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Virtues and Vices

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"It's the Wood-Elves, feasting," reported Balin. "Deer and boar they have, roasting over spits, and tables laden with food and wine of all descriptions. Surely they can spare some to weary travelers?"

The other Dwarves' eyes, and Bilbo's, gleamed at the thought. Days of hunger in the dark gloom of Mirkwood had taken their toll on the entire company. Bilbo had begun to dream of diving into great vats of delicious soups and eating his way out of them again.

"We can only ask," said the Hobbit to his companions. "Should we all go, or send just one of us?"

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The strange little fellow – a Hobbit, he called himself – held out the stone to me. "Take it," he said. "Thorin will redeem it at any price, I think, even above its true worth. It is the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain, and he treasures it above anything else. Take it, sir."

His hand trembled slightly as I took the sparkling gem from his grasp.

"Will he? I thought that Dwarves were covetous of all gems and precious things. Why this? And why do you give it freely to me?"

"I hope to have this quarrel end peacefully," said Bilbo.

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Arwen is the star in my heavens, fair and far from the reach of a mortal Man such as myself. Her father has shown me favor, treated me as a fosterling, and acknowledged our distant kinship – but it is plain that he thinks me unworthy of her. I am, and I know it. What have I to offer one such as she? Only sorrow. I dare not even seek her company. She would look at me, rightly, as a child, longing for something that is beyond my ken. So I will quit Rivendell, and seek to prove my worth elsewhere.

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Melpomaen looked at his lover out of the corner of his eye. They sat knee to knee by the fire, with their comrades all around them, eating the lembas that was the common food of the guardians of Lórien. Biting into his portion, Melpomaen suppressed an urge to fling it into the fire. Haldir's face was calm and beautiful in the flickering light, and Melpomaen would have liked to take him off into the wood and make love to him – but that was impossible. Even if their fellows could tolerate their pairing, lembas enforced chastity, whether one willed or no.

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"You have failed me," he said. "Your brother would have done better." My father's voice would have sounded calm to any other man, but I heard in it the anger that he had kept barely restrained for months, an anger that derived as much from fear for Boromir's welfare as from anything I had done. "Go. Leave my sight and do not return, unless you can redeem yourself through your actions."

He was the Steward in that moment, not the father who had once tossed a boy-child in his arms. I bowed deeply, without mockery, and left without another word.

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"Why can I not travel with you, fight with you? I can wield a sword as well as most men, and I do not fear death in battle," said Éowyn bitterly.

Her uncle and foster-father looked at her with loving eyes. "You are needed here, my dear. There must be one of the royal house of Rohan to govern our people in such dangerous times. You may not fear for yourself, but I fear for you. No, you must stay."

She watched him leave. Had she been born a man, she would not now be kept back in supposed safety.

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We lay in the meadow together, amid the golden late-summer grasses and the white flowers of wild carrot. The blanket beneath us kept us from the dirt, but did not disguise the bumpy roots below.

"I should be working, Rosie. What would folk say if they saw the Mayor like this?"

My Sam, always so responsible. I smoothed the hair back from his brow and answered, "They would say that you deserve a rest, love."

"It seems so lazy."

"No one expects you to work all the time," I said firmly. "If you must do something, give me a kiss."