Once upon a time, according to rumors and legend amongst certain hobbit families, there lived a hobbit with a fairy wife.
This was in in ages past, before the hobbits embarked on what would be known as the Wandering Days, when the Fae existed in more than fable.
They were rarely seen, but it was well known they existed, in the woods, empty valleys and lonely moors. They danced with the wind between the branches of towering trees, chattered with the birds as they flew and ran with the deer and foxes.
They were wild…and they were hunted.
The Fae, though related to the elves, were not immortal. They did, however, possess lifespans so long that, to other races, they might as well have been. This in and of itself would not have resulted in the Fae becoming prey to the darker powers of Middle Earth had it not been for one, unique, aspect. Magic. The Fae were, by nature, magical creatures and their magic filled them so utterly that it overflowed, radiating outward to affect those closest to them. Those who lived near them experienced lives far longer than any of their race ought to have had. They also tended to enjoy great health and abundant crops.
Sorcerers, Necromancers and others sought them, binding the Fae with spells and dark rituals in attempts to extend their own lives or stripping them of their magic to augment their own. This action resulted in the death of the Fae for magic was as much a part of them as the blood in their veins and they could not survive without it. The Fae, for their own safety, were forced to either hide themselves or seek refuge and safety from the elves.
It was rare, therefore, too see one even when they did exist in great number and it was rarer still for one to fall in love, marry, and choose to live with their spouse in the open. Such situations, generally, invariably, ended in tragedy.
Such was ultimately the fate of the fairy who bound herself to a hobbit…but that was the end of her story and before it came she and her husband enjoyed many years of happiness.
They had many children and grandchildren, in whom the blood of the Fae ran strong. It continued in the veins of her descendants, passed Age to Age long after her own story had passed into legend and myth.
The descendants of the fairy were different than the rest. They were a little bolder, a bit more prone to adventure, slightly more reckless. As time passed they stepped to the forefront and took up leadership positions. Eventually this bloodline adopted the surname of Took and, as the Ages passed, they grew to be one of the oldest, wealthiest and most respected of families.
And the strangest but never too strange and they were regarded so highly that most of the unusual things they did were simply written off as eccentric or as the whims of the wealthy.
For the most part anyway.
Fae blood, after all, was every bit as wild as the fairy who had once carried it and, every so often, it would flare up. When this happened a child would be born in the line who, for all intents and purposes, was more fairy than hobbit. In the earliest days of the world, when the hobbits were so young a race they had not yet dreamed of a place called the Shire much less lived there, many of these children were forced to leave their families to live amongst the Fae. They were not full fairy and did not possess the same level of power the Fae did but they were still powerful in their own right, still lived long lives and lengthened the lives of those around them. For this reason they were endangered as much as any fairy and if they failed to leave on their own it would not be unusual for them to vanish one day, never to be seen or heard from again.
Eventually the Fae, weary of the world, fled for lands safer to their kind. With their passing the blood settled in the veins of the Tooks and though the occasional child would still be born with a slightly stronger adventurous streak than was usual even for a Took there were no more fairy born in Hobbit flesh. Time passed. The Hobbits left the lands they had called home and began the Wandering Days. This time lasted untold years, so many in fact that it became all they knew, the time before it fading until it was almost entirely lost. Eventually the Hobbits settled in a new home, one that came to be called Shire, and here they found peace and comfort.
By this time tales of such things as fairies had faded into myth and lore and, as is often the case with such things, much of it became exaggerated and twisted. Instead of fairies being in danger they became the danger, sorceresses and sorcerers, workers of dark magic who brought evil and mischief wherever they went. They became the creature hiding under the bed, the thing lurking in the shadows waiting to carry off misbehaving children. Parents would gather their children about on stormy nights and regale them with tales of hideous creatures with horns, sharp teeth and pointed claws, of heroes sent out to wage war against them and wrench forth victory from the practitioners of black magic.
It was into this setting, sometime in the Third Age, that Bilba Baggins was born. It was impossible to tell why the blood of that ancient fairy decided to act up with her birth. Perhaps the magic laying nearly dormant within the veins of her mother was somehow angered by the way fairies were portrayed, perhaps there was some higher reason or purpose behind it or, perhaps, it simply was for no reason at all.
In any event, Bilba was born, the first and, as it turned out, only daughter of Bungo and Belladonna Baggins, previously Belladonna Took, and from the beginning it was clear she was quite different.
She was born with brilliant violet eyes, so bright that, at times, they almost appeared to glow Her ears were larger than normal and came to a sharper point while her hair, once it started to grow was brown and ash blonde, with brilliant streaks of deep orange and red like the changing leaves on a tree in autumn. It grew in thick waves, falling all the way to her feet. Her mother tried repeatedly to cut it only to find it grown back almost overnight. She finally gave up and simply began tying it into a braid as thick as her arm that swayed and danced as the girl moved. Bilba always seemed to have flowers worked into it, though no one ever saw her pick any, and as long as they stayed in her hair the colors remained vibrant and alive.
She was small, even by Hobbit standards, her frame delicate and refusing to put on the curves or plumpness that was common to their race no matter how much she ate. When she walked she seemed to glide and if one were to pass by later it would not be unusual to find flowers and grass cropping up in her footprints. She had a melodic voice and when she laughed it was almost musical, the sound enough to draw a smile from even the most hard hearted soul.
It was not, however, just her looks that were different.
Weather appeared to have no effect on her. She always wore thin sundresses regardless of it being the height of summer or the dead of winter. Animals had a tendency to appear near her, foxes and deer, a wolf a time or two and a wide assortment of birds. There were those that insisted they had seen her talking to them and even witnessed the creatures obeying her commands. If she were near a garden for any length of time it was guaranteed to produce twice as much, and twice as big, and indeed her mother’s pumpkins began to win contests every year after Bilba was born.
Many also noticed that Belladonna and Bungo never seemed to look any older, or grow sick, after their daughter’s birth. Others who were ill also reported feeling better simply by being in her presence though the girl would often complain of fatigue after being around them and would retire early to bed.
All of those things were certainly odd, garnering speculation and rumor, but perhaps the strangest thing about the young girl was her propensity for dancing.
She danced almost constantly, whether she was going to the market or simply playing in the large fields behind the hill where her home sat. Sometimes, particularly when the moon was full, she could be seen dancing through the fields and streets of the Shire. Some swore the wind itself was her partner, swirling about her and following her movements as she leapt, spun, twirled…and occasionally disappeared altogether.
The disappearances didn’t happen all that often, maybe a few times a year, and never more than a day or two at a time. When she would reappear it would be with her hair unbound and flowing wildly around her, her eyes gleaming. She would claim she had no idea where she’d been or why she’d gone and no one ever reported having seen her while she’d been gone.
Most of the adults dismissed the majority of her oddities. Bilba was the most gentle and kind soul any of them had met. She cried at the slightest sign of suffering or pain in another living being and was open and friendly to all who knew her. She was a Took most said nodding their heads sagely, and the daughter of Belladonna, a woman known for being eccentric and doing decidedly un-Hobbit like things. It was understandable her daughter would share many of her traits and as for anything else that was odd, well, it was clearly misunderstanding, deceiving eyes or exaggeration. They were adults and not prone to believing in silly things like legends of Hobbit sorcery and, even if they were, the girl looked nothing at all like the monsters in those tales and, therefore, could clearly not be any such thing.
Such stories were for children and, as such, it was the children of the Shire who ended up believing in them. They had been raised on such tales and heard their parents discuss the oddity of the Baggins girl, just the tiniest hint of doubt in their voices as they dismissed anything overly unusual about her.
To the children, the decision that Bilba must be one of the sorceresses of legend was a natural one. They lived in a world where magic, though rare, did exist and the thought of seeing it up close was exciting. That the stories they’d heard told of a being capable of dark magic and mischief added an air of danger and bravery for those willing to dare interact with her.
Girls would dramatically scream and run when they saw her coming, often throwing themselves into the arms of nearby boys they held interest in. The boys, meanwhile, would dare one another to approach her, some would challenge her, trying to make her the villain in their own story. When Bilba never reacted they became bolder, often bullying or taunting her. Girls would approach her to ask for love potions or hexes for those they felt had wronged them. When she insisted she couldn’t do such things they refused to believe her and turned on her, spreading cruel rumors and lies about her.
During one incident, when she came near a group of children they all began to scatter, running from her in all directions. One small boy tripped and fell and when he sat up his arm was bent at an unnatural angle and he cried from the pain, giant tears welling in his eyes. Bilba immediately went to him and knelt to take the arm. The little boy later reported that his arm glowed with light and when she released it, sagging in exhaustion to sit beside him, his arm was whole and unmarked.
The adults dismissed the story, insisting the little boy’s arm had clearly never been broken in the first place. They went back to their lives and continued to ignore anything that suggested their world was not exactly as they desired it to be.
Among the children, however, the incident proved to be a dividing one. There were those who believed the boy’s story, and feared her as a result. They began to avoid her, convinced she really would cast a spell or hex on them in revenge for past wrongs. As they grew they became superstitious, convinced every negative thing that happened was a result of Bilba acting against them. They even coined a phrase, “Bilba must be having a fit” to explain bad luck.
Others dismissed the boy’s story as the adults had and never changed their ways. As they grew their bullying changed into sullenness toward her, or cattiness in the case of some like Lobelia Sackville. She had never forgiven Bilba for refusing to create a love potion that would force a young man she’d had her eye on to fall in love with her.
A third group of children, however, believed the boy’s story and, for the first time, actually bothered to truly look at Bilba. They found a small girl who laughed constantly and trusted absolutely, even when she shouldn’t. A child who rescued spiders, put out food and water for stray cats and often carried around a three legged fox she’d once befriended in the woods.
His name, they came to learn, was Sir Reginald.
These children felt guilt for their actions, realizing Bilba was not an object to feature as the villain in their make believe. Regardless of what she could, or could not, do she had never shown the slightest hint of cruelty toward anyone and had never treated them with anything but kindness, no matter how badly they treated her.
These few changed their treatment of her and, for the first time, Bilba had friends. They would rush off and spend hours playing in the woods, often coming back with stories of speaking to animals, riding about on trees that moved and spoke to them, and of dancing with the wind. Their parents would pat them on the head, brag to their friends about how creative and imaginative their children were, and go on about their lives.
And so life continued, much as it always had, and much as it always would have…had it not been for the winter of Bilba’s twenty-first year.
At first people assumed it was simply a normal winter as with any other. As the days passed, however, it grew colder, and colder still. The Brandywine froze and word began to spread that white wolves, and worse, had crossed over and were attacking those who lived on the outskirts of the Shire. Crops froze and, as time passed, starvation set in. Many began to die, the cemeteries of the Shire growing faster than the frozen ground could be broken to make more room.
In Hobbiton the effects of what would come to be called the Fell Winter were not as harsh. There was never any sign of a wolf or goblin and though crops froze they did so slower, the fruits and vegetables proving hardier than one might expect. The fish in the lake also proved almost unnaturally hardy while the ice simultaneously was weak, allowing those brave enough to venture out and fish for food for their families.
Bilba’s friends thanked her, believing it was her doing that kept the worst of the Fell Winter at bay. Those who felt differently, however, who were already used to blaming their woes on her, grew angry. Whispers of a Sorceress of great power living in Bag End began to spread outside Hobbiton.
Some dismissed it.
Some did not.
Strangers arrived, shady looking characters who asked for the location of the supposed Sorceress. Belladonna and Bungo hid their daughter and, when asked, insisted she was no Sorceress and was currently visiting distant relations.
One day Bella and Bungo found themselves facing down a particularly dangerous looking Man who was not at all inclined to take their answers for the truth and leave. Just as they feared he would force his way inside to search for the so-called Sorceress a sharp voice called out. The Man looked down the lane, blanched, and departed with great haste.
Belladonna saw a tall elf walking up her lane, next to an elderly Man with a staff. He, she recognized, though she had not seen him for many years, since well before Bilba had been born. She’d heard he’d returned, along with the Rangers, to help them in their time of need but he had stayed on the outskirts where the suffering was the worst and had not ventured into Hobbiton.
Now, as he and the elf strode up her steps Belladonna straightened, put her hands on her hips, lifted her chin and declared, “She’s not a Sorceress, Gandalf. Leave her alone.”
Gandalf gave her a bemused look in response and replied, “I simply want to meet the child, Belladonna. Won’t you bring her out?”
She started to deny him, to say that Bilba wasn’t home, but then, as if she’d been summoned, Bilba’s voice spoke up from behind her.
“I’m here. Who are you? Oh! Are you an elf? I’ve never seen an elf before!”
Belladonna tensed but there was little she could do as her daughter ducked under the arm she was using to block the doorway and stood in front of her.
Bilba barely came up to Belladonna’s chin, a pixie in more ways than one. Her eyes were guileless and her smile brilliant as she happily invited them both in for tea.
The elf looked stunned for a second and then, to Belladonna’s surprise, a delighted smile crossed his face. He took a step forward and crouched down to put a hand on a slender shoulder.
“Hello little cousin,” he said gently. “My name is Elrond, and I am very pleased to meet you.”
Bilba, as was her custom to anyone she met, positively beamed in response.
It was Elrond who explained, to both her and her parents, what she truly was. Not the twisted, dark creature of myth or legend but a figure of light, peace and harmony. Hobbits, he pointed out, were themselves peaceful and gentle souls so wouldn’t it make sense that if one had taken a fairy wife it was due to them having at least somewhat similar natures?
He offered to host all of them in Rivendell for the duration of the winter, until the rumors died down and the Rangers could make it clear that strangers entering the Shire to harass its residents would not be tolerated.
Belladonna agreed at once, excited at the prospect of her daughter being around those who understood her and could teach her more about her heritage.
They turned Bag End over to Gandalf and the Rangers, giving them a location from which to better aid the rest of the Shire, and more directly deal with anyone looking for Bilba. They then packed up and set out for Rivendell. For anyone else the journey would have been dangerous in such conditions. For them, with Bilba along, it became little more than trying.
Bilba loved Rivendell and the elves and they adored her in turn. They had mourned the passing of the fairy and were pleased to have one of her kind back in their midst, even if she was technically a Fae in Hobbit flesh as opposed to a fairy in truth. They understood her, showed her what her powers truly were and how to harness them, taught her to recognize, and control, her nature. They taught her, too, about the times she disappeared. The elves loved the water and the stars, fairy in turn loved the wind and in times when she vanished it was due to her nature getting the best of her and whisking her off to wherever the wind wished to take her.
They also told her about her healing powers and how lucky she had been when she helped the boy with the broken arm. Her magic, as they explained, did not know the difference between an injury that had just taken place and one that had happened years ago, nor did it recognize injuries or illnesses that were beyond its power to heal, and those did exist. It was far too easy for a fairy to inadvertently drain themselves of magic in the course of healing, to the extent their own life was placed in jeopardy. To this end it was vital that Bilba take great care in who she chose to help to ensure she didn’t die herself in the process.
Bilba listened intently to all they had to say and when Gandalf returned for her at the end of the long winter he found a young woman somehow wilder, and yet more grounded, than the one he’d met so many months before.
They all returned to the Shire together, along with a number of elves determined to make sure their little cousin came to no harm.
She did not. In her absence her friends had spent much of their time pointing how foolish it was to think she was so powerful she’d created a winter that, according to travelers passing through, was affecting land all the way from the Blue Mountains to Rivendell.
At the same time the Rangers had dealt with a number of strangers who’d wandered into the Shire to cause problems and word had quickly spread, as they intended, that the Shire was off limits to ruffians and unsavory folk. The fact that no sign of the supposed Sorceress was ever seen or felt also helped quiet down the rumors and unwanted visitors.
It was to a quiet and peaceful Shire they returned, one damaged by the winter but that had survived and was working its way slowly to recovery. Bilba visited every garden in Hobbiton, ensuring they produced twice as much to help make up for the food shortages. She wanted to try and heal people but her mother refused to let her, worried about Bilba’s health in the process as well as word getting out that she had the ability. Elrond had explained the kind of danger Bilba would be in if word got out about her for practitioners of black magic still existed and would seek her for their own use if they knew about her. Belladonna also knew her daughter well enough to know that, if she allowed it, the young woman would run herself into the ground trying to help every single person who asked.
And so Bilba did what she could and returned to her quiet life with her parents in Bag End.
And so it continued for a year until shortly after Bilba’s twenty-second birthday when things changed.
Bilba had been staring at him for close to ten minutes before she realized it.
She sighed, her shoulders slumping as she took in her surroundings. She was crouched in the rafters of what appeared to be the Prancing Pony Inn in Bree. Her hair was in a tangled mass about her body and her bare feet were caked with mud and dirt.
She’d gone and gotten lost again. Her first thought was to wonder how long it had been this time and to hope she hadn’t left soup on the stove again. She’d ruined her mother’s favorite pot the last time that had happened. Her mother had been less than pleased.
Her second thought was about what exactly it had been that had called her back.
Usually it was exhaustion or hunger and though she did feel a little tired it was nothing so extreme that would have called her back. A few other times it had been the elves, who had all developed an overprotective streak since learning of her existence, but she didn’t sense any in the vicinity.
She focused on the room again, in the direction she was already facing, and barely suppressed a start of surprise.
There was a Man sitting in a booth in the far corner. He was dressed all in black with a staff leaning against the wall. It looked almost like the one Gandalf carried but shorter and oddly twisted. She could feel power radiating from it but it felt…wrong somehow and she wondered if he’d perhaps cut a branch off a sick tree and that was what was causing the problem. Was he perhaps a wizard in training and didn’t know any better? Did they even do that sort of thing? She’d never spoken to Gandalf about it and had no idea how he’d come to be a wizard.
He hadn’t been what had caught her attention. She’d been looking next to him, at the person standing, barely, next to the table. He was stick thin, the rags he wore barely hanging on his skeletal frame. His hair and beard were matted and dark with filth and the rest of his body was streaked with dried sweat and mud. Through rents in his clothing she could see evidence of welts and other wounds, possibly even infection and the way he held himself suggested an injury to a leg, possibly his spine as well.
Her eyes went to his throat and the thick collar locked around it. A chain led from it, the end laying on the table.
She didn’t understand. Was he a prisoner? But, if so, why was he allowed to be in so poor a condition? What crime could he have possibly committed that would warrant such a thing?
And if he wasn’t a prisoner then what was he? A captive?
She studied him, trying to make sense of it. He was shorter than a normal human but the beard meant he couldn’t be a child. A dwarf perhaps? She cast about and found a handful of other dwarves in the Inn. Several of them were casting angry looks toward the Man but they made no attempt to approach. No one, in fact, was doing anything, giving the Man and his captive a wide berth instead.
Why? Bilba wondered. Why did no one help?
As she watched the Man finished his food and stood up. There was no food present for the dwarf and he didn’t seem to expect any. He stared blankly ahead at nothing, his eyes empty.
He had blue eyes, Bilba noted, strikingly blue, an odd contrast to the rest of him. At the moment they were dull and lifeless and she found herself trying to picture what they had been like when he’d been free, if he, in fact, ever had been.
Dwarves were a proud and honorable people who took great pride in the bodies gifted to them from Mahal. They also took great effort in the care and upkeep of their beard and hair, the mess his was in would be considered a great dishonor to both his bloodline and race.
How humiliating must it be for him to be here? Where other dwarves, and members of other races could see him?
She hated it. His obvious suffering twisted her stomach, made her limbs feel weak and start shaking, brought on severe nausea. It was the same any time she witnessed pain. She simply couldn’t handle it.
The Man headed toward the door. He’d picked up the end of the chain and, as it grew taut, the dwarf obediently moved after him.
Bilba dropped down from the rafters, landing silently on top of an empty table. No one saw her, she didn’t want them to so they didn’t.
She hurried out after the two. Outside it was raining, the wind cool but not biting.
The figures she was watching were vanishing from her sight, out the gates of Bree, and she darted down the steps, flinching as wet mud splashed up her calves, and ran after them.
The Man and dwarf left the gate and began heading up the road, into the wild beyond Bree.
Bilba shivered, her arms crossed over her chest. The rain wasn’t particularly cold but that didn’t mean it was comfortable. It had already soaked through her clothing, plastered her hair to her body, and even then was running in rivulets down her face, pattering in drops on her head.
She chewed on her lower lip for a second, then made a decision and followed after them. She had no idea what she planned to do but the dwarf was suffering and she couldn’t stand turning her back on him.
The Man traveled the rest of the day and well into the night before finally stopping and making camp. By that time the rain had stopped and the clouds parted, revealing bright, glittering stars overhead and a fat moon. It had been painful to watch for Bilba to watch the two travel. The dwarf was not capable of more than a slow, shambling walk but the Man had been merciless in his trek, often causing the dwarf to fall, only to be wrenched back up and forced forward once more. Several times Bilba had nearly given herself away by crying out, tears in her eyes at the horrible treatment.
She still didn’t know what to do and spent most of the night watching and worrying over it, climbing a tree to settle down and watch the distant camp fire. She could probably get in and get the dwarf out but, if she did, the Man would notice the next morning and the dwarf was far to injured to be able to travel quickly.
The solution finally came to her just as dawn was beginning to break over the landscape, a simple answer she really should have thought of earlier. She reached a hand into the pocket of her dress, curling it around a small coin pouch. She never knew exactly when she would end up losing herself to her fairy side, or how far she would go, so she’d started carrying a substantial amount of money with her to use to get home. Surely she had enough to tempt the Man to sell her his broken down captive, right? He’d certainly be able to move much quicker with money instead of an injured dwarf.
She moved forward and quietly got down from the tree. She pulled the pouch out, holding it in one hand, and started to walk toward the camp, resolute.
She barely made it a few steps before a hand caught her wrist.
“Bilba, what are you doing?”
Bilba spun to see three figures in a semi-circle behind her. They all towered over her but that wasn’t so surprising, thanks to her fairy blood even other hobbits were taller than she was.
She grinned brightly at the three and held the pouch up, balanced on her palm. “I’m going to go ask to buy that dwarf.”
Elladan, the one who was down on a knee, holding her wrist, gave her an incredulous look. “That’s…not a good idea Bilba.”
Bilba frowned. “Why not? I have plenty of money and he can’t be attached to that dwarf, not with how he’s been treating him. He’ll probably be happy to have the money instead of the dwarf.
Behind Elladan, his brother, Elrohir, looked confused. “Why do you want him, Bilba? Do you know him?”
Bilba shook her head. “He’s in pain.” It was a simple answer, and enough of one in her book. He was in pain, she had the ability to stop his pain. That was it.
She tested Elladan’s grip on her wrist, tugging lightly, but he simply raised an eyebrow and held on. Bilba was mildly irritated she hadn’t felt their presence. There always seemed to be at least one elf nearby, keeping watch over her, and she was so used to it that it simply hadn’t registered. She had no idea how they always knew where she was and they refused to tell her for fear she’d use the information to dodge them, which she would of course but that was entirely beside the point.
She focused her attention on the third figure, the adopted brother of Elladan and Elrohir, Aragorn. He was a Man and, hopefully, more reasonable.
“Aragorn, would you please tell your brother to let me go?”
“I don’t think so,” the young man replied. “You can’t go in there, Bilba.”
So much for being reasonable, Bilba thought. He’d undoubtedly been around elves far too long.
Behind her, she heard the sounds of the Man beginning to move about, preparing to leave. She was startled at the stab of pain that raced through her at the thought of the dwarf being taken away. She locked eyes with Elladan, her lower lip beginning to tremble and her vision blurring.
“Elladan,” she asked, her voice just barely wavering, “please? You know I can’t stand it. Please?”
He sighed and stood up without releasing her wrist. “I never said I wouldn’t get him for you. I said just it wasn’t a good idea for you to do it.”
Bilba gasped and gazed at him hopefully.
Elladan snorted. “Don’t give me the sad little waif look. I already said I’d do it.”
He nudged her over toward his brother, while gesturing for Aragorn to come join him. “Stay with Elrohir, Bilba. We’ll be back.”
Bilba nodded. “Okay. Oh,wait,” She stepped forward, offering the pouch. “Don’t you need this?”
Elladan gave her an innocent grin. “Don’t worry. We’re going to try a different tack. I’m sure he’ll be very open to listening to us.”
“Will you be alright with just the two of you?” Elrohir asked and Bilba frowned, confused. Why wouldn’t they be alright?
“We’ll be fine.” Elladan said. “We aren’t petite fairies who get blown away by the smallest gust of wind.”
Bilba stuck her tongue out at him. Elladan laughed and then turned to head into the campsite, Aragorn at his side.
They’d barely been gone when Bilba felt a prickling at the edge of her consciousness, a familiar sensation though not one she’d felt in a while.
“Oh, she said, spinning to look behind them. “I need to go over there.”
Without waiting for a response she headed in the direction, flitting over the ground so fast it almost appeared she was flying.
“Bilba!” She heard Elrohir hiss in exasperation, but she ignored him. She wasn’t going far and she was going away from the Man after all.
She found her way into a small clearing and stopped, studying the area. A flash of bright red fur drew her attention and she headed that way, dropping to her knees before a small fox. The animal was caught in a trap and was huddled in a small ball that was a mix of pain and shame. He’d most likely been following her and hadn’t paid attention to where he was going. He only had three legs and with the one trapped, and clearly broken, he was unable to stand. The animal whined deep in its throat, eyes focusing on her.
“Oh, Sir Reginald,” Bilba said. “I’m sorry.” She reached down and gently freed the animal before scooping him up to settled on her lap. She took a deep breath and placed her hands lightly on the injured leg.
Immediately glowing white light shone from her hands, spreading out to cover the small animal. Bilba didn’t know much about the anatomy of a small fox, or anything else for that matter, but her magic didn’t need her to. All she had to do was direct it to heal and it obeyed her, spiraling through the fox and fixing not just the damage it currently had but any lasting damage it had ever had. She hadn’t seen Reginald in a few months and, as usual, he had managed to pick up quite a few injuries along the way. She felt as his ear reformed, a chunk torn out some time ago filling back in, broken tail straightening once more and the leg under her hands straightening out, the torn flesh and broken bone knitting together until the leg was stronger than ever. She couldn’t replace the leg that was gone, she didn’t know why. It had been gone when she first met him and not even her magic could make it grow back. As Elrond had said, her magic had limits. It was depressing but nothing she could change.
The light faded and she sagged back, fatigue tugging at her. The fox jumped up and stood on its hind legs to lick her face in thanks. Bilba laughed and patted it. “Be careful, alright? I may not be close by next time.”
The fox gave a short yip of agreement and bounded off, vanishing into the underbrush.
“Is that the same fox you had before?” Elrohir asked from where he was leaning against a tree. “Don’t foxes only live a few years?”
“Some can live longer,” Bilba said shortly, refusing to comment further.
Elrohir raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment. It had started to become increasingly clear over the years that Bilba had inherited the fairy ability to extend the lives of those around her and the elves worried over what would happen when others started to notice. It was one of the reasons they had started trying to convince her to come live permanently in Rivendell, a notion she had stubbornly resisted.
The Shire, and Bag End, were her home and she wanted to stay. So far they had respected her wishes enough to not mention anything to her parents but she imagined the day would come where they would say something and then she’d undoubtedly have to deal with the elves and her mother and father pushing her to return to Rivendell, permanently.
Footsteps had Elrohir pushing up and turning just as Elladan strode into the clearing. He had his sword out, strangely enough, and was wiping the blade down. As soon as he saw her the cloth vanished and he sheathed the blade.
Behind him came Aragorn. He held a chain in his hands and, at the end of it, stumbled the dwarf.
Bilba gasped and scrambled to her feet, rushing over to stand in front of him. Up close he looked even worse. He was covered from head to toe in what appeared to be layers of grime, filth and dried blood and gave off a smell so sharp it burned her nostrils. She could see every bone in his body and the few cuts and the injuries visible under the grime were brutal, many of them edged in the puffed flesh suggesting infection had set in. His clothing had probably once been trousers and a tunic but had fallen apart to the point where they barely provided him modesty much less any protection from the elements. He was barefoot and she could see evidence of broken toes and damage from being forced to walk in such a manner when, as dwarf, he wasn’t built for it.
His left leg was bent up, barely any weight being put on it, and he leaned to the left as if his back was damaged.
Bilba looked him in the eyes, seeing absolutely no acknowledgment, no sign of there even being a soul present.
“There’s some kind of spell laid on him,” Elladan said gently. “I don’t know what exactly it’s done to him but he appears only capable of obeying commands and little else. He showed no signs of recognition that we’d rescued him, simply followed us when we told him to.”
Without thinking, Bilba lifted her hands toward him only to immediately have Elladan drop behind her, wrap both arms around her waist and drag her back against his chest, keeping his arms around her in a light bear hug. “No, Bilba,” he said, his voice compassionate. “You can’t heal him, it’ll kill you.”
“You don’t know that,” Bilba said, her voice wavering. “He’s in pain.”
“It’s black magic, Bilba,” he said shortly, “and it’s still in effect even thoug--” He cut himself off at a sharp noise from Aragorn. He took a deep breath and said. “What’s been done to him took extremely dark magic, Bilba, and it may well be irreversible.” He put a finger under the dwraf’s chind and lightly raised his head, revealing a face free of lines or tension. “Does he look like he’s in pain to you? I don’t think he feels much of anything.”
“You don’t know that,” Bilba accused, “and you don’t know trying to heal him will kill me.”
“And you don’t know it won’t,” Elladan said gently, “and I’d rather not be the one to tell your parents we let you take a chance, and lost you in the process. Does their pain not matter also?”
It was a low blow and he knew it, but it was also effective. Bilba sagged in his arms. “You’re cruel,” she said, her voice soft and without heat.
Elladan squeezed her in a hug and then released her. Bilba took a deep breath and stepped forward to address Aragorn. “Can you at least take the collar off, please?”
Aragorn pulled a key from his pocket and turned to remove the collar from the dwarf’s neck.
As he did, Bilba asked, “How did you convince the Man to give him to you?”
Elladan shrugged. “We can be very persuasive,” he said simply. He nodded at the dwarf. “What are you going to do with him?”
Bilba frowned. “I had planned to help him get better and send him on his way. If he can’t take care of himself and you won’t let me heal him--” She shot a look at Elladan, hoping he’d change his mind.
“If he obeys orders he can probably be ordered to take care of his basic needs,” Elladan said, ignoring her look and her comment about healing him, “he’ll need someone to give him the orders though.” He saw the look she was giving him and sighed. “Bilba, I’m not a monster. The monster is the one who did that to him. If I knew how to help him, or if I thought you could help him, safely, I would do it. He’s in no danger of dying and I’m not willing to risk your life in an attempt to free him when, odds are, it wouldn’t work anyway.”
Bilba looked away, her shoulders falling. She hated it when he made sense.
“You have him now,” Elladan said, “You can still make his life a thousand times better than its been and, who knows? Perhaps the spell will wear off naturally and he’ll return to his senses on his own.”
“Perhaps,” Bilba agreed softly. She studied the dwarf. She felt no power or darkness radiating from him as she had with the Man’s staff. He just felt like a dwarf, a normal dwarf. “Hopefully you’re right. In the meantime, he can stay at Bag End, indefinitely if need be. There are certainly enough rooms.”
“Your parents may have something to say about that,” Elladan said, amused. “Aragorn will escort you home. Elrohir and I will need to go take care of a few things.”
Bilba darted forward to throw her arms around him. “Thank you.” She hugged the other two as well and then went to stand in front of the dwarf. “You hear that? You get to come home with me and you’ll never have to wear a collar again and I’ll get you new clothes and food and everything will be better, you’ll see.” A thought occurred to her and she said looked at Elladan. “I don’t suppose you know his name, do you?”
“He had a name for him,” Elladan said, “but I don’t think it would be appropriate to repeat.”
“Oh,” Bilba said under her breath, “well that’s not very nice is it?” She grinned brightly at the dwarf. “How about I just call you--”
“Not Reginald,” Elladan broke in dryly and Bilba glared at him.
“That was a phase.”
Elrohir raised an eyebrow. “You named everything Reginald, for an entire year.”
“Reginald is a noble name,” Bilba said primly before turning back to face the dwarf. “How about…Paladin? I’m sorry, I know that’s not your real name but I don’t want to just call you dwarf and Paladin is a nice name, right?”
“I doubt he can hear you,” Elladan repeated gently. “Most likely the spell he’s under has stolen his body and completely repressing his mind.”
“You don’t know that,” Bilba said again, the stubbornness she’d inherited from her mother raising its head, “and, since we don’t know, wouldn’t it be better to go with the idea that he can hear and see us? It would be awful, I think, to have people ignore you simply because they thought you couldn’t hear them.”
It would be awful to think he was fully aware with no control over his own body and, to that end, she found herself hoping Elladan was right and his mind was sleeping, hopefully dreaming of peace and comfort. Still, hoping for something didn’t make it reality and she didn’t want to ignore him on the off chance he could, in fact, hear her.
She reached out and gently worked her hand into his, holding it carefully to avoid putting pressure on any of his injuries. “Come on Paladin, let’s go home.”
She started to move and the dwarf obediently went with her, his steps slow and shuffling. Elladan and his brother headed off while Aragorn fell in beside her, one hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword.
It took quite a long time to get to Bag End. Even without being starved, Paladin’s injuries and back issues prevented him from doing anything more than the slow shuffle she’d seen him do with the Man. Bilba had no intention of treating Paladin as the Man had and was content to match his pace, walking beside him and guiding him by the hand. She chattered as they walked, to him and Aragorn, telling them both about how things were going in the Shire. She told Paladin all about her parents and Bag End and how she was going to get him as healthy as she possibly could.
When they arrived back to the borders of the Shire they stopped for Bilba to shoo away the small animals that had started following them. Hobbits tended to frown upon her showing back up with wolves, foxes, deer and assorted birds in tow.
Her parents, as expected, were more than a little startled when she showed up with a clearly very ill dwarf in tow.
Startled, but not entirely surprised. They were more than used to their daughter arriving home with all manner of injured or in need living creatures. That she would one day show up with a person in equal need, in hindsight, made perfect sense.
To their credit they recovered quickly. They were hobbits, and compassionate ones at that, and were more than willing to help. Belladonna invited Aragorn into tea and to rest before having to return to his duties while Bungo took Paladin off to the bathroom to get cleaned up.
While they settled in Bilba started making a pot of bland soup and a second kettle of weakened tea. She doubted Paladin would be able to handle anything much stronger than that, at least not at first.
Bungo reappeared after a while, asking Belladonna to come with him and then headed back down the hall once more. It was a long, long time later that she and Bungo reappeared, this time with Paladin. Her father looked exhausted and in need of a nap but Paladin…Bilba nearly didn’t recognize him.
The layers of grime and dirt were gone leaving clean skin behind. The wounds that were still open, or infected, had been dealt with as well and sported poultices to help them heal quicker. Bungo had put some of his own clothes on Paladin and they sagged on his body but were far better than the rags he’d worn previously.
His hair and beard had initially been a matted mess, actually grown together at points so it was perpetually tangled around his throat. In the end there had been no way to save it. Belladonna had been forced to cut it until it was short spikes all over his head and she’d shaved off his beard until it was barely stubble.
Bilba winced when she saw it and approached to carefully take his hands in hers, studying his eyes. “I’m sorry it had to be cut,” she whispered. “I know how important hair and beards are to dwarves. It won’t be forever, though, alright? I promise. We’ll let it grow back and we’ll take care of it this time too so it won’t ever have to be cut again.” She released one of his hands to run her palm lightly over the stubble on his head, feeling it prickle against her skin. It appeared to be a dark, golden blond color and she tried to picture what he would look like once it had grown back in properly. As she looked at him she was surprised to find he was young, far younger than she’d initially thought.
“Come along, dear,” Belladonna said, coming up to Paladin’s side. “Let’s let your friend eat and then rest, shall we?”
Bilba nodded and helped Paladin over to the table. Once there they found that, with his hands as damaged as they were, it was nearly impossible for him to properly hold the spoon or feed himself, most likely explaining, at least in part, his malnutrition.
Without hesitating, Bilba took the spoon from him and started feeding him herself, taking it slow so he could get used to it.
As she did, Aragorn related the story of how they’d come to have him, complete with Bilba’s desire to heal him, which earned him a glare from her.
Before her parents could react she said, “I was thinking, maybe if we got him as healed as we could, maybe it wouldn’t be so dangerous?”
Bungo was already shaking his head. “Dark magic isn’t something to be messed with, Bilba.”
“You aren’t a full fairy, Sweetheart,” Belladonna added. “You have greater limitations than they did. You know how tired you get just after healing broken bones. How much worse do you think it would be going against dark magic? Especially when Aragorn is saying it probably wouldn’t even work.”
Bilba’s hands nearly itched with the desire to try and heal him but they would just pull her away and, as Elladan had said, she couldn’t stand even the mental image of her parents’ pain if she were to die in the process.
“Maybe it’ll wear off as Elladan said,” Aragorn broke in. He didn’t sound like he believed it any more than Elladan had but Bilba gave him a grateful smile anyway.
“Perhaps.” She studied Paladin. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I truly am. I would try to free you from the darkness if I could.”
Paladin was soon finished and Bilba and her mother helped him to one of the spare bedrooms while Bungo stayed in the living room with Aragorn.
As they got him settled in the bed, Bilba asked, “Do you think he can stay? He can’t live on his own.”
Belladonna frowned, pulling the blankets up to his waist. “Don’t you think he might have family worried about him?”
“How would we find them?” Bilba replied. “We don’t know his name or age or even how long he’s been with that Man. What would we ask, or send in a letter? Is anyone missing a young dwarf, exact age unknown, with dark blond hair, no idea when he went missing or from where?”
“You have a point,” Belladonna agreed. She stood back to study Paladin. His eyes were already drifting closed, his body relaxing into the mattress. “Why don’t we just take it a day at a time, alright? There’s no use worrying about the future when we aren’t even through today yet.”
“Okay.” Belladonna left, squeezing her daughter’s shoulder as she passed. Once she was gone Bilba curled up on a chair near Paladin’s bed, studying him as he slept.
“Don’t worry,” she whispered to the dwarf. “I’m going to take care of you. I promise.”
Bilba kept her promise.
Paladin’s recovery was slow, but steady. It soon became clear that whatever spell or magic laid upon him that kept his mind bound would not be wearing off but, as time passed, he healed in other ways. He put on weight, his bones vanishing under layers of muscle, natural to a dwarf even without exercise. His open wounds closed and vanished and his hair and beard grew back out, thick and healthy. Bilba kept his hair at just below his shoulders, the average length for a dwarf as far as she knew, and put in two braids on either side of his face to keep it out of his eyes. His beard she allowed to grow out until it was a true beard but kept it trimmed up to his chin, unsure of how to care for it when it got longer.
Her parents ordered better clothing and shoes for him and, once he was feeling better, Bilba began taking him with her on her explorations. His leg and back were still injured so he couldn’t move fast but Bilba didn’t mind. She would dance and swirl around him and chatter to him endlessly about her day. It soon became commonplace in the Shire to see the two together and, eventually, no one thought anything of it.
Bilba’s friends welcomed Paladin into their midst and would take him along on fishing trips where they would set him up under a tree or on picnics where Bilba helping him eat was so common that no one, not even she, took notice of it any longer.
In the evenings Paladin would have dinner with them and sit in the living room as Bella, Bungo and Bilba played board games or talked. Sometimes they would read. When this happened Bilba would curl up next to Paladin on the couch and read out loud to him, telling him great tales of heroes and heroines and their epic quests.
No one in the family ever treated him as anything less than a person perfectly capable of hearing and understanding every word they said.
Bilba, to her surprise, found she no longer had any of her disappearances. She still danced almost constantly, day and night, but she didn’t vanish even once, not even for a few hours.
Paladin needed her to stay, and so she did.
Eleven years passed.
Bilba, at thirty-three, looked no different than she had at twenty-one. Her parents appeared no older either and even Paladin, hurt as he was, seemed not a day older than when he’d arrived.
Belladonna felt a sense of impending doom settle over her as she watched her tiny daughter dart about the Shire, Paladin her constant companion.
Eventually, and sooner now than later she felt, people would stop dismissing Bilba’s oddities as simply being eccentric. They would realize the girl wasn’t aging and that those around her also seemed locked in time. Soon they would start remembering all the many, many unusual things over the years and realize it wasn’t all overreaction, exaggeration or tall tales.
Once they did, and word started to spread once more, would her daughter be safe? Would the protection of the Rangers continue to keep strangers out or, would more rumors, now backed by proof, cause them to come in spite of the warnings to stay away?
She knew she needed to start pressuring Bilba, gently, about Rivendell once more. The stories Elrond had told her of what had happened to fairies in the past repeated endlessly in her head, always just below the surface. She couldn’t tolerate the thought of such things happening to her daughter who remained as gentle, kind and friendly as she’d ever been. The girl treated all like her friend and if a stranger bent of doing ill arrived in the Shire, Bella had no doubt her daughter would be the first to welcome them. They had tried to teach her to be wary, warned her of the dangers without going into such depth that it would scare or traumatize her but it never seemed to stick. Bilba’s nature simply did not allow her to see things with a paranoid or suspicious eye.
She would talk to her, Bella decided, soon. Bilba would be safer in Rivendell. She and Bungo and Paladin could go with her. The thought of leaving the Shire, and Bag End, which her husband had so lovingly built for her, was painful but it was nothing compared to what she would feel if anything happened to Bilba. Once they were safe in Rivendell, Bilba would have acres and acres of wilderness to run through, and would be safe from any who might wish her harm.
Bilba’s welfare would always come first and if that meant giving up her home and land to ensure her daughter’s safety, so be it. She wanted Bilba to be safe and that was all there was to it.
In the end, Belladonna never had the chance to raise the issue with Bilba.
Shortly after she came to the decision to start working on convincing Bilba to leave, a sickness passed through the Shire. No one knew where it had come from or exactly how it got started. One day everything was fine and the next individuals from nearly every household were coming down with an illness.
Coming down with it, and dying.
Fear spread. The streets and the marketplace grew deserted, doors and windows shut tight as those who were healthy tried desperately to prevent the sickness from entering their homes.
Several of Bilba’s friends came by, wanting her to heal their families. With the first one, Bilba snuck out and went, hoping to help her friend.
The illness was strong, however, and brought its victims close to death within a very short time. Bilba’s attempt to heal her friend’s sister, who had only just come down with it, succeeded but Bilba fell into an almost deathlike sleep, barely breathing, her body like ice to the touch, for over a week.
When she woke up, it was to discover her father was sick.
“You can’t do it,” Belladonna said. “You already know what will happen.”
Bilba was crouched next to her mother’s bed. Belladonna had started feeling poorly that morning and had retired to one of the unused rooms in Bag End. Her father was in the room next door, his breathing labored and harsh.
“So you want me to just watch you both suffer?” Bilba asked. She had her legs curled up under her and was staring at her hands in her lap, her head down. “When I could help?”
“Your powers aren’t infinite,” Belladonna said, her voice hoarse. “You can’t fix everything and you can’t save everyone.”
“Then what good is it?” Bilba looked up, revealing tears tracking down her cheeks. “What good is it to have the power to heal if I can’t help the ones I love?”
Belladonna curled on her side and gently touched Bilba’s cheek, wiping her tears away. “You’ve healed so many over the years. Would you really discount all the good you’ve done?”
“No,” Bilba whispered, her shoulders slumping. “But I want to save you and dad! Why won’t you let me try?”
“You know why.” Bella said simply. She pulled her hand away and curled up weakly. “It’ll be okay. We may both pull through this yet.”
Bilba sat in the center of the living room.
Bag End was silent.
Down the hall the beds her parents had slept in were empty, the bedding replaced with clean linens waiting for occupants that would never return.
The fire in the fireplace had burned down to embers, the room cast in near darkness. Outside the window the moon beckoned but Bilba felt no desire to go dance in its light.
She had no desire to do anything. She’d cried, so hard she’d made herself sick, so hard her stomach hurt and her eyes felt dry and raw.
Now she just felt empty.
The embers crackled, one last gasp before they gave up, and her eyes flickered toward it. As they did she caught sight of booted feet in the armchair next to the fire. She lifted her eyes and saw Paladin sitting in the chair, his eyes fixed, as always, on nothing.
Paladin, she thought numbly. How long since she’d put him there?
Carefully she got to her feet, her movements stiff. She felt old, ancient even, her body refusing to obey her like it once had. She shuffled to Paladin and got him out of the chair, leading him into the kitchen and sitting him at the table.
By rote she put together a meal for him and then sat and carefully helped him eat it. She made none for herself, she doubted she could keep it down.
Once he was done she helped him into his bedroom and got him ready for bed. It was something her father had used to do, citing it was inappropriate for her to help him change. The memory brought a fresh wave of grief and proved she had tears left after all. For a second she rested her head against the side of Paladin’s arms, then, through blurred vision, she got him settled. She then went and collapsed in a rocking chair she’d placed in the room years earlier.
The desk was across the room from a full length mirror and she studied her reflection absently.
She barely recognized herself.
Her skin was pale with an almost gray cast to it and her hair seemed washed out, the colors less intense and dull. Even her eyes had changed, going from their normal, brilliant violet to a pale lavender.
Maybe she was fading. Perhaps she’d drift away until there was nothing left of her but a ghost, then a memory, an echo…and finally nothing.
She settled her head back against the headrest, one foot moving the chair lightly back and forth.
Fading might not be so bad, she thought…except…
Her eyes opened again.
Except, if she faded, what would happen to Paladin?
He had no one aside from her, no one who would take him in if she were gone. What would happen to him?
She got up and went to sit on the edge of the bed next to him. He was flat on his back, eyes closed and chest rising and falling easily.
Her parents had never let her try to heal him. They claimed he was infected with dark magic even though she’d never felt so much as a flicker of it from him. What if he wasn’t under a spell at all? What if he’d simply been injured in some way that had left him as he currently was? Not a spell, no evil coursing through him that might or might not reject any attempt to heal it, just a natural, normal injury.
Could she heal such a thing?
Her parents and Elladan and Elrohir and Aragorn hadn’t let her try.
Her parents hadn’t let her try to heal them either.
But she’d healed her friend’s sister and, surely, she’d been far worse off than Paladin was, right? He wasn’t ill after all, aside from his leg, back, hands, and feet and then, possibly, whatever had left him in the strange state where he followed commands but didn’t respond to anything else. He had healed head injuries, one in particular that her father insisted must have been severe. Could that have done it? She’d never heard of a head injury resulting in someone being left in Paladin’s state but who was to say that, simply because she’d never heard of it, that it hadn’t happened? All these years everyone had been so convinced Paladin had been the victim of a Sorcerer, a real one and not the one everyone claimed she was, and was permanently affected by it.
But what if it was much simpler than that?
Her parents were gone and she hadn’t seen Elladan, Elrohir or Aragorn. They were always telling her not to help and look where it had led. Her parents were gone and they hadn’t let her help and now it was just her and if she were gone too then Paladin would have no one.
Tears threatened again but this time they were angry, a wave of defiance flooding her.
Everyone was always telling her what she should and should not do, what she could and could not do.
They were always trying to tell her what her limits were without letting her test them to find out for sure.
And she’d always listened, always been the good daughter, obedient, doing as she was told.
And look where it had gotten her.
She reached out and lightly picked up Paladin’s mangled hands, holding them gently.
If she could heal him…he’d probably leave. If it was a physical injury and not a magical one then he was undoubtedly not aware of what was going on around him. He wouldn’t know her, would have no reason to stay with her. He’d undoubtedly want to go find his people…and…that would be okay.
Because she wouldn’t have to worry about him anymore.
She wouldn’t have to worry about anything anymore.
She could just…fade away.
She took a deep breath, swallowing past the lump in her throat, and called up her magic.
White light shone from her hands, swirling around his arms and along his body.
It started with his bones. She felt it as his fingers and toes straightened out, as his leg and back, fractured once upon a time and allowed to heal wrong, were fixed, strong bone replacing weak. The bumps along his skull smoothed out and vanished. Other injuries she hadn’t known about, to his ribs, arms and right knee, also corrected themselves, her magic leaving them stronger than they probably had been before he’d been hurt.
Once done her magic moved on, repairing weakened muscle, reforming stretched or damaged tendons and ligaments, strengthening a weakened heart.
Her magic shifted, gathering itself, and she felt an odd prickling in her gut, a warning from somewhere to pull back.
She couldn’t stop. It was the inherent downside in her magic. She had no control over what she healed or not once the process was started. She had no idea if this was something due to her being a hobbit with fairy blood or if the fairies long ago had the same problem. All she knew was once she started healing her magic would not stop until everything was healed, or until it exhausted itself and gave out entirely.
Her magic moved suddenly, darting into his veins, rushing through his blood…and encountering darkness.
Nausea roiled up her throat and she gagged.
Her parents and Elladan and Elrohir and Aragorn…they had all been right. It was dark magic. Dark, cloying, disgusting magic. It felt so impossibly wrong, like something beautiful corrupted into something terrible. It infected his entire body, locked deep within his blood. Why she had never felt it before she didn’t know but she certainly felt it now.
It lashed out at her, tendrils digging into her magic and attempting to subsume it, twisting and polluting it. More magic flowed out of her, growing in potency until it was a brilliant, white light.
The darkness seemed to crest, gathering itself for a final onslaught. Dimly Bilba thought she heard someone yelling, a voice she’d never heard before shouting as if from the end of an impossibly long tunnel.
Her magic burst, enveloping the room, her and Paladin in pure light. Bilba screamed in surprise and then the darkness was crumbling, disintegrating and vanishing. Her magic washed over it, flowing freely through his body and rooting out every last hint of it from his veins.
Her magic stopped, its work done.
Bilba twisted away from him and half fell, half slid off the bed. She landed with a thunk, pain sparking through her hands and knees, and barely managed to grab the wastebasket before throwing up. She hadn’t eaten in a long time so it was mostly dry heaves but the violence of it made her stomach clench in pain.
It passed eventually and she tried to stand up only to have her legs buckle under her. She crashed to the floor hard, a short cry of pain escaping her.
She curled in on herself, struggling to breathe. Her entire body hurt and she was shivering uncontrollably. Darkness encroached in the corners of her vision and she began to relax, her eyes growing heavy.
Unconsciousness pulled on her, dragging her down a deep hole that she thought she might not have the strength to crawl back out of.
She’d freed Paladin though, she was sure of it. Even if she didn’t wake up he’d be okay, he could take care of himself.
She let herself go, drifting away into a dreamless sleep.
Her last conscious thought was a vague sensation of regret that, if this were indeed the end, it meant she would never learn what Paladin’s name actually was.
Then she was gone and it no longer mattered.
Her first emotion upon awakening was surprise.
She hadn’t expected to.
Vaguely she became aware of arms holding her, one around her back and the other under her legs. Her head was resting against a broad shoulder and she could feel the steady thud of a heartbeat under her ear.
A brisk wind whipped around her, letting her know she was no longer inside, and her feet were cold and…wet? Her feet were in water?
She blinked, struggling to get her eyes to open and stay that way. She was still exhausted, more than she’d ever been. She didn’t have the strength to so much as lift her head, much less do anything else.
She was outside, she noted. Outside and in the lake behind Bag End for some reason.
“What?” she managed to breathe out, her voice so soft it barely lifted about the lapping of the waves on the shore a dozen feet away. “What--” She trailed off, too tired to finish her sentence.
“The moon has always made you stronger,” an unfamiliar voice said from over her head. It was lilting and cultured, with the slightest hint of an accent she couldn’t place. “I didn’t know what else to do. It was a full moon and I thought if I could get you outside it might help.”
For the first time, Bilba realized they were standing in a reflection the moon was casting on the water, dimmed light spreading in a circle around them.
She struggled to try and move and finally managed to get her head back, just enough to look up at the person holding her.
Her heart jumped in her chest.
It was Paladin.
Paladin, who was looking at her, at her for the first time, an expression of concern on his face. The moon cast him in a silver glow, making him seem more otherworldly than she was and, for a moment, she almost thought she was dreaming.
He grinned, his teeth bright white in the darkness. “Frerin, actually, though, as long as you’re the one saying it I’m open to being called just about anything you want.”
She was losing the battle with fatigue. His words permeated and she frowned.
“You know me?”
“Of course,” Pal – Frerin said. “I’ve been with you nearly every second for the last eleven years, and I have watched your every moment.”
“Oh,” Bilba said lamely, her mind not processing it entirely. Yes, she’d always treated him as if he could hear and see her but, to be perfectly honest, she hadn’t completely believed it. Given some of her antics over the years…well…
“I think I’ll pass out again now,” she decided to say instead, choosing not to try and remember some of her more… embarrassing moments that she now realized he had witnessed and, just her luck, probably remembered.
“As you wish,” he answered. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”
Bilba murmured something and let herself drift back into sleep.
If asked, it would be difficult for Frerin to say what his worst memory was.
There were just so many to choose from.
The loss of Erebor for one, and then the debacle at Moria after that. Waking up to realize the line had been driven to retreat, leaving the dead and dying, himself included, behind.
The Man wandering by, forcing a strange powder down the throat of the survivors, being unable to resist as the same was done to him. The horror of when the warriors returned and he realized they thought him and the others dead.
Being left behind, locked in his own body inside a cave with the dead.
The moment the entrance had been unblocked not to reveal his family come back to save him but the Man who’d caused him to be put in the situation in the first place.
He’d been a Necromancer, a human who’d given himself over to the practice of dark magic. He’d been in the area when the battle had broken out and had come by hoping to harvest survivors to use as his personal servants, as well as test subjects for his various rituals and spells.
Frerin preferred not to dwell too much on those.
The Man had returned with a cart and had loaded him and the others he’d given the powder to onto it. They’d left after, Frerin’s despair mounting with every passing minute.
He’d kept giving them that same damn powder, all the way back to the cave he lived in. There he’d preformed another ritual Frerin preferred not to think about and Frerin had found his mind locked within him while his will had been bound to that of the Necromancer.
He’d nearly gone insane over the years, several times, was sure several of his fellow dwarves had. In the end it had been sheer stubbornness that had kept him going, the refusal to give the bastard the satisfaction of breaking him even if never knew it.
The others taken from Moria had eventually died, one by one, replaced by others, humans, dwarves and even elves, scavenged from various battlefields and the backdoors of unethical healers.
The Necromancer had taken him to Bree following vague rumors of the elves protecting something in that area. He hadn’t known what it was but the fact it was something the elves found worth guarding was enough to pique his interest.
So he’d gone, taking Frerin with him as a servant. That had been another bad moment, being able to see the other dwarves in the Inn, knowing they could see him, understanding and agreeing with their decision not to take on a Necromancer. The shame of being seen in such a state, the despair of having freedom so close and knowing it would be denied him…well.
It had been a bad moment indeed.
One more in what, by that point, had become a long litany of horrible moments, one after another after another.
And, so, if asked, he would be hard pressed to choose one.
If, however, he were asked what his best moment had been, the one that had made him happiest, that had brought the greatest joy to his heart…well, that one was simple.
It was the moment when he’d first laid eyes on Bilba Baggins.
It was etched in his mind, in crystal clarity any time he wished to look for it. He still remembered watching the Necromancer get ready to leave, despair tearing at him as he faced going back to that dank cave, his life reduced to the same misery he’d endured for more years than he cared to remember.
And then the elf and human had shown up, speaking to the Necromancer in a voice too low for him to hear. Frerin had no idea what the Man had said to them but it had result in the elf and human drawing their swords.
The Necromancer hadn’t stood a chance. Though he enjoyed practicing his dark arts and taking advantage of the sick and nearly dying, his powers had never been strong and his strength had lain in his ability to surprise those he sought to enslave.
The elf and human had killed him and, had it ended there, Frerin would have said it was his greatest joy, watching the object of his torment finally destroyed, meaning, for better or for worse, he was free once more.
But it hadn’t ended there. The end of his chain had been picked up and they’d led him into the woods. He’d remembered feeling nervous but calm, firmly convinced nothing they had planned for him could be any worse than what he’d already gone through.
He’d been led into a small clearing and there…there he’d laid eyes on her for the first time.
The first time, but certainly not the last.
For she’d done more than simply save him. She’d taken him home with her and, together with her parents, had healed him, clothed and fed him and watched over him.
And, more than that, they’d treated him like a living being for the first time in so long a time he’d almost forgotten what it felt like.
She talked to him constantly and it was from what she said that he came to understand what she was…as well as the threats facing her. She was what the elves protected and therefore she was what the Necromancer had been searching for. Seeing her, her body so small and delicate, her spirit so generous…it had sickened him to think of what would have happened to her had the Necromancer found her. He would have destroyed her, breaking her into pieces and tossing her aside without thought or care.
He resolved to watch over her, to the extent that he could. He couldn’t stand up for her when she was harassed by those who were foolishly superstitious or those who were just plain cruel but he could be there at her side at least, and he could watch.
And watch he did.
He was there for the times when she danced in the moonlight and the times she cried over another’s pain, the times when she smiled and laughed with her friends, and the moments when loneliness over being the only one of her kind overcame her.
He was there for them all and it was through them all that he slowly came to the understanding that, somewhere along the way, he had fallen in love with her. She was all things kind and beautiful and pure and if he lived a thousand years he would never find another like her.
He loved her and with that realization came the despair that he would never, ever, be able to tell her. That she would always, and ever, be simultaneously right next to him and impossibly out of reach.
He’d come to terms with it as best he could. He had no choice after all. He’d tried to accept what he had, grateful it was more than what his life had been prior to it. If all he could do was spend the rest of his life by her side then he would consider it a blessed life indeed.
And then, just when he’d settled into a quiet acceptance of what the rest of his life would most likely be…her parents had died.
And she’d fallen apart.
He had loved Belladonna and Bungo and had mourned their deaths in the prison of his own mind, but it had been nothing compared to the fear he’d felt at watching Bilba’s reaction.
Not fear over what might happen to him if she were lost as well, but fear for what was happening to her.
Stopped eating, stopped sleeping or laughing or smiling.
Eventually she’d stopped crying and somehow that had been worse than the hours he’d spent watching her suffer, unable to so much as lift a finger to help her.
Her friends hadn’t been able to come to visit, most of them were sick or in quarantine trying to stop the illness from spreading. It had only increased her isolation, given her permission to stop living.
He didn’t know what it was that had finally gotten her going again, if only to take care of him and put him to bed.
He’d felt her sit on the bed next to him, known exactly what she planned when she picked up his hands and had mentally screamed at her not to do it.
And then white light had flooded him and, when it had passed, he’d been able to move.
Just like that.
He’d been able to move and the first thing he’d done was sit up and look to see Bilba unmoving on the floor, her skin gray and her chest almost completely still.
The fear he’d felt had nearly stopped his heart, a fear made worse by the fact he had no idea how to help her. In the end he’d simply taken her out to the moonlight, remembering in the past how much energy she seemed to have at night, often sitting him on the bench at Bag End’s gate and dancing in the moonbeams that lay across the road.
It had seemed to do something at least. Her skin had regained a little of its color and her breathing had sounded stronger. He’d held her for over two hours, following the moon as it tracked across the sky, before she’d briefly woken up.
It hadn’t lasted. She’d gone back under and he’d taken her inside, settling her in bed and sitting beside it to watch her.
“Don’t you worry,” he said, picking up her ice cold hand, repeating words she’d once said to him, so many years ago. “I’m going to take care of you. I promise.”
Frerin had hoped the fact she woke up briefly meant she would be alright.
That hope was in vain.
Within a few hours the effects of the moon seemed to have vanished entirely, leaving her back in a deep sleep, her skin ashen gray and her breathing shallow. The next night, when he held her under the moon again it appeared to have no effect at all.
He kept doing it anyway, until the full moon was gone and the cycle had restarted.
One of her relatives, a young woman named Primula, stopped by to check on her and, upon finding out what had happened, moved in to help care for her. She spent a lot of time staring at Frerin in shock. Being a Took herself, she knew the legends better than most and had seen the strangeness in Bilba. Having it proven so irrefutably was still a shock. It was on thing to know a story, quite another to realize it was being lived out by one of her relatives.
About a week after he’d been healed, Elladan, Elrohir and Aragorn arrived. They’d been away on some mission or other when her parents had passed but, upon receiving news of it, they had come immediately.
When they’d seen him their faces had drained of color. Without comment, Frerin had simply turned and led them down the hallway to her bedroom, waiting in the doorway as they’d crowded around her.
Elladan and Elrohir had sat down on either side of her and taken her hands in theirs. Pale, golden light flowed out from them and swirled around her body. It wasn’t the blinding white that her magic was but when it faded some color had returned to her skin and her breathing was a little more even.
“It isn’t just the fact that she overextended herself,” Elladan said, his voice grieved, “or that she fought against darkness.” His face twisted and he reached out to brush a loose lock of hair off her forehead. “She is fading and I don’t know if it can be stopped.”
“Fading?” Frerin said blankly. “What is fading?”
“Elves and fairy are closely linked,” Elrohir said from the other side of the bed, “we do not call her little cousin for nothing. Elves are immortal, to a point, for we can be killed by disease or by sorrow.”
Frerin blinked in surprise. “Sorrow? You can die from being sad?”
Elladan looked exasperated. “Sorrow. We can die from sorrow.”
“What’s the difference?” Frerin asked in confusion.
“One kills you,” Elrohir said dryly, “and the other doesn’t.”
“Regardless,” Elladan broke in, “the same is true for fairies, though not to the same extent and not with one who isn’t a full fairy. Bilba, under normal circumstances, would not fade to the extent that she would die from it but given her current weakness…” He trailed off.
He didn’t say it but Frerin heard it anyway.
If she hadn’t healed him she would have recovered, possibly.
Elladan stood up and Frerin stepped forward and took his place, picking up Bilba’s hand and holding it in both of his.
He pressed his lips to the back of her hand and studied her face. “Come back,” he whispered, “You aren’t alone. Just come back.”
On the other side of the bed, Elrohir gave him an appraising look. “It occurs to me,” he said, “that we’ve gotten so used to your presence the last eleven years it’s easy to forget we don’t actually know the first thing about you. Why don’t you tell us? We have plenty of time after all.”
In other words they had no intention of leaving him alone with her. That was fine with him. They were her friends. He was a stranger as far as they knew. Of course they were protective.
Keeping hold of Bilba’s hand, Frerin settled back and began talking, telling them about himself.
As he talked he idly started to massage Bilba’s hand, trying to somehow put warmth back into the cold skin.
Through it all, Bilba simply slept on.
Frerin didn’t leave her side.
Free as he was for the first time in years it would have been perfectly understandable for him to want to get out, if just to run and enjoy the feeling of being finally able to follow his own will.
His will, however, was to stay with Bilba and this was what he did.
He spoke to her as she once had to him, telling her about his life. He didn’t speak about his years in bondage, or about Moria. Instead he told her about Erebor before its fall, about his family and friends, about life on the road and the struggle to find a new home after the dragon had come.
He talked about his time in the Shire with her, different memories he had and what his thoughts had been at the time. He told her how he’d come to fall in love with her as well. He’d been silent against his will for so long that he couldn’t bring himself to do it for even a second longer.
As he spoke he often spent hours massaging her hands and arms, hoping touch was enough to reach her and remind her that she still had those who loved and cared for her and were waiting for her to come back. When Primula would come in with soup he would sit behind Bilba on the bed, holding her against his chest to help massage her throat and convince her to swallow as Primula fed her.
About the only time he wasn’t in the room was when Primula threw him out in order to get Bilba and her bed cleaned up and changed. As soon as she was done Frerin went right back to his spot again, picking up where he’d left off as if there’d never been an interruption.
As the days turned into weeks Bilba’s color slowly started to improve and her breathing evened out. She started to look more like she was merely sleeping and less like she was near death.
The tension lines eased in Elladan, Elrohir and Aragorn’s faces but didn’t vanish completely as Bilba still slept on.
Outside Bag End the sickness had finally run its course. Visitors started to come by only to be turned away by Primula who simply explained Bilba was feeling poorly and not up to visitors.
Frerin had started to answer the door at one point only to be stopped by Elladan.
“Her healing of you will not go unnoticed,” he said. “I worry what effect it will have on her once word spreads.”
Frerin grimaced. “The Necromancer who had me. He was in the area looking for her. He’d heard word of something the elves guarded and wanted it.”
Elladan nodded. “And that was with only rumor and supposition to go on. Now they will have proof. You are well known here. Even if you were to stay in Bag End the rest of your life, which Bilba would never stand for, questions would be raised as to your whereabouts.”
“You and Elrohir have been here,” Frerin said, swallowing past the sour taste in his mouth. “Can’t you say you healed me?”
Elladan cocked his head, considering. “And why didn’t we do it earlier?”
“It was black magic,” Frerin said immediately, “the spell had to be broken in a specific manner. You’ve spent all this time researching how and only just recently learned it. You came at once and healed me.”
“That will explain your mind returning,” Elladan said, “but not your injuries healing and there are far too many stories and witnesses of the injured being healed in Bilba’s presence. Particularly during this last sickness.”
“She couldn’t heal her parents,” Frerin argued, struggling to find a way to spin it, any way, that wouldn’t put Bilba in harm’s way.
“But she did heal another and was not seen for a week after, just as she has not been seen for nearly a month now,” Elladan said. He sighed, leaning against the wall. “We will spread the story of healing you and breaking the spell. I do not know what effect it will have but it can’t hurt. I fear, however, that the truth will start getting out.” His eyes narrowed, watching Frerin. “I don’t believe she will be able to stay here much longer, not without being in danger.”
“Then we’ll leave,” Frerin said shortly.
Elladan looked amused. He started to say something but, before he could, running footsteps drew their attention. Primula skidded around the corner a moment later, her eyes bright and excited.
Frerin strode into the kitchen and stopped mid-stride.
Bilba sat curled in a chair next to the table. She was wrapped in a thick blanket and looked tired and drawn but also determined.
It had been two weeks since she’d awakened. She had lost weight during the time she’d been asleep and still looked tired but she was up and getting stronger day by day. Frerin had continued to stay with her every second and she, to his everlasting joy, had allowed it.
It had occurred to him that, as with Elladan and the others, she didn’t know him. She’d spent eleven years with him but, unlike her, he hadn’t been able to talk, to tell her anything about himself, to do the slightest thing to aid her in getting to know who he truly was.
His latest goal was to fix that and he’d been trying, sitting next to her and talking to her as she’d sat against her headboard and quietly listened.
She’d asked to go outside at one point and, knowing she couldn’t hide Frerin’s recovery forever, she had invited him to join her. He’d obliged, sitting with her on a blanket in the midst of Bag End’s garden to let Bilba have contact with the ground and her plants.
As expected, the reaction of the Shire to Frerin’s recovery was quick. Primula had gone home several days earlier and done her best to spread the story that the elves had healed him but, based on the reaction in Hobbiton, it was clear they didn’t believe it.
They, after all, had lived near Bilba her entire life and, as Elladan had said, knew about the other times she’d healed people. Almost overnight a line of people had formed at her door, all of them wanting something from her. Others had shut their doors tight, believing she was a Sorceress after all and they ran the risk of being cursed by her if they crossed her.
The truth was undeniable.
Bilba couldn’t stay in the Shire.
When they broached the subject with her she simply looked at them and gave no response, leaving them to start preparations on their own. Primula and her husband, Drogo, agreed to move into Bag End and keep it in Bilba’s absence. Primula, once she returned, started packing up what she believed Bilba would want to take with her.
They needed supplies, and a pony and cart which meant someone had to go to Bree. In the end, Frerin agreed to go leaving the elves and Aragorn behind. They had armor and weapons, while Frerin had neither and hadn’t held a sword in years. It made sense for him to go and get what they needed.
Which had led to his current situation. On the top of the table lay a large bag absolutely stuffed to bursting with what appeared to be food and supplies. Next to it was a smaller pouch, this one filled with gold from what he could tell.
“Bilba?” he said in surprise. “What is this?”
She reached a hand out and nudged the items. “For you when you go.”
He frowned in surprise, stepping over to pick up the pouch. As suspected it was filled with coins, the weight of it heavy in his hands. “Bilba, I’m only going to Bree and back. How long do you think I’m going to--”
Bilba was looking down, nearly lost in the blanket, abject misery in every line of her body.
Frerin moved and knelt in front of her where he could look up at her.
“Bilba,” he said gently, “I’m coming back.”
She forced a smile, lifting her head. “I’m going to be fine, Frerin, and I have people here to take care of me. You don’t have to worry.”
You don’t have to feel obligated, Frerin thought. That’s what she was really saying. He reached up and put a hand on her arm, through the blanket. “If you were perfectly healthy and entirely safe I would still come back,” he said, his voice intense. “I will always come back.”
“Why?” she whispered. “You’re a Prince. You should go find your family. They must miss you.”
“I know where they would have gone,” Frerin said shortly. “I can write letters to the Blue Mountain after we’re at Rivendell. Perhaps, if I find them, I can visit…but it would only be a visit, Bilba. I’d still come back to you, even then.”
“You don’t have to,” Bilba said.
“I know,” Frerin answered. “But I will.”
She frowned, confused.
Upon awakening she had shown no signs of having heard anything Frerin had said to her while she’d been unconscious. Wanting to let her focus on recovering without any added stress or pressure, Frerin hadn’t directly told her he loved her again. Instead he’d done his utmost to gently show it, sitting with her on the couch at night to read, going with her on walks, massaging her hands or shoulders when she seemed tense. A few times he’d held her hand as they walked or lightly brushed a wayward lock of hair off her face. She hadn’t rejected any of it, had actually snuggled closer to him when they sat on the couch in the evenings. Some might have taken such as a sign to press forward and try to make it an official courtship but Frerin had continued holding back. He worried part of her reaction to him was probably the comfort and familiarity she felt toward Paladin. Because of that he’d kept his pursuit of her light, giving her the time she needed to separate out how she’d felt toward Paladin versus how he hoped she might start to feel about him.
If she was convinced he was staying from some sort of obligation, however, and that he’d offered to go to Bree as an excuse to leave and not come back…If that were the case he’d clearly been a little to light in his pursuit of her and hadn’t made his intentions quite as clear as he’d believed.
He took a breath and pushed up slightly, taking her chin in one hand as he did. He slid his thumb along her jawline, then leaned in and lightly, very lightly, kissed her on the lips. It lasted all of five seconds, just the barest press of his lips against hers and before he pulled away. He caught sight of her eyes, wide and stunned, before he gently kissed her again, this time on the forehead, before pressing his own forehead against hers.
“I’m coming back,” he promised. “I will always come back.”
Her hand came up and wrapped around the back of his neck. She shifted and pressed her head into the hollow between his neck and shoulder.
“Come back,” he heard her whisper. “Please.”
He slid his fingers into her hair and kissed her on the side of the head before standing up. He shouldered the pack and hooked the pouch to his belt. He took her hand, bowed over it and kissed the back and then turned on one heel to leave.
Aragorn was just outside the door, in the living room. He grinned as Frerin approached. “One would think you were off on an epic quest to achieve fame and glory rather than going on a supply run to Bree.”
Frerin shrugged, heading past him to the door.
“I can go instead if you want,” Aragorn said suddenly from behind him, his voice serious. “You can stay.”
Frerin paused, one hand on the doorknob. “No,” he said finally. “She’d always be afraid of turning around to find me gone. She needs to know I’ll keep my word. I want her to trust I’ll return.”
“You’d better,” Aragorn said mildly. “You haven’t exactly been subtle about your feelings toward her, not to the rest of us at least. She’s always been a bit oblivious to such things. In either event, break her heart and you’ll have every elf in Rivendell after your blood. You don’t want to know what I’ll do to you.”
Frerin chuckled. “I guess it’s a good thing I have no intention of breaking her heart then.”
With that he opened the door and stepped out.
He wanted her to know he would come back but that didn’t mean he planned to make her wait. The sooner he got there and back the better.
He stepped down to the gate, flung it open and strode out onto the path.
As he did, he gave a low chuckle, shaking his head at himself.
He’d barely left and he missed her already.
He was well and truly lost to a pixie sized hobbit with fairy blood coursing through her veins…and he was perfectly fine with that.
Bilba sat on the window seat, arms wrapped around her legs and her head resting on her knees, and stared outside. There were a handful of people wandering about on the road, slowly passing by in the hopes they would catch her peeking out and could talk to her. None of them dared knock on the door after Elladan had lost his temper over their constant harassment of her.
She didn’t blame them. They were ill or had ill loved ones, some of them had lost people to the sickness and were convinced she could somehow bring them back to life. She’d done the impossible with Frerin after all, hadn’t she?
She couldn’t very well hold a grudge against them for wanting help.
Frerin’s face floated through her mind and she sighed, moving to lean her head against the windowpane.
During the two weeks since she’d been awake it had felt like she’d known him for years. It was strange because of course, in a way, she had. This had led to a natural feeling of trust in spite of the fact that, in reality, she didn’t know him at all.
Or hadn’t. He had certainly been committed to changing that in the two weeks since she’d been awake.
He was…he was…well, he was a Prince.
Not just in reality, though there was that and what a surprise that had been, but more than that. It had been such a short time but, so far, he was proving to be the living embodiment of every hero in the books she loved so much, the dashing Prince in shining armor rushing to the rescue of his lady fair.
Absently she reached up and lightly touched her lips where he’d kissed her. Had he meant that? He said he did but she had helped saved his life, healed his body and freed his mind, anyone would feel gratitude for that. Not only that but he’d stayed with her for eleven years, watched her and been forced to listen to her prattle on. Did he truly love her or was he mistaking gratitude, affection, or even obligation for something more?
And, as for her…Paladain had been her friend and companion and she was sure some of that had transferred to Frerin. She was comfortable in his presence and every time she saw him she felt a rush of relief and familiarity, happy to see someone she connected so closely with her parents and with happier times.
The attachment she felt toward him was strong, surprisingly so, but she didn’t know how much of that was because of Paladin and not Frerin. Although, at least some of the feelings she’d begun to feel toward Frerin…well…she’d certainly never felt those specific sorts of things for Paladin. When she saw Frerin it made her heart jolt in her chest and she suddenly felt nervous and shy, stumbling over her words and her own two feet. Paladin had been a friend. Frerin…she could see herself falling in love with Frerin, quite easily really.
If he came back.
She tightened her grip on her knees and put her head down so she could no longer see out the window.
She’d let him go. Made sure he had warm clothing and supplies and more money than he’d know what to do with…and let him go. She was fine. She was well enough now that it was clear she would recover, mainly thanks to him being by her side and calling her back, pulling her away from the edge of a deep abyss she’d been lingering by for far too long.
He didn’t need to know that. All he knew was she was fine and he was free to go anywhere he wanted and he could walk to Bree and keep on going, anywhere he wanted, away from fairies whose only purpose seemed to be to cause trouble and get in trouble.
Sorrow tugged at her once more and she squeezed her eyes shut, feeling tears welling behind the lids.
A hand fell on her shoulder.
“He’ll come back, Bilba. If he’s got any sort of honor, and he certainly appears to, then he’ll be back.”
Bilba lifted her head, opening her eyes and causing tears to run down tired, well-worn tracks to her jawline. “I don’t want him to come back because of honor,” she said dully. “I want him to come back because he wants to.”
Elladan squeezed her shoulder, comfortingly. “You assume the two are mutually exclusive.”
He lifted his eyes, looking out the window and smiled. “As I said.”
Bilba jerked her head around, sucking in a gasp.
Frerin was trudging up the road, leading two ponies behind him. He paused outside her gate to tie them to the posts, and turned to say something sharply to a figure lingering on the other side of the road. It was growing dark, Bilba hadn’t even realized anyone was there but she saw a shadow detach from the bushes and skulk off down the lane.
Bilba looked up at Elladan, unsure, only to have him lightly nudge her. “Well, go on then.”
She got up carefully, still weak but able to stand and walk on her own, and made her way to the door. She reached it just as she heard his boots on the steps outside. Her nerves were jangling and her heart lurched in her chest. She took a deep breath, grabbed the doorknob and swung the door open.
“My Lady,” Frerin swept into an overly dramatic bow. Up close she saw he was now wearing different clothing, heavier boots with thick lacing, a heavy, fur lined, dark brown jacket that fell to his feet. “Frerin, son of Thrain, son of Thror at your service.” He stood back up and grinned at her. He looked tired and a bit ragged but otherwise he looked…happy.
Bilba found herself smiling in return, an all too rare occurrence of late. “You came back.”
He stepped forward suddenly, put his hands on her waist, lifted her straight up into the air and spun in a circle. Bilba shrieked and then, to her own surprise, laughed.
He put her back on her feet but left one arm around her waist, the other holding her hand. He began moving and Bilba frowned at him in confusion. “What are you doing?”
“Do you have any idea,” Frerin said dryly, “how many years I watched you dance and raged that I couldn’t dance with you?” He spun and gently dipped her back before pulling her upright again. Bilba put her free arm on his bicep, holding his shirt as he moved. “I happen to be an excellent dancer,” he continued, “one of the best at court if I do say so myself.”
“Do you now?” Bilba asked, her mood already well on the rise, and he nodded.
“Oh, yes. My instructors were always amazed. A few times they turned the class over to me to teach saying they wished to leave it in the hands of a master.”
He had started using a grandiose tone as he spoke, putting his nose in the air and affecting the air of a haughty noble.
Bilba laughed again. She moved her hand to slide it around his waist and stepped closer, enough to let her turn her head to the side and rest against him.
He slowed until they were barely moving, just swaying in place.
Bilba frowned and looked up at him. “Are you wearing armor?”
He nodded. “I am.” He released her long enough to open the coat he was wearing, revealing light, leather armor under it, as well as a sword strapped to his waist. He then slid an arm back around her waist and took her hand again. “I didn’t want Aragorn, Elladan and Elrohir to be the only ones capable of looking after you.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “I’ll see to it that you’re reimbursed for everything I spent.”
Bilba rolled her eyes. “I gave you that money because I wanted you to spend it, Frerin. Not because I wanted you to sit on it and do nothing.” She shifted and went back to the position she’d been in before, an arm around his waist and her head on his chest. “I consider you family, Frerin. Anything I have you’re welcome to just as if you were blood.”
“I’m glad I’m not,” Frerin replied, midly, “because the way I feel about you would certainly not be appropriate.”
Bilba felt her face grow hot. She tightened her grip around his waist and didn’t resist when he started moving again, swaying and moving his feet to send them in a slow circle.
It was, Bilba realized, the first time she’d danced since her parents had died.
Frerin started to move like he was going to stop and she tensed. “Don’t,” she said. “Please, just a little longer.”
“As long as you like,” he said and went back to dancing with her.
Dancing in the doorway of Bag End as night fell around them.
It was, Bilba thought, perfect.
“They’re talking about her in Bree. When I heard it I didn’t bother looking for a cart any longer. I got the ponies and came back at once. We can load them up with supplies as well as the horses you, Elladan and Elrohir have. Anything else can be sent for later.”
Aragorn looked up from where he’d been sharpening his sword outside the back door of Bag End. Night had fully fallen and Bilba was curled up in a recliner in the living room. Primula and Drogo had retired for the night and Elladan and Elrohir were off scouting the boundaries of Hobbiton.
“Attempting to travel through the Wild with a wagon or cart would have been a trial,” Aragorn agreed. His eyes narrowed. “How much did they know?”
Frerin leaned against the doorframe. “They knew her name. And they knew about me.”
Aragorn swore. “We can’t delay anymore.”
He stood up, holding the sword in one hand. “The Rangers have been alerted and several are on their way here. They’ll stay in Bag End until people believe she’s gone and isn’t coming back.”
Frerin nodded. “She’ll appreciate that. The last thing she’d want is to leave and inadvertently put Primula and Drogo in danger.”
“Several of them will be here by morning,” Aragorn said. “We should leave immediately after they arrive.”
“I agree.” Frerin rested a hand on the hilt of his sword, unable to put into words the relief it gave him to have it. He’d practiced with it on the way home and had been pleased with how fast his training and reflexes had come back to him.
Aragorn started to walk past him. “Do you want first watch or second?”
“First,” Frerin said instantly and the human chuckled.
“I had a feeling you would say that. Wake me when it’s my turn.”
“I will.” Aragorn vanished and Frerin headed into his room to change into a loose tunic and trousers. Then, carrying his sheathed sword, he headed into the living room. Bilba was curled under a thick blanket on the couch, the earlier good humour gone from her face. It’d been happening since she’d woken, one second she’d be happy and the next back to despondency.
Frerin leaned his sword against the wall before going to sit on the floor with his back to the couch.
Bilba slid a hand into his hair, absently lifting and letting the strands run through her fingers. “You changed it,” she said, her voice heavy with fatigue. “I’m sorry. I got it wrong.”
Frerin leaned his head back, giving her better access. “You did the best you could with what you knew. It was more than many would have done.” He’d pulled the top back away from his face, held in place by a simple clasp. He’d then created two thick braids just above and in front of both ears. He touched one lightly, “the way I’ve got it now is similar to how my brother wears his, which is on purpose. It would identify us as the same blood and me as being the younger of the two of us.”
Her hand moved, lightly touching his beard. He’d cut it back shorter than she’d had it, somewhere between a thick stubble and an actual beard. “What about this? I thought dwarves wanted beards.”
“We do,” Frerin agreed. “After the loss of Erebor my brother and I decided to cut ours short as a sign of grief over the loss. We said we wouldn’t grow them back until the day Erebor was reclaimed.” He shrugged. “From what I hear that hasn’t happened yet so short it is.”
He heard her shifting on the couch behind him, moving closer. Frerin leaned forward enough to reach the coffee table. He grabbed a book laying there and sat back again. As soon as he did she draped a hand over his shoulder. “I don’t think we ever finished this one, did we?”
“Hmm, no,” she said, “I don’t think so.”
“Alright.” He opened the book to where he thought they’d left off and then pulled his leg up and balanced the book on his knee, holding it open with one hand. With his other hand he grabbed hers where it hung over his shoulder, lightly massaging the back with his thumb.
Frerin cleared his throat and started reading.
“Your voice gets deeper when you read,” Bilba said a few minutes later, amused. “Almost a baritone.”
Frerin chuckled. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“I like your voice either way,” she said, her voice nearly inaudible.
He started to read but, before he could get a sentence out, she spoke again. “I can’t get away from them and I feel guilty for even wanting to. They’re everywhere I look, like ghosts haunting me. I’ll feel hungry and go to eat only to see their chairs and realize they’ll never sit in them again. I’ll look up from a book to tell them something and the room is empty. I’ll laugh and it echoes through the halls and it feels like I’m being condemned for being happy when they’re dead.”
“They would want you to be happy,” Frerin said, “if I know anything from the last eleven years I know that much. As for the rest, no, it’s not bad of you to want to leave. You need time to heal and it can’t happen when you’re reminded of what you lost every second.”
She was silent and he kissed the back of her hand before returning to massaging the back of it. “It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Leaving Bag End doesn’t mean you can never come back. You can visit. I’ll bring you myself.”
“But it can only be a visit, can’t it?” Bilba said. “I can’t live here anymore, not since everyone knows now.”
“It isn’t safe,” Frerin agreed. “You’d be in danger, hunted your entire life.”
He knew her parents and her other friends had done their best to protect her from the evils of life and from the true depths of danger being a fairy put her in. They didn’t want her living her life in fear and they didn’t want to destroy the innocent naivety with which she viewed the world.
Frerin agreed on both fronts but he also didn’t want her endangering herself because the truth had never been made plain to her. It was not possible for someone to be with her every second of the day, the times when she’d used to disappear were proof of that. The fact she’d never been harmed during such an event was a miracle, the thought that at any time she could have been, could have run into someone like the Necromancer who’d had him, sickened him.
She deserved to live without fear, to keep her innocence, but not to the extent where ignorance brought her to harm.
“That Man who had you,” she said suddenly. “Is that the type who would want me?”
“Is he dead?”
“Yes,” Frerin said simply. Apparently she wasn’t as naïve as some thought, or at least wasn’t anymore.
She didn’t speak again and Frerin returned resumed reading again. Eventually he felt her hand relax in his, heard her breathing slow down and even out behind him. He continued reading, hoping his voice was enough to help her sleep peacefully.
In the end, he may have entirely forgotten to wake Aragorn to take his place but, really, who could blame him?
The Rangers arrived before the sun was up.
Frerin, Elladan, Elrohir and Aragorn loaded up the supplies on the horses and ponies, using one of them as a supply pony after Frerin commented Bilba was small enough to ride with him.
Primula and Drogo made breakfast for everyone while Bilba visited with the friends who had shown up to say good-bye. She had told them of what was happening a few days earlier and all of them had turned out to wish her a safe journey.
After all the supplies had been loaded and all the good-byes said, Frerin lifted Bilba up to sit sideways on the pony. He slid a foot through the stirrup and easily pulled himself up behind her, wrapping his arms around her to gather the reins.
They left with little fanfare, not wishing to draw attention to their exit. Bilba waved at her friends and, the farther they got, the lighter she seemed to be, the slightest hint of a spark returning to her eyes and her shoulders straightening as if a weight had fallen off them.
They should have left sooner, Frerin thought, if not for her safety then for her mental and emotional health.
He looked ahead at the road laid out before them, winding off into the distance.
His own heart eased with every step they took. Bilba would be harder to find in the Wild and she would be untouchable in Rivendell.
She would be safe there, surrounded by a whole host of warriors.
Once they got there and she was safe she could focus on healing and he could focus on winning the heart of the woman he loved.
Of course he would be surrounded by several dozen highly trained elven warriors who adored Bilba and would be more than happy to kill him if he stepped even an inch out of line.
Luckily, Frerin had always been an exceptionally confident dwarf so rather than view the situation with fear or trepidation he merely saw it as a challenge.
Should be fun.
Bilba darted through long grass, the rising sun lighting her path.
It was very, very early, dawn having barely broken. They had been traveling for weeks and every day had brought a lift to her spirits and a spring to her steps. Perhaps it was getting away from the constant reminders of what she had lost, perhaps it was being so close to nature and the elements.
Perhaps it was both.
In any event, she’d felt her old self starting to return. She’d begun talking to Frerin more, sometimes getting off the pony to skip or dance alongside. He’d always get off as well to walk, or even dance, with her.
At night when the wind called to her, its voice far stronger in the Wild than it had been in the Shire, he would dance with her by the campfire, telling her to let the wind know she had a dance partner and it could go find its own.
Speaking of Frerin, she turned to see him striding along some yards behind her. He kept one hand on the hilt of his sword and had his head up, keeping an eye on their surroundings. Elladan, Elrohir and Aragorn were back at the campsite getting ready to leave. Bilba had wanted to run and Frerin had come with her.
She spun back and ran forward, jumping up onto a large rock. She spun in a circle, managing to completely fail to notice the large crack in the center of the rock.
Her foot caught in it and she lost her balance, falling backward. She shrieked in surprise, hitting a slope and rolling down. The ground changed angle, becoming flat and she rolled several more times before catching up against something hard and unforgiving.
“Ouch,” she muttered. Nothing felt particularly damaged and she called her magic absently, sending it coursing through her body. The pain vanished almost immediately, small cuts and scrapes closing up, bruises vanishing before they’d even had a chance to form.
She looked up to see what she’d hit and found herself looking right into the face of a massive Troll mere feet above her.
Bilba screamed, a deep throated, full bodied scream that echoed around the small area she’d fallen into.
Fear twisted her stomach into knots and she bent over, throwing her hands over her head and cowering in fear.
Footsteps pounded toward her, paused, and then started again.
“Bilba?” Frerin’s hand was on her shoulder. “It’s alright. Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
Bilba lowered her hands and risked a look up.
The Troll was still there but it wasn’t moving and a closer look revealed the creature’s skin was dark gray and hard.
Frerin was crouched on one knee beside her, his sword drawn and held down near his feet, his other hand on her shoulder. “They’re stone, see? They stayed out to late, or too early I guess.”
They? Bilba lifted her head and looked around. She’d fallen into a small clearing surrounded on all sides by either the woods or a small shelf of rock. There were three Trolls in the clearing, the one she’d seen and two more, all gathered around a large cooking pot. Behind them was a corral of sorts, the gate open and, near there, was a scattered stack of old, burlap sacks. The Trolls all seemed to be clustered together, looking up toward the rock where she’d been standing.
She got up carefully, Frerin helping her.
After she was up he stepped forward and knelt again, studying a large spit on the ground. Rope was hanging off it and he picked a piece up, studying the ends. “These have been cut. Whoever they were trying to eat must have had a friend or two who took issue.”
He turned his head to say something to her, his eyes flickering off to the side as he did.
He went completely still. Bilba saw his eyes widen and his mouth actually gape open.
She followed his gaze and gasped in surprise.
There was a group of dwarves standing at the edge of the clearing. All of them were holding weapons and it occurred to her they had probably heard her scream and had come to her aid.
One of them stepped forward, dropping the sword from his hand as he did. His eyes were wide and stunned. He lifted a hand toward Frerin only to drop it again.
“Frerin.” His voice was a deep baritone, hoarse and confused. “This cannot be.”
Frerin pushed to his feet, sheathing his sword as he did. “Thorin.” He sounded stunned, disbelieving. “What are you doing here?”
Thorin? Bilba remembered the weeks Frerin had spent telling her about his life before he’d been taken by the Necromancer.
I have two siblings. A sister, Dis, and a brother, Thorin.
She studied the dwarf. His hair was dark and had a natural wave in contrast to Frerin’s, which was several shades lighter and perfectly straight. Their voices, from what she’d heard so far, were different and Frerin’s body was leaner.
They had the same eyes though, the same curve to their jawline, and held themselves with the same quiet confidence, the air of someone comfortable in their own skin.
Thorin moved forward slowly, his steps half fast as if he couldn’t get there quick enough, and half slow as if he were afraid to arrive and find it somehow not true. He came to a stop less than a foot in front of Frerin. Behind him the other dwarves stayed still. Several looked confused but a few were staring at Frerin with the same stunned looks.
Near the front she spotted two younger dwarves who also sported the same eyes and several other similar features. One had dark hair similar to Thorin while the other had blonde hair several shades lighter than Frerin’s. They were both staring slack jawed at Frerin. Were they relatives perhaps? Thorin’s sons?
Thorin made an odd sound suddenly and then threw his arms around Frerin, digging his hands into the other dwarf’s back. Frerin responded in kind and, as if some sort of permission had been given, they were suddenly surrounded by the rest of the group. All of them crowded in, all talking at once as they tried to hug, touch, or speak to Frerin.
Bilba backed up quietly, under the shadow of one of the Trolls.
Unexpectedly, she found the two younger dwarves standing in front of her. As a unit they bowed and then sprang back up, smiling brightly.
“At your service!”
“Oh,” Bilba said, surprised at their ability to appear seemingly out of nowhere. She curtsied. “Bilba Baggins, at yours. Are you related to Frerin?”
“Our uncle,” Fili said. “We’ve never actually met him. We were always told he’d died at Moria.”
“Clearly not true,” Kili said. “Now, of course, the question becomes how he managed to not only survive but also make the acquaintance of so lovely a young woman.”
Fili glared at his brother and then picked her hand up, bending to kiss the back before saying, “Ignore my brother. He’s young and speaks before he thinks.” He gave her a winning grin. “I, on the other hand, am older and far, far more experienced in how to properly speak to a woman.”
Bilba felt her face heat and she struggled to bite back a grin as the two kept at it, each one trying to outdo the other. Neither was being aggressive toward her and the smiles on their faces were bright and innocent, putting her immediately at ease. They were both so tall she couldn’t see the rest of the group past them and thought, given how short she was, it was possible no one could see her past the brothers, meaning it would appear they were arguing quite passionately with the stone Troll she was standing near.
An arm slid around her waist and Frerin was abruptly pulling her away, shaking his head at Fili and Kili as he did. “Over a decade to late, boys, if I have anything to say about it.” He smirked. “I’d say go find your own but she’s one of a kind so you two are out of luck entirely.”
He led her over to where his brother and several of the other dwarves waited. He stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, making it abundantly clear where his intentions toward her lay.
“Bilba, I’d like to introduce you to my brother, Thorin. Thorin, this is Bilba Baggins. She’s saved my life twice over, nearly giving her own in the process the second time. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Thorin still looked stunned, like he couldn’t completely process if what was happening really was or if he were somehow dreaming. He bowed his head and lifted her hand to kiss the back of it. “My Lady, my family and I are in your debt.”
Bilba knew that, by then, she was beet red. She nodded and forced a shaky smile. “Frerin has already returned the favor many times over, any debt has been more than repaid.”
“That’s what she thinks,” Frerin said cheerfully. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“It’s a long story,” Thorin said shortly. “Why are you here? Where have you been all this time and why did you never try to find us?”
“Also a very long story,” Frerin said. “Right now I’m escorting Bilba to Rivendell to seek the protection of the elves.”
“Protection?” Thorin said in confusion. “What does she need protection from?”
Bilba tensed and pressed back into Frerin’s arms, gripping his forearms. “Frerin.”
He squeezed her in reassurance. “It’s alright. I’d trust my brother with my life. He won’t betray us, and wouldn’t travel with anyone who would. We’ll reach Rivendell safely.”
Thorin frowned. “I hadn’t planned to go anywhere near Rivendell but if that is where you are going, and if you are in need of safety, I will go with you. We have much to catch up on.”
“I would like that,” Frerin said. “We have three others traveling with us. The sons of Elrond and a human Ranger, Aragorn.”
“We have one other in our party as well,” Thorin said, “Gandalf the Grey. He was here earlier, long enough to save us from the Trolls, but left to scout ahead.”
Bilba perked up. “Gandalf is here?” She leaned her head back to look at Frerin. “Can I go look for him? I can find him.”
Frerin’s eyes narrowed. “What are the odds you’ll end up getting distracted and come back with a wolf in tow?’
Bilba rolled her eyes. “Please, that happened once. You’re never going to let it go are you?”
“Absolutely not,” Frerin replied. “That thing was the size of a small pony. I’m surprised you didn’t come back riding it.”
Fili and Kili approached and Thorin nodded at them. “Frerin, I’d like you to officially meet your nephews, Fili and Kili. They’re Dis’s sons.”
Frerin raised an eyebrow. “Dis got married and had children? Good for her.”
“Boys,” Thorin said, turning to them, “your other uncle, Frerin.”
The three exchanged greetings and then Thorin said, “Let’s retrieve the rest of your party and head out. If you’re in danger, does that mean you’re being actively pursued?”
“Not that I know of,” Frerins said, “but it’s possible. Once they find out Bilba’s fled the Shire I wouldn’t be surprised if they come after her, hoping to stop her before she can reach Rivendell.”
Several of the dwarves were studying her. Bilba had picked a dark blue sundress to wear that day and had her hair back in its typical braid, dotted the full length with flowers she’d been picking up along the way. The top of her head came to about Frerin’s collarbone and her body was so slim she could stand in front of him and a person standing behind Frerin would have no idea she was even there.
“What in the name of Mahal could she have possibly done to warrant anyone being after her?” a tall, tattooed dwarf grumbled. “She’s so small a light breeze could blow her away.”
“You have no idea how true that is,” Frerin muttered.
“Let’s retrieve the rest of your party and head out,” Thorin repeated. “If there’s a possibility of pursuit the longer we stay in one place the greater the risk of them catching up.”
“Agreed,” Frerin said, “We can get started on those long stories while we travel.”
He slid his hand into Bilba’s, interlacing his fingers with her and shot a pointed, if mildly amused, look at his nephews who were both still gawking at her.
He started back toward the campsite, Bilba alongside him. Thorin fell in on his other side, shooting sideways glances at his brother every few seconds as if trying to convince himself that Frerin was really there.
Bilba wrapped her free arm around Frerin’s bicep and squeezed. There was a part of her that felt uneasy, afraid that he would somehow choose to stay with his family now that he’d found them.
The larger part of her, however, reminded her that he’d always known who he was and had chosen to stay with her, several times, and had come back to her even when she’d given him the means and permission to leave.
Frerin’s words ran through her mind and she suppressed a shudder. “Do you really think we’re being followed?” she asked in a low voice.
“I don’t know,” Frerin said. “If we are then we’ll deal with it.”
“What if we can’t?” Bilba asked. “What if it’s like the Necromancer?”
“Necromancer?” Thorin said from her other side. “What Necromancer?”
“Elladan and Aragorn had no problem dealing with him, remember?” Frerin told her. “So I doubt one would have much luck against them, Elrohir, me, my brother and an entire Company of dwarves.” He pulled her close enough to kiss her on top of the head. “No Necromancer, or anyone else of that ilk, is going to touch you, not while I’m here.”
“Or any of us,” Fili said, coming up on Bilba’s other side. “Don’t worry. We’ll protect you.”
Frerin shook his head in disbelief. “Really?”
Fili grinned. “Just making friends, Uncle.”
Bilba giggled. She looked away, missing the look of gratitude Frerin shot toward Fili.
He was right, she realized. She was surrounded by warriors. She and Frerin would be fine and Frerin would get to be with his family again and everything would be alright.
In all, it was shaping up to be a very good day.
Sans the Trolls of course.
Trolls were awful, even as statues.
Gandalf came back just after they’d rejoined Elladan, Elrohir and Aragorn. Bilba promptly ran to hug the wizard.
He returned the hug and studied her with worry. “Bilba Baggins, what on earth are you doing out here?”
He looked past her and she saw his eyes widen at the sight of Frerin. Bilba gave a guilty smile. “I may have sort of healed Frerin and people started talking so now I have to go to Rivendell.”
“Yes,” Gandalf mused, “I imagine you would.”
“This is why you should visit more often,” Bilba said. “Stuff happens.”
She made no comment about the loss of her parents. If she did Gandalf would start saying how sorry he was and then she’d get upset and it was not something she wanted to deal with right then. She also didn’t particularly want to break down and start crying in front of the entire group.
“You know her?” Thorin said, reaching them, “and I see by your face you know my brother yet you never spoke of him when we met in Bree.”
“I knew him but not as your brother,” Gandalf said shortly.
“As I said,” Frerin drew up next to Bilba. “It’s a long story. No one knew who I was until recently. I was called Paladin for a long time.”
“Paladin is a good name,” Bilba said firmly.
“It is,” Frerin agreed. “And it’s not Reginald which is even better.”
Bilba rolled her eyes. “For the last time it was a phase!”
Frerin merely looked amused.
The remainder of the journey to Rivendell went quickly after that. The Company had their own ponies, all of whom Bilba had to personally greet before they got going. Currently, Frerin and Thorin were riding close to one another, their heads together as they each caught the other up on where their respective lives had led after they had been separated.
As they did, Thorin would occasionally reach out and touch his brother’s sleeve or clap him on the back, leaving his hand there a few seconds longer than necessary before removing it as if trying to convince himself he truly rode beside a flesh and blood being and not an apparition.
At one point he twisted around to study Bilba, nearly lost in the midst of the rest of the Company. She’d chosen to walk for the time being and was bouncing along between Fili and Kili. Both had dismounted and were leading their ponies, one on either side of her. They were doing their best to impress her while the others were ranged around her. Dwalin was the only one not near her, choosing instead to ride a few feet away from Thorin and Frerin. Upon hearing what had happened he’d asked about his father, his body tense with the expectation of hearing bad news, only to let out a breath of relief upon hearing Fundin had not been one of the survivors taken by the Necromancer.
“They are certainly fascinated by her,” Thorin said now, turning back to Frerin. “Is it part of her heritage?”
Thorin had been more than a little startled to hear what Bilba was but his shock at Frerin being alive, and what he’d gone through after Moria, had been such that finding out there was a fairy living in the Shire had been the least of his concerns.
“No,” Frerin said, turning to follow his gaze. “If it were she wouldn’t have to worry about some of the idiots living in the Shire, or anyone else for that matter. She’s simply the sort who makes friends easily, when people bother to take the time to get to know her.”
“She’s certainly won you over,” Thorin said, his tone neutral. “Are you courting her?”
“Not officially,” Frerin said easily, “but I hope to be. She knew Paladin, but she’s still getting to know me. She loved Paladin as a friend and companion and I worry those feelings confuse her about what she feels toward me.”
“Have you made it clear what your feelings toward her are?” Thorin inquired.
“I have,” Frerin said. “I was in love with her for years and unable to say a word. I wasn’t about to let it go unsaid once I could speak to her.”
Thorin nodded. He looked over his shoulder again and then studied his brother. “I think you’re too close to the matter, brother. Given the way she keeps looking toward you I would imagine her feelings aren’t so confused as you might think.”
Frerin twisted around in time to see Bilba’s eyes widen and her head jerk away to listen to something Fili was saying.
He turned back, an idiotic smile on his face, and saw Thorin shaking his head in amusement. “I seem to remember you once mentioning you’d never be married.”
“Of course I said that,” Frerin said, serenely. “I hadn’t met Bilba yet.”
Bilba felt a strange prickling at the back of her mind.
It wasn’t the same as when an injured animal was calling her or when the elves were nearby. It was…she didn’t like it.
Excusing herself from the dwarves, she went to Frerin. She reached up and, without pausing in whatever he was saying to Thorin, he grabbed her arm and easily lifted her up to sit sideways behind him on the pony. Bilba wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head on his back.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, concerned.
“I don’t know,” Bilba said. Her stomach felt jittery and she looked over her shoulder.
Frerin turned to look back at Elladan and Elrohir, riding toward the back of the group along with Aragorn. “Do you hear anything?” he called out.
The brothers didn’t get the chance to respond.
Behind them, back near the treeline they’d left only a short time before, a howl broke out.
They all turned, just in time to see a large orc pack, complete with wargs, burst out of the treeline behind them.
Frerin swore loudly. “Can we outrun them?”
“No,” Thorin said studying the distance. “We won’t make it.”
Frerin nodded. “Alright then.” He twisted around and helped Bilba down. “Stay here.”
Bilba felt a jolt of fear run through her. “You’re leaving me?”
“You have no armor or weapons,” Frerin said. “You’d be a target. I’ll be right back. I promise.”
He pulled his pony around and, along with the rest of the Company, started racing to meet the orcs head on. Elladan and Elrohir were at the sides, attempting to flank the orcs, drawing their bows as they did.
“You can’t promise that,” Bilba whispered. A shadow fell over her and she looked up to see Gandalf standing next to her. “Aren’t you going to help?”
“I think they have it handled well enough,” he said, “We don’t know who they’re after. Thorin has a bounty on his head but it’s possible they’re after you. If one gets through you’ll need my help.”
After her? Bilba hadn’t considered that they were after anyone. She’d just thought it had been bad luck.
She watched as the distance closed between the two groups. She twisted her hands together, her breath catching in her throat.
Frerin was at the front. Of course he was at the front. Why did he have to be at the front?
She tried to swallow but her it felt like a sharp edged rock was lodged in her throat.
Were the orcs after her? Was everyone in danger because of her?
And was it true that all she could do was wait? All she ever seemed to do was wait. She was a fairy. She had powers no one else did, powers Frerin didn’t have, powers even Elladan and Elrohir and the rest of the elves didn’t have.
So why were they the ones protecting her?
The fairies didn’t have powers that were defensive or even offensive in nature. They were healers, connected to nature, the wind, plants and trees.
Plants and trees…
An idea formed. It wasn’t something she’d ever tried before, not something that would work as far as she knew but, if it didn’t, it wouldn’t hurt anything.
And if it did work…
She studied Frerin’s back, her mind conjuring images of the terrible injuries he’d had in the Shire. She couldn’t stand the thought of him being hurt again. It made her feel ill, weak and shaky, her skin prickling.
She knelt and placed a hand on the ground. There was energy running through it. She’d felt it before but had never given it much thought. Now she did, feeling the currents running underneath her, past her. It was very much like standing on the surface of a river with water racing along beneath her. Sometimes, if she listened very hard, she almost swore she could hear a faint music, like someone singing from very far away.
She swallowed again. If she did this, and it worked, the orcs could…would…get hurt. She’d never hurt anyone before.
But they wanted to hurt Frerin…
And she couldn’t live with the thought of anyone hurting Frerin.
She called her magic and, unsure of what she was doing, sent tendrils of it into the fast moving current under her hand.
It was like putting a sponge into a bowl of water. Raw power flooded her and she gasped at the force of it. Her hand started glowing, the power radiating through her body.
She heard Gandalf say something but couldn’t hear what it was over the roar of magic in her ears.
She focused on the ground the orcs were running across, feeling the thud of the warg’s paws as if they ran along her back and not the land.
The earth exploded beneath them.
Dimly she heard shrieks and howls of the wargs and suppressed a flinch. A wall of earth moved like a leisurely wave, only to crest and come down over a number of the creatures, swallowing them whole.
The Company, and Frerin, had skidded to a stop and were watching in shock, the ground under their ponies solid and unmoving.
Bilba sank deeper into the currents. She felt as if she were spreading out, the power slowly overtaking her and pulling her in.
Hands grabbed her and a different magic, one incredibly old, wrapped around her and wrenched her away from the river of raw energy. It reached out, trying to take that magic as well but it was resisted.
The earth stopped moving, leaving behind the crumpled forms of orcs and wargs. A few survivors scrambled to their feet and fled, vanishing back into the woods where they’d originally come from.
Bilba was tugged upwards, her hand leaving the ground.
“I believe that’s enough of that,” Gandalf said gently. He was kneeling and had pulled her back to sit against him, the excess cloth of his robe under her so no part of her body was in contact with the land. “Leaping before you look rarely works out well, my dear. There are reasons there are no legends of the Fae defending themselves in such ways. Coming into contact with magic that is greater than yours, and not limited or bound by a mortal being, can easily overtake you. If I had not been here you would have been lost to it.”
“Always has to be a catch,” Bilba muttered. She was shaking and her breathing was rapid but she didn’t feel tired.
She got up and carefully stepped off Gandalf’s robes, grass and dirt pressing into the soles of her feet. She could still feel the power as she always did but it was quiet, no attempts to grab at her or pull her in.
Ahead, the Company was returning. Several of them were giving her odd looks, almost frightened, and she kept her eyes averted from Frerin, afraid to see a similar look in his eyes.
Instead she looked toward where the earth was still disturbed, pushed in mounds and small hills that hadn’t been there before.
“Oh,” she whispered, noticing the feeling in her head for the first time and recognizing what it was. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”
She started running, ignoring Gandalf’s exasperated shout behind her. The wind wrapped around her and, for the first time, she reached out to use it rather than allowing it to treat her as it wished.
A second later she was standing in front of a huge warg. It and a few of the others were still alive, their sides moving rapidly as they panted from pain. The one in front of her was broken, its limbs splayed in awful directions, blood splattered over its fur, glistening bone poking through its side in several spots.
Bilba thought she might throw up.
She had done this.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, kneeling down in front of the creature. She reached out and put a hand on its snout, wincing as the creature whined in pain.
She was still overflowing with leftover energy and, without hesitation, called it to bear. The warg healed faster than she’d ever seen her magic work, almost instantly. She felt no fatigue after and quickly jumped up, running to the others.
They were no different, her magic snapping to obey, stitching together skin, clicking bones back in place in the blink of an eye.
She stepped back, four bright eyed, perfectly healthy wargs sitting in front of her, and jumped as arms wrapped around her and dragged her back.
“Can we have a general agreement,” Frerin’s voice, simultaneously tense and incredulous, “that, in the future, you might avoid healing things that want to eat you?”
Bilba huffed in exasperation. She broke free from his arms before he could stop her and bounced forward to the closest warg. It lowered its snout and she heard Frerin make a strangled sound behind her.
Bilba threw her arms around the warg’s neck. It promptly fell over onto its side. She laughed, jumped up and ran to its side where she began petting its stomach. It whined in happiness, one leg kicking wildly. The other three started inching closer, hoping for their own turn.
“Bilba,” Frerin said, his voice now long suffering. “Must you pet the creatures that want to eat you? He could take your arm off by accident!”
“She will do no such thing,” Bilba said shortly. She threw her arms around the creature, laying on it to hug it. “Will you, Daisy?”
“Daisy?” a new voice said. “Did she just name a warg, Daisy?”
“At least it isn’t Reginald,” Elladan’s voice said dryly.
Bilba tensed and lifted her head. She looked toward Frerin for the first time and realized he wasn’t alone. The entire Company was gathered behind him, staring at her with varying looks of shock and disbelief.
Carefully standing up, Bilba put on what she hoped was an innocent smile. The four wargs lined up in a semi-circle behind her, and started growling at the Company.
“Oh, stop,” Bilba said, “They’re my friends!”
She gave Frerin a hesitant look, clasping her hands together and twisting them. “I think I’ll call them Daisy, Petunia, Rose and Paladin.”
Frerin raised an eyebrow. He, unlike some of the others, had no hint of fear in his eyes when he looked at her, just a wariness directed toward the wargs. Now, carefully, he stepped forward. He had his sword out but held it loosely, the tip pointed at the ground.
One of the wargs gave a warning growl but did nothing else.
Frerin slid an arm around her waist, pressing his forehead to hers. “Paladin?” he said, the barest hint of amusement in his voice. “You named the warg after me?”
Bilba started to put her hands on his chest, hesitated, and then did it anyway. “Well,” she whispered, low enough for only him to hear, “he’s strong, and brave and friendly and smart so I thought it seemed fitting.”
“Hmmm,” Frerin pulled her closer and rested his chin on the top of her head for a moment. “So, if I turn my back on them are they going to eat me?”
“Of course not,” Bilba said, “that would be rude.”
He laughed. “You know they can’t come with us, for a variety of reasons.”
“I know.” She pulled away from him and turned to face the wargs. She could never explain how it was she communicated with animals, or they with her. It wasn’t in words or even thoughts. It just…was…somehow.
The wargs jumped to their feet and she heard a nervous rustling from the Company. Frerin held still, not moving, even when the wargs came forward to lick her before turning and bounding away into the trees.
Frerin sighed and turned her to face the rest of the Company. “Never a dull moment,” he said cheerfully to his brother.
“Indeed,” Thorin said. He studied Bilba and then nodded. “I owe you thanks. You spared us possible injury, or worse.”
“You’re welcome.” Bilba responded, suddenly shy.
“I would suggest,” Gandalf said, “that you not rely on her being able to do that again. It was not exactly safe.”
“She just made friends with a bunch of wargs,” Frerin said dryly, “I caught the not safe part.”
He guided her forward and, at once, she found herself surrounded by Fili and Kili and a few of the others.
“That was amazing!”
“How did you do it?”
“Did you know you could do it?”
“We should get wargs for mounts! They probably go faster than ponies!”
“Don’t encourage her,” Frerin said, before Thorin could. He lifted Bilba onto his own pony and got up behind her. “Please. I don’t think my health can take it.”
They moved faster after that, hoping to make it to Rivendell before evening. Bilba ended up wanting to walk again, still working off excess energy.
Frerin caught sight of Elladan and Elrohir, still at the back, watching her, their expressions grim. Slowly, he made his way to them until his pony was riding between their horses. Aragorn was directly behind him. He’d also been watching Bilba but the expression on his face, rather than grim, had been saddened.
“What is it?” Frerin asked shortly. He kept his head straight ahead as he spoke, not focusing on either brother.
“There were survivors,” Elladan said, “and they saw her.”
“It’s out now,” Elrohir added. “No more rumors or speculation, no more stories of an unknown power in the Shire.”
“And no more placing the blame on us.” Elladan said. “Those surviving orcs will carry the news back and word will spread.” He nodded toward Bilba, his eyes softening. “Her world is constricting. She won’t be able to return to the Shire now, too many eyes will be watching for her.”
Frerin’s hands tightened on the reins. “They’re going to be coming for her?”
“They may already be,” Elladan said. “As Gandalf said, we have no idea who those orcs were targeting, her or your brother.”
“Many of those who practice black magic have had it passed down to them,” Elrohir explained. “They possess books from their predecessors that, in many cases, are from the Second or First Age. They are well aware of the usefulness of a fairy in their rituals.”
His voice was disgusted as he spoke, his face twisted.
Frerin flinched at the use of the word ritual.
Bilba wouldn’t survive. Her body might, her life might remain but Bilba, her heart, soul, everything that made her who she was…it would be gone.
He dug his heels into the pony’s side and cantered up through midst of the group. Once he neared Bilba he reined the horse to a walk and drew up alongside her. She looked up at him in surprise as he held a hand out to her. “Come on.”
She took his hand and he pulled her up to sit sideways in front of him. “What are we doing?”
He grinned at her. “We’re beating my nephews to Rivendell, that’s what.”
Fili and Kili, riding nearby, both sat up straight in their saddles. “What?”
Frerin’s only response was to dig his heels in and put the pony into a canter and then a full gallop. Behind him, his nephews shouted and then he heard the sound of thundering hoofbeats as they tried to catch up.
Bilba shrieked with laughter, clapping her hands in glee. She wrapped one arm around his waist and hooked the other around the edge of his cuirass to hang on.
Behind them they left the wargs, orcs and every last bastard who wanted to harm her.
Frerin wished they would stay behind but he was becoming increasingly convinced they would not.
And, if that was true, it meant the only way Rivendell would be safe for Bilba was if she never left it.
Which meant, in a way, she had freed him from a prison only for him to repay her by putting her in one.
And there was nothing he could do about it.
Bilba vanished almost as soon as they reached Rivendell, whisked off by Elrond’s daughter, Arwen. When she appeared at dinner she was in a flowing, gauzy dress that clung to her in a way her normal dresses most certainly did not. It was lavender and silver and made her eyes, already striking, stand out even more. Her hair was also loose, flowing down her back and over both shoulders, pulled away from her face by a silver clasp at the back of her head that had long strands of glittering diamonds flowing down from it.
Kili promptly dropped his fork while Fili started stammering nonsense.
Frerin would have made a smart assed comment to, and about, his nephews if it hadn’t been for the fact he was struck dumb.
In the end, Thorin got up and went to bow politely in front of her. “Bilba, you look lovely. Might I have the honor of escorting you?”
She agreed demurely and he offered his arm. She took it and allowed him to lead her over. Thorin sent Frerin a very smug, self-satisfied look, which finally snapped him out of his own stupor. He got up and quickly pulled out the chair next to him for her. She sat with a smile of thanks and he took his seat beside her.
She gave Frerin a shy smile. “Do you like the dress?” she asked, her voice low. “When I lived here before Arwen made me an entire wardrobe. I left it all behind when I went home. I thought it made me look a little--” She made a random motion with her hand, searching for the right word.
Frerin caught her hand and kissed the back of it before releasing it. “Ethereal.” He said. “You look ethereal.”
“That,” she agreed. “I already looked…odd enough already in the Shire. I didn’t want to make it worse.”
“The very last thing you look is odd,” Frerin said, “and if you’d worn that dress in the Shire your father would have been beating the local young men off with a stick. Your mother probably would have helped.”
She smiled. “I take it that means you approve?”
Frerin’s gaze turned intense. “I don’t think I can adequately put into words just how much I approve.”
She went bright red and looked at her plate.
Her hand, however, carefully slid into his where it lay on his leg. He grinned and interlaced their fingers.
“So,” Kili said from the other side of the table, his voice slightly strangled. “You wouldn’t happen to have a sister would you?”
Frerin made a mental note to consider killing his nephew.
Bilba simply laughed.
“You want to go with them, don’t you?”
It was night. After dinner, Frerin had invited Bilba out to one of the gazebos. It was suspended by two stone walkways over a reflecting pool, the water crystal clear and still. Once they’d arrived he’d slid an arm around her and taken her hand to begin a slow, casual dance.
“My place is here,” Frerin said, “with you. Not gallivanting off to take on a dragon with a handful of my most suicidal friends.”
To say he’d been stunned to hear what Thorin’s plans were was an understatement. The two had exchanged more than a few choice words over it, even after Gandalf had gotten involved to say it had been his idea.
Frerin had flatly informed him that a wizard vouching for his brother doing something idiotic didn’t make it any less stupid.
Thorin was nothing if not stubborn, however, and his mind was made up. “He thinks he can retrieve the Arkenstone and use it to force the dwarven families to march upon the mountain.”
“Didn’t Erebor already have an army when the dragon originally came?” She stepped back, twirling in a slow circle that sent her dress and hair spiraling before his arm came around her waist and pulled her in again.
“Indeed and a lot of good it did.”
“I wish I could help,” Bilba said softly, “but Smaug isn’t like a normal animal. I’m not sure I would have any effect on him.”
“I wouldn’t want you to try,” Frerin said. “Remember our agreement, no making friends with things that want to eat you.”
Bilba moved so she could rest her head on his chest, a slight smile on her lips. “I don’t recall agreeing to any such thing.”
“Is that so?” He put a hand under her chin, gently urging her head up, and then proceeded to kiss her. It was light at first, but when she didn’t pull away, he deepened it, moving his arms to wrap around her. She put her hands on his upper arms and leaned in.
He pulled away, his face still very near hers. “How about now?”
“Hmmm,” Bilba said, fighting, and losing the battle to not smile. “Nope, still nothing. It must not have happened.”
Frerin’s eyes narrowed in mock outrage. “Perhaps I should remind you again.”
“Perhaps you should,” Bilba agreed.
“Gladly,” Frerin said, already bending his head again to kiss her again.
In the end it took a very, very long time for Bilba to remember.
Bilba darted through the corridors of Rivendell. She rounded a corner and caught sight of Dwalin leaning against a column and looking profoundly bored.
They’d been in Rivendell nearly a week, waiting for the right moon phase they needed to read some map Thorin had, and the dwarves were ready to go stir crazy.
Bilba skidded to a stop in front of him, causing him to straighten with a frown. She’d been wearing clothing Arwen had loaned her but, at that moment, she was back in her normal attire with her hair in a braid.
“Dwalin, have you seen Frerin?”
“I think he went out with Thorin and the boys and those elven brats,” Dwalin grumbled. “They should be back soon.”
Bilba frowned. Frerin had been spending a lot of time with his brother and nephews the last week while somehow also managing to spend equal amounts of time with her, including dancing with her nearly every night after dinner. She’d had no problem with any of it, until right that second when she really needed him to be around.
“What’s wrong?” Dwalin asked.
“There’s something I need to do outside,” Bilba hedged, “and I wanted to see if Frerin could go with me.”
“What kind of something?”
Bilba hesitated. The dwarves had been very welcoming of her but it didn’t mean they were entirely comfortable with her yet. Dwarves had no magic after all and were creatures of rock and stone. They believed what they could touch and affect with their own hands. Magic was foreign to them. There was nothing they could do to protect themselves from it and, though they tried admirably to not show it, a few of them were a bit wary of her.
She didn’t hold it against them. It had been the same in the Shire, even with a few of her friends. Frerin was different because he’d had eleven years to get used to the idea. The fact gave her hope that, given time, the dwarves would be just as accepting.
“There’s an injured animal outside,” She said finally, “They…they sort of call me, I guess? I don’t know how to explain it really. It’s just it’s hurt and wants me to help so I want to go but Frerin doesn’t want me leaving without an escort and he’s not here so--” She raised her hands helplessly.
Dwalin’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not a warg is it?”
“A warg?” Bilba asked in confusion. “No, I don’t think so. It’s probably a deer.”
He gave her a considering look. “And I take it you aren’t interested in good venison?”
“What? No!” Bilba was aware that Frerin and the other dwarves ate meat. They needed it and she didn’t fault them for it. She just asked they didn’t eat anything she’d been talking to lately. Seeing as how there were always animals around her it meant they had to go pretty far to hunt but they had been gracious in doing so without complaint and she had tried her best to be gracious in return.
“Alright,” Dwalin stepped forward, forcing her to have to lean back to look up at him. “Let’s go waste a perfectly good dinner.”
“Really?” Bilba threw her arms around him, or as far as they would go, and jumped back. “Thank you!”
Dwalin blustered, his face looking a bit red, before indicating she should lead the way.
Together they left the valley, stepping into the rocky plain that stretched out around the outer boundaries of Rivendell. Bilba stayed several yards ahead of Dwalin who came along at his own pace, watching the surroundings.
Bilba found the deer quickly. It was laying close to a large outcropping of rock, the tips jutting high into the air.
The deer was laying on its side. Its calls for help had stopped and she’d hoped it was simply because it was unconscious but, as she approached, it was clear she was far too late. Bilba dropped next to it, her eyes already filling at the massive wounds on its body. She had no idea what could have done such a thing. This close to Rivendell there were very few predators and certainly not one that she knew of capable of making such wounds.
“Sorry,” she said softly, touching the deer’s head. “I’m sorry I took too long.”
She pushed to her feet and turned around to tell Dwalin they were too late.
Something whistled through the air, an odd whip whip sound.
White hot, blinding agony lit up her leg, pain scorching a line from her ankle up to her knee.
Bilba screamed in pain, the sound carrying through the small area. She collapsed, her hands going automatically to her leg and encountering…metal?
A strip of metal, almost like a fishing line, flexible enough to wrap around her leg but several times thicker. The entire thing was studded with barbs which, even then, were cutting into her flesh, bright points of blood welling around them and running down her leg.
She grabbed at the strip, trying to get it off, only to watch in horror as it constricted, the barbs cutting deeper into her leg. Another burst of pain shot through her and she screamed again, her body arching against the pain.
From around the corner of the rocks a tall Man appeared. He was dressed entirely in black and carried a staff like the one she’d seen with the Necromancer who had hurt Frerin. Unlike that man this one was young with dark hair and darker eyes. He gave her a twisted smile and stepped toward her.
Dwalin shouted, running forward, but the Man almost casually lifted his staff. Power exploded from it, hitting Dwalin and throwing him to the ground where he lay unmoving.
Bilba tried to get up but every movement caused the thing around her leg to tighten, digging so deep it began to disappear inside her leg. She screamed each time and cried at the unrelenting pain. Even so, she still managed to roll onto her back and scramble away on her elbows. The Man came toward her, still casual, and drew a long, curved knife from his belt.
Bilba screamed Frerin’s name, once, and again, and again after that. The Man reached for her and she kicked at him before throwing herself on her stomach and trying to crawl away.
He grabbed her ankle, dragging her back and she screamed for Frerin one final time, throwing her arms up in defense as the Man stood over her, chanting words she didn’t understand, and raising the knife.
An arrow slammed into his hand, knocking the knife out of it. He yelled and turned, but he’d put his staff down to grab her and it now lay several feet away, against the rocks.
He started to go toward it only to hear a roar of rage from his right. He looked, just in time to see Frerin, his face twisted his rage, his sword raised.
It was the last sight the Man ever had.
The screams had cut straight to his soul.
Frerin hadn’t entirely understood the first one.
He’d been out riding with Thorin, Fili and Kili. Elladan and Elrohir had been nearby doing something or other. It had been a beautiful, quiet day, a day to forget whatever darkness had been in the past and whatever uncertainty might lie in the future.
Then a scream had shattered the stillness and, for an instant, he hadn’t understood what it was.
Then Elladan and Elrohir had been rushing past him and a second scream had rung out, filled with fear and pain, and he’d understood.
“Bilba.” He’d whispered, his mind barely registering it before his bod had reacted, turning the pony and driving it after the elves.
She’d kept screaming, each one agonized and terrified.
And then she’d started screaming his name, even though she couldn’t have known where he was or if he could even hear her, simply calling for him because he represented safety in her eyes, and his heart had virtually stopped beating.
He came over a hill and saw her trying to crawl away from a Man holding a dagger and his stomach twisted with a rage so deep it nearly choked him. She was bleeding, her leg nearly black with blood, and crying, lashing out with one foot as the Man reached for her. Off to his side he saw Elladan raise his bow, his other hand grabbing an arrow from his quiver.
The Man grabbed her and dragged her back and she screamed his name, her voice laced with despair, and Frerin saw red.
The Necromancer didn’t stand a chance.
Frerin dropped down next to her and Bilba reached for him, her fingers scrabbling at his shirt. “Frerin, Frerin it hurts. It hurts,” She sobbed, “make it stop. Please, it hurts.”
“Alright,” he said, trying to keep his voice level and soothing, “alright, I’ve got it.”
He pulled a knife out of his boot and slid it under the top edge of the metal thing in her leg where it lay against her kneecap.
Elladan crouched next to him. “It’s hexed, let me.”
Frerin nodded and handed the knife over. He wrapped both arms around Bilba and pressed her head into his shoulder. “Close your eyes.”
A shadow fell over him and he saw Dwalin, looking dazed, with Thorin, Fili and Kili around him. Elrohir had vanished, securing the area and verifying there weren’t any other Necromancers about.
Elladan spoke sharply in Sindarin, his voice low and filled with power. As he did he lifted the knife slowly. The tip of the metal wrapped itself around the blade, slowly pulling out of Bilba’s leg. It wound around her as it did, however, causing more damage and resulting in Bilba’s entire body jerking. She had her arms wrapped around Frerin and dug her fingers in hard enough to bruise, screaming through gritted teeth against his shoulder.
Frerin kept holding her as she sobbed and begged him to make the pain stop, talking in her ear quietly, his words too low for anyone but Elladan to have hear and he wasn’t listening.
The last bit finally came out and, with a snarl of anger, Elladan threw the knife, now fully wrapped with the metal wire. It hit the ground and constricted, snapping the knife into pieces. A hiss sounded and it disintegrated, wafting away on the wind.
“She’s bleeding too much,” Elladan said. “Bilba? You need to heal yourself.”
Bilba didn’t seem to hear him. She was still clinging to Frerin, her body shaking.
“Frerin,” Elladan said sharply. “She has to heal. She’s going to bleed out.”
As carefully as possible, Frerin disentangled her from around his neck and coaxed her into laying down. He took her face between his hands and leaned forward until he could look her in the eyes.
“Bilba,” he said firmly, “come on, Sweetheart, look at me.”
She did, her eyes locking on him. She was breathing hard, almost hyperventilating and her eyes were glazed over with pain. She grabbed his forearms and held on.
“It hurts,” she said, her voice a near whimper. “Frerin, it hurts.”
“I know,” Frerin said, “I know it does, love. It won’t once you heal it. You just need to heal it. Do you understand?”
She was in shock, he realized, both physical and emotional. She’d never been injured so badly before and she’d certainly never been attacked.
He leaned forward further and kissed her lightly. Her lips were ice cold. He pulled away and rested his forehead against hers, feeling the sharp, short breaths she was taking against his face.
“Come on, Sweetheart,” he whispered. “Breathe.”
She struggled to obey, taking in a deep breath and letting it out again. Her breathing slowed slightly and she focused better on him. She was still shaking and her voice still hitched with every breath but it was better than what it had been.
“Now heal yourself,” Frerin commanded firmly, his voice calm and even. “Do it now, Love.”
Her fingers dug into the bare skin of his arms but he ignored it.
“She’s doing it,” Elladan said, his voice relieved, “it’s already closing.”
Frerin shut his eyes for a second, equally relieved. “I’m going to get you back to Rivendell now, alright?”
She nodded, her shaking slowing as the pain in her eyes receded.
He got his arms around her and then stood up, bringing her with him. As soon as he did she wound both arms around him and buried her face against his neck.
Frerin started toward Rivendell, not bothering to retrieve his sword. He didn’t want it anyway after it had been defiled.
“What happened?” he heard his brother ask and then heard Dwalin answer, explaining. After he was done he said, “Frerin. I’m sorry. I--”
“It isn’t your fault,” Frerin cut him off. “If I’d been there I’d have taken her out too. She was set up. He knew her nature. He knew she’d come out for a wounded animal.”
The bastard had known her nature, the nature of the Fae, and had still hurt her, had gone even further and used her own nature against her.
Bilba tightened her grip. She’d stopped crying and had gone still in his arms, the only sign of life her chest moving and the puff of her breath on his skin.
Her dress and leg were coated with blood. Frerin could feel it leeching through his clothes and covering the arm he had under her legs.
“Do you know if her magic replaced the blood she lost?” he asked Elladan who was just to his opposite side.
“It did,” Elladan said, “but it will take some time for her body to realize it.”
Fili and Kili were waiting just at the edge of the rock pile, their faces pale. They’d gone back after helping Dwalin to provide cover in case anyone else was waiting around to ambush them. Frerin shook his head at them before they could say anything, and strode past into Rivendell proper.
He needed to get her inside and settled.
Then he needed to go break something.
For the first, and only, time he found himself wishing he had some manner of magic himself.
If only to use it to try and resurrect the bastard so he could kill him again.
The elves tried to take her when he got back inside but Bilba went into near hysterics, clinging to Frerin and pleading with him to stay with her.
In the end he’d taken her to a small sitting room and sat with her in a large chair next to a roaring fireplace. A blanket was brought and he managed to get it around her before simply settling back and wrapping his arms around her. She dragged the blanket over and around herself until she was completely hidden, curled against him, and went silent, shaking and breathing unevenly.
“I’m sorry, Frerin,” she said finally, her voice wavering.
“You did nothing wrong.” Frerin said. “You have nothing to apologize for.”
“That’s not what I meant.” She pulled the blanket down to let him see her face but kept it around her like a shield against the world. “I didn’t get it before. It hurt so much and I was so scared and it only lasted a few minutes. Just a few minutes and it was awful. You went through it for years and you were hurt so badly.”
Her voice broke at the end and Frerin’s heart twisted with compassion for her. “I never felt any of it,” he said, “I didn’t feel anything.”
“You felt it,” Bilba said flatly. “Maybe not the physical pain but you felt it.”
Frerin took a deep breath, focusing on a blank area of the wall. “It’s over,” he said simply, “for both of us.”
“No it’s not,” she whispered. “It’s over for you. It’s just starting for me.”
“You’ll be safe in Rivendell.”
“As long as I never leave,” she said, her voice bitter. “Those are my options, stay locked in Rivendell or live alone and hidden in the Wild. That or I guess I could always find out where the rest of the Fae went and follow them.”
Frerin flinched at the cynicism in her tone. It wasn’t something he’d ever expected, or wanted, to hear from her. Thorin appeared in the door, raising an eyebrow in question. Frerin gave the slightest shake of his head. Thorin nodded and left, quietly pulling the door closed behind him.
Frerin studied the door, his mind absently going over his brother’s plan to try and retake Erebor.
Erebor…a mountain with only two entrances that could be tightly controlled. With a potential city on its doorstep that could be seeded with spies, as it once had been, to watch for any possible threats, with a forest full of elves between the mountain and the primary pass coming over the Misty Mountains. Even if someone went out of their way to the Gap of Rohan and came up, they would still pass close by, if not through, Lothlorien, another area populated by elves who were quite capable of sensing evil. And if all of them proved as protective of Bilba as the ones in Rivendell…
If only the mountain weren’t currently occupied by a dragon…
He studied the door where his brother had been a few moments earlier.
“You’re wrong,” he said to Bilba and she looked up at him with a frown, the lull in the conversation enough that she’d lost the thread of it.
She looked up at him with a frown. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t believe you have no other choices,” he said. “I don’t believe you’re not free to live the way you want, and I intend to prove it.”
Her eyes narrowed. “How do you plan to do that?”
He pulled her up closer until he could look her in the eyes.
“Simple. I’m going to get you a fortress.”
Thorin raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “What happened to, and I quote, ‘the most inane plan you’d ever heard and that was saying something’?”
Frerin shrugged. “That was before I thought about Erebor’s position and how secure it is.”
“Bilba.” Thorin said. “You’re trying to think of a way to better protect her.”
“I am,” Frerin said shortly. “Erebor is perfect. It’s unlikely a Necromancer could get close without someone knowing about it in Mirkwood, Dale or Erebor. Even if they did they’d never get inside the mountain itself. She’ll be safe and, if she wants to go outside, I can send half Erebor’s army with her if I wish.”
“Perhaps not half.” Thorin said dryly. “Erebor may need a few.” He straightened as he saw Elrond gesturing for him. He and Frerin were standing side by side near the edge of an outcropping of rock overlooking a gully. A crystal platform stood a few feet away with a map spread out on it. They’d been waiting for the moon to reach the proper position in the sky to read the moon runes Elrond had discovered on it.
“What will you do about Bilba?” Thorin asked as they stopped by the pedestal.
“Take her with us,” Frerin said shortly. “She wouldn’t stay if I asked her anyway.”
Elrond frowned. “You don’t worry for her safety?”
“Every second,” Frerin responded. “But she’s no safer here than she’d be with us, not anymore. Rivendell isn’t built to withstand invaders like Erebor is. Anyone could sneak in.”
“We would sense a Necromancer on our lands,” Elrond said pointedly.
“Yes,” Frerin agreed, “but would you sense a common bounty hunter hired by a Necromancer to come in and get her?”
Elrond frowned and Frerin continued. “She’ll be surrounded by all of us and we’ll have Gandalf with us. Not only that, but most will probably assume she’s still in Rivendell. She may end up being safer on the road.”
“You may be right,” Gandalf mused, “but the final decision should be hers.”
“I want to go with Frerin.”
Frerin jerked around and saw Bilba standing on the bottom step of the stairs that led onto the outcropping. After she’d calmed down she’d finally allowed Arwen to take her to get cleaned up. After, he’d visited her room and found her asleep, curled under her blankets.
Now she was staring at him with wide eyes. She was wearing a robe and her hair was loose and tied at the nape of her neck with a thin band, the rest draped over her shoulder.
He went to her at once and put his hands on her shoulders. She took hold of his shirt, her head down. “I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking things were moving in the darkness.”
“I’ll go back with you,” Frerin said. “We can stop by the library on the way and get a book or two and I’ll read to you.”
She nodded, still looking down. “I can go with you, can’t I?”
“As I said,” Frerin replied, “I doubt I could keep you away.”
He put an arm around her shoulder and turned to look at Thorin. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
He started to turn but Bilba resisted, taking a step toward Elrond and Gandalf.
“Are the legends true?” she asked, her question directed at both of them. “Has there never been a fairy able to live in peace? Have the choices always been living here forever, alone in the woods someplace or fleeing altogether? Is that really all there is?” She focused on Gandalf. “What happened to my ancestor? The one who married a hobbit? How did her story end? You’ve studied our history as much as you could, gathered tales and stories. What do they say of her?”
Gandalf said nothing but whatever Bilba saw in his face gave her the answer. She leaned against Frerin, resting her head on his shoulder. “I’m tired, Frerin,” she whispered. “Can we leave?”
Frerin moved his arm to her waist and turned her away, leading her to the stairs.
“There is one.”
Bilba froze and turned back. “What?”
Elrond handed the map to Thorin for safekeeping and approached her, dropping to one knee when he reached her. He took her hand and said. “There have been fairies before who have married and settled where they wished and not all of their lives have ended in sadness.”
“And you know of one?” Bilba asked. For the first time since the attack a note of something other than despair entered her voice and Frerin could have jumped for joy to hear it.
“I do,” Elrond answered. “In fact, the last I heard, she lived relatively close to the Shire.”
Now it was Frerin’s turn to stare in shock. “Wait, are you telling me she’s still alive?”
“I don’t know,” Elrond said truthfully. “She and her husband are very private, by choice, and it is almost impossible to find them unless they wish to be found. Regardless, as far as I know, they are still alive and quite happy together and have been for many years.”
“Why did you never tell me?” Bilba asked.
“We attempted to contact her about you but were never able to,” Elrond explained. “I did not wish to get your hopes up only to crush them when she couldn’t be found.”
“Perhaps I could have found her,” Bilba said, the slightest hint of hope back in her voice. She turned to Frerin. “There’s another fairy,” Bilba said, stunned. “And she’s been near me the whole time and she’s happy and not being hunted.” Her face fell suddenly. “And now I’m going to Erebor and can’t go look for her.”
“It doesn’t sound like she’s going anywhere,” Frerin said. “After we retake Erebor we can come back and look for her. I’ll take you personally.”
“I will attempt to contact her yet again,” Elrond said, “but I can make no promises.”
“Thank you.” Bilba snuggled closer to Frerin once more. Her face seemed lighter, the barest trace of light coming back into her eyes.
Frerin could have hugged Elrond.
Instead he settled for mouthing the words ‘thank you’ to the elf before leading Bilba up the stairs and toward the library. Behind him Elrond went back to Thorin and Gandalf to read the map that would set them on their way.
On a quest with a dragon at the end of it.
Frerin didn’t care. Bilba needed Erebor in order to be safe and nothing, including a dragon, was going to stand in the way of him getting it for her.
They left early the next morning.
Elladan and Elrohir planned to stay behind to cover their tracks and to watch for anyone else following, hoping to stop them before they got close. Aragorn had gone out further to spread the rumor that Bilba was, indeed, still in Rivendell. This would hopefully focus attention there and not where they really were.
Bilba walked beside Frerin, holding his hand in a grip that was probably too tight but he had yet to complain. They’d been traveling for a few days and had entered the base of what would eventually become the High Pass. The Misty Mountains rose on either side of them, creating a small valley, almost a wide canyon, around them. Where they were headed was too narrow and slim for ponies so they’d had to leave them all behind.
Even though she knew the odds were slim, Bilba couldn’t shake the fear that someone would attack them at any moment.
She’d never been afraid before, not truly anyway. She’d been scared of thunderstorms as a child and had been scared of silly things like being rejected by a boy she liked, but she’d never experienced true fear like she was now.
“It’s alright,” Frerin said suddenly. “If anyone tries to attack they’ll regret it. Not to mention you’d sense it first.”
Oh, Bilba remembered, that was right. When the orcs had come she’d sensed it before they had arrived. With the Necromancer, upon reflection later, she’d realized she’d sensed him too. It had been a different feeling than with the wargs and orcs, an odd…silence of sorts in the back of her mind. She’d given it little notice in light of the deer calling for her but, later, later she’d understood her magic had been trying to warn her.
She felt herself begin to relax, some of the fear seeping away.
Frerin was right. She would sense it. She just had to pay attention.
Speaking of which…
“We should wait until tomorrow to go up the pass.”
“Why?” Frerin asked.
“There’s going to be a storm,” Bilba told him. “It’ll make the pass dangerous, won’t it? I don’t think we want to get caught in it.”
Frerin called Thorin who dropped back to walk with them. “Bilba says there’s going to be a storm,” Frerin said. “We should wait to continue.”
Thorin looked over head where, above the mountains, a clear blue sky shone down. “I see nothing.”
“Neither do I,” Frerin agreed, “but she’s never been wrong. If she says there’s going to be a storm there will be one.”
Thorin considered it before nodding. “Alright. It’s growing late anyway. We’ll make camp here and continue in the morning.”
The storm arrived two hours later and was every bit as intense as Bilba had warned it would be. Thorin had managed to find them reasonable shelter under a ledge of rock and the entire Company huddled there, waiting it out. Bilba sat between Frerin’s legs, his arms around her waist and his coat spread out under them.
Just outside the protection of the ledge they could see the wind whipping the grass and the branches of a few trees around madly, the rain at a near slant from the force of it. Where they sat, however, none of it touched them. Frerin leaned forward enough to put his hand out and felt a gust of wind actually curve around his fingers, avoiding the ledge and going off in another direction.
“Since when can you control the wind?” he asked Bilba.
She leaned her head back and grinned at him. “Since I bothered to try.”
“Fair enough.” Frerin settled again and watched his nephews dare one another to go out in the rain.
A second later they both shouted in shock as the wind shifted and a sheet of rain hit them.
Frerin raised an eyebrow at Bilba but she merely returned a look of innocence in return.
She was coming back, slowly but surely, and if her emotional recovery meant his nephews got a little wet then so be it.
Bilba studied the path, chewing on her lower lip absently.
She had no idea how it had happened but, sometime during the night, a very large chunk of the high path had broken off and vanished completely.
Thorin was standing next to her, staring at the missing part as if it had personally offended him.
“We’ll have to backtrack and take one of the other routes,” he growled. “It will add weeks to our time.”
“Maybe not,” Bilba said. She reached up and pulled several of the flowers out of her hair. Kneeling she worked the roots into crevices and holes in the part of the pass she stood on.
She put a hand on the plant and concentrated. Under her hands the leaves and stalks of the flowers sprouted and grew, twisting together into a thick rope under her hands. She pulled more of the flowers from her hair, adding them to the ones under her hand and urging them to grow, larger than they should be, and thicker.
They spread out, arcing over the broken span until they reached the other side. Once there she directed them to anchor themselves and then worked on thickening and widening the section further.
When she finally stood up a path comprised of flowers lay spread out before her, wide enough to walk on, connecting the broken sections together.
“It won’t last long,” she told Thorin, “and I wouldn’t put more than one at a time on it but it should hold.”
He smiled at her. It made him look younger, and even more like Frerin.
Bilba felt happy, pleased to have been able to help.
She hadn’t thought she would feel happy again, after her parents and then again after the attack.
It was nice to know she’d been wrong.
They made it off the crazy, dangerous part of the path and to the halfway point where it opened to the broad slopes of the mountain.
So far things had been going wonderfully, which of course meant they immediately ran into trouble.
That trouble was in the form of more orcs and more wargs. One was a large white warg with an equally sized pale orc riding him.
Frerin and Thorin both went dead still when they saw him, their eyes wide.
“Who is that?” Bilba asked.
“Azog,” Frerin said, his voice flat. “He killed our grandfather.”
“It’s not possible,” Thorin breathed in horror. “He’s supposed to be dead.”
“So was I,” Frerin said, “and we saw how that turned out.”
Bilba, meanwhile, was squinting at one of the wargs on the end of the line. “Daisy? Is that you?”
The warg whined and looked away.
“Daisy!” Bilba said, outraged. “What are you doing? I didn’t heal you just so you could go off and join up with orcs again!”
She whined and lay down, putting her paws over her eyes.
Bilba scowled and focused her attention on the white warg. “And, you? Why are you helping him?”
The warg growled but Bilba cut him off, “Don’t give me that. You may have been created to serve evil but that doesn’t mean you actually have to do it. You are responsible for your own actions.”
“Bilba,” Frerin said through gritted teeth. “Can we add an addendum to the rule about not berating creatures that can eat us?”
Azog was staring at her, a gleam in his eyes. He barked an order to the other orcs and pointed toward her.
“Well, that’s probably not a good sign,” Fili muttered from near her.
One of the orcs moved forward, only to find himself facing down Daisy, crouched low before him. Her rider was several feet away, picking himself up from where he’d been thrown.
A low howl sounded and, a few minutes later, three more wargs were there, also between them and the orcs.
“Is it just me?” Dwalin asked, “Or did the odds just get a lot better.”
Bilba sighed. “Try not to kill the wargs, okay? I have an idea.”
Dwalin shrugged. “A challenge. I like challenges.”
He and the rest charged forward with a dwarven battle cry and Bilba retreated back to stand against a tree. She heard a low growl and turned to see the white warg standing there. Another look showed his owner standing and facing Thorin and Frerin, Fili and Kili. Azog looked slightly panicked before he spun on his feet and ran for the woods, leaving his people behind.
“Tsk,” Bilba said to the warg. “See, that’s what I mean. You need to have better standards when picking riders, or standards at all really.”
The warg whined and she patted it on the nose comfortingly. “I know, it’s alright. You’re forgiven.”
Frerin was heading toward her, breathing hard. He was holding his sword in one hand and was sweating and covered in dirt from being knocked over a few times but otherwise appeared unharmed. Behind him the rest of the orcs were either dead or fleeing after their master.
“Five seconds,” Frerin said. “I turn my back for five seconds and when I look back you have another warg as a friend.”
Bilba grinned and patted the warg on the nose. “I decided to name him Harold.”
Frerin raised an eyebrow. “Harold the warg?”
“Yep,” Bilba pushed off the tree, her eyes roving over the number of wargs still there and alive. “Oh, good, there are enough.”
Frerin gave her a suspicious look. “Do I want to know?”
“Probably not,” Bilba replied cheerfully.
Wargs, as it turned out, made for amazing mounts in mountainous terrain.
Bilba and Frerin rode Harold in the front. Near them Fili and Kili were on another, both whooping and hollering as the warg they rode ate up the ground.
Thorin had nearly refused to go, insisting he would rather walk instead. It had been Frerin who’d argued him on, practically accusing him of being afraid to do it. Now he rode with Dwalin, matching scowls on both their faces.
They made fantastic time, finally coming to a stop in a wooded area.
“What’s wrong?” Kili asked. “Why did they stop?”
“They don’t want to go any further,” Bilba said. “They say they aren’t allowed.”
She was feeling something as she spoke. It wasn’t the feeling of an animal in pain or of anything dangerous approaching. It was…she shrieked suddenly and instantly had the attention of everyone in the Company. They had been in the process of dismounting, the wargs running off to wherever they wished to go.
Before any of them could ask her what was wrong, Bilba broke into a run. The trees opened to a large glade fairly quickly. In the center of it sat a log house, fenced with what looked like a beautiful garden in it.
She wasn’t heading toward that. Nearby, on the far corner of the house, was a small herd of the most beautiful paint ponies she’d ever seen. Flying up to the first one, Bilba threw her arms around its neck. It whickered in greeting and nuzzled her. Bilba scooted around without removing her arms and managed to get on its back, leaning forward to keep hugging it.
“Bilba.” Frerin was approaching, his face anxious. “Bilba, you can’t just go around hugging other people’s ponies! Come on, Sweetheart, get down.”
“Little bunny is fine,” an impossibly deep voice spoke from the garden. “The ponies like her.”
Bilba jerked her head up, and up and up and up at the exceptionally tall man stepping out from inside the fenced area.
Frerin was looking as well, his face paling slightly. The rest of the Company, and Gandalf, were on their way and picked up their pace at the sight of the giant man.
Bilba slid off the pony and ran to stand in front of him.
She barely made it past his knee in height. “Hi!” She curtsied. “Bilba Baggins, at your service.”
The behemoth man chuckled before getting down on both knees in front of her. “Beorn, little bunny. I’m pleased to meet you as well.”
They spent two weeks at Beorn’s.
Bilba spent most of the time with his ponies.
They learned little about the man, aside from the surprising fact that he was a shapeshifter and occasionally turned into a bear.
Bilba made friends with the bear, because of course she did.
When it finally came time to leave, Beorn loaned them the use of the ponies to get them to Mirkwood.
Bilba hugged him. She then went to her favorite pony, named Pony because Beorn wasn’t all that creative, got on and refused to get down again.
Until they reached Mirkwood.
She wouldn’t even let Frerin ride with her, telling him to get his own pony.
Which was how Frerin found himself spending several days being jealous.
Of a pony.
It was not one of his finer moments.
Gandalf left them at Mirkwood. He’d promised Beorn he would personally see the ponies back. He felt they should have no problem getting through the forest with Bilba along and promised to meet them in Lake-town.
Unfortunately, Gandalf had greatly underestimated the stubbornness of dwarves.
Bilba was unaffected by the strange mist and magic in the air in the forest but they were a far different story. Within a very short time she found herself trying to corral an entire Company of dwarves who were all hallucinating and insisting they knew the right way to go.
They were all wrong but there was nothing Bilba could do as, one by one, they ran off the path into the forest beyond.
She tried to keep them, even trying to use her magic on Thorin but nothing happened. Her magic did not recognize the mist as something needing to be healed, that or it just knew it was useless as they were surrounded by the stuff.
Finally it was just her and Frerin on the path. He had tried to help her restrain several of the dwarves but they had fought him and, rather than risk hurting them or being hurt in return, he’d let them go.
“Do you think we should follow them?” he asked now.
Bilba sighed in exasperation. “I doubt it’d do any good.” She frowned at him. “You’re not feeling any impulses to go charging off are you?”
“No,” he said, “maybe it’s some side effect from all the stuff the Necromancer did over the years.” He snorted. “At least I got one benefit out of it all.”
“We’ll have to ask the elves for help,” Bilba said. “They probably already caught the others anyway.”
Frerin gave her a confused look. “What elves?”
Bilba pointed to a dark part of the forest. “Those ones.”
As she spoke elves melted out of the woods, bows raised, arrows nocked to them.
One, a thin blond man, stepped forward. “What business do you have here?”
Bilba cocked her head, studying him and the others with him. “Are any of you old enough to have been alive in the First Age?”
The elf scowled at her, affronted.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Bilba said. “We really need to talk to your king. He should be older, right? He’ll know me.”
The blond elf’s eyes narrowed. “You claim to know my father?”
“Not exactly,” Bilba said. “Take me to him and you’ll see what I mean.”
The elf glared, trying to appear tough even though it was obvious he was quite young. “Fine. Let’s go.”
Thranduil was indeed older. Bilba wasn’t sure if he’d been alive in the First Age or not but, given the way his eyes widened with shock when he saw her, he at least knew someone who had been.
“Why are you here?” he said finally, after getting over his shock.
Frerin stepped forward and proceeded to tell him.
“Hmm,” Thranduil said. “Your brother was far less forthcoming, and far more insulting.”
“He does that,” Frerin agreed. “You have him then, and the rest of our people?”
“We found them stumbling around in the woods,” Thranduil acknowledged. “They nearly managed to get themselves eaten by giant spiders.”
“You have my thanks for rescuing them,” Frerin said, bowing.
Thranduil studied him. “I offered your brother a deal, which he rejected. It was to aid you in reclaiming Erebor in return for a family heirloom left in your Treasury.”
“Done,” Frerin said. “I give you my word as a Durin and Prince of Erebor.”
Thranduil raised an eyebrow, his eyes tracking between Bilba and Frerin. “There are few able to capture the heart of a Fae as you have so clearly done. It speaks well to your character. Still, you agree that quickly?”
“As I said,” Frerin said. “I am not so unreasonable as my brother and I don’t hold the same grudges he does. I don’t blame you for not throwing your people at the dragon. The fact you are willing to help now is good enough.”
“The only way to fight a dragon is to take it by surprise,” Thranduil said, “which could not be done before. Now it can.” He was silent a few minutes, considering, and then waved a hand at one of his guards. “Release Oakenshield and the others.” He nodded at Frerin. “We will discuss later how best to deal with the dragon.”
Frerin bowed his head again. “Thank you, my Lord. I am in your debt.”
They were dismissed after that and Bilba took his hand as they walked out. “I have a feeling Thorin won’t be pleased about this.”
Frerin snorted. “That’s because he’s an idiot. I got him an entire army to go take back Erebor. He had a couple of his friends. By all rights, he should be ecstatic.”
“But he won’t be,” Bilba predicted.
Frerin shrugged. “As I said, an idiot.”
Thorin did not disappoint.
Frerin had discovered the elves of Mirkwood greatly enjoyed celebrations. They had a huge ballroom and he’d promptly dragged Bilba to it, insisting it was vitally important for her to see what an amazing dancer he was in a proper setting.
The floor of the room appeared to be the base of what had, at one time, been a massive tree. Rings spread out from the center, various areas lighter or darker shades of brown revealing when, in years past, there had been exceptionally heavy rain or similarly extreme drought. The floor had been lacquered and sanded to a flawlessly smooth, brilliant shine.
Frerin was ecstatic.
When Thorin appeared in the doorway Frerin didn’t even pause but continued moving across the floor with Bilba. Thanks to him, she’d started picking up on a lot of the dance moves he’d learned as a child in Erebor and was able to match him, their moves an easy glide across the floor.
“Here to thank me are you, brother?” He did not look at Thorin as he spoke, his eyes locked on Bilba’s.
“I will not deal with that elf,” Thorin growled.
“You didn’t,” Frerin replied. “I did.”
“Let’s see where our respective strategies have taken us, shall we?” Frerin asked, not breaking step in the dance routine he and Bilba were going through. “Mine got us a place to stay for the night, supplies and an aid from the elves in dealing with the dragon. Your strategy--” Here he finally stopped dancing with Bilba to look at his brother, “got you thrown in the dungeons.”
Thorin glowered. “That elf--”
“Is a king just as our grandfather was,” Frerin said, “and came to aid us in spite of how badly Grandfather treated him, particularly at the end. He also came to our aid in spite of the fact that it was our own damn fault a dragon attacked. When he saw we were fleeing safely, and the dragon was already inside in a confined space where it could hide under mountains of treasure, he chose not to sacrifice his own people fighting it.” He raised an eyebrow at Thorin. “Exactly what part of that justifies rejecting his help now? He’s not even asking for a portion of the treasure, he simply wants jewels that, by right, already belong to him.”
There was a muscle twitching in Thorin’s jaw. From experience, Frerin knew it usually meant his brother was aware he was fighting a losing battle but his stubbornness and pride wouldn’t let him admit it.
Thorin growled something under his breath, spun on one heel and marched out of the room.
Bilba watched him go with a worried frown. “He loves you,” she said to Frerin. “You shouldn’t fight.”
“He’ll be alright,” Frerin said. “He just needs a little time for his ego to recover.” She continued to give him a concerned look and he responded by tilting her chin up and kissing her.
Since Beorn’s he’d been using pretty much everything as an excuse to kiss her so she wasn’t particularly surprised.
“I have no intention of lording it over him that I was right,” Frerin said, “or of making it widely known. I’m not interested in undermining his authority.” He paused to kiss her again before pulling back to gaze into her eyes. “I just want you safe.”
Bilba felt her face heat. “Are you sure I will be? In Erebor?”
“I am,” Frerin said confidently. He hesitated and, for the first time, the briefest hint of uncertainly appeared in his eyes. “There’s something I’ve been thinking of, since we left Beorn’s.”
“Really?” Bilba asked. “What?”
He took both her hands in his. “I had been thinking to ask you if you would officially allow me to court you.”
Bilba’s eyes widened and her stomach felt unsettled. “You had been thinking?”
“I realized,” Frerin said, “we’ve already been courting and asking to make it official would simply add a wasted step. Not only that but courting is usually a way to get to know one another. I’ve known you for eleven years and, I may be wrong, but I think you have a pretty good understanding of me as well.”
“You’ve ensured I do,” Bilba said dryly. Even after they’d left the Shire, nearly five months earlier, he hadn’t stopped spending nearly every second with her, not only telling her about himself but showing her. His love and loyalty toward his brother, his affection and patience with his nephews, his leadership and intelligence toward the rest of the Company coupled with the ease with which he stepped back to allow his brother to be the true leader. And, last, his bravery, his courage and his protectiveness of her.
He grinned. “I’ve certainly tried.” His face grew serious and he got that intense look in his eyes that made her stomach do all sorts of odd things. “What I’m trying to say is I’ve spent decades watching the world pass me by and eleven years specifically watching you pass by. Now that I’m free and my will is my own I find it impossible to let the same thing continue to happen.”
He went down on one knee, still holding her hands.
Bilba froze, gaping at him. “What are you doing?”
“I love you,” Frerin said, his eyes never leaving hers. “My life hasn’t been the same since I met you and I can’t imagine it without you.” He took a deep breath. “Bilba Baggins. Will you marry me?”
Bilba’s eyes went wide and her heart lurched in her chest. “Frerin – I – I mean – what about--”
He stood up and wrapped an arm around her waist. “How do you feel about me?” he asked. His eyes were locked on hers, his gaze completely focused on her and Bilba felt her heart lurch wildly in her chest.
She put her hands on one of his forearms and his bicep.
He pressed his forehead against hers. “How do you feel about me?” he asked again. His voice was gentle, no pressure behind it, and his arm around her was loose. Bilba had no doubt if she tried to move away he wouldn’t stop her.
“I love you,” Bilba whispered finally. “I have for some time now.”
He kissed her and she wound an arm around the back of his neck. When he pulled away she left it there, arching her back so she could still look up and see his face.
“Then marry me,” he said again. “Don’t worry about what’s happened in the past, or what might happen in the future. Whatever may come, we’ll face it together.”
Bilba found herself nodding slowly, a smile spreading over her face almost of its own accord. “Okay.”
This time it was his turn to freeze. “Okay? Is that a yes?”
Bilba laughed. “Yes. That’s a yes.”
He shouted, then proceeded to put an arm under her legs, lift her up and kiss her. Bilba wrapped both arms around his neck and hugged him.
“We can ask Thranduil to do it,” Frerin said. “Or you can, I suppose. If I asked he’d probably just laugh at me.”
Bilba jerked her head up and gave him an incredulous look. “You want to get married now?”
“We’re leaving in the morning,” Frerin said reasonably. “Marrying on the road isn’t very romantic and I don’t think Erebor will be in shape to host a wedding after we get rid of the dragon.”
“So sure of our success,” Bilba said dryly. “And what about your brother? Isn’t he a king?”
“Indeed,” Frerin agreed. “But we’re in someone else’s kingdom. It’d be rude to ask my brother instead of Thranduil.”
Bilba considered him. “You know he’s going to kill you, right?”
Frerin grinned. “I’m hoping there’s still some residual ‘my brother has returned from the dead’ feelings left over that’ll get me out of it.”
Bilba’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve been planning this awhile haven’t you?”
“It’s possible.” As he spoke he was moving slowly, dancing while still holding her in his arms. “What do you say?”
Bilba tried, and failed, to prevent a smile of her own. “Well, I would hate to waste all your hard work.”
His only response was to kiss her again.
She could get used to that.
Thorin was not surprised that Frerin had convinced Bilba to marry him or that he’d managed to convince her to do it immediately.
He was actually more surprised Frerin hadn’t managed it sooner.
He had, after all, grown up with his brother and was well acquainted with his impatience, a trait which appeared to have grown far worse after his suffering at the hands of the Necromancer.
He did have a problem with Thranduil overseeing it.
In the end they comprised. Thorin would perform the ceremony while Bilba smoothed things over with Thranduil.
Frerin wasn’t precisely sure where the compromise came in to play. Thorin’s response was to tell him to shut up and be happy he was getting married.
Frerin had to admit he had an excellent point.
The ceremony was held that evening.
Upon hearing about it several of the elven women had whisked Bilba away, calling for sewing kits and other items as they did.
Frerin, meanwhile, was ordered to the baths to get ready himself. When he emerged it was to find his clothing cleaned and mended and laying out on his bed.
Thorin was also there, standing next to it.
“You were right,” he said simply as Frerin got ready.
“Of course I was,” Frerin replied. “About what?”
“I should be grateful,” Thorin said shortly. “I’ve got my brother back and soon I will have my kingdom, far sooner than I would have without your involvement.”
“You’re welcome,” Frerin said. He began putting his braids back in, using the metal beads Thorin had given him soon after they’d met up. The beads had the appropriate markings showing his bloodline instead of the generic ones he’d worn before.
Thorin held his hand out, palm up. “Here.”
He had two more beads in the palm of his hand and Frerin’s eyes widened, recognizing them. “Where did you get those?”
“I’ve always had them,” Thorin said. “It honestly never occurred to me that you or Dis might not know. I apologize for the oversight.”
Frerin picked the beads up almost reverently. They were marriage beads, solid gold, the crest of Durin etched in mithril. The last time he’d seen them they had been gracing the marriage braids of his parents. They’d originally belonged to his grandparents. After his grandmother had passed Thror had given them to his son upon his marriage. After their mother had died unexpectedly their father had removed the beads and Frerin had never seen them again.
“These are meant for the oldest son,” he said, “not me.”
Thorin shrugged. “They are mine. I can do with them as I wish and I wish to give them to you.”
Frerin hugged him.
Thorin started but hugged him back easily enough.
“Do the hobbits have a custom?” he asked after he pulled away. “To mark the fact that they’re married?”
“Rings,” Frerin said, “on the second to last finger of the left hand. I doubt Bilba just so happens to have any laying around but, once Erebor is retaken, I’ll have some made. That way the customs of both our cultures can be respected.”
“You’re so sure of our success?” Thorin asked, unconsciously repeating the same sentiment as Bilba.
“I am,” Frerin said. “I refuse to accept any other outcome.”
Thorin clapped him on the shoulder and headed to the door. “I will pray you are right. Come on, then. You’ve waited long enough, I gather.”
Bilba stood outside the door to the ballroom and tried to focus on breathing.
What if Frerin had changed his mind? What if he wasn’t even waiting for her?
“Relax.” One of the elven maidens who’d helped her get ready smiled. “Rarely have I seen anyone so utterly in love as that Prince of yours.”
Bilba smiled back in gratitude, her nerves settling a little. She smoothed her hands down the dress the elves had loaned her. She had no idea where it had come from. It was pale gold and white, with off the shoulder straps and was designed as a single piece flowing down her body with no break between a bodice and skirt. The elves had somehow managed to alter the dress in a ridiculously short time so it fit her perfectly, clinging to her body until it reached about her knees where it flared out into yards and yards of fabric that pooled on the floor and created a shimmering circle around her.
They’d freed her hair from its braid and curled it, an act that had taken hours, pulling some of it back and arranging it in an elaborate design with a netting of gold thread and diamonds worked through it.
They’d loaned her earrings and a gold necklace as well. The chain of the necklace at one point changed into a design of delicate flowers and plants, dipping down into a pendant of sorts in the front.
“Are you ready?” the young woman asked and Bilba nodded. Her stomach was fluttering and her nerves were jangling so she took a moment to focus on breathing.
She couldn’t believe she was really doing this. On the one hand it felt like it was all happening to fast. On the other, it felt like she’d been waiting forever.
The doors were pushed open and Bilba caught sight of the Company, arrayed in the best clothing they had, waiting near the center. Thorin was also there. Elves were at the edges of the room, including Thranduil, who looked amused more than anything while his son, standing next to him, simply looked confused.
Then Bilba caught sight of Frerin, standing near Thorin, and relief coupled with a sense of calm flooded her.
She took a breath and walked to him, taking his hands as soon as she was close enough.
“You look stunning,” he whispered.
Thorin was speaking but Frerin couldn’t have repeated a single word of what he said.
When the doors had opened and Bilba had walked in he’d literally felt as if his breath had been stolen away.
He definitely knew his heart skipped a beat.
Thorin cleared his throat and he blinked, looking at him in confusion.
“The beads?” Thorin said wryly.
“Oh, right.” Frerin got them out, only to feel a flash of panic as he realized he’d never explained them or their significance to Bilba. “These are how dwarves show others that we’re married.” He said in a rush, showing them to her. “We have a specific braid and then these are put on them.”
Bilba nodded and Frerin, who was proud his hands were only shaking a little, managed to get the braid and bead in her hair before showing her how to do the same for him.
Before Thorin could continue, she caught Frerin’s hand. She reached into a small pocket on the dress and came back out holding two small rings. One was a simple gold band with a chain threaded through it while the other was thin and designed to look like a flower.
“In the Shire we wear rings,” she stammered. “These were my parents and I know my father’s is far too small for you but I thought maybe--”
Frerin took the smaller ring and carefully slid it onto the proper finger of her left hand. He raised an eyebrow in question and she hesitantly stepped forward and raised up on her toes to clasp the chain and second ring around his neck.
The act brought her in perfect position for him to wrap his arms around her, which he proceeded to do.
Thorin began repeating the standard dwarven marriage vows which Frerin repeated, followed by Bilba.
After that his brother’s voice faded away again as Frerin got entirely lost staring into Bilba’s eyes.
That was until his brother started clearing his throat again and Frerin turned to glare at him.
“You’re married,” Thorin said, his tone long suffering. “Kiss her already.”
“About time,” Frerin growled. He turned and proceeded to do precisely that.
Around them cheers and applause broke out and Frerin wished, for just a moment, that they could just freeze time there and never have to leave to face a dragon or another Necromancer or anything else of the sort.
Then he remembered his own words to Bilba about not worrying about the future and decided to take his own advice.
And he would start, he decided, by kissing his wife.
The elves of Mirkwood proved their reputation for enjoying celebrations was well earned.
The festivities for Bilba and Frerin’s marriage lasted well over two days. The good mood was apparently contagious for Thorin didn’t insist they leave early the next morning as planned but allowed them all to relax and enjoy the party.
Bilba and Frerin joined in for part of the first night, accepting well wishes and thanking the elves for their hospitality. At some point, however, they quietly retired and were seen very little after that. They knew, after all, there was little time for them before they would have to leave for Erebor and wished to make the most of it. A few times they were spotted wandering through some of the gardens of Mirkwood or watching the stars together on one of the viewing platforms high in the trunks of one of the trees.
On the dawn of the third day they finally appeared back in public, so to speak, as the Company was preparing to leave. Thorin, having nothing better to do, had ended up actually speaking to Thranduil during the two days they’d tarried. Frerin doubted the two had become friends, and couldn’t say they ever would, but they had come to a, grudging, sort of mutual understanding.
During their talks the two had come up with a plan to deal with Smaug. Thranduil could, if he wished, march his entire army to Erebor. The second they tried to march inside, however, the dragon would wake up, if he were still alive, and incinerate them before they could enter. Then he would undoubtedly leave the mountain and take to the air, an action which would have devastating consequences. The air was where dragons were king. They could incinerate entire ranks of soldiers while remaining untouchable or they could swoop from the skies and break battalions in one pass.
Apparently the two had come up with a plan that involved a small group of elves traveling with them to the mountain. Thranduil would come behind them with his army. If the plan were successful he could help secure the mountain from any wishing to plunder it. If the plan failed they could, attempt, to contain the dragon within Erebor.
Thorin refused to discuss the specifics of the actual plan until they’d arrived. According to Dwalin this meant it was probably an insane one. After this the Company ended up creating a betting pool on what Frerin’s reaction would be once he found out.
Kili was the first to spot him when he and Bilba finally reappeared. “I’m surprised you two showed up on your own. I figured we’d have to come drag you out.”
Bilba immediately went bright red and Frerin, exasperated, smacked Kili on the back on the head. “Stop embarrassing my wife, imp.”
Kili flashed an unapologetic grin. “Sorry, Uncle.”
Frerin went to go speak to Thorin while Bilba helped Kili load up supplies. Thorin clapped his brother on the back and led him off into a separate room.
They’d barely been gone when the sound of loud voices came through the closed door, earning a concerned look from Bilba.
“Don’t worry about it,” Kili said happily. “Frerin is just finding out what the plan is for dealing with Smuag.”
“What is the plan?” Bilba asked.
“No idea,” Nori said cheerfully walking past, “but I’m stood to make a fortune off it either way.”
The door opened and Frerin stalked out, his hands clenched in fists at his side. He caught sight of Bilba and made a clear effort to control himself, flexing his hands and taking a few deep breaths.
He strode over and gently put his hands on her shoulders before leaning forward to rest his forehead against hers and close his eyes.
Finally he pulled away and opened them. “I’m sorry, Darling,” he said casually, “but it looks like I’m going to have to stage a coup, kill my brother and rule Erebor in his stead.”
“Oh, no,” Bilba deadpanned. She reached up and slid her arms around his neck, interlacing her fingers together behind his head. “What about our plans to have him marry us again in Erebor?”
Frerin wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer, pretending to consider. “Well, I suppose we could always have Elrond do it in Rivendell. I’m sure the elves would love to be there.”
“Hmmm,” Bilba leaned back, putting it so her weight hung off her arms. “That would put us closer to the Shire.”
“Precisely,” Frerin said, “which would make it easier to do our third wedding in the Shire for Primula and Drogo to attend.”
“We’d still only get three weddings, though,” Bilba said reasonably, “you wanted at least four, remember?”
Frerin made a tsking sound. “True.” He grinned at Kili. “Hobbits believe in going to the extreme on things, you know. You should see how many meals they have.” He turned back to Bilba. “I suppose I could let him live…for awhile at least.”
“We’ll probably all get eaten by the dragon anyway,” Bilba said cheerfully.
Frerin’s eyes lit with humor. “Excellent point, my Love. The bright side it is.”
With that he linked arms with her and led her off to speak to one of the other Company members nearby.
Behind him, Kili frowned. “Why would you want more than one wedding?”
Fili strode past him to grab a sack of supplies. “Multiple wedding nights,” he said immediately, hefting the bag over his shoulder. “Can you blame him?”
Frerin half turned from where he and Bilba had been speaking to Gloin. “Fili, stop ogling your Aunt.”
They left a few hours later.
Thranduil’s son, Legolas, went with them, leading a small complement of their finest archers.
Bilba, walking arm in arm with Frerin at the back of the group, raised an eyebrow at the longbows and large supply of arrows.
“Do I want to know?”
“Probably not,” Frerin said. He slowed as he spoke, increasing the distance between them and the rest of the group.
Bilba wrapped both arms around his bicep and moved to lean her head against his shoulder. “So,” she started, “I’ve been thinking--”
“No,” Frerin said immediately, “you can’t try to reason with the dragon before we try to kill him.”
Bilba straightened, glaring at him. “You don’t know that’s what I was going to say.”
Frerin stopped and turned to face her, taking her hands in his. “I’m sorry, Love,” he said, “what is it?”
Bilba’s eyes narrowed, catching the humor in his tone. “I’m not predictable.”
He cupped a hand around the back of her head and kissed her. “Of course not.”
“And you can’t just distract me by kissing me,” she said even as he kissed her again.
“Of course not, Darling.”
Bilba sighed in annoyance. “You don’t know I can’t reason with him.”
They started walking again, holding hands. “But I do know he’ll probably try and set you on fire before you can get a word out.”
“I can be invisible if I want.”
“And if he simply lights up the entire room?”
“Stop being logical.”
“Stop trying to talk to dragons.”
Thorin had originally planned to pass through Lake-town on the way to the Mountain, refreshing their supplies and hopefully gaining the support of some of the Men there.
With the help of the elves, however, this became unnecessary, particularly with the potential threat to Bilba in a town full of strangers.
Frerin, therefore, was in complete agreement with his brother, for once, on passing the town entirely and continuing on to Erebor.
They arrived with time to spare and easily located the back door, mainly because Frerin had actually gone the day their father had wanted to show it to them, as opposed to Dis who’d slept in and Thorin who’d been off hunting.
The heavy block of stone moved in with a grating sound and Bilba saw the change in Frerin and Thorin’s eyes as the corridor beyond was revealed.
They both moved forward, touching the walls reverently. Several of the others who’d also been in Erebor before its fall reacted in much the same way, while the younger dwarves who’d been born in the Blue Mountains were merely curious about the kingdom they’d grown up hearing so much about.
Bilba hung back with the elves, standing near Legolas who was eyeing the dark passage beyond the door.
“I’m surprised you married one of them,” he said, “You really want to live inside a giant rock the rest of your life?”
“I want to live with him the rest of my life,” Bilba corrected, “and he wants to live inside a giant rock,” she shrugged, “and it’s not as if I can never leave it.” Frerin had explained his belief about Erebor and its location and how he believed it would protect her and she agreed with his reasoning. “I doubt another Necromancer will be able to get as close to me.”
Legolas frowned. “Another one? You’ve had a run in with one already?”
Memories flooded her and Bilba felt a chill run through her. She pressed her hands together and looked down, nodding.
“Are you alright?” Frerin was there, glaring at Legolas, and Bilba stepped forward so he could wrap his arms around her and she could rest her head on his shoulder.
“It’s not his fault,” she said. “I was just remembering bad memories.”
“I apologize,” Legolas said instantly. “It was not my intent.”
“It’s okay.” Bilba straightened but stayed in contact with Frerin, holding onto his shirt to keep him close. “Just what is the plan for the dragon anyway? You’ve all been very secretive about it.”
“We’re going to sneak through the Treasury, lure the dragon into the rest of Erebor and shoot it in the eyes with longbows,” Legolas said.
Bilba blinked in surprise and looked at Frerin who shrugged. “Don’t look at me like that. It was my brother’s idea.”
“Sounds like something he’d come up with,” Bilba said. She frowned as she said it, glancing in Thorin’s direction. He’d been acting…off the closer they’d gotten to the Mountain. His mood, instead of lightening as she’d have expected so near to his home, had soured. He’d become short with everyone, quick to anger and prone to brooding. He’d also become almost irrationally obsessed with the Arkenstone.
Frerin had kept her away from him and had taken to staring at him, his eyes far away as if seeing something, or someone, else. Bilba hadn’t asked him about it yet and he hadn’t volunteered anything but, if it continued, she would bring it up soon.
The implication of Frerin’s words hit her. “Wait, you want to lure him out and shoot him in the eye? That means you plan to wake him up?”
“You need to stay out here,” Frerin responded. “You’ll be safe and if anything should go wrong you can always take refuge inside the tunnel.”
Bilba gave him a horrified look. “You want me to stay out here alone while you go bait a dragon?” She shook her head. “No.” Frerin started to argue but she simply repeated, “No, Frerin, I won’t do it. You can’t leave me out here.”
She didn’t know what scared her more, being left alone or Frerin facing a dragon while she waited outside with no idea of what was happening. She did, however, know which fear would get through to her husband. “Please, Frerin.” She stepped closer to him, her hands tangling in his shirt. “Don’t leave me alone out here.”
Frerin sighed. “Bilba.”
“You should stay out here with her,” a voice said and they both turned to see Thorin standing there. His eyes were lit with an odd light and there was an almost feverish look to him that had Bilba itching to step forward and try to heal him of…whatever it was. Frerin had already moved, though, putting her slightly behind him and blocking her path to him, or his to hers.
“Thorin--” he started to say but his brother cut him off.
“You’re married now, brother. Your responsibility lies with her. Mine is to the mountain.”
That wasn’t particularly fair, Bilba thought. She had no doubt Frerin could bear both responsibilities with little difficultly. After all, their father and grandfather had both been married and ruled at the same time without problem…well until the dragon came but that had nothing to do with them being married.
Frerin was silent, clearly warring with himself. Then, to Bilba’s surprise, he stepped back, putting himself firmly in front of her. “You’re right,” he said simply. “I’ll wait here. Good luck, brother.”
Thorin seemed as startled as Bilba felt by Frerin’s easy capitulation. He nodded and the two clasped forearms. The rest of the Company came forward and Bilba and Frerin wished them, and the elves, luck.
Then all of them were funneling inside the tunnel and she and Frerin were left on a ledge with the wind whistling past them.
Bilba shivered, her stomach clenching with fear at the thought of any of her friends coming to harm. “I should go in,” she repeated. “What if one of them needs to be healed?”
Frerin wrapped his arms around her, his grip tight enough to hold her back if she suddenly tried to run after them. His own face was grim, his jaw set. “It’s a dragon, Sweetheart. If one of them gets injured there won’t be enough left for you to heal.”
Bilba swallowed hard. “Why did you agree so fast to stay?”
“Because he was right,” Frerin said. “He exaggerated, as usual, but, in this instance at least, he was right. There are plenty available to go face the dragon. There was no reason to leave you alone.”
Bilba managed to turn around in his arms to face him. “Are you angry at me?” she asked. “Do you blame me?”
Frerin tore his eyes away from the doorway and looked at her with a frown. “What? No, of course not.”
He kissed her and she responded, her fingers curling into his biceps. When he pulled away his eyes were still dark but it wasn’t directed at her. He took her by the hand and led her to sit near the doorway.
And there they waited.
The mountain shook and a long, low sound came echoing from the tunnel. Bilba leaned over and gasped at the sight of orange light flickering off the walls. “Frerin.”
“I know,” he said, his grip tight around her waist. “It’s awake.”
The sound continued. Every so often the entire mountain seemed to tremble. Frerin shut his eyes and leaned his head back against the stone, his face drawn.
Bilba flinched at every noise and rumble, her terror increasing at the thought of a creature so large it could literally shake a mountain.
Then the sounds and tremors stopped.
Bilba held her breath.
An explosion sounded from somewhere below them, off to the left.
Frerin swore viciously and suddenly was surging to his feet, dragging her with him. He pulled her inside the tunnel before crouching down low, holding her with him.
Bilba looked through the doorway and felt her breath freeze in her lungs at the sight of a massive dragon spiraling upwards. As she watched it snapped its wings out, going into an easy glide.
It was massive, she thought numbly. Frerin had been right to not let her go speak to it. Its teeth were probably bigger than she was. She would have been so petrified it was unlikely she’d have gotten a single word out.
The dragon was heading away from them. Frerin got up behind her and stepped out. “I’m going to see where it’s going. Stay here.”
Bilba put her hand in his and held tight. He looked at her and then wordlessly strode out, pulling her with him.
As he did Bilba’s mind went to the others in the mountain and wondered what the dragon’s exit meant. Were they still alive? Injured? Trapped somewhere?
Frerin was afraid too, she could tell, but going inside when the dragon could return at any moment wouldn’t help anyone.
So they went to see where it was going and tried not to think of what might be behind them in the ruins of Erebor.
Or of the fact that they could well be the only living beings currently on the mountain.
Smaug burned Lake-town.
Frerin watched in horror. Bilba was completely still in his arms. They’d gone to the Spires to see what was happening and, as soon as they had, she’d tried to rush toward the town.
He’d caught her around the waist and pulled her back. Currently he had both arms wrapped around her and was holding her wrists, lightly but in such a way that he could tighten his grip if she tried to dart forward again.
“Frerin?” She was shaking and crying, her voice wavering. She tried to take a step but he pulled her back gently, putting his face alongside hers so his mouth was by her ear.
“No, Sweetheart. Even if you were a full fairy you wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“But they didn’t know!” she cried. “They didn’t even know we were here and now the dragon is killing them! Why? Why is he doing it?”
“I don’t know,” Frerin said. “Perhaps he thinks they aided us somehow.”
The dragon made another pass, flame belching out to blanket the already burning town. At first they’d heard a dim clanging of a bell, warning people, but it had long since stopped. Frerin caught sight of a few black shapes on the waters outside the town and pointed them out to Bilba. “See, there? There are survivors. People are escaping.”
“He’ll probably just burn them after he’s done with the town,” Bilba said dully.
Frerin released her wrists to wrap his arms more completely around her, resting his chin on the top of her head. He’d tried to turn her away from the town a few times but she’d resisted and he’d relented, unwilling to manhandle her more than he’d already been forced to.
Suddenly a distant shriek rang out. Frerin straightened and saw the dragon shoot straight up in the air, spiraling.
And then it fell, striking the surface of the water with a noise audible even to them, and sinking below it.
For a few seconds they both stared, blankly.
“What was that?” Bilba asked in disbelief. “What happened?”
“I think,” Frerin said slowly, “that someone in Lake-town just earned themselves the title of Dragonslayer.”
He took her hand and pulled her away, back toward Erebor. “Come on, let’s go see if we can find the others.”
The fact no one had come out to see where the dragon had gone gnawed at him, leaving a hollow, sinking feeling in his gut.
Bilba came with him but half turned, looking back. “But what about them?”
“Erebor owes much to the Men of Lake-town,” Frerin agreed. “We can best serve them by securing the mountain and the Treasury. We have no food supplies to give them but we can certainly give them enough funds to rebuild. Come on, we need to find Thorin and the others.”
He knew he sounded cold, callous even, but he’d been raised to act in spite of his emotions. His heart raged against the wanton death visited upon Lake-town but there was nothing he could currently do about it.
She nodded, using one hand to wipe the tears off her face. Frerin stopped and put his hands on her face, using his thumbs to wipe the tears off for her. He bent his head and kissed her and then said. “We’ll take care of them, Bilba. I swear it. It would take us days to get there and the others in the Mountain may need our help as well and they’re practically at our feet. Not to mention Thranduil is probably already on his way with his army and will want to know the status of his son. One thing at a time, alright? I swear we’ll take care of them all but it can’t all be done at the same time. There’s only two of us.”
“You’re right,” Bilba whispered. “I’m sorry.”
Frerin took her hand again. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Love. Now, things appear to have fallen apart rather spectacularly on us. What do you say we start putting it all back together again?”
Bilba nodded and forced a small smile. “Okay.”
With that they headed back toward Erebor and Frerin tried very hard to ignore the way his gut was twisting inside him.
He just prayed things could still be put back together.
Bilba knew something was wrong the second she saw Thorin.
They found the Company in the Treasury, shifting through treasure in the hunt for the Arkenstone.
Fili saw Frerin first and jogged over to greet him. Frerin hugged his nephew, “What’s going on? Is he not concerned about the dragon?”
Fili frowned, his eyes troubled. “I don’t know. He’s been acting odd ever since he saw the treasure. He started acting paranoid and accused the elves of plotting to assassinate him. He got so loud he woke up the dragon before we were in place. It chased us through the mountain. Uncle Thorin blamed the elves again, saying they had planned things this way to get him and the rest of us killed. Apparently Smaug is just as paranoid as uncle because he decided we were all conspiring against him. He left saying he’d get his revenge by destroying Lake-town and Mirkwood. The elves wanted to pursue but Thorin had them locked up in the lower levels.”
Frerin’s eyes widened. “He did what?”
“Brother,” Thorin’s voice sounded and Bilba turned to see Thorin striding toward them. He looked even worse than when he’d gone in, Bilba thought. His skin was drained of color, sweat gathered on his brow in spite of the coolness of the room and his eyes darted back and forth as if unable to fully focus on anything. “I would speak to you, in private.”
As he spoke he glared at Fili who immediately put his head down and returned to the search.
“Of course,” Frerin said flatly.
Thorin nodded to a doorway. Frerin put an arm around Bilba and brought her with him, a fact Thorin made no comment on.
Outside the doorway the area opened up into a massive space. Stairs led all over, up to walkways, down to lower ones and everywhere in between. Rows of homes were cut into the sides of the rock and deep chasms opened below them leading into Erebor’s mines.
“What of the dragon?” Thorin asked shortly.
“Dead,” Frerin said, “though not before it burned Lake-town to the ground. They will expect compensation from us when they found out it woke up because of us and we will owe it to them.”
Thorin sneered. “They will not receive a single coin from my Treasury. They did not lift so much as a finger to help us in our time of need.”
“Our time of need was our own doing,” Frerin responded, his voice tight. “Theirs was not. And what of the elves? You would betray our allies?”
“They are no allies of mine,” Thorin growled. “They would have us all burned by the dragon and the treasure kept for themselves.”
“They want no treasure aside from that which is already theirs!” Frerin said, his voice rising. “You are acting like Father and Grandfather before him. You swore you would never let this happen to you, that you would not suffer the same gold sickness they did!”
“It’s the ring,” Bilba said, her voice louder than she’d intended. She’d felt it as soon as Thorin had neared. “It’s similar to what was affecting you, Frerin. I never felt it until I tried to heal you. I never felt anything from the ring before but, now, it’s lousy with darkness. It’s doing something to him.”
Frerin frowned. “Which ring?”
Bilba pointed and Frerin scowled. “Grandfather’s ring, and Father’s after that. Suddenly things make a lot more sense.”
“I am not affected by any ring,” Thorin nearly snarled. “And I am done speaking to you. We will find the Arkenstone and the armies will be summoned to defend Erebor from her enemies, no matter who they may be.” At this he gave Frerin a long look, the implied threat in his words clear.
Then he turned to focus on Bilba and she flinched at the darkness in his eyes. “Your wife has magic. We can use her to find the Arkenstone faster.”
He started to reach for her only to stop as Frerin stepped in his way. “I don’t use my wife for anything,” he said, his voice cold, “and neither will you.”
Thorin sneered. “Have a care how you tread, brother. Blood does not give you freedom to act however you wish.”
He started to turn away.
“No,” Frerin said, “it doesn’t, but it certainly gives me leeway to do this.”
With that he grabbed Thorin’s shoulder, jerked him around, twisted his body and drove his elbow straight into Thorin’s face.
Bilba clapped her hands over her mouth, muffling a shriek.
Thorin dropped like a rock, out cold, and Frerin knelt beside him. He pulled his boot knife, cut off a strip of his tunic and pulled the ring off Thorin’s finger. He quickly wrapped it in the strip of cloth and then shoved it into his pocket. “Can you feel anything from it?”
Bilba shook her head. “Now that it’s not in physical contact with him it just feels like a ring again.”
Frerin nodded. “We’ll figure out what to do with it later. Damn magic rings. They should come with warnings, may cause bouts of insanity in dwarven royalty.”
Bilba knelt next to Thorin and studied him. “I think he looks better.”
Indeed, Thorin’s color was already improving and he was no longer sweating.
“Let’s hope so,” Frerin said standing. He clapped his hands together and let out a breath. “Alright, so now all we have to do is try to repair things with the elves and hope Thranduil doesn’t try to go to war with us over how we treated his son.”
“What about Thorin?” Bilba asked. “How are you going to explain him?”
A boot scraped on the floor and they both turned to see Dwalin standing in the doorway. He studied Thorin for a few minutes and then looked at Frerin calmly. “I thought he was ill but, you know him, never wants to admit it. Finally collapsed did he?”
“That he did,” Frerin said. “I don’t suppose you’d mind getting him somewhere he can rest and recover would you?”
“Alright,” Dwalin said with a shrug. “What are you going to do?”
“Try to ensure he still has a kingdom to rule when he wakes up.”
Dwalin grunted. He knelt, easily pulled Thorin over his shoulders and stood up again. “Sounds like fun.”
“Doesn’t it always?” Frerin asked.
Dwalin started to turn and then paused. “We sent Nori out to keep an eye on things. He says the survivors of Lake-town are headed this way. He also spotted Thranduil’s army on the move.”
“Well of course he did,” Frerin muttered. “I need everyone to stop looking for the Arkenstone and try to find the jewels we promised Thranduil. In the meantime get someone to show me where Thorin put the elves, would you?”
Bilba wrapped her arms around Frerin’s waist. “If you’d let me talk to the dragon we could have avoided all this you know.”
“Yes,” Frerin responded, “because we’d be dead.”
Bilba grinned. “Details.”
Frerin chuckled. “Shall we?”
Bilba linked her arm with his and nodded. “We shall indeed.”
Bilba offered to handle talking to the elves.
The lower levels were relatively undamaged, the dragon having only been interested in the Treasury, and it was there that the dungeons were located.
Thorin had been keeping the keys in a pocket so Frerin retrieved them, took Bilba to the lower levels and waited in the hall outside while Bilba went in to release the elves and, hopefully, convince them not to declare war on Erebor.
Frerin privately had to admit that if anyone could manage to start a war five minutes after reclaiming their kingdom it would be his brother, corruption from a ring or not.
He heard the screech of old, worn hinges as the cell door was opened and then the quiet murmur of voices.
There was no way to know what Bilba had said but, a short time later, she came out with Legolas and the others behind her.
Frerin straightened immediately and bowed in apology to his fellow Prince. “On behalf of Erebor I offer my deepest apologies for the way you were treated. I know my brother, once he is recovered, will do the same.”
Legolas studied him with a blank expression. “Bilba explained to us that Oakenshield was influenced by a ring?”
Frerin pulled the ring out of his pocket, unwrapping it and showing it to the elf. “This one. It belonged to my father and grandfather before him. Both ended up going mad and we had come to the conclusion a strain of madness infected our bloodline.” He frowned at the thing. “My Grandfather claimed once that it was one of the dwarven rings of power but I never believed him. The ones given to the dwarves were all supposed to be lost, eaten by dragons, along with their bearers usually.” He gave the elf a sardonic grin. “Apparently I should have put a little more credit into my Grandfather’s story.”
“What do you plan to do with it?” Legolas asked.
“Probably hand it over to the wizard if he ever shows up,” Frerin said. “He can deal with it. In the meantime, your father is on his way. I imagine you wish to go speak to him.”
Legolas frowned. “You plan to just let us go? Without first demanding we vow not to speak of what happened?”
“I do,” Frerin said firmly. “I do not wish for Erebor to be reclaimed only to immediately have enemies on her doorstep. I want us to be allies and if that’s what I want then I need to treat you as such.”
Legolas studied him and then gave a short nod. He strode past them, the other elves in his wake. As they vanished Bilba gripped Frerin’s hand. “Do you think he’ll tell Thranduil what Thorin did?”
“I don’t know,” Frerin said truthfully, “but it’s out of my hands.” He sighed. “We need to prepare for the Lake-town survivors. I imagine they won’t be happy with us.”
“They should show up at the same time as Thranduil’s people I think,” Bilba said. “He’ll be able to keep them from doing anything rash.”
“Assuming his son doesn’t report being locked in the dungeon,” Frerin said, “in which case he may well join with Lake-town against us.”
“As you said,” Bilba said, “it’s out of our hands. Let’s go help look for what Thranduil wanted in the meantime, alright?”
Frerin nodded and, together, they headed out.
Thorin hadn’t awakened by the time Thranduil arrived.
Bilba thought perhaps the ring had been working on Thorin a long time, quietly, only to suddenly awaken in full once they reached the mountain. If this were the case it might take time for his body to completely overthrow its effects, meaning he was better off asleep during the process.
At least she hoped that was the case. She’d offered to try healing him but Frerin had rejected it, worried she would be assaulted by black magic again as she had been when healing him.
When word came that Thranduil had arrived, along with the survivors of Lake-town, Frerin went out to meet them with Bilba at his side. The others of the Company came as well and arrayed themselves in a semi-circle behind Frerin and Bilba. They had all dressed in armor found in the armory, not to appear threatening but to try and look official. It was important, Frerin argued, to look as if they belonged there and not like vagabonds who’d stumbled into the mountain and were squatting there. He’d found an old set of armor he’d once worn and had put it on as well, polishing it to a high gleam beforehand.
Bilba still wore the clothing she normally did but she’d cleaned it and repaired the few holes and worn spots it had picked up in their travels. She’d also washed her hair and braided it back carefully, adding fresh flowers along its length. Her marriage braid hung over her shoulder, the bead at the end sparkling in the early morning sun.
Thranduil’s soldiers and the Lake-town survivors stayed near Dale while Thranduil came forward riding an elk. A tall Man with dark hair rode next to him on a horse. Behind, near the forefront of the elves, Bilba caught sight of Legolas.
As they neared Bilba found herself starting to shake. She didn’t know the Man who was coming and he was the approximate age of the Necromancer who’d attacked her in Rivendell. He also had the same general coloring and his clothing, while not black, was dark.
It was silly. The nearer he came the less he looked like the other Man but the damage was already done, memories of that attack flooding through her. She hadn’t expected it to happen and so was unprepared. She tried, she really did, to put the memories aside. She’d been around Gandalf and Aragorn since the attack, after all, and had no problems.
Except Gandalf looked nothing like the Necromancer and Aragorn was her friend, while this Man was a stranger, one who had every right to be angry, who had no reason to not sell her out to the first Necromancer he saw and…
Her nerve utterly failed her and she moved to the left, stepping behind Frerin so his body blocked her from seeing the Man. She put her hands on Frerin’s back, the metal of his armor cool under her hands, and tried to focus on breathing. She could feel the presence of the others behind her and knew they wouldn’t let anyone hurt her, knew her husband wouldn’t let anyone hurt her, but she was afraid nonetheless.
“Prince Frerin,” Thranduil’s voice sounded, “Greetings. My son informs me your mission was a success.”
“It was,” Frerin agreed. “Though not without consequence.”
“Indeed,” Thranduil said. “Allow me to introduce Bard of Lake-town. He has been elected to speak for them and has requested I act as mediator.”
Bilba felt Frerin’s shoulders relax. Thranduil didn’t seem to know about the brief imprisonment of his son or his other people. One problem solved.
“Of course,” Frerin said instantly. “On behalf of Erebor and the returned King under the Mountain I offer my deepest apologies for your loss, Bard. It was never our intent that the dragon should leave the mountain.”
“You are the King under the Mountain?” Bard asked. “Thranduil mentioned someone else. Thorin, not Frerin.”
“Thorin is the king,” Frerin said. “Unfortunately he took ill shortly after our entry into the mountain. I believe it to have been a combination of stress and exhaustion, for he has pushed himself harder than anyone. As his younger brother I have the authority to speak on his behalf until he has recovered enough to take his throne. We cannot return your lost loved ones, Bard, but I assure you we can, and will, rebuild Lake-town and Dale if you choose. Every last one of your people will be fully provided for.”
“And what of our agreement?” Thranduil asked languidly. “Of the jewels you promised to return?”
“The agreement still stands,” Frerin answered. “As I feared, Smaug wrecked the Treasury, scattering treasure throughout. It may take time to find them but you are more than welcome to see for yourself. If you wish we would also welcome any help you might offer in organizing the treasure as well, the more hands the faster we’ll find your jewels.”
“You make many promises for one who isn’t king,” Bard said, suspicious, “how are you so sure that your brother will honor anything you’ve said once he’s recovered?”
Frerin didn’t hesitate in his answer. “Because the person I am today is due to the person he is. I’ve always looked up to my brother and he’s always been a role model. He isn’t perfect, no one is, but he is loyal and honorable and an excellent leader. Any positive traits you see in me are because he instilled them.”
Including his penchant for embellishments, Bilba thought dryly. Frerin had already told her his grandfather and father had just as much influence on him. Thorin had taken over leadership after Moria but Frerin had already been captured by the Necromancer by then.
“Who is it hiding behind you?” Bard said suddenly. “You claim to be dealing fairly and openly yet you have one who won’t even show their face but chooses instead to cower like a spy.”
Frerin tensed and when he spoke again his voice was tight. “My apologies, Bard.” There was the slightest hint of steel in his voice as he said the Man’s name, letting him know he’d overstepped himself. Frerin wanted peace and he genuinely wanted to right the wrongs done to Lake-town but it didn’t mean he wasn’t still a Prince and leader in his own right. “My wife was recently attacked by a Necromancer and the memories are still painfully fresh for her.”
“Surely she knows not all Men are Necromancers?” Bard stated, sounding insulted.
Bilba took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Then she opened them and, steeling herself, stepped out so she was standing in front of Frerin.
She then immediately took a step back so the top of her head brushed just under his jaw. She was trying to be brave but there was only so far she could be expected to go. She could feel herself shaking and clasped her hands together to try and make them stop.
Thranduil nodded at her. “Bilba. I’m pleased to see you are well.”
“And I you, my Lord,” Bilba greeted. She looked at Bard and saw he was staring at her in surprise. “I apologize for my fear,” she started. “I am aware not all Men are Necromancers. I have spent very little time around Men. In my entire life, in fact, I have only known two, one a Man raised by elves and the other the wizard Gandalf. My third true meeting with a Man was the Necromancer and though I do not hold his actions against you the attack was, as my husband said, very recent and the sight of a Man, when I am always around elves, dwarves or hobbits, brought back memories I thought I had dealt with.”
Bard looked startled, his eyes taking in her size and delicate frame. It occurred to Bilba that, barefoot and in a sundress amongst dwarves much larger than her in full armor, she probably looked even smaller than she normally did.
A look of guilt crossed Bard’s face, no doubt brought on at least in part by the glares he was currently getting from everyone in the Company, Thranduil and Gandalf.
“I am the one who should apologize,” he said. “I will confess the anger I feel over the loss of Lake-town is great and I allowed it to cause me to overstep. I am sorry, my Lady, for upsetting you.”
Bilba struggled to smile and then looked down.
“If you would all agree,” Thranduil said, “I propose setting up camp between here and Dale where we can start negotiating the particulars of our agreements.”
“Of course,” Frerin said. He wrapped both arms around Bilba as he spoke, drawing her back against him. Immediately her shivering eased and she gripped his arms, relaxing. “In addition if the survivors wish I’d like to offer them shelter in Erebor until such a time as they can get back on their feet.”
Bard frowned. “I would imagine after being abandoned so long Erebor is in no better shape than Dale. My people aren’t fond of living under stone. Thank you for the offer but I think we will set up in Dale.”
Frerin agreed and then they were breaking up and going their separate ways.
Bilba let Frerin lead her inside, the Company parting before them.
Once in she stopped at the sight of Thorin, standing back in the shadows inside the gate.
Frerin paused as well, the Company still behind him. “Brother. I am glad to see you awake once more.”
There was tension in his voice. Carefully he released Bilba and stepped away from her, facing his brother on his own.
Thorin moved forward until he was standing directly in front of Frerin. His eyes, Bilba noted, were clear and his color was normal once again.
He moved suddenly and she tensed but then his arms were going around Frerin and he was dragging him forward in a bear hug.
“You did well,” she heard him say. “Thank you.”
Frerin pulled back, pressing his forehead to Thorin’s. “You worked so hard and for so long to get Erebor back. I just wanted her to still be here for you.” He stepped back and easily dropped to one knee. “The throne is, and always has been, yours, my King, and your people await your command.”
As he spoke the rest of the Company as one also dropped to their knees, bowing their heads before him.
Bilba hesitated and then moved to stand beside Frerin and also carefully knelt. She had married into both the family and race, making Thorin her king as well.
“We will honor the agreements my brother has set in place,” Thorin said, his voice hoarse from emotion.
Bilba let out a breath in relief.
It was over.
The dragon was dead.
Erebor was restored.
Everyone was safe and there were no more pressing problems on the horizon than dealing with the negotiations.
She was safe.
Thorin was speaking again and Frerin stood up next to her, reaching down a hand to help her up.
He smiled at her and she returned one of her own, a feeling of hope rising in her.
Perhaps Frerin was right.
Perhaps her story would have a different ending than the one visited upon so many Fae in the past.
Perhaps she did have options other than fleeing, hiding or dying.
Perhaps she could be happy.
She was allowed to keep her feelings of hope and peace for exactly three days.
Three very busy days.
The elves set up camp near the gates of Erebor and the Men moved into Dale. After that it was a flurry of barely organized chaos as they attempted to make the mountain and city habitable before winter set in. Thorin sent word to his cousin, Dain, who showed up with his own army bringing supplies and tools to aid in the beginnings of the restoration.
Given the speed with which the other dwarf came, never asking a single question about the Arkenstone, Bilba wondered why Thorin hadn’t just asked him for help in the first place but she wisely chose to keep that question to herself.
She barely saw Frerin, or Thorin, Fili or Kili during those three days. They were, after all, the royal family of Erebor and there was far too much work for Thorin to oversee by himself.
So most of the time when she did catch a glimpse of them they were rushing back and forth, escorting Thranduil to the Treasury, negotiating with Bard or the elves, helping set up or transport supplies from the various camps. Nothing was too big or too small for them as they demonstrated their commitment to both the mountain and the surrounding areas.
Bilba primarily spent her time helping one of the other Company members. She didn’t want to stand around being useless when everyone else was working so she started finding the closest Company member and would follow them around, helping them with whatever task they were assigned that day. None of them seemed to mind and, in fact, once they caught on she would often come out from the rooms she and Frerin were using inside Erebor to find one of them waiting for her.
And so it went, until the third day when the sound of galloping hooves broke through the established rhythm of the camps.
Bilba caught sight of Gandalf as he vanished into Thranduil’s camp, the expression on his face telling her it wasn’t the time to go greet him.
A few minutes later the flaps of the tent flew back and Thranduil, Legolas, Bard, Thorin, Frerin, Fili and Kili came out, all of them with grim expressions.
Frerin found her in the crowd and headed her direction, wrapping an arm around her waist and guiding her toward Erebor. “You need to get inside the mountain,” he said, his voice tense. “Now. Bard’s getting the women and children of Dale and moving them in as well.” He hesitated. “There’s no evidence of any threats to you from the Lake-town survivors but I’ll have Dain put some of his people in with you to protect you.”
“What’s going on?” Bilba asked.
“Azog is marching an army of orcs on us,” Frerin said shortly. “Gandalf saw them and came to warn us.”
Bilba stumbled to a stop, staring at him in horror. Around them the camps were turning into chaos, people racing past them in all directions. “You have to fight?” she said, her stomach clenching inside her. “All of you?” She reached out and grabbed his arms. “You have to take me with you,” she insisted. “If you get hurt I can help. I can heal you.”
“Bilba.” Frerin put his hands on either side of her face. “You can’t, Sweetheart.”
“Why?” Bilba asked, her voice rising. “Why can’t I stay with you?”
Frerin looked like he was warring with himself over something. Finally he said, “You can’t, Love. Gandalf says there are Necromancers with the army, at least a half dozen, if not more.”
Bilba’s legs buckled and Frerin caught her. She grabbed his shirt and pulled herself upright, clinging to him. Frerin knelt enough to get an arm under her legs and picked her up, carrying her in through Erebor’s broken front gates.
She saw a number of Dain’s soldiers gathering rubble and realized they intended to block up the entrance, effectively locking the women and children inside while they fought outside.
Locking her inside.
Frerin took her through the milling crowd and to the rooms they’d been staying in. It was on one of the higher levels, untouched by Smaug. The rooms had once belonged to Frerin before Erebor had fallen. They had cleaned out the dust and changed out the brittle, rotted bedding and tapestries to restore it to a basic order.
Frerin laid her down on the bed but she grabbed his shirt before he could pull away, sitting up and curling her legs under her to get closer to him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face against him. He hugged her back. “It’ll be okay,” he insisted. “You’ll see. I promised, didn’t I? Your story ends with both of us living longer than any other dwarf or hobbit, surrounded by children and grandchildren.” He pulled away to rest his forehead against hers. “Both of us, alright? That’s where our story ends, not here and certainly not now.”
He kissed her and then he was gone leaving her with empty arms in a silent room.
Bilba studied the closed door, wrapping her arms around her torso.
“You can’t promise me that,” she whispered.
Her only answer was silence.
Before she knew it the gates of Erebor were blocked off, rubble filling the doorway all the way to the battlements.
The women and children huddled inside, still and quiet from fear. Bilba had spotted Bard’s children clustered in a small group, their faces pale. The Man, as it turned out, was the descendant of the Lords of Dale making him the rightful ruler of the city and, as such, would be leading them in battle.
If he didn’t survive the title would fall to his son, a young man not yet fully grown.
Bilba’s eyes flickered to the back of the crowd where Dain’s soldiers were trying to look for her without appearing to do so.
They wouldn’t find her.
She’d passed unnoticed through the lot of them and then called the wind to take her to the top of the battlements overlooking the field outside.
The camps had been broken down to remove anything the orcs could hide behind or use against them.
The armies were arrayed in their place, gleaming armor and weapons glinting in the sun. Bilba saw Frerin, once again in the heavy armor he’d worn to meet Thranduil and Bard. The others were all similarly armed, the Men in a hodgepodge of equipment given to them by the elves and dwarves.
Gandalf was there too, his staff and sword out and held in both hands and she hoped a few of the Necromancers would take the hint and flee altogether rather than try to face him. Frerin had handed off Thorin’s ring to him and she prayed the Necromancers wouldn’t sense the darkness from it and target him to try and get it.
The distant sound of footsteps, an untold number, sounded and she lifted her eyes to see the first ranks of the army marching into view.
She saw no sign of Azog but she did see the Necromancers, six men and three women, marching in a row in the front. They were all dressed in black with staffs in hand and she suppressed a whimper of fear at the sight.
No one beneath her moved as the army came closer, and grew ever larger.
They were outnumbered, Bilba realized, wildly so.
The front ranks came to a stop, a gap of barely fifty or so feet between the two armies.
One of the figures in black strode forward, a young man barely out of his boyhood with stringy blond hair and a thin build.
“Hand over the Fae,” he ordered, his voice high and shrill, “and the Durins and we will leave in peace. Do not and you will die and we will have what we want anyway. The choice is yours.”
Bilba shuddered. She had her arms wrapped around herself, her fingers digging into her biceps hard enough to bruise.
Down below Thranduil, Thorin and Bard looked at Frerin who casually stepped forward.
“Are your fellows so afraid to face us that a sniveling whelp with an overinflated view of himself is the only one stupid enough to speak to us?”
The young man sputtered, his face going red and blotchy with anger. “You will regret your dismissal of me,” he said, his voice cracking at the end.
Frerin snorted. “I doubt that. Regardless, no Durin, or dwarf at all for that matter, with the slightest hint of self-respect would ever surrender themselves to the likes of you. As for this Fae you speak of, I have no idea what you’re talking about. The only races represented here are dwaves, elves and Men who are no doubt currently embarrassed to have to count you and your fellows amongst them.”
He drew his sword and held it loosely in one hand. “If all that was too many words for you let me put it in a way you’ll understand.”
With that he launched into a Khuzdul phrase, the sharp edged, clipped words echoing across the field.
Bilba saw Thorin lean over to him. “I doubt he understood that either, brother.”
Frerin shrugged. “I’m sure he got the idea.”
Thorin raised his sword and soon the others followed as did the bows of the elves. As one they roared and then began running.
The young man went white and scrambled back to the ranks of his own people before they too began to run forward.
Bilba shut her eyes and turned her face away.
Once she found the courage to look again, she helped as best she could, using the wind to warn about attacks from behind, pushing weapons just enough to create an opening, sending heavy gusts to knock orcs off balance. Since learning she could control the wind instead of letting it control her, she’d gotten better, able to use it with precision.
Several times she saw Frerin turn to look in her direction but she stayed invisible, afraid one of the Necromancers would see her.
The morning was overcast, a light fog clinging to the area and she cleared it as best she could, keeping it from being used against those she loved.
As she did she tried her best to not look too closely, not wanting to see the lifeless eyes of the fallen or the blood splattered on the rocks. The sound of battle was nearly deafening, the loud clash of steel, screams of the wounded and, over it all, the sound of thousands yelling battle cries.
It was as she was aiding Legolas, using the wind to send his arrows further, and truer, that she caught an impression of movement off the battlefield. She lifted her eyes and saw a large flag moving in the wind on a nearby hill overlooking the field. She frowned, only for her eyes to widen at the sight of Azog standing on the edge. As she watched he barked an order at a nearby orc and one of the flags changed position. Immediately a portion of the army broke off and turned to Dale, flooding into the ruined city.
He was directing the battle, she realized. She reached a hand up, calling the wind but it was too far away, she couldn’t reach him.
She found Frerin in the battle. He was close to her, just below and to the right, but the roar of battle was so loud he couldn’t hear when she tried to yell to him and warn him about Azog.
She hesitated. Thorin was fighting nearby, surrounded by Dain, Fili and Kili, the three of them forming a protective circle around their King. As she watched the area around him opened up, giving him a very brief pause where he wasn’t facing anything.
Before she could talk herself out of it Bilba called the wind. A second later she was in front of Thorin.
He jerked, barely resisting the automatic instinct to attack her. His eyes widened and he stepped forward and grabbed her arm, tighter than he probably intended. “What are you doing here?”
She pointed. “Azog’s directing the battle from over there. He just sent a wave into Dale.”
Thorin followed her gaze and swore. He called out to Dain in Khuzdul. Dain, in turn, whistled sharply and, a few minutes later, several of the rams he’d brought from the Iron Hills were there.
Thorin turned to face her. “Can you get back?”
She stepped away, into the shadows under the gate and went back to being invisible. Frerin raced past her, jumping onto one of the rams. “Was that Bilba?” he asked Thorin.
“It was,” he replied, “but she went back.”
He, Fili, Kili and Dwalin started toward the hill where Azog stood.
Frerin paused, his eyes searching the shadows under the gate and, for an instant, Bilba was convinced he could somehow see her. Then he turned and urged his ram after the others and she relaxed.
She didn’t see any of the Necromancers around so she focused on Frerin and his ram and then, using the wind, she followed.
When she arrived Thorin, Frerin and Dwalin were standing at the edge of a frozen river. There was no sign of Fili or Kili, or of Azog or the other orcs.
She went and stood next to Frerin and flinched as a loud horn sounded.
Her eyes went to the tower and she gasped in horror as Azog appeared at the top. He had Fili in front of him, the young dwarf’s arm twisted behind his back and a look of pain in his eyes.
Azog started to speak but Bilba barely heard it. She was already reacting, her hands moving as she called up a strong burst of wind. She directed it straight at Azog, angling it behind Fili.
The wind slammed into Azog, catching the orcs nearest him at the same time. They all rocked back, Azog stumbling, and Fili turned, grabbing a sword from a nearby orc.
Arms closed around Bilba suddenly in an iron grip and she shrieked in surprise before she heard Frerin’s voice, tense, at her ear. “You were supposed to stay in Erebor, Bilba. Not go gallivanting about the battlefield.”
At the top of the tower Bilba caught sight of Fili again. He was outnumbered by the orcs and Azog and was slowly being driven back toward the edge. Bilba twisted in Frerin’s arms, grabbed his face between her hands and kissed him, hard. “I’m so sorry, my Love.”
She gave herself over to the wind and vanished from his arms.
An instant later she was at the top of the tower. Her heart was twisting in her chest and she felt sick to her stomach.
She’d never used her magic against Frerin in any way and certainly not to get away from him. Not to mention the fact she was in the middle of the battle when she was supposed to be back in Erebor.
She recalled the tone of his voice even as she raised her hands and summoned a sheet of wind to knock the orcs and Azog away from Fili.
She swallowed against bile, her anxiety rising. She’d never been at odds with Frerin and now that she was she couldn’t even talk to him about it because Azog wouldn’t stop being an arse and because Necromancers wouldn’t stop trying to kill her.
Fili grabbed her hand. “This way,” he ordered.
He pulled her toward the door and she ran with him, reaching the stairs as Azog and the others got up behind them. Halfway down they ran into Kili on his way up but Fili yelled for him to run and he obeyed, though not before throwing his sword to Fili, keeping his bow and arrows for himself.
They reached the bottom and burst out of the entrance with the orcs on their heels. Outside Bilba shrieked as a wave of bats flew low over their heads. Just ahead of them she caught sight of Dwalin, Thorin and Frerin being nearly overwhelmed by a horde of goblins.
“Get out of here,” Fili ordered. He spun as he spoke, slashing at the first orc to come barreling through the doorway. Kili turned as well, sending arrow after arrow into the orcs until their corpses piled in the doorway and blocked the rest from getting out.
Bilba backed away, watching them all with increasing horror.
They were being overwhelmed.
Another wave of bats shot by overhead and her eyes widened.
Mentally kicking herself for being so slow she ran out into the open and jumped up and down, waving over her head. “Hey! Hey, come here!! Come here!”
A shriek sounded and the entire column of bats was suddenly swarming straight toward her. The spiraled over her head, a great mass of them darting about.
“You’re on the wrong side,” Bilba said to them. “Stop helping them. Help my friends instead!”
The bats screeched, some in agreement, others in defiance. They split, some heading for the tower and others for the goblins. Some attempted to attack her and she threw her hands up, sending a wall of wind to shove them back. As she did other bats hit them, creating a free for all over her head.
She moved, getting out from under them just as the others slammed into the orcs and goblins, driving them back.
Azog, who’d just come out of the tower roared in rage as his ranks were decimated. His eyes found her and he started toward her, his features contorted with rage.
Bilba screamed, backing away from him.
A roar sounded and Thorin lunged in his way, his sword flashing. Azog barely got his arm up in time to block it, the blade he’d jammed into the stump of his arm impacting Thorin’s sword with a clang.
The area devolved into total chaos, a swirling mass of goblins, orcs and bats. Every so often she caught sight of Dwalin or Fili only to lose sight of them again in the melee.
Bilba went invisible again and ran behind the tower. She caught sight of Azog and Thorin locked in battle but ran past them to the edge of the hill. Down below she saw what she was looking for and called the wind, sending her down to the base of the cliff.
As her feet touched down a wave of dizziness hit her and she staggered. She was using her magic in ways that were still new to her, in far vaster quantities, and was quickly reaching her limits.
But she couldn’t stop, not now, not when Frerin and everyone else needed all the help they could get.
Something bumped her arm and she looked to see a massive warg next to her, the same one she’d seen from the top of the cliff.
“Hi,” she said. Guilt assailed her at having not thought of doing this sooner. “I need your help, alright?” There was no way she could get to every warg on the battlefield, even if she had the strength but it didn’t mean she couldn’t still make an impact. “Tell your friends to help me and help my friends. Please.”
The warg licked her, spun around and bounded off into the battle. As with the bats she knew that not all the wargs would help her. The one she’d sent off would, however, and it would undoubtedly get others to join it as well. That would, at the very least, cause infighting amongst the wargs which could only help the dwarves, elves and men.
She needed to get back to the top again and make sure the others were alright. She shut her eyes for a second, trying to regain her breath.
When she opened them again it was to look straight into the eyes of a Necromancer standing twenty or so feet away. It wasn’t the young one, but an older woman, gray hair falling to her shoulders and a look of absolute cruelty in her eyes as she studied Bilba the way one might look at a particularly interesting object they wanted to acquire.
Bilba whimpered, her stomach clenching so hard it was physically painful. She grabbed the wind and fled, racing back up to the top of the hill, preferring the orcs and goblins to a Necromancer.
She landed and promptly fell to her hands and knees, exhaustion forcing her down.
A large shadow rushed over her and she looked up to see an eagle soaring overhead. Several more joined it, some diving to the battle below while others vanished to the other side of the tower.
Bilba looked to the side and sucked in a gasp at the sight of Thorin laying on his back, red staining the snow around him. Several yards away Azog lay in the center of the ice, sprawled like a broken doll with Thorin’s sword thrust through his chest nearly to the hilt.
She scrambled over to Thorin. Her legs refused to hold her so she crawled, dragging and skidding across the ice until she’d reached his side.
He was alive, his breath rattling in his lungs and blood pooling over his chest and running down his side. Bilba made a strangled sound as she reached out and put her hands on the gaping hole in his chest. Blood bubbled out, squeezing through her fingers and pooling on the back of her hands.
“It’s okay,” Bilba whispered, “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. You aren’t going to die. I won’t let you.”
She focused, calling her powers to her and sending them out from her hands. She felt the flesh under her fingers start to mend, knitting back together until no mark was left. Other injuries healed as well, old scars from prior battles, arthritis in his left knee from it being previously broken or damaged in some way.
Her magic subsided and she sagged forward. Blackness ate at the corners of her vision but she fought to stay awake. She couldn’t lose consciousness, not yet.
He moved under her and then his hands were grabbing her arms and gently lifting her up. She grabbed the edges of his cuirass to hold herself upright.
“Thank you,” Thorin gasped. He got to his feet, putting an arm around her waist to help her up as well.
As they neared the tower there was movement and then Frerin was coming into view. He was dirty, covered in sweat and looked exhausted but aside from a few small scratches and cuts he was otherwise unharmed.
His eyes widened at the sight of them and Bilba realized that, of course, Thorin’s shirt was still torn and he was covered in blood.
As was she for that matter.
“I’m fine,” Thorin said as Frerin neared. “Thanks to Bilba.”
Bilba hesitated, nervous as her husband approached.
Frerin strode up, took her face in his hands and kissed her. “Thank Mahal,” he said, looking in her eyes, a mixture of fear and anger in them. “Do you have any idea how worried I was?”
His voice was sharp and Bilba flinched. “I’m sorry.”
Frerin’s eyes narrowed. “Can you go back? To Erebor?”
Bilba shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. My strength is at its limit.” She turned to Thorin. “A lot of the bats and wargs are fighting for us and there are eagles too. I don’t know who called them. The tide of the battle may be turning.”
Thorin nodded. “It should, now that their leader is gone and they have no one to direct them.” He looked at Frerin. “Get her back to Erebor. I’ll go and find the boys.”
“As you wish,” Frerin said.
Thorin transferred her over to him and headed off to find Fili and Kili.
Frerin started helping her toward the pathway that led down. Bilba could still hear the sound of fighting but it wasn’t as loud as before, fewer voices contributing to the din. The path was long, steep, and winding full of twists and turns as it traveled downward. Every so often she could see a view of the battlefield as the path curved, there were far fewer orcs than there had once been. She saw several wargs aiding dwarves, elves and men and saw other wargs locked in fights among themselves.
Frerin was silent beside her, one hand clutching his sword, the other arm around her waist. They traveled down the trail in silence until she finally found the courage to speak.
“Are you very mad at me?”
“I asked you to stay inside,” Frerin said shortly. “Yet you came out anyway and endangered yourself.”
“I saved Fili’s life,” Bilba argued, “and Thorin’s.”
Frerin stopped and turned to face her. “You are in a dress, Bilba, in the middle of a battlefield. You have no armor and no weapons and the only safe place is on the exact opposite side of the field from where we currently are. I have no idea if I can get you there safely and, even if I can, the bloody gate is sealed up and you’re too exhausted to get yourself back in!” His voice rose on each word until he was nearly shouting by the end. He shut his eyes, taking a deep breath and letting it out. Bilba felt her eyes starting to burn but forced it down, clenching her teeth to keep her chin from wavering.
Frerin opened his eyes again. “Do you have any idea what could have happened to you out there? You could be dead right now. You could still be dead if I can’t manage to get you back.” He stepped forward suddenly, wrapping an arm around her waist and pressing his forehead against hers. “Do you have any idea how terrified I am right now?”
“If it was as terrified as I was watching you go into battle,” Bilba whispered, “then, yes, I have some idea.” She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “I’m sorry, Frerin.”
He let out a harsh breath. “I know, and I know if you hadn’t come Fili and Thorin would both be dead.” He stepped back, his eyes intense and fixed on hers. “I just want you safe.”
“I want you safe too,” Bilba said. “I want everyone safe.”
Frerin nodded, readjusting his grip on his sword. He gave her a tight smile. “First things first then. Let’s get you back to Erebor.” He turned to look up the path, back in the direction of the tower. “We’re blocked from view here, from the tower and from the battlefield below. We should wait for Thorin and the boys to come back, Dwalin too. Then we can--”
There was a strange thump and Frerin’s voice cut off. He stumbled forward, throwing out a foot to catch his balance.
Bilba blinked in surprise, her mind trying to comprehend what it was seeing.
There was a spear…sticking out of Frerin’s back.
In his back.
Bilba felt as if she’d stepped out of her own body and was watching a nightmare unfold, someone else’s nightmare.
Not hers, it couldn’t possibly be hers.
A spear? How could there be a spear? Where would it even have come from? And he was wearing armor. A spear couldn’t penetrate, not unless it had been thrown with great force and even then it would need something else…something like…
She turned, her movements wooden and stiff, looking for where it had come from.
The path curved sharply in its journey down, almost doubling back on itself as it cut through the rock. The Necromancer, the older woman Bilba had seen before, stood several levels below them, on a different section of the path. She was looking up at them, her staff raised and the end glowing with a dark light. The woman must have somehow seen where she’d gone after speaking to the warg, Bilba thought numbly. She must have seen and followed.
The woman had a smug look on her face, her eyes locked on Frerin.
She was practically smirking as if she’d done something to be proud of.
Frerin made an odd sound.
Then he collapsed, first to his hands and knees and then to his stomach. He lay at her feet, sprawled out like a broken toy discarded by an ungrateful child.
Bilba’s eyes widened and she felt her breathing pick up. A whimper escaped her throat, her hands clenched into fists and she started shaking.
She couldn’t heal him.
Her power was almost gone. She could barely stand on her own two feet much less summon her magic. She’d used it all on traveling and the bats and wargs and healing Thorin.
All of it. All of it was gone. All of it was gone and Frerin was on the ground and there was a spear in his back and blood was burbling out, up through the hole in his armor and he wasn’t moving and the Necromancer was smirking and she couldn’t bear it, she couldn’t bear any of it and…and………..and…
Everything seemed to have slowed down to a near crawl.
She dropped to her knees, hands going out to touch Frerin. Her fingers touched the steel of his armor, slid in the blood leaking out around the wound in his back. Her breathing became more ragged, nearly hyperventilating.
She couldn’t tell if he was breathing.
He had to be though, right? He had to be breathing because he had to be alive because he’d promised her, he’d promised that it’d be okay. He’d said her story would end different, that it wouldn’t be sad or tragic and he’d said he’d loved her and they’d just gotten married and, Yavanna, Yavann, help her, he had to be breathing.
She lifted her hand and stared at it, stained red with her husband’s blood. Dizziness washed over her and a sob caught in her throat.
The Necromancer had vanished from sight, no doubt making her way up to where they were.
On her other side, Thorin, Dwalin, Fili and Kili came into view at the top of the hill, near where the path started. She saw Thorin’s mouth open but the distance was great enough she couldn’t hear what he said. Then, all four of them began running down the path toward her.
It was all happening so slowly. It had been less than a minute, less than a minute since Frerin had been standing, looking at her, talking to her, but it felt like an eternity had passed.
She let out a breath, the sound of it loud in her ears.
It was, she realized, all she could hear.
No noise of battle, no crunch of approaching footsteps.
Just her own breathing and the rush of blood in her ears.
It was all she could hear…and all she could see was Frerin.
Beautiful, kind Frerin who’d chosen her over his own people, over his own kingdom and title. Who’d stood by her side through battles that were not his own, who’d never done anything other than love her and want the best for her. Frerin who’d taken up the task of changing her fate when he’d been under no obligation to, when it would have been far easier not too.
Frerin, who’d only ever wanted her safe.
Who’d only ever wanted her to be happy.
He’d believed he could do it, that he could give her all that and more but, perhaps, in the end, he’d been wrong.
Perhaps her fate had already been written long before he’d ever had a chance to change it. Perhaps she and Frerin had been fighting against something already set in stone.
The fate of her ancestors, of all the kin who’d come before her.
Who was she that she should escape it when they had not?
Calm settled over her.
If her path were already set then all that was left for her to do was walk it.
And if, by walking it, she could save Frerin…well, that was not so bad a thing was it?
She put a hand on his back, and smiled. “It’s okay. I’m going to save you.”
She would save him, even if it meant she couldn’t save herself.
Beneath her knees she could feel the current of the earth. It was quieter than it had been in Rivendell, deeper somehow, but still there, still waiting for her.
Coming into contact with magic that is greater than yours, and not limited or bound by a mortal being, can easily overtake you. If I had not been here you would have been lost to it.
So be it.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, focusing.
She gathered the last threads of her own magic, pulling them together as best she could, and sank them through her feet deep into the currents beneath her.
Power, as before, flooded her, along with that same pulling sensation though it was not as strong as it had been outside Rivendell.
She placed a hand on the spear and pulled it out in one easy motion. She threw it in disgust and settled her other hand directly over the wound. The torn, metal edges of his armor cut into her hand, her own blood mingling with his but she ignored it. She healed him in a single instant, everything, his insides, skin, tunic, even the armor under her palm pulled back together and mended until it was flawless once more.
Frerin didn’t move.
He lay quiet, his body still.
Bilba choked back a sob.
Pain lanced through her, so intense it felt like her very soul had been rent.
Raw emotion poured through her, strong enough she began to react physically, shaking violently, harsh sobs bursting out of her throat even as she clenched her teeth to try and keep them back. Tears ran freely from her eyes, down her face to drip off her chin and onto his armor.
A scream fought to escape her throat and she dug her nails into her palm, feeling the sharp pricks of pain jolting through her nerves as the skin broke under the pressure.
Barely able to see through the veil of tears, she lifted a shaking hand to gently touch the back of his armor, between his shoulder blades. “It’s okay,” she whispered, her voice breaking. “Sweetheart, it’s okay. I’ll take care of them now.”
She tried to focus on breathing, her breaths coming in short, harsh pants.
Then she stood up.
Bilba turned her head and saw the Necromancer coming into view, a few yards away, pulling a dagger from her robe.
Hatred, white hot and blinding surged through her, wiping away, for the moment, the overwhelming waves of grief cascading over her.
A slab of earth shot up from the ground, towering over the Necromancer. The woman barely had the chance to react before it came down on top of her, crushing her flat in one motion.
Bilba stepped forward, past the dirt that had become the woman’s burial mound and continued onward, toward the battlefield down below.
Behind her a second wall of dirt rose, a shelf fitting neatly between the two ledges of rock that bordered the trail. It wouldn’t keep Thorin and the others away forever but, then, she didn’t have forever anyway. Her own magic was gone. If it weren’t for the magic from the land flowing through her she would have died already. She could feel it pulsing through her, pulling her gently downward. Gandalf had said she would be absorbed into it, that she would cease to exist.
Tears threatened, grief returning to well up inside her.
She would not see Frerin again, in this world or the next.
“I’m sorry, Frerin,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
She summoned the wind and, an instant later, was stepping into the field of battle.
Frerin had been wrong.
Her hope had been in vain.
This, after all, was how the story ended.
Not in hope, but in tragedy.
And like her ancestors who had come before her, she would die as they had died.
They came at her from all sides, goblins and orcs and the remaining Necromancers.
Bilba barely acknowledged them.
Under her feet wind started to blow, whipping in a tight funnel around her. It rose as she walked and expanded until she was in the midst of a narrow tornado of wind arching far above her. When it reached a dwarf, elf, human, or a warg or bat aiding them, it passed over them harmlessly. If it touched a fleeing goblin or orc it also went by them, allowing them to run.
All others it destroyed. They were sucked up by the winds, battered by rocks, discarded armor and other debris it had picked up. Many were thrown leagues into the air only to be cast outside of the tornado to fall and be dashed against the rocks far below.
She walked until she reached the center of the battlefield. The second she stopped the tornado exploded, widening until it nearly encompassed the entire field, leaving only a small area of calm in the center where she stood. The wind produced an almost deafening sound as it roared across the battlefield. The dirt and debris made it nearly black, so all she could see were violent, dark winds, rushing around her in a circular motion.
Inside, where she stood, the lighting was dim but enough for her to see the confused, or terrified, faces of those she had spared. They stared at the howling funnel that surrounded them on all sides and cowered in terror.
She put her hands out and a second funnel, this one clear and gentle, rushed out from her. It caught everyone inside the funnel with her and pushed them through the dark winds without them being harmed, leaving them safe and untouched on the other side.
And then it was done and her work was finished.
She dropped her hands to her sides and closed her eyes.
And, then, she did the only thing left for her to do.
Water was lapping at her ankles.
Bilba opened her eyes and blinked in surprise.
She was standing ankle deep in glittering, crystal blue water. It spread out around her, filling the area she stood in. Lilies floated on the surface, bright spots of purple, yellow and red drifting lazily about.
There was light too, dimly filtered like early morning sunlight shining through trees on an autumn day.
It was quiet.
The walls of wind were still spiraling about her but the roar had lowered to a dull sound, far off in the background.
A splash drew her attention.
There was a woman walking through the water toward her.
Bilba’s eyes widened. The woman was tall and slender, barefoot and dressed in an emerald gown. Her hair was blonde and tumbled down her back, dotted here and there with more lilies, and her eyes were as blue as the water she walked through.
She came to a stop in front of Bilba and smiled. “I did not come all this way to meet you, Wind Daughter, simply to watch you die.” She held her hands out. “Take my hands, Sister, and I shall try to change your fate.”
“It cannot be changed,” Bilba said. “It’s already too late. It was always too late.” Her lip trembled and fresh tears welled out of her eyes. “All he wanted to do was save me and, in the end, I let him die.”
“He thought you worth saving,” she said, her smile not faltering. “Would you waste his efforts? Would you refute his belief?”
Bilba shook her head wordlessly and the woman raised her hands again. “Take my hands,” she said gently. “If his final wish was to save you then let me try to fulfill his wish.”
Bilba studied the woman’s hands.
Beneath her feet she could still feel the pull of the magic racing through her, though it was weaker now that she stood in the water.
She couldn’t imagine living in a world without Frerin. The pain was crushing, as bad as when her parents had died and, then, she’d had Frerin there to bring her back.
Now she had no one.
But he’d wanted her to be safe.
He’d wanted her to live.
And she had no doubt what he’d want her to do now.
Outside the armies of the dwarve, elves and humans watched the funnel as it shook the ground.
Without warning it began to slow, and dissipate.
Within a few minutes it had vanished almost immediately, the wind fading and the debris raining to the ground in a light rain.
Beyond that, in the center of the funnel, the ground was empty.
There was no sign of Bilba, or anyone else.
No sign at all.
Erebor began to recover, slowly. As promised, Thorin started rebuilding both Lake-town and Dale alongside Erebor, pouring money freely from the Treasury to see that the survivors were adequately cared for and supplied as repairs continued.
In the second month of the restoration, aided by elves and Dain’s men, the jewels Thranduil had sought were located. Thorin had them placed in an elaborate box and held a ceremony to personally give them to Thranduil, along with an official apology over Erebor’s previous treatment of the Woodland King. The act went a long way toward restoring relations, though it would undoubtedly be a long time before they were back to what they had once been.
After the battle Thorin sent word to the Blue Mountains, telling them of the victory and inviting them to Erebor.
They arrived in the sixth month, Dis leading them. She moved back into her old quarters and began coordinating the cleaning of the rooms, throwing out old tapestries that were beyond saving and salvaging those that could.
The entire area was buzzing with activity, both inside the mountain and out and, by all rights, given what they had overcome it should have been a time of merriment and joy.
And it was, but it was a joy tinged with sadness, merriment overshadowed by pain.
As elves, humans and dwarves went about their business they would find their eyes invariably drawn to a specific patch of ground set between Erebor and Dale. The spot was empty, no different from any other location save for those who knew who had stood, and been lost, there.
The place was generally avoided, treated as a memorial of sorts, left alone and at peace by all…………………..all save one.
Frerin stood in the last spot his wife had been seen and surveyed the empty battlefield. It had long since been cleared of the dead but he could call it to mind easily enough.
He could call it all to mind easily enough.
He squeezed his eyes shut, grief welling inside him.
Footsteps alerted him to another’s presence and he opened his eyes to see his sister approaching.
“It’s late,” he said. “You should be in bed.”
Dis glanced up, studying the fat full moon hanging overhead, thin clouds occasionally scudding across it to briefly block it from view. Then she turned her attention back to her brother, standing at full attention, one hand on the hilt of his sword.
She’d been overjoyed to find out he was alive, and terrified to discover how closely they’d come to losing him again after the battle. According to Gandalf, the magic Bilba had used to heal him had not been her own. It had been the magic of the earth, not intended or meant for healing but turned to it through her own will. Because of that it had behaved differently, closing up his wounds but leaving him suffering from blood loss and shock. He’d fallen into a deep coma and not awakened for weeks.
When he had…it was to find out Bilba was gone.
“You can’t go on like this,” Dis said gently. “You barely sleep, you don’t eat. I never had the honor of meeting her myself but, from all that I’ve heard, I can’t imagine she would want you living like this.”
Frerin didn’t answer her, still staring out into the darkness. He came every night to stand in the same place she’d last stood, hoping somehow, someway it would draw him closer to her, let him feel her one last time.
But every night all he felt was cold, and empty.
“Frerin,” Dis stepped closer. “I--”
“Gandalf said she doesn’t exist anymore,” Frerin said suddenly. “He says she was consumed by the magic and that she ceased to exist.” He turned to look at his sister. “What am I supposed to do with that? How do I accept a reality where she isn’t anywhere, in this world or the next?” His eyes searched her, desperate for an answer. “Tell me how I’m supposed to go on accepting that. What am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know,” Dis said honestly. “I don’t have the answer for you, Frerin. Perhaps, with time--”
He returned to his vigil, one hand, white knuckled on the hilt of his sword. “How much time?” he asked numbly. “How long did it take you?”
Dis was silent for a moment and then sighed. “I still grieve for Vili, every single day. You don’t get over it, Frerin. You just learn to live with it.”
She stepped to his side, facing the darkness with him. “How about we keep vigil together?”
He didn’t respond but, after a few seconds, she caught the barest movement of his head in a nod of acceptance.
And so, together, they stood watch, that night, and every night after.
It was nearly a week later that Thorin came looking for him early one morning. Frerin was in the Treasury, sorting and organizing the treasure. It was a tedious job that would most likely take a lifetime but it kept him busy, and prevented him from having to think too much.
He was stacking his twentieth or so set of coins when Thorin’s voice spoke behind him.
“Frerin. I need you to come with me.”
Frerin frowned at the tone in his brother’s voice. “What is it?”
“You need to see for yourself,” Thorin said shortly. “Come on.”
Frerin obeyed, following Thorin out of the Treasury and up the stairs to the higher levels.
To his surprise he saw a large group of soldiers gathered on the battlements looking out over the front gate. More people, nobles and commoners, were gathered in the area below the gate, murmuring and talking excitedly. Several cast glances at him only to look away sharply when he made eye contact. A few smiled at him, an odd hope in their eyes that he didn’t understand.
The gate stood open and Thorin nodded to it, gesturing him forward.
Frerin walked to the doorway, and stopped so fast it was as if he’d physically hit a wall.
There was a warg sitting before the gates of Erebor, just on the other side of the bridge that spanned the moat. It was enormous and pure white.
“Harold?” Frerin said in surprise.
He started to take a step forward only to have Thorin grab his arm. “You don’t know what it plans to do.”
Overhead, on the battlements, Frerin heard the sound of bows being nocked. He shook Thorin’s hand off and went forward, crossing the bridge and coming to a stop in front of the warg.
Harold stood up, turned to his side and promptly lay down again.
The message was clear.
Frerin sucked in a shaky breath, his heart suddenly racing.
“You can’t go,” Thorin said, arriving. “You have no idea who sent that thing or where it plans to take you.”
“You cannot stop me,” Frerin said, a feverish look in his eyes. “You will not stop me.”
Thorin glowerd, clearly warring with himself. Finally he said, “At least take Dwalin.”
“No,” Frerin said instantly. “I’m going alone. I will take supplies though if you’d be willing to bring me any.”
Thorin barked orders and soon Harold was loaded down with enough supplies to see him to the other end of Middle Earth if need be. Frerin was also, to make his family happy, arrayed in full armor with a sword strapped to his waist.
“Are you sure about this?” Thorin asked, clasping his forearm. “What if it’s a Necromancer, luring you out for some reason?”
“What if it’s not?” Frerin responded.
Thorin hugged him, as did Dis who begged him to be safe and come back.
After that it was Kili’s turn and then Fili.
As his oldest nephew hugged him, he whispered, “If you find her, bring her back.”
“I intend to,” Frerin answered, his throat clogging.
He bade his farewells to the rest of the Company and then mounted the warg. Harold lumbered to his feet and took off without hesitation.
Frerin bent low over the creature’s neck, anxious, fearful, and hopeful all at once.
“Please be on the other end,” he prayed. “Please.”
In the end it was good he’d been so well supplied, for they nearly did go to the other end of Middle Earth.
Frerin spent long days and nights traveling with Harold, through Mirkwood and over the Misty Mountains. He briefly considered stopping by Rivendell as they passed by but dismissed it. He was ready to go mad with anticipation as it was. He couldn’t bear the thought of any more delay.
He thought, as they neared, that Harold was heading for the Shire and hope welled in him, for who but Bilba would be there?
Then Harold began to veer away, to the east of the Shire, and he felt his spirits fall once more.
Eventually trees began to appear, the beginnings of a large forest. Harold skirted it, running along the outside perimeter until, for no apparent reason, he simply stopped dead and lay down.
“This is it?” Frerin asked in surprise. “What is it I’m supposed to be seeing here?”
Harold gave no reaction, just continued laying down. Hesitant, Frerin threw his leg over and slid off. He waited but Harold gave no indication he planned to do anything. Frerin studied the armor strapped to the warg. He’d stopped wearing it some time ago, electing to wear a tunic and trousers instead with a light chain mail vest under his jacket. Coming to a decision he left it and stepped forward, into the woods.
He felt an odd…change immediately. The air seemed lighter somehow, purer almost. There was thick grass under his feet, dotted liberally with flowers and buzzing with small insects. The trees towered over him, full and healthy, and filtered sunlight shone merrily through the branches.
A small red fox appeared from around a tree, moving easily on three legs, and Frerin’s heart jolted so hard in his chest he feared it might actually give out. “Reginald?”
The fox studied him and then turned and started to walk away. After a few feet it paused and looked over his shoulder.
“Alright,” Frerin said. “I’m coming.”
He followed after the creature, deep into the woods on a winding, twisting path he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to find on his own.
Finally Reginald stopped near a tree bordering a small clearing. He sat and looked out and Frerin stepped up next to him to look out as well.
His legs buckled, sending him to his knees.
Bilba was crouched in the center of the clearing, studying a withered plant. She was dressed in a pale gold gown, little more than a silk shift that fell to her feet and had a high waistline that ran just under her bust. A light brown, gauzy style fabric overlaid it, slit down the center to reveal the dress underneath. Her hair was loose, falling in curls and waves about her, held back at the temples by two simple combs. He could see her marriage braid and bead hanging over her shoulder and her ring glinted on her finger. Almost unconsciously his hand went to his own ring. After…after, he’d had it recast so he could wear it on his finger instead of on the chain around his neck.
As he watched she lightly touched the plant and it sprang back to life, green returning to brown stems and moisture to dry leaves. Bilba smiled but there was a sadness to it, a quiet grief clinging to her like a cloak. She stood and for the first time Frerin noticed how very pale she was and how tired she looked.
She turned to leave, facing him, and froze entirely.
Frerin pushed to his feet, suddenly afraid she’d disappear forever if he made a single wrong move. “Bilba.”
“Frerin?” she whispered, disbelieving. Then, in an instant, her face split into the most brilliant expression of joy he’d ever seen, probably only because he didn’t currently have a mirror. “FRERIN!”
Then they were both running.
They met in the center. He grabbed her around the waist and swung her in a wide circle before setting her down to catch her lips in a deep kiss.
Then they both wrapped their arms around each other and simply held one another.
Frerin kissed her on the top of her head, his eyes burning. He moved to sit down, pulling her to sit on his lap. She curled up against him, wrapping both arms around him again and laying her head against his shoulder. She drew in a shaky breath and he realized she was crying, her chest hitching with the force of it.
He took a shuddering breath of his own. She pulled his head down to kiss him again and, for a long time, they did little else.
Finally he pressed his forehead against hers, his eyes shut as he struggled to gain control of himself. “I thought you were dead.”
“I almost was,” Bilba said. She touched him, her fingers tracing the lines and curves of his face and jaw. “I thought you were dead.” She whispered. “I thought I’d failed you.”
“You could never fail me,” Frerin said. He sighed, a massive weight finally falling off his shoulders. He fell backwards, taking her with him, until he was lying flat on his back. She moved so she was lying next to him, her head on his shoulder while his arm was around her.
“Let’s just stay here,” he said. He rolled on his side so he could wrap his free arm around her.
And they proceeded to do exactly that, for most of the day, and if anyone had asked Frerin what the best moment of his life was, he might well have been hard pressed to find one.
There were, after all, just so many to choose from.
And a great many of them involved Bilba.
It was much later that Bilba led him to the small home she’d been staying in and introduced him to the couple that lived there.
Goldberry was the woman Bilba had met in Erebor. She was also the fairy Elrond had told them about. He had been successful in contacting her after all. She’d been overjoyed to find there was another fairy in the world. Being impatient she had left to go find her rather than wait for Bilba to come back and, so, had been in the area when Bilba’s magic had run out.
Even as a full fairy, Goldberry did not have the power to save Bilba but she had known her husband, Tom, might. He was a figure Frerin could not categorize. He appeared human but older somehow, a weight of history on him that Frerin had never felt before, even amongst the elves. He held an incredible amount of power but, as far as Frerin could tell, it was limited to his own lands. What made the lands Tom’s, or what their exact boundaries were, he didn’t know but, within them, Tom was the undisputed ruler.
Which meant that he could stop the magic of the earth from pulling Bilba in, so long as she was on his land.
Goldberry was a full Fae and a daughter of the river, not the air as Bilba was, but her magic was still similar to Bilba’s. Being far more powerful, she’d been able to transport Bilba back to Tom’s land almost instantly and had sustained her life with her own magic while Tom had prevented her from being lost to the currents running through the land.
At first neither had been sure they could save her. Bilba had fallen into a deep sleep and remained that way for two and a half months, her life protected by Tom and Goldberry.
Eventually the tide, so to speak, had turned. Bilba’s own magic had begun to return, barely a spark at first but, as time passed, it had become stronger. The magic still coursing through her from the land had loosened its hold and left her, for the most part.
Some of the magic had remained within her, mixing with her own and changing it in ways that could not be undone.
Bilba was now, for all intents and purposes, a full Fae and, while she still had limits, was potentially the most powerful to have ever existed.
Or she would be, once she’d recovered.
“Tom thinks about another two months,” she told Frerin later that night. After dinner they’d retired to the small room Bilba had been staying in. It was cozy, with a fireplace, a large bed piled high with quilts and a thick rug covering the floor. “My magic still needs to stabilize. Until it does Tom doesn’t know what will happen if I try to leave his land, so it’s not safe yet.” She hesitated. “I know that’s a long time. Are you going to stay?”
Bilba was sitting on the edge of the bed while Frerin got a fire going. He stood up and walked over to her. He took her by the hands, pulled her up, wrapped both arms around her and kissed her for a solid five minutes.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said finally, drawing back to look her in the eyes. “In fact I’m going to tie a damn leash around your waist so the next time you try to get yourself killed I can drag you back.”
She laughed and wrapped her arms around him.
He pulled one of her arms free and slid a hand into hers. At her questioning look he stood up straighter and put an arm on her waist.
Her fact lit up in understanding and she put her hand on his shoulder.
The room wasn’t exactly a good size for dancing but, then, they had never needed much space. They moved in a slow, graceful dance, falling back into the pattern as though they’d never been apart.
“I thought you were dead,” Bilba repeated. “After I woke up…it was bad…as bad as when my parents were lost. Tom and Goldberry feared I would never recover because of it. She went back to Erebor, hoping to find someone she could bring to help, and was quite startled to see you instead.”
Frerin raised an eyebrow. “How did she know enough to recognize me?”
Bilba laughed, embarrassed. “I talked about you non-stop. She certainly knew your name and what you looked like. I didn’t believe her though when she told me so she wasn’t entirely convinced she wasn’t somehow, someway mistaken. She didn’t know if you’d listen to a stranger and she didn’t want risk being wrong so she sent Harold, figuring only you would be crazy enough to get on him and go off wherever he wanted to take you. She told me you were coming but…I still didn’t believe her. I thought perhaps they were just saying it in the hopes I would get stronger and be better able to deal with it later. I didn’t believe until I saw you.”
She pushed up on her toes to lightly kiss him only to have him catch her as she drew back and deepen the kiss.
“I thought I’d lost you,” he whispered when it finally ended. “That you were gone, from this world and the next, and I’d never see you again.”
He kissed her again, on the lips, then the corner of her jaw, under her jaw and then her throat.
“Frerin,” Bilba said, amused, “are you trying to seduce me?”
He lifted his head and gave her a heated look. “Absolutely. Is it working?”
She laughed. “Absolutely.”
When Bilba woke up the next morning she almost feared it had all been a dream.
She sat up, panic stirring in her chest, and looked beside her.
Frerin lay there on his back, his head turned away and his eyes closed. His chest moved rhythmically in sleep, completely unmarked by injury.
Relief flooded her, so profound she nearly burst into tears from the force of it.
She settled down again, putting her head on his shoulder and wrapping an arm across his chest.
And then she fell back asleep with a smile on her lips.
The next two months were peaceful.
Tom and Goldberry were rarely there, spending time off exploring their lands, or so they said, so Frerin and Bilba spent most of it together, uninterrupted.
It was one of the first true times of peace they’d had together. No grief, no needing to flee and no quests to defeat dragons.
It became a honeymoon of sorts, one they hadn’t been able to take while on the quest with so much pressing in on them and demanding their time.
They spent hours talking or walking through the forest. In the evenings they would spend time with Goldberry and Tom, who always returned by dinner, and then would retire to read a book from Tom’s library or simply curl up in front of their fireplace.
They also danced. As Bilba’s strength returned they would go outside and dance under the starlight. Animals, Reginald included, began to return to follow her and Bilba would often spend hours hauling Frerin through the woods so she could see a baby deer or new litter of fox pups.
And so time passed, quicker than expected, until, before they knew it, two months had passed.
And it was time to leave and return home.
Bilba studied the clouds floating serenely by overhead. “I think it’s going to rain.”
Frerin lay beside her on a large blanket, his hands resting on his stomach and his feet crossed at the ankles. A picnic basket lay nearby, empty.
“No, it’s not,” he said. “You’re just bored and hoping I’ll let us leave.”
Bilba sighed in exasperation. She sat up and proceeded to straddle her husband’s waist, grabbing his wrists and pinning them to the ground on either side of his head. “For the last time, I’m fine. I feel fine. I am fine. We’re fine. Let’s go.”
Frerin lifted a hand out of her grip without effort and scratched the side of his nose, grinning at her look of outrage. “It’s only been an hour or so, Love.”
“It’s been four,” Bilba corrected.
They had left that morning. Bilba wanted to visit the Shire and Rivendell before returning to Erebor and Frerin had agreed. She’d wanted to use her magic but he’d refused, insisting instead they walk out of Tom’s lands to ensure she was well and truly recovered.
They’d bid farewell to Tom and Goldberry, placing themselves forever in their debt and promising to return to visit soon.
They’d walked to one of the edges of Tom’s lands that they knew about, near Buckland. Frerin had brought along a picnic basket stating they could have lunch before continuing on.
What he’d really meant, Bilba now realized, was they could step one foot over and then sit there the rest of the day until he was assured Bilba wasn’t going to suddenly relapse and require him shoving her back over into Tom’s lands.
The world suddenly spun madly and she shouted in surprise. Frerin’s hand cupped the back of her head, and an arm slid around her back as she spun so a moment later she found herself, gently, on her back. Frerin crouched over her, grabbing her hands and interlacing their fingers before pinning them to the ground, having perfectly reversed their positions.
Bilba raised an eyebrow and then deliberately lifted one hand, his grip easing immediately, and scratched at her nose.
She then stuck her tongue out at him.
His eyes narrowed and he released her only to dig her fingers into her sides, tickling her. Bilba shrieked with laughter, her back arching to try and get away from him.
His hands still on her waist he moved and put the side of his head on her stomach, over the small bump slowly developing there.
Bilba laughed again. “You aren’t going to feel anything. It’s not far enough along yet.”
He pulled himself up to loom over her again and kissed her. He then got up and grabbed her hand to help her up as well.
Bilba held on to his arm, one hand subconsciously resting on her stomach.
“Just think,” Frerin said, “the world’s first fairy dwarf. He, or she, will be every bit as unique as you.”
“We don’t know that they’ll have magic,” Bilba said, fighting a laugh at her husband’s unbridled happiness. “They may just be normal.”
He caught her around the waist and lifted her up into the air. “No child of yours could ever be anything but unique, magic or not, and that’s exactly how I want it.”
He set her down like she was made of glass and started gathering up the picnic supplies.
“Do you think it’ll be safe?” Bilba asked him, the first threads of worry settling in. “Being out again?”
He laughed. “You wiped out an army, Bilba, and no one knows it’s not something you should be doing every day. Afterward every known Necromancer vanished, crawling back under rocks where they belong. I doubt they’ll be threatening us again.” He stood up, the basket on his arm and wrapped his free arm around her waist. “You’re safe.”
“And you got me a fortress,” Bilba said, “just in case.”
“I helped get one at least,” Frerin said cheerfully. “I’m looking forward to seeing it again.”
“Me too,” Bilba said.
They walked to the Shire and there had a joyous reunion with Primula and Drogo.
They only stayed a few hours. Upon finding out Bilba was back most of the Shire was soon lined up at the door wanting things from her.
After catching up and promising to visit again soon Frerin stood up, stating he’d head out and try to track down some ponies they could use to get to Rivendell.
Bilba laughed. She hugged Primula and Drogo and then stepped over to Frerin, taking his hands in her own.
“Do you trust me?” she asked.
“Of course,” he answered.
She smiled. “Then shut your eyes.”
Wind whipped around him and he flinched, his hands tightening on hers.
It died down again and Bilba said, “You can open your eyes now, Love.” There was just the slightest hint of unease in her voice and he opened them quickly, worried.
They were standing in Rivendell.
Bilba gave him a nervous smile. “I told you I was stronger now.”
“Well this certainly saves travel costs and time,” Frerin said and her smile turned relieved.
He put his arm out and she took it. “Shall we, Darling?”
She nodded. “We shall.”
They spent two weeks in Rivendell.
Elladan, Elrohir and Aragorn were all thrilled to see them.
Upon finding out Bilba was married, and pregnant, they also all took time to make sure Frerin was sufficiently threatened with highly creative methods of death if he ever broke her heart.
The two weeks flew past and, before they knew it, it was time to leave for Erebor.
Frerin had worried over Bilba trying to make such a leap from Rivendell to Erebor but she’d merely laughed and assured him she was more than capable of stopping before they reached the mountain if she needed to.
She took his hands and this time he kept his eyes open.
Wind gusted around them, her hair, which she now wore unbound continuously save for her marriage braid, swirled about her like autumn leaves and then the world faded and they left Rivendell and the elves behind.
They stood on the plain between Dale and Erebor, near the spot where Bilba had vanished and where Frerin had spent months standing sentinel.
Neither looked at the spot now, their lives having moved on to the point it had been well and truly left behind.
“I thought it best to appear out here,” Bilba said, “at least until everyone outside the Company has a chance to get used to me.”
“As you wish, my Love,” Frerin said simply. While they’d been in Rivendell Harold had shown up again. He’d no longer been carrying his supplies but had Frerin’s armor, tied in a different location and position than before.
He wore it now, shined and polished, along with a sword at his waist.
Appearances, after all, were important and if he wanted the respect and trust of his people he needed to be the Prince they expected him to be.
Even if, deep down, he’d much rather be running through the forest in a tunic and trousers with Bilba at his side.
She had dressed for the occasion as well. Arwen had helped her, designing a dress similar to the one she’d worn in Tom and Goldberry’s lands. It was a long, lavender silk shift, with a high waist and bell sleeves. The bottom of the dress had been decorated with embroidered dark purple flowers studded with gems. The overlay was royal purple and long, flowing behind her as she walked. Her hair was pulled back on both sides with silver combs, a silver and amethyst net hung between them with long strands of glittering gems handing from them.
Arwen had loaned her a necklace as well, a delicate silver flower pendant on a chain that flowed around her neck like liquid silver. Her marriage braid hung over her shoulder, the bead at the end prominently displayed.
Frerin held his arm out now and she placed her hand gently on his forearm, her wedding ring catching the afternoon sunlight.
She put her other hand lightly on her stomach, the swell still small but clearly visible under her dress.
In Erebor a loud bell started ringing and Frerin heard the grate of the gate as it started to rise. A moment later Fili and Kili appeared at the gate, most of the rest of the Company behind them, all running at full tilt toward them, joy evident in their faces.
Then, together, Bilba and Frerin started forward to meet the Company. Fili reached her first and proceed to grab her in a bear hug, followed by Kili and the others.
Behind them all Frerin caught sight of Thorin approaching, Dis next to him. They joined in a few minutes later and then it was nothing but a cacophony of noise, hugs, and celebration.
“You see?” Frerin said, managing to catch Bilba’s attention. “This is how the story ends.”
Bilba smiled at him, adoration clear in her eyes. “So it is.”
And so it was.