Bilba tucked the last of her braids into place and grabbed her sword where it was resting against the bedpost. Fili had made her a new set of weapons to replace the ones lost or damaged during the battle, most of which were already strapped to her legs, wrists, arms, and back. She settled the sword around her waist and was doing a final check of the fit of her armor, also a new set courtesy of Fili, when someone knocked on her bedroom door.
Already aware of who it was, Bilba sent a mental acceptance, and then turned to face the door as it opened.
Frerin walked in, similarly armored. Varegeth was coiled across his shoulders, where he'd pretty much taken up residence over the past month, sound asleep. Frerin didn't seem to mind, most likely because he didn't have to put up with the small dragon's constant chatter, Bilba imagined. Frerin grinned at her and held his arms out like a doting parent to a small child. "There's my girl. You ready?"
Something very much like pure, unadulterated adoration rushed through Bilba and she ran forward to literally throw herself into his arms. It was a bit awkward with weapons and armor in the way but Frerin still caught her easily, spun her around and then set her carefully on her feet again.
In the month since the battle for the heart and soul of Middle Earth, Frerin had undergone a dramatic change. Though Thorin, and others, had insisted he rest and recover, he'd instead thrown himself into the recovery of Erebor. His body had lost the gauntness from the mines, and he'd slowly began to walk straighter and with his head up as the darkness of the mines had receded. There was still a shadow to his eyes in moments when he thought no one was looking, and Bilba doubted he'd ever be exactly as he'd been before Moria, but he now looked every bit the prince he was, instead of the Arena slave he'd been.
"Come on," Frerin said, throwing an arm across her shoulders. "Let's get out of here, shall we?"
Bilba nodded, relief flooding her. The very last place she wanted to be on that day was Erebor.
They left her room, moving into the main living room, and Bilba felt a second burst of relief to see that it was empty. She'd barely seen her father over the last few weeks as he'd worked in the recovery. Bilba had been working with the dragons to clear out rubble and had only caught quick glimpses of her father as he directed the guard in similar efforts.
They reached the main door leading out into the halls, and Frerin stepped forward to grab the handle and pull it open. Bilba walked out, and immediately felt her heart drop at the sight of her father, and Fili, leaning against the far wall, arms crossed and wearing matching expressions.
They were not amused expressions.
Bilba studied them both, considering, and then made her decision. She stepped forward to Fili and reached out for him. He obediently pushed off the wall to allow her to loop her arms around his neck. She considered trying the weird looks the court ladies were always sending toward males but decided against it. She couldn't deny it seemed to get results for them, but it was also downright ridiculous.
Fili's eyes narrowed, even as his arms came up to wrap around her waist. "I think I'm insulted. Why'd you decide I'm the pushover?"
"Because she's got a brain in her head," Dwalin growled from next to them. He scowled at Frerin. "Where do you think you're going with my daughter, asshole?"
We're going to go hunt orcs, Bilba informed him flatly.
Fili frowned. "The ceremony is today."
Hence why we're going, Bilba replied, rolling her eyes. They can hold it without me.
"You're one of the guests of honor," Fili replied dryly. "Pretty sure they can't."
I don't want to, Bilba insisted, mutinously.
Fili sighed. He shot a look at Dwalin and Frerin, but they were both bickering and clearly not going to be of any help. Instead, he rested his forehead against Bilba's and said, "Primula and Bofur are going to be there. I hear a lot of dragons flew in as well, hoping to meet their new soul bond."
Bilba stared at him for several long minutes, and then pulled him forward, tightening her grip and burying her face in his neck.
This was like the Coming of Age all over again.
You won't be alone, Fili told her privately. We'll all be with you. He nudged her back, so he could look her in the eyes. We can always go orc hunting afterward, assuming we can find any.
The orcs had crawled back into their respective holes after the defeat of Gothmog and Morgoth and had been relatively quiet since. Bilba knew it wouldn't last. She also knew she shouldn't be hoping for them to come back. It wasn't that she wanted anyone to get hurt, it was just that fighting was so engrained in her that she didn't know what to do with herself otherwise. The recovery was taking up her time now, but it wouldn't last forever.
Azog is still leading them, Bilba said. Not to mention that female of his. They'll be back soon enough.
See? Fili said cheerfully. Positive thinking. There's also the goblins too.
I do hate the goblins, Bilba agreed. She let her shoulders slump in resignation. Fine, but I won't like it.
Fili frowned critically at what she was now going to be wearing to an important ceremony, but wisely chose not to comment. Instead, he simply grabbed her hand, and pulled her past Dwalin and Frerin. The act caught their attention and they shut up enough to fall in behind her, one on either side, as they headed down the corridor.
It was fine, for the first dozen or so yards, and would have continued to be fine if her stomach hadn't been clenching and her nerves on edge. She didn't want to have to face a giant crowd, most of whom would be strangers, and she certainly didn't want to be up on a stage, facing said crowd with absolutely no protection from a well-placed arrow or thrown dagger.
Around her, the walls began to narrow, and the passageway darkened. Fili, Frerin and her father faded, and suddenly it was orcs behind her and to her side, walking her down the long passageway toward the arena.
Bilba clenched her teeth and curled her fingers into fists. Stop it, she ordered herself. Her mind wasn't in a mood to listen, however, and so she tried blocking it off, from those around her and even herself.
It didn't help. Dimly, she thought she could hear the roar of the crowd, and she could swear the air held the faintest metallic tang of blood.
It probably did. Many had died in these halls, and while the bodies were gone, not every inch of stone had been scrubbed clean yet. If she looked closely, especially as they passed the treasury, it was possible to see small stains marring the rock, splashed down into broken crevices between stones, or just under the hinges of the door.
Bilba took a deep breath, fighting to calm down, even as her stomach clenched so tight it physically hurt. It was becoming difficult to breathe, and dots were dancing in her vision. She was rapidly approaching a full-blown panic attack.
Some hero she was, she thought bitterly. She could face down a legion of orcs, and a giant, rotting dragon, but couldn't face the combined nobility of Middle Earth?
The memory of some of her more notable interactions with nobility crossed her mind and she realized that, no, no she absolutely could not.
Tiny claws suddenly dug into the juncture of her neck, just above the collar of her armor, and she jumped in surprise. A second later, she felt a heavy weight on her shoulder, as Varegeth carefully transferred himself from Frerin over to her. He set his hind legs on her shoulders, stretched his body up behind her, and plopped his head on top of hers.
Somewhat to her surprise, Bilba felt herself begin to settle.
Fingers lightly traced along the edge of her hand, before interlacing with her own fingers in a tight grip. Bilba glanced to her side to see Fili giving her a sharp look.
"I think we should go to Moria," Frerin said suddenly. "You can bring all your new dragon friends, and we can just sit outside and demand Azog come out and face us." He grinned at her broadly. "Then we can kill him. It'll be fun."
An arm slid around her waist and, without thinking about it, Bilba curled into her father's side, wrapping her free arm around his waist. It was awkward, but it was better than allowing her mind to convince her she was back in Moria.
"How about I kill you instead?" Dwalin asked conversationally to Frerin.
That, of course, set off another round of bickering as they continued moving down the hall. The sound of their voices, combined with the feel of her father's arm, Fili's hand and Varegeth's weight on her shoulders, broke through the darkness in her mind and helped ground her in the moment.
Hesitant, Bilba carefully reopened her soul bonds, and immediately felt a rush of love and acceptance from every direction, slicing through the last vestiges of blood and bone haunting her mind.
Falling back on bad habits? Fili mused casually.
Yes, Bilba admitted. Sorry.
She was doing better than she ever had but years of being on her own, and having to rely on her own strength, didn't disappear overnight. She knew she'd have both good days and bad ahead of her.
We'll all be here for both, Fili told her.
Bilba nodded and focused on relaxing. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all, she told herself firmly.
Who knows, she might even have fun.
She did not have fun.
Not because of her nerves or anything like that. Fili, her father, Frerin and Varegeth all stayed with her, as did Vili, Dis and Kili so she was far too surrounded for her mind to play any tricks on her.
No, she didn't have fun because the remembrance ceremony was profoundly, utterly, entirely, mind-numbingly boring.
At Fili's Coming of Age, there had been dancing she could watch, and food, and people she could spend time with.
Here, there was simply a lot of talking.
Endless, hours’ worth of talking.
The ceremony was being held outside, on the plain between Erebor and Dale. It was the only place that was not only large enough for all the delegations of Middle Earth, but that also would allow room for their respective dragons, all of whom sat or lay coiled about the perimeter of the crowd or even crouched on the mountain slopes of Erebor or the rooftops of Dale.
Many were the ones who'd come from all corners of Middle Earth to meet her. She'd already been introduced to several, including the two who'd stepped up to take leadership roles inside her head in terms of working out the tangles of so many soul bonds, and keeping them from overwhelming her. They were older drakes, and bonded to one another, which she should have realized given how they interacted. Prygrasse, the female, was a golden drake who'd drawn sharp double takes from both Frerin and Thorin when she'd swooped in, while the male, Jarsun, was a mix of brown, gold and dark red scales. Both were crotchety, and prone to having their own way, but they’d also seemed to genuinely care about her in the short time they'd been bonded, and quite liked Syrath.
Bilba had never seen so large a gathering in all her life, couldn't even fathom one. She'd been skeptical of the need for the massive, temporary stage constructed for the event but could now see it had certainly been necessary.
Contingents from every race were represented, including the Thain who had been convinced to come all the way from the Shire. While hobbits had not been directly involved in the battle, the Shire had joined in with Rivendell, Gondor, Lothlorien, Mirkwood and Rohan to provide supplies and aid in the recovery. The devastation was widespread, and winter was coming quickly.
The other kingdoms had all sent food, blankets and warm clothing to help stave off the cold until holes could be patched and doors reset. They would need more help through the winter as the orcs, from sheer spite alone, had spoiled the food stores meant to get them through the colder months until new crops could be planted in spring. It would be difficult, but they hadn't survived Gothmog and Morgoth simply to give up because it was cold, and the food was a bit scarce.
Aside from the Shire, royalty from the other kingdoms were all present on the stage. Arathorn had come to represent Gondor, along with his wife, Gilraen. Neither Aragorn nor Arwen had made the trip, not that Bilba had expected them to. She'd asked after the two before the ceremony had started, specifically whether or not Aragorn was all right.
"No," Gilraen had responded, fire and defiance in her eyes, "but he will be."
Beside her, Arathorn had nodded, a similar determination in his eyes that had immediately set Bilba's mind at ease. Losing one's dragon was a life altering event that could easily send someone into a deep depression from which many never found a way out. It was clear, however, that Aragorn was surrounded by far too many who were simply too stubborn to allow such a thing to happen.
Thranduil had come to represent the Mirkwood contingent, along with Legolas. Fingalon and his brother Elador were both there as well. Thranduil was pale, but steady. Rather than emotionally damaged or run down as many had feared, Legolas had informed her before the ceremony that Thranduil was angrier about being used by Morgoth than anything else and that his only regret was he hadn't been able to strike the killing blow to the creature himself.
Beside Bilba, Frerin shifted and muttered something under his breath. Pretty much every ruler was being given the chance to speak, and many of them were taking full advantage of the opportunity. The Thain, Elrond, and Arathorn had already spoken. Thorin was currently speaking and then there would be Bard and Thengel of Rohan. Thranduil, and Galadriel who stood near him, had declined, an act that had raised their esteem in Bilba's eyes.
The wizards were on the stage as well, Gandalf and Radagast. Both had survived the battle and stayed behind to help in the clean up and recovery. Radagast, in particular, had been helpful as he'd summoned an army of animals to help clear the smaller bits of rubble and debris from the battlefield and homes.
She shifted, looking out across the heads of all those who'd come to listen. She saw Kaia near the front, trying to pretend she wasn't staring at Kili where he stood on Fili's other side. Bilba had vaguely noticed the interest from the other girl in the days after the battle but thought little of it. There were scores of women with their eyes on Kili, but he had yet to notice any of them.
He'd stood up straighter when the group from Rivendell had arrived, searching for a familiar face. Cassie hadn't come, however, and was unlikely to ever come. Fili had assured Bilba that Kili would bounce back, but it was still difficult to watch him struggle with it.
There were gaps in the crowd, not physical, but there all the same. Places where loved ones had stood, and never would again. In Bilba's mind, she could almost see the members of Vanguard gathered near the front, raising an invisible toast before fading like mist torn apart by the wind. Thorin had promised a permanent memorial would be built to honor all those lost in the battle, and that Vanguard would feature prominently. Bilba planned to make sure that Opal was portrayed with a sword in hand, rushing headlong into battle. She knew it was what the other dwobbit would have wanted.
Quinlan was behind the crowd, close to the gates of Dale, with Inilth curled up next to him. Her rider, Yari, was around somewhere, taking her job as a scribe seriously as she tried to record the proceedings. Nori was most likely doing the same. Bilba knew he would sometimes follow Ori around and pretend to be a scribe in training in order to listen to those who were dumb enough to say in front of a scribe things they would never say before a Spymaster.
Lyth was in the back as well, fully recovered from her injuries. Sardin was next to her, head resting on her back and seemingly sound asleep. His recovery was far slower, but steady. Though nothing had been officially declared between them, it was pretty well accepted that Lyth had decided he was hers, and he wasn't complaining.
Bilba shifted enough to see Vili, standing near Dis on Kili's far side, and saw him studying Sardin where he lay sleeping. The two had finally gotten around to talking, after practically being ordered by Dis, which had led to Vili now being the exceptionally proud rider to one very young, very reckless dragon. Bilba imagined it would work out to be an excellent pairing. Sardin would push Vili to have a little fun once in a while while Vili would, hopefully, keep Sardin from doing anything for which Lyth might get angry and kill him.
I think it's going to rain, Syrath's voice said hopefully in her head, and Bilba shot an amused look toward where he was lounging, or more accurately pouting, to the side of the stage.
Overhead, it was indeed becoming increasingly cloudy, and a stiff, cool breeze had kicked up, swirling loose strands of hair back from her face. The sight of the sky, and feel of the breeze in her face, sent a thrill of pure adrenaline and exhilaration right through her.
She wanted to fly. She'd refrained out of respect for Syrath's injuries, and how put out he'd be if she rode another dragon now that she was soul bonded to all of them, but he'd been given the all clear days ago and she simply hadn't had the time.
At the front, Thorin finally stopped talking and stepped away from the front. Bilba felt a burst of hope, only to have it die a tragic death as Thengel stepped up to start his speech.
They were all going to die there, she just knew it. She'd helped save Middle Earth, simply to die from boredom.
She should have stayed in the damn wild.
The ceremony ended, finally, by early afternoon. Varegeth scampered off to go see his parents. Bilba wished she could be so lucky but, instead, ended up being swamped by people wanting to talk to her and shake her hand. Thorin had insisted on making her come forward at the very end to be recognized, which had led to far more attention than she was comfortable with. After that it had been meet and greet time with what felt like everyone who lived in Middle Earth. Fili stayed by her side, but Bilba had a feeling it was less for her comfort and more to make sure she didn't snap and do, or say, something she wouldn't regret.
About the only positive in all of it was that they finally brought out food. During the battle, Bombur had reportedly defended his staff with a soup ladle and a pot, so successfully that the kitchens had come through virtually untouched.
Now, with just a pile of mismatched food provided by the other kingdoms, and largely consisting of things which had been salted or brined for preservation, Bombur had outdone himself in the feast he presented. Bilba had heard he'd conscripted everyone within reach, including Bifur, who'd happened to wander by at an inopportune moment. Bifur would be one of the members of the new Vanguard unit once it was established but, for right then, he was helping set out giant platters of food.
At some point, being constantly surrounded by people, all of whom wanted something from her, even if it was just to thank her, became too much. It wasn't that she disliked them or didn't necessarily want them around her, it was just literally...too much.
Catching sight of a new group heading toward her, Bilba ducked behind Fili, and then proceeded to drop to the ground and crawl underneath the tablecloth and the table. She popped out the other side, near the outer wall of the mountain where the area was shadowed and stood up quickly to grab a plate of food. As she did, Fili easily stepped forward to greet the newcomers, blocking their view of her long enough for her to grab what she wanted and vanish through the gates into the mountain beyond.
Priority had been given to getting people back in their homes meaning that, while the rubble had been cleared from the lowest floor, the marketplace had not yet been rebuilt. Bedrolls and other items were still strewn about, placed there by residents of Erebor and Dale who still didn't have a home to return to. Others had been taken in by Mirkwood, ensuring no one was forced to stay outside in the increasingly cold weather.
The area was relatively empty and Bilba soon found a quiet, secluded corner to sit and relax for a few minutes. It was the first chance she'd had to sit since that morning and she couldn't resist a sigh as she was finally able to get off her feet for a few minutes.
It was a sigh that soon turned into a groan as she realized people were approaching her, only for that to cut off midway through as she realized just exactly who it was coming.
Setting her plate down, she scrambled to her feet and ran forward to throw her arms around Primula, albeit carefully as she was still wearing a full set of light armor, complete with weapons.
The other woman hugged her back. She pulled away, but only to greet Bofur who was walking up, carrying Frodo in one arm.
"Hey, Bilba," he said, pulling back to wrap an arm around Primula's waist. "How have you been doing?"
Fine. Bilba raised an eyebrow at how the two were standing. Did you finally get your act together and say something?
"Hey," Bofur said in mock censure. "I said something a long time ago. She's the one who finally realized what a catch I was."
Bilba rolled her eyes. I'm sure it's still your fault, somehow.
Bofur snorted. Primula, meanwhile, happily dragged Bilba back to sit down, handed her back her plate, and said, "Now, I want to hear everything. It's not every day you can say you've had the hero of Middle Earth in your house for tea!"
It wasn't just me, Bilba said, flushing in embarrassment. I wouldn't have saved anything if it weren't for everyone else.
Primula nodded, and then clasped her hands together in her lap. "Tell me everything!"
Bilba frowned, not sure the other woman had heard a word she'd said in her excitement. Bofur, who'd set Frodo down a few feet away to play, gave her an amused look. Best do what she wants, Bilba heard him send. She won't rest until she's heard it all.
All right. At least, with a link, she'd be able to at least eat while she related the story. She settled back, got her plate situated, and started.
She had no idea how much later it was that the story was done, and Primula left with Bofur to return to their lodgings in Dale for an early evening. Bilba vaguely noted that Bofur seemed to be behaving extra carefully with Primula, and she seemed more tired than usual. It seemed vaguely familiar, but her own brain was beginning to shut down from fatigue by that time as well, so she had little energy to spare to the thought.
Instead, she decided to head upstairs and try to take a much-needed nap for a few hours until sunset. Orcs and goblins tended to come out after dark, and she still wanted to go out and try to track a few down if she could.
She made it all the way to the royal levels, only to stop short at the sight of Varegeth sitting imperiously on the Treasury steps, waiting for her.
I'm tired, she sent toward him. Can't this wait?
He dropped forward onto all four legs and scampered forward until he was sitting at her feet, where he proceeded to sit up on his hind legs, and gaze at her. Piteously.
All right, Bilba said. Come on.
Varegeth sent a shout of excitement into her mind, before scrambling up her leg, winding around her torso and ending up perched on one shoulder, with his claws digging lightly into her scalp for balance.
You spoil him, Syrath muttered petulantly.
Just think, Bilba sent back. If I do what he wants, and it goes well, he'll probably start leaving me alone.
In that case, Syrath replied, what are you waiting for?
Bilba rolled her eyes, and then reached out to Fili to ask where Thorin was. He reported his uncle had retired to his office for a bit, apparently as tired of the crowd as she was, so she headed in that direction.
Once there, she knocked, was granted admission, and entered. Thorin was seated behind his desk, and Bilba was gratified to see Frerin half sitting, half leaning against the edge. Having them together meant she wouldn't have to do this twice.
"Bilba," Thorin rumbled in that deep bass of his that seemed to vibrate her very bones. "We were just discussing your request in regard to Beryl."
"I think you're out of your mind," Frerin said shortly. His arms were crossed, and he looked uncharacteristically serious. "At the very least she shouldn't see the light of day again. Personally, I'm in favor of her being executed. She's a traitor, not just to Erebor, but to Middle Earth."
Bilba shook her head. There's been enough death. She frowned. Beryl is self-centered, and conceited. If left alone, she'd have simply grown up to be a self-absorbed, selfish noble. If we imprisoned or executed every noble guilty of that, we wouldn't have many left.
Thorin raised an eyebrow. "She isn't being tried for being a terrible person, Bilba. She's being tried for her actions. She helped break into the treasuries of the other kingdoms to steal their keys, and aided in the attack on Ererbor, not to mention the assassination attempts on almost every member of the royal family, including Fili and Syrath."
Bilba flinched. She would never get the sight of Syrath falling to the ground out of her mind, or the pain of having to leave him to go and search for Fili.
She made her own choices, she agreed, but she was also driven by the hatred and revenge of her father. She hesitated, before lifting her chin. It could have been me. I understand that kind of hatred, and that need for vengeance. If my mother had been like her father, if I hadn't had Syrath, or Primula, or Fili and the rest of you...
She took a deep breath, mind physically jerking away from that train of thought. It made her sick to think of what she could have done, of who she could have been, had it not been for a long, long trail of individuals who'd simply refused to let it happen.
Beryl hadn't had any of that. All she'd had was her father, feeding her anger, convincing her of her right to the things she didn't have, pushing her to aid him in his own quest for vengeance over the loss of his sons at Moria.
Bilba could remember the grief and pain after her mother's death. If Beryl had felt that over her brothers, and she had no reason to believe the other woman didn't, and had her father right there fueling it, never letting her move past it...
Exile would still be a punishment she continued. Beryl is obsessed with her class and status. She's visited, and is known at, every court in Middle Earth, and it's a guarantee she'll never be welcome in one again. No noble will associate with her, no one of any note or status will help her.
"Sounds promising," Frerin said.
Bilba nodded. For her, it'll be the worst kind of punishment.
"Then why not just let her stay locked up?" Thorin inquired. "It'd achieve the same result."
Because this way she'll at least have a chance, Bilba answered. Not everyone in Middle Earth knows her face. There are many who will see her as no different than anyone else. If she's willing to let go of her anger and hatred, the same way I did, she could have a chance to start over.
Frerin studied her. "Do you think she'd take it?"
I don't know, Bilba admitted. Contrary, to what the two might think, she didn't like Beryl. The girl had never been anything but nasty to her, had designs on Fili without any consideration to what he wanted, and showed a complete and utter inability to see past the end of her own nose. Bilba had her doubts that the girl would manage to get past her own ego to change...but even so...
Even so, it was hard not to see herself in the other woman. She'd hated her father and been consumed with so much rage for such a long time. But she'd had so many people to point her in the right direction and, granted, in the end it'd been her choice to take the path they wanted her on, but she still couldn't help wondering what if?
"I'll take it under consideration," Thorin said, voice and expression giving nothing away. "Even if we did choose exile, nothing could be reasonably done until the spring thaw."
Perhaps a few months imprisoned will help her take stock of what led her there, Bilba said, and lead her to make some changes.
"Perhaps," Thorin agreed, "or perhaps not." He frowned, settling back in the seat. "Aside from that, however, was there something you wanted?"
She held her arms out, and Varegeth promptly swarmed down and coiled around her hands and forearms like a snake. Bilba took a step forward and he delicately stepped off onto Thorin's desk and squatted back on his hind legs, wings folded neatly behind him.
He wants something, Bilba clarified. He just dragged me in for moral support.
The notion that Varegeth needed emotional support for anything had come as something of a shock, but she'd reminded herself that he was, in the end, only a baby.
Frerin settled more comfortably on the edge of the desk, eyebrow raised, while Thorin simply steepled his hands on the desk in front of him and waited.
Varegeth, for his part, proceeded to freeze entirely. After several long seconds of heavy silence, he slowly turned his head to gaze at Bilba with giant, pleading, manipulative eyes.
Bilba sighed. Really?
Look at the bright side, Syrath said cheerfully in her head. I'll never let him live it down. Ever.
Bilba shook her head in amusement. Then she sighed, and sent, He'd like to know if you two would be willing to be his riders once he's old enough. Before you ask, his parents gave their permission, grudgingly but, whatever. I also spoke to Balin about it. He doesn't see a problem. If another royal is born, you can just have two dragons.
Kind of like how she had almost all the dragons. Almost, and that was more than enough for her no matter how much the ones who'd been just a little too young to bond with her a month ago whined and pouted about being left out.
Frerin and Thorin stared at her, virtually slack jawed with shock. Varegeth, meanwhile, stretched up to his full height, which wasn't all that impressive but Bilba applauded the effort, and stared back.
Bilba bit back another sigh, shoulders slumping in resignation, and reached for a chair.
Truly, why had she decided leaving the wild would be a good thing again?
It felt like ages later that Bilba was finally, finally able to escape the office and continue her way toward her chambers. Behind her, she'd finally gotten Varegeth to talk to the two dwarves, who'd equally managed to eventually find their own tongues and respond.
She didn't think they'd accept a bond with him at present. He was very young, and quite impulsive, and she imagined they'd want to wait until he was older to be sure it was what he wanted. Still, judging by the twin looks of awe in the eyes of the Durins, and the look of pride in Varegeth's, she had a strong feeling it was a foregone conclusion.
She rounded the corner on the royal levels, and narrowed her eyes in suspicion to see Fili, decked out in his own armor, complete with sword, leaning against the wall outside her quarters.
I did promise you an orc hunt, he reminded her, with a grin.
Bilba smiled back, relaxing, and then impulsively broke into a run. She hit him at nearly full tilt, grabbing his shoulders to jerk him forward, throw her arms around his neck, and kiss him full on the mouth.
He grunted in surprise, but quickly recovered enough to wrap both arms around her and kiss her back with enthusiasm.
Or at least he did, until he suddenly pulled back with an exasperated sigh. "Dwalin," he said by way of explanation when she gave him a confused look. "And my mother."
Bilba snorted. Has the sun set yet?
He frowned at the sudden shift in topic, but shook his head. "It's on its way down now."
Grabbing his hand, she shoved her door open and dragged him inside. Already catching on via their soul bond, Fili gave a shout and broke into a run beside her.
Hands still clasped firmly together they burst through the doors leading on the balcony, ran to the edge, leapt onto the railing, and then proceeded to jump right over.
For a split second they were free falling. Then a blue streak raced by under them, and they were landing on Syrath's back with a heavy thud. They barely managed to get their straps on, before he angled and shot straight up, racing high into the sky.
Bilba shrieked with laughter, and Fili shouted behind her, and wrapped both arms around her.
Syrath leveled off, and Bilba spotted the sun, slowly drifting toward the horizon, bathing the sky and the earth itself in orange light. The rain had never materialized, leaving the sky clear but for a few lazy clouds high above.
What do you say, Syrath? Bilba asked, crouching low on Syrath's back. Want to try and catch it?
He responded by stretching out, his body streamlining, before he poured on the speed, racing toward the horizon. Bilba shut her eyes, cold air wrapping about her and roaring in her ears. Syrath spiraled and she threw her arms out, laughing as they raced through the sky.
Bilba pulled free from the straps and carefully moved until she was in a low crouch on Syrath's back. Glancing over her shoulder at Fili, she grinned and sent, Want to see a trick?
He gave her a decidedly unamused look. Why do I get the feeling this is a trick I've seen before?
Bilba responded with a mischievous look and then shoved off and flung herself right off Syrath's back.
Air wrapped around her, and she flung out her arms and legs, laughing in pure joy and happiness as she fell through the air.
Claws closed gently around her body, and a sigh of long suffering ran through her mind. She arched her back and saw Jarsun flying nearby, which meant Prygrasse was the one holding her. Above, below, and around were more of her new dragons, all flying in a tight cluster as they chased after Syrath.
Prygrasse lowered, and then released her. Bilba fell all of a foot or two, before arms were closing around her and her father was pulling her to a seated position ahead of him on Xalanth.
You just want to watch me lose what's left of my hair, don't you? he groused.
Bilba simply laughed, and then pushed to her feet, moving behind her father and bracing her hands on his shoulders.
Can anyone join in? a new voice asked. Or is this special invite only?
Bilba looked behind her and there was Lyth with Kili and Dis, and Quinlan carrying Thorin and Frerin.
Others joined them soon after as word spread. Bilba saw Legolas and Thranduil, and people and dragons from every race flying above, below and around them.
Xalanth rose beneath her, and then they were rising and Syrath was lowering to meet them. Fili hung over the edge, holding onto the straps with one hand, other hand outstretched to her.
Bilba jumped, and he easily caught her hand and dragged her back up onto Syrath.
Could we maybe keep that trick to a minimum? he asked, exasperated.
Bilba settled in front of him again. She reached back, curled an arm behind his head, and tilted her own head back to kiss him.
Then she turned back, settled in, and with the whole host of people and dragons she'd come to love and cherish, chased the setting sun.
All her mother had ever wanted was for her to find her freedom, and to love and be loved in return.
And so she had.
And so she did.
And so she was.
Bilba, daughter of Dwalin.
One of Fili, son of Vili.
Rider of Syrath, called Glamdring.
Was alone no longer.