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We Are Made Wise

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When Sunní had first received news that not only had Erebor been reclaimed, but that her husband and son still lived, she had sunk to her knees and wept, thanking Mahal and other Valar who might listen to a dwarrowdam for looking out for her family. Then, when her tears had run their course, she set about making plans and preparations. True, Erebor had the company and the army of Dain, but that was a barracks, not a city. For a city they would civilians – merchants and artisans, builders and diggers, trainers and educators – and they were based in Ered Luin.

So, the preparations for the caravans had begun even before Sunní received Dís’s letter on behalf of her son, Fíli the Golden King of Silver Fountains (and wasn’t that a turn up for the books? She remembered when Fíli had been the only dwarfling in their family, wide-eyed and interested in everything. It wasn’t even yet a hundred years ago. She thought, too, of the yellow-haired imp that had been the calming voice in her son’s group of friends – no less inclined for mischief, but with the ability to reason, and she thought that Thorin had made a good decision, naming Fíli his heir, regardless of Dís’s reservations).

It hadn’t been easy, with so many members of the royal family clear on the other side of the Misty Mountains, but Sunní was used to dealing with the egos of dwarves who felt they were better off being listened to rather than be listening.

Wrapping and stacking the plates from the cupboard was just the sort of focused activity she needed. The delicate pottery would require a gentle touch, and the packing a logical eye, both of which would calm her frustration. Then again, she thought as she pulled down a serving bowl that had been gifted to her and Gloin upon their wedding, smashing a few plates would be just as satisfying. Especially if I could use their faces as target practice.

No, Ered Luin cannot empty completely. There would be trouble ahead, and this settlement was needed to help protect the West and the lands of the Shire.

Yes, the Shire. Because you cannot grow crops in rock in winter, and they would be excellent trading partners. They appreciate fine crafts and would be willing to trade some surplus for the ability to have something to show off – or to give – to one of their neighbors.

Yes, I am sure. I have the word of a hobbit – Mr. Bilbo Baggins has written me personally. He is a well-respected member of hobbit society, and would understand their ways better than any here, strange as they are.

Yes, I will be leaving to join my family when the new governor arrives from Erebor. We will be first taking volunteers to stay, and then arranging the rest on a rotating trial basis. I will separate no families indefinitely and forbid no family from going home at last.

The new governor? His name is Dori son of Zhori. Merchant class, he is one of Thorin’s Company, and he will be named Lord of Ered Luin.

There had been many who had muttered angrily at that news. The Ri family had been merchant class for as long as any could remember, but never high enough to intermarry with the line of Durin, as Sunní herself had been. Still, Sunní knew Dori to be a meticulous, if fastidious, dwarrow, and in possession of not only the bureaucratic skills to lead a settlement, but a mean right hook that would shut the mouth of any naysayer.

It had been a long, long winter, though the weather for once was mild. The caravans had begun to head East several weeks past, and now Sunní found herself having to prepare as well. It had been easier than she’d like to admit packing up their belongings. They had more than most, curtesy of Gloin’s skill with coin, but their rooms were to house others, so she had only the more personal items to bring with her.

They would fit rather smartly aboard the main caravan, freeing Sunní to ride her pony unencumbered when the time came.

Dori was due to arrive a few days past, delayed by an unanticipated snowfall, and Sunní rather hoped they would? finally arrive today. She still had no doubt that Dori would make an excellent steward, but there were things that she wished to go over with him before they left. That, and the sooner she was away from the politics of the mountain, the happier she would be.

She was good at them, but she by no means liked them.

Pausing in her packing of her kitchen, Sunní took a moment to silently apologize to Dís and Fili, as the worst of her aggravations had left with the caravan a week ago. Perhaps she should send a separate message for Dis, when the next raven arrived.

She was interrupted by a knock at her door, and when she opened it, she found a young guard, slightly out of breath. “M’lady,” he said. “The travelers from Erebor were spotted. They’ll be here within the hour.”

“Wonderful,” Sunní said. “When they arrive, bring Lord Dori here, along with whomever he feels most appropriate. We have much to discuss and little time in which to do it.”

The guard nodded and ran off. Sunní watched him go and then turned around to look at her half-packed kitchen.

Sighing, Sunny began taking things back out of boxes. There would be time after this meeting.



It was nearly suppertime before there was an official sounding knock at the door, and Sunní went to answer it with a feeling of profound relief. This meeting’s delay had weighed heavily on her mind, but she hadn’t realized by just how much. She opened the door with an honest greeting.

Dori was nearly unchanged – almost comically so. His clothing, while never the finest fabric, was always meticulously crafted and elaborate, well-cared for. He was dressed today in much the same, and though his fingers, ears, and neck were far more richly adorned. When he turned his head, light from the glowlamps caught on the silvered jewels in his hair, as was befitting his new station. Sunní rather figured that metals and stones would last far more in a dragon den than more delicate silks and wools.

His chosen companion, however, was, a bit surprising – Bofur, of the mining guild. Sunní only recognized him due to his uniquely shaped hat and short-shorn beard; he had been a distinct sight among the rest of Thorin’s company.

Which, of course, meant that he was now Lord Bofur. Sunní eyed him as she readied the tea. She might even call him that, if only to see his reaction. There were more smile lines than frown lines on his face, and his eyes were bright with a warm humor – Sunní would bet that his reaction would be entertaining.

“I am Dori, son of Zhuni, Lord of Erebor and Ered Luin. At your service.”

Dori bowed with picture perfect precision – of which Sunní had no doubt was a source of pride. She wondered if he had been briefed by Balin before leaving the mountain. It was the sort of detail Balin would deep important enough to check, but she also wouldn’t put it past Dori to simply be that observant.

Bofur, after a moment, followed Dori’s example with an exaggerated showman’s bow, complete with a doffed cap swept low in his hand, showing the twinned braids of his hair. He popped back up with a bounce and a cheeky dimple. “And I’m Bofur.”

Sunní raised her eyebrow when Dori’s eyes positively crossed with frustration. “Lord Bofur,” he hissed. “We went over this.”

“Aye,” Bofur agreed amiably. “We did.” He grinned at Sunni. “At your service.”

“Sunni, steward of Ered Luin, daughter of Hoki and wife of Gloin,” she said, adding a touch wryly with her shallow curtsey, “Lord of Erebor. At you and yours.”

Dori’s face tightened by his ears in what could have been a pleased expression, until Bofur whistled.

“That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?”

“Indeed, it is,” Sunní said, allowing herself to grin conspiratorially at Bofur. “Luckily, the next part involves drink to soothe one’s throat.” She stepped back, allowing them to enter her home.

If possible, Bofur perked up even more, eagerly crossing the threshold. “Ale?” He asked, clearly hopeful.

“Honestly,” Dori exclaimed from behind him.

“Perhaps later,” Sunní offered. “First, tea. Proper ceremony, and all of that. Things are rather informal here, now, with the mountain turned upside down by the exodus, but there is a right way to transfer power.”

She gestured towards the hooks on the wall by the door, and Dori and Bofur both took advantage to rid themselves of their travel clothes – save, of course, Bofur’s hat. From the look of it, they had come straight here from the road.

The table had been set some time earlier with food that would not spoil or grow cold. Now, Sunní took a moment to retrieved pickles from cooling chest, and half-roast from where it had been keeping warm by the fire.

And with that, the meal was joined. Sunní did not know how their provisions had faired as they neared the Blue Mountains, no matter the plenty of the shire and surrounding lands, but she had not managed to eat yet that day, and it was quite a few moments before anything was spoken beyond “pass the eggs” and “more mustard, if you please.”

Sunní was rather proud of that: she had been making her own mustard for years, and it was quite well sought after.

When the roast was naught but drippings and scraps, the bread bowl empty and the dishes scraped clean, then did conversation turn to more urgent matters.

“Well,” Sunní began. “Let us get to it then. There is much that is in motion, at the moment, so I’ll try to be as brief as I—”

Dori cleared his throat, looked so deeply apologetic that Sunní stopped, concerned. “My apologies, Lady Sunni,” Dori began. “But we come with more pressing news, I’m afraid. We have been tasked by the Lady Dís and her son, King Fíli –”

“She knows who he is, Dori,” Bofur interrupted. “Or in a year’s time did you miss how her little Gimli and Fíli were so close?”

Dori narrowed his eyes, “There is protocol

“Aye,” Bofur interrupted a bit hotly, the first touch of temper Sunní had seen. “And there’s a time and a place for it. But you’re not talking to the Steward of Erebor right now, you’re talking to a Wife and Mum.”

Sunní felt her stomach drop, and when she spoke it was with ice in her words. “What has happened to my boys?”

They both started, and Dori flushed bright across his nose. Bofur seemed chastised as well, but at least he began to speak.

“They are both alive and well, last we saw, make no mistake,” he began. “I’m sure they’ve written to you to tell you they survived the battle, and they were being truthful if they said they took no grave injury – though none survived that day without a few scars.”

“What we were told to speak of was not to be put in any letter sent by Raven, by order of our new king,” Dori continued. “I do apologize for the delay, but on the quest Westward, on our way through the Misty Mountains, our hobbit managed to find that which was thought lost. The Ring. The One Ring.”

Sunní blinked, uncomprehending. “I’m sure there are many rings in those mountains,” she said, but Dori shook his head.

“I’m sorry, but you misunderstand. It was the Enemy’s Ring. The one thought lost all these years past.”

Sunní felt the blood drain from her face. The Ring! - in the company of her son!

“Gimli--!” she gasped, covering her mouth with her hand.

“Practically immune to the damned thing,” Bofur said, impressed.

Dori nodded his agreement. “It’s true. Gimli seemed immune to most perils on our journey – the influence of the ring being the darkest if not the most urgent. He seemed also immune to the Dragon Gold…” Dori sagged a little here. “He may have been the only one immune to the Dragon Gold, in the end.”

“The details of that are for Gimli to tell,” Bofur said, not unkindly, to Dori.

Dori nodded, and pulled an envelope of thick vellum from the inside pocket of his doublet, handing it over. It was sealed with wax and her husband’s signet, though the writing on the front she would have recognized in an instant as her son’s, even had it not read “Mum.”

“I believe he did, there,” Dori said, and again that odd pause. “If you have ale, you may wish it now.”

Perhaps she did, but she wished the words of her son more. Pulling her book knife, she cut the wax of the seal, and opened the letter. It went on for several pages in her son’s neat and tidy script and knowing but not caring that it was poor manners, she began to read.

It started like any formal letter, with Sunní’s full name and title, followed by her son’s…but this time, there were titles she did not recognize:

Lady Sunní Hokisdaughter, steward of Ered Luin and wife of Lord Gloin of Erebor

Lord Gimli Silvertongue, Lord of Erebor and Aglarond, keeper of the Lady’s Gift

“Silvertongue,” she whispered – an appellation was a high honor to achieve on one’s first quest, and Sunní was not surprised that Gimli’s poetry would win him honor – but she had never before heard of this Aglarond. It was a dwarven settlement by its name, but one thoroughly unknown to her.

A secret settlement, perhaps? Or, like Ered Luin, a ruin found and renamed?

And what gift? Who was this lady?

The letter continued informally, Gimli’s voice coming through his words so strongly that the ache of his absence rekindled in her chest, but again, as she read, she noticed subtle differences that left her with a deep sense of disquiet.

Mum,

There have many times in my long life that I have wished for your council, your laughter, your braids in my hair, but have wished in vain. It was with age that I came to appreciate advice that I too quickly brushed aside in my youth and I grew to be very old in age, you see, with a beard whiter that cousin Balin’s and longer than Da’s. I often had to tuck it into my belt. It was magnificent.

There is so much I which to tell you.

More, I am sad to say, then I can fit in this letter.

One day, hopefully soon, I will be able to tell you everything face to face, as I know you are leaving the West for Erebor. But, by the time you arrive, I will be gone.

I am sure that Dain and Bofur have told you by now what exactly Bilbo found in the Mountains. I recognized it immediately, and not just because of Balin’s lessons of history, nor of the creeping miasma that surrounds it when it hungers. It was not the first time I had been in its presence, as I have once before quested by its side in a desperate attempt to rid the world of such evil.

And we did, or so we thought. My presence here confirms only our worst nightmares. The evil survived and moved through time back to its last bid for power – it’s final push that so very nearly won and ended the light forever.

For you see, when the darkness traveled, I was sent to follow. I lived, fought, and died an old dwarf, and woke the next morning to you, Mum, chastising me for lying about.”

Sunní looked up. “What fantasy is this?” she hissed.

Somber eyes met hers. “Read on,” Dori said, not unkindly. “We’ve both born witness to things that prove what he says, if he’s saying what I believe he is. You son is many things, m’lady, but he’s never been a liar.”

“No, he’s terrible at it,” she admitted. “Can’t keep his expression.” She looked at the letter, letting the words blur together. “But this stretches the limits of credulity.”

“So did a company of thirteen taking on a Dragon and winning,” Bofur said. “We have your boy to thank for that, as well.”

“Somehow, that’s easier to believe,” Sunní muttered, her bewilderment turning cross, but it was enough to get her to read on. They were right, Gimli was an honest lad. There had to be some reason for this fantasy.

I had thought I had gone mad. I thought that Mahal’s halls were based on my own past – and you could imagine my horror when I realized that my beard had gone as if it had never been! But when I found my Lady’s Gift, I knew the truth – that I was in my own past, with knowledge of a future that will now never come to pass.

I apologize for my untruths, but I am not in the habit of prophetic dreams. Uncle Oin has often turned towards me with methods of divination, attempting to hone a talent I do not possess. Confessing to him was one of the hardest things I have ever done – matched only by confession to you. I am so deeply sorry that I cannot wait to tell you face to face as you deserve, but plans have been set in motion, and we do not have the luxury of time.

And here is where I must be careful, Mum, as the Enemy – so long defeated – has returned. He has turned his eye towards us with malice aforethought, as we have bested him once before. He is determined that he not be bested again.

I have told my story to the wisest among us, and we have settled on a course of action. I will leave the details to Dori and Bofur, for they are best not written anywhere, save to say that my knowledge and my (unfortunate for now) stature have aligned to send me on a new quest. Take comfort in the fact that I do not travel alone! Cousin Balin is with me, as is Ster, an officer in Dain’s army. We also travel with two Men – the guardsman Dulcan and the boatwoman Brig. They are of the Men of Dale and are good company.

We travel also with three elves.

“Elves!” Sunní exclaimed.

“Aye,” Bofur said. “They aided is during the battle, when the Orcs attacked from the North.”

Sunní shook her head. “Elves helping Dwarves, questing together. What exactly has my son gotten into?”

Dori looked pinched, but Bofur laughed, sudden and with great glee. “Legolas,” Bofur said, between cackles, and Dori cuffed him lightly on the back of the head. Bofur rocked with it, clearly used to the gesture, but calmed.

We travel also with three elves. Glorfindel, the Balrog slayer,

Sunní blinked, and read it again. Still the page said Glorfindel. He was an elf well-known to the dwarves. That he would be there…

He is not much like the tales, save for the accounts of his prowess in battle. He is jolly as Dain is jolly – the sort of mirth that comes from seeking life after seeing too much death. The second is Curuleador, a woodland elf of some prominence. He is old enough to have fought dragons in the North but is far more taciturn than Glorfindel. He would be cold, if one could not see the sly mirth eek through at times. Most often, it is when he is teasing Legolas, the last and, in my opinion, greatest of the three.

Mum, he is my One, and before you get cross, we have been married for well over a century.

“Married?” Sunní whispered.

Like me, he has returned from the future. He believes it is precisely because of our marriage bond, which works slightly differently among the elves. Where a dwarf widowed from their one may turn to be as stone with grief, heart hardened and actions heavy, an elf binds their very souls, and the two would die together.

I mention this only to say how deep our bonds, how committed we are to each other, and to give fair warning that his father, Thranduil of Mirkwood, is none too pleased that his son has bonded to a mortal.

“To the Elvenking’s son?!”

“Your son is a force of nature,” Bofur said, fond.

I think you’ll like him. You did before.

Sunní scanned the rest of the letter, but there were no more revelations. Gimli’s farewell lacked the formality of his greeting, which reminded Sunní that, memories of centuries or no, Gimli was still her darling lad, and was at his best when he was being honest and earnest.

Sunní refolded the letter and placed it carefully upon the table. Then, she stood and poured herself a tankard of ale. After a moment, she poured one for each of her companions as well.

Dori was watching her with concern, and Sunní was reminded of the ways he watched his own brothers. What had happened on that journey that let him loosen his grip? Bofur took his tankard with a grin of thanks and drank deep before he spoke.

“The battle for Erebor,” Bofur began, “Bilbo named it The Battle of Five Armies, you know, but it was more than that. We had just fought a Dragon, and we were battling elves and men, orcs, wargs, trolls, wizards – even the shapeshifters got involved. There were beings of tavern tales and nursery songs right there, fighting and dying next to you. And in the middle of it all was wee Gimli, glowing like the Arkenstone itself, looking to be of an age as his own father. Watching him fight was like watching Durin himself.”

“There were several times when Gimli showed knowledge, he shouldn’t yet have, and offered council beyond his years. If Balin had not confirmed that it was a trait he already had begun to show, we may have noticed sooner.

“Gandalf believes him,” Bofur said. “And Gandalf is not one to let himself be put over.”

Sunní shook her head. “It’s all so much,” she said. “But what else can I believe? My son is no liar. I knew even then that there was a secret he kept.” So did Dis, in fact. It was part of why she left to join them, after all.

“So,” Sunní said. “I will continue to consider my son’s true age later. Now, tell me what was so crucial that it could not be written down.”

So, they did. Taking turns in their odd way, they told it all, as it had been explained to them.

War in the North. A deception in the South. Building resources in the East and West. It was an ambitious plan, and one that perhaps depended too deeply on victories that were not guaranteed.

“What if it fails?” Sunní had asked, staring into her own tankard and wishing for far sight in the depths of her ale. “Gimli’s quest – what if it fails. What if the enemy is not fooled? What if the Kingdoms of men do not listen to a Dwarf not yet grown into his beard? Such kingdoms only ever treat with Dwarves when they can take something from us – the fruits of our drafts, our labor, at wholesalers’ prices!”

Neither Dori nor Bofur had been able to respond to her satisfaction, and she sighed. “I had not said anything before now, as this, too, should not be in writing, though for – I thought – less dire reasons.

“There are certain members of Thorin’s court, and certain high-ranking guild members, who grew…accustomed to power during Thorin’s years here. He was often away, as you know, and in his absence, they often took power onto themselves. Many did so simply out of need and were happy enough to transfer their allegiance to Fíli or volunteered to stay behind. Dori, as you begin your own term here, you will meet them soon enough. I recommend listening to them and working with their egos. We have limited years to do what needs doing, and there is no time for petty squabbles.”

“They will listen to me,” Dori said, and dropped his hand palm down on the table, setting it to rattle. “Or they will listen to me.

“I have no doubt,” Sunní said. “But what worries me are those who are already en route to the Mountain. They sought power not from need, but from desire, and those who desire power rarely give it up once more. They will cause problems for Fili, make no mistake.”

“Fíli has the Lady Dis,” Dori countered.

“Aye,” Bofur said. “And King Dain.”

Sunní paused for a moment. She had forgotten that Dain had not yet returned to the Iron Hills. His son, named for Thorin, was older than Fili, and had acted as steward before. The Iron Hills would be fine without their King…for now.

“That could prove to be very interesting,” Sunní said.



By calendar reckoning, it was well and truly spring, but Thorin knew that Spring came in her own time, following the sun and was often slow to reach the northern lands. Even Erebor was still snow-covered, though the first glimpses of green could be seen peeking through the snow top and creeping in from the woodlands beyond. The men and elves both in the company had walked with a lighter step when they could still hear the first of the songbirds.

But here, a day’s march from Mount Gundabad herself, Spring came late, if at all.

Camp had been made in the shadow of a cliff face, to provide some shelter from the wind and hide the fires from the enemy. They had been dwarrow-built, to keep the smoke to a minimum, and there were far fewer than there had been even two days previous.

They say that elves were impervious to cold, and they seemed to show it, and Dwarrows carried the heat of Mahal’s forges within them, but the men were temperate, and snow could kill them as readily as fire.

Thorin wasn’t one to question the makers of the world, but as he carefully wound his way to the top of the cliff, to better scout the day ahead, he found himself wondering why the valar would make beings so fragile in this world.

His boots made barely a sound as they tread over the snow – it was freshly fallen and dry like powder, catching and holding sound. When he finally crested the peak and stopped to breathe, it was if no sound was left in the world.

Much is told of the strengths of Elven eyes, but even the first of the elves, born before the sun, could match the dark vision of dwarves, who were crafted without knowledge of the light. Here, on this moonless night, away from the fires below, Thorin could see clear through to Mount Gundabad.

The path north approached the mount from the narrow end, and until one was closer, it looked to be a single, snow covered peak, rising jagged above the surrounding mountains, but Thorin knew better. Mount Gundabad was comprised of three peaks, called spires: The Twisted Spire, the Cloven Spire, and the Great Spire. Most of the mountain fortress was dug deep into the root of the mountain, as it was with all Dwarven settlements.

It had belonged to his people, once.

Legends tell that Mount Gundabad was where Mahal had first crafted the Dwarves, in the secret depths. It was there that Durin first woke, where a grieving Mahal had nearly ended his children then and there, and there that his people had slept away the ages, until the Elves had covered the surface of these lands.

It was from Gundabad that Durin’s folk were first run out of their homes – the first mass exodus of the Longbeards.

Thorin remembered his father, in the early days after their flight from Erebor, bringing up the idea of retaking Gundabad for once and for all. The enemy had not been seen in centuries, and the population of orcs had to have dwindled in that time. They had reclaimed Gundabad once before, after all. If memory served, it had been Balin who had talked Thráin out of such action.

Snorting in amusement, Thorin shook the memory away. Balin was even now traveling south, preparing to take on another of their lost homes, and here Thorin was, once again following his father.

With a general’s eye for detail, Thorin gave the fortress one last look before descending once again. It was time to get out of this damnable wind.

 

Once back to camp, Thorin wove his way through those brave enough to be up and away from the fires – elves who paused to bow in their funny way, hand to their chest and eyes always on his face, and dwarves who showed the proper difference for a member of Durin’s line by nodding sharply before getting on with business.

If Thorin wanted courtly manners, he would not have ceded his crown.

His tent, when he returned to it, was empty, and he set about preparing for his next and final task of the night. A piece of his small supply of coal went into the belly of a small brassier, one that could safely sit next to his writing desk. It was a portable model, carried by necessity with any military procedure. His would be left with the camp tomorrow, and retrieved after, were they to survive. He would not bother with the fire, but for that while Dwarves could withstand the cold, his ink would otherwise freeze.

He set up his tools quickly: a gift from Bilbo before Thorin had left.

“Write to me,” Bilbo had said, one hand fiddling acorns in his pocket as he watched Thorin undo the leather wrapping embossed with holly and oak by a steady if not professional hand. Bilbo’s own work.

Thorin tugged off his glove to run bare fingers over the soft leather. This more than anything that convinced Thorin of the depths of Bilbo’s affections.

For Bilbo, he would write.

Leaning out of the tent for a moment to collect some clean snow in the small brass cup, Thorin then set it next to the brassier to melt. The ink was a cake much like the paints his brother had loved in their youth, and the pen more of a very fine brush. It made writing more akin to painting than Thorin was used to – he had a very fine collection of fountain-style pens that he had collected over the years, now being kept in Bilbo’s care while Thorin was away. Unfortunately, that style of pen would freeze solid, and Thorin did not want to risk either the pen cracking with the cold or being too frozen to write.

When he saw the water had melted, Thorin dipped his pen into the water before pressing it to the cake. It had taken him time to learn the technique, and his first few letters looked worse than his first attempts at letters while he had been a dwarfling, but Bilbo had sounded so happy in his return letter, that Thorin had kept at it.

He was much better now, and when he set pen to parchment, his words emerged more or less as he wanted them.

Dearest Bilbo he began and paused. It wasn’t strong enough. After a moment, he picked up a little more ink, twirling the brush to a finer point, and painted a tiny “my” at the beginning of the line. Better.

My dearest Bilbo,

We have reached the foothills of Mount Gundabad and have made camp. Tomorrow will be spent in preparation, for we plan to approach in the night to attack at the dawn. The majority of the fighting will most likely be inside the mountain, but if we catch them unawares, then the daylight will put us at an advantage.

We know so little, but that far fewer orcs returned to this mountain than came to Erebor.

Still, I find myself hopeful. We have beaten great odds before, and I have faith in the soldiers around me.

Yes, Bilbo, even the Elves. What my Father would think to hear me say.

Quite what I imagine your own Mother would say were you to suddenly befriend those Sackville-Bagginses of yours – though I dare say that is closer to you befriending the vile Dragon, Smaug.

There – I do listen when you talk of your home.

I would like to see it again, one day. Perhaps when the sun is shining, and I can truly scandalize your neighbors. Huff all you want; I think you’d enjoy that. I could set up a forge, and spend my days making pots and pans and hoes and plows and whatever metalwork is needed or desired in the Shire. It would be a good business venture, I think, with value given to the novelty of it. I would certainly have reason to practice flower motifs.

Or, perhaps a carpentry shop, though I dare say there are Hobbitish carpenters who might object to my presence. I could make fine things – pens, perhaps. I remember the look in your eyes when you first saw a proper dwarvish fountain pen. I could make them from different woods in intricate designs. They could be heirlooms passed down from parent to child, given as wedding gifts to help with thank you notes, or as subtle reminders to write more often.

I think I would do quite well among hobbitish society, don’t you think?

I miss you, kurdel. Every day, every hour that separates us makes this ache worse. I had foolishly hoped that my many years without you would prepare me for the absence of your presence. I knew my foolishness before I had even stepped foot from the mountain.

I dreamed of you, last night. I dream of you most nights. In my dream you came to me as if to our marriage bed.

Do you dream of me?

I wish I could see your face as you read this. Your cheeks often turn rosy when you think of such matters, and I long to place my kisses there, to feel the warmth of you.

I wish to place my kisses elsewhere, too feel your warmth.

I am wicked, teasing you thus, I know, but in this I would gladly revel in wickedness with you.

The flap to Thorin’s tent went wide, sending a blast of artic air across his desk and sending the flames sputtering. Thorin glared at the intruder, but Kíli closed the flap behind him as quickly as he had opened it.

“Sweet Mahal, a fire,” Kíli moaned and came quickly forward, hands outstretched. Rolling his eyes, Thorin moved his papers aside, careful to hide his last words from the curious eyes of his sister-son.

“There are fires,” Thorin grumbled, though his heart wasn’t in it. Kíli had often insisted that he had forgiven Thorin for his bad actions the moment Thorin stepped up to correct them, but he himself did not find it so easy to forgive. His madness had nearly ended his line – and it was only by some unknown but welcome provenance that Kíli was alive before him.

“Aye, there are,” Kíli agreed. “But none allow me to bother my favorite uncle.”

Thorin eyed Kíli sideways, but the lad merely grinned back, unrepentant. “Why are you here, Kili, and not with your…” Thorin trailed off, waving his hand. If Tauriel had been a dwarf, he would have called her his betrothed, but he knew enough about elves to know that they did marriage differently, and he had no idea how to give context to their relationship.

Perhaps he ought to have asked Gimli before leaving.

Kíli’s grin softened and shrank. “It’s our last night here, Uncle. I had hoped we could spend it together.”

It was true. Thorin had not liked to dwell on that fact: the thought of letting Kíli out of his sight – at least Fíli was safe back in Erebor. Kíli would be wandering the northern wilds, looking for Rangers that would not be found if they did not wish. Sure, he would have Tauriel with him, and two traveling in dangerous territory were safer than an army for the way they could avoid detection, but…

There were more dangers and darker than orcs that roamed in the North.

“I would like that, as well,” Thorin said. “I had planned to come find you, once my task here was complete.”

Kíli brightened once again, like a child’s toy that reacted to the lightning in the air. “Wonderful! I shall fetch Tauriel!” and then he was gone once more, the tent-flap fluttering after him.

Sighing, bittersweet, Thorin turned back to his letter, righting the parchment before picking up his pen once more.

Alas, but our revelry must wait. My time to write grows short, so I will end this missive here.

Be well, my love. I hope my words reach you swiftly and bring you comfort and warmth on these cold nights. I would ask for your words in return, but I do not know how long our siege will last. I will write to you when I can, once it is safe again.

Forever yours,
Thorin.

Thorin rolled up the parchment, and from the same tin that held his inks he pulled a lump of silvered wax, already half gone, and held it over the fire to melt. Swiftly, he pressed it to where the parchment overlapped, and then used his ring to emboss the seal. He pulled out, too, a length of ribbon. When knew, it had been a rich, forest green, but sun and time and weather had leeched much of the color from it, leaving it a shade of spring leaves. It had been attached to Bilbo’s first letter to him, and Thorin sent it back to him now, as he had with every returning letter.

Outside his tent, he could hear the soft sounds of the camp as they settled in for the night: the crackling of the fires, the soft yet excited murmur of Kili’s voice, and the oddly light laughter of Tauriel as she was no doubt dragged along behind his nephew.

Almost a year ago, Thorin had set out with twelve companions from Ered Luin on a hopeless quest to reclaim his home from the dragon that had held it for far too long. He had been cold in his determination, the fire in him rousing only with his temper. His goal had been singular – defeat the dragon or die trying.

Now, at the base of another mountain, he had a new goal.

Protect his family and see that ribbon again.