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Falling Leaves

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Thorin wakes in a cold sweat, his hands flying to his chest even as he rolls to the side and into a crouch.  He’s silent, not because he wants to be, but because it is instinct to stifle the scream in his throat.

 

His breath comes fast and hard, his body is balanced on the balls of his feet, and his eyes dart from place to place. He is completely and utterly alert, his heartbeat is pounding in his ears and certain that something is wrong. It takes him longer than it should to place his surroundings, the bed, the door and the bookshelf against the far wall.

 

He is in his room .

 

The room he had left near a year ago, and had not seen since. Should not be seeing now. He...he should be dead . He should be-

 

Why is he here?

 

There’s thundering footsteps down his hall, and Thorin shifts his attention to the door instantly his hold tightening on the throwing axe he had pulled from under his pillow instinctively. He’s got the axe pulled back, ready to score a hit between the eyes of whoever it is headed his way. His lips are pulled back ( -he remembers blood bubbling up his throat, remembers the burn in his chest where he had taken Azog’s spear-)

 

The door opens and Thorin snarls , the noise purely inhuman. His arm has already gone partially through the throw before he registers the face at his door. He jerks his wrist to change his aim, and instead of the hit between the eyes it would have been, his axe sinks into his door frame, quivering from the force of his throw. It misses Dwalin by scare inches, as he had ducked instinctively at the sound of a weapon cutting through the air.

 

Thorin rises from his crouch, straightening his back, and the anger and the rage shifts to shock. “Dwalin what-?”

 

He doesn’t get to finish the question, Dwalin is already barreling into his room to pull him into an overwhelming hug. Thorin stiffens for a moment, before his free arm lifts to curl over his ùhùrud-nadad . The other is still wrapped around his own body, where he had instinctively reached for a wound he no longer had. Something inside him eases, but it hurts.

 

“Dwalin?”

 

His voice rasps in his throat, as he feels the broad shoulders he holds shake. Dwalin is crying, and it is a shock, shock enough that he goes to pull himself out of the male’s hold. Dwalin’s hands tighten and he makes a soft desperate whining noise that has Thorin stilling immediately and pulling the arm from around his own chest so he could hold tighter to his ùhùrud-nadad .

 

Thorin slowly lowers himself down, and takes Dwalin with him, until they are both kneeling on his floors. His mind is blank and the whispers and the screams he shoves down until all his attention is focused on his brother.

 

“Dwalin, what-”

 

You died Thorin. ” Dwalin’s voice is a harsh and broken thing. “I couldn’t get to you. I couldn’t get to you , I had to watch you die , too far to do anything-” his voice breaks and quivers. “I failed. I failed you, and Fili and Kili and Dis-”

 

Thorin tenses in his guard’s arms yanking his body back, his hands on Dwalin’s shoulders as he barks, “What?”

 

Dwalin makes that same painful noise in from deep in his chest before he rumbles with anger and sorrow, “I watched you die, ùhùrud-nadad. You were dead. I couldn’t save you, you died and Azog-”

 

Thorin’s mind reels as it scrambles to make connections as flashes of white and curls of furious acceptance make his hearing go fuzzy, but then there’s a pair of running footsteps down the hall for a second time. It’s a moment before Thorin can even make a move to react, but Dwalin has already hauled him up and shoved him behind his bulk with a snarl.

 

Thorin moves to step around him, but Dwalin’s hold is a vice, and he gets nowhere until the man suddenly makes another pained noise, and all his breath leaves him like he has been punched in the sternum by a troll.

 

Thorin isn’t sure what could have made Dwalin do that until the broken, choked call of , “Undayûy!”

 

He steps aside immediately, and Thorin has no time to brace himself as all the air rushes from his lungs like an emptied bellow. He has no words, only overwhelming emotions and pain , as agonized voiceless sounds escape him a split second before his nephews (-they had died, he watched Fili’s chest cave in and his legs snap, Kili stabbed through over and over with goblin spears-) barreled into his chest and took him clean off his feet and straight onto his back.

 

His arms clench around them like iron bands, and then Dwalin is hauling them all up and pulling the three of Durin’s line into his arms, holding on like they might disappear if he lets go.

 

There is too much in his head and it hurts to think, hurts to remember beyond the ringing of familiar stones and the thundering echo of a mighty voice, who spoke words he couldn’t recall.

 

Thorin can’t stop the tears from falling, but that’s fine because all four of them are crying.

 

They’re still crying when Balin bursts into the room, calling Thorin’s name as the door flies back. They are still when the older dwarrow falls to his knees before them and crushes the three royals between the brothers, only shifting their hold to include him in their embrace. Dwalin joins his voice when the elder whispers prayers and thanks to Mahal.

 


 

 

It doesn’t take Thorin long to realize that his entire company remembers.

 

Nori had almost gotten himself killed when the thief snuck into his room that first night, half an hour after the sons of Fundin had joined him.

 

It was only Thorin striking Dwalin’s wrist to push the throw off course- and Nori’s quick reflexes- that saved him.

 

Thorin had pressed their foreheads together and closed his eyes, his grip on the thief’s shoulder tight enough that his knuckles had turned white. Nori had gripped his shoulder with one hand, the other at his neck (and if Nori’s fingers were pressed into his pulse, Thorin said nothing-). Nori released him only when he spotted his nephews behind him, and then the two boys are greeted the same way.

 

Oin and Gloin had thundered over to him the next morning, having been further in the mountain, too far to bust in his room that night. Nori had been on their heels bringing Dori and Ori with him that time since he had been the only one with the skills to get into the royal wing without getting caught the night before to check on their Melhekhel. He’d gone in to assure himself and his brothers that Thorin, Fili, and Kili lived.

 

Bombur, Bifur, and Bofur had been waiting  as close as they could get to him, being of non-royal birth and unable to get close to him with nothing tying the three of the Ur clan to the line of Durin. Thorin had gone looking for them as soon as the thought had crossed his mind that they would not have any reason they could use to come to him. Sure enough, they had near tackled him as soon as he came into sight, and the only reason they didn’t was the very real possibility of getting stabbed by guards that didn’t know to not . Thorin had made up for it by hugging each of them, and pressing their foreheads together where they couldn’t. And if their holds were just this side of desperate that was fine, because so where his.  

 

They remember his madness, how he clawed his way free of it, and the way they charged into war. (-they remember being the last ones standing-)

 

Which of course brings the question to light: Does Bilbo remember them?

 

Does their hobbit, who sacrificed so much for them, and their kingdom remember their shared past?

 

The Quest has not come to pass yet- it was to take place at the end of the week after their supplies had been gathered up. With a shared look between them, the thirteen dwarrow agree to hurry in the last of the supply gathering so that they can get to their bâhel.

 


 

Bilbo had a panic attack the day he woke in his bed. A full on panic attack, that darkened the edges of his vision, sent his limbs to shaking in fear, and closed his throat, squeezed until he thought he would never breathe again. Once he had gotten over the shock of seeing his younger body that did not ache with age, he had gone looking for the actual date.

 

Not immediately of course, he’d had to convince himself that he was not insane first, that he really was younger, that he was not dreaming. He’d had to talk himself out of his bed, searched his smial- so different and yet exactly the same - It was like nothing he had ever suffered before.

 

He’d looked outside and seen hobbits he knew had died.

 

That’s when he’d gone looking for the date. He was not dead, but people he knew had been were living . He only had one insane impossible thought in his mind then.

 

And as soon as he found it, he had thrown up. He’d been sick on his knees as he remembered a quest, a war, the Ring , his nephew- the son of his heart- who had suffered so much, whose eyes were so dark -

 

Bilbo had spent over fifty years holding onto the Dark Lord’s Ring of Power .

 

He’d collapsed beside his bed, barely having the presence of mind to avoid the sick on the floor. He’d sat there, trembling like a leaf, fighting the hyperventilation that continued to try and take his breath. It was a miracle that he didn’t pass out.

 

His mind has never been so clear . Or rather, it has not been so since shortly after the Misty Mountains. He heaves again when he finally sees how the Ring had affected his mind over the years.

 

Yavanna help him, but Bilbo barely holds himself together.

 

And then Bilbo has a thought.

 

Frodo -

 

Thorin, Fili and Kili-

 

His friends, his family , he had-

  

Had the Ring made the Gold Sickness worse, there at the end? Had it influenced the dwarves and compounded the Dragon’s Curse? How had it corrupted his mind without his notice?

 

The thought crystallizes.

 

He needs to destroy the Ring.

He cannot let it exist in the world any longer. He cannot let Frodo- his boy, his lad, his son in every way that mattered- carry the burden that should have been his. Would have been his had he only realized what he held at the time.

 

The Ring he no longer carries, the curse that sits lost in the Goblin Caves of the Misty Mountains.

 

Bilbo pushes himself to his feet. He needs to prepare. He sways and then forces his spine to straighten. He would do this. He would do this , his lad would not be the one to hold the weight of Arda on his shoulders.

 


 

 

Bilbo is restless the day he knows the dwarrow are to arrive. Gandalf had already been by (in grey once more, no longer clad in bright white-) and his kitchen is full of food. Partly because he has thirteen dwarrow to feed, but also because Bilbo stress cooks, and he has never been so stressed in his entire life(s) .

 

He’d gone to his Took cousins in the week he had to prepare, gotten travel clothes and supplies, daggers and throwing knives. He blessed the Took House connections regularly over that week as he abused them to be prepared quickly enough. And as soon as he had all he could fit on the Took Pony he had borrowed he brought her back to his smial.

 

He was sure Hobbiton was entirely ablaze with rumors and gossip about him, but he just doesn’t care . He’d already been Mad Bilbo Baggins for longer then he’d lived in the Shire (according to the actual date anyway) so what did it matter if the rumor started earlier than the last around?

 

As soon as he made it home, he had began stress cooking once more, and kept his eyes on his windows the entire day, despite knowing none of the dwarrow had made it to his smial until later that night.

 

So it was a surprise when, down Bag Shot Row, he saw thirteen dwarrow trekking their way down the road around lunch time instead of dinner. He takes one look at them and he can see something is different about the Company than the last time. They seem... closer than the last time he had first met them. They move like a well oiled machine, aware of each other and responding to silent cues they shouldn’t know yet, not like this. Their eyes are looking around, and there is familiarity in their faces, all of them continue to glance at his door regularly, and something is off .

 

He still rushes for his door all the same, waiting only long enough for a heavy fist to knock before he opens it.

 

Thorin stands at the door, front and center (still breathing, hale and whole , he’s alive- ) with Fili and Kili (they’re not dead , Bilbo is not ready for this, his chest is tightening again -)

 

He makes a choked, agonized noise, and staggers back from the door. He has no power to stop himself, no hope to hide his reaction. His legs fold and then all three of the Durin Sons are rushing into the door as they cry-

 

“Bilbo!”

 

He is trapped in an embrace on all sides, and his chest is tightening as thirteen dwarrow who know who he is rush into his home and shut the door behind them. He has no words, making wounded noises in place of those as his fingers dig into the Durin sons crouched around him. His hands flutter from dwarrow to dwarrow unsure who he wants to cling to more.

 

Fili? Kili? Thorin?

 

He doesn’t have enough hands to grab each of them, and he is much to small to grab ahold of them all, which only make the pained noises he can’t stop even worse . Thankfully for him each of  the boys all seem to realize that, and are perfectly willing to envelop him in their hold.

 

The others join the huddle one and a time, and when all thirteen of his dwarrow are touching his back, shoulders or arms, he nearly breaks.

 

“You died ,” he moans into Thorin’s shoulder even as his fingers dig into Fili and Kili’s arms.

 

“I know,” Thorin rumbles into his curls, grief and joy mingled in his tone.

 

“You all died, and I woke up here alone-”

 

“Shhhh, bâhel . We are here now, you are not alone. We are here, and we remember .”

 

Bilbo pulls in a shuddering breath and whispers, “How much?”

 

Thorin’s brows furrow as he stares into his eyes.

 

“How much what, bâhel?”

 

Bilbo takes another breath to steady his nerves, pulling in the combined scent of his dwarrows, which he had quite forgotten until just this moment.

 

“How much do all of you remember? I know you three-” his voice breaks, but he soldiers on, “I know you three won’t remember anything past the battle, but- The rest of you?”

 

Glances are shared amongst them before Thorin answers.

 

“We only remember up to the battle,  and the others the aftermath of it. Everything beyond that is...blackened. Blocked out. How much do you remember, Bilbo?”

 

And oh , that hurts.

 

That hurts more than he expected, and he makes another choked noise. They remember the battle and directly after it, but not later? He knows a good number of this Company had lived beyond the battle, and still lived when The Ring’s War had come to pass. And yet…

 

And yet he alone remember Mordor, the War of the Ring, his nephew who gave up so much for his mistake-

 

He moans like he has been dealt a death blow, and he knows he worries his friends- the friends that had become his family- but he cannot help it. He cannot stop it as he curls into his dwarrow’s strength and sobs .

 

He cries for them , for the loss of their King and Princes, for Dis, who had lost them all and been left alone. For the Company who had been left standing in their home with a price too high to pay. He bawls for Frodo and all the marks of his quest that Bilbo had seen in his last days. For all the loss caused by Sauron and his war. For himself , and all he had seen and done. For the mind that had deserted him near the end of his life, that had made it difficult to focus on anything , to remember questions or problems that he should have.

 

The dwarrow, his Company crowd him, worried cries, and rushed questions escaping them, but Bilbo doesn’t have the strength to answer them yet. He leans harder into Thorin, Fili and Kili, into the hands that tighten on him and just keeps crying the way he didn’t have the mind to do at the end.

 

He cries until he can’t breathe , until his voice gives out, and all he can do is heave for breath,  and shake silently. He whimpers into the tunic in front of him, until he cannot even hold himself up and it is only the multiple hands on his person and the chests he is leaning against the keep him upright.

 

He knows he is causing the Company to panic in the very back of his mind, as they forgo Western entirely in their worry, Khuzdul spilling from their lips. Still he keens, swaying in place as his legs finally give out under hum. He would have tumbled to the floor, except Thorin, Nori and Bofur are reacting almost before his legs finish giving out beneath him. They lowered him down slowly and their Khuzdul becomes faster and more panicked as Bilbo tries to blink the grey out of his eyes.

 

Oin shoves the others back, and leans over his form. Bilbo stares blankly at him (Oin had died of old age, Bilbo had gotten the Raven from Nori on his 97th year.) and it takes longer than it should have for Bilbo to hear any of the questions Oin has been asking him.

 

He blinks hard when Nori leans over Oin, and smacks the side of his face twice, lightly but hard enough to pull his attention. To jolt him out of the panic attack. His eyelashes flutter and then he pulls in what feels like the first real breath he’s taken since he opened his door.

 

“There you are, Bilbo.” Nori’s voice is soft and soothing, even as his eyes are wet, “Stay with us, come on keep breathing. That’s it...easy, easy azaghîth. We have you.”

 

Bilbo involuntarily chokes on his next inhale and he answers Oin’s questions absently now that his mind has been jolted from the pit of memory.

 

When Balin leans closer and asks, “Are you alright Bilbo?” He is nearly swept under again.

 

He remembers, in startling clarity now that his mind is his own again, speaking to Frodo about his journey. He remembers his joy when Frodo mentioned visiting Moria. The joyful “Did you meet Ori and Balin then?”

 

And he can recall how Frodo’s face crumbled.

 

Ori had written him, before he had Balin had left on their newest adventure. They had kept in touch as often as they could over the years, and Bilbo remembers the last letter he had gotten from his friend.

 

(Balin and I are going to try and reclaim one of our mountains again. We figure we’ve done the impossible once right? And the Lonely Mountain just- It hurts to be here some days, when I look at Dain and know that it should have been Thorin, or Fili and Kili. So Balin and I are going to go. What can be worse than a dragon right?)

 

He had frozen when Frodo told him in haunted, shaking tones of the tomb he and the Fellowship had discovered. He had cried until he had no breath left when Frodo explained Balin had been entombed in stone ( drums in the deep, we cannot get out) , but Ori , Ori had died fighting in that room, his last moments recorded in a book that Gimli carried back to his people. And when he had made sure Frodo left him, and he was alone, he had screamed until his voice gave under the stress.

 

His hand darts forward and clenches hard around Balin’s arm. He shoots upwards, his other hand reaching for Ori who hovers nearby, just behind and to the side of Nori. His grip is tight as soon as he gets ahold of the scribe, and he is helpless as he cries, “You cannot go to Moria!”

 

He knows his words make no sense to them, but he has to say it, needs to warn them, to have them swear they will not. “You can’t go, you can’t. Swear to me, Balin, Ori, that you will never step foot in those halls trying to reclaim them!”

 

“Bilbo what-?”

 

Balin’s voice is shocked, as the hand of the arm he grips lifts to grab ahold of Bilbo’s own wrist like he can ground the hobbit.

 

Bilbo’s eyes are wild as he snaps, eyes focused and voice hard, “Swear!”

 

Ori and Balin look to one another, both confused and shocked and worried. They don’t understand the desperate plea in Bilbo’s voice but they answer it all the same.

 

“Of course bâhel , but why? We will not step inside, but what makes you so adamant?”

 

Bilbo’s breath shakes, but he begins in halting tones.

 

“I- My nephew he- There was a war. There was a great war, elves, men, dwarrow, and hobbits stood together to stop it. After- After . My nephew was among those who stood to fight this evil and he traveled to Moria.” Bilbo breathes, closing his eyes and focusing on his dwarrow to anchor himself in the now , “You two- Balin and Ori- you both left on a quest in the years before, to attempt to reclaim that place.”

 

There’s a harsh inhale from the dwarrow around him and Nori and Dori have moved to crush Ori between them even as Dwalin makes a harsh pained noise, and his hand clamps down on Balin’s shoulder.

 

Bilbo lifts his head.

 

“You both failed . Ori asked me- he asked me in his letter what could be worse than a dragon,” his swallows hard and stares into thirteen pairs of slowly widening eyes, “ Durin’s Bane, ” he spits the name like blood in his mouth and snarls, “do any of you know what it is?

 

The dwarrow look at each other, their faces pale and slowly turn back to Bilbo where Thorin answers shortly, “No. There were no surviving records of those who may have seen it.”

 

Bilbo laughs and if it is a little hysterical- well. He has reason enough to be. “It’s a Balrog of Morgoth , Thorin. A creature of hellfire and rage, of destruction and death.”

 

The dwarrow cry out, hands latching onto the nearest family member, all those left standing end up on the ground as their legs fold.

 

Dwalin has picked Balin up, and pulled his smaller, but older brother into his arms, clinging like Balin will blow away in the wind. Nori and Dori have done much the same to Ori, the two younger brother’s ending up in Dori’s lap. Thorin sways, and Fili and Kili swallow hard, their eyes wide and unseeing as they stare through Bilbo. Bofur, Bifur, and Bombur had all curled together in a bloodless, shaking pile of dwarrow. Oin and Gloin have collapsed against each other, and Gloin is muttering curses under his breath while Oin had a deathgrip on Gloin’s arm.

 

“A-” The words stick in his throat and Fili swallows again, “ A Balrog?”

 

Bilbo tries to breathe quietly for a moment, using the short moment to gather his thoughts. Some details are blurry in his mind, some things Frodo would not tell him, but still, he had enough.

 

“Yes. And that’s not even all of it. The entire mine is infested with goblins. There is nowhere they are not. Balin- Balin died earlier in the attempt to reclaim it. He fell to the goblins’ army, but Ori...Ori was one of the last to perish. He had written everything down. They had- The goblins had barricaded the doors. They could not get out . They forced all those dwarrow- Ori fought, but he- They had been starving, pushed into the great hall and barricaded inside. The goblins were endless . Ori died there. I- Frodo told me, after he returned.”

 

The group on the floor migrates closer together, Bilbo in the center as he reaches for both Balin and Ori. Thorin reaches out gripping shoulders or wrists of each of his Company, foreheads are pressed together, and murmurs pass back and forth in quick but soft tones.

 

Eventually, the question is asked, “Bilbo? What- what war?

 

Bilbo stills in his place at the center of the dwarrow. He swallows hard and stares forward in silence for a few moments as he struggles with his words and memories. With the loss and darkness of the time leading up to this burden he had given to Frodo.

 

When he looks up from his knees, into his family’s eyes, they flinch a little. Bilbo has never looked so- so broken as he does in that moment. He looks old . But they have asked, and Bilbo will answer them.

 


 

 

 

Bilbo gathers up all the pillows, cushions, blankets and quilts he had in his house to make a large enough little nest for the Company to share. He will not be able to share this story without being surrounded by his family, without being able to to lean into their strength.

 

Once he is satisfied he settles himself directly into the center of the nest, and beckons the others. Thorin, Fili and Kili are the first to pull their boots off and join him in the mass of blankets. Dwalin and Balin are followed by Ori, Nori and Dori, and Bofur, Bombur, and Bifur are a step behind them. Gloin and Oin are the last to join the group on the floor and the dwarrow are silent as they wait for their burglar to gather his thoughts.

 

It takes him a bit of time, but eventually he takes a deep breath and leans into Dwalin who sits at his back. “I suppose I should start at the beginning. On this quest of ours, I found something. My ring. You all remember my ring correct?”

 

Various nods greet him and Bilbo breathes. “I..I kept it, even all those years later, after our quest had ended. If I had known- If I had any hint of what I carried, I would have destroyed it. I swear, I would have tossed it into fire, watched it melt into nothing, and celebrated its destruction.” He shakes against the dwarrow and tries to hold himself together as he works up the nerve to explain what he had caused.

 

“I suppose, it started on my birthday. I used my ring to play a bit of a prank, and was getting ready to head down to Rivendell. Stretch my legs, get out of the Shire...I had planned to give my ring to my nephew, pass it down as a heirloom of sorts. It was useful to me after all, had saved us quite a few times hadn’t it? Frodo could use it to help himself, what need did I have of it?”

 

He lifted his head and met every pair of eyes around him. “It was the hardest thing I ever did, leaving that ring behind me. I almost didn’t- couldn’t . It was my precious.” He hissed the word, none of coveting need he had carried the last time he called it that, hatred and agony mixing in its place.

 

“I left it with Frodo only because Gandalf was there to ‘remind’ me. It- I didn’t know it then, but it had its claws in my mind by that point. Had for over fifty years. It had poisoned me, twisted my thoughts, my memories in regards to itself. I almost attacked Gandalf to keep it, and later on, my own nephew for ‘taking’ the ring away from me though it was I who had given it to him.” Bilbo turns to look at Thorin, and sees his own horror reflected back at him.

 

“Yes,” he nods, “much like the time you threatened to toss me from the wall. I understand now, what might have been going through your head. How it all makes sense, that everyone is a threat, and the burning rage that sits in place of logic and love.”

 

He burrows into his blankets, sprawled over the dwarrow and snuggling against their warmth like it could stop his shaking and ease the emptiness in his chest.

 

“It was not until much later that I learned that tiny little ring I carried...it was Sauron’s Ring . The One Ring . I had carried the Dark Lord’s Ring for over fifty years, and it had chipped away at my own mind, twisted certain thought patterns...changed me.”

 

The noise level at his reveal of what exactly he had carried is thunderous. The hands that reach for him are numerous, and he finds himself passed between each of the dwarrow, foreheads pressed into his, prayers and curses escaping each of them. He clings back to them just as hard as they cling to him.

 

“My nephew, my chosen son , he had to take the Ring to Mordor. He and eight others. And then...and then not even halfway to his destination, the Fellowship had to split apart. Gandalf perished in Moria to save them from the Balrog. Boromir perished after, trying to protect Merry and Pippin from an attack of uruk-hai once he regained his mind from the lure of the Ring.”

 

Bilbo swallows hard, running a trembling hand through his sweat soaked hair. “Frodo and Samwise were the only two to walk towards Mordor, two of the nine that started this quest. The others...they chased orcs and uruk-hai across the planes to save Merry and Pippin Took”

 

He shudders against Dori’s chest, as the dwarrow had gathered him into his lap when Bilbo began to shake uncontrollably. He tells them in halting, mourning tones of the quest his Frodo had been made to take for his mistake.

 

He falls apart in the circle of dwarrow and they hold him together when he has not the strength to do it himself. He speaks on how broken his lad had looked when he finally made it back to him. And he screams about how his mind had been failing him then, how he had known something was wrong, but his mind could not- would not - hold itself together long enough for him to understand what it was.

 

Not until he had woken here, and all his memories were left to him, without the fog of age and the haze of the Ring’s influence.

 

He whispers in shaking words, how he thought perhaps his mind had been so broken at the end, because the Ring had sunk itself so far into him, that when it was destroyed, it left gaping wounds in his head. Wounds he didn't have the awareness or strength to fight at the time.

 

When he finally stops, finally runs out of words, he just sits. He is still and collapsed against the dwarrow who have all piled together as closely as they can, so that they are all touching one another.

 

He says nothing, only taking shaking breaths as he relishes in the silent support of his little family, and tries to come to terms with their sudden second chance, alongside the fact that he is the only one to remember the years beyond their shared quest.

 

And then the quiet shatters, and it is Thorin who gives voice to what every dwarrow in the room is thinking.

 

“You plan to destroy the Ring this time, don’t you?”

 

Bilbo swallows, but doesn’t even think to lie to the only King he has ever called his own. “Yes. I will not make the same mistake as the last time. I refuse.”

 

A shared glance over Bilbo’s head, and thirteen voices rise together in harmony.

 

“We will go with you.”

 

Bilbo swallows hard in the face of that loyalty. “You realize this is Mordor, right? One does not simply walk into Mordor, muchless thirteen stubborn dwarves and a hobbit!”

 

Bofur scoffs, his hands twisting his hat around, as he answers disbelief etched into the lines of his face. “You cannot expect us to let you go alone Bilbo!”

 

The hobbit shakes his head “I didn’t expect you to-”

 

Thorin interrupts, his voice commanding and harsh, blue eyes level with Bilbo’s own.


“We will join you on your march to Mordor. You will not go alone Bilbo Baggins. Yours is a kurdulu belkul , and you are our bâhel . We will follow you, and see this done.”

Chapter Text

Author: Wolfsrainrules

 


 

Nori very rarely allowed himself to be part of someone else’s underground network. He had his own, and it stretched pretty damn far. He was known as a relatively fair dwarrow who took care of his people so long as they took care of him. He kept his promises, his word was his vow, and provided no one tried to screw him over, Nori would stick to the spirit in which his word was given. He only started looking for loopholes when someone gave him a reason.

It made him a rather popular choice for the dwarrow that went looking to be employed by the bigger fish of the underground realm.

Nori knew he was a rather big fish in this side of the pond, but he was not the largest. No, that title belonged to the Magpie. Nori wouldn’t care about that- he had his little corner of Ered Luin, and he ran it well- no. What Nori cared about, was the Magpie had taken care of his brothers while he was away. She had saved Ori from a rather unsavory crowd, and Dori had mentioned she had ‘taken care’ of a band of traveling dwarrow who didn’t take ‘no’ too well when Dori refused to ‘entertain’ them for coin.

(Sometimes, Nori hated that it was so well known those of the Ri Line came ‘from the wrong side of the sheets’ . It gave people ideas that Nori had to kill them for.)

(Bloodstains were a pain to get rid of before he went home.)

Nori cared about his family, and Magpie had gone out of her way to save it. So it didn’t matter that he had never actually talked to her, he kept her aware of Ered Luin’s movements via a series of drop points, his own network, Dori himself, signals, and some clever signs.

She was Magpie, and he was Scarecrow. They worked together, and Nori respected her, and she respected him.

 


 

 

Hawthorn Baggins-Took was one of the Shire’s best .

The outside world didn’t know it, but the race of hobbits was a very deadly one. They had not always been so, but a series of attacks fifty or so years before Hawthorn herself had been born saw their race adapting.

Hobbits were small, and naturally quiet, with a tie to the earth, with the ability to go unnoticed if they wished it. Once the attacks had gotten particularly vicious the Hobbits had finally chosen to fight back. They learned, and the culture changed. The Thain of the time had sworn no hobbit would ever be as helpless as they had been.

She supposed the rest of the world would call them ‘assassins’. For a race that could make themselves so unnoticed, it only seemed natural that they’d lean more towards quick and quiet kills.

And while that was technically true, hobbits had a particular set of rules and requirements that needed to be met before they would attack Outsiders for any reason. They did not kill for sport, or without due cause. They were, despite their habits a peaceful people, in a way.

Their targets were always the kind of people that needed to ‘disappear’.

It had been a bit of an accident really, the first time a hobbit really lived up to the title ‘assassin.’

One of the Lavender Took’s friends had gotten into trouble with the underbelly of Bree, and then Lavender had gotten caught up in the middle of it. Lavender had taken offence to the assassin sent after her friend, and attacked back. She’d won.

Lavender Took would later find out that the assassin she had attacked was a rather big fish , and in attacking him, she had brought the attention of the Underworld on herself. So it was that the Hobbits of the Shire- beginning with the Tooks- found themselves getting into trouble with those that recognized their species and remembered Lavender Took. (This was also why hobbits had taken to wearing boots out on jobs. At least that way no one was sure if it was a hobbit or a short dwarf.)

As the years passed, hobbits would only prove themselves more and more dangerous as those that left came back and taught more of fighting and other such techniques to their kin.

And Hawthorn Baggins-Took?

She was the best at it. Good enough that she actually traveled quite often to deal with ‘bigger’ fish. This also meant her information network was a thing of beauty that stretched well over Arda.

She knew about the Quest long before Gandalf showed up at her door. The Quest that her Scarecrow, Little King, and Little Bear were going on.

 


 

Dwalin knew good sorts when he saw them. Even those who ran with rather dark crowds.

Nori was a good sort no matter how much he annoyed Dwalin. It was part of the reason that Dwalin never tried too hard to catch the Thief, and why he kept an extra eye on the area his family called their own. That Nori had a habit of finding the holes in his security and then telling him only earned him more points with the warrior.

(Even if most ‘reveals’ of those holes tended to be rather embarrassing. It was annoying but a fair trade for the information.)

It was actually Nori’s fault he had had a run in with the Thief’s Magpie in the first place. Dwalin wasn’t sure of the lass’ actual name, so he stuck with the one Nori had given her. Nori had told him that his contact would be waiting for him in a particular area at a certain time with vital information for him. Nori would usually have been the one to share the information, but he had told Dwalin that he would be taking care of another faction of the same group in another part of the mountain.

The only reason they had had any warning at all of the attack was due to Magpie being in place to warn Dwalin. And when Dwalin had been occupied with a good chunk of the assailants aiming for Thorin’s life, and Thorin distracted by more still, she had dropped from the ceiling and interfered viciously on their behalf.

Nori had talked about her often enough, and even in Ered Luin the whispers about her had been numerous. She worked as an Information Broker most of the time, but was also known to take jobs so long as they met a certain set of guidelines. Jobs like going into a Slaver Ring and rescuing people or children, taking care of leaders that were destroying the lives of their people….generally she took the jobs that made Arda a better place. She was known to be very particular about those she associated with, an with whom she would share her information.

(It was another point in Nori’s favor that she considered him one of her contacts actually.)

He’d known then that it wasn’t a false alarm. Magpie’s information was second to none, and she always triple and quadruple checked it. She wouldn’t have passed the information along to Dwalin if she wasn’t absolutely certain.

So Dwalin had been ready for the attack, but not the numbers. Magpie had given him an estimate, but warned him that it kept changing constantly as more were pulled into the mess or fled in regret or fear. He’d pulled in what guards he could trust, set up a perimeter, and informed Thorin and Dis to be on their guard, and not let Fili or Kili out of sight.

And with all his preparations, there had still been those who slipped through.

Magpie had interfered then, when Dwalin had been unable to disengage with his three opponents to get the other two. He had no idea where she’d come from, only that when the two assassins had gone for Thorin’s back while he fought off another three attackers, she had dropped from the ceiling and gotten between them.

She’s been smaller than both of them, covered by a bright silver cloak with its hood up, darker charcoal grey to black clothes underneath, and a sturdy pair of boots with silver clasps. (Much later, they would learn she wore the boots to hide very distinctive and identifiable feet.)

Dwalin had been damn relieved to see her. She’d dropped down right onto one attacker’s shoulders, wrapped her legs around the dwarrow’s throat and twisted . Dwalin had no idea how she did it, but the male’s neck had snapped. She’d rolled back off the corpse, and with a flick of the wrist and a flash of silver she had sunk a knife into the second assailant’s throat.  

A few seconds later had her right in the middle of the fight, occasionally pressed back to back with Dwalin or Thorin as she twirled through the hostile group like a dance, leaving dead bodies behind her at every step.

When everything was over, Dwalin had turned to her, “Thank you for the help, but who are you?”

“The Little King is my friend, and has been for many years. It was no trouble to pull out my good silver for him. As for my name...I believe you know me as ‘Magpie’, Little Bear.”

Dwalin sputtered at the name, but Thorin laughed. She had called Dwalin that for many years of their acquaintance.

Hawthorn smiled beneath her hood. She’d seen Dwalin trying to be a papa bear since he was small and she had first visited the halls of Erebor before it’s fall. She’d been a wee lass herself, but she remembered him. Her mother had taken her to the Mountain, meeting with Thorin’s father for a job, and she’d been left on her own. For a curious fauntling with her skills? It was irresistible, the urge to explore. She’d found Thorin and Dwalin with Frerin, and had trailed them through the kingdom.

She’d done it the entire time she’d been in the mountain, and had continued to visit them every time after when she was there. She’d watched Dwalin trail the Line of Durin trying to keep them whole and hale. She’d called him Little Bear since the first time she had seen him get into a fight with a dwarrow twice his size (at the time) and win on their behalf.  

He was stuck with the nickname at this point no matter what. She’d called him such for over a century after all.

 


 

Dwalin learned later on that he had been hearing stories about Magpie for years by a different name. Thorin had called her Moonstone, and often spoke of the young lass who had saved him before Erebor’s fall from an assassination attempt on his life. Thorin should have been at lessons, so Dwalin had not been present as he ditched them to explore the city of men outside his mountain.

Thorin had shared that it was the blistering lecture from a tiny lass in a dirty and badlit alleyway that saw him applying himself so heavily to his lessons after that- both in the mental and physical means. (there may have been some thrown insults about how if Thorin could just think for a minute he would have known not to walk so close to a back alleyway when he was so alone.)

He’d called her Moonstone from that point forward, as Hawthorn had never given him a name, and in that back alley with its dim shadows, the silver of her cloak had been striking .

It was actually because of the vigor with which he applied himself to those same battle lessons after that incident that saw him surviving the battle of Azanulbizar . Moonstone, as Dwalin had known her by before, had come by after the incident at least once a month up until Smaug had caused them to flee. She’d saved Thorin and his family a quite a few times over the years. On top of that she’d gone out of her way to teach Thorin to think outside the box with his lessons, sparring with him and forcing him to use unconventional means to defend himself.

Unconventional like defending himself with an oaken branch from The Defiler.

Dwalin was surprised to learn Magpie and Moonstone were one and the same, but he warmed to her considerably after that fact was revealed. (Even if she insisted on calling him that ridiculous nickname.)

 


 

Gandalf walks up her path to her smial, and Hawthorn knows exactly why he is there even before they exchange greetings.

Of course she is going to help her Little King, and Scarecrow and the Little Bear. There was no way she wasn’t going with them on this crazy scheme. She could be a burglar, and if worse came to worst...well.

She was an assassin .

The Shire’s best.

She had no false hopes. She knew there was a dragon at the end of this quest, and best assassin or not, it was an entirely different thing to kill animals or people versus a dragon , but she would hate herself forever if she didn't at least try .

Still, it wouldn't hurt to make Gandalf think she had turned him down. It was fun to keep the Greybeard on his toes after all.

 


 

 

Nori walked towards the house with the rune carved into its door, and slowed his steps. He knew those locks.

He knew all the blacksmithing he could see, actually. It was Thorin’s work. How had the lass gotten ahold of so much of it? He pouted- not that he’d admit it of course- but Thorin’s locks were the only locks he’d never been able to pick.

At least she had good taste.

He never expected what he would find as he knocked on the door to the lady’s smial.

 


 

 

Every child grew up with the stories.

Stories about soulmates and the Words that sat on their skin from birth. Every child grew knowing that somewhere out there, their perfect match would be found.

Every race had differing stories of course, but at their core they were all one and the same.

The very first words your soulmate would speak to you would appear somewhere on your body.

Every child grew up on stories, and hopes.

Hawthorn had always laughed at her own, knowing that her chances of her mate accepting the practices of her race were at least higher than normal with what they revealed.

Nori had been stared at for his own Words. Some judging, others curious. Nori just wondered what had given him away so quickly to his One.

 


 

When Hawthorn opens her door, she stills.

Her Scarecrow!

She fought the urge to smile at the sight of the thief.

Still- she had to warn him, despite most of her valuables being locked away since she had known her home would soon be full of rowdy dwarrow, one of which was a notorious thief.

"If you steal anything in my smial, I will pin your sticky fingers to the wall with my good silver."

She watched her Scarecrow straighten up, lifting his head and quipping back without missing a beat-

"I would have you know that if I stole anything you wouldn't catch me at it, as I am The Thief , not a thief."

Hawthorn smiled, and almost laughed, except it suddenly dawned on her what she had heard. Her eyes widen and her grip on the doorframe loosens in shock even as she sees her Scarecrow still .

Those are her Words!

By Yavanna, she had never expected that her Mate would be someone she had interacted with for years, despite their lack of speaking in person to one another!

She has the crazy thought that at least she now knew for certain that her Mate would not mind her race’s ways.

 


 

Nori never expected his One to be another race. It wasn’t the rarest of things of course, but it was rare enough . And aside from that, his Words had called him out on his thieving ways from the start. He’d expected his One to be of his own race, and part of the underground he ran to recognize him so quickly as a first meeting.

He’s staring, his eyes wide with surprise in a way he normally would never have allowed, but he thinks this may be a worthy exception considering what had just happened.

Carefully, he reaches for the bracer he had worn for as long as he had understood that Words could be used against him. She watched him carefully, and then slowly moved to mimic him. She reaches for the long sleeve of her tunic, and lifts it to reveal a swathe of bandages wrapped around her wrist.

They stare at one another, and then slide their coverings away in the same movement. Sure enough, Nori can see the words he had just spoken to the lass in his own handwriting curling around her wrist in a lazy spiral.

Hawthorn’s breath catches at the sight of her handwriting- her true handwriting, not the carefully practiced everchanging writing she had used to leave her Scarecrow notes for her Network. Much, she notes, as he must have done for her, otherwise they would have recognized the handwriting for their Words long ago.

There is a still moment where they stare at each other and then Hawthorn has to smile. Well, she thinks, she had already trusted Scarecrow to remain true to his word and her Network once he had thanked her for saving his family. (it had, of course, taken her quite a bit of work to prove she had not in fact known Dori and Ori were his family before she saved them, and it was not an elaborate ruse to get him into her debt.)

They would all figure her out soon enough anyway, and it seemed right that her Scarecrow be the first to know after all.

“My name is Hawthorn Baggins-Took, Little Scarecrow, and it is very good to meet you face to face at last.”

“Nori son of Kori, at your service, lass.”

The reply was automatic, even in the depths of his shock. (Dori would be so very proud to know that his lessons on manners had in fact stuck, Nori just chose not to use them most of the time.)

And then his eyes widened again as two particular phrases he had heard from this lass in the last few minutes repeated themselves, and made snap connections in his head.

Pin your sticky fingers with my good silver.

Little Scarecrow.

There was only one living being on Arda that Nori allowed to call him that, and that was-

“Magpie?!”

 


 

Thorin was entirely ready to dislike this hobbit burglar Gandalf insisted they take along.

Except, as he finally approached the home of their maybe-burglar, he starts seeing very familiar things.

His workmanship. His blacksmithing.

He knows every piece he has ever made, and he knows exactly who they have gone to. Those hinges, the splits for the plants in the garden, the work on the shed door, and the locks on the door and fence .

This is Moonstone’s home.

Thorin is absolutely certain of it, and in face of that knowledge, he very well can’t dislike her. If he had been able to find he would have asked her along himself.  

He smiles to himself as he lifts his hand to knock on the door. (And when he goes inside the smial, and sees the daggers he had gifted Moonstone, with that delicate and detailed silver work on the hilt and pommel it’s confirmed for certain.)

 

Chapter Text

 

Laurelin had made a mistake.

She had only wanted to explore. She knew the stories of course, about why the Merfolk had retreated so deeply into the oceans, to the Reef. It had been so long though...she had thought herself safe.

Now she was here .

With pirate scum .

They’d trapped her, hurt her, and dragged her onto their ship. She was in a glass prison. A portable glass dungeon with a stone castle sized for her inside. They’d placed bars on the inside to keep her away from the glass after she’d tried to break it to get out.

And, even worse, they’d gotten this glass cage for her by showing her off. She’d known that most races had forgotten the Merfolk who had once been Arda’s ambassadors due to their abilities, but to pay the pirates so they could see her?

Laurelin was furious. How dare they, how dare they? They’d draped her in jewels and heavy metals that dug painfully into her scales, all the while their gazes roamed her body, lingering in places that made her grind her teeth. They’d taken her mother’s seashell necklace, taken the river stone belt her father had made her, and Laurelin wanted to cry, but she refused to give these pirates the pleasure of seeing her hurt.

She gave no sign of understanding anything they said, no matter how many smatterings of language they used. She mostly kept to the stone castle that sat in her cage. It kept heavy eyes away, and acted as a sort of buffer between her and the outside world. She felt...not safe, but safer in those stone walls.

She’d learned to come out when ‘visitors’ were present though. She’d never give the pirates reason to tamper with the water in her prison again. They had learned after the first three deaths not to send men inside the tank with her. It was rather easy to pull them in half with the muscles in her tail. They were in her domain once they stepped into the waters, and Merfolk tempers tended to run vicious and strong like their Father Ulmo. The pirates had learned these facts rather quickly.

Her now small acts of rebellion helped with the fury that still reduced her to shaking and unpleasant thoughts, but it was never enough. She was caged , helpless as she had never been and there was nothing she could do about it. The waters were stale and still, suffocating and stagnant. She wondered sometimes if her captors realized they were slowly killing her like this. She was weaker every day that passed in this dead water.

Still, she hadn’t quite given up. Ulmo, her Great Father, would not abandon her. The sea was angry beneath the ship, storms raged, and these pirates faced many dangers along their path. And whenever she was brought outside, her Father brought rain to her prison. He stirred the still, dead, waters of  her cage and brought life to the waters she found herself trapped in. She thanked Him every night, and every morning for being with her in this.

She was certain He would bring her aid of some kind, even if it took Him a time to do so. No doubt it would be swift and brutal, but, she knew her fury would not be stifled by anything else.

LINEBREAK

Laurelin was still as the ship rocked sideways and she was tossed into the bars on the side of her glass, but she could not fight the smile on her face. She was draped in the gems and jewels these men had made for her when she was to meet someone of importance. (That usually meant someone with a lot of gold, someone the scum wanted to make an impression on.)

Still, she knew the roar of the waves, the singing of the winds, and the rush of water, the sound of harsh rain on wood.

Her Father had found her aid, and they were attacking the pirates. She knew the rough twang of arrows being loosed and then dull thuds of metal piercing wood. She knew the voices that screamed in pain around her, the sound of blood spilling on wood.

She tipped her head back and laughed in time with the thunder of the storm outside. She allowed herself to sink the bottom of her cell, leaning back against the stone castle behind her. Her head tipped back and laughter continued to spill from her lips, mixed with choked sobs.

“Father please,” she prayed to Ulmo, “let this be the help I know You will bring me. Let them get me out . I cannot stay here much longer. My scales dim, my body tires, my wounds are infected. My spirit is weary if still strong. Give me the strength I need. Bring me hope. Please Father.”

When all fell silent, and none came for her, Laurelin allowed her eyes to close, head still tipped towards the storm outside. She breathed in and held it, her shoulders dropping. Perhaps these people were not meant to find her. Perhaps this was not the help of her Father, but a group that would be worse than these?

She gathered her tail under herself and used the stone behind her to pull herself up. It was getting more difficult to make herself move as the water around her became more and more stagnant. She would suffocate in this still water, a slow and painful death as she became slower and weaker. She would have long before if her Father had not aided her every time she was brought outside, bringing her life .

LINEBREAK

It was hours later, when Laurelin heard the key to the captain’s cabin being inserted into the lock.

She wondered if it was the pirates who had won the scuffle with their attackers, and that was why none had entered the cabin before then.

She stilled, twisting her body around the stone of her castle as she heard the key turning in the lock. She kept herself quiet and hidden, watching as the door opened, and then stilling as an unknown voice called over his shoulder in a language she had not heard in centuries.

“I will see what this scum kept in his quarters now that we have the key. Dwalin keep an eye on the horizon, Kili! Fili! Stay sharp, and do one more sweep of this ship. They were scum, but these pirates seemed to be well off all the same.”

Khuzdul. The language of the dwarves.  

Laurelin felt her breath rush from her lungs as the speaker came into sight, dripping water everywhere, fierce and strong , lit from behind by Ulmo’s lightning. Her eyes widened, and she watched him step inside, turning his eyes from over his shoulder and pinning her in place.

Blue. The blue of the Great Sea, of waves in a storm, where the sky met the sea.

She kept herself hidden as she watched him search through the cabin. He paused at the sight of her prison, distaste on his face, but he did not see her. She watched as he took what could help his people, listened as he spoke softly to himself, speaking about what he would take and why or for whom.

She watched him step in and out of the room, bringing his findings out to the others of his group, before he returned to the cabin and kept looking for more. He wanted to help his people, his kin. His mutters to himself let her learn of his motives, and she approved. She lifted her eyes to the sky, and smiled.

“Thank you Father.”

She took a breath, and then swam forward, removing herself from the stone that had sheltered her from so much. She lifted a hand gripping the bar inside her cage with that hand and with the other she tapped the glass between the bars.

LINEBREAK

Thorin frowned as he dug in the chest at the foot of this captain’s bed. They could always use more blankets, and this chest held them. Thick, fluffy and tightly woven, high quality. He was uneasy. These pirates were not very good fighters. They were not skilled enough to have stolen this much wealth, things of this quality and quantity from others.

So how had they gotten them?

Why did they have all these luxury items, if they could not have stolen the sheer amount of them? Even the amount of gold- and it had been quite a bit more than Thorin had expected- didn’t explain it. It may have if the pirates had not had so much pricey items. They had to have a steady stream of gold coming in. It was the only explanation for how the entire ship had held high quality expensive items instead of only a few.

Thorin had channeled that nervous energy by pulling everything he could of use from the ship for his people. He was not sure how they had done it, but the gold in their hold, and the blankets and supplies would help keep his dwarrow alive and Thorin was thankful for that, no matter the suspicious circumstances of their presence.

He was just getting ready to call Balin and Ori into the captain’s cabin to look at the meager supply of books when a noise caught his attention. He reacted instantly, falling into a defensive stance as he whirled to face the threat, how had he been snuck up on, there was no one in the room-

His breath caught, eyes widening in shock. Dim sunlight glinted off gold and glass and-

That was not possible!

He had never seen anything like her. She was beautiful, draped in finery he had not seen since his home in Erebor had fallen to the dragon. Her entire body was the color of golden fire, a powerful tail flicking through the water. Scales crawled over her hips, curling forwards above her navel and around her torso to hide her modesty, and then back around her shoulders down her back. More scales trailed down her arms, to her hands, and when he looked upon her face, the same scales curved around the outer corner over her eyes to trail down her cheekbones.

Her eyes were trapped embers, framed by a gaudy hair piece that looped across her forehead and into her hair-golden-red of a darker shade then her scales-of bright silver chains tipped in fire opals and onyx.

She was reaching for him through the glass, her other hand gripping the bar, and it suddenly hits Thorin that she is prisoner in this room. The fury that fills him is intense and unexpected. His expression twists and she hurls herself further back into her cage. There is fury on her face, but it’s resigned and oh .

Dwarrows had myths about these creatures, much as every race on Arda, of course, but they were just that. Myths. Tales for dwarrowlings around the hearth. And yet…

There she is. Trapped fire, and to his trained eyes, this blaze was dimming. Becoming embers in this glass prison of hers.

He steps forward, his hands falling away from his sword as he approaches the glass dungeon, and he finds his hand lifting of its own accord, pressing flat against the glass over where her own palm is pressed.

He knows he cannot leave her here.

Every legend that ever spoke of Merfolk told they were a race as wild and untamable as the sea from which they came. She did not belong here, in still waters, never to touch the waves of her home again, held just out of her reach.

Thorin had lost his home, but he could give her back hers . Erebor was out of his reach for now, but… her home was right outside these walls. Right within her reach, if he could help her. That was within his power. He could free her.

He could save this wild creature who looked so like a flickering flame trapped in glass.

His eyes dropped from the burning embers of her own, and he began to search for a way to free her. It didn’t take him long to find the bolts sunk into the floor, and that were attached to them, leading upwards towards the glass of the mermaid’s prison. He could see where the chain was locked into place on the glass with a clever but of glasswork that allowed a loop for the lock to hook around.

She was trapped inside the prison, unable to reach the glass, but Thorin was not.

His lips pulled down into a fierce frown as he reached for his sword and turned it so the pommel faced the looping glass. It took him three strong hits, but the glass shattered, and the sound of a heavy chain hitting the wooden floor was a victory. The storm outside hid any noise he made, as he moved around the circle of chains, breaking each fastening loop.

He only lifted his eyes when the last chain had fallen to the floor, and his breath caught a second time.

The mermaid had moved to the center of the glass contraction, twisting to keep him in view the entire time he worked. When his eyes lifted from his sword, and moved instead to look at her, he could not help but think this was why mermaids were called Queens of the Seas.

Her golden hair had twisted and swirled around her frame, held down only by the silver hair piece. An armband of silver was connected to silver chains like vines that twisted down her arms,  until they all met in one strand that fastened to the ring that sat on her middle finger, set with a glimmering onyx. Her entire body was now extended and Thorin got his first good look at the maiden. Her hips were draped with a matching scallop-patterned silver chain to her head piece, each ‘scale’ in the  scallop pattern tipped with alternating fire-opals and onyx. The belt stopped at her hips, but fastened around her tail, just above where her fin began a silver chain wound elegantly over her scales. The silver was bright against her fire-gold scales and Thorin couldn’t move or breathe for a moment.

She was glorious .

She looked down at him from her place in the water, and Thorin remained still and silent as he watched those ember-eyes of her brighten and spark like a bonfire. He recognized hope in her, and his chest squeezed for a painful moment.

He only moved when he heard Dwalin whisper an oath at his back.

His head turned to meet his shield-brother’s wide eyes, even as the mermaid pinned the warrior in place with a burning piercing look.

“By Mahal’s Anvil! Thorin, what…?”

“Help me get her out my friend. Her glass prison is mobile,” he nodded at the wheels that sat at the foot of her tank, “but I cannot transport her out of this room on my own.”

Dwalin remained frozen and staring for another moment, before his eyes hardened with determination and he stepped inside. He bent to shove the chains that would be in the way of the wheels to the side, and the shoved both doors to the cabin open entirely.

The large double doors to the captain’s cabin had been a source of confusion among Thorin and his kin, but as the dwarrow began to prepare to move the tank, Thorin suddenly understood the purpose of them. They were built so large so that the mermaid and her prison would fit through them.

It lit a spark of resentment in his chest for the pirate scum he had his crew had taken care of. They had been to merciful, delivering quick deaths to those that fought them. How long had the maiden sat in the prison slowly wasting away, trapped just out of sight of her ocean, but able to hear it call her?

Thorin stepped out of the cabin, releasing a long and carrying whistle. It took a moment, but his dwarrow began to step out of the rooms and climb from the lower decks at the carrying sound.

“Come with me,” he commanded, “I am in need of more strength to move what we have found. All of you.”

Glances were exchanged, as each dwarrow present had known Thorin long enough to recognize he was furious about something, and not just angry or annoyed. Still, he called, and they answered just as they always had.

Bombur was the first through the door, and he froze a step inside, wide wondering eyes fixed on the Queenly sight in front of him.

“Sweet forgefire….” he whispered the oath, as his eyes remained fixed on what his King had found.

He ignored the bodies that had crashed into his back, unmoving and awed at the living myth. His next forward step was taken unthinkingly, as he slowly approached the glass, his hand lifting to press against the glass much as his King had once done.

His eyes widened further, like a child presented with an unexpected gift, as the mermaid- for that was what she was, Bombur knew- allowed herself to sink in the waters, and came forward to press her hand against the glass over his own palm, a gentle smile pulling her lips upwards.

Ori was the next to snap into movement, the scribe utterly enchanted . Her eyes were open wide and, she kept a steady stream of half-started sentences as she tried to both exclaim her awe, and ask questions at once.

The gentle grin on the maiden’s face widened as she turned to approach the dwarrowdam. Instead of pressing her hand to the glass as she had with Bombur and Thorin both, she lifted her hand and waved.

Ori was beside herself with joy as she whirled around to Nori and Dori whom had both followed her footsteps despite their shocked awe, waving her arms and gushing, “Did you see- She just- I was- And then she-”

The two brother’s couldn’t help the way their lips twitched and pulled into a smile at the sound of their little sister’s joy.

Nori approached carefully. Most myths on Merfolk spoke about how they could look into someone’s eyes and see if they were good or not. Nori was a thief, and a spy. He had done many, many things on behalf of his family and his King. His hands were not clean, but if he could keep his kin and King, his friends from bloodying theirs by doing the dirty work himself, Nori would . He had never hesitated.

Still, as he approached the mermaid, he wondered what she would see when she looked at him. Would she turn away from him? Would her face twist in disgust? Could she see the blood that dripped from his palms?

His breath caught when that burning gaze was turned to him, and he didn't move as he kept his eyes on hers. She didn’t move for a moment, her gazed searching, and Nori found himself tensing in the face of it. Others had called him a bad person before, but Nori had always shoved those whispers away, burying them under his family and King’s needs. Still...he was face to face with a creature of myth said to see the heart of a person.

Would she, too, judge him a bad, filthy lying rat-

Nori’s breath caught as she lowered her body further, folding her tail under herself, and meeting his eyes evenly. A hand lifted, a finger summoned, and Nori stepped up to the glass. His breath caught as the mermaid dipped her head to him, her smile gentle and her eyes closing. She opened her eyes, lifting her head, and reached out her hand through the bars, pressing her palm to the glass as she had with the others.

Nori lifted his own hand, and if it shook just a little as he pressed it against the glass, no one said a word.

One by one the mermaid greeted each of Thorin’s crew, his family, even those who had no blood relations to him. His chest felt tight as she treated each of them to a smile and greeting, her eyes warm and welcoming.

When each had been greeted individually, she turned her eyes back to him, and Thorin met her gaze. They were warmer now than they had been before, and he wondered what she had learned of him by meeting those he called his crew.

He shoved that thought away, turned to the others and spoke, his voice deep and commanding attention. “Come, let’s get her out of here.”

LINEBREAK

Laurelin could barely dare to breathe. She was getting out . She was finally getting out of her cage. These dwarrow were pulling and pushing her prison through the doors of the cabin and as her Father’s rain poured down into her tank she threw her head back and and pulled in a deep gasping breath.

Living Water .

Her Father’s power pulsed through the rain as it stirred the dead and foul waters of her cage, and she felt dizzy with the fresh source of water to breathe from. Her hands lifted upwards, reaching towards the sky despite the bars that latched closed over the top of her prison, her back arched, and her eyes closed. Her smile was wide and joyful, laughter spilling from her lips and she twirled through the water despite her hurts. She had not felt so alive since she had left the Reef.

The thunder of the storm shifted from a raging thing to something closer to the rumble of a chuckle, and the choppy sea beneath the ship settled towards simply rocking the ship rather then the more violent bobbing it had been doing before.

She only opened her eyes when she heard the sound of the metal bars that latched over the top of her cage shift. The small red haired dwarf- the one who had looked so fearful of her judgement- had climbed atop of the bars and was now working to unlock them.

Her lips parted as he succeeded, and though he was perched with one leg over the side of the glass, and the other between the bars that covered her escape, he easily lifted the heavy hinged door and tossed it open.

For a moment she didn’t dare to move, staring hesitantly at the sudden escape provided to her. When she finally did find the strength to act, she rushed for the opening, breaking through the surface of the water with a large gasp. Laurelin shuddered as she felt fresh ocean air on her face for the first time in what felt like an Age. Her laughter was bright, and she basked as the clouds parted, allowing sunlight to shine down upon her form.

She was unaware of the utter stillness of the dwarrow who had saved her, each staring as sunlight cascaded over her hair and scales, lighting the colors from embers to living forge flame, the light playing and rippling over her body.

It was as if a piece of Mahal’s Sacred Fire had been captured in a creature of the sea.

Laurelin turned in the water to face the thief who had opened the door separating her from her from clean air. He was staring at her with wide bright eyes and she approached him, reaching forward with trembling fingers. He did not flinch from her and Laurelin found herself pleased, as she leaned forward, pressing her forehead to his in a dwarven show of great gratitude when done after a great service had been rendered between them, as had been done by freeing her.

She would do the same to each of the dwarrow when she could reach them. Her gratitude could not be expressed by mere words. This expression of her knowledge of their culture would have to do.

She lifted her head, turning to face the dwarrow on the ground and trying to figure out how she could get herself out. Well. She had fine upper body strength, even if she had no legs to help her. She would not have legs until the day she found her Perfect Song, and could take their form. It was possible to shift to a race of two legs without finding your other half of course, but it would be like walking across knifes and coals for every step, like fire in your bones every time the shift happened.

Merfolk were meant to take the form of a particular race- the one that matched their Perfect Song- and only then would the shift be painless. Laurelin hurt enough without any extra strain on her body. She instead gripped the bars of metal that framed the door the little thief had opened and hauled her body upwards. It took a bit more effort then she was used to, her limbs shaking with weakness from her long captivity, but once the little thief realized what she was doing, he helped her get her tail up onto the bars and out of the tank.

She smiled at him, nodding her thanks as she eyed the large drop from the top of her cage to the deck below. She rolled her body onto her belly after a moment gripping the bars tightly as she slowly wiggled her way backwards until she hung on the side with her arms alone, her tail trailing down the metal like a living flag.

She slowly began to lower herself down, hand over hand, refusing to allow herself to simply slide and burn the cuts on her palms. The pirates had taken enough from her, she would hold on to what was left of her pride and dignity. She heard a rush of footsteps and gasped softly as warm calloused hands gripped her hips and tail as they helped her down as soon as she was in reach to grab.

For a moment, she almost snarled in refusal of touch, but her body protested her motions and leaned into the warmth of another being. She was weary and there was only a little strength she could muster.

She found herself lowered gently to the deck of her captor’s ship and looking up into the awed eyes of dwarrows and a dwarrowdam. She reached forward to the one called Thorin, who knelt in front of her, having been the one to wrap his hands about her hips. He leaned forward curiously, and she sat up pressing her forehead to his in thanks. One by one she turned to the other dwarrow reaching forward and repeating the gesture with each of them.

She kept her movement slow, firm and with all the solemnity she possessed. Even in her unwanted finery with her sluggishly bleeding wounds and weakened body.

She did not trust them with her voice yet, but she wanted them to know how thankful she was all the same. Thorin- as she had heard the large warrior who had helped with her tail, call the first dwarrow she had met- introduced each member of his crew to her by name, and she made a point to memorize their names and faces. There were many of them, but this was important so she would remember names with faces.

Oin slipped forward after introductions, speaking about how he was going to look her over, using hand gestures with slow, easy motions. When she nodded her consent, he then carefully began to do as he said he would. His hands were gentle but firm as he found each of the wounds she had taken in her captivity, and he uttered a curse as he realized the heavy adornments she still wore which were the cause of several wounds where they had been placed. She was tense at first, but slowly relaxed as Oin and Ori began to pull the jewels off of her body and care for the wounds that were revealed underneath them.

She was pleased to see the fire of anger stir in all the eyes around her as the damage was revealed. She waited until she had been tended before she turned her attention to looking for the captain’s body on the deck.

He carried her mother’s necklace and her father’s belt with him, as he thought it amusing to taunt her with them. He also carried the small collection of pearls she had woven into her hair. Besides the captain, she wanted to find the first mate. The bastard wore coral around his neck, and though he may not have known what coral actually was as all the races of Arda seemed to have forgotten, it still burned her to see it around his neck like an insult and a trophy in one.

When her race died, and moved on to their Father’s palace, or into the afterlife their Perfect Song was destined for, their bodies would become coal reefs below the waters, sheltered forever in their Father’s embrace. That he had taken a piece, and wore it like a statement around his neck while he tormented her so...  

She had Cursed his line, though she had not spoken it to him aloud. Her Father had heard her, and the sea had risen to her call. She had cursed him, and all in his line who bore greed in their hearts to find no welcome in any body of water, to never find shelter from storms, much as she had cursed the captain who had held her captive.

As soon as she spotted the sprawled body of the captain she used her arms to pull herself closer, shaking away the hands that tried to stop her. She would not allow this scum to hold momentos of her family even a moment longer.  

Her hands shook as she pulled her belt, pearls, and necklace out of various pockets of his overcoat, and she clutched them close to herself eyes closing in relief. They were still here, she still had them, they were whole and undamaged, thank Ulmo .

LINEBREAK

Laurelin could not return to the sea until her wounds had healed. There was also information to be gathered on these people. Her own kind knew Men, knew Elves, but these were virtually unknown. Not completely, as other Merfolk had found their Songs in this race before- Durin the Deathless had been the Song of one of her people-and those that had Dwarrow as Songs had come back to teach their language to the Merfolk. Oaths had been sworn, as the race meant to keep the peace, that they would never utter Khuzdul to any but a dwarrow, and that they would never teach another outside of their race what they learned. The Queen of the time had sworn the Oath in blood and on the sea, as all who chose to learn Khuzdul after her had done when they learned. Their Father would ensure they kept it.

Thorin’s crew was gentle and caring with her as they tended to her hurts, which lent a favorable opinion to them.

She had kept her voice and understanding of both Common and Khuzdul to herself, allowing them to think her unable to communicate with actual words at all. They spoke as though she could not understand and that revealed much of their thoughts. They spoke of vengeance on her behalf, justice for her imprisonment and watery graves for all her captors. It was in hushed whispers they talked of her beauty, and even then it was to compare her to rubies and fire, the dawn at daybreak and all of it was an edge of awe.

She was growing to trust them, but her supposed lack of understanding had saved her more than once in the past, before she had been caught.

Instead she had the crew convinced she communicated with tones and sounds. Her voice rose and fell in beautiful but wordless notes of song, sounds that mimicked the oceans, brooks, rivers, rain and thunder, but never any understandable words. It was more than most that lived ever knew of her race.

After the Great Hunting, merfolk had retreated beneath the waves, and faded to legends and myths. They had become guardians of the sea instead, protecting places of great value, and pathways between places. Most who heard merfolk now heard only songs that lured them away from these places, put them to sleep to think the sightings dreams. Occasionally, it had to be said, the merfolk had risen up and driven armies onto rocks with their voices, sailors into the embrace of their Father, and this too, had given rise to the legends around them.

She was testing them. So far, they were passing her every challenge, and she had rewarded them with the knowledge of her nonverbal communications.

She knew most would consider that petty, or judgemental, but Laurelin had learned her lessons in blood and pain when she failed to listen to the warnings in the first place. She would not trust any race easily again. The only reason she hadn’t jumped into the ocean the moment she was on the deck, was because of how these dwarrow treated her.

They cared for her wounds, and as soon as she managed to convey she needed fresh water every other day it was provided. They fed her well, never barred her from the open sky, never made her feel trapped.

They allowed her to tug on their braids and beads, making curious or awed noises even though she knew how important they were to dwarrow kind. She ignored personal space, getting close to the dwarrow, touching hands and shoulders and feet like she had never seen them before.

She’d done it to see what sort of people she had found herself surrounded with, if they would turn violent when presented with an unknown touching their braids, tugging and playing with beads, when they ‘knew’ she couldn’t understand them. When they ‘knew’ she didn’t understand their ways. It told a lot about a person, how they reacted when presented with a situation such as that one.

She did it to test who they were and found herself pleased. Each and every one of Thorin’s crew had been patient and kind in the face of her childlike behavior. Even Thorin himself.

They were kind , when they had nothing to gain from it beyond the act of kindness itself.

They had taken the time to learn what sounds she made when she was happy or curious, when she was sad or content. They had learned which sounds she associated each of them with, and which sound she made when she wanted them to come to her, when she was hungry, or tired.

They tried to mimic them back, her strange lilting melody, attempting to communicate with her. The one with an axe in his head made gestures with his hands, pointing to the sun, to food, to water. They all spoke words, both in Trade and their own secret tongue. The small red-haired one, the dwarrowdam called Ori braided her pearls in her hair in a distinctly dwarven fashion.

Her heart warmed to them, and she responded to their calls when they mimicked the noise she made to call them over to the best of their abilities. They lacked the ability to make certain sounds, unable to layer their voices properly to produce it, but they came as close as they could to it, and Laurelin treated their attempts with joy.

Still, she did not reveal she could speak their language, save for a few basic words. She knew most all the languages of Arda, as Merfolk had once been the Ambassadors between the races. There had been a time that Merfolk had needed to know them, as they kept the peace between the children of the Valar connected to each of them.

They had been a trusted race, a neutral party, a solver of problems and disputes. They had thrived, found all over Arda, and as Merfolk found their Perfect Song in various races, changing their forms to fit their Song’s race. They had touched each of the Children of the Valar, so deeply that even now, when her kind had been in hiding for over an Age, they were remembered as legends by every race.   

Her ultimate test for these dwarrow, and the one that would decide what happened next between them, would be the moment she was healed enough to go back to the ocean.

Would they let her go, give her the freedom to choose? Would they instead attempt to cage her, as the pirates had done?

Would greed or kindness guide them still, when the moment came for her to be free?

She didn’t know. A part of her would always expect the worst from surface dwellers. There was a reason her kind had faded into the most obscure myths and legends. Círdan kept their secret well.

She hoped these dwarrow would too.

Blue so deep and bright.

Chapter Text

Hawthorn rushed through her home, hands flying over the shelves, and feet rushing over the floors. She had her pack in one hand while the other shoved what she didn’t already have into it. She blessed Nori for ensuring she got into the habit of packing a ‘grab-n-go’ bag as he called it. It had a few extra pairs of travel clothes, flint, some packages of food, a journal, a cloak, an oil slick, her bedding, and an extra blanket packed away plus a few other odds and ends. She’d already belted Sting to her hip, the mithril armor from Thorin sliding over her head, and she finished shoving what she needed into the bag.

Roic flew after her, and Hawthorn blessed her paranoid dwarrow for sending him with her when she had come back to Bag End. The Company had all been involved in the rebuilding, neck deep in the mess as they tried to pull everything together after the Battle of Five Armies and Smaug both.

Hawthorn had needed to come back to see to her affairs. She’d left a letter before, of course, sent to her Grandfather the Thain, but she could not inform the Thain that she would be relocating permanently in a letter . Her ‘adventure’ was one thing- she’d always intended to come back at the end of that, but then Thorin happened.

Thorin happened, the Company became her family, and she’d found that ‘home’ had changed when she wasn’t looking. She’d had to come back to see to Bag End, her holdings, her wealth, and the land, so that she could go back home to her family. That she could arrange for trade agreements while she was here was even better.   

Thorin had sent guards with her, of course he had, the overprotective dwarrow, but they did no good now. She choked on her own breath at the thought. She’d seen them fighting the orcs, those dwarrow she’d grown to care for on her way back to the Shire.

They’d told her to run, and turned to face the orcs and wargs with axes, swords, and spears without another word. Her people were not equipped for this, for an invasion . The dwarrow were brave, and talented, but there were only so many of them. They would not be able to defeat the numbers of orcs and wargs that rushed into the Shire. They would try, oh would they try , but Hawthorn had seen war. She knew the odds.

Hawthorn’s hands shook as she heard the screams of her people begin to sound over the air.

“Roic.” Her voice shook as she rushed towards her study, reaching for the books that contained knowledge on medicinal vs edible plants, and the books her mother had kept on first aid in the wilds.

“Yes my lady?” the raven’s voice was surprisingly deep.

“Go,” she gasped, “fly, and tell Thorin and the others what has happened. I will flee from here- they want me and I cannot stay and sentence my people to death for my sake. I will give them something to chase, and pray that my Company can catch up to me in time.”

Roic ruffled his feathers, fluffing up as he stared at her, “But my lady-”

Hawthorn shook her head, waving her hand sharply through the air in a way she had learned from Thorin.

“No Roic. They came for me, waited for me to leave Erebor’s walls. This is my fault, my people are dying because the orcs followed me home. I will leave and lure them after me. I will do so, and I will leave my guard here to protect my people. I’ll be able to hide better alone anyway. I need you to tell Thorin and the others, do you understand?”

Roic appeared twice his normal size as his feathers fluffed in agitation, but he dipped his head all the same.

“May your feet be given wings my lady. I will fly as swift as I am able to your mate and nestmates. I will send another back in my place.”

Hawthorn pulled in a shaking, uneven breath.

“My the wind rise under your wings Roic. Now, go!”

Hawthorn flew out her back door, throwing her pack onto her back as she went. She didn’t look back as Roic darted out over her head and flew straight up, like an arrow before turning towards the mountain. She didn’t even shut her door behind her.

She just ran, straight for the ponies that had been hers, and her guards. Her own would be saddled, she knew, for she had planned to go to her grandfather’s before the attack. She breathed a near silent thanks to Yavanna and Mahal both as she saw her pony- Nightshade- was still there, and saddled just as he should be.

She didn’t slow as she rushed towards her mount, climbing the mounting platform and whistling sharply for her pony. Nightshade came to her just as he had been trained to do and Hawthorn lept for his back. It was not her most graceful or painless landing upon the saddle, but Hawthorn didn’t care. She dug her heels into Nightshade’s sides and leaned low over the saddle. She ignored how uncomfortable her pack was while she rode- she had no time to fix it if she wanted to pull the orc’s attentions to herself.

Dain had been a blessing, giving Thorin and the Company war-trained ponies for their own. She knew Nightshade wouldn’t startle at the orcs or wargs, and would in fact rise to her defense should the occasion arise. Her tongue twisted over the syllables of Khuzdul that Thorin had taught her as his Queen.

“Ride fast, Nightshade, ride fast!”

She could feel the ripple of muscle under her thighs as her pony responded as he’d been trained to do, speeding up from a trot to a canter to a gallop.  

Hawthorn knew what she’d have to do next.

If she wanted the orcs and their mounts to follow her , she’d have to pull their attention from her home. She’d have to get right in the middle of the fight she could hear happening ahead of her. Her eyes narrowed sharply.

She was Hawthorn ‘Bilbo’ Baggins. She was Queen of Erebor, Dragon-Riddler, one of Thorin Oakenshield’s Company. She had stared the Pale Orc straight in the eye and sneered . She had denied him his prey more than once, and she had been the one to part his head from his body. She had debated with elven kings, seen war .

She could do this.

All she had to do was run after all.

LINEBREAK

Thorin has a bad feeling.

Granted, Hawthorn was out of his sight and he always had a bad feeling in his chest and gut when that happened, but this was different.

None of the Company had been able to go with her this time. Usually when Thorin got this way, he could content himself with the idea that one of his most trusted, who loved Hawthorn like family, was there with her. And usually she was only headed down to a rebuilding Dale, or to the borders of Mirkwood. She had not been so far from his side since he met her in her hobbit hole.

He knew she needed to settle matters back at the Shire, and he was very well aware that with the Queen gone from Erebor’s Halls, the Company did need to be there to cover her duties as well as their own. It was not easy to rebuild a Kingdom from ruin, and Thorin would not trust those who had refused to answer his call at his side in this.

Which was why the dwarrow of his company had found themselves in very important positions once Thorin had the mind to give each of them one.

Those positions were also why Hawthorn had gone back to the Shire with a dwarven guard instead of any from the Company. Thorin could not spare more than his Queen at this stage. And he knew that the guards sent with Hawthorn were Dwalin’s best, but…

Thorin has a bad feeling .

Kind of like the day Smaug had come to Erebor. Which made him nervous and a nervous Thorin was dangerous .

He couldn’t show that though. He was King Under the Mountain, and his people needed him to be strong for them, especially in such an early stage in rebuilding. Dwalin’s presence at his shoulder was a comfort, even if his own anxiousness was making Dwalin tense.

The flutter of wings pulled Thorin’s eyes upwards towards the windows that had been carved into the mountain to allow ravens easy access to the inhabitants. He began to smile as he recognized Roic, Hawthorn’s personal raven, but it was wiped from his face before it could form as he took in the state of the raven.

He was standing before he’d even thought about the action, his arm lifting to give Roic a place to land. The normally graceful bird more crashed into his arm rather than land and Thorin felt his heart constrict.

Dwalin had already begun clearing the throne room of people as soon as Roic had come through the window, and Thorin was thankful as he reached his free hand up to steady the raven.

“What has happened?” His voice was a sharp, thunderous thing as fear rose up from his gut.

Roic pulled in a heavy, heaving breath, and cawed loudly.

Thorin jerked at the sound, his heart stuttering as he wondered what could have caused one of the Royal Ravens to revert from speech to the sounds of their flock. Thur flutters down from above, out of sight but always within calling distance of his assigned dwarrow- Dwalin.

Thur is a powerful raven, his black feathers hinting towards a deep blue that blends with the black until the sun glints off his feathers. He is known as the most fierce when the need to protect his messages arises, and he is a good match to Dwalin.

Roic exchanges a quick series of sounds in his own language that has Thur straightening sharply, his feathers bristling even as he lets out a sharp and angry screech.

Thorin turns to Dwalin who has approached after clearing the last of the stragglers from the room, and he can see the worry in the warrior’s eyes.

Thur flings himself off of Thorin’s arm where he had settled beside Roic, with a powerful flap of his wings as he darts out of window Roic had just come in from.

Finally Roic turns to him, and Thorin clenches his fist, his shoulders falling back as he instinctively braces for a hit he hasn’t yet seen.

“What happened?” he repeats, his voice steady despite his fear of what news Roic has for him.

“Mahal, please,” he prays, “don’t let my ghivashel be dead.”

Roic’s chest heaves for a moment before he finally speaks in a language that Thorin can understand. “My Lady has sent me to you for aid. Orcs and wargs invaded the Shire.”

Thorin’s breath stops all together, and it takes strength he has no idea how he pulled from to remain on his feet and not stagger like a troll has punched him.

Roic had paused after delivering that bit of news, knowing his Lady’s mate would not be able to process anything else for a few moments after. He breathes hard, having never flown so far so quickly before.

“That is not all my Lord.” Roic waits only for Thorin’s eyes to actually focus on him before he continues, “My Lady is being hunted. They invaded the Shire looking for her . She- she left her guard behind to defend her people from those that would stay, and she lured the rest after herself. She bid me to return to you, and ask for the Company to catch up.”

For a moment, nothing happens. For an instant the throne room is silent, and Thorin cannot breathe .

Of course his kurdulu belkul would choose to act as bait when presented with a choice such as that. Of course she would.

His One stood alone, hunted across the land.

Thorin doesn’t even register that he is running, one hand braced over Roic to keep him from tumbling off his arm. He cannot hear Dwalin on his heels, or how one by one each of his Company falls behind the two of them, summoned by Thorin’s raven Thoth.

All he cares for is to get to Hawthorn as quickly as he can. His Kingdom is not even a thought in his mind.

LINEBREAK

Hawthorn cursed softly.

She’d led Nightshade through a river, following it upstream as far as she could to help hide their scent somewhat from the wargs on their heels, but it was too deep now. They would have to return to the shores.

She led Nightshade out of the water, sliding down in order to deal with her pack properly. She’d worn the thing on her back the entire time, but now that she’d lost the orcs on her tail for the time being, she would take a moment to settle it properly onto her pony. She blinked as the back of her pack came into view, alongside the two orc arrows that had pierced it. She wondered who had gotten the lucky hit.

It wouldn’t have struck her skin at all with the mithril armor of course, but still.

She pulled herself back onto Nightshade’s back, turning her eyes back to the path in front of her.

She couldn’t lead the orcs to Bree. They would not be ready for a raid like that, and Hawthorn had seen enough towns burn from her actions for a lifetime after Smaug. She would not receive help from the Rangers either having come out the opposite side of the Shire to where they were patrolling right  this moment and unable to turn to meet them without running afoul of the orcs.

She did, however, remember the magic in the borders of Rivendell. She remembered feeling it ripple over her skin as soon as she crossed their borders. Magic that would warn the elves as soon as the orcs stepped over their land, long before the city came into sight.

She would make for Rivendell, and pray she could make it there before the orcs caught her.

“Fly, Nightshade. Fly!”

LINEBREAK

Dis nods sharply at her brother and his Company. A part of her shares the pain, worry and the fear of losing another loved one, but she is of stone and she does not falter.

“Go,” she commands, the wives of the other members of the Company standing resolute at her shoulders, “we will hold the kingdom. Bring my sister home, alongside yourselves.”

Dis had not even thought to stop any of the Company from going after Hawthorn. Not even Sauron himself would have managed it should he have tried. That little hobbit was family and there was nothing a dwarf valued over family. They loved her, and beyond that she was their Queen, and their King’s One, Thorin’s wife, and Dis’ chosen sister.

So no, Dis had not thought to stop even one of the Company from riding out to reclaim their burglar from those who hunted her.

Instead she prayed to Mahal for the safe return of all of them even as she prepared herself to rule in her brother’s absence.

They had all become family to her over the months of restoration work, rather than distant relations or unknown miners. Names on the precious few tapestries that survived the Fall of Erebor, the lines she memorized that spoke of blood, lineage, lines of inheritance.

These were the dwarrow who had answered when her brother called, these were the dwarrow who had willing hearts and loyalty. She had gotten to know each of them personally, and grown to care for them as well. They were her family, regardless of blood or race, and Dis wanted all of them home and safe.

Chapter Text


 

Author: northpeach

Summary: The nuances of language varys from people to people. Culture, history and values contribute to this as well. Hobbits, with a love of nature and family had words that were not found among the Elvish or Dwarven tongues. One such word that was mistranslated was ‘pacifist’ .

Warnings: Violence, BAMF!Hobbits, Racism.


 

It was widely known that there was only two major languages, besides Trade, that were spoken in Arda.

The Dwarven people with their harsh, growling tongue that was kept a fiercely guarded secret from all outsiders. If one was not a dwarrow, there was little chance to hear even a whispered conversation, but all knew the sounds the dwarves made when they rode into battle. The guttural tones as they sneered and spat at the feet of the less than obliging Men.

The Elven people with their lilting and melodic tones that was separated into two, although the first was a more formal tongue and was most commonly known by scholars and those who were old enough to remember the Age when Quenya was spoken. Sindarin was what the Elves spoke in this Age and while not widely spread, it was not a great surprise to find Men who knew it.

Other widely known facts included the pacifist farmers that lived in the lost realm of Arnor.

Small, weak halflings who did not fight, did not have a king nor a standing army and were quite content to stay out of the workings of the rest of Middle Earth. Some thought they were myths, bedtimes stories to entertain children with. Funny little creatures who knew nothing of hardship and suffering.

Not that the Hobbits cared.

As far as they were concerned, all the interactions with the rest of the world revealed Men, Dwarves and Elves to be all equally arrogant, condescending and very rude. Save for the Rangers that faithfully kept the Oaths of a long dead king and the treaty the Shire had signed with the now fallen kingdom.

They were widely respected and had earned each and every invitation for meals and the open doors which were offered without hesitation.

The Rangers were the only ones- save for perhaps, a certain wizard or an elven lord- who were amused at the misunderstandings of Hobbit language and culture which would follow them for as long as they existed as a people.

The Trade language was most widely spoken, followed by Khuzdul and then Sindarin.

In Trade, the word ‘pacifist’ meant, ‘one who believes war and violence are unjustifiable’ . In Sindarin it was translated as ‘one who lives in harmony with nature’ . For the dwarrow, in Khuzdul the word was more of an insult than a way of life as it meant ‘one who refuses an honorable fight’ .

In the Hobbit’s tongue, which didn’t have a name so much as a title, there was no such word as ‘pacifist’.

Thus, when Hobbits received visitors, be they Elves, Men or Dwarves, the encounters usually went almost exactly like the very first meeting between Hobbits and the rest of Arda.

Upon seeing the small, soft looking people with pointed ears and cheerful smiles, one could be forgiven for making the mistake they were children. Once. They could be forgiven once. Men were usually rude, aggressive and threatening or patronizing, speaking as if they had difficulty understanding complex sentences and big words.

Elves remained a constant, cold, distant and haughty, as if simply because they lived thousands of years to their mere century, stood taller and were a people that did not shy away from war that they were superior.

The Dwarves were better in some areas, although they completely disregarded anything Hobbits did or said as anything other than naive and bumbling attempts to befriend them. A warrior people, used to life’s suffering and the pain and loss of war, famine and the suspicions of other races. They bore the accusations of greedy thieves and lust driven mercenaries with a fierce pride in their work and in the strength of their weapons.

The very first interaction in recorded history between Hobbits and Men went something along these lines:

“As a race, what is it that you value most?”

“Oh, that’s an easy question! We take great pride in our gardens-”

“Gardens?”

“-yes, that’s what I said, gardens , where one plants food, flowers or other green things, but we also enjoy eating with our friends and family.”

“Cooking is a valued skill among your people?”

“Very much so! Why my Took neighbour once burnt her dinner rolls and had the utter gall to bring them to the Thain’s First Day of Spring Festival! Her children went to stay with their grandparents for the next week!”

“...”

“Pardon my manners, would you care for some pumpkin bread?”

“Ah, thank you, but I should have clarified my question. What I meant was, what career paths do you as a people encourage? What is the highest rank one can achieve, besides your king?”

“Oh! Well, my apologies, you should have been more specific if you wanted a certain answer.”

“Er-”

“No matter now, water under the bridge. We don’t have rank. There’s no need for it. Our Thain is not a king, Hobbits have no such thing. We have titles, although those are mostly earned at Festivals, you understand. Career paths, you mentioned? We grow things, all of us. Or build our homes or gathering places, or our markets and transportation.”

“No- no king ? But- military ranks, guards, or- or prison personal ? Judges, lawmakers? Do you not fight?”

“Fight? Why on the Blessed Green Lady’s earth would I ever fight? We have no need of- of prisons . There is no Hobbit army, honestly! Whoever heard of such a ridiculous thing?”

“...”

“Are you sure I cannot interest you in tea or something?”

“...no army? No prisons …? You, your entire race are pacifists?”

“Pacifists? I afraid I do not recognize this word, what does it me-”

“You are all farmers! You have no prisons! No king, no army, you do not fight?!

“That’s not quite-

“How have you as a race even survived?! You have no army! You’re all farmers!”

“...well, there’s never been a problem before? What does pa-”

Pacifists!”

Usually that was when people either decided force themselves into the Shire and proclaim themselves the new king of these poor, kingless people. Others, attempted to offer aid, to help set up prisons and leave some of their guards to train some of their people to build their own army. Some simply shrugged and organized trade between their people and these pacifist Hobbits.

Truthfully, some Hobbit were quite irritated that no one ever answered their increasingly flat question of what exactly a pacifist was.

Simply because most of their people who openly wore their weapons were usually on the outskirts of the Shire with the Rangers, or with the Mayor of Brandybuck or the Thain of Tooksburough the other races assumed they were not there.

Just because most of them prefered to hide their armories in the smials and conceal their weapons in jewelry and under their clothes shouldn’t have merited this confusing and vexing reaction!

It wasn’t that their fauntlings were rarely seen and surely that meant Hobbits did not have very many children, it was simply an acknowledgement of how skilled they were to hide in plain sight! Everyone has the same basic training so if a fauntling wanted to excel hiding seek, if one wanted to successfully filch fruits, nuts and mushrooms from a convenient field, one had to be better than the owner. Some enjoyed the challenge from the previous generation’s greatest hiders and seekers. Of course, some are also content to be just good enough to slip by in the shadow of these bold ones.

( They are typically more successful. )

The Hobbits made friends, Bree was built and filled with Men and Dwarves, trading treaties were established and the Thain signed all of them, as was his duty. The title was passed down the line of Tooks and the same was for the Mayor, who made sure every Hobbit knew exactly where to go if an army marched on their Shire. Some prefer long range to close combat, after all.

And so it came that the years went past and Belladonna Took married one Bungo Baggins and from that union came about a single son. A son who becomes one of the greatest hiders and seekers in the history of Hide and Seek. His Took cousins were very proud of his cunning and ambition. Just as his Baggins cousins were delighted at his management and delegation skills.

( The fauntlings young Bilbo played with always managed to steal the best mushrooms, the juiciest fruits and the tastiest vegetables - not that anyone could prove it.)

Thus, when Gandalf came meandering down the road that lead to his smial, Bilbo well recognized the gleam of excitement and mischief in the wizard’s blue eyes.

LINEBREAK

When thirteen dwarves- or twelve as it were- invade his smial for dinner, Bilbo excuses himself for a moment, just one moment and requests emergency help for feeding guests and for guiding a lost visitor to his home.

Bless his neighbours, dishes are slid discreetly onto the table, lights flicker on a bit brighter on the path that leads to his home while the rest dim ever so slowly. Bilbo watches it all as he flits around his smial, inserting pointed comments as he recognizes the familiar actions of Dwarven interactions with Hobbits.

He’s used to it by now, but he cannot help the rapidly rising urge to grab for his weapons, but he wrestles that back down and concentrates on making his guests comfortable. Gandalf invited them here and obviously it’s important if the wizard went straight to Bilbo Baggins. He’s the only Hobbit in the history of the Shire to have won every single contest, all the competitions and unofficial challenges and that carries a weight of its own.

Especially since his mother was the Thain’s favorite daughter.

Bilbo likes to think that he’s his grandfather’s favorite grandson, and while that may not be far off from the truth, he is undisputedly the winner of every single challenge, official and unofficial, that has even been issued. He is the first Hobbit to have ever done so, which is why his position as the Thain’s grandson and as the Baggins of Bag End carries more responsibility than his cousins and his father ever did.

So Bilbo is patient and waits until the last dwarf knocks on the door, the one who is the leader of the ones currently crowded around his table.

It does not go as badly as he could have imagined but the attempt at an insult is...bewildering. Of course, Bilbo is a grocer! His gardens deliver to both the Thain and the Mayor’s tables! Along with his personal friends and the family members he loves best. The rest he simply sends Hamfast to sell at the market.

Needless to say, dwarves are very confusing. But Bilbo thinks he could like them, even if they are much too broody over such a fine spread of food. He would be grievously insulted if it wasn’t for the short explanation. A king whose people would not rally to his call. Bilbo is entirely grateful the Shire has no need of a king.

Things go very well, until the moment comes when the old dwarf, the one called Balin pulls out a contract and hands it without any finesse to him and Bilbo… can’t believe this is an actual contract?

“What on Yavanna’s green earth?”

“Is there something wrong, laddie?”

Bilbo knows when he looks up at Balin that his confusion is painted all of his face. He’s not sure if they see his irritation, but he doesn’t really care at this moment.

“What kind of contract is this?”

He shakes the parchment in emphasis and ignores the way the dwarves all look at each other. He holds it up to their king and points to a line.

“‘All disagreements must be discussed in Khuzdul before the King and his advisors for their grievances to be properly recognized’. I neither speak your tongue and nor do I believe you would be willing to teach me,” he says flat as a pancake, leveling a stare as red sweeps over Balin’s face.

The king- Thorin Oakenshield, as he was introduced- turns his own grim stare to his advisor, but Bilbo continues.

“There are other concerns I have with this, but there is no mention of which one of you prefers long-range, medium-range, short-range or close combat or anything of the short! There’s no allowances for practicing, drills, if we’re divided into teams or anything of the like!”

There’s a startled confusion on most of their faces, but the two princes, are whispering furiously with the tiny redhead scribe. It’s the king that sits up straighter and asks, half suspiciously and half as if Bilbo is a child who has no idea what he’s talking about-

“And what would a pacifist know of battle?

And Bilbo...well, Bilbo has spent his entire life wondering what that word means and he’s entirely certain that his mother knew but she refused to tell him. He knows it had something to do with the Elven Lord of Rivendell, Elrond and the wizard Gandalf. So he can’t quite help his reaction.

He throws down the contract and shoots to his feet, his chair scraping the floor, slamming his hands down on his mother’s wedding gift and fairly snarls -

What does ‘ pacifist ’ even mean?!

Gandalf quietly coughs into his fist in the stunned silence and opens his mouth to steer this conversation far away from its current position. Before he can do so, the redhead scribe, Ori, Bilbo thinks his name is, pipes up in a clearly heard voice.

“In the Trade tongue, it means ‘one who believes that war and violence are unjustified ’ although it’s got a different meaning in our language-”

Ori stops as Bilbo makes a strangled noise. Gandalf sighs deeply and puts his head against his staff. His reaction puzzles the Company, but there is a light dawning in Ori’s eyes.

The Hobbit is hunched down, his shoulders are shaking and his hand is attempting to muffle the sounds he’s making. It’s not working very well, because a moment later, Mr. Baggins bursts into helpless, almost hysterical laughter.

“You- are you telling me - for centuries we’ve been called a people who do not fight?

Bilbo breaks off into breathless giggles as the dwarves exchanged another set of looks. The one who he recognizes as a fellow champion of Hide and Seek- although Bilbo knows he could totally beat him- Nori, is his name, raises his voice and says,

“You don’t have an army, no king, no prison. Your people do not carry weapons and there are no walls or battlements of any kind seen for miles , so, Mr. Baggins, how are you not pacifists?”

“Master Dwarf,” Bilbo exclaims through his amusement, “I am the current champion in both Hiding and Seeking. It is my personal choice not to wear my weapons openly. As most who do chose to display their weapons are typically found in my Grandfather’s smial, or even my uncle’s workplace.”

Bilbo quickly began to pick weapons from his clothes, small blades, daggers, glittering and sharpened coils of metal rope, pouches of powders and leaves, dried petals of flowers all carefully set on the table. He looked up, amused to see the shock and realization spread over bearded faces.

“We have no need of a standing army, because we are all quite capable of organizing ourselves into the places we’re most needed, depending on the situation,” Bilbo continues cheerfully.

He picks up a small throwing knife and hurls it away into a far wall. A wall which promptly vanishes into the floor and the light shines off polished steel.

“I am the Baggins of Bag End and quite frankly, my father had to go to great lengths to court the favorite daughter of the Thain. Bag End is one of the Three Great Armories and one of the first lines of defense if one travels the path that you came into the Shire. Every smial has places for their weapons, but Bag End is the largest.”

Bilbo gives the smile that always causes his cousins to pause for an instant to gage exactly what mood he’s in. The particular level he’s displaying is the one that makes Lobelia Sackville-Baggins leave his silver spoons exactly where they’re supposed to be.

“Tell me, Master Dwarf, why would we have a standing army when we are the army?”

Surprisingly, in the stillness and the shock, Oakenshield is the one who snaps his mouth shut and turns an accusing gaze to Gandalf. He doesn’t have time to demand answers because Bilbo is already speaking again.

“Have you truly never wondered how a ‘ pacifist’ people would have kept their independence as long as we have? How we have survived the end of Arnor? Have the people of Arda not ever entertained exactly how we’ve kept our home safe from every threat?”

Bilbo cannot help himself and breaks off into laughter again at the looks on the dwarves’ faces. The scribe jerks to his feet, and leans past his brothers.

“You are a general of your army? A prince of your people?”

Thorin starts and Dwalin straightens his spine and the rest of the company follows suit.

“We have no army, nor a king, but I am the grandson of the Thain and I do command those who live in this part of the Shire.”


 

Gandalf!

It’s Thorin who virtually roars at the wizard who remains idling puffing on his pipe. The wizard who looks up with a perfect doddering old man expression. He is unphased in the face of Thorin’s anger.

It’s Ori who is busy scribbling everything down with fierce concentration. It’s the keen-eyed calculation in everyone’s faces as they stare at the still snickering Hobbit, the wall of weapons in the living room and the way Gandalf is pretending he knows nothing.

It’s Nori wondering idly if this is what dying might feel like. His chest is tight, and it feels like something has lodged its way in his throat, his hands want to shake, and he is eternally thankful that he is already sitting at the table of Master Baggins.

They had walked into a town of warriors.

Worse, they had done so unaware of it .

Nori had not seen it. Nori who made it his business to notice these things. He had been caught utterly off guard, finding that he had brought his family and King into the home of a warrior people’s general . A prince no matter what he said on the matter.

His eyes pull away from the table and all the hidden ways to kill them the small creature had revealed to focus instead on the hidden cache behind the false wall. There’s poison in those pouches. Master Baggins had called Bag End a Great Armory, and he had not been exaggerating. There were a great many weapons sized for his people hidden in that room.

By Mahal’s Sacred Forge, Nori feels weak with relief.

Hobbits- not halflings he reminds himself absently- may not be the pacifists that the world took them for, but they were certainly less prone to violence. If they had made such a great blunder as they had today to any other race’s prince or general, much less both , they would have found themselves a head shorter.

Instead this Burglar had laughed about it. He had fed them, and not poisoned the food as the plants and mixtures in his clothes has shown he could have. He had taken their behavior with nothing but a furrowed brow, a quirk of the lips, and an amused smile.

Mahal bless the lad for being such a calm fellow. If anyone had done what they had to Thorin , his King would not have taken it even a fraction as well.

His hands trembled faintly as he watched the- Master Baggins at the head of his table.

“I am surprised,” Bilbo speaks as Gandalf refuses to answer for the crimes of leading them into the heart of a warrior people’s home without due warnings, “that the dwarrow at least did not suspect this of us. Your Stone Lord is our Green Lady’s husband. Did you think that your creator would find a Lady Wife in a being that was not- in some way- a warrior in her own right?”

Well, when the lad points it out like that Nori feels kind of... dim for not seeing it. The stories all told of what a great warrior Mahal was. The very way he crafted the dwarrow showed how he valued strength . . His people were made to endure . It was a well known piece of history.

So why did the dwarrow not wonder about what their creator could see in His Lady Wife, and by extension what that might say about Her peoples?

Bilbo is leaning back in his chair, bright, cunning, and observant eyes pinning each dwarrow in place. Nori would bet his best knife that despite the number of weapons on the table, Bilbo still has at least three different ways to kill them stashed on his person.

His next question is a bid to distract his racing mind from all the cues and happenings he must have missed as the Company made its way to Bag End. If the Shire was full of a warrior peoples, there was no way they had gone unnoticed, and unchallenged, and that makes Nori antsy.

How many potential deaths had the Company avoided without Nori’s notice? He chances a quick look at Dwalin and he knows that look on his face because it’s the same one on his.

He needs to think about something else, so he latches onto the first thing that comes to his mind

“Earlier, Master Baggins,” he calls the hobbit’s attention to himself as Thorin dissolves into Khuzdul curses at Gandalf, his lineage, and his beard, “you said you were a champion at Hiding and Seeking. What exactly does that mean?”

Bilbo smiles in delight and retakes his seat.

“It’s very simple really. All Hobbit play this as fauntlings so it makes it a challenge for the new generation to defeat the older ones. There are Hobbits who have a gift for growing specific foods or who own land that is perfect for wild mushrooms or truffles. If you sneak fruit from someone’s orchards, that’s the first level of Seeking that everyone starts out. It branches out from there, to vegetables, flowers, pies from the window sill, and so on and so forth.

“Hiding is where everyone hides and looks for others simultaneously. You’ve got to get them to make a noise though. A laugh, a shout, landing funny, tripping, so long as they make a noise, they’re out and you get to keep going until no one is left.

“There are other challenges like trading plates of food off the table, or moving someone’s furniture an inch to the left or right, or switching flower crowns off heads during the Festivals. Who can chop down a tree and drag it up to the logging pile and cut it quickest? Who can plow a field in the shortest amount of time with the straightest rows? How quickly can you cook a five course meal for three, or six or even twelve? How long will it take you to go out hunting, foraging and harvesting and bringing it all back to make a delightful meal for the Thain?”

Bilbo’s eyes crinkle as his smile widens.

“I won them all.”


 

North: THIS IS MINE. I wrote a thing. For once, IT WAS ME. I HAD THE SHINY IDEA.  Originally it was Star Wars though….

Wolf: I was very surprised to receive a late night message in all Caps screaming about this. It was wonderful and I instantly was on board. We all know how I feel about my BAMF Hobbits right?

North: Yessss, I might have gone….slightly overboard. It was revenge! Vengeance! JUSTICE. Everyone need a BAMF Hobbit in their life.

Wolf: You have quite a bit to catch up with vengeance wise for this, but this was a wonderful start. XD

North: There are worse things that I can do besides contribute my own ideas to you. I can also guilt trip you because my Batman idea lost steam BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW DC.

Wolf: This is true. Very true.  I AM SORRY OKAY. I KNOW DC THANK YOU JUST NOT ENOUGH TO WRITE WELL AND MEET MY OWN STANDARDS FOR POSTING A THING.

North: YOU NEED TO WATCH MORE MOVIES. YOUNG JUSTICE. UNDER THE RED HOOD. LOST DAYS, RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS - actually those are comics, you need to read more DC comics.

Wolf: I know Marvel better okay. I like both, but I know Marvel better.

North: Meh.

Chapter Text

 

Hawthorn had known going into the Mountain that Gold Sickness was a danger she had to be wary of. She’d known from the moment she watched Balin look between the mountain and Thorin with that look in his eye, hands twitching for a weapon he couldn’t grab, like he could just fight whatever might take his King. She’d known since Lake Town, when Thorin’s eyes drifted so often to the mountain itself, when he stopped worrying as obviously as she had grown used to about his sister-sons.

She had known, of course she had.

But so very often, she could hear Thorin’s voice in her head, the conviction of it as he swore I am not my Grandfather.

She had to believe him. Had to hope .

And yet

And yet, here she stood, her hands gripping a stone that glowed with an inner light, pulsed in her hands, that was warm to the touch. Here she stood, and Thorin was gone. Barricaded himself into the Throne Room, blue eyes clouded and dull.

He was not his Grandfather, and yet it had taken him all the same. Even the others wavered in the face of it. Gandalf had warned her of the curses dragons laid on their hordes, Elrond had spoken against Thorin’s resistance, while Thranduil had practically spat that the dwarrow would fall to gold sickness, but she had not thought it to be this strong. She had not thought that they would all be right.

Even she could hear it calling to her, in the back of her head. And if she had any inclination for gold and riches, she thought it probably would have taken her at least somewhat. Still, the moment Thorin had turned his sword on her and demanded the Arkenstone, she had known.

Even when his dull eyes had lit back up at the threat of a dragon, when she had finally been able to get through to him. She’d hidden the Arkenstone from him then, resolved to keep it from him, but…

She stared at the stone in her hands, feeling it pulse with life.

Hawthorn was a hobbit , and she was connected with things that lived . She could sense life, as her Green Lady had intended for her race. In her hands, the Arkenstone pulsed with it. It was a living thing, truly the heart of this mountain, just as her dwarrow had claimed.

But in the heart of the stone, she could sense a discordant note. Something that did not belong. A darkness that was trying to dull the pulse of the Arkenstone.

Her hands shook, and for a moment Hawthorn was not sure what she should do. What could she do?

They had tried so hard to get home. They had fought so long for it, hoped and prayed, bled for it. She remembered their faces on the Carrock, when they caught the first glance of their mountain. She remembered the hope in their eyes, the earnest joy. How it appeared years of weight and loss had bled away.

And she remembered when they first stepped into the mountain, just inside its hidden door. She remembered how her dwarrow’s eyes had  closed, and those that had been in the mountain before collapsed against its walls with hands pressed to the stone. She remembered how their heads had tipped backwards, faces raised as if in supplication. She recalled how those who had never stepped foot in the mountain staggered, heads lifting like faunts who were seeing The Great Tree for the first time, awe and joy in their eyes.

And now...now that was gone . A film had fallen over their eyes, a sickness had infected them and she knew of no cure.

This sickness that even now she could feel, holding the heart of this place in her hands.

Hawthorn let her head fall back against the stone of the little alcove she had hidden inside. She could remember how excited Ori had been to share the story of the Lonely Mountain with her. He had told her how it was the birthplace of Mahal’s children, where they had first Awakened. Most thought it to be Moria, but it was not.

He shared how Mahal had shaped them of the very stone she sat inside, and how the grandest of Temple Rooms for Mahal and his Lady Wife were in this mountain.

Her eyes opened, and she slowly looked down to the Arkenstone in her hands.

It continued to pulse, warm and living in her palms.

Her hands trembled.

Perhaps….perhaps the Stone Father would listen to her on behalf of His children?

Ori had shown her the Temple Room before, when she asked to see it, right after Smaug had been killed. She had wanted to pray for all the fallen they had found in the mountain, and for Lake Town which had still smoked in the distance.

She held the heart of the Lonely Mountain.

She stood in the birthplace of Mahal’s children, where He would be strongest. She stood on land that He had stood upon, to bring His children to life after their sleep. This was a Holy Place, akin to The Great Tree in the Shire, where Yavanna had stood to guide Her children into the Shire after the Wandering Days.

Even now, hobbits could still feel Her Presence beside The Great Tree, and it was Holy Ground not shared with Outsiders. Even Gandalf had not seen it. They had shared Great Trees with him before- the first trees planted in the Shire when hobbits began to settle- the trees that framed their land and acted as protection, but The Great Tree was a sacred secret to their people.

That had to mean something .

She stood, hands gripping the Arkenstone as she clung to hope. It was an absent motion as she brought the stone to her forehead, pressing it there and breathing for a moment.

When she next opened her eyes, they were shining and hard with determination. She pressed the Arkenstone into her bindings, against her heart and hidden away as it had been since she found it.

(And wasn’t it odd, that the Arkenstone, the very heart of the Mountain, had fallen at her feet like a sign, when the treasury was so large and a dragon had played amongst the coins and added to it for over one hundred years?)


 

Hawthorn walked slowly into the Temple Room.

It was a beautiful place, even in the state it was in. No damage had reached it from Smaug, but it was obvious that no dwarf had stepped into these halls to care for them in over a century. It was almost as if the stone had grown into the shapes she could see, so natural was the placements and shapes of the room.

Even the statues of Mahal and Yavanna appeared as if they were meant to be in Their shapes.

Hawthorn ignored the shine of gems and veins of precious metals left untouched in the stone, bypassed the benches, and moved up the steps straight for the altar that sat in front of the statues. There, she knelt, and stared up at the stone faces of the Valar.

She wasn’t sure if this would work, but Hawthorn had to hope . In her hands she held the heart of this Holy Place, and she could do nothing else but pray that meant something . That in this Temple, standing at the feet of both her own and Thorin’s gods, clinging to the Arkenstone, she would be able to beg the help of a divine being.

That if she could not help Thorin, could not save her family from a Dragon’s Curse, They could.

Let Them take whatever They needed from her, she just wanted Them to save her family and her King.

She was not sure if Mahal would hear the words of a hobbit, but she prayed all the same. She pulled the Arkenstone from her breast, and placed it upon the altar she knelt in front of. She leaned forward, pressing her forehead to the center of it, pressing her palm beside her cheek.

Please Stone Father, I know I am not a dwarrowdam, one of Your children, but I beg You- hear me.

Hear the words of Your Lady Wife’s child. I love him. I love them more than life, more than myself, more than the earth.

He is my heart, my joy, my sunlight. He brings me joy and pleasure, happiness and love above all things. And they are my family, they who welcomed me amongst themselves when I had no one else. When my own relatives simply wanted to take my home and wealth from me, when I showed no signs of marrying and obeying their expectations.

And this sickness is trying to take them all from me.

This mountain is Your gift to Your children, and in my hands I hold its Heart. The very core of the home that you gave them. Please, Great Father, please.

Help me to help them. Bless it, let it give him the strength of his mountain and of You. May You shield him from this evil. May the sight of their home’s Heart awaken my family from this sickness, may it wash this sickness from their minds and from this stone.

May my Mother help me. May She give me the strength of Oaks, may She bless me to bring life back into his eyes. May She allow me to strike their hearts, awaken them to what they are becoming. May She bless my family, remind them of our bonds, of the things that are more important than their gold and gems.

Let the two of You bless me to bring love back to all of them, help me to awaken them from this fog that has blinded them all to the bonds that bind us together. May You remind them of why they chose to undertake this Quest in the first place. That it was not a desire for riches and wealth, but for home that drove them from their beds, and onto the road. Take whatever You must from me, take whatever I can give, just-

Save them.

Please.

Hawthorn pulled in a shaking breath, and ignored the tears that cascaded down her cheeks. Her eyes clenched tightly shut as she tightened her grip on the stone beside her.  

“Oh, child

Hawthorn’s breath caught, and her eyes flew open as she jerked back from the altar she had pressed against.

Her eyes lifted and widened as she watched the statues in front of her glow with a light similar to the one that pulsed from the Arkenstone.

Her mouth dropped, eyes darting back and forth between the two statues, as the shining dimmed and faded. In its place Hawthorn could see the statues had lost every carved detail, appearing to be untouched stone pillars waiting to be shaped.

Instead, she could see Mahal and Yavanna Themselves stood in front of her, glowing dimly and pulsing a sense of safety and home from Their very beings.

She scrambled back only far enough to throw herself down into a bow. Her heart was beating like a hummingbird’s wings but manners were deeply ingrained into her and she managed a proper greeting.

“My Lord and Lady!”

Even is she sounded just as breathless as she felt.

“Oh, Hawthorn.”

Hawthorn shuddered as her Mother spoke her name. It was not ‘Hawthorn’ as she would say it, but the very core of herself, the heart of who she was. Every single thing that made up her Self, which all added together made ‘Hawthorn.’ It was not a word, but a piece of Song, the perfect notes that made her who she was.

“You do not need to bow, child.”

Hawthorn lifted her head slowly, staring up at her Mother as She knelt down before her. Hawthorn’s breath stuttered in her chest.

Yavanna smiled at her, and it was warmth and love and life .

“It has been a long time since one of my Wife’s Children stood in my Mountain little one.”

Hawthorn’s eyes darted over to stocky figure beside her Mother. He was built like a dwarf, his hair the color of flames, and his eyes a shining amber, like sunlight through the whiskey Men favored. He had a beard that twisted into intricate braids, decorated with gems and metals shaped to look like the flowers His Wife favored. Hawthorn recognized flowers that spoke of loyalty and strength, of everlasting love, passion, and joy.

As she took in the forms of her Mother and the Stone Father, she came to realize They looked much like Their children, and if They were not the size of Their statues, Hawthorn thought They might be the size of hobbits and dwarrow respectively.

“There have been hobbits here before, Stone Father?” Hawthorn’s voice was soft and hesitant, unsure she should be asking any questions of a god at all.

The bearded face pulled into a warm smile as He answered her.

“Oh yes little one. Many ages ago, hobbits and my dwarrow lived beside each other as they were meant to. My Lady Wife and I forged our races to bring out the best in each other, and it was a sad day when your people were forced to run from their home and into what is now known as the Shire, so very far away from where they were meant to thrive. Hobbits and dwarves both have forgotten that they were meant to complement each other. Together Our Children would have seen a Golden Age where the likes of Morgoth could not have flourished. It was why forces were set in motion to separate you.”

Hawthorn gaped up at Mahal, her eyes wide and hands shaking.

Mahal laughed “Did you never wonder why your people were driven so hard across the lands? Why they did not stop- were not allowed to stop- until hobbits sat half a world away from my Children in the heart of my Wife’s Blessed Land?”

Mahal shook His head, like He could not believe that Hawthorn did not see.

“Just look at what you have done now! Here you sit, in my temple, in the heart of my Holy Land, in the seat of my power, and you have already driven a dragon from his horde! Already you have done what some would call impossible, and all who were here with you in the attempt live . Even now, when the Dragon’s Curse has taken, or is trying to take, the minds of my Children, you are the one that comes before us for aid. Not out of greed or selfishness but out of love . And love...love is the most worthy motivator I have ever seen.”

Hawthorn could not look away from The Craftsman as He made a enthusiastic gesture with the hammer in His hand. She did not look away until her Mother spoke again.

“My child,” Hawthorn’s eyes jerked the swirling green eyes of her Mother, “We will help you. You were right to come to Us for aid.”

Hawthorn watched with bated breath as Yavanna reached towards the altar, closing Her hand over the Arkenstone which had begun to glow brighter the closer Her hand had gotten, until Hawthorn had been forced to avert her eyes.

She could still see as Mahal reached out towards His Wife, from the corner of her eyes, but was forced to shut them and lift her arms as the bright glow of the heat of the Lonely Mountain somehow brightened further.

When the light died, and Hawthorn had blinked the spots out of her eyes, she finally lifted her eyes back to Yavanna and Mahal. Mahal held the Arkenstone in His hands now, and He knelt before her.

Hawthorn was shocked how much cleaner the glow of the Arkenstone seemed from what it had been before. The corruption she had felt while holding it had been a small, barely there, thing and yet…

And yet looking at it now was like the difference between black and white. Glaring and obvious and opposite from before.

Mahal extended His hand and Hawthorn lifted hers without thought.

The Arkenstone felt heavier than it had before. She stared down at the glow of the stone, and felt it throb with life in her hands. The difference between a bird’s fluttering heartbeat, and the steady thrum of a dwarven heart.

Her hands shook just a little.

Still, she had to be sure. She looked up at her Mother and the Father of her family. “This will clear the sickness from their minds?”

Yavanna and Mahal looked at each other before they turned to her, both sets of eyes warm and loving, “Yes, Hawthorn. It will clear the sickness from their minds.”

And then Mahal jerked his head to the side, eyes narrowing in the distance before he turned back to Hawthorn.

“You must be careful, little flower. An army approaches. Not the army of men and the First Born, but an army of Orcs and Goblins. They have only just crossed onto My lands, but it is  a large army.” his head tipped, considering, and then his eyes hardened and shifted, becoming as unshakable as the stone. “I will aid you in protecting your family, little flower, for you knew to approach Us for help when no other would have. For my Children, who braved the wrath of a dragon, not for the wealth that clouds their minds now, but out of love, and want for a home.”

Hawthorn felt her breath knocked from her chest at the declaration, and despite what she had been told, dropped back to her knees and into a bow immediately.

“Thank you!” she breathed, her throat tight with her emotions.

“I too, shall help you my daughter. Fear not. When the hour looks darkest, know that the dawn is the most beautiful.”

Hawthorn lifted her head as her Mother’s hands lifted her chin, and her breath caught, her eyes closing, as Yavanna pressed a kiss to her forehead. Every hurt and all tiredness washed from her body at the touch of Her lips. When Yavanna pulled backwards, Mahal’s hand took Her place.

Instead of a kiss, Hawthorn found herself smiling, He pressed His forehead gently to hers. If Yavanna’s touch had washed her hurts away, Mahal’s bled strength into her bones.

Hawthorn shuddered as she opened her eyes. Mahal and Yavanna were no longer standing in front of her, the stone that had faded into unmarked blocks now the beautiful statues Hawthorn had originally seen.

“When everything is over, daughter mine, come back to us, for we have a matter of great importance to discuss.” Yavanna’s voice echoed in the cavern like a breeze in her face, and Hawthorn bowed her head in acceptance.

“Yes, Mother.”