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Prologue

“Thorin! Because of the political climate, the Blue Mountains aren’t the best place to raise my son!” Bella Baggins, Lady of Thorin’s Halls, set her hands on her hips. “Don’t ignore me, Thorin! You know that I’m telling you the truth! Dwarves will not want their lands to be ruled by a half-cast!”

Thorin whirled around, glaring at her. “Never speak about my son that way ever again! The Dwarves of this land will do as I say, I am their lord! Balin has reported that the traditionalists are being regularly ignored by the up and coming generations of Dwarves. By the time Borin grown old enough to take the throne, they will welcome him without reproach!”

Bella sighed. “Borin will not be his name! It is not when he’s older that I’m concerned about, Thorin.” She grabbed her husband’s hands. “He is not even close to being born yet, but I fear for his life when he is an infant.”

“I will double the guards.” He turned away from her after kissing both her hands. “You worry too much, Bella. It is not good for our son.” Picking up a parchment, he studied it a moment before putting his signature on it.

Bella watched him for a minute before storming out. She was near tears, knowing that it was completely hormonal but still understandable. Wiping them away furtively, she waved to her younger nephews. They were each in their thirties. She sighed. She was quite willing to treat them as adults, but the Dwarves constantly treated them like adolescents. They didn’t know any better.

Passing them by before they could waylay her, she hurried to Dis’ room. “Dis! Please, convince your brother that I should return to the Shire. The Blue Mountains are no place for a half-cast prince!”

Looking around quickly, Dis shushed her sister-in-law quietly and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Peace, Bella. Peace. All will be well. Listen, the Dwarves do not yet know that you are with child. They have accepted you, haven’t they? Do not worry yourself over this, Bella. All will be well.”

Bella groaned. “They have accepted me, because your eldest, Fíli, will take the throne. No one knew that Hobbits are able to bear Dwarven children. Until now.” She turned away from Dis and looked at her hands.

Sighing, Dis tugged gently on her shoulders. “And what will you do if these Dwarves follow the Lady of the Halls to the Shire? What will you do without Thorin to protect you?”

Bella snorted. “I can protect myself well enough!”

“Yes, but not against a posse of trained Dwarves.” Dis spoke quietly. She was used to being the arbitrator between Thorin and Bella when they had their fights. Fights were few and far between, but when they occurred they were blowouts. “Brother only wishes to protect you.”

Turning around violently, Bella’s blue eyes flashed. “And I only want to protect my son! Why does no one see that he is in danger here?!”

“He is in the palace, Bella.” Dis smiled and shook her head. “Here, take this tonic and rest. You shouldn’t be so agitated. I will speak to Thorin about letting me take you farther south in the mountain chain. We have a beautiful home that’s isolated from the cities, and I think it would be perfect for you. No one shall know where you are until you return after birthing your son.”

Staring at her, Bella realized that Durin family felt so secure in their palace that they honest to the Valar didn’t think her son was in danger after birth.

Bella walked out slowly, carrying Dis’ tonic. She swept into her room and dismissed her guards outside. Well! If no one shall help me protect my son, then I will do it alone!

Bella quickly packed her things but froze when she heard Thorin enter their adjoining bedroom. Shoving her case under her bed, she hurried to meet him instead.

“Bella…who gave this to you?” He was fingering a small hair pin that Bella had worn yesterday.

She chuckled. “Bilboni. He’s the head cook at my tea shop. I gave him a bonus this year, because he’s worked for me faithfully for so long. He carved that himself to show his thanks.”

Thorin nodded slowly and then set it down carefully. “I do not want you to wear it.”

“What?” Her posture straightened, going on the defensive.

Turing to face her fully, he looked her in the eyes. “Whatever jewelry and accessories you wear in your hair and on your person will be made from my hands and mine alone. No other Dwarf will ever provide for you.”

Bella tried not to gape. “He’s married, Thorin. With three children!”

Her husband didn’t seem to care all that much. “You will obey me, Bella. You are my wife, and I am your husband.” He nodded and then smiled softly. “It is considered bad taste for a wife to wear something made from another Dwarf male. Very bad taste. I would hate to have to remind that Dwarf of his culture by punishing him.”

Bella pulled her hands firmly out of Thorin’s grip. “Thorin…are you…serious? He’s nearing the age of 210! He is far too old for even another female Dwarf! I don’t see why wearing something he made as a gift could be bad…”

Thorin smiled, but there was an edge to it. Bella knew that he would get angry the longer she fought him on this. “It is a matter of culture, Bella. Hobbits are very relaxed about this, but Dwarves…” He shook his head. “What our women wear is important to us. Do not…” He frowned. “On second thought, I should actually go through your jewelry and make sure that you don’t have anything that isn’t appropriate to your status and marriage.” He nodded. “Hand me your box, Bella love.”

She stepped away from him. “You will not remove my jewelry, Thorin! You will not touch it.”

He frowned. “You feel strongly about this, why?”

She gaped at him. “It’s my jewelry!”

Still frowning, Thorin sighed. “Very well, but please, do not wear that hair piece again.” He fingered the wooden carving. “It is excellent craft, but it does not fit you, nor should it.” He smiled as he placed it on top of the mantle, purposefully out of Bella’s reach. “Now, let me bath you, my love, and care for you. You must be tired.” His eyes twinkled. “I have no meetings or papers for tonight. I will give you a foot massage and then we’ll spend some time together, eh?”

Bella glanced at the hair piece, but like everything else he objected to, she let him have his way. “I’d love that, Thorin.” He slipped a loving arm around her widening waist and nuzzled her neck.

“I love you, Bella. With all my being, I love you.”

“I love you too, Thorin.” She thought about the case under her bed, and her heart broke. She would have to leave her husband to save her son…

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

~twenty-four hours after the battle~

Thorin opened his eyes and sighed. He finished polishing and cleaning his sword and tried to push the last memory of his wife away. He still had that hair piece. Still had it and grieved the fact that he had wasted all those days arguing with her.

Dwalin entered the tent. “Gandalf has gathered Thranduil and Bard together. Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel, it seems, are also hear to help clean out Mirkwood.” He grunted and sat down, pulling off his boot and dug out a pebble from his sole. “How Bilbo walks around barefoot is lost on me.”

Thorin stirred. “And where is my son?”

“With Fíli and Kíli. They’re showing him the inner treasury vault, all the family heirlooms and such are in there, safe and sound. Telling him the history behind most of the pieces they know or were told about.” Balin entered the tent and sat across from his brother.

“Those lads love their cousin.” He chuckled and then looked at Thorin with concern. “Thorin?”

“Bella…” He rubbed his face with his hands and then his shoulders started to shake. “…Bella!”

Dwalin and Balin sighed and looked at each other sadly. Balin slipped a hand on his king’s knee. “You have your son, Thorin. You have Bilbo.”

“Bilbo…do you know why he was name that?” Both Dwarves shook their heads. “He was named after the Dwarf who took Bella in and helped her set up her tea house. Bilboni of the Broadbeam Clan. He still runs it even now. I will have to make sure that another house is set up and run by Dori in her honor and memory.” Thorin nodded to Balin. “Make a note of that.”

Balin pulled out a parchment and wrote it down quickly. “Do you want Bilbo to know about it?”

“Yes. I want to work on it with him. A shrine of memory to my wife, his mother.” Thorin nodded slowly.

Dwalin smiled and then nodded. “But first you need to attend this meeting with all these lords and kings.”

Standing, Thorin straightened his jacket and wiped his cheeks. Glancing at a shield with a clear reflection, he nodded. With a tired sigh that he would only allow Balin and Dwalin to hear, he exited his tent.

He heard the group before he saw them. He blinked in surprise at what he saw. Bard was sitting there making a new bow, glancing up every so often at the shouting Lord Elrond. He would then sigh, shift in his seat, and continue his carving.

Thorin looked over at an amused Gandalf. The wizard made his way over to Thorin. “Welcome to Dale! Come this way, Thorin. I asked Bilbo to come and make an appearance. He should be here soon. Fíli too, since he will be Steward or second-in-line. Kíli wanted to come because his lady love was here.” Thorin rolled his eyes.

“Yet another thing I need to process…” He muttered. “My son is an Elf-Friend and my youngest nephew wants to marry an Elf. Why am I suddenly inundated with Elves?” He rubbed his forehead.

Gandalf chuckled and merely shook his head. They sat down next to Bard, who nodded to them. Balin coughed. “Ah, why is the Lord of Rivendell yelling at King Thranduil in Sindarin?”

“Thranduil abducted Bilbo, Elrond’s nephew of the heart, and a proclaimed Elf-Friend. The Elves would view this as Thranduil kidnapping Lady Arwen, or one of Elrond’s sons. It is quite the scandal.” Gandalf lit his pipe with a chuckle.

Thorin started coughing violently. “NEPHEW OF HIS HEART?!?!?!?!”

His scream stopped the Elves. Lord Elrond blinked and then nodded to Thorin. “I proclaimed him as such and went through the adoption papers. He is my nephew, legally. He is the Thain’s grandson both legally and by blood.” Elrond focused his dark eyes on the King Under the Mountain. Thranduil looked relieved that he was no longer the focus. “And, King Thorin, if you think you can steal my nephew away from me and spirit him into that blasted mountain, you will have another war on your hands!”

Dain gaped. “Now just one moment! Bilbo is the Prince of Erebor! He is Thorin’s son! Yer can’t just go makin’ those statements! Thorin has more right to him than yer do!”

Thorin waved Dain down. “Thank you, Cousin.”

Dain huffed and sat down again. Everyone stared at Elrond who sighed and smoothed his robed gently. “I can understand that you would wish to spend as much time with your son as possible.”

Thorin’s eyes were made of ice. “Yes, no thanks to you, Elf-Lord. Tell me, why did you continue to pretend and lie to me about my own son? Why did you allow me to grieve both the deaths of my wife and son when both were alive at the time of my deception?”

Thranduil leaned closer and grinned smugly. “Yes, I’m interested in this too, Elrond. Why did you lie to this Dwarf? This grieving father!” He gave Elrond a look of pain. Thorin glared at him.

“I have no need for your defense, Elf-King.”

Thranduil merely smiled and leaned back into his seat. Elrond was squirming, though he didn’t look it.

“I was bound by the Thain.”

“And why hasn’t the Thain been given a dressing down for lying to me? Why am I the only one who is being treated like a bad school boy?!” Thorin growled and stood up. “Bilbo is my SON! He is my SON! Would you like your sons taken from you by someone else?! You would fight it! You would fight for them! I was denied access to my son for forty-three YEARS!” His roar echoed over the buildings.

Thranduil leaned over to his own son and murmured in Sindarin. “He feels strongly about this.” Legolas stuck his tongue in his cheek.

“Yes Father, just a bit.”

Thorin ignored the whispering Elves and continued to glare at Elrond. “You owe me an official and public apology for lying and deceiving me about the state of my kin. I was not even able to bury my wife in the family crypt! We will now be buried separately!” His voice broke, and he slumped back to his seat, covering his face with his hands to keep the others from seeing his tears.

Balin stood up quickly and leaned in to block the sight of his king from the others. Thorin would hate showing weakness, but Balin knew that he could use it to their side.

“My King is a widower.” He looked at Thranduil, Elrond, and Bard. “Do you not know his pain? What if your own children were taken from you? How would you feel, knowing that they were alive all those decades?”

Thranduil looked at Legolas and then sighed. “I would find out who lied to me and have them flogged.” Bard gripped his bow tightly and agreed.

Elrond jerked and stared at Thranduil. “Thank you, friend.” Thranduil smirked and shrugged. Elrond took a deep breath to defend himself, but a soft hand stopped him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Galadriel stepped forward. She leaned against the chair that Thranduil was sitting in. “I propose a compromise. King Thorin…”

Thorin had composed himself and straightened. “Yes?” He ignored her beauty and focused solely on her words.

“Have you and your son made an arrangement concerning his Hobbit family?”

He nodded slowly. “He will stay and learn of his kin here and Dwarven culture until the last caravan has arrived and reconstruction on the mountain is complete.”

Thranduil stirred. “Does he know how long that will take?”

Thorin shrugged. “He has agreed to stay.”

Smirking, Thranduil shook his head. “For your son, my doors are always open. He will grow weary of stone after a while and will seek out nature. I will always welcome him into my halls. It is the least I can do after kidnapping him.”

Elrond smiled. “Thank you, Thranduil.” Galadriel smiled too. She liked the Elf-Friend.

Thorin gritted his teeth. “That will not be necessary.” Balin coughed and stood up quickly to stop any arguments.

“After the reconstruction is finished, or if another arrangement has been made, Bilbo will travel to the Shire, either to stay or to gather his personal possessions and travel back.”

Elrond frowned. “That would mean that Bilbo would have to live years without his things, relying solely on the Dwarves. No, I propose that he should be allowed to travel back, stopping at Imladris of course, and then on to the Shire. He can travel with me and my entourage, if he wishes.”

Balin leaned over and whispered in Khuzdul, “It would be best if I and my brother went with Bilbo to solve things with the Thain. You can stay here and oversee everything at Erebor. Fíli can help you.”

Thorin frowned and then sighed. “Very well. I see what you propose. I will speak with my son concerning that. Now, if we are done discussing my family affairs…” He glanced at everyone around the table. “Are we ready to speak about trade and treaties?”

Thranduil stood up. “Not yet.” He looked over to where the doors opened. Bilbo, Fíli, and Kíli all popped their heads in.

“Sorry we’re late! Kíli got lost in the treasury.” Bilbo smirked and slipped into the room, but froze when Thranduil swiftly walked over to him and knelt.

“Bilbo Baggins, Prince of Erebor, Heir to the Thain, son of Thorin and Belladonna, I give you my public and heartfelt apology for abducting you and holding you for ransom.” He glanced at Elrond and then added rebelliously, “Even if my reason was for a worthy cause, I went about it wrong. For that, I apologize.”

Bilbo smiled. Elrond was glowering, Thorin was too. Bilbo looked at Thranduil.

“I forgive you, Thranduil Oropherion, King of Great Greenwood. It is my honor to accept it and my honor to offer my friendship.” Thranduil straightened and smiled.

They embraced gingerly and then parted. Bilbo smiled and spoke quietly in Sindarin. “Allow me to give this to you, King Thranduil, as a token of our friendship, and an apology of my own, for taking your food wine without permission while I was hiding within your palace.” He produced a diamond necklace that strings of silver and pearls. He smiled, albeit a bit sadly. Thorin was in awe of the necklace. The other Dwarves were too.

Thranduil took the delicate necklace. “It is beautiful…”

Bilbo smiled. “I made it for my mother on my coming age, twenty-two years ago.”

Jumping up, Thorin gaped at his son. “You are a wonder at the forge, my son!” He glared at the Elf-King. “An unsuitable match with him.” Thranduil only smirked at Thorin.

Flushing, Bilbo smiled at his father and returned to his seat next to Thorin. Thranduil slowly sat down, examining the delicate silver necklace.

With a grin at the Dwarf-King, Thranduil slipped the necklace on. “I am honored to wear the necklace that once was worn by the Lady of the Halls of Durin.”

Thorin was seething. Bilbo wasn’t oblivious to his father’s anger, but the pretended to be. Gandalf coughed and looked at everyone.

“Now, let’s get down to business. Dale needs supplies while they rebuild their town…”

~seven hours later~

“Bilbo, the meeting is over. We’re returning to the mountain now. Wake up.”

Bilbo groaned and tried to pry his eyes open again. “Please tell me that I didn’t drool on anything.”

Thorin chuckled and pulled his son to his side firmly. “No. Dwalin led you away to rest halfway through the meeting. I have to admit that I was exceedingly jealous.”

“THORIN! King! You haven’t introduced your son to me, yet!”

Thorin gave a quiet groan and turned around. “Dain, this is my son, Bilbo. Bilbo, this is my cousin, Dain of the Iron Hills.”

Bilbo nodded to the Dwarf and shook his hand. Dain grinned. “Aye! He’s got a nice, firm grip! Sure to be a good soldier!” He winked at Bilbo. “Any lady love yer’ve got waiting for yer back in the Shire?”

Thorin froze in an utter panic. DID HE?! He stared at his son with wide eyes.

Bilbo laughed nervously. “Ah, no…I don’t. I’m a bachelor.”

Tutting, Dain winked at him. “Ahh…bachelor is no thing for a prince. Yer’ll have to find some lady Dwarf to marry and make yer Queen.” He smiled; however, his smile had an edge to it. Bilbo fought the urge to skitter away. “I have a pretty, little niece about your age…”

Thorin stepped between his son and his cousin. “Enough, Dain. Erebor has just been won. Leave that topic alone for now. It will be many years until that even needs to be brought up.”

Dain stepped back, chuckling. Raising his hands in surrender, he smiled. “Sure thing, cousin. I was only making idle chatter. I’ll get back to my men. Have a pleasant night.”

Bilbo shivered. “Father…”

“Yes?”

“Will that ever need to come up?”

“I have Fíli to rely on for a further heir, if you do not wish to have a wife.”

“I don’t…” Bilbo took a deep breath. “I don’t find Dams attractive.”

Thorin coughed. “Ah…well, if you like that sort of thing, then I won’t argue with you. It’s completely your choice of course.” Thorin smiled at his son.

Bilbo blinked. “What? No! I am not gay!” He swallowed. “I just…don’t think Dwarves are attractive.”

Thorin chuckled and nodded. “You can have a Hobbit or Dwobbit wife, if you find one willing to leave the Shire for you.”

Nodding slowly, Bilbo sighed and looked at the city of Dale they were walking through. “What of the people of Dale?”

“Wood from Thranduil’s land will be given over. Dwarves from Dain’s army will work and aid in the reconstruction. Funds will be donated by Erebor to give the people of Dale a starting nudge. Trade will be brought in from the Iron Hills and the Elves of Mirkwood.”

“Greenwood.” Bilbo corrected. Thorin rolled his eyes.

“Greenwood. And the men will start farming the lands and providing produce and food for Erebor. It will take a long time until that happens though, but it will happen. The relations between our three kingdoms are very good.”

Bilbo smiled slightly and closed his eyes as the breeze rustled through his hair. “I’m very glad… When should I depart for the Shire, Father?”

“Dis will arrive in a few months. When she comes, then you can leave. I want you to meet her first. She is your aunt after all, and she would have my beard if I let you leave before she arrived.” Thorin rubbed his beard.

Bilbo smiled. “I would never sacrifice your beard, Father.” He winked. Both laughed and enjoyed the ride back to the mountain.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Bilbo sighed and looked out at the city of Dale. The war had been won three days ago. Now the Dwarves, Men, Elves, and animals were all working together to reconstruct Laketown and Dale. Dain had decided to make himself at home for a while and help in Erebor’s reconstruction.

Bilbo snickered as he remembered how Thorin studiously kept Dain from “being a bad influence on my son”.

“Aye! There you are!”

Bilbo turned to smile at Bofur. “Hello Bofur. What’s up with the mines?”

Bofur grimaced. “Flooded, the half of em. The rest have been weakened by Smaug’s thumping about. This mountain wasn’t carved with a Dragon in mind.”

Bilbo sighed. “And how long will the entire reconstruction of the mines be?”

“Oh, prolly about five years, provided enough workers are found.” Bofur shrugged. “I doubt that will be much of a problem. There are plenty of Dwarves looking for work. I reckon that there will be thousands flocking to Erebor soon.”

Bilbo paled. “Thousands?” He gazed in the direction of the treasury. “Um…”

Bofur frowned. “No one’s gonna take the gold, Bilbo…”

Bilbo blinked. “No…I wasn’t thinking about theft. I was…um…” He sighed. “How will everyone live? The supplies, the food, the rooms? No one has any food we can buy.”

“The rooms will be the first things that are fixed up.” Bofur was still looking at Bilbo in concern. “What are you concerned about?”

Bilbo sighed. “I…” He turned away. “Nothing I guess. Father just…he’s avoiding anything to do with the gold. He’s left all the expenses to be dealt with by Balin and Ori. Anything that has to do with the treasury he’s avoided. He prevents me or Fíli or Kíli from even going down there anymore.”

Bofur nodded. “And what’s wrong?” He knew it didn’t have anything to do with the gold. “Something else is bothering you, Bilbo.”

Bilbo sighed explosively. “I made an agreement with Father that I would stay until the end of the reconstruction. It was a foolish agreement. I’ll be stuck here for decades!”

Bofur grimaced at the choice of words. He didn’t want Bilbo to feel “stuck here”. “Maybe if you told him…” Bilbo gave Bofur a look, and Bofur trailed off. “No, that wouldn’t end well.”

Bilbo snorted. “You think?” He looked at the sky and shook his head. “I just…he’s quickly becoming oppressively protective of me. Everywhere I go Dwalin follows me like a shadow. Everyone I speak with, Thorin magically appears and glares at them threateningly.”

Bofur bit his lip to keep himself from telling Bilbo the reasons. Bilbo glared at him. “My father doesn’t do anything without a reason and you know it. Tell me!”

Bofur winced. “I…”

“As your Prince, I insist.” Bilbo’s voice was low. His eyes were dark.

Bofur groaned. “My King’s command outranks yours. I’m sorry.”

Bilbo frowned darkly. “Fine.” He nodded to his friend and swiftly moved away. King’s command? Fine, I’ll just fine someone who follows no one but himself. Bilbo smiled and went in search for Gandalf.

He soon found Gandalf smoking his pipe and resting from casting spells of protection around the city. Bilbo waved to the Wizard and ignored his Dwarf shaped shadow. Gandalf frowned at Dwalin. “Master Dwalin.” Dwalin nodded briefly and continued to scan the area for enemies. Gandalf raised an eyebrow at Bilbo.

The Dwobbit sighed. “Father thinks that there are assassins lurking around every corner.” He sat next to Gandalf. “Are there?”

Gandalf looked down at Bilbo in surprise. “Are there what?”

“Gandalf…I need answers. Is someone trying to kill me?”

Gandalf sighed and knocked the ashes from his pipe. “You deserve answers more than anyone else right now. Yes, Bilbo. There are suspicions, justified if I do say so myself, that someone wishes you dead. The men around here have no motive. The Elves view you as Elf-Friend and wouldn’t dare touch you, especially after King Thranduil gave public apology and his vow of alliance to you, a vow not to be taken lightly remember.”

Bilbo’s heart sank. “Dwarves. They don’t want a half cast to ascend to the throne.”

Gandalf sighed and nodded. “That is the only likely scenario.” Gandalf frowned at Bilbo. “Be that as it may, I do not want to hear you describe yourself like that again. You are not half of anything Bilbo, son of Thorin. You are Bilbo of the Shire and of Erebor. You may have two families, but you are not half of anything.”

Bilbo smiled and nodded. “Actually, you’re wrong. I have four families.”

Gandalf stared at Bilbo in surprise. “Who?”

“Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves in Rivendell and Greenwood, and Beorn’s people.” Bilbo grinned.

Gandalf smiled and hugged his friend. “Yes. Four families. You are blessed, Bilbo. Blessed by Yavanna and Aulë.”

Bilbo frowned. “What do they look like?”

Gandalf pulled away. “Who?”

“The Valar. Lord Elrond says that you’re not Human. Wizards aren’t human. They come from the land of the Valar. I learned from his book that you were created by Manwë himself!”

Gandalf blustered slightly and then looked sternly at Bilbo. “Where is that book you read?” The shadows started to increase around him.

Bilbo swallowed and stammered out, “I-in Imladris! It...it was written by Lord E-Elrond!”

Gandalf frowned and shook his head. “Stupid Elf! I need to get rid of that book. The origin of Wizards is not to be bandied about like common gossip!” He fixed a glare on Bilbo. “As for you lad, do not go spreading those facts around.”

Bilbo nodded quickly. Gandalf smiled and the air lightened. “As for your question, yes. I was. As for what the Valar look like…” He smiled mysteriously at Bilbo. “I will have you wait and see for yourself.”

Bilbo blinked and then frowned. “Gandalf…” His hand slipped into his pocket. His fingers fiddled with the ring. “I…I found something in the goblin caves.”

Gandalf looked at Bilbo sharply. “Yes…your courage.”

“No. Well, yes, but not just that. I found this…” It took all of Bilbo’s strength to pull the ring out. The look of concern in Bofur’s eyes forced Bilbo to realize that maybe he was feeling some form of gold lust. He didn’t want to treat others the way Thorin treated them during his bout with the disease. Uncurling his fingers and showing the wizard what was in his palm was the hardest thing Bilbo ever had to do. And that frightened him. It only solidified his fears.

Gandalf stiffened. “I know that ring.”

Bilbo gulped and set it on the space of rock between them. He felt strangely lighter with it out in the open, but he also felt the overwhelming urge to snatch it back and run. Bilbo edged away from it. “I…crave it.”

Gandalf looked at Bilbo sharply. “Yes…I would imagine you do…”

Bilbo frowned at his friend. “What is it, Gandalf?”

“Tell me Bilbo, what do you know of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves?” Gandalf stared at Bilbo.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Bilbo frowned. “You mean the war against Sauron?”

Gandalf nodded slowly.

Bilbo frowned. “It was a series of battles fought in the land of Mordor. The Men and the Elves were trying to destroy Sauron and his armies. Sauron wanted to control all of Arda.”

“And do you remember anything about how he did it?”

“There were…” Bilbo’s eyes widened. “Rings…” He stared at the ring between them. “He made three rings for the Elf Lords, seven for the Dwarf Lords, and nine for the Mortal Kings. Elrond taught me that old poem about them.”

Gandalf sighed heavily. “Yes. Almost all the Dwarf Rings are either destroyed or lost to Sauron. The nine rings are in Sauron’s control.”

“But he was destroyed! Sauron was destroyed!”

“Not completely.”

Bilbo stared at Gandalf in horror. “And the three Elven rings?”

“They were hidden from Sauron.”

“Is this a Dwarf ring then?”

Gandalf stared at the simple golden band. “I do not think so.”

Bilbo felt his heart sink. “Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, nine for Mortal Men doomed to die…”

Gandalf nodded slowly. “One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne, in the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them, in the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

They both turned and looked down at the innocent looking ring.

Gandalf stood. “I must go to Gondor. There is only one way to know if this is that ring.”

Bilbo didn’t dare pick it up again. He felt wretched, disgusting. He was using the very same ring that Sauron made. He was using the ring that the Orcs served under! He felt like throwing up.

“Take it with you! I beg you!”

Gandalf shook his head. “No! Do not tempt me, Bilbo!”

Bilbo stared at Gandalf in confusion. “You feel the pull too?”

Gandalf nodded. “You must understand, Bilbo. I would use this ring for good, but my idea of ‘good’ would slowly shift, becoming more and more self-focused. I cannot accept it. I will not.”

He sighed and looked at Bilbo wearily. “Tell no one of this. We cannot risk anyone stealing the ring. Do not even tell your father.”

Bilbo nodded grimly. “I don’t want this near me.”

Gandalf frowned and then pulled out a small tobacco pouch. “It’s empty. Here.”

Bilbo hesitantly picked it up and then dropped it in the pouch. Gandalf tied it tightly and whispered a spell over the strings. “Now, this can only be opened when I am with you, and only you can open it.”

Bilbo nodded, satisfied. “Thank you for telling me the truth, Gandalf.”

Gandalf nodded sadly. “Try not to think too much on it, Bilbo. There is darkness stirring, but I do not think he is quite prepared to strike. It is good that you informed me of this now rather than later. It is very good.”

“Gandalf…” Bilbo looked at him sadly. “My adventure isn’t done yet, is it?”

Gandalf looked at Bilbo, his heart breaking. “I fear not, Bilbo. I am sorry. Very sorry.”

Bilbo smiled bravely. “I can just imagine the row that Thorin will give when he finds out that I must be off again.”

Gandalf huffed a laugh. “I must finish these spells and then be off before winter sets in. Remember.” He gave Bilbo a severe look. “Keep it secret. Keep it safe.” With those parting words, the Wizard was off.

Bilbo frowned at the pouch and the slipped it around his neck. The new knowledge made it feel like a millstone. Bilbo groaned slightly and moved back to the mountain, suddenly, he froze and turned to stare at Dwalin.

“What did you hear?”

Dwalin stared at Bilbo. “I heard some old gossip between a batty, old Wizard and a young, bored Prince. Nothing to report.”

Bilbo looked at Dwalin intently and then smiled sadly. “Thank you.” Dwalin only grunted.

“You are my Prince.”

Bilbo sighed and nodded. “And you are a very good ally to the Throne.” He smiled at Dwalin. “Thank you.” Bilbo continued walking back to the mountain. He had gone in search for the truth and had come back with far more than he had desired.

However, Bilbo’s mind was quickly ripped away from his woes. Balin was standing at the newly made entrance of the mountain in all his boot tapping, beard quivering, and arms crossed glory. Bilbo groaned.

“Balin!”

“This is the second time in a row that you have missed our lessons! Stop snickering, Dwalin!”

Dwalin smirked. “Sorry Brother, but I don’t seem to have a problem with Bilbo concerning my lessons.”

Balin glowered at Dwalin. “I do not appreciate your slur against politics. It is a very respectable-” He got no further. Bilbo and Dwalin were fighting for oxygen in a fit of laughter. Balin growled and grabbed Bilbo by his very sensitive ear.

Bilbo was soon yowling and promising never to avoid another class again. Balin was smirking all the way to the library.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Bilbo groaned as he sat down next to his cousins. “Ugh. I hope I never see another ancient Dwarvish rune ever again. Your language was hard enough to learn, but your ancient one? Forget it!”

Kíli snickered and winked at his brother. Fíli rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Bilbo, I would gladly take your place, if you want to write out treaties and trade agreements under Balin’s careful scrutiny.”

Bilbo considered it and then smirked. He winked at Kíli. “It’s good to be young still, eh?”

Kíli snickered. “I have to admit that this is one of the few advantages to be young.”

Glaring at the ‘traitors’ Fíli huffed. “One of these years, soon, Bilbo, you will ascend to the throne! And when you do, I’ll laugh and laugh and laugh.” He smirked. “Because I have at least a few centuries respite.”

Thorin walked up quietly behind his nephews and his son. He heard Bilbo growled. “Shut up! I don’t want to the bloody throne. If any luck, Father will live far longer than I will, and I’ll happily stay in the shadows behind the throne.”

Thorin blinked and then spoke. “You would wish upon me the chance to witness my own child’s death? No parent should ever live to see the deaths of their children.”

Bilbo jumped. “Father! Ah…yes…” He winced. “Sorry, careless words.”

Thorin nodded slowly and then looked at Bilbo closely. “Come with me, it is time for your lessons about the family tree.”

Bilbo blinked and then quickly walked after Thorin. His feet making no sounds whatsoever. Thorin snorted.

“Truly, the Wizard was right. Hobbits are stealthy creatures.”

Bilbo nodded and then coughed. “Father…I was wondering…it would be good for Erebor if we made a trade agreement with the Elves of Imladris. They have many resources and a need of metal for their smithies. We could strike a bargain. I could go there myself, drop in on my way to the Shire, or when I return to Erebor. It would be best if I do actually, because I speak the language and I have a close alliance with Lord Elrond.”

Frowning, Thorin rubbed his beard. “Dwalin will go with you. Kíli too, however, you won’t leave until your aunt arrives.” Thorin smiled. “Dis will love you. I’m certain. You have more of your mother in you than you have of me.” Thorin’s eyes became shadowed. “That is a good thing…”

Bilbo looked at his father worriedly. “Father! Who is this?” He randomly pointed at a portrait that was being restored by Ori and Dori.

Thorin blinked and then turned to look. He smiled. “That is you great-grandfather, Thror.” He chuckled. “Your mother broke tradition. Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror.”

Bilbo laughed awkwardly. “Well, you could always call me Thilbo.” Thorin started laughing. He rested his hand on his son’s shoulder.

“There is no need for that, Bilbo. It was your great-great grandfather, Dain I, who was the one who called for the King of Dale to join currencies, for trade to become easier.”

Bilbo was frowning. “It was Thror who found the Arkenstone?”

“He didn’t find it, no. It was during his reign that it was discovered.” Thorin sighed. “The Heart of the Mountain. We ripped it right of it Erebor.” His laugh was bitter. “And we didn’t expect a curse for our greed.”

He shook his head in consternation. Bilbo sighed. “Thrain never ascended to the throne?”

“No. Thror did not appreciate my father overly much. He always cared more for me.” Thorin snorted. “By the time Dis was born, he was so far into his greed, that I doubt he even knew he had a granddaughter.” Thorin shook himself and moved quickly on to his grandmother. “She died of heartbreak when she lost Thror’s love.”

Bilbo sighed and looked at the beautiful Dwarrowdam. Something struck him as odd and then he saw it. “She doesn’t have a beard!”

“Aye, her mother was a short human. Don’t laugh, Son. In the older days, Dwarrows and humans married quite often.”

“What caused the schism between the Elves and the Dwarves?”

Thorin exhaled almost explosively. “Which particular time?”

Bilbo blinked. Thorin snorted and shook his head. “The fall of the Moria caused the greatest rift. The Elves claimed that the greed of Dwarves brought on the calamity that was awoken in the deepest pits of the mines. No one knows what exactly is down there, not even the Elves. Though I bet they have an idea. They call the darkness Durin’s Bain.” Thorin sighed tiredly. “Another schism between Elf and Dwarf was the trouble with the White Gems of Lasgalen. Thror took it as tribute, but Thranduil claimed it as theft. He also implied that grandfather killed the Elf-Queen.” Thorin shook his head.

“It was never proven. Thranduil earned my hatred and the hatred of all the Dwarves of Erebor when he turned his back on the treaty and refused to fight.”

Bilbo frowned. “Smaug was already roosted by then, right?”

“He was in the mountain.” Thorin nodded.

Shaking his head, Bilbo shifted his feet. “Father, Thranduil would never have been able to defeat Smaug under those conditions. Once a dragon is roosted, nothing can deter it. The only chance you have after that is when it leaves its lair, or when it’s asleep.”

Thorin scowled. “Then why didn’t he explain that?”

“He is too proud to explain himself.” Bilbo groaned and rubbed his forehead.

Thorin huffed and moved on to another portrait, skipping over the ones that couldn’t be seen very well. “This one is of Frerin, my younger brother. He…he died, as I have told you, in the battle at Moria. Just as grandfather did.”

“What happened to Thrain?”

Thorin didn’t look at Bilbo. “He led us to the Blue Mountains and then vanished soon after that, leaving me in charge of the Hall. It is now named Thorin’s Halls.” He shrugged. “I was considered the king there, but I never felt at ease as king, because my father’s body was never found.” He sighed and looked at Bilbo.

“Gandalf told me that Thrain was alive but insane. He gained his sanity and tried to help the old wizard, but…the Necromancer killed him.”

Bilbo felt cold. Once again he felt the pouch against his chest. “The…Necromancer…you mean Sauron?”

Thorin scowled. “I do.”

Bilbo swallowed. “What happened?”

“Gandalf wouldn’t say much, but he did say that he was banished to the East.”

Bilbo’s gaze flicked eastward and then back at his father’s face. “Mordor…”

Thorin shrugged violently, as if to shove away the dark feelings. “This is not the right time to have such a discussion. Come on, Bombur is fixing us lunch!”

Bilbo followed his father quickly down the hall, listening to the names of such and others who had portraits on the walls.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

~three months later~

Bilbo stared down at the repaired road that led into Erebor. The other Dwarves- Bilbo shook his head and corrected himself. Dwarrows! That was the proper, politically correct, term. He sighed and leaned his elbows on the parapet.

“Nervous?”

He turned his head to see Balin smiling at him. “Not really. If Dis doesn’t like me, then it gives me another reason to leave.” He shrugged. “I need to meet Father down there to greet them.” Bilbo smiled at Balin and then sighed. “Do you remember what race my mother was?”

Balin frowned in confusion. “Of course. She was a Hobbit.”

A bitter smile crept along Bilbo’s face. “Exactly. Now all you need to do is alert my father that my mother was a Hobbit. That I and half Hobbit. Hmm? Can you do that Balin? Can you tell my father that I am not wholly Dwarf?” The prince raised an eyebrow.

Balin sighed. “I will try and get it into his skull, my prince.”

“You’ll need an axe larger than Grasper.”

Balin’s lips twitched in an effort to keep the smile off his face. Bilbo kept walking. He looked around the enormous halls and then at his bare feet. “Dwarrows wear boots. I don’t. Dwarrows don’t do well with nature. I do. Dwarrows can’t be quiet for the life of them. I can.” He glared at Balin over his shoulder. “Keep this in mind, Balin. I may be a gentle Hobbit. I may be flexible, but someday soon, I will snap.” He walked on, quicker. “And though the mountain may crumble around me, if it does, I will take you all down with me.”

Balin sighed and then shook his head. He saw his brother and hurried over to him. “Dwalin, is it possible to gag both Dis and Thorin for these few days?”

Dwalin gave him a weird look. “No. Dis would never stand for such treatment.”

Giving a dismal sigh, Balin leaned against a stone pillar. “The prince is growing sick of being treated as only Dwarf. He uses a slang term from the Shire; I correct him, because Princes do not use slang. He uses an Elvish fighting form; you correct him, because it is not presentable for a Dwarf to speak or utilize anything Elvish. He references a Hobbit dish, Bombur chuckles and says that no Dwarf would ever make something like that. He reads a piece of literature from the Shire and Ori gently corrects him, saying that he should be practicing his kin’s language.”

Dwalin’s eyes grew bigger and bigger. “Shit.”

Balin nodded. He hurried down the hall and down the stairs to greet the other Dwarrows.

Bilbo was being embraced by his aunt.

“Thorin! I’m ashamed of you! This boy’s skin and bones! You should feed him more!”

Thorin sighed. “I’m trying, Dis. Bilbo refuses to eat more than three meals.”

Dis paused. “More than?”

“Hobbits need to eat seven meals to keep up with their metabolism. Bilbo needs roughly four or five rich meals a day, but he refuses.”

Bilbo had his eyes closed and then he sighed. “Others need the food more than I. Even if I do eat, I won’t be able to grow as much muscle as a Dwarf, Father.”

“Nonsense. You have my blood in your veins, Bilbo.”

Bilbo’s jaw clenched. “No matter how much blood I have of yours in my veins, I will forever be part Hobbit!”

Dis jerked slightly and stared at the Dwobbit in front of her. His blue eyes were flashing a fire of rebellion. She could tell. The lad looked just like Belladonna. “Thorin, a word.”

Thorin motioned Bilbo to stay where he was and then went off a ways with his sister.

“What is it?”

“You must be more careful with your son. I see Belladonna in him.”

“Of course you do, she is his mother.”

Dis sighed and stared at her brother. “Bella fled, Thorin.”

His eyes widened in shock. “He wouldn’t…”

“Actually, he would.” Balin moved silently forward. “He is growing frustrated that we are ignoring his other half. He is a Prince of Two Lands, Thorin. We need to speak to the Thain as soon as possible. It is only right.”

Thorin shook his head, trying to make sense of his emotions. Leaning against a pillar, he sighed. “We will speak first to Bilbo. He is used to being treated as an adult. I have made many mistakes with my son.” Thorin’s blue eyes snapped open. “I will not continue.” Dis nodded.

“That is wise, Brother.”

Little did they know that Hobbits had excellent hearing. Bilbo smiled and nodded. “That is wise, Father.” It was spoken softly. He moved away from the debating Dwarrows and walked over to a stone window. Winter was finally coming. Bilbo shivered and turned his head. He didn’t want to stay in a stone mountain during this time. He need fresh air, he needed to see nature, no matter how white it was. An idea came to him in a gasp. He glanced at his father and then down at his feet.

Thorin would despise it. Bilbo scowled. “I am not a Dwarf. If they cannot stand me, then they must get over it. I will not bend for them anymore!” He nodded and then moved quietly to Balin. “I am going to my room. The caravan is fully introduced to the mountain. My own duty is done.” Balin nodded and smiled.

“Aye, thank you, lad.” Bilbo smiled at the elderly dwarf and nodded.

Quickly walking away, Bilbo hurried to his room. He procured a quill and parchment and wrote a letter to Thranduil in Sindarin.

King Thranduil,

I hope this letter finds you well. I must thank you again for pardoning my father and my kin of trespassing. The treaties are also going very well.

It is about the treaties that I am writing you. I think it would be wise if I spoke to you about specific trade requests that Erebor needs and that you could provide.

If this is amenable to you, then I am grateful. I only wish the best for all three races that live in this area of land.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter,

Bilbo Baggins, son of Thorin, Prince of Erebor

He nodded and quickly sent it off via a messenger hawk that Beorn gave him. He smiled as it soared into the sky and off to Greenwood. It truly was becoming a green wood again. Lady Galadriel and Lord Elrond had been helping Thranduil push the spiders from the woods once and for all.

Sighing, Bilbo thought about Legolas. He had left only two weeks ago. Bilbo shook his head and frowned. “Thranduil will most likely desire company, even if he does not want to admit it.” Bilbo smirked and began to look forward to the king’s response.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

~two weeks later~

Dwalin rushed into the throne room. “My King!”

Thorin leaned away from his sister and frowned at his friend. “What is the matter Dwalin?”

“That Elf-King is here! At our doorstep. A company of fifty Elf warriors with him!”

Bilbo jerked upright and gaped. The Elf-King had never replied to his letter. Bilbo frowned. He had thought Thranduil had refused him. Why was the king here?

Thorin growled and then looked over to Bilbo. “I won’t have that Elf be seen by you. Go on to your studies. Balin is to teach you map reading and strategy today.”

Bilbo stood up and glared at his father. “I won’t leave this hall.”

“You refuse an order?” Disbelief colored his face and his voice.

Tilting his chin upward in defiance, Bilbo stuck to his rights. “I am! I doubt that the king is here to see you. Why should he? I am the one in charge of relations with the Elves. I will stay here!”

Thorin scowled and then motioned him to sit. “Whatever happened to that obedient son I used to have?” He bemoaned. Bilbo smirked.

“He fell asleep for the winter.” Fíli and Kíli chuckled.

Bilbo rubbed his face and jerked when he felt his beard. It was now the length of Dwalin’s beard. He sighed and shook his head. He wanted it OFF! But he had made the mistake of telling that to his father.

It had taken four days for Thorin to even speak to Bilbo. It took five more days for the shock and shame to finally leave his eyes.

Bilbo had been at a loss and so had sent a letter to Elrond to ask why beards were so important to dwarrows?!

The Lord of Imladris had been greatly amused by the scene that Bilbo had described to him. He wrote back that it was tradition. The true reason was lost to time, or at least lost to those who were outsiders. There were actual celebrations that went on for days when a lad and lass got their first whiskers!

Bilbo had learned a great many things from that letter. He didn’t apologize to his father, but neither did he bring it up again.

Tugging on his beard gently, Bilbo watched the procession of Elves with great interest. He smiled when he saw Tauriel. She had been striped of the title Captain of the Guard, but, Thranduil had made her his advisor on all things Dwarf. She was with him whenever he came to the mountain to hash out treaties and trade. Which was still going on but had stopped for the winter.

Thranduil looked up at Thorin with amusement in his eyes. “King Thorin.”

“King Thranduil.” Thorin scowled darker. “What brings you here?”

“A matter of great importance. It seems that you have broken a law that your people hold dear.”

The court stirred. Thorin stiffened and then growled. “What law?!”

A smirk played on Thranduil’s lips. “Breach of privacy and confiscation of letters.”

Bilbo went rigid. His eyes widened, and then, he jumped from his throne. “Father!”

Thorin sighed. “Communication with an Elf is unadvisable for my son, who is still minor.” Thorin gave Thranduil an evil eye. The court nodded and glared at the Elves.

Thranduil seemed unruffled by this. “If your son wishes to communicate with an Elf, then you must defer to his wishes.” The Elves glared at the court.

“Bilbo does not know how devious your kind are! I am his father, and it is my duty to protect him!” The court glared back at the Elves.

“Bilbo has long since had relations with the Elves. He lived in Imladris for many years. He is a nephew of Lord Elrond and an Elf-Friend. If he does not like the Elves, then I’m afraid he’s doing a very good job hiding it.” Another smirk.

Dis groaned aloud before Thorin could speak again. “And the Dwobbit in question is right in front of you. Thorin apologize to Bilbo for breaching his privacy! Now!”

Bilbo smiled his thanks at Dis. The aunt winked back. Thorin grudgingly apologized and procured the message. “It was written in Sindarin. I did not read it.”

Bilbo stuck his tongue in his cheek. “Thank you, Father.” He opened the letter and read it quickly. A bark of laughter escaped him at the second to last line.

Thranduil was innocently looking at the ceiling when Bilbo smirked at him. “King Thranduil, though your letter was a bit…rough in certain aspects, I still appreciate you coming all the way to the mountain for my reply. I am sorry that you had to wait.”

Thranduil smiled and replied. “I actually sent a message to Elrond, wondering if you were trying to offend me. He assured me that you were not of that kind. I knew then that something unknown to you or I had to be afoot. I smelled a Dwarf with a crown.”

Bilbo chuckled and stood up and walked down the dais. “Thank you for coming, King Thranduil.” He turned to his father. “Thank you for delivering King Thranduil’s message, Father.” He stuck his tongue in his cheek before saying, “I will take you advice now and leave the court.” He nodded to Thranduil. “Walk with me, Elf-King?”

Thranduil smiled benevolently and couldn’t help but throw a smirk at a fuming Thorin.

The second that the Elves and Dwobbit were out of Dwarf hearing, Bilbo sighed explosively. “I need to escape this blasted stone hut!”

The Elves snickered but went silent when Thranduil motioned them. The king smiled at Bilbo. “I was eager for your reply. What would you have written?”

Bilbo smirked. Elves were, above all, mischievous creatures who loved to laugh, albeit at others. “I would have admonished you, kindly, for how you described Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel. I would also have refuted your claims of what Dwarves do to their children during winter.”

Thranduil frowned slightly. “And?”

Bilbo tilted his head. “Oh! And as an afterthought, I would have accepted your proposal of staying all winter at your palace.”

Thranduil smirked. “Only as an afterthought?”

Chuckling, Bilbo didn’t reply. He moved to the window. “The view from the mountain is truly spectacular, don’t you think?”

Thranduil nodded. “I will not admit it to any dwarf, but Erebor does have some beautiful aspects. Like the view of the sky. We are so high up it feels like I could simply reach up and touch the stars.”

Bilbo smiled and then mirth came to his eyes. “I do apologize for interrupting the Feast of Starlight, King Thranduil. It was not intentional.” He smiled innocently at the Elf. “My intent was to go completely unnoticed.”

Thranduil smirked at the Dwobbit. “Yes, I bet it was.”

They looked out the window silently and the Thranduil nodded to his companion. “I think it is time to depart, before the sun sets and the night grows colder.”

Bilbo shook his head. “I need to win my aunt over first. If I go with you now, then my father will cause a war. She’ll knock some sense into him for me.” Bilbo chuckled. “Quite literally.”

Thranduil’s eyes lit up with interest. “What I wouldn’t give to see that!”

Bilbo smirked. “Stay over and you’ll see it in the morning.”

Thranduil nodded quickly. “Oh yes. Not even rabid Dwarves would drive me from this mountain now.”

Bilbo laughed outright.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Bilbo smiled at Thranduil and motioned for some of the servants to serve the Elf-King. They did so, grudgingly.

Thranduil smiled impishly at Thorin, who had not stopped scowling since the Elf had entered the breakfast room.

Dis rolled her eyes and shook her head. She leaned over and hissed at her brother in Khuzdul. “You are trying to get closer to your son. Ostracizing his friends is not the way to do it.”

“I don’t care about his other friends, but why must he befriend an Elf?!” He glared at his sister. Dis sighed and shook her head.

“It’s happened. We must roll with it, like a rock down the mountain.”

He grumbled but nodded.

Thranduil looked at Lady Dis. “I am grateful that you are here, Lady Dis.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Why is that?”

“You seem to be very level-headed.” Thranduil smiled.

Dis laughed and smirked back. “When compared to Dain and Thorin, it is no wonder you think that.” With a fond chuckle, she looked at Bilbo. “However, the most level-headed of us all, is this one here. He has put up with his father’s eccentricities very well.”

Bilbo smiled. “I do think I should be commended.” Thorin huffed something about ‘traitors’. Bilbo smiled at his father. “Don’t be like that, Father. I honestly think I should be given some sort of award.”

Dis nodded. “I think you should explore a little. Get to know the lands around your new kingdom. After all, you will take over the throne someday.” She nodded to Bilbo. “You need to adjust to the environment of the land.” She tilted her head at her brother. “Don’t you agree, Thorin?”

“Aye. Bilbo should know the land better than he does. He should also learn the caverns of the mountain.” Thorin frowned slightly and rubbed his chin in thought. “And the mines. Balin, add that to the lessons. Bilbo must learn about the layout of the mines. It is the king’s duty to know everything about his people.”

Thranduil nodded. “That is correct. However, it is also the king’s duty to know everything about his allies.” He smirked at Lady Dis. “Isn’t that right?”

Dis nodded, her eyes twinkling. “Yes, you are correct, Elf-King.”

Thorin was watching with some trepidation. He didn’t like how his sister and his enemy were becoming friends. “Have you forgotten how he treated us? Dis, he refused to help us! To give us aid!”

Thranduil frowned sharply. “My people offered your people food, your king had his men shoot at my own.” Thranduil’s glare darkened. “He murdered two of my soldiers.”

Bilbo gaped. “Why didn’t you attack after that?! That was an act of war!”

“Thror was insane.” Thranduil shrugged. “I could not punish the people because of an action of their king. Besides, starving was a harsher punishment than what I could have thought up.” He turned to Thorin. “Ask your advisor, Balin I think his name is. He witnessed it. My son reported him standing beside the king. You were probably in the rear protecting the stragglers.”

Thorin had indeed been in the rear during the entire march out of Erebor. He stood and stared at Thranduil. “Balin.” He stared at his friend. “Is what the Elf-King says…is it true?”

“Aye, it is true, my king.”

Thorin blinked and then exhaled. “Why did you not tell me?”

“To lose loyalty to your kin…that would be far worse than hatred for a race we already dislike.”

Thorin chuckled dryly. “So, you would have me deceived rather than let me deal with the truth in mine own way? You trust me that little with the truth?” He stared at Balin. “You understand, Balin, that I can no longer believe your council completely?”

Balin swallowed and nodded. “I have damaged your trust. For that, I am grievously sorry.” He bowed deeply. “Is there any way, my king, that I could make up for my error?”

“Only time can mend this, Balin.” Thorin glanced at Dwalin and then frowned. Dwalin had been with him during this time, but… “Were you aware of this?”

“No.” Dwalin glared at his older brother. “I would have told you.”

Thorin nodded and then looked at Thranduil. “I cannot apologize for my behavior towards you, because you still refused to aid us with the dragon. However, for the accusations I have just recently made…I rescind them.”

Thorin smirked. “And will also allow my son to visit your kingdom this winter, as I know he is wanting to do.”

Bilbo gaped. “How?!”

“Bilbo, I am not a fool.” Thorin smirked. “I may be older than you, but that does not mean I am blind or stupid.” He inclined his head. “It only means that I am more experienced in discovering plots and schemes.” He gazed at his nephews. “As they have all been tried on me before.”

Both Fíli and Kíli looked at the ceiling and whistled innocently. Bilbo snickered and then stood up and gave his father a hug. “Thank you.”

“However, the only way you can visit Mirkwood is if you pass Balin and Dwalin’s exams.”

Bilbo froze in his hug. He pulled back. “What?! That’s inhuman!”

Thorin blinked slowly. “Of course it is. I am a Dwarf.”

Thranduil snickered into his sleeve. Bilbo rolled his eyes. “Those exams…Father!”

Thranduil glanced at Dis, and she smirked back. “Bilbo, your father has decided. Don’t push your luck.”

Bilbo grumbled and then slumped back into his seat. He didn’t like having other people decide things for him, make up rules and such for him. He owned Bag End, he was an adult. He just wished the Dwarrows thought so too.

He huffed and turned away from Thorin.

Thorin sighed, knowing what his son was thinking. He shook his head and then turned to Thranduil. “How has Dale been going?”

“The reconstruction has been doubled in speed since winter is rushing towards us. However, I believe that proper protection will be made before the first snow falls.” Thranduil scoffed slightly. “That is, of course, if your cousin’s men will work with my own men. It doesn’t matter if they are dwarf and we are elf. The men still need aid.”

Thorin sighed. “The animosity of our kin is strong, but I will speak with my cousin. Perhaps I can hammer some sense into him.”

Thranduil blinked and then sighed. “Beating sense into…yes, it’s a pity that it didn’t work out. I stayed over because of that.” He toyed with a goblet.

Thorin frowned. “Stayed over because of what?”

“I wished to see Lady Dis beat some sense into you. Your son said it was rather an amusing sight.”

Bilbo raised a finger. “The Elf-King misleads! I did not say it was amusing!”

Thranduil smirked. “Ah, but you smiled as you said it. People do not often smile when they are concerned.”

Bilbo spluttered and then sighed. “Ugh.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Thranduil spied Dis laughing quietly into her fist. Thorin gave his son a sharp look. “Perhaps I should limit your time with your Aunt…”

“Don’t you dare, Thorin Oakenshield! I can kill you, hide the body, and take over the throne.” She smiled sweetly at him. “Mine shaft accidents are so tragic.”

Bilbo snorted into his wine. Thranduil raised an eyebrow at the prince. Bilbo smiled and nodded his head. “Be calm, King Thranduil. My aunt jokes like this often enough. It’s becoming common place hearing them attack each other verbally, sometimes physically. It’s very…” Bilbo looked at him pointedly. “Amusing.”

Thranduil chuckled quietly and then realized that Thorin was glaring at him. “Ah…” he looked around the room. “What have I done now?”

Bilbo snorted. “Father doesn’t like it when I speak Sindarin fluently and don’t speak Khuzdul as often.”

Thorin scowled. “Is it wrong for a father to wish his son speak their native tongue more often?”

Straightening up slowly, Thranduil focused on the sudden rage in Bilbo’s eyes and then clenching of his jaw. He frowned and then looked at Princess Dis. She caught his gaze and nodded slowly. She knew too.

“Bilbo…does the Shire have any language of its own?” She asked very carefully. Thorin tensed when he realized that he had, yet again, made a Dwarf heritage comment. He cursed himself mentally.

He nodded slowly and spoke before Bilbo did. “Yes, Bella told me about it. Hobbits guard it very closely, even closer than Dwarves guard Khuzdul.” He looked at Bilbo. “I was…wondering, actually. Would it be possible if you taught me it? I have a feeling that Erebor will be making more contact with the Shire now. I should learn the culture of your mother.” Bilbo stared at his father in surprise before a brilliant smile took over his face.

“I’d love to teach you, Father! I’d love to!” He grinned even wider. “Also, there are certain naming day celebrations that I want to tell you about, and Midsummer Eve parties! Father, by the time the Dwarves all arrive, it will be Midsummer. Could we perhaps throw such a celebration? It would lighten their spirits and be a wonderful way to welcome them back to their home!”

Thorin didn’t even have to think about it. “Bilbo, that is a brilliant idea. It is wise to meld Dwarven customs with ones of the Hobbits’. It will make for a very unique celebration.” He winked. “Perhaps it will stick and turned into an Ereborian custom?”

Bilbo chuckled. “That would be nice.” He leaned into his chair with a smile. “I’m starved! Bombur! What have you got for dessert?”

Thranduil blinked and stared. “Prince Bilbo, you have already had three helpings of breakfast…”

“So?”

Thorin cut in quickly. “If you’re hungry, then eat, Bilbo. Erebor now has plenty.” He smiled at his son, eager for Bilbo to gain back the weight he had lost during the journey.

Bilbo smiled back, oblivious to the widening eyes of Thranduil. The Elf-King finally understood what was happening. He stared at Thorin, who nodded back slowly.

Thranduil looked at Bilbo. He must eat twice the amount of a regular man to simply keep up his strength?! That is insanity! He made a mental note to send a message to his kitchens. Thorin would never forgive him if Bilbo starved, even by accident. Come to think of it, Elrond would probably start another Kinslaying if Bilbo died.

Thranduil shivered slightly. “How…how many meals do Hobbits eat?” Thranduil was almost afraid to ask.

Bilbo grinned at him. “Seven. But two of them are superfluous. Elevensies and Dinner aren’t really necessary.”

Thranduil found himself nodding calmly, even though he didn’t know what Bilbo was talking about. With a faint smile of confidence, he faked his knowledge and sipped from his wine.

Thorin was watching him enviously. He had always wanted to be able to fake it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell a lie to save his life. Bella and Dis had always said so.

Thorin tuned back into the conversation when he noticed Fíli raising his voice in anger. Kíli and Fíli were at it again. Now that the journey was over, they had begun to act like they had before, brothers who stuck together like twins and fought together like Orcs with hangovers.

Thranduil was watching them with a slight smile. “Your nephews remind me of Elrond and his brother Elros.”

Bilbo frowned. “Uncle Elrond has a brother? I’ve never met him.”

Smile fading significantly, Thranduil shook his head. “Elrond and Elros were half Elves. Because of this, they were offered the opportunity to chose between mortality and immortality. Elrond chose immortality while his brother…he chose to live the mortal life.” Thranduil focused on his wine, his fist clenching.

He had given Elrond comfort on many an occasion. When Maglor vanished, when his brother died, when prejudice Elves were cruel to him because of his foster father, when Elrond lost his wife… Many times over Thranduil gave Elrond a chance to mourn and cry without any judgment.

They were far closer than many knew.

However, unlike what Lady Galadriel implied, they were not lovers. Thranduil wrinkled his nose. He had no desire for Elrond in such a way. It was like asking someone to lust after a sibling.

“King Thranduil?”

He snapped out of it. “I am…sorry. What were you saying?”

Thorin gave him a curious look before repeating his son’s question. “Bilbo was wanting to know if you were planning on staying until he was ready to depart with you.”

“If that is acceptable. I would rather make the journey once.” He smiled at Bilbo, who smiled back.

Thorin huffed but nodded. “I suppose it is acceptable. However, your men will have to stay on their best. I do not want fighting in my halls. If they have ill-will because of the war, that is understandable, but I cannot let the bloodshed continue.”

Thranduil nodded. “I only brought with me men who did not lose anyone to the Dwarves.”

Nodding, Dis smiled. “That was very wise, King Thranduil.” Thranduil smiled at her.

“Please, call me Thranduil.” He gave her a roguish smile.

“Then call me Dis.” She winked at him subtly in return.

“I shall.” Thranduil gazed at her over his cup.

Thorin wanted to gag. “No. I forbid it!” He stood up and pointed a finger at the Elf-King. “You may have brainwashed my under-aged son, but I will not allow you to flirt with my baby sister!”

Dis stared at him and then started laughing. Thranduil only smirked with a murmur of, 'No promises, King Thorin'.

Fíli, Kíli, and Bilbo were all wishing to unsee what they had just seen.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

Thranduil hummed an Elven lullaby lowly as he combed his hair and prepared for bed. The Dwarven beds, unlike what Elves claimed, were actually uncommonly soft. They felt like clouds.

With a smile, Thranduil stood up from the gilded vanity and slipped on his outer night robe. Moving silently and softly to the double doors, he pushed them open and breathed in the night air before stepping out onto the balcony. Leaning against the rail, Thranduil stared at the stars and sang quietly.

“Now let the day

Just slip away

So the dark night may watch over you

Nocturne

Velvet blue, silent true

It embraces your heart and your soul

Nocturne

Never cry, never sigh

You don't have to wonder why

Always be, always see

Come and dream the night with me

Nocturne

Have no fear

When the night draws near

And fills you with dreams and desire

Like a child asleep

So warm, so deep

You will find me there waiting for you

Nocturne

We will fly, claim the sky

We don't have to wonder why

Always be, always see

Come and dream the night with me

Nocturne

Though darkness lay

It will give way

When the dark night delivers the day

Nocturne…”

Thranduil smiled as he watched the stars blink down at him.

“That was a beautiful song, Elf-King.”

Stiffening, Thranduil turned slowly and looked up to spy the King’s Head Guard watching him from the balcony above, Dwalin son of Fundin. Nodding his head gracefully, Thranduil accepted the compliment at face value. “Thank you, Master Dwalin. I am honored you think so. Dwarves are known for their music and instruments.”

Dwalin nodded in return. “The air gets cold on the mountain. I would advise you to return indoors soon, Elf-King. The Prince would not wish to see you ill.”

Smiling, Thranduil nodded. “I shall. I shall. Thank you and goodnight.” He slipped back inside before the Dwarf could reply. With a sigh, he closed the doors behind him.

He looked at the small portrait that was made of his wife and his son, when Legolas was just a babe. He picked it up gently and examined how easy the smile was that showed itself across his lips. His wife was his light. Without her…Thranduil sighed and put the picture away.

“It is useless to think on the past. It will only bring heartache and self-doubt.” He pushed his sadness down and went to bed.

~meanwhile~

Thorin sighed and leaned against his chair’s back. Dis smirked at him from over where she was sitting next to the fire. Kíli was asleep with his head in her lap. Fíli was grinning as he sat on the floor while his mother braided his hair.

Thorin smiled and glanced over to where his own son was reading a book by the light of the fire. “Bilbo, have you finished those other lessons from Balin?”

“Yes, actually. I’m fascinated by how Khuzdul has changed over the years. You know, there are some similarities to Sindarin. I wonder if the Dwarrows of old heard the Elves and copied some of the words…”

Thorin felt sick thinking about that, but he had to admit it was a possibility. “That is sadly a possibility.”

Bilbo laughed and looked up at his father. “Honestly, your hatred for Elves will do more damage to yo- our people than to the Elves, Father. You need to curb that or you will damage the relations with Greenwood.”

Smiling at Bilbo’s obvious attempt at integrating himself into Thorin’s people, Thorin only nodded. “If you say so, then I shall try. After all, I am the King. It is my duty to be a good role model.”

Bilbo smiled at his father with pride. “I’ll make a good negotiator of you yet, Father.”

Dis barked a laugh that shook Kíli awake. “I didn’t do it!”

Fíli started snickering. Thorin shook his head. “No one claimed you had done anything, but that does make me suspicious.”

Sitting up, Kíli gave them all a wide-eyed stare filled with innocence. It was disturbingly convincing. Bilbo blinked. “Has he really gotten away with that?”

Dis snorted. “My sons are full of guile and trickery. They can woo an Orc to give up it’s warg.” Bilbo smirked.

“If that’s true, then they were holding back the whole time during our quest.”

Smirking, Kíli bowed magnanimously and spoke up. “We didn’t want to detract from our most illustrious cousin and his…” He twitched his nose. “Interesting ways with the sword.”

Bilbo threw his book at Kíli’s head. Fíli simply shook his head and hauled his brother up and out of the room. “It’s getting far too late! Good night, Uncle! Mother!” He waved and dragged his brother down the hall, kicking the door closed. Dis sighed and stood up slowly.

“Fíli’s right. It’s getting late. I will see you all tomorrow.” She kissed Thorin goodnight and hugged Bilbo. “Have a good rest.”

Thorin walked her to the door and then closed it after her. “Bilbo, will you be getting to sleep soon?” Thorin knew that Bilbo had been his own master and adult for at least two decades before he had come into the picture. He had swept in and tried to take over his son’s life. Balin and Dis both advised him against continuing this.

Trying to curb his protective streak over his son was hard, but Thorin knew he had to, or risk estranging and losing his son completely.

“Father…”

He snapped his attention back to the present. “Yes, Bilbo?”

“What do you know of Grandfather’s ring?”

“The one that was lost?”

“Yes.” Bilbo looked, pensive, almost fearful.

Thorin frowned and smoothed his beard in thought. “I don’t know much about it. All I know is that it was made by the same… creature who created the rings of power for the Men and Elves and the One Ring for himself.” Thorin felt a chill crawl up his spine when he looked at his son. “Why do you ask?”

Bilbo forced a smile. “No reason. I saw it in one of the portraits in the hall, and I wanted to know what it meant.” Thorin nodded, but didn’t believe him.

Nocturne is a song written Petter Skavlan and performed by Secret Garden. It’s a beautiful song with a haunting melody. I fully encourage you all to listen to it! ; D

Ink…

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

The next morning Thranduil was eager to leave the mountain. He knew that Bilbo might not be quite ready to leave yet, but he wished to go home. His people needed him by their side, supporting them at this time of recuperation.

“Thranduil!”

He turned and smiled at the princess. “Dis, it is an honor.” He bent kissed her hand.

“Oh, stop that.” She smirked. “Bilbo’s in a foul mood this morning. Apparently he received a letter about how the Sackvilles or something or other were contending for his right to his home. Thorin wants to march on the Shire, but Bilbo simply wants to travel there and clear everything up as quickly as possible.”

Thranduil frowned in thought. He had wished to visit Elrond, but not this soon. He sensed something else afoot too. He wanted to know what it was.

“They need him to be there in person?”

“That’s what the Thain implied. Thorin didn’t mention it, but I know he suspects that this is all a ruse on the Thain’s part to get Bilbo back into the Shire’s clutches.”

Thranduil frowned and continued walking with the princess to the breakfast room for the royal family. “And what does Bilbo think?”

A small smile quirked her lips. “See for yourself.” She pushed open the doors.

“…RIP THOSE SACKVILLE BAGGINSES APART! OH! I have a half a mind to set Elrond’s twins upon them! UGH! I really didn’t think my grandfather was this underhanded!”

Thorin lifted his eyebrow at his sister and then quietly moved over to them, avoiding his pacing son. “He’s been like this for a half an hour. I didn’t realize it at first, but he has his mother’s passionate anger.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened in shock. “You mean both of you were…passionate people?”

Smirking, Thorin nodded. “Aye, Bella had a tongue so sharp that it could cut a diamond.” Dis chuckled.

“She won every argument with Thorin, and even some with me. That girl…fire, spirit, and brains. Middle Earth is less with her gone.” Thorin’s hands clenched tightly as he exhaled and nodded.

Thranduil looked at Thorin somberly. “I know your pain, Dwarf-King.”

Thorin’s eyes widened slightly as he remember that Thranduil was a widower as well. He looked down and then nodded. “Thank you.”

“Father! I have to travel to the Shire immediately after Winter. I won’t have time to even come back from Greenwood to the mountain after Winter passes.”

Thorin sighed and then smiled. “Just travel safe and return home quickly.” He pulled his son into an embrace, resting their foreheads together.

Bilbo’s breath quickened as he realized that going to the Shire would also give him a chance to unload the ring at Imladris. He smiled slightly. Lord Elrond would take control of it and everything would be fine. He would simply journey there and then back again to Erebor.

Melting into his father’s embrace, Bilbo allowed himself to feel young. He allowed himself to feel the age that Thorin sometimes viewed him as. “I’ll miss you, Father.”

Pulling away, Thorin smiled. “And I will miss you. But don’t worry, you’ll be back before it’s time for harvest.”

Bilbo smiled and went to his room to pack up his things. He would stay with Thranduil until the pass cleared in the mountains, and then he would travel to Imladris, drop off that blasted ring, and clear things up with the Shire.

~meanwhile~

Thorin watched his son ride away with the group of Elves. He fisted his hands. “Dis…”

Looking up, Dis frowned and moved towards her brother. “Yes, Thorin?”

“Have you ever had the feeling that…something horrible will happen? Have you ever watched someone you love ride away and feel as though they were…never coming back?” His voice was faint. “Have I done the right thing?”

“You can’t keep the boy in the mountain all the time, Thorin. Besides, he’ll be traveling with Elves everywhere. I don’t think there’s any place safer for him at the moment.”

Snorting quietly, Thorin shook his head. “Yes there is.” He turned and stared at her hard. “Right here. Home.”

Sighing, Dis slipped her arms around her brother’s shoulders and hugged him silently. “He’ll come back, Thorin. He will.”

He watched his son ride out of sight. “Of course he will…” Dis pretended that she wasn’t hearing his quiet sobs or feel his shoulders shake. Thorin had never dealt with grief well.

He denied his father’s death until it was proven without a doubt. He refused to talk about his grandfather. He searched for Bella until he saw her grave himself.

Dis led her brother to a sofa and held him tight. She looked at Fíli and nodded. Fíli silently moved to the harp and started strumming it quietly. Kíli started singing in Khuzdul, an old song about traveling and coming home to hearth and family.

Thorin grew silent as he listened to his nephews. He gave a tired sigh and drifted off to sleep in his sister’s arms. Dis looked over at the window. She knew what Thorin was feeling. She could feel it too. A sinking pit in her stomach threatening to consume her lungs and heart.

Bilbo had to come back. He had to.

She smoothed Thorin’s hair back softly. Thorin couldn’t take another heartbreak.

~two months later~

Bilbo chuckled as he read Fíli’s letters and Kíli’s letters. Dis and his father had written letters too, but he was saving them for last.

Thranduil entered the breakfast room. “Your bodyguard and advisor have arrived. Master Dwalin and Master Balin, I believe.” Bilbo smiled.

“Good! I was wondering when they’d come. Are they coming in soon?”

“They’re dropping off their things in their rooms.” Thranduil chuckled. “I believe that Master Dwalin is still…troubled by his last visit to my realm.”

“Troubled? His words?”

“Ah…no.” Thranduil smiled distantly and poured himself some tea. Bilbo declined the offer Thranduil silently gave. “It was a bit more blunt.”

Laughing, Bilbo looked up as Balin and Dwalin entered the room. “Yes, Dwalin has always prided himself on his honesty. He never pulls anything, be it his punches or his words.” Dwalin smirked and nodded.

“And I never will, Prince.”

Rubbing his hands together, Balin looked around the room. “Your homes are beautiful, King Thranduil. It’s an honor to finally see the splendor of your realm.”

Nodding his head, Thranduil extended his hand in invitation for them to sit down. He sipped his tea. Dwalin expressed approval at the meat on the table.

Chuckling, Thranduil nodded again. “Yes, my kin here in Greenwood are far more…practical about our menu. Our lands aren’t much for produce. We have game here, and we take care not to overuse either the soil or the animals.”

Balin smiled. “Very wise, King Thranduil. Now, Prince, when will you be leaving for the Shire?”

“I’m stopping at Imladris for a few days before traveling onwards to the Shire. There are a few matters that I need to discuss with Lord Elrond. After that, I’ll go on to the Shire and proceed to strangle Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.” He coughed and smiled at Thranduil. “Pardon me, Elf-King.”

Hiding a grin, Thranduil waved his hand. “Quite understandable. I have a few people who would fall under that category quite nicely.”

Raising an eyebrow, Bilbo gave his host a droll look. “Anyone I know?”

“Ah…well, you might. More tea?” Thranduil had mastered the innocent look far too well.

Balin and Dwalin looked at each other and shuddered. Their prince…befriending Tree Shaggers!

Unbelievable.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

Bilbo looked around and smiled. “Well. Its certainly nice to be able to travel through the woods and not have to worry about spiders and enchantments.”

Thranduil growled slightly. “By the time you return, Prince Bilbo, you will see Greenwood living up to her name once again. I apologize for the state you saw her in before. It was an infection of black magic that was creeping into my land from Dol Guldur. A Necromancer of extraordinary power lived there before being cast out by Lady Galadriel.”

Bilbo nodded in understanding. “I know full well what it’s like to have one’s home overrun.” He smiled at Balin. “I’m sure we all understand the feeling quite well.”

Dwalin growled in agreement.

They traveled through the woods, making quick time and entered into Beorn’s land. Bilbo grinned and waved happily at the bear, who lumbered along beside them until they reached the end of his property. He then roared a farewell.

They reached the foot of the Misty Mountains by the time night fell. Dwalin and Balin were amazed at the time saved.

Bilbo noticed their looks and grinned. Motioning them over, he whispered, “Elves have been blessed by Oromë the Huntsman. Because of this, they can travel faster by some type of magic. I personally believe they can bend time itself.”

They turned their heads when they heard light laughter. It was like the sound of Autumn itself. Full and golden and yet light. Thranduil laughed again and shook his head.

“He’s pulling your leg, Master Dwarves. Elves have no such magic. We simply travel faster because the fortune of the Valar are on our side. We have no time bending magic.” A twinkle came into the Elf-King’s eyes. “Though sometimes I wish we did. It would come in handy.”

Bilbo laughed and nodded. “Aye, it would.” They set up camp and slept through the night undisturbed.

In the morning, Thranduil showed them a pass that the Dwarves and Dwobbit had never even known existed. Thranduil nodded. “Elves have lived on this land far, far longer than any other race in Arda. We have explored everything and see nearly everything. Our maps are far more detailed than one would expect from a race so secluded.” He touched his nose lightly as he smiled. “This is another reason why we travel so quickly. The land respects us.”

Bilbo nodded slowly. “And what would a non-Elf do to be able to get his hands on such a map?”

“All you have to do is simply ask me Dwobbit Prince.” Thranduil smiled.

“May I have a copy of one of your world maps, a traveler’s copy?”

“Of course! Gilrim! See it done.”

“Yes, my King.” The Elf started searching through his pack for such a map. He produce it not three minutes later. Bilbo beamed and repeatedly thanked both Elves. Thranduil merely waved it away.

Dwalin watched his surrounding with interest. The pass cut right across the mountain. It avoided the giants and the goblins easily. He huffed. Everything came easy to the Elves. He said as much to his brother.

Balin nodded sagely. “That’s because they’ve been alive longer to practice how to be so graceful.” Dwalin barked a laugh. Bilbo and Thranduil glanced back but then shrugged and turned forward again.

Balin frowned in thought. “Thorin did not look well when we departed.”

“His son is leaving him for who knows how long. Of course, he wouldn’t look well.”

“I think this separation will do them both good. It will force Thorin to think and process things. Dis being there will help too. She grounds him to reality.” Balin smiled and shook his head lightly. “Aye, things are beginning to look up, Dwalin.”

They exited the mountains two days later and continued to travel to Imladris. They traveled through the night, pushing themselves for the Hidden Valley. Once they arrived, Thranduil bid them all a goodnight and to see them in the morning.

Bilbo looked at his advisor and bodyguard. “Lord Elrond has already prepared a suite for us. It’s a three bedroom one. Now listen to me carefully, I do not want any shenanigans like there were last time. No throwing food. No dancing on the tables. No bathing in public ponds and fountains! And no cursing at the Elves. Do not vandalize and do not steal anything!” He gave them a hard look. “Erebor is a kingdom that is stabilizing and trying to re-grow. I will not have anything stand in my father’s way, even if it’s Dwarvish Pride! Understood?”

Balin and Dwalin knew that this wasn’t just Bilbo, this was their Prince. They both bowed and nodded. “As you wish, your highness.”

Bilbo blinked and then nodded. He still wasn’t use to his titles. “Good, now let’s get to sleep. I think I’ll skip a late dinner. You two are free to do what you will.”

Shaking his head, Dwalin picked up her things. “I’ll be staying with you.”

Balin smiled. “I think I’ll have a bit of a stroll first and then turn in.”

“Excellent. Goodnight, Balin.” He nodded to Dwalin and stared moving off in the eastward direction. Dwalin smiled and shook his head.

“You definitely got your sense of direction from your mother.” Bilbo laughed quietly and nodded to a few Elves, who nodded back with smiles.

“According to Thorin, I got quite a few things from her, not excluding her passion for good manners.”

Dwalin coughed and nodded. “I’ll be sure to remember that.” Bilbo chuckled and nodded. He frowned at Dwalin.

“Dwalin…does your brother know…about what Gandalf and I spoke of?” He let Dwalin close the door to their suite.

“Nay. I haven’t told a soul. Not even the King. Does that Elf-King know?” Dwalin looked outside the windows for assassins or spies. He slowly started doing his rounds while Bilbo got ready for bed.

“No. The only ones who know are most like Gandalf, myself, and you. I don’t think even Lord Elrond has been told. I plan on telling him after breakfast tomorrow.”

“What’s the plan? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“I don’t mind.” Bilbo smiled over at Dwalin as the Dwarf secured the windows, grumbling about it being too open for his liking. “It’s quite simple really. I’m to leave the ring with Lord Elrond. This pouch, see? It’s been spelled by Gandalf. Only I can open it and only if Gandalf is with me.”

“Simple thing to burn and get it.”

Bilbo smiled. “He thought of that too. It’s spelled to withstand anything.” Shrugging, Bilbo smirked. “Well, maybe not Dragon fire, but Bard took care of that.”

Chuckling, Dwalin nodded. “So you leave it with the Tree Shaggers and go on to the Shire?”

“Exactly. Gandalf and the White Council will decide on what to do with it then. It’ll be out of my hands and good riddance.”

Dwalin frowned and tilted his head. “I heard that ring has quite the draw to it. Just as bad as Dragon sickness. How are you able to withstand it?”

“I simply force myself to remember all the atrocities that Sauron did with it. I only have to remember Fíli and Kíli and little Tilda to keep my brain straight and not corrupted. If I fall, then it’ll be only a short time before the ring gets into the wrong hands and back into Sauron’s.”

“He alive then?”

“Definitely. That Necromancer was no mortal, Dwalin.” Bilbo gave him a pointed look. “King Thranduil knows that too. I have a feeling he suspects something is afoot. That’s probably why he’s here, that and to visit his son.” Bilbo yawned and sighed. “Well, time for bed.” He slipped the pouch around his neck again and pulled the covers over him. “Good night, Dwalin.”

“Good night, my Prince.” Dwalin smiled at the sleepy figure of his prince.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

Bilbo swallowed his juice and then spoke quietly. “Lord Elrond, I was wondering if it would be possible to speak with you after breakfast?”

Thranduil and Legolas both looked up at the same time in the same way. Dwalin swallowed a curse at how similar they looked without all the ostentatious robes.

Balin was watching his prince with interest. Elrond smiled and nodded. “Of course. Would now be alright? I am finished.”

Standing up, Bilbo smiled. “Thank you.” He motioned for Dwalin to stay. “It’ll be alright.” Nodding to the Elf-King and Prince, he bid them and Balin a temporary farewell and disappeared into the halls leading to Lord Elrond’s office.

Balin looked at Dwalin with a frown. “You know what he’s going to be talking about?”

“Aye.”

“Well?”

Shaking his head, Dwalin gave a glance at each occupant at the table before replying. “It’s of no concern to us, unless Lord Elrond makes it a concern to us. We’ll find out soon enough.”

They didn’t seem to satisfy any of them, but they didn’t mention it again. Balin excused himself and migrated over to the libraries. Dwalin challenged Prince Legolas to a fight. The boy that the Elf-Prince was teaching joined them to learn. Thranduil sat on the side with Lady Arwen and talked quietly about how the trees were doing in Imladris and Lothlórien. The twins of Elrond’s were doing patrols.

~meanwhile~

Bilbo watched as Elrond stared at the pouch with shock. “And you found this in the goblin tunnels, you say?”

“Yes.”

“Is the creature you stole it from still alive?”

Bilbo bristled at the word ‘stole’ but shook it off. He coughed and nodded. “As far as I know.”

Elrond frowned. “Thranduil will need to hunt it down so it won’t try and steal it back. It would surely fall into Orc hands after that.” He circled around the pouch on his desk warily. A thread of exhaustion weaving into his countenance.

Standing up, Bilbo smiled. “Gandalf told me to get it to you. And I have done so. The Dark Lord has yet to even know where it is. As he is still alive, then I suspect he knows it isn’t destroyed.”

Elrond snorted. “Yes, but his ignorance to it’s whereabouts…that is our only chance of success. A quest to destroy it…”

“Mount Doom? Gandalf told me it could only be destroyed by what created it. A bit a conundrum that.”

Elrond nodded with frustration. “Yes. Much do I wish that any forge could destroy it, but Annatar was as clever as he was deceitful.”

“Who?”

“Annatar was a guise that Sauron used to trick us into submission. He created those other rings under that guise and almost succeeded in conquering all of Arda.” Elrond sounded tired. “I must alert the White Council. We must destroy it before Sauron knows of its location, before the ring wakes completely.”

Bilbo swallowed. “You speak as if it’s a living thing?”

“It may as well be. It is a connection to the Dark Lord, an extension of his own being.”

“Ugh. I’ve been using Sauron to turn invisible.”

“You’ve used this ring?”

“I thought it only a magic ring! I had no idea. It was when I started craving it that I began to worry. Father’s sickness was, still is, too fresh in my mind.” Bilbo shivered.

Elrond gave him a curious look before turning away with a nod. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I hope you safe travels to the Shire, Bilbo Baggins.” He smiled at the Dwobbit.

Bilbo smiled back and left the Elf-Lord’s study. He knew he would have to return to open the pouch, but he could only do that with Gandalf present so he would have to wait and keep an ear out. He had already told Elrond of the precautions the wizard had put into place. Elrond seemed very relieved.

Bilbo was waylaid by Balin and Dwalin. Well, it was mostly Balin. Dwalin was sitting on the rim of a nearby fountain, looking over his weapons.

“Anything I can help you with, Prince?”

Chuckling, Bilbo gave Balin a pointed look. “Is that Balin speak for ‘what were you and Lord Elrond speaking about?’”

Dwalin barked a laugh and put his weapons away to follow Bilbo down the hall. “Aye, you’ve got it in one, Bilbo. Balin’s snooping again.”

Huffing, Balin spluttered at his brother, trying to defend his pride, but Bilbo waved that away. “Whatever Elrond and I had to say in that room will not be disclosed unless absolutely necessary.” Bilbo turned and looked Balin in the eyes. “And it’s not absolutely necessary.” With that, Bilbo walked down the hall and into his room. “Enjoy today. Tomorrow, we’re leaving for Bree.” He gave them a pointed look. “And we’re traveling past the Trollshaws this time.”

Dwalin snorted and nodded. “Sounds reasonable.” Balin was slightly put out that Bilbo had not taken him into his confidence, but he settled on waiting until Bilbo was ready to talk to him. He had won Thorin’s trust over, not the Prince. He was okay with that.

~the next morning~

Thranduil and Legolas, Elrond and Arwen, and Estel all gathered around the exit of Imladris to wave the Dwarves and Dwobbit off.

Erlond smiled sadly. “Travel safe, Bilbo, and stay here for a few days on your return trip.” Arwen stepped forward to hug her cousin of the heart.

“The Twins will be sorry they missed you.”

Bilbo laughed. “Well, maybe I’ll see them when I come back. One never knows.” He smiled easily and nodded to Estel. “Train hard, show these Elves that Men are not weak.” He winked as the boy puffed up his chest and grinned. He turned and nodded to Thranduil and Legolas.

“Will you be here still on my return, Elf-King?”

“I plan to leave Imladris when the Spring Thaw ends.” Thranduil smiled. “If not here, then I shall see you again when you pass through my lands.”

“I look forward to it.” Bilbo nodded to Legolas. Seeing as how Kíli was his cousin and Legolas didn’t seem to approve of the Dwarf Prince marrying his best friend, Bilbo didn’t know what to say to his friend. Legolas noticed his awkwardness and sighed. Moving forward, the Elf-Prince knelt and embraced his friend.

“No matter who does what around us, I will view you with the utmost respect and love, Bilbo. You are my kin in heart, and I would follow you into Mordor itself.” Legolas smiled at the Dwobbit, heedless of the shiver that his words caused.

“Thank…thank you, Legolas. I too, hold you in very high regard and love.” Bilbo hugged him again and then mounted his pony and rode away with his two Dwarf escorts.

Elrond closed his eyes and murmured a prayer of protection over the Dwobbit. He felt a cold chill spread through him as he recalled Legolas’ words.

Looking at her father with concern, Arwen took his hand. “Ada?”

Thranduil and Legolas looked over at the same time. “Elrond?” Thranduil stepped closer. “What’s the matter?”

“I…had a glimpse…it…showed me emotions…” Elrond shook his head and stumbled a little as he moved to sit down. “Terror. Grief. Exhaustion. Hopelessness.” Elrond looked up at his friends, taking Arwen’s hand on his shoulder and squeezing it gently.

“War.”

Thranduil stepped back a little as he saw the desolate look in his old friend’s eyes. Legolas cursed. “Another war?! Why can we not have peace?!” Arwen gave him a pained look. Estel looked up confused.

“When will this war come, Ada?”

Elrond looked at the boy. “I don’t know, Estel. I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

Bilbo inhaled quietly as he breathed in the air of the Shire once more. “Just think! It’s been nearly two whole years since I’ve last set foot in the Shire!” They continued onwards until they entered Hobbiton. What they found there was shocking to say the least.

Primula and Drogo Baggins were holding garden hoes and rakes and waving them at the Sackville-Bagginses. There was a large crowd around, all watching silently as the two families screamed at each other.

Apparently, as Bilbo had left no will, Lobelia was laying claim to Bag End. Primula and Drogo were both claiming that, since the Thain had exchanged letters with Bilbo only three months ago, Bilbo was still quite alive and in control of Bag End.

“I should say I am, Primula Baggins!” Bilbo shouted aloud. The crowd gasped and parted. He grinned at everyone. He was quite aware of the finery, and the armor, that was now draping his body. “And I thank you for proving to be such excellent watchdogs! I am in your debt!” He gave an extravagant bow and grinned widely.

Primula dropped her rake with a cry and rushed up to embrace him. Drogo was slapping him on the back and shouting his joy at Bilbo’s return.

“Oi! How do we know you really are Bilbo Baggins?!”

Bilbo stared at the witch called Lobelia. “I wish you had come with me, Lobelia, on this quest of mine. I met a Dragon. He was killed with an arrow to the heart. But, if you had traveled with me, all we have had to do was feed you to him, and he’d have died of poisoning.”

The crowd gasped and giggled at that. Lobelia’s face turned red as she marched up to Bilbo, but she never got close enough. Dwalin was suddenly there holding an axe.

Bilbo laughed. “AH! Silly me. I forgot the introductions! Everyone, this is Dwalin son of Fundin. This is his older brother, Balin son of Fundin. They are Dwarves from Erebor.” Bilbo stepped past everyone and looked at them all with a grin. He was now on his front porch stoop.

“You all remember when my mother left the Shire because she couldn’t stand Bungo’s death?” Everyone nodded, not sure where this was going. Bilbo grinned. “Well, when she came back from the Blue Mountains, she came back married and pregnant. Political issues in the mountains had forced her to return to the Shire where it was safe. The Dwarf she married is named Thorin Oakenshield. His full title is Thorin the Second, son of Thrain, Lord of Thorin’s Halls, Hero of Moria, and King of Erebor. Thorin Oakenshield…is my father.” Bilbo smiled contentedly. “That is why I vanished so suddenly. When I found out the truth…I had to befriend my father as my mother would wish me to do.” All the Hobbits nodded slowly, and looked at each other. It was a reasonable desire.

Bilbo raised his hands. “And because I traveled with him, I soon learned that Erebor, my ancestors’ homeland, had been stolen, much like Lobelia here wanted to steal my home. I traveled with my father to help him win back his home from Lobelia’s cousin, Smaug the Dragon.” Chuckles were heard scattered around the crowd. “When the Thain wrote to me, telling me that I needed to return to the Shire, I packed up and returned. As you can see, I am a Dwobbit of two lands. Erebor and the Shire.” He looked around and nodded. “I am also an heir to the Chair and to Erebor.” That caused a stir. They hadn’t truly understood until then that Bilbo was actually royalty.

Turning to Primula and Drogo, he smiled. “Drogo, you and Primula will live in Bag End and keep it safe and well kept for me. As I am taking most of my things, you will have to move some of your things into my smial.” He looked over the crowd and then pointed at a Hobbit. “Hamfast! I wish for you to remain as my gardener. Is that okay?”

“Perfectly, Bilbo. Ah…majesty.” Bilbo laughed and shook his head.

“Not necessary, Hamfast. I’m not your prince or even Thain.” He smiled at them all and then turned to Lobelia. “Now, I believe you need to return my silver spoons that I see peaking out of your pockets, Lobelia the Avaricious.” Dwalin barked a laugh in the background. Balin elbowed him.

In the end, Dwalin had to ask her for them. She was quite willing once she got a look at his axes. After that, Bilbo settled his things into his smial and set off with his two friends towards Tuckborough.

He pushed open the door to his grandfather’s study. “Hello Grandfather! How’s tricks?!” Balin blinked at the irreverent attitude that Bilbo was suddenly displaying. Bilbo shushed him and grinned. “I know what I’m doing.”

Gerontius Took jerked upright from his chair and threw his pen onto the desk as he navigated around it to grab Bilbo up into a hug. “Bilbo! My dear boy! I’m so glad to see you safe at last!” Dwalin bristled, but Balin stopped him from speaking.

Bilbo parted from his grandfather and raised an eyebrow. “I’ve learned quite a lot while I was away, Grandfather. I learned that my father was told I was dead when I am not. I learned that Thorin Oakenshield, now King of Erebor, loves me dearly and loved my mother with his entire being. What I haven’t learned, is why you insisted to lie to everyone about my true heritage.” He looked at his grandfather intently.

Gerontius sighed. “Bilbo…” He gave a scoffing chuckle. “Do you truly blame me for wanting to keep you safe? Your mother told me that Dwarves were stubborn and thought Dwobbits unworthy. What was I suppose to do? The Shire is no place to defend a prince! No assassins would be sent to kill a dead child!”

“But my father! You could have told him the truth! And me!”

Gerontius groaned and slumped against his desk. “Bilbo…I saw your father. He came into my office and demanded to know where his wife was. When I saw Belladonna return, she had fear in her eyes. She refused to say what had happened, sticking to her account of the political unrest in the Blue Mountains. I had thought it was something else though…”

Bilbo stiffened slowly and turned to Balin. “Was there anything else?”

Quickly shaking his head, Balin was gaping in shock. “Thorin NEVER struck Bella! Don’t you go thinking things like that, Bilbo! Thorin loved her with his entire soul!”

Dwalin nodded slowly. “He was protective of her, sure, guarded her with his everything, but that’s how all Dwarrow are with their Dams. It’s cultural.”

Nodding, Bilbo turned back to the Thain. “Well?”

“I made the wrong judgment, but can you blame me? My daughter comes back here with fear in her eyes. My apparent son-in-law comes in with rage in his eyes and shouting demands to see Belladonna. I didn’t know what to think, Bilbo. Be in my place, lad! I didn’t want Belladonna to leave me and my kin again. Her place is in the safety of the Shire. Beside, if I told this Thorin the truth, then he would have tried to take her back to a place she didn’t want to go to. He wouldn’t force a corpse.”

Bilbo collapsed into a chair and rubbed his face with both his hands and groaned. “Fine. I see that. I understand you, but I don’t agree with you. But this doesn’t answer my other question.”

“Oh?” Gerontius glanced at his grandson. “And what question is that?”

“Why didn’t you tell me the truth once my mother was dead?”

“I was still under the assumption that your mother had been harmed by that raging Dwarf.”

Dwalin was held back by Balin. They quieted when Bilbo had raised his hand silently. “Enough, you two. Dwalin, my grandfather does not mean for his opinion to be fighting words. He is being honest. All Tooks are brutally honest. Best get used to it.” He turned back to the Thain.

“So, you lied to Father in order to keep my mother safe and in the Shire. You lied to me so I wouldn’t go off and search for my father. You continued to have Thorin deceived so he wouldn’t take me away. Grandfather, why should I trust you? You clearly do not have any trust in my doing the wise thing or the right thing. How can I trust you when you have lied, no matter how right you thought your actions were, to me?”

Gerontius slumped into his seat and shook his head. Tilting his head back, he closed his eyes. “And you are his son. Thus it means he has a closer claim to you as his heir than I do.”

Bilbo chuckled. “Well, you do have eight sons. I’m sure one of them can win the lottery.” He smirked. Balin and Dwalin gaped at the old Hobbit.

“Eight sons?!” Dwalin was gasping for breath. It was hard for a Dwarf to even have three children.

The Thain glanced at the wheezing Dwarves and then shrugged when Bilbo didn’t look concerned. He sighed. “Fine. I’ll tell Isengrim that he’ll have the Chair.”

Bilbo smiled. “Perfect!” He hugged his grandfather. “I’ll stay for another two weeks to straighten my affairs and then I shall be returning to Erebor.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

Fourteen days later, Bilbo sighed and settled into the hill that also served as a roof for his kitchen. Balin and Dwalin joined them. They pulled out their own pipes and started smoking. Bilbo began teaching them how to do pictures in the smoke. They were waiting for the next caravan from the Blue Mountains that was heading to Erebor. They would send the bulk of Bilbo’s things with the Dwarves and then travel with the Elves. Bilbo had written to Thranduil and Elrond telling them he was returning to Imladris soon.

Dwalin put his pipe out and started sharpening his weapons. He scoped the area and snorted. “It’s the most wasteful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Frowning, Bilbo turned and looked. “What do you mean wasteful?”

Balin chuckled. “He’s speaking about how quiet your Hobbit kin are. They can walk upon the driest leaves in Fall and still not make a sound. It’s unnatural almost, and yet you don’t use it in combat.”

Smirking, Bilbo shrugged and crossed his arms behind his head, laying on the soft grass of his hill. “We’ve not always been complacent and sedentary. We use to be nomads, a long time ago.” Dwalin turned and looked at Bilbo in curiosity.

Sighing, Bilbo took his pipe out of his mouth and waved it. “There’s not much to tell. The Hobbits originally were from Rhovanion, but something happened that caused us to lose our homeland. So, we began what we now refer to as The Wandering Days. We wandered long until we found ourselves in Eriador. We founded the Shire and were protected, back when there was a Man King in these parts. When the kingdom fell, the Shire elected their first Thain. And we have been on our own since. We were ignored by the surrounding lands and were content to ignore others as well.” Bilbo chuckled.

Balin leaned closer. “What caused the Hobbits to be displaced?”

Bilbo closed his eyes and took a deep breath before explaining in a sigh. “Dwarves and Men came and took the land for their own. No strife occurred, because the Hobbits didn’t try and fight back. They just packed up and left.”

His two companions were quiet. They spent the rest of the evening staring at the stars and smoking in silence.

When they got ready to travel to Imladris, they heard shouting. “Bilbo! Wait up!”

Quickly turning, Bilbo gaped at his friends. “We want to go to Erebor and see your new home!” Flambard bent over and panted. Sigismond grinned.

“Yeah! We figured it wouldn’t be right to leave you without some Hobbit company!” He winked. “Maybe you can introduce me to some nice Dwarf ladies.” Bilbo looked at Flambard who grinned right back at him. Laughing, Bilbo only could shake his head when he saw that they had brought their own ponies too.

“Well, I’ll be happy to travel with you, but I’m stopping at Imladris for some business before I go onward. Is that okay with you?”

“ELVES!” The two Hobbits cheered, much to the Dwarves’ consternation.

“Now we know where you got it from.” Dwalin muttered. Bilbo rolled his eyes.

“Guys, these two grumps are Balin and Dwalin. My advisor and my bodyguard respectively.” The Hobbits bowed slightly to them.

“At your service.”

They traveled quickly, and, much to the three new Hobbits’ dismay, didn’t stop for second breakfast.

When they did arrive, Bilbo instantly knew something was wrong when he saw Gandalf speaking intently with Elrond and Thranduil. They all looked grave. Bilbo swallowed and knew instantly, that if he caught Gandalf’s attention, he wouldn’t be going home as soon as he thought. “Gandalf!” He forced a smile on his face. “I’m glad you’re back and safe!” He could tell that Dwalin was tense. Balin was confused.

Gandalf turned quickly and rushed at Bilbo. “Bilbo! How glad I am to see you! Everything well in the Shire? All things sorted?”

“Yes. Bag End is now in the hands of Primula and Drogo. All my possessions are on their way to Erebor via the latest caravan of Dwarves from Ered Luin. The Shire will now be governed by Isengrim instead of me. Also! Two of my friends are going to travel with me” He smiled tentatively. “What about you, Gandalf?”

Gandalf sighed, weary. “Nothing good. And yet, nothing hopeless, either. It is a good thing that we have found out sooner than later. Very good thing. Now we have plenty of time to prepare.”

Balin was done with being in the dark. “My Prince, will you please tell me?”

“Gandalf. Care to fill him in? I have a feeling I’m going to be staying in Rivendell longer than I had thought. Dwalin, with me.” Bilbo left for his old rooms. Dwalin moved swiftly after him. Gandalf sighed and led Balin along the hallway towards Elrond’s office.

After Balin had been filled in, he hurried to Bilbo’s side. “Lord Elrond wishes to hold a council next week. Prince Bilbo…” He stared at Bilbo, despair coloring his voice.

Bilbo smiled sadly. “Don’t worry, Balin. Worrying will give us nothing but headaches. Instead, I want you to…” He frowned slightly. “What are the chances of Father traveling here himself if I write him and tell him what’s happening?”

Dwalin sighed. “100%.”

“That settles it. I won’t write to him until after the council has occurred. I’m glad that I am here to represent the Dwarves. Thranduil represents the Elves of Greenwood. Who will represent the Men?”

Balin shrugged. “We shall let the Council worry about that.”

“Have they arrived?”

“Lady Galadriel cannot.” They turned to see Gandalf. The wizard looked tired and bone weary. “She is too exhausted from banishing Sauron from the woods. Saruman is traveling to scout the Plains of Dagorlad. He has a theory of something. He did not bring any of us into his confidence as of yet. Lord Celeborn is staying with his wife.

“Lord Elrond has decided to continue with the people we have and send dispatches afterward. Your father will have to be informed. Balin will have to travel back while Dwalin stays with you. King Thranduil is hurrying back to muster his armies and send his scouts to Angband and Gundabad. The Nine have already risen. We know that much. We must see who else he is stirring. I myself will stay with you and the ring. We must stay together, Bilbo, until all this is resolved.”

Bilbo frowned and began to pace. “The meeting will be next week?”

Gandalf nodded slowly. Bilbo blew out a breath and nodded. “Well then, I’m going to take a walk. I need to think. Dwalin, you can follow but please do so at a distance. I want to be alone for a while.” The guard nodded somberly.

“As you desire, Prince.”

Bilbo smiled at them and turned to bid Gandalf a goodnight. “Rest, Gandalf. You’re experience and wisdom will be useless to us if you are catatonic with exhaustion.”

Gandalf chuckled sadly and nodded. “Alright, Bilbo. I wish that we had met again under better conditions.” The corners of the Wizard’s eyes crinkled slightly as he thought of something. “Old Tom wanted to meet you. He’ll be disappointed that he won’t get the chance for a long while.” He tilted his head and smiled wider. “You’re beard is getting longer and fuller. I’m sure Thorin is proud.”

Bilbo snorted as he pulled his coat over himself. “My father is proud of everything I do. He crows louder than Gloin.” Dwalin chuckled along with Balin.

Nodding his goodnight, Gandalf left for his own room.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

Walking down the paths slowly, Bilbo rubbed his face. He moved silently towards the statue that had always caught his interest. The statue that held the shards of Narsil.

“Father! I know what I must do!” Bilbo tensed when he heard Legolas’ voice speaking intently in Sindarin.

“Legolas, I will not see my only son go into Mordor!” Bilbo was stunned at the pain in Thranduil’s voice.

“I will go if Bilbo goes. He is my friend and my brother. Father, you cannot ask me not to honor our friendship!” Bilbo crept closer and watched.

“It is for this that I hope that Bilbo will not be chosen to be ring bearer. He is a Prince of his own, and has his own duties to his country and kin, as do you!”

Legolas shook his head sharply. “What greater duty does he have than to lay down his life for his land, kin, and world? How can you expect me to do anything less than that?”

Thranduil rubbed his face tiredly. “If Bilbo travels, then you shall travel with him. But if it is another who is chosen, then you are to stay in Imladris and train Estel.”

“Yes, Father.” Legolas smiled at his father and nodded.

Sighing, Thranduil leaned against a pillar. He spoke in Westron. “I hope that, for Thorin’s sake, Bilbo will not become the Ring Bearer. I have known Elrond a long time. I know his mind. He is thinking of it. He knows that Bilbo has the greatest resistance than any of us. A Dwobbit with no magic, if corrupted, could be easily captured by us. Besides, he has not even looked long or with longing at Elrond, who contains the ring on his person. He never speaks of it unless it is brought up by someone else. Elrond has noticed. We all have. He would be the perfect one for this quest. But as a father, as a widower, I hope that he will not be chosen.”

“You care that much for Thorin Oakenshield?”

“He is not a friend. I feel nothing towards him specifically. I only know that he has lost far to much to have to bury his son too. It would break him.” Thranduil stared hard at Legolas. “Just like it would break me.”

Legolas looked away. Sighing again, Thranduil stared at the shards of Narsil. “How is Estel’s training?”

“He takes to it like a duck to water. He loves strategy and combat. But he is also quiet. He does not mind sitting for hours and meditating while I read history to him. His mind is quick for such a young Man child.” Legolas smiled quietly in thought. “Arwen is quite fond of him. So much so, that Elrond is growing concerned at her attachment. Estel shall grow into a very handsome man, and Elrond knows it.”

Thranduil snorted. “I am glad for one thing. I am glad that you have never fallen in love with a mortal.” He stared at the stars. “Whatever is decided at next week’s council, I will have to cut my stay here much shorter than anticipated. I expect that Lord Balin will be wanting to travel with me.”

“You truly believe that Bilbo will go?”

“Yes.” Thranduil sighed. “He knows that it is his fate. Just as you know yours.”

Dwalin watched as his Prince listened to the Elves’ conversation. When they started Westron, the Dwarf began to pale. He followed Bilbo until the Dwobbit finally retired, then he hurried to his brother and told him everything he had overheard.

Balin nodded. “I thought as much. Bilbo did not look surprised, you say?”

“No.”

“He has already known this would happen. He had suspected it.” Balin gave a quiet groan.

Dwalin nodded and moved to his things and began re-arranging them to make room for other things. He left the rooms quietly and then returned with rope, food, medical supplies, and other things that he would need for a long journey.

“Dwalin? What…what are you doing?”

“I am the Prince’s bodyguard, Balin. It is my duty, my life, and my honor to guard and guide the Royal Family. Thorin told me never to leave his son. And I’m not meaning to.”

Balin sat on the bed and stared at his brother before looking at the sleeping figure of Bilbo. “You know you might not…might not…”

“I know.” Dwalin stopped and gave his brother small, rarely used smile. “But if I have to die, I will die protecting the Heir of Erebor. He is my companion, my sword-brother, and my future King. He would do the same for me, and I shall honor him.”

Balin allowed the tears to fall. “Oh my brother…I shall…I shall await your return with our Prince. When you return, Erebor will sound her trumpets, the Dams will throw rose petals, and the harps will thrum with songs of your coming.”

Chuckling, Dwalin nodded quietly and grabbed his older brother by his shoulders. “Keep Thorin safe, Balin. Keep him sane. Make sure he stays in Erebor. We will have need of his Crown uniting the Dwarves together. Dale must flourish. Dale must…they must increase their armies. Make sure they get trained, by the Dwarves, the Elves, whatever is necessary. War is coming. War is coming to all of Middle Earth, and we must be prepared for it. Have Thorin and Dis cooperate with Thranduil.”

Balin nodded somberly and solemnly pressed his forehead against Dwalin’s. “I will write to Thorin and then travel as soon as the council is finished. Thranduil will allow me to travel with him.”

Dwalin stared at the golden head of their prince. His heart clenched. He would follow Bilbo into Mordor, into Mount Doom, and so help him, Dwalin would carry him to Erebor when all was finished. He would carry him on his back the entire way if need be.

He continued to pack and prepare through the night, only resting a few hours before sunrise. He had many things to do during the week before the council. They would need maps and traveling tools. He would have to speak to the Elves in charge of the library. Dwalin shuddered but forced himself to. It was for Bilbo. For the Quest.

~the next morning~

Bilbo forced all thoughts about the future out of his mind as he enjoyed showing his two friends around Rivendel.

“This is the same sword which cut the ring from the finger of Sauron.”

The two Hobbits gaped in surprise. Sigismond frowned. “They keep it out without a guard?”

Smiling, Bilbo shrugged. “No Elf would steal it. They are more honorable than Men.”

“Bilbo…” Flambard looked at his friend, and then glanced at Sigismond who was wandering a little ways off. “What’s got you so upset? Everyone’s being all somber like.”

Bilbo sighed and shook his head. “I can’t…tell you, Flam. At least, not yet. But it’s bad. Worse than the Fell Winter. It’s really bad.” Flambard paled.

“And you’re in the middle of it?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit.”

Bilbo barked a dismal laugh.

~one week later~

Bilbo awoke with a sense of dread permeating his entire being. He dressed in his rich clothing showing his status and heritage, blue and gold, with Sting strapped to his waist. They entered a small pavilion of sorts. Dwalin and Balin were standing directly behind him.

Thranduil and the other Elves stood up at his entrance. Elrond sighed and nodded to Erestor. “Have Lords Fengel and Turgon arrived?”

“Yes, Lord Elrond. They will be coming in a few minutes. Ah, but Lord Turgon has sent his son Ecthelion in his stead, claiming he is far too old to travel.” Elrond nodded slowly, glancing at Estel, who was playing in Arwen’s lap. She stared back at her father and shook her head.

The two lords entered with bowed heads and quiet greetings towards the others in the pavilion. Sighing again, Elrond focused on the people in front of him.

Balin and Dwalin of the Dwarves.

Lord Ecthelion, heir to the Steward of Gondor.

King Fengel of Rohan.

Thranduil and Legolas of Greenwood.

Gandalf of the Wizards.

Elrond and Glorfindel of Imladris.

The Elf Lord stood and nodded to Bilbo. Gandalf stood up and whispered a few words under his breath while Bilbo opened the pouch.

He slowly placed the ring on the pedestal. The entire area went silent.

Elrond began to speak.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

“You all know of the history of Arda.” Elrond began, staring at each and every one of the occupants in the area. “It was made in secret by the Dark Lord Sauron.” The door open. Saruman nodded to everyone.

“Apologies for coming late, Lord Elrond. I did not get the summons until a short while ago.” Elrond nodded to him and waited for Saruman to sit beside Gandalf. The White Wizard stared at the wing on the pedestal with intense eyes. Gandalf broke into his reverie by offering him something to smoke.

Waving his hand in refusal, Saruman looked to Elrond and listened. After the Elf Lord was done, Saruman smiled and stood up. “I hear your words. The ring is evil, but it is most precious to the Dark Lord. If we were to attempt to destroy it, you must know that the journey to Mordor is treacherous and and harsh. The chances of survival are minimal. And the chances of success?! Miniscule. To attempt such a journey would be a waste of our time.”

Frowning, Legolas stood up. “Then what do you propose? That the ring stays in Imladris?! Lord Elrond has already said that this city is not strong enough against all of the Dark One’s power!”

Raising his hand in acknowledgement, Saruman walked slowly towards the ring. “I understand that. I was not suggesting that the ring stay here. It would be safer in the one place where all the treasures of power are kept. My tower. We need time to muster the armies of Dwarves, Men, and Elves. We cannot do this in a rush. If we attempt such a journey now, then we will surely lose the ring to Sauron.” Tearing his gaze away from the ring, Saruman looked at every member of the meeting.

“What I am saying is this, keep the ring safely hidden in my tower, surrounded by spells and enchantments to keep it from calling to its master. When the time is right, then we will bring it out.” He smiled at them. “But why destroy it? This ring merely needs a firm hand to control it. WE could use the very weapon of the Dark Lord against him. Think of the sweet irony.”

King Fengal jumped to his feet. “Sweet irony indeed! You would use such a dark and dangerous tool?! Did you not hear Lord Elrond?! The ring obeys only one master and we are not Sauron! I say destroy it!” Ecthelion nodded but kept quiet as the rest of the council erupted into argument.

Thranduil stood up and started arguing with Elrond about using such a small group of people. He thought it was much better to gather the armies and distract Sauron, flush him out of Mordor and into the Void like they had done with Morgoth. Elrond wasn’t hearing it. It was too dangerous. Gandalf was defending Elrond’s plan. Legolas was confronting his father about not wanting him to leave.

The men were now arguing with Balin and Dwalin about who should go on the journey. The Dwarves were taking offense at the hint from Glorfindel that Dwarves were too easily swayed by power. The men too were defending their honor.

Saruman was arguing with Gandalf about his own plan of keeping the ring safe. Elrond was backing Gandalf’s retorts.

Bilbo felt his head begin to pound. He tried to think. If Saruman doesn’t want it destroyed, then how will he react when he is outvoted, because he will be outvoted. Will he be bitter? I know that look. He stares at the ring like Lobelia stares at my silver spoons. I can’t trust the White Wizard! If I can’t trust him, then can I trust Gandalf? Is he tempted? He mentioned something like that before…

Bilbo forced himself to think. He wasn’t being asked to take the ring, but…but…if even a Wizard was tempted…wouldn’t it be better if a Hobbit took it? After all, he had no magic to speak of. He wouldn’t ask Dwalin to bear the thing. That wouldn’t be fair. He couldn’t allow his cousins to go through that. They didn’t understand what they had even signed up for! He couldn’t trust men, Elves, or Wizards. The safests hands are my own.

Sighing, Bilbo stood up and shouted over them. “I WILL TAKE THE RING TO MORDOR!” He stared at each and every one of them, channeling all the royal bearing he had into his voice. “I will destroy the ring.” He looked at them and then added to break the tension. “You’ll have to show me the way. I’ve never been there before.” He gave them all a lopsided smile.

Elrond hid a smile behind his hand. “Very well. Who will guide the Prince to Mordor?”

Gandalf hid his sadness at his young friend’s decision as he stood up. “I will help you, my dear friend.”

Stepping up faster than anyone else, Dwalin bowed. “I too, will guide you and guard you. You have my axe.”

Moving over to Bilbo, Legolas bowed. “You have my bow.”

“OI! AND MINE TOO!” Bilbo jerked upward in shock as his cousin, Kili, jumped out from behind the bushes. “I’m not letting my cousin go off alone with only one Dwarf for company!”

Dwalin roared, “WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?! YOU RASCAL! YOU AREN’T GOING OFF IF I CAN DAMN WELL HELP IT! GET BACK HERE! I’LL WALLOP YOU AND SEND YOU BACK TO THE MOUNTAIN!” He charged around the pavilion after the cackling Kili. They ran around and around the pavilion. Thranduil sighed and started massaging his temples.

“What did I do to deserve this headache?”

Balin, who was sitting next to Bilbo, muttered, “Being a headache yourself, Elf-King.” Thranduil jerked up and gave him an irritated look.

Looking up, Bilbo saw Lord Ecthelion and King Fendal bowing to him. “You have our blades, Prince Bilbo.”

Saruman approached. “It seems that my words are not to be heeded. No matter. I will do my part and guide you all the way to Isengard. It is the least I can do after all.” Saruman smiled down at Bilbo. Bilbo didn’t like that smile. It reminded him of Smaug.

However, Bilbo only bowed slightly back to Saruman. “Thank you. It will ease my stress to have two powerful Wizards in the company.” He looked at the two Kings of Men. “And thank you, my lords, for joining my quest. I am honored.”

Elrond gave Dwalin and Kili an irritated look. “Very well, it is decided. The Fellowship of the R-”

“WAIT UP! What about us!” Flambard and Sigismond rushed out from behind the pillars and bushes. They flanked Bilbo. “You need brains on this kind of operation, quest, mission…thing.” Flambard snorted and looked at Bilbo.

“Guess that leaves Sigi out, don’t it Bilbo?” Bilbo snickered. Sigismond gave them an imperious sniff and ignored them.

Heaving a sigh, Elrond searched for any other spies. After the search, he looked at the people in front of him. “Nine have volunteered for this journey. Ten shall go as far as Isengard.” He looked at them and smiled. “So begins the Fellowship of the Ring. You will depart tomorrow at sunrise.”

“Don’t make that count too quickly, Elf Lord! This one still needs to return home!” Dwalin gave Kili a shake. “How did you get here?”

Grinning, Kili slipped from his grasp and hid behind Bilbo. “I thought that if Bilbo was allowed to go, then I should go as well! After all I have just as much a right to defend this land as Bilbo does! Fili and Uncle have everything in the mountain under control.”

Bilbo suddenly realized. Kili wanted to do something that wasn’t under his uncle or brother’s shadow. He wanted to do something for himself. Learning archery was frowned upon. He didn’t have an axe. Kili was the second born. He wanted his own title, his own fame.

Sensing something, Bilbo looked over at Legolas and winced. Oh shit. Kili, look out, Tauriel’s big brother is watching you! He had a feeling that this quest was going to be very interesting.

The group made more informal introductions to each other as they made their way to the feasting halls. Bilbo frowned as a thought suddenly came to him. A thought that rivalled his mother’s trickery. Grinning, he slipped away and moved over to Elrond.

“Would it be possible if I could borrow some gold? I’ll either give it back or pay you back.”

Elrond chuckled. “No need to pay me back, Bilbo. Have it and welcome.” He motioned for Lindir. “Give Bilbo some gold.” Lindir nodded and then slipped away. Bilbo gave Elrond a hug and then hurried off to grab Elrohir and Elladan to help him. He found them bothering Legolas, who was packing.

“Twins! Oi! Come on, I’ve got something to do. Legolas, you can come too, if you’re wanting.”

Legolas looked around and shrugged. He had already packed his gear last night. Nodding to his bemused father, he rushed after the prince and the twins. They quickly arrived to the smithy.

“Thank you for the gold, Lindir!” Bilbo grinned and then looked at Elrohir and his brother. “Can you heat up the forge for me? Legolas, you’re the best sculptor I know. Can you make a mold that looks like this?” He pulled out the chain that held the ring.

All three Elves froze in their tracks. Bilbo smirked. “Just in case one of the Dark Lord’s Orcs tries to pull a fast one and grab the ring bearer, no one but the ones I trust will know who holds the real ring.”

The twins started laughing and hurried to heat up the forge. “Brilliant Bilbo! Absolutely brilliant!” Legolas was grinning.

“And who will be holding these rings?”

“Dwalin, Kili- if he comes- and my Hobbit cousins. You can have one too, if you think you would normally be willing to carry the ring.”

Pursing his lips, Legolas shook his head. “No. I wouldn’t want to touch it, so it wouldn’t be realistic. Four rings for the Ring Sharers under the sky.” Bilbo, knowing the poem he was misquoting, chuckled and nodded.

“Exactly.” They got straight to work. Legolas made the mold quickly and they got straight to work. It was well after dinner when they were finished, laughing and covered in soot and ash- the twins had started an ash fight- as they walked back to their rooms.

The Men and Dwaves, who had never seen dirty Elves in their lives, gawped in shock. Thranduil and Elrond only groaned.

“You are not setting one boot in this room until you clean up!” Thranduil pointed a finger at a smirking Legolas.

“But Father! I wanted a hug!” Thranduil picked up a stool and used it as if warding off a lion and pushed Legolas back.

Bidding the laughing twins goodnight, Bilbo hurried into his room to bathe.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 18

Bilbo slipped over to Dwalin. “Dwalin, I wanted to give this ring to you.”

“Nay! I cannot!”

“It’s fake.” Bilbo lifted an eyebrow and pulled out the real ring from under his shirt mail. “I made it last night. I made four. This is a decoy. Wear it but don’t show it off.”

Gaping, Dwalin accepted the ring and put it around his neck. “I…” Balin looked at it intently and then smiled.

“That’s very ingenious of you, Prince.” Bilbo grinned.

“Thanks!” He hugged Balin. “Be safe as you return home. Are you taking Kili back with you?”

Dwalin grumped. “I can’t find him. I’m thinking he’s hiding until it’s too late to send him back.”

Chuckling, Bilbo shook his head. “If he’s that insistent, then it would be safer to have him travel with us. I shudder to think what Father is going to say though. He’ll be furious, losing his son and his younger nephew on the same quest.”

Balin, the one who was to bring said news, winced and rubbed his beard. “I fear for my health.” Bilbo chuckled and shook his head.

“You won’t have to worry. I think Father knew something like this was about to happen.” His smile faded as he became lost in thought. “He had a premonition, I think…” With that, he left the brothers to say their goodbyes and grabbed his things to put on his pony.

Kili was in the farthest stable doing the same thing. He tensed when he heard something, but relaxed when he saw Bilbo. “Oh. I hope you don’t mind me coming along Bilbo?” Kili looked worried, but his fears were for naught. Bilbo smiled and gave him a hug.

“I’m actually selfishly relieved. I’ve fought by your side before. I know how you fight, and I’ll be happy to have you along.” He sighed. “I only feel sorry for Father. If we were to both…die-”

“That is not going to happen!” Kili shook his head stubbornly. He gave Bilbo a roguish grin. “We’ll be hailed heroes and songs will be sung in our honor! We’ll have holidays named after us! Just you wait! You’ll see!” He winked and then went back to his pony.

Smiling softly, Bilbo looked over to see his cousins struggling with their gear and saddles. Chuckling, he walked over to them. “It took me awhile to get it down right, just watch me closely.” Slowly, he showed them how to saddle up their ponies and get their supplies and packs strapped down. Then he showed them how to mount their ponies. That took a little more time.

Looking around, Bilbo slipped them two rings. “They’re decoys. Don’t flash them around. It’s just in case an Orc or something try and steal the real one. It’s dangerous to wear it. It’ll make you a target. Are you okay with this?” He stared at Flambard and Sigismond in worry, biting his lip.

Sigismond smiled sadly at him, serious for once in his life. “Don’t you worry about us, Bilbo.” He took the ring and glanced around before putting it on.

Taking his own ring, Flambard stared at it. “Don’t think we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into. This is much more than getting into Farmer Maggot’s crops. We know that.” He looked at Bilbo seriously. “We know that we might not come back, and we’ve accepted it. It’s time Hobbits looked outside for once and saw what was really going on.” Sigismond nodded, his dark blue eyes somber.

Suddenly feeling overwhelmed with care and love for his two cousins, Bilbo pulled them into a hug. “Thank you! Thank you! I don’t want to do this alone…”

“And you won’t, Bilbo. You won’t.” Flambard smiled and hugged him tighter before letting them go. “Now, thanks for the lessons, but I’m thinking that this will be the last time we’ll be eating a square meal for a while. Best tuck in while the chance is had!” He winked and scampered off with Sigismond right behind him. Bilbo chuckled and shook his head in amusement.

“Your cousins?”

“Yep.” Bilbo glanced at Kili. “My mother’s side. I’m glad that you’ll be getting a chance to know them. Oh! If you’re coming along on the quest, then I have something to ask of you.” Bilbo turned and stared directly at Kili. “Last night I made four golden decoy rings. I’ve given them out to certain people I trust. It’s going to be dangerous to wear this. It will make you a target for Orcs and other servants of Sauron.” He pulled out the ring from his pocket and put it on the chain. “Are you willing? If you’re not, then I can ask another.”

Shaking his head, Kili snatched the ring up and put it around his neck. “I’ll do it for you Bilbo. It’s a smart thing to do. Make it so that no one quite knows which ring is the real one.” He grinned. “Clever.”

Leaning against the stable wall, Bilbo sighed in relief. “Thanks. It’s hard to ask this of you and the others.”

“Who else has these?” Kili raised an eyebrow. “And can we keep them as souvenirs?”

Throwing his head back, Bilbo laughed loudly. “Only… you , Kili, could have…thought of that! Yes, you can keep them after the quest, if you still want them. And my two other cousins and Dwalin have one each. They would be the most realistic ones I’d have asked to share the ring with.” Bilbo grinned darkly. Kili smiled back just as fierce.

“Thinking of keeping that white wizard’s grubby hands off of it?”

“I don’t trust him.” Bilbo turned back to his pony and checked Penny’s straps again. “He reminds me of Smaug.” Kili shuddered.

“Hell, I don’t ever want to think about that thing again! The mountain still stinks of dragon in some places.”

Frowning, Bilbo looked at Kili from over his pony. “How did you escape and slip out?”

Kili smiled and leaned over Penny’s back. “Fili helped me. He distracted Mum and Uncle for me while I saddled up and followed you. I lived in the forest- thank Mahal it was cleared out!- and waited until you went to Imladris. I know for certain that Thranduil knew I was following you guys, but he didn’t tell on me.” Kili frowned in confusion and then shrugged.

“Anyways, I followed you to the edge of Imladris and stayed there until you came back from the Shire. I knew you were up to something. You seemed off the entire time you were in the mountain after the battle.”

Kili nodded to the ring resting on top of Bilbo’s shirt. “I realize now that it was this which was bothering you.” He sighed and then shook his head. “Anyways, I snuck around the city and then caught wind of some big meeting. I slipped in and listened in, and now you know the rest. I’m not going to let you go off on your own. Fili knows that something was up. He knew he would feel better if you had one of us to watch out for you.”

Bilbo wanted to hug them both, but he settled for punching Kili in the shoulder lightly and grinning. “Thanks, Cousin. I’m glad you’re here.”

With their ponies saddled and ready, Bilbo and Kili slipped into the breakfast hall. Kili sat down next to Bilbo and started regaling the Hobbit brothers with stories of their quest for the mountain. Flambard and Sigismond were fascinated. Legolas scowled when he heard how Kili was describing Greenwood.

Cutting in, Legolas started telling the Hobbits how the spiders had been forced out and slaughtered and the darkness was eradicated from the land. “It’s much more beautiful now! Just like it was before Sauron invaded it.” He shot Kili a dirty look.

Kili smirked. “Just as beautiful as troll’s backside, or an Elf’s face.” The Hobbits snickered.

Giving Kili a shit eating smile, Legolas spoke up. “Shall I tell Tauriel you said that?”

Kili paled. “You wouldn’t…!”

Giving Bilbo a confused look, Flambard and Sigismond looked to him for answers. Bilbo snickered and leaned over to whisper, “Legolas is the best friend and almost brother of Kili’s fiance, Tauriel, who is an Elf. It will be entertaining to see how Kili fairs on this journey.” The Hobbits grinned. This was going to be fun.

They saw the men enter with the Elf lords and the wizards. Dwalin stared at Kili and then slumped his shoulders.

“Don’t run, lad. I’ll need two pairs of eyes to watch the prince. You’re as good as any.”

“Gee thanks for the fantastic compliment!” Kili snorted and drank more of his beer. Bilbo kicked his knee.

“Don’t knock it, Kili. At least he won’t be chasing you off now.” Kili huffed but nodded. Balin and Thranduil bid their farewells and left quickly after the meal ended.

Bilbo had to look away when Thranduil pulled Legolas close and rested his forehead onto his son’s. If Legolas died… Bilbo knew that Thranduil would fade. He wouldn’t survive another heartbreak. Bilbo only knew what Legolas had told him about his mother. He didn’t know much, only that Thranduil had suffered greatly.

Gandalf and Saruman had decided to lead them down the mountain chain and towards the Gap of Rohan. Bilbo didn’t know if Gandalf suspected Saruman. He didn’t know if he should mention it or not.

Perhaps Gandalf is too loyal? Saruman is the White Wizard and the head of his order. Perhaps, Gandalf will choose to look away? What happens then? Will our friendship end? Blast this! Bilbo decided that he would speak to Dwalin and his cousins first and leave the wizards and the two men alone for now. He would also leave Legolas alone. He didn't know where the elf stood with wizards.

Looking up when someone said his name, Bilbo frowned. “Yes, Dwalin?”

“I was just wondering what you knew of our people’s lore about the Misty Mountains. Khazad-dum.” Dwalin gave him a smile and drank his beer.

Flambard frowned in confusion. “I thought it was named Moria.”

“To the outsiders, yeah.” Kili looked grim. “But to the Dwarrow, it will always be Khazad-dum. The founding kingdom of Durin the Deathless. Uncle gave Bilbo a shirt of mithril made from there.” He grinned at Bilbo. Legolas blinked in surprise.

“Truly? Why did I not see you wear it during the battle?”

“I did not think the wealth of it would fair well during the bargaining between our people.” Bilbo tried to channel his inner Balin and remain politically correct, but Dwalin smashed that to pieces.

“You mean you didn’t want the Woodland Sprite to steal it.” Giving his fellow a heated glare, Bilbo jerked his head in Legolas’ direction. Dwalin sighed. “Apologies, Elf Prince.”

“Accepted.” Legolas sniffed slightly, and then turned to stare at the Hobbits.

“Prince? You’re like Bilbo?! Is everyone here royalty?” Sigismond was gaping around him.

Elrohir sat on his left while Elladan sat on his right, squeezing between the two brothers. “Well, though our father is a lord, he is a High Elf, and that means we are of the Elder Elves.” Elladan waved his hand imperious in Legolas’ direction. “He is but a lowly Wood Prince. Nothing to gawk at, my Happy Hobbit.” He winked when Legolas smiled darkly.

“If I cut off your feet, then would you still be high?” A fair eyebrow rose in perfect imitation of his father’s. “I wonder.”

Laughing, Elrohir leaned closer to the Hobbits. “Pay my brother no heed. Legolas isn’t a lowly Wood Prince.” Looking around, he spoke in a mock whisper. “He’s a lowly Weed Prince.”

That seemed to be an ongoing joke between the three Elves, because Legolas, in one graceful move, jumped the table and chased the twins off. Kili was laughing hard, right along with Dwalin.

Bilbo smiled and looked around the group who would be traveling with him. He knew it would be filled with horrors, most definitely harder than the journey with his father, but with his friends and family along the way, he knew it would be alright.

He smiled over at Gandalf, who winked and smiled back.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

As they walked out of Rivendell, Bilbo found himself counting his steps. One, two, three, four, five… How many would it take to get to Mordor? At what number would his steps begin to falter?

Swallowing, he blinked and looked up when Dwalin set his hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be alright, Laddie. Just you wait and see. This adventure will be over and we’ll be in Erebor celebrating your Midsummer festival soon enough.” He smiled at Bilbo and then turned and gave his brother one last wave.

Legolas swallowed and raised his hand to his heart and then pointed it respectfully to his father, who responded with the same gesture, tears in his eyes, unshed.

Looking ahead, Bilbo cleared his throat. “Erm, left or right?”

Gandalf chuckled and whispered the direction before looking to his fellow, Saruman. The grey Wizard’s smile faltered as he noted the direction of his fellow’s gaze. Bilbo. Brows furrowing, Gandalf looked down and pressed his lips together. What has happened to my old friend? He does not appear to be the same as he once was…

Sigismund and Flambard quickly started up a conversation with the two Men of the fellowship. Flambard grinned at Ecthelion. “Been in many adventures, have you, highness?”

“A few, Master Flambard, but nothing as great as this.” The heir of the House of Húrin’s eyes twinkled. “Though I do feel that my adventures of my youth are probably more adventurous than the years of my adulthood, forced to languish in offices and under paperwork.”

Bilbo barked a laugh. “I feel the same. I do!” Kili raised an eyebrow.

“When paperwork do you do? Just a few months ago, you were joking with me that Fili had to do all the work, my dear cousin.”

Legolas smirked at the rest of them. “As I am in charge of my father’s armies, I am not called to even look at a quill.” He was quickly the recipient of many a glare.

“Smug woodland fairy.” Dwalin grunted this and then watched Saruman carefully as the two wizards led the way down the path. They were half a day away from Rivendell.

Kili crossed his arms and huffed. “We were going the opposite direction of this when heading to Erebor. I’m glad I won’t be seeing those stone giants again.”

That caught everyone’s attention, and Kili launched eagerly into his story telling, with a few interjections by Bilbo and Dwalin.

Thengel’s eyes were wide. “Truly, how your group survived is remarkable.”

“Well, that is how we Dwarves are!” Kili puffed out his chest. “Remarkably-”

“Stupid.” Legolas coughed that word out, causing the Hobbits to snicker.

“Well, you won’t find a stupid Hobbit. I can guarantee that.” Sigismund beamed at them all. Flambard coughed slightly.

“Er, Sig, I think you haven’t looked into the mirror lately.”

“Oi!”

Waving his friend away, Flambard smiled at Thengel. “What adventures did you get into in your youth?”

The horsemaster laughed and shook his head. “What did I not get into…” He smiled at the Hobbits. “I enjoyed adventuring out beyond the borders of Rohan many a time. Once, on a dare from my older sister, I even ventured as far as Fangorn alone.” He shuddered. “Never again.”

“Why?” Sigismund's eyes were wide as they entered upon a plain of dry grass. Gandalf looked back and smiled at the group.

“Because the woods are haunted there. By dark spirits in the trees, filled with anger and malice.”

“Nonsense.” Gandalf looked over at them from the front. “There are no spirits living in the trees, but the trees themselves are living. Tary too long within their reach, and their roots will crush the life from you. They are filled with anger and latent rage for the crimes of the two legged creatures of this Earth.”

Dwalin frowned. “Living trees. Bah.”

“It’s true.” Both Legolas and the Hobbits spoke up at the same time. Bilbo also, spoke. Flambard smiled grimly.

“On the borders of the Shire there’s a place called the Old Forest. Some tell that it’s been around since Lady Yavanna walked this Earth.” His voice was soft. “Her singing woke the trees and gave them life, but the Orcs, the corruption of the Dark and the axes of Dwarves and Men angered the trees and their bitterness festered until very few stay too long in the Old Forest, and they never travel at night.”

Thengel hummed in thoughtfulness. “That is quite similar to the Fangorn forests.” He grimaced. “I did go there at night. The dare was to stay the night or come out early and do all the chores of my sister’s for a month.”

Ecthelion barked a laugh. “I remember how it was to be a child very well. Dares were oaths, never to be gone back on.” He sighed. “How simple life was then…”

Nodding, Thengel hummed and rested his hand on his sword. “Yes…”

“Well? Tell us what happened!” Kili frowned over at the man impatiently.

Shaking his head, Thengel laughed in self-consciousness. “I ran out not four hours later screaming like a lass. Since this day, no one has believed me when I say that a tree spoke to me and had eyes. I fell asleep in a branch and woke up to eyes staring at me in the darkness. I didn’t remember much after that except grabbing my horse and screaming at the top of my lungs.” He chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. “I believe I was…fourteen at the time.”

Ecthelion snickered. “That adventure had the potential to be a might more dangerous than most.” His grin was soft in memory. “I remember once, I was but a child, no more than nine. I ventured into the kitchens and ate an entire five layer cake meant for my birthday. Twas the biggest adventure in my young life. I remember how my heart pounded.” He grimaced suddenly. “And I also remember how my stomach cramped afterwards.”

Sigismund laughed brightly at that. They continued traveling onwards until they saw the foot of the mountain chain. Dwalin exhaled slowly. “The Misty Mountains…”

Gandalf looked around them. “Best keep up, all of you. It will take forty days to reach the Gap of Rohan.”

Swallowing, Bilbo looked at the mountains. “What happened at the Battle, Dwalin? The one where my grandfather was abducted, and my uncle killed?”

The group went silent as they waited for Dwalin to speak. The Dwarf adjusted his axes and then sighed. “It chaos as only battle can be. Blood everywhere, crashing of metal, drowned out only by the cries of the dying and injured. One look to the left and you’d be fighting back to back with a friend, then next glance, and yer friend is dead. But you have no time for shock or mourning or tears. You grip your blood slick axe and charge on, because if yeh faltered, yeh die. Simple rule of battle, Laddie.”

Forcing himself to keep on walking, Dwalin swallowed and shook his head. “Thror, during the first few years of the war with the Orcs, sent into a side door of Moria a group of Dwarves, my father was among them, as a general. They never came back. No bodies.” He shook his head. “You ask how your uncle died? I can’t tell yeh. He died without anyone by his side, a wound of a sword through his chest and an arm missing. Thorin found him, how I do not know. The mountain footlands were covered with the bodies of the dead, Orc and Dwarf alike. Prince Frerin died among many, and none know the details of his passing, only that he died with a wound to his front and a weapon in his hand.”

The two men nodded somberly at that. Dying honorably was the most a soldier, a warrior, could do in times like those. Bilbo exhaled slowly. “And Azog is now dead. My great-grandfather is avenged.” He frowned and looked back at the giant walls of Moria. “What was he like? Before the sickness?”

Dwalin chuckled. “He was good. He doted on Thorin and Frerin and loved all children. There was a holiday celebrating the life. Life Gems, in Westron, it’s called. It celebrates all the children of the Dwarves.” Dwalin smirked and nodded to Kili. “Thorin continued that holiday even during our exile, and that’s when Kili came into life.”

It took the Dwarf Prince a moment to realize what Dwalin was hinting at, but his red face caused Dwalin and the two Men to laugh loudly at him.

Saruman looked around. “I think it is best if we camped here for the night.” Dwalin looked around and hummed in agreement.

“It’s far enough away from the Orc patrols that’ll be coming out. Good enough.” He turned and pulled Kili and Bilbo closer to the fire and consequently to the safest spot in the camp. “Bilbo, can yeh start with the food?”

“Of course, Flambard can help me.” Bilbo grinned at his cousin and then turned to get the fire started. Kili moved to help the men set up the camp and helped organize the watches. Sigismund grinned at the Dwarf Prince.

“Everything’s gonna be fine with two wizards with us! We won’t have to worry about a thing.” Flambard laughed in agreement, oblivious to the furtive look that Dwalin shot at the White Wizard. The Dwarf warrior moved over to Bilbo.

“Prince, I do not think that Saruman is wholly who he seems to be.” He kept his voice low and eyes furtive.

“I know what you mean.” Bilbo continued sparking the flame and adding wood, not looking over at the subject of their conversation. “But I don’t know how Gandalf, the Men, or Legolas stand. Kili should be warned though. Keep him away from the White Wizard and…” Bilbo exhaled slowly. “And Gandalf.”

Nodding, Dwalin moved quickly over to Kili and gave him a whispered set of instructions in Khuzdul. The Dwarf paused in his actions and then narrowed his eyes before nodded once and going back to his work. Legolas noticed but gave no comment on the secretive behavior of the Dwarves. He turned back to speaking to the men about if they should hunt in the nearby woods.

That night, Bilbo took first watch. He would wake Ecthelion after his shift was done.

Settling a little ways away from camp and against a pile of rocks, he continued to scan their surroundings and tuning his ears to the possible sound of snorting wargs or guttural talk of Orcs.

He was glad, as he studied his uncomfortable cousins, that this wasn’t his first adventure. Already, Bilbo had to notice that his body was hardened- not as much as Dwalin’s or Kili’s- from hard journeying and living rough. He pulled out his pipe and cleaned it out as he scanned the area around the camp.

“Do you mind if I join you?” Saruman stood before him with a smile on his lips. “Wizards do not need much sleep.”

Bilbo swallowed and then braved a smile. He might be wrong about the Wizard, but if he was right, then he couldn’t tip Saruman off.

Shifting over, Bilbo nodded cheerfully and then started stuffing the bowl of his pipe with Old Toby. “Would you like some?”

“Thank you, but no. That weed is Gandalf’s preference, though I do indulge on cold evenings, I do not smoke often.” Saruman hummed and looked at the sky. “You are a very brave fellow, Prince Bilbo.”

“Please, just Bilbo.” The Dwobbit smiled at him and then took a long inhale, free hand sliding down slowly to his sword and resting there casually. Bilbo was keenly aware of the perpetually cold ring against his skin. The knowledge of his journey ahead made it seem to grow heavier with each step, and Bilbo couldn’t quite decide if it was a real weight or only in his mind.

He didn’t know which answer scared him more.

Saruman spoke up. “Did you know that Sauron was once one like Gandalf and I?”

Bilbo faltered and then blinked at him. “What? Nay, I did not. He was a wizard?” Bilbo remembered his conversation with Gandalf about Maiar and Valar, but he hadn’t realized that Sauron had been…

“His name was Mairon. He was the Maia serving Aulë. Before he changed his nature and joined forces with a Vala named Melkor. Manwë removed Melkor’s name among the Valar and called him Morgoth instead. Mairon served Morgoth and became known among the dark forces as Sauron.”

“How did he not get destroyed along with Morgoth?” Bilbo frowned at Saruman. The Wizard chuckled.

“You ask the good questions, Bilbo. He fled Angband and Utumno before the Valar could storm in and capture him. They knew of Sauron, but not his face. Thus, Sauron could hide under the guise of Mairon a little longer. After the Valar withdrew from the land of Arda, now called Middle Earth, Sauron slipped out and joined among the Elves under the name of Annatar, the Lord of Gifts.” Saruman nodded to the ring Bilbo had under his shirt. “That ring was made in secret, but I’m sure that Olórin has already told you that story.”

“Sorry, who?” Bilbo frowned.

“Gandalf’s name was originally Olórin, just as Sauron’s was Mairon, and mine was Curumo.” Saruman exhaled and stared at the stars. “Before darkness slipped into the lands and the Spring of the Arda vanished. Before Morgoth came to be known as that and before we were stripped of our service and banished to this world to live apart from our kindred and among the mortals who walk this land.” A disgusted curl appeared on Saruman’s mouth.

Bilbo eyed the wizard and then cleared his throat. “So you were given no choice? You cannot go back?”

“Once you sail for the Undying Lands, you may not return, and you only sail when you have felt the call of the Valar. None dare to sail early.”

“Has there ever been a non-Elf or Maia to live there?”

“Nay.” Saruman chuckled softly. “That is the land of beauty, of perfection…nothing changes there. Everything is…stagnant.”

“Sounds like the Shire.”

“Eh?”

“Nothing ever changes in the Shire. The Baggins Family has existed since second age and will continue to live on long after I’m gone. The Shire will always be there, and the Hobbits will never peek out of their holes.” Bilbo chuckled and looked around before shaking his head. “They never learn or see for themselves the beauties of this world.”

“There aren’t so many beauties of this world.”

“Who did Gandalf serve?” Bilbo looked at the wizard. “Which Vala?”

“Ah, that would be Manwë, the Lord of the Valar, though not the strongest. The strongest Vala was Melkor, but since he is no longer a Vala in history, his name and memory are gone.” Saruman exhaled slowly. “The Valar are harsh to those who oppose them.”

Bilbo was hearing several alerts in this conversation. His suspicions had not been wrong.

“I was never shown the ring’s authenticity.”

Stiffening, Bilbo looked at him in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I was never shown by Gandalf the inscription in the ring after flame touched it.”

Eyes narrowing, Bilbo stood up slowly. “Gandalf, himself, didn’t know about that until reading the private records of Isildur…” Voice going softer, Bilbo swallowed. “So how did you know?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

Saruman stilled and then chuckled before standing. “You are surprisingly quick, Prince Bilbo, but unfortunately, you are also very weak.”

“Then it is a good thing for him, old friend , that he has friends who are not.” Gandalf approached them quickly, raising his staff and standing in front of Saruman. “What has happened to you? Who told you the secrets of the ring?”

Saruman smiled. “I found more than just a palantír in my searches, Gandalf. I found the bitter truth.” His eyes settled on Bilbo. “And I will serve the Master as you should also. His strength is too strong for a little Dwobbit and a ragtag band of blue bloods.” His staff came up, but Gandalf deflected the blast of power. Bilbo’s shout roused all of them.

Dwalin and Kili flanked Bilbo while Legolas took to higher ground and Thengel and Ecthelion protected the halflings.

Having an idea, Bilbo threw the ring into the campfire without any seeing. He did so just in time as Saruman blasted Gandalf into a rock and threw Kili and Dwalin into the air like rag dolls. When he grabbed Bilbo by the throat, he found nothing but a shirt of mithril. “Where is it?!”

Bilbo choked and gagged and furtively looked at Flambard before kicking out of Saruman’s grasp.

“So, you would share the load with the other halfling?” Saruman grunted when Gandalf roared a spell and threw him into a tree. When fighting moved away from the camp, Bilbo retrieved the cool ring and hot chain. He slipped the set into his pocket and grabbed his gear along with everyone else. Legolas cursed when he saw Saruman steal Gandalf’s staff. Thengel gave a shout and charged on his horse, rearing up and attacking Saruman, blindsiding him and giving Gandalf a chance to take his staff back.

“Run!” Legolas grabbed one of his fire arrows and lit it through the campfire and shot it into the dry grass at Saruman’s feet. With that distraction- a quickly growing distraction- the fellowship fled.

Dwalin made certain that his two charges were with him before grabbing the two Hobbits and running hard. Ecthelion grabbed Flambard while Thengel pulled Sigismund under his wing. Gandalf and Legolas pulled up the rear, covering for Saruman’s possible attack.

“Sorry, Flam, he thinks you’ve got it.”

Nodding and breathing hard, Flam climbed down the rocks after Dwalin. “Where are we going?”

“To the one place we can possibly hide from him!” Dwalin turned and looked at Gandalf. “Wizard! Move it!”

“Go! Run to the wall! Get back! The fire won’t hold him off for long!” Gandalf shouted this, drawing his sword. Dwalin raced down the path and then the moon shone clearly.

“The door is sealed! I’ve not been entrusted with the word!”

Gandalf cursed and left Legolas to keep watch. Bilbo eyed the still lake with trepidation. Still waters run deep and he didn’t want to know what could be down there. The area smelled foul.

Meanwhile Gandalf was running rapidly through the passwords, looking back behind them all the while. Cursing angrily, he slammed his staff against the door.

Bilbo read the message on the door and cursed. “Mellon! It’s Mellon! It’s a blasted riddle, Gandalf! Get that door open!”

Legolas gave a cry. “He comes! Hurry!” The Elf leaped down from the rocks, firing arrow after arrow along with Kili. The doors opened and they all tumbled in, but Saruman made no move to follow them when he reached the ledge overlooking was murky waters. Instead, he intoned a spell and the water of the lake in front of the doorway exploded.

Gandalf gave a shout and both Kili and Legolas began raining arrows on it. Dwalin took his axe when one of the tentacles grabbed Bilbo. Snarling, Bilbo pulled out Sting and cut himself free before landing partly in the water. Thengel grabbed him and dragged him back inside the mountain. When it became clear that the fell beast could not get them, Saruman laughed and changed his spells and orders. The tentacles gripped the doors and everything fell down around them.

Bilbo could only hear breathing in the still darkness. Dwalin gave a soft curse. “Bilbo! Kili! Are yeh here?! Are yeh well?!”

“Aye, Dwalin.” Kili grunted and then helped Bilbo stand up. “We’re whole and hale, but we’re trapped in the mountains.”

Gandalf exhaled and lit up his staff. “The only way is through…and that is a four days journey.”

Ecthelion frowned and looked around. “Why did he trap us in?”

“Because he knew the mountain chain is infested with goblins and Orcs. Hundreds of thousands.” Dwalin’s answer was gruff as he pulled out his axes. Thengel helped the Hobbits stand up and then looked around as the ventured further in. His gasp drew everyone’s attention to the corpses on the floor. Bilbo was immediately reminded of Erebor.

“The arrows…” His question was answered by Legolas.

“Goblins.”

Gandalf’s voice was tired. “Saruman is a traitor and he has just locked us in a goblin and Orc stronghold. I fear what he may do next.”

Thengel cursed angrily. “Clearly our advantage of surprise is now lost, for our battle plans have been overheard by a spy.” He pulled out his sword quickly. “And now the Gap of Rohan is closed to us.” He glanced at Bilbo. “It is a moot point now though.”

Sighing, Dwalin herded the princes and the Hobbits in front of him. “Aye, it is. We have to hurry in order to outpace whatever he may have waiting for us at the other end.”

Gandalf pressed his lips together. “He claimed to have found a palantír. That is what he said, is it not, Bilbo?”

Looking up, the Dwobbit sighed. “He did say that. What is it?”

“A seeing stone. Any who own one are capable of speaking and communicating to others who have a similar stone. Why would he desire one unless…”

Legolas cursed. “Sauron has one. That must be how he learned of the secrets of the ring. The moment the traitor reaches his tower, our location and plans will be shared to the Dark Lord.”

The atmosphere was bleak and not even the Hobbits and Kili could lighten it. They trudged through the pathways and stayed as silent as possible as they attempted to evade notice.

Dwalin exhaled and looked around. He pulled Bilbo and Kili close and pointed to certain aspects of the architecture. He explained what that was, what it should look like before all the wear and tear. He told them, and the group, about how Dwarrowdelf was supposed to be grander than the city within Erebor.”

Flambard frowned. “City? I thought Erebor was a series of caves.”

Barking a laugh, Bilbo looked at his cousin. “There are over a hundred levels to Erebor. The lowest is called Coal Level. It’s where the miners and poorer workers are. All the levels below that are for the criminal classes and the destitute. Hopefully, Father has changed that up before the mountain is inhabited again.”

“Why are the miners at the lowest level above the criminals?” Ecthelion frowned. Kili shrugged.

“Originally it wasn’t demeaning or anything. That was just the level closest to the mine entrances. So the miners moved there. Before the dragon and during Thror’s time, the miners’ wages became less and less. The gap between those who had money and those who didn’t grew larger and larger.” Kili scoffed bitterly. “It was actually good, in a twisted way of thinking, that the dragon came when it did. If it hadn’t, then the poor and the powerless would have revolted. Times were getting hard for those without coin.”

Dwalin looked impressed. “So yeh did listen to Balin’s lessons. I’m amazed. Between sneaking out to play with that Elf toy of yours and sleeping in class, I thought yeh wouldn’t learn a thing.”

Rolling his eyes, Kili huffed. “This Elf toy has saved your life more times than you can count, Dwalin the slow and-”

Running his thumb up along his axe blade, Dwalin eyed the prince. “Finish that sentence, princeling.”

Swallowing, Kili beamed. “Indomitable.”

Huffing, Dwalin turned and looked around again. They moved through the mines and Dwalin began explaining in Khuzdul how the mining system worked for the Dwarves. Legolas huffed.

“Dwarves and their secrets.” The men seemed to agree.

Gandalf chuckled. “Dwalin is merely explaining the pulley system and how the Dwarves make their chains and seats for mining. That is all, Legolas.”

Giving the wizard a look, Dwalin snorted and then continued on in Khuzdul.

They spent three days in the mountains without a single raise of alarm, and slowly Bilbo found himself hoping that they would make it out without a fight.

The moment he actively began hoping was the moment it all went to shit.

As usual.

Dwalin spied a room lit up in light and inhaled sharply. Kili and Bilbo quickly read the Khuzdul and knew it was a memory room. It was where the Dwarves buried their dead. They had entered the hall of the heroes, a fancy graveyard for the warriors of Durin.

They raced after Dwalin, who knelt before the grave of his father.

Gandalf exhaled slowly. “Here lies Fundin, son of Farin, Lord of Moria and Defender of the Dwarrow.” He rubbed his eyes tiredly. “That is it then. The attack Thror sent them on failed.” Bilbo left Dwalin to his mourning and moved around the room. He spied a heavy tome and picked it up before resting it on the edge of the tomb.

Slowly, he started reading the words written by Naín. When he got to the end, everyone jumped when a cacophony of noise sounded. Bilbo felt his heart sink when he saw the entire skeleton fall through the well.

Gandalf glowered at Sigismund. “Fool of a Took! Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity!” The Hobbit flinched and couldn’t look at them all. With bated breath, they waited. When nothing happened, they released their breath, only to tense when they heard the drums spoken of in the account Bilbo had just read.

Swallowing his fear, Bilbo looked at Dwalin, eyes wide. Kili was looking to the experienced warrior also. Dwalin growled darkly and leaped upon his father’s tomb. “Princes, come behind me. These goblins and Orcs will find three Dwarves in Moria who still draw breath! I will avenge my father of this murder!”

Gandalf cursed violently. “Bar the door!”

Ecthelion and Thengel moved immediately, with Legolas throwing them weapons to help barricade the doors shut. Ecthelion stiffened and then slumped. “They have a cave troll!” His voice was filled with almost comical exasperation that, in another situation, Bilbo would have laughed at.

The fight was brutal and extremely dangerous. Bilbo couldn’t breathe as the spear pushed further against his torso. Dwalin’s scream of rage was heard by everyone.

Gasping, Bilbo tried to move, tried to do something to fight back, but every bit of breath had been knocked out of him and his entire body felt like lead. When the pressure against the spear vanished, he collapsed and fell forward.

By the time Dwalin came rushing up and cradling him in his arms, Bilbo could feel the oxygen slip slowly back into his lungs. Wheezing, he smiled at Gandalf. “Lucky mithril shirt. Remind me to thank Father for it.”

Dwalin cursed him and pulled him closer. “Dammit, Bilbo! Kili and Fili already give me enough grey in my beard! You don’t have to join them in the task of aging me!”

Kili’s squawk of denial brought a brief chuckle before the drums picked up again. Gandalf waved his staff. “The fight is not yet over! Hurry! Run!”

Struggling, Bilbo forced himself to stand and run alongside his cousins and Dwalin. When they were surrounded, Dwalin hefted both his axes and roared. The goblins stiffened at a sound and then swarmed up the pillars and away.

Ecthelion swallowed. “What new devilry is this?”

“Did they run because of Dwalin’s face?” Kili’s voice sounded hopeful. Gandalf turned and looked at the strangely lit corridor where the sounds were coming from.

“Nay, Kili. I am afraid that this is what Saruman was hoping would deal with us in his absence. This is beyond your powers. RUN!”

They made it to the pass. Bilbo groaned. “Is it against Dwarven laws and customs to create handrails for their stairs and pathways?!”

Legolas laughed lightly as he jumped after Gandalf across the gap. Thengel and Ecthelion threw Flambard and Sigismund. Kili jerked away.

“Nobody tosses a Dwarf!” He jumped and the ground he landed on crumbled. Legolas snapped his hand out and grabbed the only thing he could at the moment, Kili’s hair.

“OW! OW! NOT THE HAIR!”

Gripping Dwalin tightly, Bilbo gasped when the part of the bridge they were on started moving.

“Hold on, Bilbo!”

“To what?!” Bilbo glared at Dwalin and then cursed. He suddenly had an idea. “Lean forward!” Dwalin did so and the stone started moving where the weight was leaning. They jumped and were pulled to safety by the others. Breathing easier they continued running from the mysterious hellbeast that Bilbo didn’t really want to have a face to place with it.

When they made it to the bridge of Khazad-dûm, Bilbo had to laugh bitterly. “Yes, we can tell Father that we made it into Moria and promptly destroyed what was left of the place.”

Kili turned and looked at him to laugh but all blood drained from his face. “Durin’s Bane…” His eyes were wide with fear. Legolas faltered and his grip on his bow nearly loosened.

Gandalf pushed them on. “Run! Go!”

Herding them into cover from the goblin arrows, Ecthelion looked to Gandalf. “Come on!”

But the wizard did not move. “This is beyond swords. Go!”

They hesitated still, ducking away from the arrows, unwilling to leave the wizard to the giant beast.

With a dry mouth, Bilbo watched as the bridge crumbled under its weight. He watched as Gandalf was pulled off the remaining bridge. He screamed and fought against Dwalin’s grip as Gandalf struggled and then stared at them.

“Fly, you fools!” His hands slipped and he was gone. Bilbo couldn’t breathe as he was pulled along by Dwalin and Thengel. Legolas and Kili blindly fired their arrows back at the goblin archers to cover their retreat.

Their enjoyment of the sunlight was short lived when they heard the scream that raised all their hair on their skin.

Legolas gripped the Hobbits. “The Nazgûl! Saruman has summoned them! Run! Run for the Golden Woods! They will not dare enter there!”

They raced down the downs, falling and dragging each other, not daring to allow their bodies to acknowledge their exhaustion as they rushed across the stream. Legolas breathed out a prayer to the guardian of the woods. “Lady of the Light, please! Rid us of our pursuers!

Bilbo gasped when his thigh screamed as though an arrow had shot through it. His strength went out from it and he collapsed. It took Kili a moment to realize this and he doubled back and pulled him up and half carried him. “Dwalin! Bilbo’s leg!”

Showing the strength of the Elves, Legolas picked up the Dwobbit and continued running, calling on the Lady Galadriel to protect them from the Wraiths.

The horses were nearly upon them as they crossed the river at a shallow place, and suddenly out of the woods came Galadriel. She raised her hand and began chanting. Dwalin roared at the others to keep running. They paused only when they were within the cover of the trees, slowing their pace, but continuing to back away from the black riders, who clearly did not wish to cross the stream.

When they finally were halfway across, Galadriel sprung her trap and the river roared in response to her call. The wraiths screamed in rage as they were swept away by the power of the Celebrant River.

When the threat was gone, Galadriel smiled at them mysterious and then vanished. Legolas allowed the others a moment of peace to gather their wits and breath before urging them on along with Dwalin.

The two oldest in the group had become the de facto leaders in the absence of…Gandalf.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

There were tears, shed or unshed, in all their eyes as they managed to move further into the woods.

In an effort to lift their spirits, Kili began a ghostly tale of the lady who just saved them. He grinned fakely at the Hobbits. “That was the Lady of Light, Lady Galadriel.” He lowered his voice. “They say she ensnares all halflings who cross her borders. Due to the rarity of your people venturing so far East, the Elves desire, above all, to keep whatever halflings they find, enchanting them to never again leave the golden woods.” Sigismund gripped Flambard in fear.

Suddenly, they were surrounded by the Elves and the Hobbits squeaked and hid behind a thoroughly done with it all Bilbo.

Legolas exhaled and quickly spoke to Haldir. “Hail, Commander of the Lord and Lady’s army. I am Prince Legolas Thranduilion. This is Elf-Friend Crowned Prince Bilbo of Erebor, nephew to the heart of Lord Elrond and ally to the Elves.” Legolas swallowed. “Lord Ecthelion the Second of Gondor, Prince Thengel of Rohan, Lord Dwalin, Captain of the guard of the King Under the Mountain of Erebor, Prince Kili of Erebor, nephew to Thorin, King Under the Mountain, and…Masters Flambard Took and Sigismund Took of the Shire. We come in peace.”

“You may come in peace but those you bring to our doorstep certainly do not. Why would all Nine wraiths hunt you…I wonder…” He turned slowly and stared at Bilbo. “Unless you had with you something they greatly desire.” He turned and looked at Legolas. “You will go no further into her lady’s woods.”

Legolas bit his lip and then quickly pulled Haldir aside and spoke to him intently. Bilbo cursed and joined Legolas and also began speaking intently in Sindarin, trying to convince Haldir that they had to move through the woods and speak to Lady Galadriel and her husband. They had to tell them of Saruman’s betrayal and Gandalf’s…death.

They traveled through the woods, blindfolded and grief stricken. Legolas could be heard grumbling about the idiocies and stubbornness of Dwarves and how they ruined everything . When they finally arrived, the Elf Prince glared at Kili. “I will never bless a union between you and my sister of heart.”

Kili squawked in outrage. “Our union is not for you to bless or curse!”

Their argument would have devolved from there, had not Galadriel and Celeborn arrived. Bilbo triedly dragged himself to his feet and greeted the Elf nobles. “Well met, Lord Celeborn, Lady Galadriel.” He swallowed and looked at his companions. “I am afraid that our appearance must be forgiven, as also our rather rude entrance into your lands. We thank you with much sincerity for your timeline help in ridding us of the Nazgûl.” He closed his eyes and then opened them, tears shining in them. “Unfortunately…we have bad news, tidings of the worst kind.”

Celeborn looked at their bedraggled group, eyes searching. “And where is Mithrandir? Has he wandered off again? I cannot see him…” There was a denial in his eyes that made Bilbo flinch. It was Legolas who spoke.

“We were betrayed by Saruman the White Wizard and forced to retreat into Moria. In there, we found ourselves attacked by…by a Balrog of Morgoth. Mithrandir stayed behind to buy us time…he might…might still be alive-”

Galadriel dashed their hopes. “He is beyond our sight and has fallen into shadow.” The Hobbits clung to each other and sank to the ground, no longer strong enough to stand on their own strength. Dwalin leaned heavily on his still drawn axe and bowed his head. Tharkûn would be missed. Kili closed his eyes and strove for calm in his heart. He gripped the stone his mother had given him and swallowed before looking at the Elf couple before them.

Galadriel spoke softly. “Tonight you may find rest among these trees, and tomorrow you may continue on your way.” Her voice curled around Bilbo’s mind.

‘Welcome Bilbo of two Lands…one who has seen the Eye.’

He flinched back but refused to turn away. They were led to a place where they could rest. Bilbo listened to the lament for Mithrandir but could not find comfort in it. Tossing and turning, he gasped when he felt those phantom touches again, just as her was on the verge of sleep.

Laughter and soft kisses brushing his neck. The ring suddenly burned hot against his skin. Gasping, Bilbo woke sharply and looked around. He couldn’t find rest tonight. He knew that. Swallowing, Bilbo silently stood and slipped away. He would be safe in the Golden Wood. Dwalin wouldn’t need to guard him here.

As Bilbo walked, he thought about the dreams, nightmares, he had been having. A voice that he didn’t recognize, saying sweet love phrases that Bilbo had a feeling were not directed at him.

Swallowing, he closed his eyes and leaned against a tree. There wasn’t anything for it. He was tired and scared but sleep and comfort were far from him. I wish Gandalf were here. I wish it so much… He tried to breathe through his panic and then suddenly found himself in a small area in the company of Lady Galadriel.

At her invitation, he looked into the pool and saw the world blackened and twisted, saw the Shire burned and the Hobbits enslaved. He saw Erebor as an Orc stronghold and the head of his father on a spike with Kili’s and Fili’s on either side of Thorin’s. And then, he saw the eye, but within the black pupil of the eye there was a figure. A figure of a man. And then just as quickly, Bilbo was reeling back and gasping for breath. He stood and studied the Elf Lady before him and then clutched the ring still attached to the necklace chain. “One of the Noldor…am I safe alone with you?”

Galadriel drew back and stared at him in surprise before smiling bitterly. “Have no fear. I am not my kin. I will resist the temptation and remain Galadriel, and withdraw to the West.”

Knowing she was telling the truth, Bilbo relaxed and slipped the ring beneath his shirt. Her words of warning about the Fellowship standing on the edge of a knife were true. Bilbo had noticed that Ecthelion was glancing once too often at Flambard who had the ‘ring’ right now. The whispers of the damned thing were getting into their heads. Any more time and they would break. Bilbo swallowed and thought intently on who he could trust without a doubt. Kili, bless him, was of the line of Durin, and Bilbo could not deny that their hearts were weaker in resisting precious things.

But…Dwalin? He had stood against his father, aided Bilbo in snapping Thorin out of it. He had stood by Bilbo all this time… Straightening, Bilbo looked at Galadriel. “There is one among them that I know I can trust to finish the quest should I fail. There is one.”

“The Dwarf Dwalin.” She smiled faintly. “Yes…you are right. He is one who’s faithfulness outweighs his greed. A rare breed of Dwarf. I am honored to meet him.”

Bilbo was stunned, but her merely smiled at Galadriel and withdrew from her. He would try for some more sleep.

~meanwhile~

Saruman gritted his teeth as he heard the report. The blasted Fellowship had reached the Golden Wood, but Gandalf had not been among them. Turning to the stone on the pedestal, Saruman swallowed and then cast his mind into it. He bared himself to his Master and allowed him to see the news.

Release your armies that you have formed under my command. Hunt the halflings down. My wraiths are needed elsewhere. Do not fail me, and make sure Olórin is dead!

Shuddering at the voice in his soul, Saruman swallowed. Yes, Master. Withdrawing from the stone, he hurried to the factories beneath his tower and watched as the Uruk-hai were fitted with weapons and tools. He gave them their orders.

“Bring me the halfling, alive and unspoiled .” Saruman wasn’t a fool. He knew that Sauron would execute him the moment he outlived his usefulness, however, if he gained the ring… Well, Sauron and he were both Maia, both of the same power level…the ring would answer to him easily enough.

He smiled darkly as his fighting Uruk-hai marched out of Isengard.

~at the same time~

Sauron bent his mind towards his wraiths. Find me Isildur’s heir! Bring me his head!

~back in the Golden Woods~

Bilbo exhaled and slowly fell asleep, but his dreams were strange and haunting.

“Come away from the window, my love.” A tall male in black pulled Bilbo gently into his arms, wrapping them around his waist and mouthing at Bilbo’s neck. Bilbo gasped softly and tilted his head to give him more access.

“But what if I like what I see?” His voice was filled with teasing.

“I’m sure if you looked at me, then you’d like what you see much more.” Red eyes studied Bilbo’s face before two large hands settled on Bilbo’s hips and led him gently to the bed. “Give yourself to me, Beloved. Tell me who owns you.”

“You, Master. You alone. My heart, my soul, everything I am, all my rage and anger is yours.”

“Scream it, Sauron. Scream my ownership of you.” He pushed Bilbo onto the bed and ripped off Bilbo’s golden robes before covering Bilbo’s form with his own, his penis was fully erect and Bilbo felt the hot ridge against his thigh. Gasping, he keen as he felt fingers pushing inside him.

“Morgoth! Master! Claim me! Own me! Show me I am not alone in this dark world!”

“You belong to me, Sauron. Always. Always, you will be MINE!”

“Yours.” Bilbo swallowed and clenched when he felt his lover’s head press against him. “Always yours. No matter what may happen, no matter what the cost, my soul, my power, my existence will always be yours. You gave me everything I am, made me everything I am.”

He pushed in, and Bilbo screamed.

He was one with his master.

As he should be.

Jerking awake, Bilbo stared with wide unseeing eyes into the soft glow of the woods. What the hell?

He didn’t sleep for the rest of the night, mind too full of what he had seen. Why he had seen it? What did it mean? Was it a vision of the future? Of the past? Sauron…Morgoth had called Bilbo ‘Sauron’. Was this a… Bilbo stilled and then slowly drew out the ring and stared at it. “A memory…Sauron poured all his power into this thing. What is to stop him from…pouring his soul into it as well. Gandalf said that they were one. United together…a fragment of Sauron’s soul? Could it reside in this ring?” It made him feel even more ill than ever before. His thigh ached.

If these memories came when he was sleeping or nearly sleeping, then Bilbo could foresee a very…horrible sleepless journey ahead of him.

He pulled Dwalin aside and told him what was happening. Dwalin looked ill. “Yer tellin me that the Dark Lord has a sex life?”

Gaping, Bilbo stomped his foot. “Can we please focus on more important issues than that?!”

“Sorry, Prince. Erm, that sounds like trouble. Yer right.” Dwalin rubbed his beard tiredly and then shook his head. “Should we trust the Elves?”

“Nay. I honestly don’t know what they would do if they found that I was living the memories of the Dark Lord. As it is, the Fellowship is nearing the breaking point.”

“What do yeh mean?” Dwalin frowned at him.

Bilbo smiled, of course, stalwart Dwalin hadn’t sensed the whispers. His loyalty was far too absolute. “The men's resolve is beginning to weaken their resistance to the ring’s whispers.”

“Ah.” Dwalin nodded and then rubbed his face again. “What do you propose we do?”

“We should split up. I and you will continue onto Mordor while the others muster the free people and spread the news. War is coming, and Sauron is waking and gathering his strength. His new ally in Saruman is bad news and others must know of this soon.”

Dwalin nodded and waved the letter he had been writing. “The good Lady Galadriel has agreed to send letters. Prince Legolas and I were writing ours up. You should send something too.”

“Right. That’s a good thought.” Bilbo blinked rapidly. “Valar knows, I won’t be getting anymore sleep tonight.”

Dwalin sighed in sadness for him. “Aye. A heavy load you carry, Bilbo.”

~meanwhile~

Saruman appeared at the mountain top that he sensed Gandalf lay. There. Weakened but surprisingly alive.

Picking up the unconscious wizard, Saruman looked at the cold corpse of the balrog and sighed. What a waste.

He quickly left and returned to his Orthanc, setting Gandalf in a guest chamber and taking his staff away.

When Gandalf woke, Saruman was there. “Peace, friend. Peace. You are safe and well. I have been healing you.” He smoothed his hand along Gandalf’s arm and shoulder.

Blearily, Gandalf looked around. “What happened?”

“You were wandering Arda, Olórin, and were cornered by Morgoth’s balrogs. I am surprised you survived that long. I helped you escape.” Saruman studied him and then slipped the potions back into the cupboard. “Do you not remember?”

“I…I remember departing under my master’s orders…to…to…” Olórin paused. “What has happened to me?”

Saruman smiled as his back remained to the other wizard. “A temporary amnesia. I am certain. Rest. You have gone through enough because of the orders of the Valar. You deserve peace for a moment.” He sat beside Olórin’s bed and held the Maia’s hand. “In fact you deserve much more than just peace. Morgoth is no more, the Valar have left us, Olórin. Don’t you think we should…make our own way in the world?”

Withdrawing his hand, the other frowned in confusion. “What do you mean? We exist for the service of the Valar, of Ilúvitar. We have no other goals in life but to help Arda and her people. Curumo, what do you-” The young looking Maia was silenced when a soft kiss. His grey eyes widened at the young looking Curumo. “What?”

“Long have I desired you, Olórin. Please…do not refuse me.”

“Relations are forbidden by the Valar! They are distractions from our goals as appointed Istari! Curumo, what is wrong with you?!”

Sighing, the older Maia pushed the younger back down onto the bed and pinned him there with magic. “I have merely had my eyes opened, and I thought that with your memories gone you would be unbiased enough to see too. Sadly, you are too stubborn, and I am running out of time. I shall have to convince you through more…brutal ways.”

Olórin yelled and pushed him away, but Curumo would not be dissuaded from his goals.

Still weakened, all the other younger wizard could do was throw ineffectual punches and kicks, but Curumo claimed him just the same in body.

However, Olórin’s mind was still his own, and so was his heart and soul. He refused to fall, refused to become corrupted.

And when Curumo was finished with him, Olórin refused to cry at what he had lost. “I will leave you now, my lover. Leave you to think about what you can have should you simply reach out and act on your own and take it.” A dark light was in Saruman’s eyes. Olórin froze and stared at him.

“Your name is…Saruman…the traitor…”

Nostrils flared. “I should have known you would not be suppressed by the potion for long.” He smiled slowly. “I am Saruman, and you…are mine.”

Grey eyes flashed. “Never! I will never betray my master! Not to you! Not to Sauron!”

“You will, when you have tasted enough pain.” The doors closed behind Saruman, and Gandalf swallowed back his bile.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

Thranduil studied the letter from his son. He swallowed and knew what he had to do. Once again, he had to lead his people to war. He quickly sent a dove to Erebor to call for a meeting of the three kings to be held in Dale.

They arrived later that day. Thorin was clutching a letter, no doubt from his own son, and was pale faced. “Did you hear-”

“Mithrandir is dead.” Thranduil swallowed. “And the Wraiths have been awoken again. Saruman has betrayed us, and my son says that Saruman has a Seeing Stone.”

Thorin slammed his fist into the oak table and cursed. “And everything is against us!”

“Not everything.” Bard looked at them intently. “These past few months Dale has flourished. Refugees who left long ago, have started coming back. All the Dwarves look to Thorin as their king and leader. All seven Dwarven nations will march to war on his command. We are not powerless. You have your troops, thousands strong. My own militia has grown as well, and have been trained by both Dwarves and Elves. We will attack Mordor. We will buy Gondor and Rohan time.” Bard’s eyes flashed with determination. “No longer is it just our realm or our borders. This is the fate of the world! And we cannot sit idly by and watch it burn.”

Thranduil swallowed and then nodded. “Galion! Go and muster the armies. Have the healers gather everything they can for a long campaign. We are at war, and my council is commanded to prepare for it.”

“Yes, my King!” The Elf rode away quickly. Thranduil paced and stared at the valley between Dale and Erebor. Fili had already left with Balin to write letters to Dain and the other Dwarf Lords about the situation that was arising.

Thorin cradled his head in his hands. “My people will be ready, true, but…my son-”

“Our sons!” Thranduil shot Thorin a dark look. “My son is in this too, the thick of it, right beside your own. We cannot worry about them, but trust them to their own devices and do our best to be alive when they return home.” Thorin pulled himself out of his funk and nodded with grimness.

“I despise saying it, but you are right, Elf King.”

Thranduil smirked. “It’s a good think that your lovely sister has arrived. You are leveling out under her care.” He grinned wider. “I find myself envious sometimes…”

“STOP FLIRTING WITH MY BABY SISTER!”

Bard simply shook his head and then motioned his son closer. “Tell Percy and the rest of my council that Orcs will be marching across these lands again and the drills will be doubled and the walls constantly watched.” Bane nodded and swiftly left.

Meanwhile, Thranduil was looked intently at Bard and then hummed softly. “I have an idea. It’s dangerous and possibly could lead to your demise, but it would aid in bringing this world a step closer to peace and freedom.”

Bard frowned at him. “What is this idea?”

“I have no doubt that the Dark Lord is looking not only for his lost weapon that would bring him back to full strength, but also the heir to the throne of Gondor. Tell me, are you aware of the legend of Isildur and the One Ring?”

“I have heard a summary of the histories, but no details.” Bard leaned back and listened to Thranduil and Thorin as they recounted to him what happened that day. Bard scowled. “And the fool didn’t throw the ring away?”

“Like the Arkenstone is to the Durin Line, like white gems are to me, it called to him, and seduced his heart from the light.” Thranduil frowned at Bard. “Have you no obsession for material goods?”

Bard frowned in deep thought and then exhaled. “I cannot think of anything I desire above the safety for my people and my family. However, I am certain that I have not seen everything. Every man has a weakness. I suppose I simply haven’t met mine yet, and I am glad for that.”

Thranduil smiled softly in delight. “You will do as the decoy for Isildur’s heir.”

Going still, Thorin stared at the Elf. “What?”

“I will plant a seed of deception in the ear of the Dark Lord and give him the thought that the heir of Isildur fled to Dale and hid among fellow kingdom before the dragon. The line of Isildur continued within Laketown and then took leadership of the kingdom of Dale, having blended with the line of Girion.”

Bard leaned forward. “And just how will you plant this seed of deception?”

“I may have found…a Seeing Stone a long time ago…” Thranduil cleared his throat and examined his nails. Thorin gaped at Thranduil in shock.

“And you just now thought to tell us this?!”

“It never came up in conversation.” Thranduil gave them both a lazy shrug.

“Elf! You will be the death of me!” Thorin slumped back into his chair. Thranduil laughed.

“Isn’t that a wonderful thought.”

Bard spoke up before another argument could be had between the two stubborn kings. He waved his hands. “How did you know he was even searching for Isildur’s heir?”

“I captured the creature that had once been within his custody. A creature that goes by the name Gollum.”

Thorin frowned. “That’s the beast who held the ring that Bilbo met in the goblin caves!”

“Aye. He heard whispers while in the tender care of the Dark Lord, and I persuaded him to tell me those whispers. The Nine will search under Sauron’s orders to find the heir and kill him, thereby scattering the Men of Middle Earth to never again be unified. With his thoughts bent on you, Elrond may hide the real heir away from Sauron and buy us time so the…heir can be trained to take up the crown someday.” Thranduil looked at Bard intently. “This plan hinges on your agreement.”

“I will accept this plan. Plant your seed, Thranduil, and pray that it won’t come back to bite us.” Bard’s knuckles were white as he gripped his armrests. “But make no mention of my children. I am single and without heirs of my own.”

Thranduil nodded and then stood up. “I will go now. Keep me informed. The moment our armies are ready, we will plan the war with Mordor.” The other two kings nodded grimly.

As Thranduil was leaving, Tauriel rushed into the building. “You summoned me?”

“We are at war as of now, Captain, however, before you go to your duties and see them done, a letter.” Thranduil smiled at her faintly. “From Prince Kili. He has made it to the Golden Wood along with my son and Prince Bilbo and the others of this Fellowship they have joined.”

Eyes lighting up with hope and eagerness, Tauriel took the letter, bowed once, and then raced away to read it quickly.

Meanwhile, Thorin took a moment to re-read the letter from Dwalin.

There was a particular part that worried him.

‘...the ring that Bilbo carries is haunting him with memories of the Dark Lord’s past. It causes the prince to lose sleep and grow weaker in endurance. I worry for him.

Also, while we were running from the wraiths, his leg failed him. The old arrow wound he got during our flight from Thranduil’s realm still hasn’t fully healed. I am worried and wonder what Oin can recommend me doing. I have found and collected some herbs from the golden wood sprites, but I still worry, my king. I do not want to fail you, Thorin.

With the loss of Tharkûn, I am afraid that Bilbo is slowly losing hope of completing his task. This journey is growing bleaker by the hour, and I cannot sleep without seeing the Bane of Durin in my dreams.’

He went on to talk about what he saw within the mines of Moria, but Thorin was mostly concerned for his son and best friend.

Balin was grieving the discovery of their father’s demise, but at least they knew for certain now. Fili was terrified for his brother, but he was hiding it excellently.

Thorin looked over the letter from Bilbo.

‘...without Gandalf, I find that leadership has fallen onto Dwalin’s shoulders and Legolas’ shoulders. They are the far more experienced, but since I am the Ring Bearer, I always seem to have last say in decisions. I wish that weren’t so.

Father, I must write this, because it burdens my heart so. I feel guilt for Gandalf’s death. I knew Saruman was a traitor early on in our journey, and I did not tell Gandalf. I doubted his loyalty to us over his loyalty to his leader. And now Gandalf is dead. Dead because I tarried in my decision to trust him. I feel wretched, Father. I will never get a chance to ask Gandalf his forgiveness for my doubting him…’ Thorin tried to ignore the teardrops on the page. He clutched the letter and then drew out of his slump when Bard began speaking.

“I think surviving a balrog and a dragon is very good practice and training for Bilbo. He will make his adventures a complete set, Thorin, and survive a Dark Lord too. Don’t worry about him.” Bard’s eyes were filled with unease. “Worry for yourself and your newly arriving people. The caravans are still coming into both Dale and Erebor. We cannot let them die because of Orcs.”

Swallowing, Thorin put the letters away and nodded. “Aye, you are right, Bard. You are right.” He closed his eyes and breathed. “I will trust my son to come back to me alive.”

“That’s all you can do, really.” Bard sighed and then pulled out a map.

~at that time~

Thranduil took a deep breath and then began speaking to Radagast, whom he had summoned to tell him of Gandalf’s demise and his plan for Isildur’s heir.

“I grieve with you for Mithrandir’s passing.”

Radagast inhaled and then slowly exhaled. “Yes…but what else do you wish to speak to me about? You’ve brought me to your treasury. Why?”

“I wanted to show you the shards of Narsil. They have been brought here, along with Isildur’s heir.” Thranduil glanced at the partially covered palantír.

“What?! Has anyone else been told about this?! Why are you telling me?!” Radagast was very convincing. It made Thranduil wonder how much else the Wizard has lied about while looking like a dullard and a fool.

“I thought it best to tell you since you are the only other wizard I know. Saruman the White has fallen. Gandalf the Grey is dead. I only know of you. Thorin Oakenshield has agreed to have his best smiths reforge the sword. I will give it to Bard the Dragonslayer when it is ready to be wielded.”

“Bard?! But he’s of the line of Girion!”

“It blended with Isildur’s line. I have to admit, the line has been made even stronger for it. There is Elven blood in the Girion line, making Bard more powerful than he would have been.” Thranduil turned away and began to lead Radagast out. “You must inform Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel that the heir will be ready to march on Mordor within a month’s time.”

“Aye! I will, I will. I hope Saruman does not find this out. Are you certain none know?” The door closed behind them. Thranduil smirked at Radagast.

“That ought to get him distracted enough. Now, go to Elrond and tell him of this ruse. The boy must be kept safe and away from all reach! He must be guarded by the best Elrond can spare!”

“I will go this moment!” Radagast nodded and rushed out.

Thranduil breathed out in relief. Hopefully, the bait will be snapped up by the Dark Lord and bring his armies here. When Sauron comes, Thranduil, Bard, and Thorin would be ready for him. Dain will close the trap and the Orcs will be slaughtered. Thranduil smiled bitterly.

~ten minutes after departing from Lothlórien~

Kili looked at Legolas and then turned to Dwalin. “The Lady gave us all some really nice gifts, but I didn’t see you have anything.”

“Bah. I don’t need anything from an Elf.” Dwalin refused to acknowledge his ears turning red. Bilbo laughed from the back.

“Not need anything my pretty white arse! He asked for a single hair from her golden head!”

Dwalin flushed deeper while Legolas smirked. “Dwalin! Is your heart of stone melting for the Elves?” His eyes twinkled. Kili laughed.

“What would Uncle say?!”

“Lad, if you tell him, then I’ll make you do training from hell for a decade!”

Kili clammed up fast. Bilbo snickered in the background. Legolas, after a bit, spoke up softly. “Did she give you what you asked for?”

Dwalin stirred and then mumbled, “She gave me three.” Legolas smiled and continued to paddle.

~that evening~

Bilbo gasped softly as he jerked away. He brushed all ghostly feelings of a mouth around his cock away and stood up. He couldn’t sleep. Stretching, he turned and picked up his new cloak but froze. Sting was blue.

“Orcs!”

That single word roused them all. They were beset upon by monstrous beasts. Celeborn had warned them that they were being hunted.

In the end, none died but…

Bilbo fell to his knees. Flambard and Sigismund… “They’ve taken them.”

Legolas and Fili scowled. “And we will get them back!”

“But I cannot take the time to do that.” Bilbo gasped. “I must get the ring destroyed and I cannot spare time even for my cousins, what monster am I?!”

Ecthelion knelt in front of Bilbo and took his hands into his. His eyes were serious. “I would have seen this journey to the end, to the very fires of the mountain.” He was sincere. “But you know what you must do, so trust me to hunt these Orcs and save your cousins. I will find them.”

Thengel straightened and finished packing up. He nodded. “I too with hunt these Orcs to the ground and rescue or avenge your cousins.”

Resting his hand on Bilbo’s shoulder, Dwalin cleared his throat. “The Fellowship must part ways, Bilbo. Let them rescue your cousins. You and I have a duty to uphold for all of Middle Earth.”

Inhaling shakily, Bilbo looked at Kili and then pulled him against him, resting his forehead against Kili’s. “Do not die. Survive, please Cousin. Live!”

Kili smiled at Bilbo with teary eyes. “I will see you again. Travel safe, and don’t do anything I would do.” He smiled faintly and then swallowed. “I will find your cousins, Bilbo, and I will see them to safety.”

Dwalin packed up their things and took one of the boats. Bilbo waved once and then let Dwalin take him across the lake to the other shore.

Turning to the others- Thengel, Kili, and Legolas- Ecthelion allowed a snarl to curl his lips. “These new beasts can travel under the sun. They are stronger, faster, smarter, but we will best them.”

Thengel grinned darkly. “Let us hunt some Orcs.” Kili roared and they grabbed what they could travel with and started off immediately.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

Gandalf screamed again as fire seemed to lick at every nerve in his body. It had been days like this. Gasping, he shook his head and coughed up blood. He would not be moved against his master. He would not turn traitor.

Saruman grabbed his jaw tightly and snarled. “You will heel to my wishes! You will!”

Spitting out his blood, Gandalf glared at Saruman. “I will never leave the light.”

Giving him a fast, bruising kiss, Saruman chuckled. “I have not even begun to make you falter. Through time, your mind will begin to wonder ‘why fight it’. Perhaps, I should weaken you and then set your hand upon the seeing stone? Hmm? Should I force your to open your soul up to the Master?”

Gandalf struggled against him, but Saruman only laughed and walked away, his black hair swinging. Shuddering, Gandalf closed his eyes and felt tears. He had been raped and abused repeatedly, his younger form was completely flawless, but all the scars were there, only inside, marring his soul.

Please, Master, take me from this place. Rescue me from this hell at the traitor’s hand. Have I not suffered enough? Take me back, my lord! I beg you!

Suddenly, his body slumped, and his soul flew away.

Manwë had listened to his Maia’s pleas.

~two days later~

Sigismund looked at his brother with fear. He wasn’t responding to his calls, and that cut on his head looked nasty. “Please! My brother needs help! You can’t let us die, right! He’s hurt! Help him, please!”

The monster looked at Sig and then at Flambard. “Give him some grog boys!”

Eyes widening with terror, Sigismund was forced to watch his brother gag, unable to do anything. “Flam! Stop it! You’re making it worse! Flam!”

“It’s alright, Sig.” He grinned weakly. “I was just faking it. Foolin around.” Flambard chuckled faintly. “See, fooled you too.”

Relief crashed through him when Sig heard Flam’s voice again. No matter how weak, Flam was talking, so Flam was alright. “What do they want from us?”

Flam coughed. “The Traitor thinks it’s me.”

“But we both-”

“Shh. The moment these are tossed into a fire, they’ll know the truth, but only until then.” Flam’s eyes grew hard. “So, we find a way to get out of this before that happens.”

“But where are we going?”

Flambard looked around and then sighed. “Best guest, White Wizard. Remember, Bilbo called his place Isengard.”

Looking ill and pale, Sigismund swallowed. “Oh.”

“It’ll be alright, Sig. Just you see.” Flam winked at him. The conversation seemed to take the majority of his strength, and he fell unconscious again, but Sigismund was still worried. How could they get out of their own?

Remember that story his mam told him about two children leaving bread crumbs, Sig struggled a bit and finally got his cloak clasp to fall to the ground. It was a little thing and a faint hope, but Sig hoped that the others would find his bread crumb. It was the only thing he could do.

~while the Hobbits are being taken to Isengard~

Thorin exhaled slowly on his war ram and listened to the chanting of the Orcs as they approached. He raised his hand to steady the men behind him. Thranduil cantered up to Thorin along with Bard.

“This will be known as the Alliance of All Races.” Thranduil looked at the hill and then exhaled when he saw the first spear points. “May the Valar show their favor to you this day.” The Dwarves gave their response, but the pounding of adrenaline before battle drowned it out, and Thranduil returned to his post.

Ravenhill blew the horn the moment the Orcs were in range of Thranduil’s archers. “ FIRE !”

The shouted Sindarin word, spurred on his soldiers, and the war began.

~Dwalin and Bilbo~

Sleeping was never easy for Bilbo. He slowly and fitfully sank into another memory soaked dream, however it was a bit different this time.

“Have you enjoyed yourself thus far?” A figure in golden armor with a mocking smile appeared to be standing beside Bilbo. They were once again in what Bilbo recognized to be Utumno.

Bilbo stared at the figure and then looked around for whoever this memory would be speaking to, but the figure laughed.

“Halfling, I am speaking to you, not to another memory. I am-”

“Sauron…” Bilbo stepped back in horror. “But you are only a spirit!”

“Not in the dreamscape. Not in our minds.”

“Our?”

“Yes. Our minds are connected. You have carried my ring for a good long while now, and the connection has started. It will strengthen until your mind is completely overcome by mine.” His fiery eyes gleamed with vicious delight. “And as I have with all the others who dare bear my ring, I will consume you.”

“No! I will not be consumed!”

“Saruman told me that this Fellowship plans to destroy my ring. I must say, I am surprised. I had thought my compulsion charms were stronger than that.” He shrugged sadly. “I suppose it can’t be helped. The charms wear off with time and three thousand years is a long stretch of time.” His smile came back. “But the road to my land will be treacherous and harsh, little prince.” He bent down and took Bilbo’s chin, eyes looking all over his face. “What makes you think you’re strong enough to survive it? To not succumb?”

“It’s simple really.” Bilbo pulled himself away from Sauron. “I will survive because I have to. I will not succumb, because I have no other option.” Spitting on the ground, Bilbo snarled, “And you will never consume me, Traitor of the Valar!”

With that, Bilbo forced himself to wake up. He roused Dwalin. “Move! We must leave this place behind us! Now!”

They hurried on. Bilbo didn’t know if the connection during their sleep increased the Dark Lord’s awareness of him. They moved a little ways off and watched intently for any signs of Orcs or wraiths or other such evil.

Through the night they watched, and nothing came. Bilbo sagged slightly. “He might be foxing with us.”

“It’s better to be overly cautious and paranoid, Prince, when they are really out to get you.” Dwalin chuckled and then wrapped an arm around the shivering Dwobbit. “But it’s also good to stay warm.”

“You’re a furnace, Dwalin. How can you stand all those coats?!”

“Long habit and necessity, my prince.” Dwalin chuckled softly and then they rested against a rock taking turned to keep watch throughout the night.

It was the fifteenth day of their journey that Dwalin noticed they had picked up a tag along. “Prince.” His voice was low. Bilbo jerked from his dose of exhaustion.

“Yes?”

“What did the creature Gollum look like?”

“The former ring bearer?”

“Aye.”

Bilbo frowned. “A shrunken sack of skin and bones with large luminous eyes.” He suddenly paled. “He’s here?”

“Aye. But he’s been following us. I don’t know what he intends to do.”

“Take the ring back, he worships the disgusting thing.” Bilbo paused for a moment. “Wait. Don’t kill him. You didn’t march upon Mordor. You’ve never been near it?”

“Not as close as we need to be.” Dwalin frowned at Bilbo. “Why?”

“Gollum…I have a feeling he knows a little bit of everything. He might…know the way…through these rocks and mazes.”

Dwalin growled and picked up his axes. “I’d just as soon cut off his head so he won’t bite ours off later.”

“True, I wish I could kill him too, but this is a task of survival, Dwalin, and we won’t be able to get out of this maze. Not alone. We’ve been trying for several days now.” He slowly packed up his gear.

Huffing out a breath, Dwalin snatched up the rope that Bilbo had been given. “Elven rope. Bah. I’d rather good Dwarf rope any day.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, and we need a leash for the creature.”

“I hope this burns the thing.”

“You are being uncommonly cold.” Bilbo frowned at Dwalin. “Is something bothering you?”

“Yeh mean, besides the quest to going into the heart of hell?”

Bilbo’s returning smile was mirthless. “Yes. Besides that.”

Shrugging, Dwalin frowned. “Just don’t like making alliances with known enemies.”

“Ah. It is a bit uncomfortable for me as well. Hopefully he won’t try to eat me again like last time.”

“If he does, then I’ll kill him.”

“Point.” Bilbo felt himself chuckle. “Let’s grab our sneak.”

~back to Sig and Flam~

About three days after being caught, Flambard and Sigismund quickly realize that the group they were with were part of a larger Orc pack.

Crawling over to his brother, Flambard watched as the Orcs argued amongst themselves. “Whatever you do, don’t let them see the ring on you. Once they find two, they’ll know one of us is fake.”

“They don’t know about the ring. They’re calling it an Elvish weapon.” Sig swallowed and looked at them, jumping when an Orc suddenly lost his head.

“Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys!”

“Now’s our chance.” Flam gripped his brother and then pulled him off towards the forest. They were, of course, pursued, but one of the Ents that Thengel had spoken of inadvertently saved them. Swallowing, Sig gripped tightly onto Flam’s hand as the Ent took them to the White Wizard.

However, what they saw was not who they were expecting. “Gandalf!”

The male blinked at them and then smiled. “Aye, I was called that.”

“We thought you were killed!” Flambard swallowed and pulled away from the Ent and gave him a tight hug. “We thought we’d never see your fireworks again.”

Stiffening, Gandalf stared down at them. “Fireworks?! Is that all I am good for to you Hobbits? Fireworks! Bah!” He huffed and glowered down at the two halflings, who were grinning up at him slyly.

Sigismund had a flash of unnerving clarity (he often kept people on his toes by his random bursts of intelligence). “Would you rather the Shire be mired in war and know you only as a great warrior?”

Faltering, Gandalf stared at him and then laughed. “Very astute of you, Sigismund.” He nodded and then crouched down to them. “We must wake all the Ents and have them march on Isengard.”

Flambard frowned. “But how?”

“Cleverly.” Gandalf smiled at them and then looked up at the Ent.

~meanwhile~

Ecthelion and Thengel looked around and then Thengel placed his ear upon the rock. Many a year had camped on these lands. He knew every quiver of its beating heart. “Their paces have ceased.” He frowned in confusion and then stilled when he heard hootbeats.

“The Rohirrim! My people!” Grinning at the others, he nodded. “They will help us find the halflings!”

Kili gave a sigh of relief and nodded. “That will be good to have help.”

However, no help did come. Thengel frowned at his men. “You mean…my father is dead?”

“We thought you dead too, Prince! The king was killed by Orcs from the White Hand of Saruman! Grima Wormtongue, that traitorous wretch poisoned your father while you were away. He has taken the throne as Steward!”

Thengel swallowed and looked at his friends. “My companions…I am sorry. I have failed Bilbo and his kin…I cannot fail my people too.”

Looking at his friend tiredly, Ecthelion pressed his lips together tightly. “If the Orcs are so brazen among your lands, then Mordor must be stirring behind its borders. My father must be warned and the torches lit.”

Legolas nodded. “Your words are truth. I know it.”

Snapping his arm up, Thengel gave his orders. “Give my lord Ecthelion a horse! And get me one too.” He mounted the one that came his way and then looked at Kili and Legolas. “Will you ride with me to Edoras?”

Kili looked at the mound of the dead and then closed his eyes. “Aye. I will ride with you.” He got onto the horse that Legolas mounted. Ecthelion waved his hand to them and rode hard and fast towards the Southeast. He had to get to Minas Tirith. He had to see his father quickly.

Looking down at Kili, Legolas exhaled. “Bilbo will not blame you for this, Kili. He cannot blame any but the Orcs and Saruman.”

Kili’s eyes hardened. “I will see that wretched Wizard dead before this war is over.”

“And I will help you, Kili. You may be Tauriel’s love, but you are my brother.” Legolas spoke softly. “And I have come to understand the loyalty and friendship of Dwarves.”

Kili looked up at him and then smiled. “Remind me to introduce you to my cousin Gimli. I think you two would like each other.”

Legolas smiled. “I cannot wait to meet him.”

~back to the Hobbits~

While Bilbo and Dwalin were struggling in the maze, Sig and Flam were struggling with the Ents. Gandalf could not sway Treebeard and had gone off to brood in his Wizardly way, telling the Hobbits to try their hand at convincing him. Treebeard was telling the two Hobbits about the Entwives. Flambard frowned in thought.

“Well, the Old Forest might have them…”

Treebeard blinked. “Eh? Varoom! Ba! Entwives might be near the Shirelings? Where are the Shirelings living?!”

“West-”

Sigismund’s eyes widened. “Aye! Northwest! You have to go through the Gap of Rohan to get to the Shire. We can show you and then you can come back and tell the others. Come! No time to waste. The Entwives will be happy you did not tarry as you usually do!”

Treebeard seemed to agree and moved quickly towards the Northwest. Flambard stared at his brother in consternation. “That will take us past Isengard! He could have cut through the woods faster-”

“I know, but wait for him to see. He will forget about the wives for a bit longer.” There was a gleam in Sig’s eyes. “Gandalf wants this done, Flam, so get it done we should.”

It didn’t take much after that to get Treebeard to attack Saruman. Gandalf watched with a gleam in his eyes. When the area was flooded and Sig and Flam were smoking the spoils of their battle, Gandalf approached Saruman. “Where are the armies I know you have had brewing here?”

Saruman sneered. “Gandalf the White ? Gandalf the Fool! You refused my offers and instead faked your death and got a new robe! You came back to play the hero too late! My armies are gone! My warg riders have gone! Rohan is lost and there is nothing you can do!”

Shedding his outer cloak, Gandalf’s eyes narrowed. “Saruman, I release you of your staff!”

The fallen Istar gasped when his staff snapped.

Sig didn’t really track what happened next. Saruman was hit by a strong gust of wind at the top of his tower and he fell onto a spike, but…neither Hobbit really understood how it happened.

“Gandalf?”

“Manwë has seen it fit to take Curumo back for his crimes against the free people.” Gandalf sighed tiredly and rubbed his face. “I grieve for the husk that once was my friend.” Sig frowned when he saw something in the water.

Flambard swallowed. “What now then?”

“We gather the provisions of Isengard and travel to Helm’s Deep where I know the people will have undoubtedly fled to. I must make an appearance and help rally the men.” Gandalf frowned and looked North towards Imladris. “The men must be unified again or all shall fail.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 24

~Imladris~

Arwen looked around and then breathed out in relief when she saw Estel’s form. “Estel-”

“No, Arwen.” He was staring at the shards of Narsil. “Not Estel.” He swallowed. “In another life, I could have remained Estel for a while longer. In another life, I could have lived my childhood free of shadow and stress, but this is what has been brought to me. This…is my birthright. Though a curse it may be…” His eyes were filled with sadness. “I cannot run from my fate. My name is Aragorn, and my father was Arathorn.

“I am thirteen years old now, Arwen, but even now I know my fate.” Turning, he raised the broken handle of the sword. “I must become a boyking and see war too early in my life.” He looked behind the stricken Elf-maid. “Glorfindel. I need to train. I need to become what my people need.”

Glorfindel bowed slowly and then looked at him. “Then you must be trained quickly, for the time for war will happen soon, and you must be ready.”

“We will gather the Rangers. We have to. They must be our spies. But after that…” He watched Glorfindel stand up. “After that we ride to Gondor. There is something there I must find.” He smiled bitterly. “Or rather…someone.”

Glorfindel gathered the sword parts. “We will reforge the sword then, and collect the Dunedain.”

~Dwalin and Bilbo~

While the others were rushing to and fro, gathering the soldiers for the tide of war, raising the alarm, evacuating the people, and rushing homeward, Dwalin and Bilbo moved in circles.

“Yer right, Bilbo.” He collapsed onto a rock. “We are lost.” He glowered at their only remaining option. “What do yeh propose we do?”

“Trick him. You be cruel to him, and I be kind. Once we win his…” Bilbo made a face. “Loyalty, then we can use him to guide us through the maze and into Mordor.”

“Aye.” Dwalin bit into his Elvish waybread and grunted. “What I wouldn’t give for a leg of mutton and a keg of ale.”

Bilbo laughed and leaned back against a rock. “Erebor will be filled with people now. From the Coal Level to the Mithril Suites…she’ll be filled with her people again. Dori will have set up his tailor shop, now with a royal endorsement. Nori…spymaster?”

“Aye. He’d get nothing less.” Dwalin chuckled. “From street thief to spymaster. What a company we have now, eh?”

“Yes…Fili will be hiding from Balin…no…” Bilbo looked at the storms over Mordor. “Fili will be helping train the armies of Erebor. The people of Dale will be evacuating into the mountain…they will be defending their home about now.”

“Are defending it more like.” Dwalin pointed up. “The Wraiths aren’t here. Or there. I bet my beard they’re over at Erebor.”

“Why?”

“Dunno, but it’s gotta be something important if the Dark Lord wants it more than what you’ve got.”

Bilbo rested his hand on his ring and then swallowed. “Right. Then what could be more important?”

“A thorn in his side the size of a Dwarven army, most likely. If I know Thorin, he ain’t sitting idly by.” Dwalin grunted and then stood up. “Best for bed, and best to lay a trap.”

Bilbo nodded grimly. “Right.”

~Ecthelion~

“Father! Send out the spies! Mordor is acting. The Orcs have attacked Rohan! There is war! We must light the torches!”

Turgon turned and stared at his son in shock. “It cannot be!” He raced passed the dying tree and hurried to the edge, staring at the craggy cliffs of the Mountains of Shadow. His mouth dried up. “I thought it was just a bad storm. I hoped it was nothing…”

“It is not nothing, Father. Muster the armies. We have to light the lamps!”

“Aye. Aye.” He rushed back into the palace. “We must defend Osgiliath! Send out the riders! Send out the spies! Find out who is coming to our borders!”

Ecthelion bowed to his father and Steward before racing off to gather his men.

“Light the torches! Light them! Gondor is at war!”

~Thengel~

Shaking in grief, Prince Thengel- now king- watched as his father was taken into the tomb. He swallowed and then looked at Grima Wormtongue, in irons. “You weakened my father with potions given to you by that TRAITOR, SARUMAN! You turned my father against his own people! You MONSTER! FOOL! SLIMY SNAKE!” With a swift strike, Thengel’s blade sliced through the neck of the snake and the body fell to the ground. Legolas exhaled slowly.

“First blood of war.”

“No.” Thengel looked at his people. Weakened, destitute. “Wormtongue has banished all the warriors. We have no standing army except the King’s guard. There is not enough time to gather the armies again. We will try, of course, but the people must be kept safe.” He swallowed and straightened. “To Helm’s Deep! We will ride to the Deep.”

Kili strode forward. “You cannot turn your back to Gondor! Ecthelion-”

“Has a standing army. They are always prepared. We are horsemen with a defense of a thousand troops. You have seen how these new Orcs fight. An army of them will slaughter us all, Prince Kili.” He pulled away and shook his head. “Nay. We ride to Helm’s Deep.”

Legolas cursed. “He is considering his people, but he is afraid as well.”

Kili exhaled. “The throne is new to him. He has a right to be afraid. We have nothing else but to ride with him.”

“Yes.” Legolas shook his head. “We must ride with him.”

~Gandalf and Isengard~

“We must go quickly to Helm’s Deep. Saruman knew that they were be fleeing there the moment he heard Thengel was returning to the throne.” Gandalf paced and then frowned and looked at the forest. “The trees…” He suddenly smiled. “Yes, that is a very tidy way to get things done. Half of the Ents will stay here to guard Isengard. Half of them will come with us and guide the trees and carry the supplies. Yes…”

~Lothlórien~

Galadriel sighed and looked at her husband. “We cannot leave the Men to die.”

“You are right, my wife. We cannot.” He looked up and summoned Haldir.

~the Dead Marshes~

“What is this place?” Bilbo gasped slightly as he struggled through the mud. Sméagol smiled at them.

“The Dead Marshes!” His smile was twisted but cheerful. “Dead Elves and Orcs and Men. Don’t follow the lights! Don’t fall into the marshes or you’ll be lighting little candles of your own.” He crawled away.

Dwalin huffed and helped his prince up and then looked at the little monster. “I don’t like this, Bilbo.”

Chuckling, Bilbo pointed to the rocks. “Well, he did get us out of that.”

“True.” Dwalin shuddered. “We are in the Dead Marshes alright.”

“What did happen here, Dwalin?”

“The Battle of Dagorlad. It was a slaughter. Elves and Men by the thousands died on these fields.” He waved his axe around and exhaled slowly. “The Dwarves didn’t fight as much as they should have against Sauron in the Second Age. They hid in their mountains and refused to look away from their gold. I believe the Valar, Mahal, sent that dragon to us to snap us out of our sickness and back into reality.”

Bilbo exhaled slowly and then frowned. “Why did no one come back for their dead?”

“Because it is cursed! No one can pull out the bodies because the marshes is cursed!” Sméagol hacked and coughed and then grinned at them darkly. “None can claim the bodies, because none survived to claim them. Rotting, white flesh, damned to stay here forevers!”

Shuddering, Bilbo felt pain for the Elves lying below him. “I’m sorry, my friends.” This was whispered in Sindarin. “ I am so sorry I must pass you by with no aid to you.” They moved on, not noticing the bodies of the Elves vanishing as their spirits remembered through the use of the language, who they were and where their halls were kept in the Beyond.

Mandos called them home, and they went.

‘Thank you Elf-Friend, for reminding us of who we are…’

Bilbo jerked slightly and looked around.

“Laddie?”

“I thought…” He shook his head. “Nothing. It must be the exhaustion finally getting to me.” He slumped against Dwalin again and curled closer to the warm Dwarf. “What food have we got left?”

“Four sheets of bread. Elf paste, bah.” Bilbo snickered at Dwalin.

“I think that’s the hardest thing for you, isn’t it? Relying on Elvish rope and Elvish bread.”

“Don’t tell a soul about this to anyone, Prince.” Dwalin gruffed and huffed, not letting on that he knew that Bilbo knew that Dwalin kept Lady Galadriel’s hair braided within the bead of the Fundin Line.

Shaking his head, Bilbo chuckled and then curled up and tried to get some sleep.

“Sleep? Ah yes, I’m sure you remember what it was, but you shan’t be getting any sleep tonight, my dear princeling.” Sauron stepped closer. “The longer I am with you in the form of a ring, the stronger our souls merge. Soon, I will become you, consume you.” Iron ropes snaked around Bilbo’s feet and curled around his legs and then waist. His hands were suddenly raised up and bound to the wall. Sauron chuckled at his prone form.

“Did you know that you could feel pain while in a dream? I can now touch your mind and make you feel things.” His eyes glowed. “Awake or asleep. Do you want to have your thigh burn with the mark of Mordor forever and ever during your journey? Or would you prefer having the feeling of a hot knife poking around inside you?”

Struggling against his bonds, Bilbo snarled. Suddenly, he froze. He stared at Sauron. “Our souls are merging? That means…” He began to smile. “You must understand something, Sauron, oh great and powerful Dark Lord. Hobbits and Dwobbits are light and fast on their feet.” The chains unlocked and he stood on the ground as the iron ropes turned to green vines and attacked Sauron. “And if our minds and souls are merging, then the control can go both ways once the door is open.”

“Get them off!” Sauron hissed when he found himself bound and gagged. Bilbo chuckled and moved closer to him.

“And if control can flow both ways, then I do have control. You can weaken me with your memories…” Bilbo’s eyes darkened. “Then my memories can weaken YOU!”

A roar split the night and the area around them changed from a dungeon in Utumno to a massive mountain filled with gold. Smaug rose into the air.

“You would use your memories of me, Dwobbit Prince, to fight your battles for you?”

“Won’t you please, oh great and powerful? This is the creature who wished to chain your magnificent self and enslave him to his own desires!” Bilbo was smiling madly, overcome with relief that his plan was actually working.

Smaug snaked his head closer and grinned that serpentine grin of his. “Oh?”

Sauron began to scream as he was bathed in dragon flame.

Bilbo chuckled and walked towards a door that appeared. “Have fun, Smaug. Do keep Sauron’s company for as long as you can while our souls are bridged together.”

Opening the door, Bilbo stepped through and promptly woke up.

Dwalin looked at him and then pointed to Mordor. There was a terrible screaming coming from there. “What happenin over there do you think?!”

Bilbo chuckled. “He’s experiencing some of Smaug’s gracious hospitality.” Bilbo quickly explained what was going on.

Blinking in shock, Dwalin looked at the ring and then up at him. “So as long as he is attempting to influence you with the ring, he’ll be torched by Smaug?”

“Yep.”

“So he’ll remove himself from you?”

“Most likely he’ll slip away all semblance of connection and compulsion until just a thread is left. Then, when the moment he thinks is right, he’ll strike hard and try and get me to never give up his ring.” Bilbo gripped Dwalin’s hand tightly. “You must never allow me to take it. Snatch it from me, break my hands, attack me, but never let me succumb, Dwalin. Never let me dishonor myself or my family.”

Grimly, Dwalin nodded. “Aye, Prince. I’ll do as yeh ask.”

Suddenly, the screaming stopped and Bilbo found he could breathe again. His eyes were lighter, his shoulders less stooped. “He is mostly gone.” With that, Bilbo started laughing. “He’s gone!” Dwalin smiled and then started packing up camp and rousing the grumpy riser known as Gollum.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

~Thorin~

It was daylight. The Orcs were hiding in the tunnels that the were worms had made during the Battle of Five Armies. Thorin huffed.

“I knew we should have filled those up instead of placing guards on them.”

Thranduil lounged on his tent throne and sipped his wine. “Spare me from the laziness of Dwarves.”

Turning, Thorin pointedly looked at Thranduil’s graceful slouch on the throne. “And Elves are the epitome of diligence.”

Dis snickered and then brought them back to their war planning. Bard winced as Oin stitched up yet another laceration. “If I had known carrying around that fake Narsil sword would cause me to be attacked by four wraiths on wings, I would have thrown you into the lake, Thranduil.”

Chuckling, Thranduil eyed him and then rolled his eyes. “Stop fussing. You’re giving me a headache, Man King.” Thorin spoke up before Bard could take offense. 

“Dain’s latest attack from the mountains has helped us cut the Orcs in half. They also stopped getting backup.” Thorin looked at them all intently. “War has already started for us, but my gut tells me that Gondor is just about to get a taste of it.”

Dain huffed grimly and continued sharpening his spike on his warhammer. “Aye, and the ravens tell that another army from Isengard has marched, even during daylight.”

“And where are they going?” Thranduil was standing now and approaching the maps. 

“They are planning to slaughter Rohan while the armies from Mordor attack Gondor.” Bard swallowed. “Sauron is wishing to annihilate the Men of Middle Earth in only the first campaign of war.”

“Aye.” Dain nodded to Bard. “And he will continue to strike hard at us because he thinks you are the heir. He wants you to never gain a chance to get to Gondor and the White City.”

“And we will keep him thinking that until the real heir is either hidden or wishes to strike back.” Thranduil looked at Dis. “What do the ravens say of my son?”

“They could not see him, but they did see Isengard in a smoking ruin and a figure in white traveling towards the hidden keep of Rohan, Helm’s Deep.” Dis snorted. “The Dwarves were the ones who helped provide the metals for that construction.”

“Then it has no weakness.” Dain grinned.

Thorin shook his head. “Every keep has a weakness, Cousin. And this is no exception. I know that wall. There is one thing that every place needs.” He looked at Balin grimly.

“Aye, running water. There will always be tunnels or pipes or gated rivers to allow fresh water to be brought in and waste to be taken out. But with Isengard gone…perhaps Saruman will not longer be able to help…”

“Nay, he would not march them out without telling them how to breach the wall.” Thranduil scowled. 

Dain spoke up. “Enough talking about someone else’s war, laddies. We need to plan for the next wave.”

That got them back on track.

~Aragorn~

They entered the camp of the Rangers and Aragorn took up the ring that had been hidden there. The ring of his forebears. 

“With this as my symbol…and these men as my witnesses…” Aragorn looked at them all with grimness. “I will lead Men to freedom and victory. I will not stay back for others to do what I am unwilling to do.” He looked to the Chieftain of the Dunedain. “I will need your loyalty.”

The man knelt quickly and bowed. “You have it, my king.”

“Then ride quickly and spread out. Tell the Men of Rohan and Gondor to push back and when they are ready, to meet at the Black Gates. Tell the Men of Dale and the Dwarves of the Iron Hills and Erebor and the Blue Mountains, to form into one massive army. We strike before he can, and we finish the fight before he can redouble his strength. 

“Ride to the Golden Woods, to Imladris, to Greenwood, ride to Lindon, and tell them to come back for one final Alliance of all Free Peoples of Middle Earth!”

The Dunedain bowed and readied their horses for their missions.

Aragorn swallowed and looked at Glorfindel. “Now…” He grinned at the somber Elf. “I advise you to pin up your hair.”

Shooting the boy-king a warning look, Glorfindel nevertheless did as told and pinned up his hair. “What are you planning on doing?”

“Lord Elrond once told me of a story…of how my ancestors were betrayed by another kingdom, and how Isildur cursed them in bitterness for betraying their honor and their oath.”

“That’s just a legend! The spirits have long since passed on.”

“Glorfindel…” Aragorn gave him a look. “I don’t think you of all people should preach about the strictness of the laws of the dead.”

Making a face, the Elf grunted. “You may have a point, but don’t you think you should have another go on this journey?”

“I am thirteen, and a young man, yes, but if I do not do this…then how can I have any right to the throne of Gondor and Men?” Aragorn exhaled. “I must call upon them to honor their word and promise. Then, when the battles have been won for Gondor, I will march with the living to the Black Gates. Hopefully at least a few will have heeded my requests to send aid and backup.” Aragorn stood up and then mounted his horse. “We can’t waste any time.”

Glorfindel shook his head, still thinking it nothing but a legend. But the journey would take at least five nights and four days. So they had to be off soon, it was true.

As they were riding, Aragorn reached to his chest and gripped the Evenstar that hung around his neck. Elrond did not know of this gift of his daughter’s, and the young man worried at what he would say. It didn’t matter if Aragorn was just barely out of his adolescence, he knew what Arwen had meant when she said she would wait for him to be ready for her. That she would, upon his return, choose a mortal life.

Aragorn knew, and he didn’t know how he felt. He had always loved the beautiful maid, but…to choose him over immortality…had she learned nothing of Luthien and Beren? 

Shaking his head, he tucked the necklace back under his tunic. He had other things to focus on.

~Helm’s Deep~

Thengel cursed when a watcher cried out. “My King! The torches have been lit! Gondor is calling for aid!”

“We cannot back them up when we have nothing to back ourselves up.” He stilled suddenly when he heard a horn. Looking out, he stared in wonder as the Elves marched through the gates and up the ramp. Legolas raced passed him to greet his kin.

Kili chuckled. “All is not as lost as we feared.” His eyes were bright. “And once we win this fight, we shall go to Ecthelion.”

Nodding, Thengel swallowed and looked out at the distant spears. “Once we win.”

~Ecthelion~

Turgon cursed. “They are fighting Isengard’s armies, while we are on the eve of battling armies from Mordor. This is not good. We will be slaughtered.” He shook his head and turned away. Ecthelion was gone, securing Osgiliath and checking the borders to spy on who Mordor might be bringing to their gates. 

All the spies confirmed that war would come within seventy-two hours. Turgon slumped upon the chair of the Steward and stared at the empty throne for the king. He shook his head and prayed once again that their king would come to them.

Of all the times they had need of him, it was now.

~Black Gate~

Bilbo swallowed and stared at the closing Black Gates. “Dammit.”

“Can I wring his neck now?”

“Not yet.” He turned and looked Gollum. “You said there was another way in?”

“Yes! Yes, precious! Yes! Another way in, there is, yes!”

“Then take us to it. Quickly.” Bilbo looked at the storm and scowled. “We don’t have much time.”

~Helm’s Deep~

They saw the Uruk-hai, and felt fear. The Men did. The Elves only felt rage at the disgusting creatures that bore their ears. Twisted, fell things. Haldir gripped his sword tightly. 

They would not fall to these monsters. 

Arda would never fall.

But the battle seemed hopeless from the beginning, and though Kili, Thengel, and Legolas did everything they could, they still could not seem to push back. And then…

The Riders of Rohan, long since banished by Wormtongue, returned under Gandalf the White’s leadership. 

There was much celebration that night, and then a long march towards Gondor the next morning.

Kili was so relieved that the Hobbits were alive. So incredibly relieved that he had not failed Bilbo. Not even Sigismund’s mischief with the palantír could remove Kili’s happiness that they were still alive. He wouldn’t be forced to tell Bilbo that his kin was dead.

Gandalf rode ahead of them with Sigismund to tell the White City that help was indeed coming, and that they should not give in when the hour to retreat had not yet come.

But when he arrived, Ecthelion was grieving the death of his father, Steward Turgon. The first wave of battle with no help from Rohan had made the new Steward of Gondor very bitter and empty of hope.

It was only Sigismund who managed to revive his spirits. Gandalf smiled softly in the background. “I will never cease to be amazed and surprised by the far reaching effects of these little Hobbits…”

~the Dimholt Road~

Glorfindel shuddered with a curse. “I am not looking forward to this.”

“Nor am I, but if a child can enter a cursed mountain, then shouldn’t a three age old Elf?” Aragorn smirked at him and then stepped over the skulls with a grimace and teeth gritting determination. “Do not look down.”

Pausing in his walking over what he had assumed were dry sticks, Glorfindel looked at the boy-king. “Why do people say that? Why do people always say that and expect others to obey?” The Elf slowly slid his gaze down and then snapped his eyes back up. “By all the powers of the Valar this is hellish. Never have I done this before in my thousands of years and never again do I wish to repeat this adventure.” They continued to walk through the animated mist. Glorfindel cringed when a hand slid through his bound hair. “Ugh. Why are we doing this again? The dead are following us. They’ve been summoned.” Glorfindel glowered at him. “We should not have come here.”

“Because, my whining golden friend, Rohan may come to Gondor’s aid, and Gondor may fight, but without reinforcements, the White City will become blackened by the fires of Mordor. And to be extremely practical, we need every able surviving soldier for the battle at the Black Gates.” Aragorn looked at the massive ghost city and then drew his sword. “And I will do everything within my power to see my people free.” They continued on until they made it to what seemed to be the courtyard of the Mountain Men. 

“The Dead do not suffer the living to pass.”

Aragorn straightened. “You will suffer me.”

The ghost king started laughing. “The way is shut. It was made by those who are dead, and the dead keep it.” All the ghosts formed around them and pinned them in. “The way is shut.” 

Glorfindel cursed and pulled up his bow. His arrow sailed harmlessly through. “Even balrogs are preferable to this! They are physical!”

The king stared at them and then laughed again. “Now you must die!”

Aragorn roared and pulled out his newly forged blade, almost as tall as he. He would not heel to this ghost king. Young he may be, but he was of the line of Elindir! He would make the ghost king obey him. “I summon you to fulfill your oath.”

“None but the king of Gondor may command me.” The Ghost King lunged at him with an ancient sword. Aragorn  blocked the swipe, and smiled at the ghost's shock.  “That line was broken!”

“It has been remade!” Aragorn grabbed him by his throat and shoved him away. “Fight for us! And regain your honor! What say you?”

The ghosts remained still.

“What say you?!”

“You waste your time. They are without honor, alive or dead.” Glorfindel glowered at them all.

“Fight for me! And I will hold your oaths fulfilled! You have my word! Fight, and I will release you! What say you?!”

They only laughed at him and faded away. Glorfindel stared up when the first skull fell. “Oh…shit.” They stared at the avalanche of skulls.

Aragorn started running immediately. “Get out!”

Glorfindel pulled the boy to the side and climbed onto the rock and under the outcrop which saved them time. They escaped through a small side path, and immediately noticed a fleet of black ships.

Exhaling, Glorfindel pulled a piece of bone out of his hair. “That went well.” He looked at where Aragorn was looking and felt his heart sink to his boots.

But before they could fully give into despair, the Ghost King finally came to them and agreed. “We fight.” Glorfindel personally couldn’t believe it.

Aragorn turned and looked at the pirate fleet with a grin. “Excellent. Then first thing’s first.” His eyes sparked with rage. “Let’s give Sauron’s allies a very bad day.”

Glorfindel grinned and readied his bow. “Shall I give them a message?”

“By all means.” Aragorn crossed his arms and smirked.

~that dawn~

Before Rohan, Gondor, and the ghosts fight for the West, and while Thranduil and the Dwarves and the Men continued to fight for the East, three people were traveling closer and closer to the borders of Mordor.

Bilbo stumbled suddenly, exhaling when Dwalin caught him. “Sorry.” He straightened with a grunt. 

“Is it yeh leg?”

“Yes.” He rubbed it slightly. “The Nazgûl are more active. He didn’t like the dragon fire trick.”

Chuckling, Dwalin shook his head. “Can’t wait to tell the others about that one. Ori will enjoy writing it down with my brother.”

“What?” Bilbo looked up and then glanced over at Sméagol. 

“You know that they’ll be legends about us.” Dwalin ducked a branch and chuckled as they slipped past the kingdom of Men. “Bilbo the Brave, Prince of Erebor, Savior of Middle Earth.”

“Destroyer of the Ring?” Bilbo laughed and shook his head, oblivious to the way Gollum froze. The little creature stared at them as they walked on.

“Aye, I don’t think they’ll be a Dwarf alive in this age who won’t want to hear about the Dwobbit Prince of Erebor who saved Arda from the Dark Lord.”

“I don’t know.” Bilbo gave Dwalin a smile. “I’d rather hear about Dwalin the Dauntless. The warrior who gave up everything to follow the prince to almost certain death. For his people, his prince, his king, everything…”

Dwalin flushed slightly and gruffed and grumbled and fiddled with his axes. “Prince, I was bein serious.”

“So am I.” Bilbo swallowed and looked at Dwalin. “I owe you so much, Dwalin. I couldn’t have gone this far without you.” There were tears in his eyes. “Thank you.” Resting his forehead against his friend, Bilbo swallowed. “Thank you.”

After a moment, the older warrior pulled away and wiped his face. “Enough of that, Laddie! Journey’s not done yet! Now where is that blasted bastard? Gollum! Come out, yeh whelp!”

Bilbo frowned. “Sméagol?! Where are you? Come on!”

They didn’t hear the whimpered conversation of about broken promises and wretched masters. They also didn’t hear Gollum’s plans. 

If they had, then things would have been much different.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

~Gondor~

The reunion between Ecthelion and Sigismund was happy but grim, because war was still coming on and Rohan could not be late. They stared over the battlements at the dark clouds and even darker figures on the ground below them. 

War was here.

As the first wave of attack fell against the city, Ecthelion fled with his soldiers back to the city with Gandalf keeping the Wraiths off of them. But still, they were surrounded. Osgiliath had fallen. The river was lost.

He looked to the West and swallowed. “Where is Rohan?”

Gandalf stood closer to him. “You must continue to prepare for battle. The Orcs of Mordor are now fully formed against the city. Rohan will come. They are simply gathering their men. They will come. You must prepare for battle.”

Ecthelion swallowed and nodded. “The catapults!” He glowered at the men. “Get back to your posts!” 

When the Wraiths came, he shouted, “Light the arrows on fire and aim for the wings!” 

But the city was still breached, despite their bravery, and the battle had come to Ecthelion. While fighting four Orcs on the wall, Ecthelion felt that unusual tickle to the back of his neck, a sixth sense telling him to turn NOW before it was too late. Swiftly killing all in front of him, he turned and stared at an Orc that stared at him before it fell to the ground. Sigismund stared up at the Steward with wide eyes, as if not really knowing how he had just done that.

Grinning down at the Hobbit, Ecthelion nodded to him. “A warrior indeed.” He then pointed back. “Get back to the Citadel! Kill off the stragglers and keep the boundary! Do not let any pass into the city!”

Sigismund swallowed but nodded and raced passed the fighting Wizard and down the steps.

Ecthelion turned and looked once more towards Rohan, but he saw nothing. Gandalf had been deceived it seemed. Bitterly, he turned back to his fight. Gondor was on her own.

~Aragorn~

Looking up, Glorfindel huffed. “Finally. I’ve always hated sea travel.” He crouched low behind the rail of the ship and heard the Orcs shout out about them being late. “I feel the same way my dear dead Orc.”

“Glorfindel, thanks to that balrog, you are always late .” Aragorn grinned up at him before leaping over the side with the ghosts following behind.

“You know, those dead jokes have long since lost humor!” He shot fifteen Orcs before putting his bow away and pulling out his two long swords. Aragorn laughed.

“Not to me!”

“Blast you, Little King! This new attitude of being the heir of Isildur has definitely gone to your head! What would Lady Arwen say?!” Aragorn flushed and kept fighting.

One of the Orcs heard Glorfindel’s rebuke and took the moment to slip away from battle and tell his general. Who then quickly told the Ringwraiths. One peeled off and quickly went back to Mordor to tell their Master.

~Dale~

Thranduil laughed along with Bard and Bain as they watched the Orc bodies burn. They had slaughtered all that came to the Northeast. Any who approached Rhovanion perished. They had won their battles and the war for the East. Lothlórien and Beorn’s lands were safe. Mt Gundabad would not be getting repopulated at any time this age. And that was just fine with Thranduil.

Fili raced down from Ravenhill. “Uncle! I can see the forces of Mordor marching to Southwest to Gondor! They are going to attack them!”

Shaking his head, Thorin exhaled slowly. “We cannot fight them. Our wounded outnumber our able bodies. They must fight alone and possibly with the help of Rohan.” He sighed into his mug of ale.

Bard looked up when his daughter, Tilda, hurried in. “Da! A man calling himself a Ranger is here. He says he has to speak to all the kings in this area! He has the medallion to prove himself!”

Thranduil stood and moved quickly with Bard and Thorin and Dain. They found the man huddled with a warm blanket, covered in filth and blood of Orcs. He was quickly eating the food that Sigrid had warmed for him. He didn’t even bow to them in favor of continuing eating his food.

“What is it, Ranger?”

Swallowing his mouthful, the ranger looked up. “The time has come for all the peoples to join under one last alliance. I am bid to tell you to march upon the Black Gate and join all those who choose to fight for the free peoples of Middle Earth. One last time.”

Thorin frowned. “Who sent you?”

“Aragorn, son of Arathorn. He trained with us for a time and was nicknamed Strider.” The man ate more of his food and drank some water before continuing. “He is taking up his forebears’ sword and ring and is going to ascend to the throne.” The ranger looked at Bard. “Unifying all those still free under one banner. Will you come?”

Dain laughed and slapped Gloin on the back. “Are ye joking? Who would turn down killing more Orcs?”

Snorting, Thorin looked at Bard. “I will come. And you?”

“All men who join me will do so on a volunteer basis. I will not order them to march to certain death.” Bard was grim. His posture relaxed suddenly. “But I will come.”

“As…will I.” Thranduil sipped his wine calmly. “I never thought I would see another battle on the plains of Dagorlad…perhaps the curse will then be lifted, and the spirits will find peace…” Thranduil would only learn later of what Bilbo had done. And all the Elves would honor him for his actions for eons to come for it.

“Are ye drunk, Wood Sprite? What nonsense are ye spoutin now?” Gloin slammed his tankard down. “We will ride to the Black Gates and march to Mordor on the morrow, but tonight, we will celebrate and drink and love our female folk!”

Thranduil chuckled and nodded. “You are right, Lord Gloin, but only in that we will celebrate and then march. I am not drunk.” He sniffed and raised his wine glass. “I never get drunk.”

Eyeing the Elf King, Gloin adjusted his position and posture and looked at him. “Is that right? Have yeh tested yerself against a Dwarf?!”

The people around them faltered and then watched with absolute fascination, as if they were seeing a massive shipwreck and could not look away. 

Thranduil smirked lightly. “Nay, I cannot say that I have, but it wouldn’t be much of a challenge.”

“How wise of you, Elf King, to make proclamations on things you have not done.” Thorin grinned behind his mug. Thranduil arched an eyebrow at him.

Bard spoke up. “A contest then!” He set two tankards of ale in front of Gloin and Thranduil. “No pauses and no spills.”

“And no regurgitations!” Gloin grabbed his ale and started guzzling.

“So this is what you would call a drinking game?” Thranduil looked at Bard, who nodded with a grin on his face. The Elf King picked up the mug gingerly. “I hope this cup has been washed properly.” He sniffed at the brew and wrinkled his nose before drinking is slowly. All the Elves who were present at the celebration of the victory over the Battle for Rhovarion moved swiftly to the side of their leader and cheered him on in that calm Elven way of theirs that steadily grew louder the more they drank of their king’s wine.

The Men of Dale were getting the rare pleasure of seeing drunk Elves. It truly did strip away a good majority of that ethereal mystery. Fleetingly, Thranduil hoped that none of his warriors would wake up in the beds of any mortals. That one loss of judgment in drunkenness would truly turn into a nightmare for any Elf.

Quickly, he tuned back to the present and continued emptying his glasses. After about twenty-seven mugs, he cleared his throat with a cough and looked at his fingers. “I feel…a strange numbness.” He rubbed his fingers together and stared at Thorin with wide eyes. “I think it is affecting me.”

Gloin- who was on tankard twenty-five- roared, “SEE?! WHAT DID I TELL YA?! HE CANNAE HOLD HIS…liquorrr…” He fell over with a thump. His son and the other Dwarves groaned at his defeat to an Elf.

Thranduil peeked over the edge of the table and studied the comatose Dwarf. “I win.” He blinked slowly at Thorin and then moved back to his wine and sipped it lightly. 

The men were roaring with laughter in the background while the Elves were cheering. Thorin shook his head softly in consternation.

Fili plopped down beside the Elf King. “By the way, my brother and I used to do this game every time we got into a fight on the way to Erebor.” He smiled sadly. “We’d count how many Orcs we’d killed and compare it after the battle. He always seemed to be one or two ahead of me because his arrows fly faster than my swords, but I’d always manage to keep up at the total tally.”

Thranduil laughed and nodded. The drinking had made his tongue looser than usual. “When I was younger, I knew Elrond during end of the First Age. We used to do the same. I fought beside him when the Valar battled with Morgoth and took him at the end of the War of Wrath. During that time, we would count how many Orc we killed. Don’t tell him I said this, but he couldn’t shoot an arrow to hit the broad side of an elephant. Because of that, he stuck to his blades, and I to my bow. I always got more, and he would give the same complaint.” Thranduil shook his head with a smile. “At the last battle, I put my bow away on purpose and counted how many I had killed with just my swords. The habit stuck, and now I rarely pick up the bow in combat. Just to prove to Elrond that I could get more kills than he in any form of fighting, the old Bookworm.”

Eyeing the king, Fili grinned. “This last battle, I killed eighty-seven…”

“One hundred and nine, Dwarf Prince.” Thranduil winked at Fili before going back to his wine. Dis laughed. 

“One hundred and eleven for me, and Thorin got one hundred and fifteen!”

Thranduil straightened in surprise at the Dwarrowdam. She shrugged. “Who d’ya think Fili and Kili got the habit from? Thorin, Frerin, and I did it long before they did.” Her grin was dark.

Leaning forward, Thranduil hissed. “As beautiful as you may be, Princess, I will not lose to you. Upon the Battle for the Black Gate, I will beat your tally, yes and the tally of your son and brother!”

Nori started collecting bets in the background.

~Imladris~

“Glorfindel informed me of what you did.”

Arwen swallowed and looked up from her book. “I did what I wished and knew to be right for me, Ada. Surely you can understand-”

“I lost my twin that same way, Arwen! I cannot lose you too!”

She looked at her father with a sad smile. “Only time will tell, but I think I could love him.”

“Time will tell.” Elrond’s jaw clenched tightly. “And hopefully time will mend a mind filled with confusion about priorities.” Her eyes widened with hurt.

“Ada!”

Shoulders slumping, Elrond swallowed and half turned away. “He is a boy.”

“Nay. He is a young man, and I am immortal.”

“For now. If what you desire comes to pass, then it will only be for now.”

“So be it. I am willing to pay the price for a happier future than a healthier one, Ada. Are you willing to let me make my choices?”

He swallowed and sat beside her. “Time will tell.”

~Dwalin and Bilbo~

Dwalin stared up at the stairs and then at the massive castle of the Witchking. “Laddie, I think I’d take my chances on the Witchking than climb those thrice damned stairs. I joined to protect you, there was nothing about stair climbin in my contract.”

Leaning against the rock wall, Bilbo stared at Dwalin with faint amusement. “Dwalin…you didn’t sign a contract.”

“Eh?! Well, that’s that then!” He glowered up at the stairs and then continued to grumble as they made their way up. “Ast! These stairs will kill me sooner than any Orc or Wraith will!”

“And any Orc or Wraith will certainly come to kill is if you grumble any louder, and if you grumble any longer, then they wouldn’t be needing to kill you.” Bilbo looked down at him over his shoulder with tired amusement. “I’ll do it myself.”

Dwalin huffed. “Keep that up, Princeling, and I’ll make you wear boots.” Bilbo edged away from the Dwarf and then grimaced at the sight of his feet. 

“No thank you, but you do have a point, I must admit. My feet are completely un-Hobbit like in fashion and tidiness. If my mum could see me now…” Bilbo winced suddenly and gripped his thigh. “Blast, she’d probably be screaming at me for picking up the fucking ring in the first place.” He swallowed and gasped at the pain. “Dwalin! I feels like a thousand knives are digging into my thigh.” 

Dwalin hovered over him and then glowered up at Gollum. “Give him a rest! We settle here for the night. The crag is safe enough!” Bilbo exhaled slowly and then looked at Gollum.

“Sméagol, go and scout ahead. Let us know if there are any Orc patrols at the top.” The creature smiled and nodded, seemingly eager to obey his master.

“I don’t like it, Bilbo. That beast will slit our throats in our sleep. I heard him mumble it to himself this morning. Haven’t had a chance to warn you with him always hovering around.” Dwalin stared at Bilbo, who looked strangely unconvinced.

“But he’s been obeying us all this time, cooperating and even hunting for us.”

“He’s up to some trick, Bilbo! You gotta know that!”

“Dwalin, maybe he isn’t? Maybe he honestly wants to change but the ring is making it hard? Maybe once the ring is gone he’ll come to himself again?”

Dwalin humphed. “Bah! Twisted he is and twisted he’ll stay! There’s no hope for him!”

Sucking in a breath, Bilbo stared at the castle below them and felt the ring pull his soul towards giving in, giving up. “Then is there hope for me?”

“What?” Dwalin frowned at him. “Bilbo? What do you mean?”

“I feel the pull, I feel my soul twisting, Dwalin.” He swallowed and looked down at his hand that was clutching the ring like it had a mind of its own. He couldn’t bring himself to let it go either. “Is there no hope for me?”

“You’ve had the ring less than two years, Bilbo.” Dwalin rested his hand on Bilbo’s shoulder. “Gollum had it for nigh on over two centuries if what Gandalf said was true.”

“Gandalf…another friend I would certainly love to see again. Why did he have to die?” Bilbo swallowed and felt tears slip down his cheeks. “And why do I have to fall?”

“You may fall, but you will get back up. And you’ll have the strength to overcome Gollum’s wide eyes of fake innocence.”

Bilbo felt a surge of irritation. “Why do you think so?”

Dwalin stared at him with a look of both loyalty and love. “You’re a Durin, Bilbo, and you are Thorin and Belladonna’s son. If your father could overcome his own gold madness, then you can beat back a single ring and damn Sauron with it forever!”

Inhaling the acrid stench of the land, Bilbo stared at his friend and bodyguard. “Dwalin…oh what would I do without you?”

The Dwarf chuckled and wrapped an arm around his prince. “Be inside that castle there.” That was a gruesome but honest answer. Bilbo barked a bitter laugh. 

“True. What did you have in mind with Gollum?”

“Kill him?”

Bilbo sighed. “Still need him, or do you know the way through those tunnels?”

Grumbling, Dwalin huffed and then shrugged. “Dunno what else.”

After a moment, Bilbo smiled softly. “Fake parting. Let him think he’s won. You follow a little ways behind and keep us in hearing and sight. When we no longer need him, kill him.”

Dwalin looked at his prince and then nodded grimly. “It’ll be my genuine pleasure, Prince.”

They rested that night and then were woken up the next morning by Gollum, who pitched a fit. Dwalin attacked him, and Bilbo banished him

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

When Gollum and Bilbo passed him, Dwalin bided him time and then slowly followed the duo up the stairs. When he made it to the top, he took a deep breath, pulled out his axe, Grasper, and entered the tunnels. 

~meanwhile~

Bilbo looked around quickly when Gollum moved ahead and promptly lost him. So this is where he wishes to betray us? Dwalin was right. I’m so glad I listened to him. Stepping back, Bilbo stumbled and then pressed his hand against the wall.

“It’s sticky…” His heart stopped. “Oh please Valar above tell me Mirkwood was the only place that spiders existed!” Continuing his backpedaling, Bilbo turned and narrowly avoided running smack into a web. He wished he could put on the ring, but that would do far more damage than good. 

Cursing, he stumbled and fell to the ground. In the quiet of his landing, Bilbo heard the telltale scuttle that made his heart drop. There was a spider in these tunnels. He knew immediately what Gollum would do after. He would make sure Bilbo died by spider, and then collect the remains and gain back his precious ring.

‘Ah! Your mind is a tactician, pretty Dwobbit! You really are a prince. I’m still smarting over your outmaneuvering me with that blasted dragon. My other self is enraged and confused at why he had felt so much pain. I can’t wait to join him over your cold corpse and let him know your cunning was all in vain.’

Snarling, Bilbo pulled the ring away from his skin and cut the connection, if only temporarily. So, Ring Sauron was getting brazen again. This was not a good sign. It meant that even the ring thought Bilbo close to death and no longer feared the dragon attacking him should he connect their souls yet again.

Swallowing, Bilbo scrambled away from the outline of the largest spider he had ever seen. “There’ll be no singing of Attercrop today, my friends. That’s a pity.” Bilbo gulped and then felt something bump into his leg through his pocket. He frowned and heard Gollum singing about his death behind him.

“What…have I got in my pocket?”

“DON’T CARES! WE DON’T CARES WHAT ELSE IT’S GOT IN ITS NASTY POCKETSES!” That really must have pissed Gollum off, because he moved to charge Bilbo and then scuttle back at the sight of the spider. Bilbo pulled out the Elves’ blessed star and grinned. 

Chanting the spell, he shined it against the recoiling spider and then quickly moved away down the tunnel that he hoped would take him back to the beginning. It didn’t. It took him straight into Gollum’s arms.

Less than pleasant arms that were trying to throttle him.

Gasping, Bilbo tried to track down where Sting was and also where the star was, but he couldn’t think with the lack of oxygen.  Suddenly, he heard a roar, a Dwarven war cry that brought tears to his eyes. He had thought for a moment that he would never hear that voice again.

Struggling up, Bilbo stared on as Dwalin kicked Gollum off of him and then readied his axe. When Gollum leaped at the Dwarf with a scream, Dwalin promptly used Grasper and cleaved the little monster in two pieces. Bilbo exhaled in a rush. It was done then. Their guide was dead.

A stabbing pain shot through his back, and he gasped. Dwalin yelled in rage as he watched his beloved prince fall to the ground, a monster spider withdrawing its stinger directly behind Bilbo. 

Not fully knowing what he was doing, Dwalin charged the thing and hacked at it, managing to cut off two of its forelegs before the beast withdrew to the walls and hissed at him. 

Swinging the axe, Dwalin found himself wishing for the company at his back. For Thorin, and Kili’s longbow. Swallowing, he tried not to think how he would face Thorin. His son. The king’s son was dead- NO!

Dwalin was crying as he raged at the spider. And when it knocked him back, Dwalin found Sting and shoved it home, impaling the monster straight up through to its black heart. The spider screamed and curled its legs inward in a belated attempt to protect its vulnerable belly. Pulling the sword out, Dwalin picked up his axe and strapped it back on before rushing to his prince. Before he could get to Bilbo’s body, he stilled as he heard a patrol of fifteen Orcs coming his way. There were too many. Swallowing, Dwalin kicked the spider’s corpse off the ledge, and then moved to run before pausing. The ring… 

The quest couldn’t fail. The prince couldn’t have died for nothing! Dwalin snatched it away and ducked behind the rocks, not letting the disgusting metal touch his skin.

When he heard that his prince was still alive…Dwalin screamed inside. “Fool of a Dwarf! Why?!” He watched his prince get borne away by the Orcs. “Oh my prince…please don’t go where I cannot follow. Please hold on for just a little longer. I will find you again. We will not be parted for long, laddie.”

~Bilbo~

“So, you’ve been poisoned. Ouch.” Sauron grinned at him from above on a black throne. Bilbo found himself lying on his face at the Dark Lord’s feet. “Does it hurt much?”

Gasping, Bilbo struggled for breath and tried to get up, only to scream in pain as Sauron appeared behind him and shoved a sword into his side. 

“Unfortunately, I can only injure your mind and soul. All the pain you’re feeling…it’s all in your head.” Sauron pulled out the sword and then stabbed Bilbo again. “Is that a comforting thought for you?”

Bilbo closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. “Yes, actually. Because there is always an escape through what you hate the most.”

“Oh? And what do I hate the most?” Sauron pulled the sword out to stab him again, but Bilbo rolled away and imagined a massive mirror pool. He grinned at Sauron before rolling into the water. 

“Creativity! Catch me if you can, monster!”

Sauron cursed and jumped in, but recoiled immediately when he realized where Bilbo had fled to. The Golden Woods. He stepped away when he saw Lady Galadriel comforting Bilbo’s prone form. She looked up at the Dark Lord, and her eyes gleamed. 

“So, he would imagine up a pretty Elf Maid? Bah! You should have stuck with a dragon, Dwobbit Prince. There’s a much better sting to his fire than pointy ears.”

Galadriel gave a soft laugh. “You have always underestimated Bilbo, Sauron.” Her eyes hardened. “I am not imaginary. That pool you willingly jumped through was a bond doorway into my mind. Bilbo called out to me, and I answered him. He fled to my comfort and you followed.” Straightening, she formed silver armor over herself. “You are in my mind now, Traitor of Aulë!”

Growling, Sauron lit all the trees around him on fire. “Then I guess this doesn’t feel very good?”

The trees turned to ice. Sauron faltered. The ground became adamant with ice and diamond trees. Galadriel stepped closer to him, her ring glowing on her finger. “What do you want the Prince for?”

Sauron conjured a sword and grinned at him. “Better things than you do.” He blocked her strike and then spoke up to Bilbo. “Did you know she saw your death and let you go?”

Bilbo faltered as he tried to get up. The Dwobbit looked at the Elf, but she wouldn’t look at him. Sauron laughed harshly.

“Oh yes, she saw your life and considered it worth nothing, Bilbo! She didn’t warn you, didn’t even give you a choice to accept your fate. She gave you hope instead, hope that maybe you’d survive. Did you know what’ll happen if you toss me into the lava?” Sauron pushed the Elf back and looked at Bilbo’s panting form. “The mountain will explode and the magic containing the eruption will vanish. You will die even if you succeed. Dwalin will die. And your father will fade…all because a pretty Elf-Maid thought your thoughts on the matter meaningless.”

“ENOUGH!” Galadriel struck at him and glared icily. “Bilbo, do not listen to him.”

“Are they lies, Lady?”

Galadriel bit her lip, and Sauron laughed.

Bilbo swallowed. “Are they lies, Lady?” He asked this again, calmly. His eyes were narrowed.

“Nay.” Galadriel broke away from Sauron and looked at Bilbo who was standing in the middle ground off to one side. “They are not.”

Closing his eyes, Bilbo swallowed. “And…did Gandalf know?”

“Yes.” Sauron spoke up for her. “Yes, Olórin knew also.” The grin on the Ring Sauron’s face was vindictive. “How does it feel to be counted among the pawns?”

Bilbo looked at Sauron, brows furrowed.

“What say you to finally making them look up to you for once, eh?”

Galadriel’s eyes widened as she finally saw Sauron’s game. “Do not listen to him, Bilbo- AH!” Her moment of panic undid everything. They were in Utumno. Galadriel gasped in agony as the oppression hammered against her mind. Her mental self’s glow flickered and she found herself chained against the wall. She stared at Bilbo with pleading eyes. 

Sauron stepped closer and appeared beside Bilbo. Suddenly, the Dwobbit was dressed in finery. “To make those Dwarves, those narrow-minded Dwarves who chased your mother to an early death, pay for what they’ve done to your family. To make them pay for not helping your father take back Erebor. How would you like to make all those men hurt for taking the land from your kin so long ago, forcing you to experience a wandering? To command the Orcs and make them do as you say, spare who you wished to be spared? How would you like to take back Moria again for your father? To prove to him once and for all that you are an adult and not a child!” Sauron exhaled slowly and rested his hands on Bilbo’s shoulders. 

“It’s all right there, Bilbo. And you may think I’m lying. I am the Dark Lord, after all, I should be lying, if I had any brains, which I do. You shouldn’t trust me at all.” Sauron smiled and conjured Sting in Bilbo’s hand again. “But I’m not. Just as Morgoth did not lie to me about everything he promised me when he desired me to join him…to take what I wanted how I wanted it…”

Bilbo frowned in confusion. “You want me dead.”

“Do I?” The Dark Lord shrugged. “Maybe in the beginning, yes, I did. I wanted you to scream and squeal and bleed for keeping me apart from myself, but…now…you have resisted me even after tasting my avarice in your own soul. You have tricked me and cowed me and pushed me away… I have to admit Olórin was right.” Sauron smiled softly. “There are quite a few surprises to be found in the Hobbit race. And do you want to know why your so surprising?” Sauron moved around Bilbo’s still form and crouched in front of him, hands still on his shoulders. “It’s because you have no true weaknesses. A greed for food and smoke and good drink. But there have been no crimes except stealing from that poor farmer with the unfortunate last name.” Sauron smiled beckoningly at Bilbo. “And that strength…that strength right there has brought you to me…you want peace, order, equality…I can give you all that.” 

Bilbo shot him a glare. “Through Orc armies?”

Waving his hand, Sauron huffed. “The Orcs are just a stepping stone. When I’m done with putting out the fires of needless rebellion, I’ll eradicate them easily enough. I’ve been looking for a race that could help me find the perfection that would equal the potential of this world.” Sauron eyed Bilbo with a smile. “And I think I’ve found it…your people, Bilbo…could be the crowning race of Arda. Better than Durin’s Folk, better than men,” Sauron sneered that, “and better than any apathetic Elf who cares nothing for the pawns in their plans. The Shire could become a kingdom, Bilbo…the Hobbits could be the top of the food chain.” Sauron chuckled. “With a little height addition through my magic of course.”

Bilbo’s pupils narrowed again from their dilation of before. Sauron didn’t notice. He moved to continue speaking but Bilbo pulled him close. “And will you bring back Morgoth like I saw in your memories of you promising him?”

Sauron chuckled and eyed the angry Dwobbit. “Would that bother you?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” He tilted his head.

Bilbo chuckled mirthlessly. “I will not serve two masters. And Morgoth does not want Arda to exist. I find…objection to that since I am living on the world he does not want existing.”

Throwing his head back, Sauron laughed. “Bilbo, I could give you a body far better than the one you have now. I could turn you into one of my own. A Maia. And as for serving two masters…” Sauron’s eyes glimmered. “I cannot help but admit that I have enjoyed watching you watch my memories…”

Bilbo fought back the nausea as he realized that Sauron had been… Breathing harshly, Bilbo looked at Sauron and then pulled him into a kiss that Sauron returned quickly only to howl as Bilbo shoved Sting deep into his side. Bilbo’s eyes glittered.

“I cannot serve any master either, and my people are never to be touched by your magic, you traitor!” With that, the dreamscape shattered around them. Bilbo broke Galadriel’s chains and formed a door back into his own mind and away from Sauron’s, whose form was currently chained in the heart of his own prison palace of darkness, howling at Bilbo’s betrayal.

Slamming the door closed, Bilbo looked at Galadriel. “I am sorry for bringing you into this.”

Staring at him in no little awe, Galadriel swallowed and then cupped his cheeks gently. “You…resisted his words…and saved me…who betrayed your trust?”

“Lady Galadriel…I am a pawn.” Bilbo’s smile was sad. “A pawn in Life’s game with Fate. You…you are the queen on the chessboard, but no less a piece with a role to play. What else can I do, but go where the Valar will have me go?” Bilbo smiled wider. “Now return to your own mind, my lady…and when you sail to the West…thank the Valar for including me in the game at all.” The door opened behind her, and Galadriel woke up-  

-to find herself in her husband’s arms. 

She touched her cheeks softly and found herself crying.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

~Kili~

While Aragorn was still sailing down the river with his ghostly crew and a single Elf, Rohan blew the horn and arrived at Minas Tirith. All Kili could do was grip Legolas a little tighter as he took in the sight of the Orc army. “Mahal save us all…”

Legolas’ own mouth was a bit dry. He could only pray to Lady Varda that he would see his father once last time before going to the halls of Mandos to meet his grandfather.

They were pushing the Orcs back, despite the numbers, despite the losses, it looked to Kili that these Orcs were truly underpaid grunts. They were nothing of the Gundabad ilk. He mentioned this to Legolas in between counting his kill shots. It was nice competing with someone who was almost as good as he was at the bow.

He mentioned this also to Legolas, who shot him such an offended look, that the Elf promptly took off for the nearest elephant to one up him.

Standing there in stunned silence, Kili watched the prissy Elf Prince take down the entire thing in less than five minutes. Brain having shut down in shock, his mouth blurted, “That still only counts as one!”

Legolas laughed at him and then charged back into the fray. Grumbling about Elves and being perfect in bloody everything, Kili also went back into battle. He heard a scream and felt his blood run cold. The Witchking was about to eat Thengel! The man was lying prone on the ground with a bleeding wound in his side and an arrow in his leg.

Yelling at the top of his lungs, Kili jumped in the way and swallowed. “You will not touch him!”

The voice of the monster twisted around Kili’s head, but he gritted his teeth and refused to bolt even as the monster lifted a truly unfairly large mace into the air.

“Seriously?” Kili’s mouth once again ran away from his catatonic brain. “Compensating much? Is it because you don’t have one?”

The Witchking must have understood him because he quickly attacked with extreme prejudice. After losing his shield (the stupid wooden man-made thing wasn’t much good anyways) Kili shoulder rolled around and moved fast to dodge the killing blows from the Witchking’s mace. He spied Flambard sneaking up behind the wraith and thus decided to keep all focus on himself. 

This allowed Flambard to shove his sword into the side of the wraith leader, and then slice the back of where the thing’s legs should have been. There was another terrible scream, and a painful freezing sensation sliced up Flam’s arms, causing him to scream along with the Witchking. Backing away, he swallowed, leaving the rest to the Dwarf Prince. Kili tightened his grip on his sword and stood tall. He poised to strike, but the wraith spoke again.

“You fool! No man can kill me!”

Kili gave him a look. “Um…I’m not a man. I’m a Dwarf, Genius.” With that, he shoved his sword straight into its blank face. The pain this time of getting too near the thing’s shadow body stunned Kili and forced him to stumble back. He slumped to the ground gasping for breath as he stared at the spinning sky. Distantly, he noticed the Witchking give one final shriek before the entire thing crumbled like a can. Thengel gasped his name, but Kili couldn’t really…comprehend anything much except the freezing cold that seemed to seep into his lungs and heart and…and…

Oh…

I guess this is what dying feels like. Never thought it would be so cold… His last thoughts were to Flambard, and then to Tauriel. I’m sorry, my One. I’m so sorry.

~Glorfindel~

It was nearly impossible to keep track of the boy-king in the war, but Glorfindel managed to keep him in sight a good majority of the time. Though he quickly noticed that there was a guard of ghosts around Aragorn at all times. It made sense. Aragorn had to live if they were to be freed. Him dying would certainly put a kink in their plans. As the ghosts swarmed the battlefield and cleared out the city and essentially stole the show, Glorfindel took a moment to breathe. He then heard a scream that he knew instinctively was the grief cry of an Elf. Turning sharply, he saw Thranduil’s son, Legolas of the Woodland Realm running up to…a Dwarf. Glorfindel hurried over to the pair. Legolas was breathing through his tears and clutching the cold body of the Dwarf Prince that Glorfindel knew to be Kili of the Durin Line. 

Kneeling quickly, he gestured for permission to touch the body. “He may still be alive Prince Legolas!”

The Elf quickly let Glorfindel move closer. His eyes were intense. “If you can save him, then I will do anything you ask for it to be done. He is to be married to my sister of heart, and I cannot go to her with his body. I cannot let him die. He has come to be my brother too.”

“I will do what I can. We must get him into the city.” Glorfindel swallowed. Healing wasn’t his forte, but…he had definitely picked up a few tricks while working alongside Elrond. Wetting his lips, he started chanting softly, pushing the cold away from the soul, the fire of the Dwarf’s heart, and then keeping it at bay. “He is stable, but he must be cleansed of the Witchking’s darkness.”

“How did this happen? Was he hit with a Morgul blade?”

“Nay. That works faster than this.” Glorfindel turned and then immediately spied the crumpled armor and stared in awe. “He slayed him…this Dwarf…killed the Witchking with naught but a blade…”

Legolas stared at the remains of the biggest general of Sauron’s armies. His mouth ran dry. “Kili…” Turning to his friend, Legolas laughed. “That counts as only one also, my friend.” He leaned over and picked up the Dwarf Prince and quickly carried him to his horse. Glorfindel watched the Elf ride off before searching for his charge. He found him surrounded by the ghostly army. 

“Release us…King Aragorn. Release us as only you can, Heir of Isildur!” The soldiers nearby immediately began whispering in shock as they took in the boy holding a long sword, covered in Orc blood.

Aragorn swallowed. “I deem your oath fulfilled. Go in peace.” The king of the ghost army seemed to almost smile and melt away into the breeze. Glorfindel sensed something and beamed. 

“Olórin! Dressed all in white! You old rascal! I heard you finally popped off! What brought you back?” He raced over to his friend and slapped him on the back.

Gandalf exhaled with an ‘oof’ and then gave his friend a soft smile. “The Valar deemed my role unfinished, and sent me back. So, I was forced to copy you and return.”

“With a marked difference in fashion sense. I like the change.” Glorfindel’s smile turned dark. “Much better than the old one. I hear he’s dead.”

“Yes. He is.” Gandalf sighed. “But now we must focus on those who can yet still be saved. Come! I will need your skills in healing.” The Wizard greeted Aragorn and quickly escorted the boy to the city of Men. Glorfindel followed lazily behind. The ghosts had made very certain that no Orc was left standing. Which was nice of them. It certainly made clean up easier.

All the wounded were slowly being brought into the city and all the dead were being taken to the proper areas. The Orcs were being tossed out like garbage, and burned.

It took two days before everything was sorted. Aragorn held war meetings throughout all that. Glorfindel scowled at the men of the court who did not seem taken with the idea of serving a boy-king. However, he straightened in surprise when Lord Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor, knelt in front of Aragorn. 

“Aragorn, son of Arathorn. I look to the tree and see a bloom upon its long dead branch. I look to the battlefield and see the handiwork of ghosts and spirits who would only be commanded by the heir of Isildur. I look to you and see my king. I am Lord Ecthelion.” He stared up at Aragorn. “And I will serve you as I swore long ago. I swear it again, I will serve you, my brother, my captain, my king.” 

Swallowing, the young man motioned for Ecthelion to rise. “I thank you for your fealty and your loyalty. I thank you for you honor, and I swear to you that I will honor your oath in return.” His eyes were far older than any young lad’s had a right to be, and Ecthelion knew in that moment, that this boy would not bring ruin to Gondor but hope and peace and a new age. 

The Steward smiled and touched his heart, keeping his head low as he stood and backed away. His oath started the others to follow his steps, and the entire court of Gondor eventually vowed their fealty to their new king. The smart and true ones saw what Ecthelion had seen. The selfish and uncaring ones did not, and Ecthelion and Glorfindel both marked them with their eyes and memory.

When only the key players of the armies- Ecthelion, Thengel (recovering but capable of attending meetings), Kili (also recovering with a hovering Elf Prince at his side), Glorfindel, and Gandalf- were present, Aragorn began to speak. 

His plan was dangerous but it was also, sadly, the only one that made sense in the situation they had found themselves in.

Gandalf exhaled. “He will not move his forces away from his tower. He is not a fool, my dear Aragorn.”

The young man smiled bitterly. “He will if we give him enough incentive to do so.” Drawing his sword, Aragorn turned to the palantír but paused when Sigismund spoke up. 

“Wait! This might help also.” He pulled out a ring on a chain which promptly caused everyone to gape. 

Glorfindel shouted, “The blasted thing has been here all this time?! I thought it was halfway to the bleeding mountain!”

Flambard snorted and pulled his own ring out. Kili was grinning as he did the same. “It was a ruse thought up by Bilbo, the real ring-bearer.” Flambard explained. “My cousin thought that if Saruman saw one of us wearing the ring via one of his spies, he would describe us as ‘the halfling’. Since there are three of us who could be called that rather insulting title, the Orcs would be confused. If push came to shove, then he could slip away while one of us flashed a fake one and pretended to be the bearer. When Sig touched that stone the first time, his ring slipped out, and the Eyeball saw it. When Saruman betrayed us- it feels so long ago- Bilbo hinted that I had the ring. Keeping it in the shadows, you could lift up the ring and let him see it also, making him think that we have the ring to be used as a weapon, falling for his compulsion from the very beginning. Either way, it’ll cause him to push all his men to the gates like you want.”

Aragorn smiled and took the golden ring and studied it. “Simple gold. Who made it?”

Legolas chuckled. “That would be me, Estel.”

Looking at his friend, Aragorn chuckled and smiled at him. “This will work beautiful. Remind me to thank your friend for this.” He suddenly snorted. “And everything else he’s done for us, is doing for us.”

Gandalf frowned. “Why was I never informed of this?”

Coughing, Flambard looked away. “Well, originally it was because Bilbo suspected Saruman for treachery and didn’t know where your own loyalties lay, with your leader or your friends. Because of that, he didn’t tell any but those who carried the fake rings and the one who made the rings. Bilbo made four rings, as Legolas joked once, ‘Four rings for the Ring Sharers under the sky’.”

Scowling in some slight hurt, Gandalf shifted his posture. “And who carries the fourth?”

“That would be Dwalin, who is still with Bilbo now.” Kili turned and looked out the window at the black sky behind the Mountains of Shadow.

Aragorn nodded to everyone to leave, but then spoke up softly. “Glor, Gandalf. I think you should stay just out of sight. To cover for me in case his mind…proves stronger than I anticipate.”

The two males nodded and remained to the side of the room and watched Aragorn steel his mind, draw his sword, and taunt the Dark Lord. 

Whatever he was shown in return by the fallen Maia was enough for him to drop the stone and stumble back, pale. Gandalf covered it quickly without letting himself be seen.

“What did he show you?” Glorfindel held his friend.

Shaking, Aragorn swallowed and clutched the Evenstar. “Arwen…being forced to fade into shadow…”

Glorfindel snarled. “That will never come to be.”

“Imladris was on fire, her people transforming into fell beasts before my eyes.”

“Only his own dreams that will never happen, Aragorn. Rouse yourself. Duty calls you to battle yet again.” Gandalf’s voice was firm. Aragorn snapped himself out of it and nodded before standing. He slipped the pendant back under his shirt and handed the ring to Gandalf. “Please return this to Sigismund.”

“I shall. Thank you.”

“Thank you, Gandalf.” 

~Bard~

When word reached them that Gondor still stood strong and with a new king on the throne, everyone exhaled slowly in relief. Yes, that meant they would be marching to the gates, but it also meant that the world of the free still existed and there was still hope. 

Leaving only a small standing army to hold their lands safe from straggling Orcs, Thranduil, Bard, Thorin, and Dain marched from their realms and kingdoms to the gates. 

Thranduil shuddered as they made camp two days later on the exact spot his father made camp three thousand years before. “Life is…filled with repetitions. I had hoped this would be one I never would go through again.” He prayed to the Valar that his son would not experience the terror he had felt, seeing his father fall and feeling the weight of the crown rest on his head in the middle of a war.

Swallowing, Thranduil closed his eyes and pushed himself to focus. They greeted the arriving armies from Gondor.

All the leaders joined together with a bit of confusion as everyone greeted everyone. Thranduil couldn’t bring himself to release his son from their embrace. He could tell that Dis was experience the same thing with Kili (who had killed the bloody Witchking!). 

When everything settled, the boy-king spoke up calmly. He nodded to the leaders. “Glorfindel, the final count?”

“From Gondor, under yours and Ecthelion’s lead, six hundred men were able to come. From Rohan, under your and Thengel’s lead, two hundred men. From Greenwood, under King Thranduil’s lead, five thousand Elves. From Lothlórien, under Lord Celeborn’s lead, five hundred Elves. From Erebor, under King Thorin’s lead, one thousand Dwarves. From Imladris, under Lord Elrond’s lead, five hundred Elves. From Dale, under yours and King Bard’s lead, one hundred men. From the Blue Mountains, under Princess Dis’ lead, one hundred Dwarves. From Lindon, under Lord Cirdan’s lead, one hundred Elves. From the Iron Hills, under Lord Dain’s lead, one thousand Dwarves.” Glorfindel exhaled. “In total, nine thousand and one hundred soldiers at the ready.”

Aragorn swallowed and then nodded once. He looked at the leaders sitting at his table. Great rulers with far more experience than he. He began to explain his plan, and what he had done so far. 

There were nods of understanding from all of them. Dain huffed. “These are dark times, boy-king, and your plan gives Prince Bilbo a fighting chance. The Dwarves of the Iron Hills are with you.”

Gimli spoke up. “Certainty of death, small chance of success, what are we waiting for?” He looked around the table at the leaders, and Legolas couldn’t help but laugh. Kili smirked. He knew those two would hit it off.

After the amusement of Gimli’s words faded, Thorin echoed Dain’s sentiment. One by one, Aragorn was given agreement to his plan, and he felt both relief and fear snake through him. He was leading these men to a war they couldn’t possibly win, even with nine thousand strong. There were over twelve thousand Orcs within those mountains…and they were all coming out to fight.

Chapter Text

Chapter 29

~Dwalin~

The tower that held his prince was filled with shouting and cursing. Dwalin smirked and pulled out both his axes. Excellent. If the Orcs outside weren’t bothered by it, then his adding to the racket wouldn’t bat an eye. He plunged in and started swinging his axes around. By the time he slaughtered the Orc about to stick his prince, there was no one left alive in the tower. 

Bilbo was of course despairing because the ring wasn’t on him. Dwalin chuckled. “It’s right here, Prince.” He pulled out the golden ring and then paused. “Or is it this one?” He pulled out the other gold ring and then gave Bilbo a hapless look.

Rubbing his face, Bilbo exhaled. “I never thought this plan would bite me in the arse. Give them both to me and I’ll find out which one is which.”

“Alright.” Dwalin handed them both over, oblivious to Bilbo’s shocked stare. “Just don’t put them on to check that way.”

Giving the Dwarf a side glance, Bilbo couldn’t help but chuckle. “Oh Dwalin.” He hefted both rings and then snorted. “It’s this one.”

“How can yeh tell, Laddie?”

This time Dwalin did notice Bilbo’s incredulous look. “Do you even have to ask?!”

Glancing around, Dwalin checked for Orcs and then scowled. “Would I have asked, Princeling, if I knew?”

Blinking at him, Bilbo swallowed. “Um, there’s a pull that you can’t feel from the ring made of regular gold.”

“Ah. Fancy that.” Dwalin heft him up and then supported him when Bilbo stumbled with a gasp. “Bilbo?!”

“Sorry, just um…the ring is doubling its efforts.” Bilbo’s laugh was faint. “I’m too frazzled to pull the dragon trick again, and frankly, I don’t think I could even keep it up until the mountain anyways. The closer we get to the…the more…” He frowned. “Potent would be a good word. The more potent the ring gets. He’s pushing me hard, Dwalin. He’s…my thigh is screaming at me. I feel knives scraping against every bone in my body.” He gasped and stumbled again. “Pain…” There were tears in his eyes, which were beginning to bleed from the strain. “Pain beyond imagining, Dwalin.” His voice was hoarse.

Dwalin pressed his lips together and then hoisted his prince into his arms and grabbed a dagger. “My prince, forgive me.” He cut Bilbo’s hand, causing the Dwobbit to yelp. 

“What did you do?!” Bilbo’s eyes were wide.

“Pain under control can help shut out distractions. It’s a trick I was given during my training days. Soldiers who were forced to undergo…torture and interrogation. My trainers taught me that. Find a channel for the pain, or make a pain under your own control and focus on that to block out the mind tricks of Elves or witches and man-sorcerers. It helps insulate your mind.”

Bilbo dug his fingers into the cut and gasped and then panted. “I can think again. Thank you, Dwalin. Thank you…”

“Come on, Bilbo. Yeh can’t walk around Mordor in yer birthday suit.”

“Our clothes will stand out, Dwalin.” Bilbo’s eyes were bloodshot. “We have to disguise ourselves.”

A few minutes later, Dwalin grumbled. “Not a word of this to anyone. If my brother and cousins found out that I paraded around in stinking Orc armor-”

“Oh Dwalin, your grumbling is not music to my ears.” Bilbo stumbled again and then redug his fingers into his palm. Blood was dripping down his hand as they stumbled and climbed their way through the truly acidic and sulfuric pits of Mordor.

“I give Mordor only one star out of five.” Bilbo panted softly. “Service terrible. Vista deplorable. Wound not return. Definitely would not recommend.”

Barking a laugh, Dwalin adjusted his grip on his prince and looked around before pulling them both behind some rocks to hide from the Orcs marching to the front of the gates. Of course they were found and of course they started going in the exact opposite direction of where they had to go.

“Life hates us.”

Bilbo laughed bitterly in reply.

~Thorin~

When they approached the gates, they were in formation with the Elven archers in the back, the men with spears in the front, the Dwarves with the shield walls protecting the flanks and front, and the Elves and Men on horseback in the center. They were spaced out with enough room to not block in the warriors nearing the middle. The leaders were in the front lines but also close to their own warriors to be heard when shouting orders. 

Thorin was on his war ram beside Thranduil’s massive Elk and Bard’s white mare. 

There was absolute silence through the entire army of allied races for a moment as they stood before the Black Gates. Gimli frowned slightly and looked at Thorin. “Are we supposed to knock?”

The irreverent question on the cusp of battle shattered a little bit of the tension that had been building, and Legolas couldn’t help a small snort in the background beside his father. Thranduil simply rolled his eyes and then straightened- as did everyone else- as the Black Gates opened slowly and ponderously. 

When the speaker of Sauron came out, Thorin only heard roaring in his ears when he saw the mithril shirt of Bilbo’s. 

A huge cry of rage and grief swept over the Dwarven sections of the allied army. And when Thorin heard the taunts of torture, he could not hold back. With a roar and a swing of Orcrist, the speaker spoke no more. 

Aragorn had raised his hand and stopped Ecthelion and the Elves from stopping the grieving father. With that move, he had won Thorin’s complete respect. Looking at the corpse, the boy-king snorted. “That ends the negotiations, Filth.” Aragorn waited for Thorin to regain position before speaking. 

“I do not believe it! I WILL NOT BELIEVE IT! THE RING BEARER LIVES! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, of Dale! My brothers! Children of Ilúvatar! Of Mahal! Of Yavanna! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Man, Elf, and Dwarf fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship; but it is not this day! An hour of wolves, and shattered shields, when the Age of Men comes crashing down; but it is not this day! This day we FIGHT! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, PEOPLES OF THE FREE WORLD! STAND PROTECTORS OF ARDA!”

The armies of Mordor started marching out, and Thorin scowled at the sight of the nearly endless blackness. He glowered up and muttered, “Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an Elf.”

Thranduil looked down at him and then said quietly, “What about side by side with a friend?”

Stunned for a moment, Thorin swallowed and then nodded before looking at Thranduil intently. “Yes, I could do that.” He added quickly, “But don’t tell anyone I said that.”

Thranduil eyed the approaching Orc forces and drew his sword and laughed in reply before giving the order to fire when Aragorn gave the signal.

~Bilbo~

It was unclear how long they were marching away from their intended destination, but Dwalin finally got them out by pulling a Dwarven tactic and starting a fight. When the brawl grew, they slipped out and quickly began hiking back towards Mount Doom.

“Yeh know, Laddie, of all the names it could have been called, Mount Doom seems to be very…apt and yet completely boring.”

Bilbo vented a slightly hysterical laugh. “Dwalin, your observations, as ever, always seem to fill me with a strange feeling of buoyancy.”

“Aye, it’s called hope.” Dwalin continued to carry his prince, who writhed in his arms, giving little gasps as the ring continued to abuse his soul and mind. Every moan of pain stabbed Dwalin in the heart.

Bilbo looked up and towards the eye that Dwalin had to duck away from. He shuddered and then felt a phantom hand caress his throat. 

“I still don’t know why you’re hiding from me.” Ring Sauron’s smile was dark and not at all as kind as the ones he had originally given Bilbo…before Bilbo stabbed him with Sting.

“Because you’re trying to slaughter all of Middle Earth.”

“Bilbo?” 

Gasping, Bilbo blinked rapidly, but the image of Sauron didn’t vanish when he shoved his hand into his cut. Dwalin was giving him worried looks.

“Oh bother, are you hallucinating now? Tut tut. I guess I was too powerful for you after all.”

Cursing quietly, Bilbo swallowed. “He’s growing stronger, Dwalin.”

Sauron eyed him. “ How do you know that’s Dwalin? It could be one of my wraiths.”

Bilbo glowered at Sauron and then thought back harshly, My wound would burn because of it. 

“Hmm. That is a good point. But if I’m able to cause pain, then shouldn’t I be able to deny you pain also?” Sauron chuckled at him and walked calmly beside the struggling Dwalin as the gravel slid under his boots.

“Let me walk, Dwalin. The air is too poisonous for you to labor like this.”

Nodding, Dwalin let Bilbo walk, but supported him around the waist. 

“How caring and considerate you are. Not so with poor Sméagol. You cut him down the moment you no longer needed him.” Sauron laughed. “ How very…me.”

Bilbo gritted his teeth and then his eyes widened when Sauron grabbed his arm and raised Sting. Dwalin was ahead of him, scouting the path below for Orcs. “ Good boy, now bring your hand down hard.” 

“Dwalin!” Bilbo gasped when Dwalin turned and stared in shock as his prince moved to attack him. “Help me!”

Gripping Bilbo’s hand and disarming him, Dwalin pulled him into a hold and panted heavily. “My Prince?”

“The ring is sentient, Dwalin. The…the closer I get to Sauron, the closer I get to its destruction, the more powerful and desperate it becomes. The ring is a part of Sauron. It’s a fragment of his being. He’s growing. I can see him, standing apart as though a spirit, laughing at us now, laughing at me. I nearly killed you Dwalin. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Bilbo nearly gave into his tears but Dwalin barked a laugh. 

“Bullshit! The ring is metal and a carrier of a fragment of a Dark Lord’s soul. So what? Just a trinket. You pushed him off and held him at bay for this long. You can bloody well hold him off for a little longer, Bilbo Baggins of Erebor and the Shire! Think of your mother. What would she do? What would your father do?! Tell me!”

Staring at Dwalin with wide eyes, Bilbo breathed out and then laughed. “Mum would sing. As would Father.”

“Then sing, Lad. Sing with all your heart. Sing for the Shire. Sing for home and hearth and hope!”

Bilbo closed his eyes and stumbled. “I can’t remember the words. Dwalin…”

“Then I will sing and you’ll follow, Prince. It’s about time you learned some songs of your Dwarven kin anyways.” He stared singing in Khuzdul, and Bilbo began to sing with him, staggering to the foot of the mountain. 

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.

 

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.”

Sauron screamed behind him in rage and then flashed in fire only to reappear in the doorway the mountain.

The ring lanced pain straight into Bilbo’s soul, so suddenly and so deeply, that Bilbo could do nothing but fall to the floor and scream. Sauron lunged at him and suddenly, they were fighting for the control of Bilbo’s mind once again. 

Sauron snarled and pinned him to the ground before shoving his hand straight into Bilbo’s mental self. Screaming in agony and terror, Bilbo felt the dark being’s pervasive touch to his very soul. 

“GET OUT! GET OUT OF ME! GET OFF! GET OUT!”

“The moment you claimed the ring to bear it, was the moment you became mine! And the moment you became mine, you were my servant. This means you kneel before me and succumb! WHY HAVEN’T YOU GIVEN IN?! KNEEL!”

Bilbo coughed up blood and glowered at him darkly. “Never. I will have us both die before I fall to Shadow and serve you!”

“But you enjoyed my memories. I know you did.” Sauron gave him an intense look. “You enjoyed my memories of our master claiming me.”

“You’re sick, Sauron! In far too many ways for me to keep track of! I did not enjoy it!”

“You moaned like a whore in heat! Just because I did not speak to you in day does not mean I was oblivious when you were wakeful!” Sauron smirked darkly, eyes gleaming like twine flames in darkness. “You want me, Precious?”

Bilbo froze and stared at the male on top of him. “What did you say?”

Sauron frowned in confusion at the sudden lack of fighting. Bilbo’s mind went a thousand miles a second. 

‘He called me…why? Why would he call me what he is called? Why would he…’ Suddenly, it came to Bilbo, so clearly and so plainly that he couldn’t help but laugh. He shoved Sauron off and warped the dreamscape once more to his decisions. Only, he actively took one of Sauron’s memories. It was of him making the ring in the first place. Bilbo waved his hands around wildly.

“This is you! This is you, Sauron, but the legends were wrong!” His voice was hoarse. “You did not pour your anger and hate and malice into the ring! Your master had failed you! You were abandoned! Hopeless! Alone! You LOVED him! With all your heart! You loved him! And so to ease the pain, you poured your obsession and love into the ring! You shoved a part of yourself that craved being whole, but not just to Sauron! No! To Morgoth as well!”

The lava erupted around them, reacting to Bilbo’s emotions. Bilbo grinned manically. 

“And in a way to maintain what you craved so much, to maintain ORDER and PROGRESS, Sauron shoved away what he considered to be his weaknesses! His love for his master! His craving to be whole! His fear of losing his name! You call Gandalf Olórin! Why? Because you are what is left of MAIRON!”

With a scream, Sauron recoiled and vanished. 

Waking up to the real world, Bilbo shuddered and then pulled away from Dwalin’s grip and raced to the edge. Now! Now! It had to be now!

Bilbo swallowed and looked at the ring. It swung in the wind that was not there, but he knew, it was twisting in pain at his revelations. 

“BILBO! WHAT ARE YEH WAITING FOR! THROW IT INTO THE FIRE! NOW, MY PRINCE!”

Swallowing, Bilbo exhaled. “I’m sorry, Mairon…but you are lost.” Then, with a scream of rage and pain, Bilbo threw the ring away from him and watched it fall and hit the lava below.

A great quake shook the ground. A tremor. A warning. Dwalin grabbed him and half carried and half dragged him out of the mountain. The ring melted, and the mountain fell around them, and the spell that Mairon had spoken of, broke, and the lava rose, and the mountain became a volcano.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30

And as they stayed on the rock, Dwalin held his prince tightly and looked at the hell they were still trapped in and gasped out a prayer to Mahal before brokenly singing in Khuzdul,

“Oh, misty eye of the mountain below

Keep careful watch of my brothers' souls

And should the sky be filled with fire and smoke

Keep watching over Durin's sons

 

If this is to end in fire

Then we should all burn together

Watch the flames climb high into the night

 

Calling out father oh

Stand by and we will

Watch the flames burn auburn on

The mountain side

 

And if we should die tonight

Then we should all die together

Raise a glass of wine for the last time

 

Oh, should my people fall

Then surely I'll do the same

Confined in mountain halls

We got too close to the flame…”

The oxygen, what little remained in the ash pits of Mordor, was consumed by the lava and fire around them. Dwalin gasped, tightened his grip over his prince, and- with his last bit of strength- pushed himself on top of Bilbo to protect him from falling rocks and flame.

Both passed out as Sauron screamed.

~Gandalf~

The joy and relief when they felt the quake was short lived. Glorfindel started screaming for all the warriors to fall back. The Elves were quick to obey him. They had seen something like this once before and weren’t keen on living through it again.

The relief in their faces turned to horror as the saw Mordor fall inwards. The mountain collapsed, the towers fell. Everything was brought to ruin, and Thorin screamed for his son.

When the eagled came, Thorin shoved Gandalf aside and mounted one. Gandalf huffed and quickly mounted another. Kili and Fili screamed to their uncle, but Thorin’s mind was set on one thing.

He was going to find his son.

It was Gandalf who spied them first though. “There! Isn’t that Dwalin?!”

The sight didn’t sit well with Thorin. Dwalin wasn’t moving, and neither was his son. “BILBO!” Thorin felt the eagle pick up Dwalin gently. Twisting around, Thorin watched as Gandalf’s eagle carried Bilbo away. 

They were flown directly to Gondor where the rest of the armies marched back and caught up to them. 

Oin and Elrond together coaxed Dwalin and Bilbo back to health. Through the first seven days, Balin and Thorin, Dis, Fili, and Kili stayed in that room with the Fellowship and the Company visiting daily. The boy-king, Aragorn, put off his coronation so Bilbo and Dwalin would be awake for it, but none mentioned- in front of Thorin at least- the fear of Bilbo never waking again.

The first week passed and Dwalin woke up. He began hoarsely telling the leaders of the allied armies, the company, and the fellowship, of what happened after the group parted at the Falls of Rauros. He spoke about Gollum and Bilbo’s cunning. He explained how the ring tempted and taunted and played with Bilbo’s undaunted and unflinching mind. He detailed the fight with Shelob and her death. He beg Thorin’s forgiveness for thinking Bilbo dead and leaving him to the Orcs (Thorin easily forgave his best friend). Dwalin spoke about their time in Mordor, traveling alone and reaching the mountain. 

“Bilbo collapsed suddenly and started screaming. He was clutching the ring so tightly in his hand that I couldn’t get it out without taking his hand with it. I kept watch and tried to break him out of it, but Bilbo wouldn’t come out until what seemed to be hours later.” Dwalin sipped his honey and lemon water to soothe his throat. “Suddenly though, he woke up and ripped himself from my grasp. For one terrifying moment, I thought he would throw himself over, he was going too fast towards the edge. And then…then he spoke quietly, but I could still hear him.” Dwalin swallowed more of his drink. “I still don’t understand it, but he said, ‘I’m sorry, Mairon…but you are lost.’ I remember thinking, even through that chaos, that it was funny he said ‘are lost’ instead of ‘have lost’.”

Gandalf sat down slowly and stared at Dwalin with sadness and grief in his eyes. “The wording was accurate on Bilbo’s part. Mairon was lost. Had been lost…for a very long time…” He sighed and covered his face with his hands in regret.

It took another week before Bilbo woke up. And when he did, Thorin and Dwalin never left his side.

Well, no one did really. Stories were shared and exaggerated on. Tauriel fussed over Kili and Legolas alike.

On the evening of Aragorn’s coronation, the celebratory feast was given in Gondor, one month from the Battle of Morannon. During this feast, at the great table in the head of the hall, Nori spoke up to Thranduil. “Oi, Elf King! My gamblers would like to know the tally!”

Thranduil frowned. “Tally? Oh!” He rubbed his chin and then sipped his wine. “The battle wasn’t long before Prince Bilbo cut it short, but…I recollect that I killed two hundred seventeen.”

Dis threw her bread roll at him, prompting the Elf to laugh and catch it. “I take it that means you lost?” His eyes twinkled with rare mirth and humor. Everyone was feeling the affects of the lack of oppression in the lands. The Darkness was gone . The Elves were practically floating from it.

Huffing, Dis waved her hand. “Somewhere around ninety-seven to a hundred and five. I would have gotten more, but my son kept stealing the kills from me!”

Raising his hands quickly, Kili grinned. “I had my own competition with Legolas to consider, Mum!”

“By the way.” Legolas leaned forward. “Final count, eighty-seven.”

Kili blinked at him. “No! You couldn’t have gotten one more than me! IMPOSSIBLE!” Legolas started laughing.

Nori looked at Thorin. The Dwarf King smiled. “Well, with the war chariot, I took out more than would probably be fair to include…” It was a very well-mannered and correct answer, so much so that Thranduil raised an impressed eyebrow.

“Considering that, then perhaps, I shouldn’t include the Orcs that my Elk stepped on…”

Dwalin coughed and looked at Nori. “Did any vote for Bilbo to have the most kills?”

Flambard grinned. “I did!” He had heard about the competition after the war was won and laid a wager with Nori.

“Then the Hobbit should win.” Dwalin nodded over to the prince who was happily ignoring all their competitive spirits and doing something much more important. Eating.  Dwalin chuckled. “He got the Big Game.” At that Thorin stood up with a nod. 

All the Dwarves stood with their king. Bilbo stood up too, confused. They hadn’t done toasting before in the rehearsal dinner.

“King Aragorn, I give my first toast of the evening.” Thorin turned and looked at his son. “To Bilbo son of Belladonna and Thorin, Prince of Erebor, raised in the Shire- to the Hero of Arda, and to the Destroyer of the Ring!”

Everyone echoed the toast, and the Dwarves cheered and thumped and roared their approval. That started out the toasts and by the time it was over, everyone was so full of good food and drink, that they were ready to tumble into bed. Theirs or someone else’s.

Bilbo was escorted to his rooms by his entire family, Dwarf and Hobbit alike. He smiled at them and then bid them goodnight before falling into his bed with a sigh after brushing his teeth and changing clothes. 

~Elrond~

As everyone else slowly went to bed, Elrond stepped outside with his friend, Thranduil. It was with a heavy heart that Elrond round himself watching Arwen take a turn around the courtyard under the stars with Aragorn. The boy was growing up quickly under the care and tutelage of both Glorfindel and Ecthelion. He was already a good king, beloved by all who served him. He had won his people over absolutely, and they adored him.

However, Aragorn’s people weren’t alone in that adoration. 

Elrond turned away and heard Thranduil snicker. “So, your daughter is to fall in love with a mortal? And not just any mortal, the King of Men, and high figure of the Dunedain.” Thranduil tutted. “There’s no shipping this one off to the Undying Lands early.” Thranduil’s grin widened. “Which I know you have done before.”

Elrond rolled his eyes. “Thranduil, please! Those were all just coincidences-” He cut himself off as he spied something in the twilight on the other side of the courtyard.

Thranduil scoffed. “Oh yes. Fifteen of her crushes found themselves seeking better fortunes to the West. None of them ever had anything to do with you- what?” The Elf King was asking this because Elrond was cutting him off and tapping him on his shoulder, a small grin playing on his lips. He pointed to something behind Thranduil and then covered his mouth as his shoulders began to shake.

Turning, Thranduil’s keen eyes immediately found Legolas taking a walk with Gimli son of Gloin in the evening hours. The moon was glinting on a newly braided lock of platinum white hair tied with a Dwarven courtship bead.

“No…”

Elrond snickered. “Ho…you were saying Thranduil? Something about my daughter falling in love with mortal? What were you saying again?”

“No.”

Stepping back, Elrond snickered again as his old friend completely exploded into a rage of Sindarin and sword swipes at the hapless, unarmed Dwarf. “YOU FOUL BEAST OF METAL AND ROCK! YOU WILL NOT TAKE MY SON FROM ME! YOU AVARICIOUS CREATURE! I WILL NEVER ALLOW YOU TO STEAL MY GREATEST TREASURE! I WILL RIP YOUR BEARD OUT OF YOUR CHIN HAIR BY HAIR! I WILL TEAR YOU LIMB FROM LIMB!”

Elrond leaned against the wall and smiled as Legolas attempted to save his confused newly made friend from his father.

Fili and Kili popped up on either side of Elrond, both holding out their hands. Grunting, Elrond gave each Dwarf a small portion of mithril each. 

“How did you manage to put a courtship bead in his hair in the first place?” Elrond grinned openly, watching at Thranduil was now being held back by Gloin, Thorin, Dis, and Glorfindel. Gandalf was trying to make sense of everything.

“Legolas doesn’t know Khuzdul. Fili just told him that it was a relative's braid, like a brother-in-law braid. So he let it happen.” Kili smirked and shrugged.

“Doesn’t that mean Fili is engaged to Legolas?” Elrond arched an eyebrow. 

The elder brother coughed and blushed. “Ah, well, you’re the first to know, including Legolas actually, that um…”

Kili grinned. “Thranduil is attacking the wrong Dwarf. Fili is interested in winning Legolas’ attention. Personally, I’m all for it.” Kili winked at Fili and then continued to watch the show.

Thranduil was finally pinned down, and Legolas started speaking. Elrond cleared his throat. “Prince Fili, I advise you to run and hide from both Thorin and Thranduil for the next few days.”

Paling, Fili watched as Legolas flushed pink as Gandalf began explaining. “Er…right. Gotta go!” 

“FILI! GET BACK HERE!” Thorin’s roar woke the city.

~fourteen days later~

Erebor was resplendent once again. Bilbo hadn’t seen the mountain like this since all the changes had been taking place while he was hiking through Mordor. 

Staring in awe, he smiled as he heard the sound of voices in the halls and saw Dwarves and Dams walking quickly along the steps and corridors. Everywhere he went, the people bowed to him and whispered his new titles under their breath. Hero of Arda. Destroyer of the Ring. Prince of Erebor.

However, today was the day. Bilbo studied himself in the mirror, a floor-length one, in his dressing room that attached to his bedroom. He was in a deep blue tunic set with black leggings and black soft boots. The tunic was trimmed with actual gold. His beard was trimmed and glossy gold, and so was his hair.

Dwalin smiled at him as he watched his prince from the side, always vigilant, always protective. Bilbo smiled back at him before allowing Dis to place the thick blue robe on his shoulders trimmed in white fur of a wolf (Bilbo’s chosen fur type). He wore no jewelry, but that didn’t detract from what Fili claimed to be his majestic aura. Bilbo felt more like a lamb being led to the slaughter.

Swallowing, he nodded to Balin and Gloin. They opened the doors to his bedroom, and he walked out of it. The Company escorted him to the throne room, now fit for more than a thousand people. 

There were different levels to the sides. The higher placed the guest, the closer they were to the throne. This included the White Wizard Gandalf, King Bard, King Aragorn, Lord Ecthelion, King Thranduil, Lady Galadriel, Lord Celeborn, Lord Elrond, King Thengel, Lord Glorfindel, the Royal Family, and the Thain of the Shire (who, among several Brandybucks and Tooks, made the journey after the roads were considered to be absolutely safe).

Walking down the pathway to the throne, Bilbo once again wished that the Dwarves believed in handrails. Honestly. That was a very sheer drop if he got a spell of dizziness.

Swallowing, he approached closer and then paused. Thorin smiled at his son. “Approach me, Prince Bilbo, son of Thorin and Belladonna, heir of the Shire and Erebor, champion of Erebor, Hero of Arda, and Destroyer of the Ring.”

Bilbo was really getting tired of those titles. Taking a deep breath, Bilbo did so before kneeling at the foot of his father’s throne. Thorin stood up, took the crown he had personally made for his son from Balin, and set it gently on Bilbo’s head.

“Rise! Crowned Prince of Erebor!” 

When Bilbo stood up, the entire audience of over a thousand people, from the court floor to the balconies above and the gallery behind and below, cheered and roared their approval. Balin caught Bilbo’s gaze and winked. 

Turning, Bilbo raised his hand once to the cheering crowd before stepping up closer to the dias as his father’s hand signal. When Thorin sat down, Bilbo sat to his right on his own throne of gold and black marble and onyx (another of Bilbo’s choices). His throne was one step lower then Thorin’s throne, as it should be on a tiered dias.

Dis sat to Thorin’s left, also one step lower than Thorin’s but on the same level as Bilbo. Her throne was silver and jade.

Fili was sitting on Bilbo’s right while on the same level Kili was sitting to Dis’ left. Both their thrones were identical, silver with lapis lazuli. 

When the entire Royal Family was seated, the entire audience bowed, some deeper than others as befitting their station. 

After that, they held tributes for Bilbo and then retired to the massive halls of Erebor to feast.

Bilbo snorted. “The people are extremely excited.”

Laughing, Kili nodded. “Well, they’re commoners. It’s not every day that they get to eat free food in the Royal Banquet Hall on the Golden Floor.”

Thinking back on all the levels of the mountain, Bilbo quickly realized the truth in that. Each floor was like its own city, capable of housing thousands at a time. The levels grew smaller and smaller the closer to the royal level they got. 

Each level’s entrance and exit was guarded by soldiers. The main gate opened up to the Jade Markets and ground level. That was where all the nobles’ servants bought the food for their employers, and all the middle class bought food for themselves. However, the poorer classes didn’t often go to the Jade Markets unless it was to work there.

Thorin had shrunk the unemployment rates to nearly obsolete amounts, noting that the few that remained unemployed were the elderly, the children, and the mentally and physically crippled ones unable to work. 

It was a work in progress, but Bilbo looked around at the happy people and knew it was a good work in progress. 

“Eat Bilbo.” Thorin piled more food on his plate. “You have to gain back everything you lost.” 

Shaking his head at his ever hovering and ever protective Father, Bilbo couldn’t snap at him. Thorin loved him and this was how he showed it. “Yes, Father.” He picked up his wine and tasted it before carving into the chicken.

Chapter Text

Chapter 31

The hall was a hundred meters long and fifty-five meters wide. He chuckled and shook his head at just how massive it was. 

“Oh! Father, what did you do with that blasted golden floor?” Bilbo leaned over and looked at his father. Thranduil paused in conversation with Dis and frowned.

“You have an actual floor made of gold? Did Thror do that?” Thranduil snorted elegantly. “I will never get over the ostentatiousness of Dwarves.”

Shooting his alleged ‘friend’ a look, Thorin huffed. “It was an attempt to trap Smaug and smother him. Clearly it didn’t work.” He nodded to a stunned Bard. “He was stronger than the weight of the melted gold, and it didn’t burn his skin or scales.” Bilbo exhaled and nodded.

“When he ripped outside he spun in the air and shook it off like a dog with water.” The other Dwarves hadn’t known that bit. 

“Damn.” Aragorn’s soft mutter caused everyone around the table to laugh. Bard rubbed his face. 

“I’m only glad that I heard from my birds in time to be warned about your discovery. I knew immediately where the scale was missing on his belly thanks to you, Prince.” The man smiled wider when Bilbo flushed and waved his hands around. 

“You did quite alright without me, King Bard.”

Thranduil hummed. “But he’s not king. Not yet. He has yet to be crowned.” Thranduil glanced at Thorin, who grinned.

“The crown is being made, fashioned to look like dragon scales.”

“What?!” Bard gaped at him. “I thought we agreed on a simple band of silver and a single sapphire!”

Aragorn looked at the king and chuckled. “Just because Dale is under the protection of Gondor does not mean you do not deserve your own glory and autonomy to be recognized, King Bard. A simple band is not kingly enough for a man of your caliber and authority.”

Not quite knowing what to say to those compliments and statements, Bard huffed and crossed his arms, only to be roused back into a better mood as he spied his youngest dancing with the Hobbits below on the floor between the tables. He smiled at the sight. They were all wearing flower crowns. 

Thranduil smiled softly at that too. Gandalf spoke up with a laugh. “And into the Fourth Age we go. Perhaps we should call it the Crowning Age?” Everyone either laughed or groaned at his pun. 

Bilbo frowned in thought suddenly. “Prince Legolas…why don’t you wear a crown?” The Elf Prince’s eyes went wide as he stared at the Dwobbit. Beside him, Fili was snickering as Legolas started slowly shaking his head in warning (courtship bead swinging back and forth as he did so), but Bilbo kept going. “You’re a prince. Shouldn’t you acknowledge your lineage and birthright?” There was a small grin on Bilbo’s face, telling the Elf Prince that he knew exactly what he was doing. 

Thranduil hummed. “I made Legolas a crown once. He claimed it too impractical for his patrolling.”

“Yes, Father. And I still think it’s impractical-”

Aragorn grinned and spoke up. “But patrols are no longer needed half as much. The Orcs are leaderless and are being systematically cut down and dealt with. The threat is becoming obsolete already.” He looked at the paling Elf Prince with a grin. “Sure your logic is sound Legolas, but now…it’s as obsolete as the Orcs.” 

Clapping his hands, Thranduil nodded. “It’s decided. Thank you, King Aragorn, and Prince Bilbo. You are right. My son will be given a crown as befitting his status as a royal.”

Gimli hummed in thought and spoke up from where he was sitting down the table. “But to not give him a coronation would be an insult to yer son, King Thranduil, since everyone else given crowns was given one. Also, it would give your people a good reason to truly celebrate their customs.”

Legolas gave a soft groan as he saw his father begin to smile widely. 

“That is a very good point, Master Gimli. A celebration and coronation will be held this spring, after King Bard’s own. All here are welcome to join the festivities. My woods have been cleansed and are pure once more. It is safe for all to come.”

Legolas shot Gimli a dark look broken only by the smile of friendship in his eyes. Gimli chuckled at his friend’s pain.

Bard, however, was still thinking about what exactly Thorin and Thranduil had planned for his crown. The Battle of Morannon seemed to have solidified something, a certain respect that the two kings did not have before. Bard would have been thankful- since Dale is smack dab in the middle of the two realms- but now it seemed that their friendship was an excuse to gang up on him . He did not look forward to this development at all.

Dis spoke up. “As to Bilbo’s original question that Thorin in his old age forgot to answer, we couldn’t do anything with the golden floor. So, we covered it up with carpeting.” 

Shooting his sister a dark look for her comment on his age, Thorin added, “That’s only for the time being. We will lay stone tiles over it when everything else of more importance has been dealt with in the mountain.”

“Speaking of more importance,” Balin smiled at Thorin’s pained groan. “The council is wanting to expand to the Mountains of Shadow and find what can be mined there.”

Bilbo jerked up. “No!” His face was pale. The Elves were also nodding. 

Thranduil spoke up and looked at Thorin intently. “Just because the Dark Lord is gone, does not mean all shadow has vanished. Orcs remain, who knows what else has been sleeping there. Before mining, we must explore carefully and thoroughly and gingerly .”

Glorfindel spoke up. “Or don’t go anywhere near that place at all and just leave it to rot until say the Ninth Age or something.”

Thorin barked a laugh and then waved his hand to Glorfindel. “The Elves are right. I will deny the council this. They should learn to temper their greed, lest we find another Bane of Durin’s Folk.” His eyes flashed darkly. Balin nodded respectfully but wasn’t looking forward to that particular council meeting.

Meanwhile, Dis was gaping at her brother. “Truly, you have changed if you can willingly say that Elves be right in anything.”

Thorin laughed and nodded. “I feel freer, Sister.” He nodded to her and then went back to his mead.

However, Dain spoke up. “What about the Misty Mountains? Are we to leave the goblins and Orcs there to hide and continue to breed? It is at the edge of the Shire, which is now being noticed and spoken about. Would some Orcs think it upon themselves to seek revenge for the Hobbits’ part in their destruction?”

That question made everyone go cold. Bilbo set his cup down and looked at Gandalf. “Is it possible they could organize themselves?”

“As it has happened before, I have to say, yes, it is very possible.” Gandalf looked grave. “We will have to clear out Moria and the mountain chain.”

“Wait.” Bilbo looked at his father and then at Gandalf with a growing smile. “There was poison in the air of Mordor that made the Orcs gag and choke if they went too near the holes that gas was emitting from. Is it possible to copy that smell and force them out? Or even better, kill them all while still inside the mountain? Like a house is fumigated for rats and pests, the mountains can be too.”

The Dwarves looked at Gandalf in curiosity. Gandalf stared at the Hobbit and then chuckled softly. “Very innovative, Bilbo…yes, I believe I can whip something up.”

“Good. That way no one has to die, or not many at least. It won’t be another Battle of Azanulbizar.” Bilbo went back to his wine and hummed in contentment.

Gandalf eyed him and then chuckled and went back to his food as well.

~four years later~

Bilbo stared at the reconstruction of Khazad-dûm. Thorin wrapped an arm around his son’s shoulders. “We will dig no further than the mines have already reached. Instead, we will simply mine out and inhabit and use what we get carefully.”

“That is wise father. If one balrog lived here, then how many others could as well?” Bilbo looked at the majestic and intricate carvings that the Dwarves were re-doing on the pillars and stones. The mountain had been claimed and cleaned in two years and now the reconstruction and cleaning were about halfway finished. Everyone was looking to the mountains of Moria with hope and cautious joy. Reclaiming this land was a sign to all of Middle Earth that the threat of the Dark Lords had well and truly passed.

Thranduil was even speaking of creating another Doriath. The Elves were interested in making Arda pure and beautiful as the Valar had intended the land to be from the very beginning. 

Because of this, they refrained from leaving Middle Earth immediately, and would instead be content to sail off in small groups throughout the next few thousand years, like they had been doing before.

Sitting back, Bilbo smiled at his father and then left the renewed city of Dwarrowdelf to step outside on a stone balcony and look at the sky. “I do believe the worst is behind us.” He looked at Gandalf with a smile.

The Wizard chuckled softly and then gave Bilbo a look. “How did you know I was there?”

“I heard you.” The Dwobbit grinned. “Even Istari can be loud.” That caused Gandalf to laugh and nod.

“I will be sailing soon, Bilbo. The time of the Rings is over. Lord Elrond, Lady Galadriel, and I will be leaving. The other wizards will remain until this Fourth Age is over, and then they too will depart.”

Turning quickly, Bilbo swallowed down his shock and blinked back tears. “But…you can come back, true?”

“My time here is finished. I would have no call to return.” Gandalf gave him a sad smile. Suddenly a soft hand rested on Bilbo’s shoulder. Galadriel knelt in front of the Dwobbit. Their friendship had been a strange one.

Because of her witnessing Bilbo’s strength and forgiveness, she had given him her undying loyalty and affection. “My dear Bilbo…you can come with us. Not now, but in time…when your reign ends and your age begins to catch up, you must go to Valinor…for you are a ring bearer too, and the Undying Lands will give you comfort and peace.” She glanced down at his thigh. 

How she knew it still ached him at times, Bilbo would never know, but he smiled and looked at Gandalf and then at her. “I’ll think about. Thank you, Galadriel, Gandalf. When are you leaving?”

“At the end of this month. Thranduil wishes to give us a sending off party.” Gandalf sounded slightly exasperated. “That Elf King will never stop finding excuses to party.”

Galadriel laughed light and loud and stood up to give Gandalf a fond kiss on the cheek. “There is quite a lot to celebrate, Mithrandir.” 

Chuckling, Bilbo walked them out to their horses, raised his hand in a wave and then watched them ride out of sight. He pressed his lips together tightly and then exhaled with a smile.

Yes…by the time he was elderly, he knew he would be quite ready for another adventure.

“Bilbo?!”

“Here!” Turning back towards the mountain, Bilbo smiled at his father and joined him and his family for lunch. “Coming!”

Chapter Text

Epilogue

“So…you’re here too now, eh?”

Sauron groaned quietly and then struggled to see in the seething blackness. “Master?”

“Right here.” A smooth hand slid down the Maia’s shoulder. “I had been hoping you would be meeting me by opening the doors and letting me out.”

“I am sorry, Master…”

“Shh, it’s alright…at least you are by my side.” Cold lips pressed down a smooth neck. Sauron’s breath hitched.

“I had so many plans…so many excellent plans. Why couldn’t they see my logic?”

“The people of Arda are short-sighted. They failed to understand us, simply because they were made inferior by the Valar. I told you this.”

Hands slipped down a bare torso. “Master…I made another plan…barely thought out, frighteningly thin and fragile, but possible…”

The hands paused. “And?”

“The one who destroyed me…he has potential. I saw it, but he saw me…too much of me. In my momentary weakness, he destroyed me…”

“And what about him? Will his enemies rise against him?”

“He has no enemies. That is part of his potential. He is like you, Master. Cunning and charming…”

“I’m flattered you think so, Sauron.” The hands moved again, causing the younger being to gasp.

“In our struggle, I did something to him, Master. Something that the others did not notice…still have not noticed.”

“What is that?”

A smile was in Sauron’s voice. “I made him immortal. I gave him a fragment of my power…when I touched his soul, I gave him…me. When the time is right…when the influence has grown strong enough to get him to kneel to me, to us…he will have the power to open the doors and release us once more.”

“As you said, that is a fragile plan. It might come to pass. It might be overcome. The person you are speaking about seems strong-willed, to overcome you a first time.”

“True. It might not happen…”

“However, all we can do is wait, and while we wait…”

Sauron gasped and leaned into the touch.

“While we wait, we can spend time…reconnecting.”

“Yes, M-Master!”