anything had managed to come into the forest, so why was she now worried? He sighed; Galadriel had her reasons for everything. Trying to decipher those reasons would only cause him a headache.

“Yes, my lady.” He bowed, then quickly scurried off to prepare to move out. He didn’t notice Celeborn as the elf slipped silently to his wife’s side, studying her with twinkling eyes.

“You’re meddling again,” he accused. “I can sense it.”

Galadriel laughed, then planted a kiss on his cheek. “Of course,” she said. As Celeborn all but rolled his eyes she grinned. “But be light of heart; our great-granddaughter is coming to visit.”

As Celeborn’s eyes narrowed, Galadriel laughed again.

* * * * *

It took the remainder of that day to reach the forest of Lothlórien. By that time the entire fellowship was thoroughly exhausted, even Legolas. It was gladly that he passed through the border of the Golden Wood, pausing as Gimli began to mutter behind him.

“I don’t like these woods,” the dwarf grumbled. He scanned around him with narrowed eyes, hand on the hilt of his axe. “My father tells me that there is a witch within them, waiting to lure us to our deaths. Well she won’t catch this dwarf unprepared! I have the ears of a fox and the eyes of a hawk!”

Gimli faced forward again, finished with gazing behind him back the way they’d come, and drew to an abrupt halt. His eyes crossed, his vision narrowing to the tip of the arrow that was inches away from his forehead.

“The dwarf breathes so loudly we could have shot him in the dark,” commented Haldir. He turned his gaze from the dwarf before him just long enough to survey the rest of the fellowship, now surrounded by the other border guards. Immediately his eyes were drawn to the tall, raven haired girl at the center of the group, but he forced his eyes from her, even as his heart pounded with recognition. He instead focused on Aragorn, and a wide smile split his face.

“Estel, my friend,” he greeted. He lowered his bow, and he and Aragorn bowed with a fist clasped over their hearts. It was the warmest embrace of the elves.

“Haldir,” murmured Aragorn. “How are you?”

Haldir nodded. “I am well.” he swept his gaze around him to indicate the rest of the company, still under watch by the guards of Lothlórien. “What prompts you to bear such company?”

Aragorn sighed. “I am afraid that is a matter that I can only speak of with the lord and lady of the woods.”

Haldir nodded, frowning. “I shall bring you to them,” he promised. He turned to another elf, murmuring in Sindarin, and with a nod the elf and several others moved away, slipping silently back into the trees to resume their patrols. “I must, however, insist that the dwarf be blindfolded.”

“What?”

The entire company was outraged and shocked. Aragorn took a step back from Haldir, and to his surprise, both Legolas and Boromir stepped forward.

“That is ridiculous,” opposed Boromir. “Gimli is a trusted ally; he should be treated with the same rights as us all.”

“Gimli is also the first dwarf to step foot inside Lothlórien in centuries,” Haldir retorted. “While his loyalty is yet to be determined by the lady and lord of the woods, he shall go blindfolded.”

“I’ve never been blindfolded,” objected Mithril.

“You are only part dwarf,” reminded Haldir.

“Please,” pleaded Legolas. “Once I was in your position, and I chose to bind those who visited my father’s lands rather than treat them with the respect they deserved. This treatment nearly caused a war between the woodland folk and the mountain king. Do not make the same mistakes.”

He glanced down to Gimli, then over to Mithril, who had by now stormed to her elder cousin’s side, a rather frightening expression on her face. He did not say, though he did think, that he had grown, much against his will, rather found of the cousins from under the mountain. Stubborn, obnoxious, and foolhardy though they often were, dwarves were also endowed with a fierce loyalty that Legolas had begun to admire.

Haldir sighed. “I am sorry,” he said. “Truly I am. But I cannot permit Gimli to pass unbound through the forest.”

“Then you shall bind us all,” ordered Aragorn. “As Boromir stated, Gimli deserves the treatment given to us all. If you are to bind him, you shall do the same to us all.”

Aragorn glanced behind him, and though the fellowship didn’t look at all happy at his idea, they nonetheless gave Haldir determined nods. Haldir saw this, and with another sigh folded.

“So be it,” he murmured.

Quickly cloth was produced to bind the hands of the fellowship, as well as to wrap over their eyes. Haldir did this himself, moving quietly from person to person. When he reached Minriel he found her waiting silently for him, grey eyes wide. He hesitated, expecting anger in them, but found only a calm understanding.

“If I may, my lady.”

Only when Minriel nodded her approval did Haldir gently bind together her wrists, and then he moved behind her to wrap the next piece of cloth around her head. As he did he couldn’t help but study her.

The last time he had seen her she had been younger, happy and foolish and naïve. Now there was a darkness in her eyes, a weight in her stance, though Haldir thought perhaps that had always been there, just not so strong. The thought saddened him, and he felt a sudden urge to protect Minriel as if she were his younger sibling.

He shook his head slightly, reminding himself that they were not kin as he moved on to the elder, if shorter cousin. Finished with his task, he handed each member of the fellowship part of a length of cord, holding the end of it in his own hands.

“Ready?” he called. He received several noises of affirmation, and he started off, leading his charges behind him.

* * * * *

“Where is Arwen?” asked Elrohir. “I would have thought she’d be the first one down.”

Elladan shrugged as he bridled his horse. “Are we sure she hasn’t already left?”

“She hasn’t,” Bilbo called. Both elves glanced up as Bilbo entered the stables, frowning softly. “She isn’t leaving.”

Elladan and Elrohir exchanged worried glances. Arwen had been determined on leaving Rivendell for Gondor, and she never gave up on what she wanted. For her to suddenly turn back from her course was very out of character.

They abandoned their horses in the stables, rushing back into their father’s house. Making their way to their sister’s room, they found Arwen sitting in bed, Elrond by her side. The lord’s normally smooth face was puckered in worry, despite the reassuring words his daughter was parting to him.

“What is wrong?” asked Elrohir. He moved to his little sister, crawling onto her bed and pulling her head into his lap. Elladan sat beside him, taking Arwen’s hand in his.

“It is nothing,” Arwen objected. “I merely had a small faint spell.”

The boys exchanged worried glances. “You are ill,” Elladan said. “You need to rest.”

Arwen rolled her eyes. “I am fine. I shall be downstairs shortly.”

Deciding that she didn’t want to wait even that long, Arwen began to push herself out of bed. She froze suddenly as another wave of dizziness crashed onto her, and allowed her father to push her back down.

“Nonsense,” he scolded. “You are staying here.” His tone made it clear that his word was final, and with a sigh and scowl Arwen nodded. To be honest, she felt awful, oddly weak and faint. It was not the faintness that had occasionally disrupted her while she had been pregnant; this was different. Arwen did not know what it was, but she knew it couldn’t be good.

“Fine,” she muttered. She fixed her brothers with a fierce glare, reaching out and grabbing their tunics. “But allow me to make this quite clear, and you may tell Aragorn I said this; if those two girls are returned to me with so much as a scratch, you will all suffer .”

Her brothers exchanged nervous glances, and even Elrond looked slightly frightened as Arwen released the twins. Quickly both boys nodded and sprang up, backing towards the door.

“We shall see to their safety,” Elladan promised. He nudged Elrohir in the ribs, and they quickly fled before Arwen could impart any more threats.

* * * * *

The fellowship rested that night halfway to the city of Caras Galadhram. Haldir allowed for them to be released from their bonds while they rested, although he and their other guards were forced to stand watch over them at all times. The fellowship kept mostly to themselves, eating a meal that hardly any touched before settling down to sleep. Mithril and Minriel found themselves curling up against the trunk of one of the golden trees of the forest, Minriel’s head in Mithril’s lap. Minriel was the first to fall asleep, leaving Mithril alone with her thoughts.

Perhaps if I had gone to him. Mithril tensed as her guilt washed over her once more, and she finally allowed herself to submit to the battle waging in her mind. Perhaps if I had not been cowed by my fear of heights. Perhaps then Uncle Gandalf would be alive.

She shook her head. Gandalf was dead; there was nothing that would change that. Whether or not Mithril’s inaction had caused it, she could do nothing about the fact. She glanced down at Minriel, sighing softly. Never, she vowed silently, would she allow any harm to befall her little cousin.

The next morning the fellowship was again bound, and there was an impatient tone to the air as they drew closer to Caras Galadhram. As the morning drew to a close they passed over a river, and Haldir began to guide them one by one over the rope that reached across it. The majority made it across without issue, until Minriel was to cross. Haldir, thinking that her elven blood would provide her the stability she needed to safely traverse the rope, had only his hand pressed gently to her back as he walked her across. The others were already across the river; it was now just Minriel who needed to cross.

They did well until about halfway across, when the rope dipped down suddenly under Minriel’s weight. She gave a shrill screech as she wavered, and then, before Haldir could catch her, she fell into the river.

Mithril’s head snapped up at the sound. She knew immediately who that shriek belonged to, and her heart pounded in terror at the sound. She began to pull at her blindfold, preparing to dive into the river after Minriel. Rushing water and bound hands be damned, nothing would keep her from failing her family again.

“Hold on Min!”

Mithril finally succeeded in undoing the cloth wrapped around her eyes and began to step towards the river, only to freeze. Haldir had already leapt in after Minriel, and now he waded the rest of the distance across the water, Minriel balanced delicately in his arms. He paid little attention to where he walked, instead studying the rest of the fellowship. They were all fighting free of their blindfolds, Aragorn and Mithril already halfway to the river. As Haldir set Minriel gently on the ground the fellowship converged upon her, which was unsurprising. He had heard some talk of the hobbits being her cousins, and he knew the dwarf was. However, it was the panic on Aragorn’s face, clear to his friend as day, that really drew Haldir’s curiosity.

“Thank you,” he said, finally releasing the girl and looking at Haldir. Next to him, Minriel nodded and gave him a grateful look. Haldir couldn’t help but notice how they had the exact same eyes.

He remembered suddenly how Minriel was, in fact, half elven and half human. A suspicion began to grow in his mind.

He pushed it aside as Minriel shivered, and he draped his own cloak over her shoulders. The fellowship was again bound and led forth, and Haldir picked up their pace, so that they might sooner reach shelter and seek a warming fire.

It wasn’t much longer before they reached their destination. Haldir ignored the stares turned his way as he splashed his way into the clearing at the heart of Caras Galadhram, leading the fellowship once more. At the center of the clearing waited the Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, pleasant smiles fixed upon their faces. As Haldir and his men undid the bonds of the fellowship Aragorn stepped forward.

“My lord, my lady,” he murmured. He placed his hand over his heart and bowed deeply. “I bring with me Boromir, son of Denethor the second, Legolas, son of King Thranduil, Gimli, son of Gloin, Mithril, daughter of Bilbo and King Thorin, Minriel, ward of Lord Kili and Lady Tauriel, Frodo Baggins, Peregrin Took, Merriadoc Brandybuck, and Samwise Gamgee.”

Galadriel nodded, surveying the fellowship. Her eyes twinkled slightly as they came to rest on the girls, though none noticed this besides Haldir and Merry. Merry swept his gaze between the lady of the woods, Minriel, and Aragorn. He had, since he had first seen Minriel and Aragorn under the same roof in Rivendell, suspected their lineage. Now he was guessing at who Minriel’s mother was. He decided to keep his guesses to himself; there had to be a reason why Minriel had never told anyone.

Haldir was having very similar thoughts of his own. He also had the added aid of a timeline, mainly, a visit to Lorien many years ago by Aragorn and Arwen of Rivendell. Hadn’t there been a couple of days where they had disappeared?

Celeborn was the next to speak. “Eleven of you there were who set out from Rivendell, yet ten there are now. Tell me, where is Gandalf the Grey, for I much desire to speak with him.”

Aragorn bowed his head, eyes troubled.

“He is fallen into darkness,” said Galadriel. Her eyes were far away, suddenly sad. “Mithrandir has passed from this world.”

Her eyes focused on Aragorn with a quiet intensity. “Tell me what happened,” she commanded. Aragorn did, and the elves surrounding the fellowship murmured quietly as they learned of the reason for the quest. When Aragorn told of their flight from Moria there were several distressed cries.

Celeborn looked slightly angry, and his eyes, as he turned towards Gimli, were reproachful. Galadriel placed a calming hand on his arm, addressing the fellowship.

“You are weary from your hardships,” she observed. “Go now and rest; you are safe here.”

For a moment her eyes seemed to linger on Frodo, and the hobbit’s eyes widened a fraction, but then he composed himself. He began to follow the others as they were led up and into the castle, Minriel and Mithril at the rear of the group. At the bottom of the stairs Mithril paused, eyes widening as she glanced up, and Minriel sighed.

“Come on Mith,” she called. When Mithril still didn’t move Minriel sighed again. “Please,” she called. “I don’t want to sleep on my own.”

Mithril’s eyes snapped to her cousin’s face, and she gave a small nod. Taking a deep breath, she began to trudge up the stairs that led to the castle, her hand tightly clutching the railing. When the pair reached the top they were led to their usual rooms, and quickly they changed. Mithril had just slipped into Minriel’s room, now bare of her weapons, when Galadriel opened the door.

“Come,” she commanded. Obediently the girls followed Galadriel to her own rooms, nodding sleepily to Aragorn as they passed him. The ranger was about to follow when Celeborn appeared, resting a hand on his shoulder.

“Let them go,” he told Aragorn. “They will be safe with her.”

Aragorn frowned. He had been about to join them in Minriel’s room, loathe to be separated from them so soon after their near death in Moria. He sighed though, Celeborn was right. The children would always be safe with their great-grandmother.

In Galadriel’s room the three curled up on the elf’s bed, and she wrapped her arms securely around them. None spoke for many minutes, each wrapped in their own thoughts. Minriel was the first to break the silence, gazing up at her great-grandmother beseechingly.

“Great Grandmother Galadriel,” she asked. “Will you sing Grandmother’s lullaby for us?”

Galadriel nodded, planting a soft kiss on Minriel’s head. “Of course,” she promised. She cleared her throat, bringing to the front of her mind the song that she had once composed for her daughter. She had received a vision of Celebrian sailing into the west, and when her daughter had arrived some days later, seeking her mother’s advice before she committed to her final trip, Galadriel had simply pulled her baby to her and sang softly. Now she sang the lullaby for all those who passed on their way to the western shores. She had spent many long hours singing the lullaby to Minriel and Mithril; she suspected it was Minriel’s favorite song.

“Lay down

Your sweet and weary head

Night is falling

You’ve come to journey's end

Sleep now

And dream of the ones who came before

They are calling

From across the distant shore”

She glanced downward. Minriel and Mithril had reached across her stomach and joined hands. Their eyes were wet, but already fluttering tiredly. She smoothed stray hair off of their foreheads, never pausing in her song.

Why do you weep?

What are these tears upon your face?

Soon you will see

All of your fears will pass away

Safe in my arms

You're only sleeping.”

And so she sang. Slowly the girls relaxed against her, breaths evening out. By the time the song ended they were asleep, hands still joined. Galadriel smiled and gave each a soft kiss on their heads, allowing the girls to sink into their dreams.

 

Chapter Text

It was well into the next day when the girls woke. They were still sprawled across their grandmother’s chest, their hands clasped together. Minriel was the first to lift her head, yawning deeply.

“Morning,” whispered Galadriel. She pressed a finger to her lips, glancing down to where Mithril was still snoring. Minriel nodded, smiling softly at her cousin’s sleeping form.

“How long have I been asleep?” she whispered.

Galadriel was about to answer when Mithril began to blink drowsily, wakened by the sound of Minriel’s voice.

“Min?” she called. Her hand clenched automatically at Minriel’s, assuring her that her cousin was where she belonged.

“I’m here,” responded Minriel. She gave Mithril’s hand a reassuring squeeze, and her cousin finally relaxed.

Galadriel watched the exchange silently, a small smile playing at the corner of her mouth. “Are you hungry?” she asked.

The girls nodded in unison, and with a small laugh Galadriel brought them down to the dining room. There the rest of the company already sat, feasting on the food that was being brought to them. As the girls entered the room their family rushed to greet them, and Galadriel noticed that the worry that had pervaded several sets of eyes was now fading.

“Here, sit.” Aragorn rose from his chair and drew Minriel to sit in it, giving Haldir a nudge that told the elf to rise from where he had been sitting beside him. Quickly Mithril had taken his place, and Gimli and Boromir each shoved their food, large plates of frosted pastries, at them. A moment later Legolas had added several pieces of fruit, and the girls eagerly dug in.

“How long have you been up?” asked Mithril. She extended an arm to her side to hug her closest hobbit cousin, and for once, was not met with a groan and an attempt to get away.

“Not long,” admitted Frodo. “We were exhausted.”

At this the company drew to a sudden pause, all too aware of the reasons for their exhaustion. Merry was the first to reignite conversation, grinning around him with eyes alight with curiosity.

“When do we get to explore?” he asked. He raised an eyebrow as he received a sharp- yet slightly amused- glance from Aragorn. “Well, it’s not every day that a hobbit of the Shire- four hobbits, that is- get to visit Lothlórien. We’ve got to explore.”

Sam nodded. “I wouldn’t mind having a look myself,” he admitted. “What do you say, Mr. Frodo?”

Frodo nodded, and Pippin threw a fist in the air. “Yes!” he shouted. “Let’s explore!”

Boromir chuckled. “Eat first,” he said gently. “I’d have thought you’d be sitting at this table for hours to come.”

“Well, that’s also an option,” said Sam.

A laugh went around the table, and Gimli patted Sam heartily on the back.

“I am sure Haldir will be willing to show you around,” offered Galadriel, her eyes twinkling as they fell on the elf. He nodded eagerly, back straightening slightly.

“Of course.” His gaze sneaked over to where Minriel sat in between Mithril and Aragorn, and he grinned. “I think you might need an experienced guide, or else there may be more incidents of tripping into rivers.”

“Hey!” Minriel glared at him, while the others broke into chortles. “I was blindfolded and it was your fault.”

“You’d have done that blindfolded or not,” Gimli pointed out.

Minriel pouted. Haldir patted her shoulder in a brotherly fashion.

It was a while before they actually got started, as Boromir was right, the hobbits were at the table for a good long while. Eventually they departed from the house of Galadriel and Celeborn, descending the wooden steps to the clearing outside.

“What’s this?”

The girls glanced over to see Merry examining a tree closely, peering with bright eyes at something silver that protruded from the trunk. Aragorn stepped closer, frowning when he saw that the object was a fork. As a pair of giggles sounded behind him he turned, a feeling of resignation rising within him.

“Do I want to know?” he asked.

Minriel stepped forward, indignant. “It was entirely an accident,” she defended herself. “I honestly don’t know how it happened.”

“How what happened?” Gimli stepped closer to the fork, pulling at it with one of his beefy hands. He frowned, then pulled again. “By my beard, it’s stuck!”

Mithril pointed accusingly to Minriel, and the girls gave a small smile as Minriel continued. “It was the first night of our first visit in Lothlórien,” she told them, “and we were having a grand old time at dinner. I was talking with G-The lady Galadriel, and you know how I wave my hands a lot.” Minriel jazzed her hands through the air to emphasize her point, and Legolas had to step back to avoid being hit. “So, I’m doing that, and all of a sudden my fork slips from my grip and goes flying off, into that tree.” She pointed to where the fork now protruded. “No one’s been able to get it out.”

Mithril chuckled. “By the end of the night there was a whole line of elves attempting to dislodge it. I’m amazed that it’s still there.”

Minriel cocked her head to the side. “How is it still there?” she asked.

Mithril snorted and patted her cousin’s back. “Because you’re a special child, Min.”

Minriel scowled.

“Hey, look at this.”

The fellowship spun to see Merry hanging from the fork, slowly pulling himself up. As his shoulders became level with where the silver met the trunk of the tree he lowered himself, then slowly began to pull up again.

“How is that not breaking?” wondered Boromir.

Haldir chuckled. “We may have given up on taking out the fork, and instead reinforced it.” He watched Merry go with amusement in his eyes.

“How many pull ups can you do?” asked Legolas.

Merry dropped from the fork, rubbing his hands on his trousers. “Four; apparently.”

There were several chuckles from around the clearing. They spent several minutes there while each hobbit attempted to beat Merry’s score of four. Sam got to seven before dropping, earning him a round of cheers. Frodo managed two pull ups, and out of sheer stubbornness, Pippin was halfway into his third when his hands slipped. He scowled as he picked himself off the ground, chucking a clump of dirt at Merry.

“I’ll beat you one day,” he promised.

“Come,” ordered Aragorn. He recognized the glint that was now shining in both cousins’ eyes, and knew that if he didn’t get them moving, they’d soon be rolling about on the forest floor. They spent the rest of the day touring Caras Galadhram. When they returned to the courtyard underneath the lord and lady’s castle that evening, they found a large buffet table had been set up for them, and a great array of food ready to be eaten. The girls sat in places of honor by Galadriel, with Pippin, Merry, and Boromir beside Mithril. Across from them, beside Celeborn, sat Aragorn, Legolas, Frodo, and Sam. In the distance a tune was struck up, and though Gimli couldn’t make out the words, as they were in Sindarin, he nonetheless picked out the title Mithrandir. Recognizing it as the elven name for Gandalf, he knew that this was the elves’ lament for the fallen wizard.

It was several hours after nightfall when the fellowship retired, and though the girls were feeling much better than they had the night before, they nonetheless went to the same room. Dawn found them curled up together in Minriel’s bed, and as Aragorn came to wake them he found himself lingering above them for several moments, staring at his daughter and the girl who was his honorary niece. He wanted more than anything for them to be safe, for them to live in a world without fear, without the need to hide who Minriel was. Oh, how he longed to climb to the top of the Lonely Mountain and shout for all to hear that Minriel, beautiful, klutzy, kind Minriel, was his little girl.

He sighed. There was nothing he could do to rectify the danger of revealing Minriel’s identity. All he could do to keep her safe was to see to it that the one ring was destroyed, once and for all.

 

* * * * *

 

The travelers flew swiftly from Rivendell, borne on the backs of white mares that had been bred in the Valley of Imladris. Hearty steeds, capable of even traversing the treacherous high pass, they travelled faster than normal, and soon the travelers found themselves at the foothills of the Misty Mountains. It was here, in the misty dawn of morning, that Elrohir and Elladan took their leave of Bilbo and Tauriel.

“You’ll be careful, won’t you?” asked Elrohir. He eyed the elf and hobbit worriedly, for they had left their dwarven guards to follow behind at their own pace. The horses that so easily bore the lighter folk would have been slowed by the dense mountain kin, and as Elrond had emphasized the importance of Bilbo returning to Erebor as quickly as possible, the hobbit had decided that they could not allow for the delay.

Bilbo nodded. “We’ll be fine,” he promised.

Behind him Tauriel nodded, shifting her grip on Bilbo’s waist. “I do not see us encountering any troubles between here and Mirkwood, and once we reach the woodland realm there will no doubt be elven guards to escort us to Dale.”

The twins both raised eyebrows at this, guessing the reason for Thranduil’s concern, but they did not comment. They simply nodded, pressing their heels to the flanks of their horses.

“Farewell then,” cried Elladan. He began to edge his horse away, then turned back as Bilbo called out to him.

“I am sure Arwen has threatened you already,” the hobbit called. “But I shall reiterate; I want my girls returned to me in one piece. And if you do not fear my wrath should any harm come to them, fear Thorin’s.”

The two elves nodded, and Bilbo was happy to see a worried gleam in their eyes as they turned away. The two white mares that bore the brothers headed north, and soon disappeared from Bilbo’s view.

“Are you ready?”

Bilbo turned back to Tauriel, noting the way her eyes scanned around them. Despite her words, both still remained wary of what might lie in wait in the mountain, and Bilbo’s hand drifted to his side. He found that he suddenly missed Sting’s presence there, but he sighed. He had a feeling Frodo would need the blade more than he would.

“Ready,” he answered. Tauriel nodded and clicked the reins of their horse, and the two started off to the east, into the pale pink rays of dawn.

 

* * * * *

 

Curious about Cerin Amroth after hearing Minriel describe it, her four youngest cousins were soon asking to be led there. Gruffly Aragorn acquiesced, and he and Haldir led the way to the yellow hill. As the mound came into sight all four hobbits let out cries and bounded forward, throwing themselves onto the fragrant flowers.

“Oh,” gasped Pippin. “It’s beautiful.”

Mithril grinned as she spun in a circle. “Aye,” she agreed.

She turned to find Minriel, spotting her cousin several feet away. She sat with legs crossed on the ground, plucking from the earth flowers that she wove into a long, yellow dotted rope. Mithril threw herself down beside her, closing her eyes and basking in the sun that filtered down through the trees. As Minriel tugged on her arm several minutes later she scowled and sat up.

“What?” she asked. She was answered with a giggle as Minriel threw the very long necklace she had just finished over Mithril’s neck. She twisted it and wound it over Mithril’s head again, and Mithril sighed.

“Really?” she asked. She picked at the flowers; while she loved nature and its beauty as much as her cousin- a result of her hobbit heritage- she liked to fancy herself above such childish things as flower necklaces. She had long ago decided that they looked silly, they wilted quickly, and they only got in the way.

“I was bored,” Minriel defended herself. “I decided to weave. It is good practice for gentleness of touch and knot tying.”

Mithril supposed it was. It also didn’t help her resolve that Minriel was giving her that puppy dog look. “Fine,” she grumbled. She arranged her new necklace more comfortably around her neck, sighing as her fingers brushed the delicate petals. Beautiful as they were now, soon they would fade.

For a while the girls were silent, and Minriel slipped down to rest her head in Mithril’s lap as the elder cousin lay back again. Together they let the sun wash over them, until a rowdy bout of laughter from the others drew their attention.

The girls, content to simply sit back and watch their family interact, laced their hands together as they leaned on their elbows, small smiles playing at their mouths. Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin were all but bouncing about the mound of Cerin Amroth, and Aragorn, Legolas, Haldir, Boromir, and Gimli all laughed at their mirth. Soon the hobbits settled down as Legolas began to tell of his adventures while wandering the world over the past seventy seven years, and the eyes of his audience widened as they were drawn into his tales. As such, they didn’t notice where Boromir’s eyes were directed.

Minriel was the first to notice the man’s odd behavior. His eyes were not fixed, as the eyes of everyone else were fixed, on Legolas. Instead, he stared at Frodo, or more specifically, at the ring hanging around Frodo’s neck, concealed now beneath his tunic. Minriel could faintly catch a glimpse of the desperation in Boromir’s eyes. It lit a cold fire in him that was so unlike his usual demeanor.

Minriel twirled her hair, tugging the raven strands taught. She at last forced her hand away from them and nudged Mithril. Mithril glanced over, frowning as she saw the worried crease to Minriel’s brows. She followed Minriel’s gaze to Frodo’s throat, then to Boromir, who still was staring at the hobbit. As the two cousins’ eyes again met they saw matching concern mirrored back at them, and Mithril squeezed Minriel’s hand reassuringly, promising her that nothing would happen to Frodo or Boromir. She would keep them both safe, even if she had to protect Boromir from himself.

Aragorn too noticed Boromir’s odd behavior, and though his eyes narrowed slightly, he did not comment. He had, early on in their quest, noticed Boromir’s obsession with the ring, and had taken care to keep an eye on the soldier since. As a loud burst of laughter from Gimli drew Boromir from his reverie the soldier turned away from Frodo. His eyes still flickered occasionally to where the ring hung around his neck, but with less intensity than before. Still Aragorn watched him, a dark feeling gnawing at his stomach.

 

* * * * *

 

Arwen gasped as her vision faded. As her sight returned to normal she blinked, her eyes roaming around as she assured herself that what she saw before her was real.

She stood on the balcony to her rooms, looking out towards the gardens that stretched through Rivendell. As the vision had seized her she had fallen forward, hands grabbing at the banister to anchor her in place. She had seen in her mind’s eye, undiscernible from the blooming trees before her, a flash of metal in her husband’s hands, the glare of the morning sun off a blade long and strong and sharp.

Arwen stood where she was for just a moment, regaining her composure. As she did her ears strained for sounds in the city around her, and she half expected for her brothers to bound into her room at any moment. She had to correct herself a moment later; it had been nearly a month since the twins had departed for the north. As Arwen finally caught her breath she pushed off the railing, stumbling back into her father’s house.

Her steps were heavy as she made her way through the halls, weary. Over the past month her health had faded further, and though she had hidden her deteriorating condition well from her father, she was nonetheless worried, for she knew her strange illness was not normal.

She threw open the door to her father’s study and cursed none too quietly. For once her father was not there, having decided to allow himself a stroll through his courtyards. Arwen didn’t bother closing the door as she started down the corridor, and by the time she had reached the lower levels of her father’s house she was leaning against the walls for support.

Elrond was standing in the stone courtyard where the fellowship had met, musing to himself. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind him, and he turned to find his daughter staggering towards him. Her breath came in labored shudders, and sweat dripped from her brow. As she stumbled forward Elrond darted forward, grabbing her in his arms before she could fall.

“Arwen?”

He lowered her gently into the nearest chair, kneeling down before her. Grabbing her hands in his own, he was alarmed to find them as cold as ice.

“Your skin is cold,” he exclaimed. He took her face gently in his hands, lifting it so that he could look into her eyes. “Little one, why did you not tell me you were so ill?”

Arwen had not even the energy to scowl, merely resting her head against her father’s. “Ada,” she whispered. Elrond’s heart leaped; it was the first time she had endowed him with the love filled title since he had banished her husband so many years ago. “Ada, I need your help.”

Elrond nodded, again taking Arwen’s hands in his own. “Anything,” he whispered. “What do you require?”

Arwen took in a shuddering breath. “Isildur’s sword,” she commanded. “You must mend it.”

“What?” Elrond jerked up in surprise; this was not what he had been expecting.

Arwen nodded, her head drooping in weariness.

“Aragorn will need it,” she told him. “Please Ada, you must reforge it.” She took a deep breath, then began to quote the prophecy that had whispered into her mind. “From the ashes a fire shall be woken. A light from the shadow shall spring. Renewed shall be blade that was broken. The crownless again shall be king.”

Elrond paled as Arwen shuddered a final time, collapsing against her father’s chest. He pulled back just long enough to view her face. Her eyes opened and closed wearily. She was barely conscious. Hurriedly he scooped her into his arms and returned her to her rooms, piling atop her as many blankets as he could find. Then, with a sigh, he went to the library, to a certain stone statue that held a table covered in a silk cloth. Upon that table sat a blade, shattered into fragments. With hands that shook ever so slightly Elrond lifted the hilt, remembering a time when that sword had been whole, remembering the battle where it had been broken, where it had sliced the one ring from the hand of Sauron. Once more it would be whole, and once more it would be borne by a king of Gondor.

“It is time you were re-forged,” whispered Elrond. “Anduril.”

 

* * * * *

 

Bilbo sighed as he reached the doors to the mountain, Tauriel at his side. True to his expectations, there had been a troop of elven guards awaiting them at the edge of Mirkwood. The guards had begun to whisper among themselves when they saw that Minriel and Mithril were not with the two travelers, and Bilbo didn’t doubt that they were now scurrying back to their king to tell him.

He pushed thoughts of Thranduil to the back of his mind. He had a much bigger problem to deal with now. At his side Tauriel shot him an amused look, reaching down to pat his back.

“Don’t worry Bilbo,” she said. “I’ll protect you.”

Bilbo remained silent, frowning in worry. All too soon they reached the gates of Erebor, and to his annoyance, Tauriel slipped away to unbridle their horse. At least that was what she claimed. Bilbo knew she was only going to get the others so they could watch the show.

Not wanting to disappoint them, he took his time entering the castle. If the guards at the gates saw him lurking reluctantly by the doors they didn’t comment, and finally Bilbo shouldered his way inside, taking a last deep breath. For several moments all was silent, then the guards outside the castle spun as a great shout boomed from within, ringing with fury.

“THEY DID WHAT?”

Chapter Text

Bilbo took a deep breath as he entered the castle of Erebor. He spotted Thorin immediately; the king was standing at the foot of the dais that held their thrones, facing away from the doors. He was deep in conversation with Dis, and going by the frustrated tone to his voice, he wasn’t happy. As Bilbo entered he could hear the hurried rush of footsteps as Tauriel ushered the rest of the company in, and as the great stone doors slammed shut behind him Thorin turned. A wide smile broke out upon his face, and he stepped forward, arms spreading.

“Bilbo,” he cried. “I did not expect you to return so-” and here the king paused, tensing as he noticed for the first time that his husband was alone. His face paled several shades, and he swept his eyes around the room to be sure that they were not playing tricks on him. When he at last spoke again, it was with a cautious edge to his voice.

“Where are the girls?”

Bilbo gulped and stepped forward, then thought better of that and retreated several steps. “Don’t be mad,” he began. “Don’t blame me, I had no idea until it was too late, but uh, thegirlskindofsnuckofftoMordor.

Bilbo automatically brought his hands up before him as he blurted out his words, cowering behind his raised palms. He peered out when after several moments he heard nothing, gulping at what he saw. Thorin had gone stock still, he hardly even blinked. The only reason Bilbo knew his husband was not a stone statue was the rise and fall of his chest and the way Thorin’s face- previously white with worry- was turning as red as a tomato.

“THEY DID WHAT?”

Bilbo squeaked, and then darted forward to grasp Thorin’s hands as the dwarf began to tremble. To the side the company was faring no better; even Dis, who Bilbo had never seen lose her composure, looked shocked, her mouth all but hanging open.

“Why would they do that?” Thorin asked. His voice was confused and hurt, and filled with fear. “Why?”

Bilbo sighed. “It’s a long story,” he said. He led Thorin to his throne, deciding not to sit himself. The others all gathered nearby, watching the hobbit with growing horror as he began to speak. At some point during the tale Bilbo and Thorin switched places, and by the time Bilbo was detailing his discovery of the girls’ escape from Rivendell he had thrown himself wearily into his own throne, eyes following Thorin as the king paced back and forth.

“The note?” asked Thorin.

Bilbo drew it from his pocket and presented it; though crumpled and worn from travel, it was for the most part preserved.

Mithril had stated in her letter she simply had to go, for this quest would surely be quite an adventure, and oh, how she had always longed for an adventure, to partake in some great quest like her fathers. As Thorin read this he cursed quietly, wondering why he had allowed Gandalf near those girls. For he had never glorified his banishment from his home, nor had Bilbo. No, this was all Gandalf’s fault, Thorin decided. He sighed; he would kill the wizard later. He continued to read, his eyes growing wide and wet as Mithril’s words turned serious, as she begged for forgiveness. For despite her eagerness to fulfill some great destiny, she also just couldn’t let her cousins go to Mordor alone. Not Frodo, who was too wise for his age, or loyal little Sam, or her observant Merry, or Pippin, who was far too naïve for the cruelties of the world, and especially, she would never allow Minriel, her Minriel, to go off without her. Even Gimli she had wanted to protect, anticipating her cousin’s rashness getting him into all sorts of trouble.

“What about her rashness?” asked Dori. He ran his hands through his white braids tersely, wreaking havoc to the ropes that he had so carefully plaited. “And Minriel will trip right onto the sword of an orc. What were they thinking?”

Thorin began to choke on thin air at the possibility of Minriel’s death, and Dis stepped forward, seizing her brother’s arms in her iron grasp. Worry coated her face, but her gaze was steady as it met blue eyes that matched hers exactly.

“Sit,” she ordered. When Thorin merely shook his head and tried to pull away Dis growled and dragged him to his throne, forcefully shoving the king into a sitting position. “Brother, listen to me. Those girls are well trained soldiers, we have all seen to that. They have the protection of several hardened warriors, and they are, despite popular belief, not entirely without wisdom.”

* * * * *

“So,” asked Minriel. “What do you want to do?”

Mithril shrugged, not bothering to glance over at her cousin where they sat side by side in the sweeping arms of a golden leafed tree of Lothlórien. She didn’t really want to be reminded of how far up they were, the only reason she had agreed to climb the blasted tree in the first place was because someone had to make sure Minriel didn’t topple out.

“I dunno,” she answered. “What do you want to do?”

“I dunno, what do you want to do?” Minriel sighed, swinging her legs back and forth in boredom.

“I dunno, what do you want to do?”

The girls paused in their exchange just long enough to shoot each other halfhearted glares, and for several long moments all was silent. Only the rustling of branches in the wind pervaded the forest, until Minriel spoke again.

“So, what do you want to do?”

* * * * *

Bilbo groaned, for as much as he was attempting to remain stoic, he was filled with as much worry for the girls as Thorin was. “I should have known,” he muttered. “They were far too willing to be locked in their room for the month before the fellowship departed.”

Gloin gave Bilbo a sharp look. “A month?” he asked. “Bilbo, why didn’t you start out for Erebor with them in that time?”

Bilbo rolled his eyes. “Why, so they could sneak out of camp in the middle of the night and meet the fellowship at the pass of Caradhras?”

“Caradhras?”

Bilbo turned to Bifur as the dwarf spat the name out in Khuzdul, panic written all over his face. “That pass is even worse than the high pass,” Bifur exclaimed. “It is even narrower, Minriel will never make it across!”

“Mithril will have seen to it that she made it across safely,” stated Kili.

Bifur snorted. “Mithril is afraid of heights,” he reminded them. “She would freeze halfway across and be unable to move.”

He groaned and took up Thorin’s pacing, envisioning Mithril and Minriel, his sweet little nieces who had never failed to make his old heart melt, toppling from the edge of Caradhras one after the other. Or perhaps at the same time. Too many terrible visions ran through Bifur’s mind, and he rubbed at his temple near where the axe was embedded in his skull, as if wishing it would sink in an extra few inches and finish the job. Anything to rid himself of those terrible thoughts.

“She won’t freeze,” assured Fili. “Not when she has her cousins to look after.” He directed a knowing look at Kili as he spoke, one that said he knew these facts from experience.

“And what happens when Minriel goes over the edge?” asked Nori. “Mithril will just jump after her.”

There were several gagging noises.

“Even Mithril isn’t that stubborn,” objected Bombur. He received a reproachful glare and sharp nudge from his wife, and he was forced to correct his statement. Of course, she was that stubborn. Especially when it came to Minriel.

Thorin stood from his throne, making a decision. “Fili, you’re in charge. Look after Erebor, and if she’s still standing when I return I may retire and let you continue on as king. I’m going to Mordor.”

With that he began to stalk down the steps, pausing as Bilbo dashed to stand in his way.

“You can’t,” Bilbo said.

Thorin glared at his husband. “I can, and I will. Our girls are out there, nothing will keep me from them.”

Bilbo grimaced. “I understand that, and I would join you in a heartbeat. But for us to march to Mordor would only draw the attention of Saruman. He would realize that something was amiss, and he would guess of the existence of the fellowship.”

He took a moment to let his words sink in, and Thorin’s face paled as he registered what Bilbo was saying. If they alerted Saruman to their intentions, even accidentally, the wizard would know of the fellowship. Orcs would be sent after them, sent after Mithril and Minriel. Thorin began to tremble again, a silent war waging in his head.

“There is a way we can help,” promised Bilbo. That caught Thorin’s attention, and the king’s gaze yanked to meet Bilbo’s, urging him to continue. “Though it will require you to work with Thranduil.”

* * * * * 

“Really though, what do you want to do?”

Mithril still didn’t respond to Minriel’s question, having decided that she was done with the never-ending exchange of the same words. Beside her Minriel sighed, crossing her arms.

In the south the snow didn’t fall with the same intensity as in the north; the further south one travelled, the less likely it was for the cold seasons to produce the white, powdery precipitation. This forest had already recovered, if it had received any to begin with, and the only debris on the ground was a blanket of red and brown leaves. To the side an outcropping of rocks formed a small hill, surrounded on all sides by tall and weathered trees.

Boromir stood before the stone outcropping, sword held in his hand and a snarl upon his face. His eyes were alight with a battle frenzy, and a desperation that chilled Minriel to the bone. Her eyes were drawn down to the soldier’s chest, where she found, to her horror, an arrow protruding from just below his right shoulder. As Boromir charged the orcs before him, heedless of the blood that pumped from the wound, another arrow was fired. This struck him just above his left hip, and under its force he stumbled backwards, falling to the ground.

A moment later he forced himself to his feet, the fire in his eyes reigniting. Again, he charged the orcs, and managed to slay two of them before a third arrow struck. This entered his torso just below his rib cage, and once more Boromir sank to the ground, falling to his knees as his sword tumbled from his fingers. As the light in his eyes began to fade Minriel knew that he would not rise again.

She gasped as the vision flashed through her mind, forgetting her balance. Before she could regain it, she fell downward with a shriek, and not even Mithril was fast enough to grab at her.

* * * * *

Haldir had decided to go for a walk, having escaped the fellowship for the time being. He enjoyed their company greatly, but the mischievousness of the younger members could rival Haldir’s brothers, who had been tormenting him for the past several thousand years. He made a mental note to assist with their training later, and to find out what the girls were up to. It could wait until later. Haldir took a deep breath of air and tilted his head back, and allowed himself a much-needed break from his duties.

Suddenly there was a shriek from above, and a moment later Haldir found himself sprawled out on the forest floor, a large, yet incredibly light form atop him. He twisted his head, freezing as his eyes met dark grey.

“Oops,” muttered Minriel.

Mithril began to climb down from the tree, clearly frightened but moving quickly nevertheless. As soon as she had reached the ground she dashed over to Minriel, dragging her to her feet.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

Minriel nodded, blushing. Haldir scowled as he picked himself up.

“Her fall was cushioned by me.” Haldir roughly brushed leaves off himself and glared at the girls before him. “Whatever were you doing?”

Minriel’s face turned scarlet, even as she tilted it downward. She shuffled her feet and wrung her hands. Beside her, Mithril’s eyes flashed dangerously.

“Don’t speak to her like that,” she snapped.

“No, Mith, it’s alright.” Minriel put a hand on her cousin’s arm. “Haldir is right, I should have been more careful. My apologies.”

Her wide eyes finally met his before skirting quickly away, and Haldir sighed. He was reminded suddenly of the child he remembered her as, eyes wide not with fear but wonder, and a broad grin on her face as she ran about the Caras Galadhrim. Haldir hadn’t seen that look on the young elfling in many years. She was so young, he had hoped she might be shielded a while longer from the troubles of the world. Shielded in a way he and his brothers had never been.

“It’s alright.” Haldir forced his face into a brotherly smile, though what good it did when Minriel still wouldn’t look at him he wasn’t sure.

“We should head back to the others,” Mithril suggested. She was still watching him unhappily, though her face had softened somewhat.

Haldir thought that might be best. He started towards where he had left the fellowship, and heard the girls fall into step behind him.

It was a short walk. During that time Haldir attempted to speak with them and rid the air of the terse silence that pervaded the trio. He hadn’t quite succeeded by the time they reached the wide clearing where the fellowship was sparring, and as Mithril stomped in and Minriel trailed silently behind her, several eyes narrowed.

“What happened?” demanded Aragorn. His eyes flickered to the glum eyed maiden before him, and then to the glare Mithril sent Haldir’s way. Haldir silently cursed out the half dwarf in his head.

“Nothing to worry about,” he answered before Mithril could open her mouth. “Minriel somehow managed to fall out of a tree and directly onto my head. I’m not entirely certain if my hair or my pride is more wounded, but apart from that, all is well.”

He forced himself to give a small chuckle, as if the whole matter amused him. He was sure it would eventually, just not now. Hearing the sound, Minriel finally glanced up, and after studying him for a moment, offered a sheepish, shy smile.

“I don’t know,” she teased. “I think the greenery does wonders for your hair.”

Haldir’s hand flew to his head, and he began to poke for the greenery in question. Aragorn laughed, the dark look going out of his eyes as he stepped forward to help. Haldir batted his hand away. What was it with the race of man and touching?

“The sad thing is, I don’t believe this is an uncommon occurrence.” Aragorn shook his head sadly. “Are you both alright?”

“I’m fine.” Minriel gave an eye roll that had Haldir snickering. Her eyes swept around the clearing, until they settled on Boromir. Haldir barely had time to wonder what Minriel could want with the Gondorian soldier before she stepped forward and enveloped him in a soft, sad hug.

“Uh-oh,” muttered Gimli. “You’re going to die now.”

Alarm flittered across Boromir’s face as he pulled back, loosening his hold around Minriel. “What?”

Mithril chuckled. “We call it the Curse of Minriel,” she supplied. “Whenever she randomly hugs someone they die.”

Minriel scowled, crossing her arms. “They don’t die because I hug them,” she stated. I hug them because they die.

“Yet they still die,” pointed out Frodo.

“I hug you all the time,” Minriel reminded them all. “None of you have died.”

“Yet,” chimed in Legolas. “I’m still waiting for you to smother Gimli in his sleep.” He and the dwarf traded good natured grins.

Anger flashed in Minriel’s eyes, and she scowled deeply. “You know what, I don’t need this.”

Behind her Haldir chuckled. “I don’t think she would smother Gimli in his sleep,” he corrected. “She would just chuck a fork at him. She seems to be very skilled with those.”

Those gathered descended into laughter. Minriel wanted to scream. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t understand. She wanted to tell them. She never wanted them to know.

In the end, she spun and stalked away, ignoring the calls of the fellowship as they tried to get her to come back. She knew someone- most likely Mithril- would soon follow her. Minriel quickly found her way to one of her hiding spots, one of the few she hadn’t shared with her cousin, and threw herself down. There, with the sunlight filtering through the golden trees above, Minriel allowed herself to cry for Boromir, and for the future that awaited him.

* * * * * 

Lila Baggins hummed softly as she made her way down the hill outside Bag-End. She needed to run to the trader’s market, both to see if they had any good items for buying and to ask of news of her family. Her brother and his three friends had disappeared over three months ago, and she hadn’t heard from them since. All she knew was that after Gandalf’s last visit to her elder brother Frodo had become secretive and worried, glancing constantly over his shoulder as if expecting trouble. When, several days after Frodo, Sam, and Pippin had departed together Gandalf had again returned, looking weary and as though he was healing from some injuries, Lila had been unable to glean from his words what was going on. Too soon the wizard had again departed, and Lila still had no idea what had happened to her family.

She visited several dwarf traders who she had grown friendly with over the years, stopping to ask them if they had passed three hobbits travelling, or if they had heard of any business concerning such a party. Each shook their heads no, that they had not, and with a sigh Lila continued on.

Out of habit, she inquired about her cousins in Erebor, and as always, the dwarves were eager to discuss Mithril. Minriel was usually an afterthought, but Lila had learned over the years that whatever Mithril had gotten up to, Minriel was usually involved. From what the traders said, the two of them, along with Bilbo, had departed on some trip from Erebor several months ago.

Lila couldn’t help but find that suspicious.

She decided that since she was already out and about, she might as well go for a stroll. She soon had drawn to the edge of the Shire, pausing as she heard a series of hurried footsteps from behind her.

“Lila!”

Lila turned to find Ned Gamgee rushing towards her, a smile spread out over his face. Ned was Sam’s cousin, and though he was several years Sam’s elder, he was only two years Lila’s. All the same, he had a goofy, carefree personality about him that rendered him the demeanor of a youngling. Lila had always enjoyed Ned’s company; it was simply impossible to be dark of mood when around him. As the hobbit drew near a wide grin stretched across his face, and Lila felt herself respond automatically.

“Ned,” she greeted him. “How are you?”

Ned shrugged, panting as he caught his breath. Once he had the pair continued to walk, Lila leading the way. “I am fine,” he told her. “And you?”

Lila nodded softly. “Fine, fine.”

Ned inspected her face closely, then frowned. Lila couldn’t help but think that it looked wrong on him, his mouth angled the wrong way. She much preferred it when he smiled.

“You’re worried about Frodo,” he guessed.

Lila nodded. “Are you not worried about Sam?” she asked. “Or Pippin?”

“Frodo and Sam can take care of themselves and each other,” he told her. “And I’m sure they met up with Merry along the way. He wouldn’t let anything happen to Pippin.”

Lila scowled slightly. “Still,” she stated. “It’s been too long; wherever they’ve gone off to, they should have returned by now. And, hear this, my cousins in Erebor have vanished on some errand as well. Is it not odd that they should all disappear at once? They’re off on some awful adventure, I know it.”

Ned snorted. “Your uncle disappeared for over a year to go fight a dragon. I’m starting to think adventures are inherent in your family.”

Lila shook her head. “Not me,” she vowed. “Never shall I do anything extraordinary. I am content living out my life in Bag-End, my books and garden are by far enough for me.”

Ned chuckled. “I do enjoy gardens,” he told her. “They’re so beautiful.”

Lila nodded. “They are.”

For several more minutes the two were silent, walking in a companionable silence. Both glanced up and to the side as a neigh sounded from the road leading into Hobbiton, and Lila’s eyebrows shot up as she spotted a chestnut colored pony, old and thin, trotting down the path. Despite its ragged condition, the horse moved with the gallop of one that had retained its youthfulness far past when it should have faded. The pony tossed its mane, and Lila caught sight of expertly woven braids waving in the breeze. She frowned; she was too far off to be sure, but she would swear she knew those braids.

Ned darted forward, standing in front of the pony with hands raised. “Whoa there boy,” he exclaimed. The pony reared up, throwing back its head as it let out a shrill cry, but Ned grabbed the reins, anchoring it in place. After murmuring quietly to it for some moments he managed to quiet the pony, and it began to munch on the grass by his feet. Lila made her way over, frowning.

“Look at these braids,” she said. She fingered the waterfall braids that wove through the mane, recognizing the signature touches within the pattern. She knew that only one person- one hobbit- was capable of such a design. “Sam.”

Ned nodded, recognizing his cousin’s handiwork. “Hold him,” he commanded. He handed Lila the reins, and Lila held the horse in place as Ned stooped under it, fiddling with the saddle.

“There.” Ned stood, a smile of pride on his face at having won in his battle against the tightly knotted leather straps. He flipped the saddle over, so that he could see the underside. “Look at this. Saddle of Bill the pony, horse of Samwise Gamgee.”

He glanced up at Lila, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Like I said,” he reiterated. He spread his arms out slightly to emphasize his point. “Adventures.”

Lila sighed, averting her eyes. She bit her lip, her worries flooding back to haunt her mind in full force.

Oh boys, she thought. What have you gotten yourselves into now?

* * * * * 

“Girls,” called Aragorn. “Are you ready?”

“One minute,” called Minriel.

Aragorn peeked inside Minriel’s room to find his daughter finishing with lacing up her boots. After checking that her dagger was hidden inside the right one, she stood, grinning.

“Ready.”

Aragorn nodded, and together the girls moved to the next room. Mithril was just swinging Orcrist over her back, and she stalked to the door as her family appeared. “Let’s go,” she commanded.

Together the three made their way downstairs, to the courtyard where the others waited. They exchanged nervous smiles as they fell into the center of the elves that flooded around them, the Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel at their head. As Aragorn took his position at the head of the fellowship the husband and wife started forward, and the assembled crowd swept off after them.

They walked to the river, where four boats awaited them. Each bore packs stuffed with supplies, and oars were set atop the crafts, awaiting their use. The fellowship stood on the shore of the river, watching the boats bob up and down. They had previously worked out who would be sitting where, and they were well prepared for their journey, but the nerves that rocked each still unsettled their stomachs.

Galadriel cleared her throat, and the fellowship turned to her. She stepped towards them, Celeborn standing beside her with a large sack that held- something. Both bestowed the fellowship with smiles as they stepped to the first in line; Aragorn. Celeborn pulled from the sack a sword’s sheath, handing it to him.

“For you, Aragorn,” said Galadriel, “I present a sheath of pure magic. No sword sheathed here shall ever break.”

Aragorn blinked and nodded, exchanging his worn scabbard for his new one. “Thank you,” he whispered. As he slid the sword into its new sheath he noticed that the container was too large for the simple blade, yet as he watched, the sheath shrunk until it fit snugly around the sword. Galadriel and Celeborn each laughed at the awestruck expression on his face, and then stepped to Legolas.

“For you,” said Galadriel, “I present the bow of Galadhrim, with arrows to match.” Celeborn handed over the bow, delicate and long, and Legolas stretched the string between his fingers, testing it. “The string is made of elven hair, stronger than any other bow string.”

Legolas gave his thanks, and Galadriel moved on to Merry and Pippin. Each was presented with elven daggers, which they hung on their belts. Sam received a length of elven rope, Boromir a belt wrought of gold, and Frodo received a glass vial with the light of Eärendil, one of the elves’ most sacred stars. When the couple reached Gimli they stopped, smiling benignly down at him.

“I could not think of anything that might aid you, or that you might want,” Galadriel told him. “Tell me Gimli, what might I gift you?”

Gimli gave the lady of the woods a small smile. “I would ask only one hair from your blessed, golden head,” he asked.

Minriel drew in a sharp breath and nudged Mithril. The older cousin nodded slightly, aware of what tale her cousin had on her mind.

“And what would you do with such a gift?” Galadriel inquired.

To Minriel’s surprise, Gimli paused before speaking, apparently taking the time to carefully consider his words.

“I would preserve it, and set it on my mantle for my kin to see, a sign of the friendship I have found here, and my respect for you, my lady.” Gimli bowed as he finished speaking, and Minriel wondered briefly if her cousin had struck his head in the past day or so.

Her great grandparents exchanged looks. Minriel knew they were probably conversing within their minds. As Galadriel stepped away Celeborn stepped forward.

“I never did apologize for my initial treatment of you, Gimli Gloin’s son,” he said softly. “I blamed you and your kin for the fall of Gandalf. It seems old biases die hard. I think, however, they may at last be fading.”

Surprise flitted across Gimli’s face. Minriel realized he hadn’t expected to ever receive an apology. Frankly, she hadn’t expected him to either. As wise as her great grandfather was, he hated to admit when he was wrong.

Yet, as Gimli accepted the apology with far more social grace than she had ever seen in her cousin, Minriel couldn’t help but think that day might be one for miracles.

Galadriel returned. Everyone held their breaths as they waited for what she would do. Slowly, one pale hand extended towards Gimli, and on it Minriel saw gleaming golden not one, but three strands of hair.

“By my beard,” whispered Mithril.

Gimli’s eyes widened, and he accepted the gift with a near reverent air. Carefully he took the glass vial Galadriel presented him and put the hairs in. No sooner had he tucked the vial carefully into his pocket than he dipped into a bow so deep that his beard touched the ground.

Next, the lord and lady of the forest approached the girls. Mithril was first, and Minriel saw her rocking back and forth slightly on the balls of her feet. Minriel tried to predict what they had gotten her. Another knife, perhaps? Eros knew she didn’t need any more.

Celeborn pulled a glass vial filled with a swirling liquid from the sack. Minriel studied it carefully as it was handed to her cousin. It was silver and a light blue, shining in the light of the woods. Mithril’s eyebrows drew together, and she glanced back to her great-grandparents with an eyebrow raised questioningly.

“It is a potion that promotes growth,” Galadriel told her. She chuckled lightly at Mithril’s scowl, and beside her Celeborn reached out to ruffle Mithril’s braids. “You will know when the time is right to use it.”

Mithril nodded and pocketed the vial, forcing a smile to her lips. “Thank you,” she said. She jutted her elbow to the side as Minriel descended into laughter, but her action only caused her cousin’s guffaws to strengthen.

“And for you, Minriel,” Galadriel said. “I give you this. It is enchanted to always hit its mark, no matter how poor your aim.”

Minriel nodded, watching as Celeborn produced from the sack a fork. Her eyes narrowed slightly as to her side Mithril began to snicker. Minriel threw an elbow to the side as she reached out. To her surprise, her great grandmother pulled her hand, and the fork in it, back slightly.

Minriel turned her attention more fully to the fork. For the first time she truly inspected it, and as she did, her breath caught in her throat. Glinting in the sunlight was a series of runes carved into the fork, marching down the handle and across the broad plane just before the spines. They were old symbols. Minriel had never seen them used, had only learnt of them.

You know what they mean? Galadriel’s voice echoed in Minriel’s head. A small shudder ran up her spine at the raw power contained within her great grandmother’s mental presence, and she took a moment to compose herself before daring to look up. Galadriel’s eyes, piercing blue, were trained intently on her. Minriel resisted the urge to look away again as she gave a small nod.

Then you know this is not a gift for you to accept lightly. It may be of great help in the future, but it will also set events in motion that have until now remained paused. There will be no going back. You must be sure you are ready.

Minriel tugged at the end of a braid as she considered. She had only another few moments, she knew. Very soon the others would start to notice that something was amiss, and questions would come of it.

Did that mean she wasn’t ready? If Minriel wasn’t willing to even reveal the truth to her family, how could she possibly reveal it to all of Middle Earth?

Did she have a choice though? Galadriel said events were on pause for now, but Minriel knew that wasn’t quite the case. In the tranquil forest of Lorien, it seemed that way, but outside, events had been spurred into motion long ago. If Minriel was being honest, she had known what was coming the moment she and Mithril had snuck out of Rivendell so long ago.

It was time to accept that.

Slowly, Minriel reached out for the fork. Galadriel pressed it softly into her hand, and after taking a moment to test its weight- it was, she deemed, perfect in craftsmanship- Minriel tucked it into her boot. Across from her, Galadriel took a step back, so that she and Celeborn were standing side by side. There was a matching look of pride in both their gazes as they beheld their great granddaughter.

“Thank you,” Minriel managed. Her voice caught around her words, and to her side, Mithril gave her a wondering look.

“Go now,” said Celeborn. “May the winds and waters favor you, and may your travels be without trouble. You are all welcome here again, should you pass through.”

The fellowship bowed, then filed solemnly to the boats. As they went Galadriel lifted a hand, letting it brush comfortingly across each of their shoulders. The fellowship arranged themselves in the boats; Aragorn sat with Frodo and Sam, and Boromir sat with Merry and Pippin. Gimli and Legolas were in the same boat, and though Aragorn had been slightly nervous when the two had volunteered to sit together, as they settled happily side by side he realized that the animosity that had pervaded them over the past two months had now faded. Mithril and Minriel sat together, Mithril gulping nervously as their boat bobbed up and down in the water.

The fellowship began to pull away from the shore, Aragorn in the lead. Next came Boromir’s boat, then the girls, and then Legolas and Gimli. As they pushed off into the current Galadriel began to sing, and her sweet voice filled the air of the forest. Soon the other elves had joined in, and their song draped over the air as a final farewell.

 

“May it be an evening star

Shines down upon you

May it be when darkness falls

Your heart will be true…”

As the boats disappeared down the river the song was taken up by the elves gathered on the shores. The tune followed them down the shores of Lorien, sweet and comforting to the nervous voyagers. The last notes were just fading into the morning air as the boats passed beyond earshot.

It was then that Mithril at last spoke, nudging Minriel with one foot to draw her attention.

“What happened back there?” she asked in Khuzdul. Her voice was so low that only Legolas might have overheard her, if he had been bothering to pay attention to anything besides his new bow.

Minriel glanced around to make sure no one was listening. They weren’t, though even if they were only Gimli might have understood them. Slowly she drew the fork from her boot and passed it to Mithril. Her cousin studied it for several moments, twisting the weapon back and forth until her eyes widened.

“This is the shorthand Celeborn, Elrond, and the Royal House of Gondor developed together,” she breathed.

Minriel took the fork back. “Aye. It has not been used by elven kind since Isildur’s fall, and from what father has told me from his visits to Gondor, they have lost the symbols for the Golden Wood.”

“That fork says that you are a lady of Lorien, and of Rivendell and Erebor. And that you are the princess to the throne of Gondor.”

Minriel sucked in a deep breath, ignoring the skip in her heart at the words her cousin uttered. “I know.”

For several long minutes Mithril was silent. Minriel glanced up eventually to see Mithril was watching her, hazel eyes narrowed in worry. Minriel knew her cousin was realizing for the first time that the hour of her reveal was fast approaching. She offered a small smile to reassure Mithril, and though she knew it didn’t work, Mithril at least turned away. They resumed their rowing, silence stretching heavily between them. Minriel was jolted out of her fearful thoughts as Legolas’s voice broke over the fellowship.

“What did you receive from the lord and lady?” he asked Gimli.

Aragorn rolled his eyes at Legolas’s lack of observance.

Gimli smiled softly. “I asked her for only one hair off her golden head.” He paused, hand reaching to his breast pocket to gently pat the vial stored there. “She gave me three.”

Legolas’s eyes widened momentarily before a smile settled over his fair features. He nodded as though the answer to some question had been given to him, and it made perfect sense. Silently he took one of the oars from Gimli, and the two settled into the task of steering the boat down the river. It was a leisurely pace the fellowship set, marked by wandering eyes as they drank in their last glimpses of the golden woods, and the happy sounds of light chatter.

None of them noticed the large eyes like moonbeams that glinted at them from a nearby shore, or the slight disturbance in the water as a thin form slipped into the river and began to follow.

 

Chapter Text

Galadriel smiled as Gwaihir touched down in the clearing beneath her castle. Slowly Gandalf slipped from his side, and as soon as his feet, bare, with toes curling through the grass, landed on the ground, Celeborn stepped forward, kindly averting his eyes as he handed the wizard clothes.

“Welcome, Mithrandir,” he said.

Gandalf fumbled with the clothes, seeming for a moment unsure what to do with them. Finally, he regained his senses and slipped them over his body, murmuring a quiet thank you to Celeborn. Then he stared around him with wide blue eyes, until his gaze met that of Galadriel.

“My lady.” Gandalf stepped forward, stumbled, and was caught by both Celeborn and Galadriel. He pushed himself up, eyes somewhat clouded. “It has been a long time.”

Galadriel nodded. “It has been, my friend.” She turned briefly to Gwaihir, giving the eagle a smile. “Thank you, Lord of the Skies.”

Gwaihir made a motion with his head that might have been a nod. “Of course, Lady of Light.” He ruffled his feathers, then bent down, preparing to take off. “I think that it will soon be time for my brethren and I to fly south.”

“Yes,” Galadriel mused softly. “I think you might be right.”

“Until we meet again.” With that Gwaihir leapt up, and with several beats of his great wings was over the gold burnished trees of Lothlórien. As he faded rapidly into the sky Galadriel turned back to Gandalf, who had watched the exchange curiously.

“Tell me, Mithrandir, what do you remember?”

Gandalf paused, pursing his lips. “I am not quite sure.”

Celeborn nodded, coming up and grasping Gandalf’s shoulder with his hand. “That is to be expected,” he assured. “Come; some rest will do you well.”

Together the lord and lady of the wood grasped Gandalf’s arms in their own, leading him up the stairs into their castle. As they left, the elves that had gathered in the clearing dispersed, murmuring softly to themselves.

It was several hours before Gandalf met Galadriel and Celeborn at their dining table. Having bathed and been dressed in robes of pure white, he looked much clearer about the head than when he had first arrived. Indeed, it was with a jovial smile that he sat, taking from the bowl at the center of the table a pear.

“I remember now,” he told them. He adopted a faraway look in his eyes, thinking back to the wizard he had once been. “The Grey Wizard I once was called, yet you have clothed me in white. Might I ask why?”

Galadriel smiled, reaching over to pat his hand. “Because, Mithrandir, you are now the white wizard. Saruman has betrayed his powers, betrayed the Istari. It is time the White Council takes a new leader, and out of all of us, you were the last to see Valinor.”

Gandalf glanced at her sharply, and the elf laughed. Really, he should no longer be surprised at how she knew most things.

“All the same,” he countered. “My robes might have remained unchanged.”

Galadriel shrugged, and a smile was shared between her and Celeborn. “It is called symbolism.”

Gandalf nodded slowly, an approving smile on his face.

“Would you tell us what happened?” Celeborn asked.

Gandalf obliged, and the husband and wife listened intently as he related to them his pursuit of the balrog. How he had finally struck it down and passed from life, and how, twenty days later, he had returned. As he spoke he began to pick at the bowl of fruit, ravished, and soon Celeborn had sent for a full meal to be prepared for him.

“Now,” said Gandalf. He licked a smear of berry juice from his fingers, crossing them and staring at Celeborn and Galadriel. “What of the fellowship?”

Now it was Galadriel’s turn to speak, and she described to him the fellowship’s arrival, stay, and departure in Lothlórien. Then she related to the wizard what she had since envisioned, and Gandalf’s eyes widened in grief.

“I must go to them,” he said. He began to rise, but Galadriel placed a hand on his arm.

“You may wait another day yet,” she told him. “You must first regain your strength. And besides,” and here she sat back in her seat with a rather wicked smile that immediately piqued Gandalf’s attention. “I require your help with something.”

Celeborn groaned. “Must we meddle?”

Gandalf had no idea what they were going to meddling in, but he knew it would likely bring him great amusement. “Of course,” he answered. “Don’t act as though you don’t enjoy it.”

Celeborn rolled his eyes. “I appreciate the beauty of letting events unfold for themselves.”

Galadriel nodded. “As do I,” she assured him. “However, I would like for this union to be complete before I sail for the undying lands, and I should like to do so before the fifth age.”

“Union?” asked Gandalf. He leaned forward, eyebrows rising. “Who are we pairing?”

“We have already sent Haldir to supervise things,” Celeborn reminded.

Galadriel waved a hand dismissively. “Aye, but Gandalf is much more acquainted with our Minriel’s future beloved. Besides, Haldir was sent for other reasons as well. He won’t have the time or patience for this part of the task.”

Gandalf’s eyes were moving rapidly between the two elves. He was looking more and more impatient. As he watched, Celeborn sighed.

“Alright then.” He looked more excited than he would likely admit. “Mithrandir, will you help us? You have guided matters of the heart before.”

Gandalf smiled as he thought of a certain hobbit and his fool of a dwarf husband. “Indeed, I have. It would be my greatest pleasure to do so again.”

 The elves of Lorien had long since learned, that if they walked into a room to see the grey- now white- wizard share such a grin with their lord and lady, it was probably best to quickly and quietly slip away.

 

* * * * *

 

The ride down the river continued for seven days. During that time the fellowship was often loud, their boats gathered close together in the surging currents so that they might trade stories. Minriel was surprised to see her father making an effort to ask Boromir about his childhood; Aragorn had never before expressed much interest in the man. Indeed, he seemed to recoil from all things that even hinted at Gondor. It was something that had always curdled a knot of worry in Minriel’s stomach, but seeing her father show interest in that secret part of their lives, the heavy stone began to erode ever so slightly.

Boromir gave a short laugh as he stilled his paddle, and with a scowl Merry took it from him. “My childhood was very well,” he said. “My brother and I had free reign of the city, and all the people adored us.”

“Your lives were never threatened?” Minriel asked curiously. As Boromir shook his head no she couldn’t help a slight sour twist of the face, and Mithril reached over to squeeze her hand.

“Why?” he asked.

Minriel gave a shrug, and so Mithril was the next to speak. “When we were young, a group of dwarves tried to kill her and our Aunt Tauriel, as they disliked the presence of elven blood in the royal line of Durin.”

Boromir’s eyes widened in horror. “Were you at all harmed?”

Minriel shot him an amused look, seemingly recovering from her sadness. “I’m still here, aren’t I?”

Boromir nodded slowly.

Minriel noticed Aragorn’s face darken, and a tinge of regret flash through his bright eyes. She wondered briefly, as she always did, if it was regret for the situation his and her mother’s stations had put her in, or if it was for the fact that such a situation had been created through her. Minriel knew her father was only just reluctantly accepting his own part in the future as the king of Gondor. She had always tried to avoid considering how unwelcome a reminder of it she herself was.

“You should have seen the castle,” Gimli stated. “Everyone was in an uproar. No one wanted to let Minriel or Tauriel out of their sight for weeks afterward. Mithril even slept outside Min’s door at night, and we had to hide our weapons from her lest she steal them.”

Minriel gave her cousin a soft smile. Although she had recovered quickly from the attack, she had nonetheless felt better having her cousin stand guard over in the following days.

“How long did you sleep outside her door?” Legolas asked Mithril. “And what did you do when you could find no weapons?”

Mithril snorted. “Da is not the only burglar in our family,” she told him. “And I have Papa’s stubbornness. There was always a weapon for me to use, even if I had to steal the kitchen knives, and I stood guard over Min until all those who wished her harm were hanged.”

“And how long did that take?” asked Pippin. He frowned; he didn’t remember hearing about this before. It must have been too sore a memory for them to mention, he decided.

“A year.”

“What?” Boromir’s eyes flew wide open and sparked in surprise. “You slept outside her door for a whole year?”

Mithril gave a short nod, then lifted her chin and gave the company a smile. Her gaze drifted to Minriel, a fierce protectiveness in her eyes, and Minriel laughed.

“I tried to tie her to her bed one night,” she told them. “So that she might sleep in her own bed instead of the corridor outside my room. She gnawed through the ropes.”

“If I recall, that was when we finally gave up,” Gimli said. He chuckled, recalling a very upset Thorin the morning after, and how, with a smile of amusement, Dis had set a soft rug outside Minriel’s door so that Mithril would have some comfort during her watches.

“Why am I not even surprised?” asked Aragorn.

Minriel snorted. “You would have done the same.”

Aragorn nodded slowly. He would have most likely been far worse, but he decided not to point that out.

 

* * * * *

 

They camped that night beside the river, pulling their boats onto the shore and starting a fire. Soon they retired for the night, and only Sam and Frodo stayed up on watch, chatting quietly of home as they kept each other company. As they spoke Sam found himself gazing out over the river, his gaze following a log that drifted along in the current. Suddenly there was a flash of small orb like eyes, and Sam yanked back with a yell.

“What is it?” Frodo stood, hand on Sting’s hilt as he scanned around nervously for what had so spooked his friend. Sam pointed a trembling finger to the log, straining his eyes to make it out more clearly in the dark.

“There’s something there,” he stated. Immediately Frodo drew Sting, and Sam noticed that his friend looked unsurprised as he leveled the sword at the log. Within moments Mithril and Minriel were by their sides, having been awoken by Sam’s yell, Mithril brandishing Orcrist and Minriel drawing her bow. Sam and Frodo were shoved behind the girls as the rest of the company sprang to their feet, and a moment later there was a splashing sound.

“There.” Minriel leaned forward slightly, then shuddered. “I know not what creature that is. It is as thin as death, and despite once being a soul of intelligence, it moves with the stealth and paranoia of a rabid animal.”

“Gollum,” supplied Frodo. “It is Gollum.”

The girls’ eyes widened, and Minriel’s eyes swept back to where Gollum was paddling to the opposite shore, away from the weapons that now the entire company bore at the ready- albeit with eyes hazy from sleep. So this was the creature that her uncle had encountered in the caves beneath the goblin tunnels. Often, when she had sat watch at night, she had thought she could discern some movement in the water around them, but this was the first true glimpse she had taken of the creature.

“How long has he been there?” asked Mithril.

“He first found us within Moria, and has been following us since,” said Aragorn. The fellowship spun to see him standing with a forced calmness several meters away, eyes watching the river carefully. “I have tried to catch him, but each time he has evaded my grasp.”

“You did not tell us?” asked Boromir. “You did not think us worthy of knowing?”

Aragorn turned with a sigh to the soldier. “Gandalf asked me not to.”

“Gandalf is dead,” growled Gimli. “We could have caught the beast by working together.”

“No,” answered Frodo. “Gandalf did not want him caught. He felt that Gollum would have a roll yet to play, and that he must be left free for this.”

He again turned his eyes to the river, Minriel’s description of Gollum playing in his mind. Was that really what he looked like? Had he become such a creature as a result of the ring? Thinking back to the last time he had seen his Uncle Bilbo, Frodo knew he was correct, and his hand automatically reached up to where the ring hung around his neck. It grew heavier with each passing day, and he found his strength waning little by little. As a soft growl reached his ears, both feral and intelligent in sound, Frodo shuddered. Would he end up like that should he fail? Would he be doomed to wander the dark recesses of the world, all the good and love in his heart shorn away until nothing remained but hate and lust for the ring?

Frodo quickly backed away from the river, sheathing Sting. He sat beside the fire, and soon Sam joined him, wrapping a comforting arm around him. He glanced up again as Aragorn’s voice cut through the bickering of the fellowship, drawing everyone’s attention.

“We must continue on tonight,” he said. He cast a glance to the water, though he could not see Gollum in the dark. “I would not chance Gollum sneaking into our camp while we slept.”

“I would not advise that,” said Boromir. “It would be difficult to traverse the river in the dark, and we are too near the rapids of Sarn Gebir for my comfort. No boat can survive those currents.”

Aragorn scowled, already rolling up his bedroll. “What would you have us do?” he asked. “Wait for the creature to creep upon us? It is stealthy enough to have survived beneath the Misty Mountains for five hundred years, and has a mind twisted by madness. We move on; now.”

Boromir, sensing that there was little point in arguing, ground his teeth and set to rolling up his own bedroll. Soon they were ready, and as he shoved dirt onto the fire the others set out. Boromir followed behind with Merry and Pippin, his strong strokes soon catching them up with the other three boats. Now they were silent as they followed the current, ears and eyes straining in the dark for any hostile soul.

They came upon the rapids of Sarn Gebir quite unexpectedly. Minriel, at the front of the group, her boat alongside her father’s, was the first to realize where they were headed.

“Wait!” she cried. “The current grows swift ahead; we will not be able to traverse it!”

No sooner had she spoken than their boats reached the rapids, and the night air was filled with the fellowship’s screams as they were thrown mercilessly about. Aragorn cursed; he had thought they were some miles yet away from Sarn Gebir. He dug his paddle deep into the water, pushing with all his strength.

“Go back upstream!” he shouted. He began to paddle, and Frodo and Sam even braved their water terror and leaned over the side of the boat, using their hands to push them along. Boromir had barely escaped the rapids, at the rear of the group, and as he managed to tie his boat to a nearby boulder that protruded from the river Sam reached into his pack, pulling from it his elven rope.

“Boromir!” he called.

Boromir expertly caught the end of the rope that was hurled at him, and he began to pull. Soon Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam were out of the rapids, and Boromir tossed the rope now to Mithril’s waiting hands. The girl braced herself against the side of the boat, and once they had joined the others Legolas and Gimli were hauled past the raging current. There they rested for several minutes, trying to regain their breath.

There was a whizzing sound from above, and Frodo screamed as a black arrow protruded from the side of his boat, inches away from his hand. He ducked down as Aragorn stood, drawing his sword. Legolas and Minriel soon returned fire with arrows, and several screams sounded as the assaulting orcs fell into the river.

“Make for the western shores,” said Gimli. “They should be safer, and if they are not, well then, let them taste my axe.” He twirled the large weapon through the air as he spoke, and with a roll of his eyes Aragorn nodded agreement. Now Mithril and Gimli took over the paddling for their own boats, Minriel and Legolas still firing arrows. As soon as they reached the western shore the fellowship leapt from the boats, concealing themselves behind rocks. All was silent, and no more arrows soared through the skies.

“Is that all of them?” asked Merry. He glanced to Legolas, who, being the only full elf among them, had the best senses. Legolas frowned, inspecting the opposite shore.

“I thought there were others, but if there were, they have disappeared.”

“Why would they do that?” asked Pippin. “What do orcs fear?”

He was answered by a shrill cry, one that came from far above. A dark shape swooped over the fellowship, and as the large shadow fell over them each member was filled with dread. Frodo, crouched under a cluster of bushes with Sam, cried out, clutching at his shoulder. His hand reached towards his neck, but before he could put the ring on his finger Sam lunged forward, grasping Frodo’s hand in his own.

“It’s alright,” he whispered. “Frodo, it’s alright.”

Another scream, demonic in sound, came from the sky. Now the owner of the dark shadow descended into view; a great winged beast that bore on its back a rider of darkness.

“Nazgul,” growled Aragorn.

Legolas and Minriel stood at the same time, both firing arrows into the sky. The Nazgul’s beast gave a scream as the arrows pierced its breast, and it fell downwards. In the distance there was a great plume of dust and a deep rumble as it collided with the earth, and each member of the fellowship braced themselves, expecting the dark rider to appear at any moment.

Sleep did not come to any that night, and the fellowship put themselves back to back as they scanned in the darkness. They however heard no more sounds, and not a single blue light emitted again from Sting or Orcrist. As dawn at last stretched over the sky the travelers sighed in relief, sensing that their terror was, for now, over.

 

* * * * *

 

Bilbo sat in his throne, eyes following Thorin as the dwarf king paced back and forth. Thorin was muttering under his breath, and though Bilbo couldn’t quite make out all of what he was saying, he thought he caught several words like “lock them up for the rest of their days” and “what did I do to deserve this?”

Beside him Thranduil’s eyebrow twitched as Thorin began to outline just exactly how he was going to keep the girls locked in Erebor for the rest of their lives, and he glanced over to Bilbo.

“Is he always like this?” he asked. He glanced back to Thorin as the dwarf growled, all but shaking his fist as he muttered a few choice insults to the elven king in Khuzdul. Though Thranduil couldn’t understand the king’s words, he still guessed at their meaning, and he gave a small snort of amusement as he stretched his legs out in front of him. Though made of stone and a good deal too small for him, Thorin’s throne was actually rather comfortable, and, more importantly, the sight of Thranduil lounging in it was only aggravating Thorin further.

As the dwarf resumed his pacing Thranduil turned his own thoughts to Minriel and Mithril. When his guards had returned to his castle, worry reflected in their eyes, Thranduil had known immediately that something was wrong. All the guards could say was that Bilbo and Tauriel had travelled alone; where their other guards or the girls were they had not been able to tell him. Thranduil had rushed through arrangements for Greenwood’s management in his absence and had hurried to Erebor. He had only arrived earlier that day and found that Bilbo had not been surprised in the slightest when the elven king had stalked into the throne room, such a glare upon his face that even Dis had been impressed. Now, after listening to Bilbo explain what had happened, Thranduil had many concerns on his mind.

Legolas had accompanied the fellowship. Thranduil’s son, he knew, was very capable of managing himself, and had survived his self-exile for many years. Still, Legolas was young for his age, and was Thranduil’s pride and joy. He had always, and always would, regret the terms on which they had parted after the Battle of Five Armies, and though he had attempted to make reparations for it when Legolas had briefly visited Greenwood just before heading to Rivendell, Thranduil knew that they would never again be close.

He forced back a sigh; he had to trust that Legolas would be alright. No, Thranduil’s main concern was for two girls of mixed blood who had gone gallivanting off into the wild after their cousins.

This was Mithril’s fault, he reasoned. The girl was, as she always emphasized, half Took, half dwarf. Though Thranduil had no idea- and had no desire to know- what the Took part meant, he knew that the two bloods combined made for a fearsome and stubborn combination. Minriel at least had some sense; surely her elven blood had seen to that.

Then again, she was Aragorn’s daughter. And her uncles were known throughout the immortal folk for their raucous pranks. Thranduil resisted a sigh as he realized that Minriel was as doomed as her cousin. How the two had reached adulthood alive and well, Thranduil had no idea.

Halfway across the hall, Thorin scowled at thin air, giving a shake of his head. “No,” he stated. “I will not wait. I am going to Mordor.”

He started for the back of the hall, planning to head further into the castle so that he might prepare, but Bilbo stood and planted himself before his husband. Based on the eye-roll Bilbo gave as he moved, Thranduil guessed that this was not the first time that Thorin had made this statement.

“You can’t,” Bilbo reminded him. “The fellowship has the best chance of succeeding if we stay here. To march would be to draw attention to the fact that Middle Earth moves against Sauron, and once that is made clear, Sauron will know that we seek to destroy the ring.”

Thorin growled. “You said there was something we could do,” he pressed. “Yet you have not said what.”

Bilbo sighed, glancing back and forth between Thorin and Thranduil. “Dol Guldur has again grown strong under Sauron’s power. When the time is right, we must band together our forces and attack. The fortress must be destroyed, once and for all.”

“And when are we to do this?” asked Thranduil. It was only the second time he had spoken since Thorin had begun his pacing over an hour ago, and now he stood from Thorin’s throne and crossed to Bilbo and Thorin, staring down at them. “You have just said that any move against Sauron will alert him to the existence of the fellowship. How then are we to bring down his fortress without arousing his attention?”

Bilbo sighed. “Elrond said that we were to attack on the twenty-fifth of March. On that day, he says, Sauron’s eye will be drawn inward; all his focus will be on Mordor.”

“Why is that?” asked Thorin. He scanned through the possible reasons through his mind. Why would the dark lord be interested suddenly in his own lands? The only plausible explanation was that the fellowship was by then discovered there. His face paled. If that was the case, perhaps if the armies of Erebor and Mirkwood created enough of a distraction at Dol Guldur, the fellowship might be able to slip through Mordor unseen.

“I do not know why Elrond says what he does. I have, however, come to trust his council.” Bilbo folded his arms and glared at both Thorin and Thranduil, daring either to challenge him. “Do either of you disagree?”

Thranduil paused for a moment. Like Thorin, he had reached the same conclusion, but had then gone past it. For Sauron to draw his power, not just a fraction of his attention back to Mordor, meant that he was doing more than searching for a group of thieves in his lands. Surely he had enough orcs within Mordor to apprehend them. No, the only explanation for Sauron’s distraction was for a battle. Thranduil again resisted a sigh, silently letting loose a long stream of curses within his head. To openly attack Mordor was madness; it could not, would not end well.

Perhaps, Thranduil thought, an attack on Dol Guldur might draw enough of Sauron’s power back to the north that his attackers might stand a chance. For he had a nagging sensation that a particular set of cousins would be among that charge. Perhaps an attack on Dol Guldur would give the girls a chance to realize their folly and slip away.

Thranduil nodded. He knew that Elrond could look into the future, and though the elf was always vague about what he saw, he was never mistaken. If Elrond claimed the twenty-fifth of March was the day to attack, then it was the right day.

“I will begin preparations,” he stated. “I will alert Dale as I return to Greenwood, and I trust that you will ready your own armies?”

For a moment all was silent, and both elf and hobbit looked to Thorin. After a moment’s pause the king gave a curt nod, deciding to trust Bilbo’s confidence in the lord of Rivendell.

“Erebor will be ready,” he promised.

Bilbo gave a sigh of relief. Thranduil, for his part, cocked his head to the side, a sudden thought taking over his mind.

“I was a part of the last great alliance between the races of Middle Earth,” he stated. “I had thought that it was the last; it has been titled as such. Yet men, elf, and dwarf are to march together to Dol Guldur, to ride into battle as allies yet again. It is curious how Sauron always brings us together, despite his intentions to tear us apart.”

With that he left, striding from the mountain as he returned to his own lands. He had a battle to prepare for. The last alliance of men, elves, dwarves, and even hobbits, Thranduil realized, was about to begin, and though he did not know what the outcome would be, he sensed that it would hold consequences to last millennia.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning Aragorn and Legolas departed from the company, searching the land around them for a path that could be taken safely past the rapids of Sarn Gebir. It was an hour later that they returned, quickly ushering the fellowship onto a path they had discovered. The slope was steep, hewn roughly from the stone surrounding the river. It was grown over with weeds and littered with loose stones that disuse had allowed to linger. The fellowship moved slowly, forced to carry the boats upon their shoulders, but passed the more volatile of the currents by around midday. Here they allowed themselves a brief rest before again setting oar to water, eyes scanning around them for any more unpleasant surprises.

The next day they passed the Argonath, great stone statues that lined the river’s edges. Both men carved into the rock wore long and flowing robes, with both crown and helm atop their heads. Their right hands held axes, while their left were stretched outwards, palms down, as a silent defiance of evil.

“Isildur and Anárion,” said Aragorn. “Long have I desired to look upon my sires of old. This here was once the northern border of Gondor, though now its lands are greatly diminished.”

This caused Boromir to tense slightly, though Aragorn had truly meant no insult by his words. The ranger turned to Minriel, who had drawn her boat alongside his, and was now gazing wide eyed at the statues of her own ancestors. Feeling her father’s gaze upon her, she turned her head, and as their eyes met, she gave Aragorn a lopsided grin.

Minriel couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed in the shadow of Gondor. This was the kingdom her father was meant to rule, that she should have had a home in. The place she soon would be a part of. The thought terrified her. Minriel had spent so long in stone tunnels of flickering torchlight, in the knotted vines of the Mirkwood forest. The dark was safe, it was home. In the light of the white city that southward faced the noontime sun, there was no safety in secrets. There were no shadows to hide in.

Minriel knew that in Gondor, there would be no reason for those secrets. She wondered how different her life would have been if Aragorn had been the king of Gondor at her birth. If she had grown up in the White City, the beloved princess of Arwen and Aragorn. If there had been no need to hide who she was. Minriel sighed; it was no use thinking about that.

And besides, she did not think she would prefer a life different from the one she had led. She was loved in the mountain, Mirkwood, Rivendell, and the Shire. The majority of these realms would have been foreign to her otherwise, as would have the people in them who she loved. She glanced in front of her to Mithril, and decided that no, she would not have wanted another life. She could not imagine her life without Mithril- her sister in all but blood- by her side.

How would that change after the war? Minriel knew that when her parents took their place upon the thrones of Gondor, she ought to join them. Would Mithril follow? Mithril had no true obligation to remain in Erebor, for while she held various duties as a princess, there was no throne awaiting her. It would pass to Fili, and to his heirs after him. All the same, Minriel couldn’t imagine Mithril leaving the mountain she loved. The thought of being so far away from Mithril caused an ache deep in Minriel’s chest, and she banished the thought from her mind. It would not happen.

She still could not help but wonder what would happen. Her hand drifted to the fork Galadriel and Celeborn had given to her. She knew that by accepting it she had given a promise. A vow to step into the light, to stop hiding from who she was and bear her lineage with pride.

Minriel wanted to. Gazing upon the likenesses of her ancestors, Minriel thought that she would very much like to take the mantle of princess, and, eventually, queen. She loved Erebor despite its flaws, and the animosity it still held in its jeweled heart for her. When faced with a people of her own… yes, Minriel could easily give her heart over to them.

This did nothing to quell the fear that lit her mind like beacons at the thought. Minriel shook herself before it could overcome her and looked to her father. She thought she could see the same worries in his own eyes, the same conflicted hopes and duties. They were bound to too many places, yet there was no home which could as of yet claim them.

It was a sorrowing thought. One she didn’t much like. Needing something to distract herself, Minriel again surveyed the rising stone of the Argonath. It was well carved, yet rough to the touch, with moss and slick river slime filming over the lower reaches of the statues. Above, wind had peeled slowly at the layers of rock, and Minriel was quite sure that, should she climb to the top, she would find various debris and markings left by the airborne wildlife.

“Good place for a bird to nest,” she joked. “Watch for gifts from above.”

She received several chuckles, and Minriel watched with no shortage of amusement as several people automatically checked their shoulders and heads for bird droppings. She tried to imagine her mother there and decided that the elf might just lose it. The thought had her letting loose with a long stream of bell-like laughter, drawing a raised eyebrow from Mithril.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It was an hour before nightfall when they reached the falls of Rauros, drawing their boats to a stop just before the great waterfall. They anchored on a small island, on either side of which the Anduin separated into two segments. At the falls the two halves rejoined, converging in a sheet of white water that cut through the air like a blade; how far down it went, those with hobbit and dwarf blood did not want to know. As Minriel docked their boat, Mithril found herself staring at the falls. It seemed suddenly that all she could hear was the rushing of the water, and its sudden drop off. The spit of white foam at the edge of the watery cliff. Each moment brought her closer and closer, though her very being recoiled from the falls. The air was suffocating. The water rose. The roar of it on the rocks pounded against Mithril’s ears with enough force to hurt. The ground began to drop.

“Mith, can you grab the bags?”

Mithril nearly collapsed as she was yanked out of her mind. Minriel stood in the boat behind her, watching expectantly. Twitching slightly, Mithril nodded and grabbed the bags. Had anyone noticed? She hoped not. Carefully, she climbed onto shore, and the fellowship began to set up camp. Aragorn stood on the eastern edge of the island, looking out across the river.

“We must wait until nightfall, then cross under cover of darkness,” Aragorn said. “Make for the northern border of Mordor.”

Legolas frowned, standing beside him. “We should cross now,” he said.

“The western shores are teeming with orcs,” objected Aragorn.  “We must wait.”

“It is not the western shores that worry me.”

“Either way, it’s Frodo’s choice,” reminded Sam. “Or have you forgotten? We may not even be going that way yet.”

There was a moment of silence, during which a tenseness settled over the fellowship. It had been a decision of great discussion over the past weeks. Would they go straight to Mordor? Or would they first go to Gondor?

“Well, we’re going with Frodo,” declared Merry. Beside him, Pippin nodded.

“As will I,” stated Gimli.

“You have all made your intentions clear.” Boromir rolled his eyes. “You will follow Frodo. What kind of a king turns from his people?” His eyes bore suddenly into Aragorn before darting quickly away.

Mithril and Minriel exchanged surprised and wary looks. They edged closer to where Frodo sat by the fire.

I have not abandoned my people. I turn West here and return to Minas Tirith. Will any of you accompany me?”

For several long moments there was silence. Boromir and Aragorn met each other’s eyes. In the dark it was hard to see what tempests swirled in their depths. It seemed to Mithril there was a centuries old conversation there, a plea for the other to see their side, and sadness molting into anger that a true understanding could not happen.

“I need time.” Frodo bolted to his feet. “I must think. Give me an hour, and then I will have an answer for you.”

With that he slipped into the woods. Mithril wanted to follow, if only to keep him safe from unseen dangers while his mind was occupied. Minriel stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm.

Frodo’s words had broken the staring contest between the two men. Aragorn turned to the girls.

“Regardless of Frodo’s decision,” he said slowly, “you will go to Minas Tirith with Boromir. In the White Halls of the kings of old you will be safe. Do not leave the city until this quest is done.”

Immediately the girls were on their feet, crossing their arms and aiming identical glares at Aragorn.

“No chance,” stated Mithril.

Aragorn scowled. “I will not place you in further danger than you have so far endured. You will stay where it is safe. Learn the ways of the people, hear their concerns, assuage their fears. So close to the eye of the dark lord, a large group such as ours is more likely to be seen. You are of better use in Gondor— and safer.”

It seemed to Mithril that his eyes sought out Minriel in particular, who shifted uncomfortably. Mithril wanted to hiss at her uncle for caution, for Merry in particular flickered his eyes between the ranger and half elf.

“Because a city constantly under attack is so safe,” she said instead.

“Minas Tirith has never fallen,” Boromir snapped.

“Nor will it in the time it takes for us to destroy the ring.” Aragorn spoke with a soothing tone and nodded as if all was settled. “Escort them to Minas Tirith. Protect them. I will come once the ring is destroyed.”

“No.”

Aragorn turned in surprise to Minriel. His daughter, usually eager to avoid conflict within her family, was now giving her father a glare that was worthy of her mother.

“I will not remain behind while my family goes into danger. I refuse.”

Aragorn stepped forward. “You have no choice in the matter. You will continue no further.”

“I will see this quest finished,” spat Minriel. She stepped forward as well, eyes ablaze, and even Mithril paused at her fury. No one there had ever seen Minriel so enraged, not in all her years. “I am tired of being coddled. I am a grown woman, not a child. You cannot make my decisions for me.”

“You are not even sixty years old!” Aragorn’s growl seemed to crawl between the trees and out over the water. His eyes burned with the same intensity as Minriel’s. Twin storms brewed between them. “I will not allow you to take one step closer to those dark lands.”

“You do not tell me what to do!” Minriel’s shout was so loud that the fellowship glanced around, sure that if there were any hostile beings nearby that they were now alerted to where the travelers were clustered.

Minriel didn’t care.

There had been a rage building in her heart since a secret was uttered to her in the sitting room of her childhood home. She had buried it under quiet disciplines and stoic duties. No longer.

“You have no say over my actions! You may be my father, but you did not raise me! Where were you when I was sick? When I had nightmares? When there was an attempt on my life? You run from your duties, as king, as husband, as father. Why should I listen to a word you say? You are nothing!”

Releasing the shackles her own mind had fastened about her, Minriel stormed into the forest. No longer would she be a slave to them. For a moment the company stood in shock, staring at Aragorn with mouths agape.

“Her what?” rasped Gimli. He glanced back and forth between Aragorn, Mithril, and where Minriel had disappeared. Had he heard the girl right? He searched Mithril’s face, hoping for the same confusion to be evident on her features, but she looked unsurprised, though rather resigned.

It was true. Gimli couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t sure what was more extraordinary. Minriel being Aragorn’s daughter, or that the girls had both known and hid it from him. Did they not trust him?

Gimli’s whirling mind was still seeking answers, and coming up with only more questions, when Mithril turned and stomped away. She disappeared into the forest before Gimli could work up enough of a voice to call her back, and for a moment her shouts for Minriel echoed off the trees.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“Min!”

Minriel didn’t turn as she heard Mithril scramble behind her. She heard the sound of someone slipping on wet leaves, followed by a hard thump and several curses. With a sigh, Minriel paused. After a moment Mithril caught up.

“What was that?” Mithril’s eyes were wide. “Have you any idea how foolish that was, revealing yourself like that? What were-”

“Do I know? Do I?” Minriel couldn’t help but laugh. Of course. “I know far better than you, Sister, the danger brought to me by my line.”

Anger flared in Mithril’s eyes. Minriel saw her sister brace, saw her jaw tighten as she prepared to give one of her speeches.

That was the final straw.

“Don’t even speak.” Minriel jabbed a finger at the shorter girl’s chest. “Don’t even speak. I am so sick of being coddled. By Da. By Thorin. By Bilbo. By you worst of all.”

“We’re trying to keep you safe,” Mithril snapped.

“I don’t need you to!”

“Yes, you do!” Mithril stepped forward then, and in her anger seemed to grow. Seemed to fill more space than she actually did. Normally Minriel would back down at the sight, but it only made her angry.

“You need protecting,” Mithril yelled. “Yes, you know about danger, but you have been spared from it. You have fought no battles. Not really, not on your own. What would you do when your arrows run out?”

“Not turn to you, if that’s what you believe.” Minriel spat out the words. “Spared from danger? Is that what you think? I have never been spared from danger, not since the day I was born. You certainly have never spared me from it. I face my trials alone. I don’t need your overbearing, useless shield. Keep your blood in your veins, it is not the same as mine, and I do not want it.”

With that she spun and stomped away. Up the hill she went, over the slippery slopes that would slow her heavier cousin. She didn’t listen for Mithril’s attempt to follow. She hoped Mithril wouldn’t.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

For a long time, no one moved. Aragorn’s mind was still reeling under Minriel’s words when Mithril appeared. Her face was pale and her eyes wet, though the tears had not yet brimmed over. A part of Aragorn wondered what had caused them. Had she found Minriel and quarreled?

It didn’t matter. There was work to do.

“Get ready to move,” he ordered. He grabbed Minriel’s bow and quiver, which she had placed on the ground, and set it in a neat stack with her and Mithril’s packs. Why on earth had she even gone off without it? Off to the side he saw Mithril frown with the same thought. He paid her no mind. Instead Aragorn scanned around, scowling at how the others were still standing in shock. “Move! Legolas, Gimli, start loading the boats. Sam, put out that fire. Boromir, Mithril, wait here for Minriel.”

Whatever had happened between the girls must have been terrible indeed, for Mithril said nothing. Aragorn wasn’t even sure she had heard him. That was fine. By the time she realized what was going on, the fellowship would be underway. Boromir would take them to Minas Tirith. Aragorn trusted him to do that much.

“What about Frodo?” asked Sam. He glanced up as he shoved dirt on the last of the flames.

Aragorn cursed. They needed to find Frodo. He was the one person they couldn’t leave without.

“Where is he?” Aragorn asked. “The time for deciding is done.”

Shrugs and helpless looks went around the camp. It was Pippin who spoke next.

“Where’s Boromir?”

Aragorn frowned. The soldier was right– gone.

He was gone.

A dark feeling settled in Aragorn’s stomach. He had seen the way Boromir had eyed Frodo the last weeks. The way he had always watched the ring. For him to vanish now, when the fellowship was distracted and Frodo was on his own…

Aragorn dashed into the woods, panic burning in his veins. He had to find Frodo. Before Boromir did.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Frodo was almost to the ruins of Amon Hen when there was a sound from behind him, a breaking of twigs by something heavy. He spun, finding Boromir approaching, his arms laden with branches for the fire.

“None of us should be wandering alone,” the man commented. “Least of all you.”

Frodo tensed, backing away. If that was truly Boromir’s opinion, the man would not himself be wandering about alone. Suddenly words that had been spoken to him by the lady Galadriel rang in his mind, and he peered closely at Boromir. The soldier did not hold the proper wood for a fire; it was too green yet to be of any use. That, accompanied by a glint in his eyes that just seemed off, told Frodo all he needed to know.

He was still attempting to decide if he should bother parrying words with Boromir or if he should simply run when the soldier, still cradling the wood in his arms, threw himself on the ground, and offered, “Sit with me, my friend.”

Against his better judgement, Frodo did just that. He sat what he hoped was a safe distance away, ready to spring up again should he need to.

“What are your thoughts on Aragorn?” Boromir asked him. He set down his woodpile and leaned forward, resting his arms and torso against his thighs.

Frodo blinked in surprise. It wasn’t at all the question he expected to face that day, but he supposed it was better than anything he had imagined. Frodo took his time answering, wavering between loyalty for Aragorn and fondness for the Gondorian before him.

“I think he is a good man, fair and noble. He will make a fine king.”

Frodo studied Boromir’s reaction. The man nodded slowly, and Frodo couldn’t tell if he seemed disappointed, relieved, or some mix of both.

“King,” Boromir trilled slowly. “King. I never thought to be the King of Gondor. It is above my line. Yet what trust must I put in a stranger. You say Aragorn is a noble man. Bravery I have indeed seen in him, but fairness? He has not listened to a word I have offered this quest. I worry for my people.”

Boromir’s eyes darkened. For a moment he seemed on the verge of tears, and Frodo’s heart ached for him.

“I only want what is best for my people,” he whispered. Boromir’s voice wavered and cracked before he laced it together again with trembling lips. “Who is to say I cannot lead them as well as Aragorn? Never have I thought to take the crown upon my own head, but for my people… aye, for them, I would take the burden. I would be as fair, as brave, as he. My blood may not hold the nobility of the fair folk, but long have the line of stewards endured for Gondor’s silver flag. Would I not be just as fair? Do you not suppose?”

Frodo worried at the chain around his throat. He didn’t think Boromir would be a bad ruler at all, for he could see the love of Gondor shining in his dark eyes. A quarrel for the crown was beyond him, however, and Frodo had no wish to entangle himself within it. Not when he had loyalties on all sides.

“I do not think it is for me to decide,” he said softly.

Boromir sighed. “You should see it, Frodo. I do not doubt the style of my people is different than your own, but I think you would appreciate the marble halls of my forefathers. If only you would see it.”

He set to describing Minas Tirith. Frodo listened, drawn closer and closer by Boromir’s description. The white city carved from the mountain itself, shining in the noonday sun. The white tree that had for generations inspired hope. Frodo thought fondly of another tree, long branches of oak shading his curly head from the summer sun’s blistering heat.

Boromir spoke long and gently, telling Frodo of the glory of Gondor, fading though it was, and how he might restore it. He spoke of peaceful days to come, a people under his protection. He would love them as his children, always fair and wise. Under him, Gondor would thrive.

It was a grand vision. For a moment Frodo could see it all. Boromir sitting upon a white throne, a golden crown atop his head, smiling benignly upon the kingdom he loved. A part of Frodo yearned for it. He thought of the bloodshed and sacrifice. How on earth could anyone ever bring such prosperity on a kingdom under so much distress? It seemed the last and fading hope of one who could see the end in sight but had yet to accept it.

In his mind’s eye the image of Boromir extended a hand toward him, and a gold ring glittered on his finger. Shadows drew around the king who might have been, and Frodo sucked in a harsh breath. The idealistic image shattered. Boromir continued on, unaware of what had passed through Frodo’s mind.

 “The Ring!” Boromir implored gently. “Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing!" He turned beseeching eyes to Frodo. “If you would but lend it to me-”

“No.” Frodo stood and backed away. His fingers curled at the ring nestled against his throat. “Whatever thoughts you have, banish them. The ring cannot be controlled. You know this!”

“But what if it can?” There was a frenzied desperation in Boromir’s voice that Frodo did not trust.

Frodo shook his head. It seemed that the shadows of the forest yawned over Boromir, jagged fangs that opened to a gaping maw that sought to swallow them whole. They enveloped Boromir, cloaked him. He was more haunted spectacle wreathed in darkness than man.

“Boromir, you are not yourself!”

Frodo turned and began to walk away, and behind him Boromir let out a growl. “Do not turn away from me!” he shouted. “Come here!”

Frodo grunted as the force of Boromir’s charge knocked him to the ground. Twisting under the soldier, he lifted his hands to block Boromir as the man scrabbled at his neck, trying to yank at the one ring.

“No!” Frodo lashed out, punching and kicking, and Boromir sat up for a moment. His hand flashed out to the side, and Frodo didn’t wait to see if it would come back bearing either stone, branch, or sword. He slipped the ring onto his finger, and, as Boromir froze in confusion, lashed out again. Now the force of his kick was enough to knock the unprepared man from atop him, and before Boromir could rise, Frodo leapt to his feet and sprinted away. He didn’t look back as Boromir’s shouts sounded behind him, nor when those shouts turned to sobs.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Mithril froze as she heard the savage shouts of orcs behind her. It had been several minutes since the company had rushed off, calling for Frodo. Mithril had scrambled, cursing and shouting Frodo’s name, through the woods of Amon Hen. She had grabbed Minriel’s bow as she’d gone, on the off chance she encountered her cousin again. A lecture about safety and not leaving behind one’s weapons was already forming in her mind. Mithril knew she really shouldn’t. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to help herself.

That was until she heard the orcs. They cut slowly through the frenzied panic swirling in Mithril’s head, questions about Frodo’s whereabouts and safety churning with agitation over Minriel’s. As she at last picked up the battle cries of the Uruk-hai, Mithril’s breath hitched in her throat. Her family was separated, ripe for the picking. Any of them could be killed at any moment. Mithril was in no position to protect any of them. She needed to find someone. Who? Merry and Pippin were likely together and calm enough of mind to hear the approaching danger. Would it be enough? Hopefully Sam had stayed with them, or with one of the more experienced fighters. Or was he by the boats, awaiting Frodo’s return? Cornered by the water by Uruk-hai that would explode out of the trees like Gandalf’s firecrackers. The trees. The trees spun in dizzying circles. Min. Frodo. Sam. Merry and Pip. Mithril stumbled in place. Who needed her help more?

There was a snap of twigs. Mithril had time only to fling herse