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One Does Not Simply Pop In On the Tunnel Queen

Chapter Text

Bilbo had thought the Company would at least get to Mirkwood before something went horribly wrong.

He was wrong.

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Gandalf had parted ways with them as they left Beorn’s cabin. Business in the south, he said. He had made sure their packs were full and their wounds mended and left them to the rest of their journey.

Bilbo was not pleased. But he understood that Gandalf was probably needed more somewhere else if the only thing facing them for a while was a forest and a few elves. The elves in Rivendell had been perfectly hospitable and he had loved running through the forest near the Shire as a child. How bad could a few trees be?

So Bilbo had started the day’s travel optimistically. They had left Beorn’s the day before, and were likely to reach Mirkwood the next. The trip had been pleasant; sunshine, flat lands, and having ponies again! Oh, Bilbo had never been so happy to see a pony.

As he did most days, Thorin had sent out Fíli and Kíli to scout for a place to rest for the night. They returned surprisingly quickly.

“Uncle, there is a cave up ahead!”

“It can fit all of us!”

“And it’s next to a river!”

“And it’s out of Beorn’s land so we can go hunting!”

The boys spoke very promisingly of the cave, and the dwarrows seemed quite inclined to agree with them, so Thorin told them to lead on. Bilbo was the only one to have doubts.

“Excuse me,” he started loudly, though only about half the dwarrows turned to listen, “but can we find somewhere else? The last time we slept in a cave I remember not getting much sleep!”

Ori sat thoughtfully on his horse. Master Baggins did have a point. He did not want to risk being ‘started with’ again. And he wasn’t even the youngest!

But Bofur just laughed.

“Oh come now, just because you have one bad time doesn’t mean all caves are full of monsters ready to gut ya for for supper!”

“Aye, Master Baggins,” Gloin added, “Most of us were raised in caves. They are fine abodes when you make them so. Just need a woman’s touch.”

“Yes but we don’t happen to have any women with us, now do we? Now why can’t Fíli and Kíli just find a nice clearing for us to sleep in? Harder to get trapped in a clearing,” Bilbo said.

“We are not in danger of being trapped by anything,” Thorin said with finality. His wounds had healed but were still sore, and his temper suffered because of it. But he was no longer cruel to the hobbit. He had even braided a bead into Master Baggins’ hair to show he was accepted by the dwarrows. Gandalf had congratulated him on the feat; few outside of the dwarf race were held so closely.

But still, Thorin’s word was final. They made camp in the cave and ate a good meal and were quite merry for the evening. Spirits were high and luck seemed to be finally with the Company.

‘Seemed’ being used as a synonym of ‘not’.

When the floor of a cave opened beneath the sleeping group for the second time in a month, Bilbo was only slightly surprised.

And he vowed to tell the dwarrows he told them so, if he lived to tell them anything.

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The battle was short.

Despite the fact that the dwarrows were better fed, rested, and joyful than they had been in weeks, they had still been sleeping when they began tumbling down the tunnel. By the time they reached the bottom, most of their supplies were scattered and the only weapons they still possessed were the ones still strapped to their bodies.

And of course there was the problem of being surrounded by a few dozen armored and armed warriors.

Who were all dwarf sized.

The Company wasn’t sure what had surprised them more.

The surrounding soldiers demanded they surrender and drop their weapons.

Thorin told them who he was and demanded to be taken to their leader.

They demanded he drop his weapons.

This repeated a few times, eventually ending when Dwalin got impatient and yelled a few slurs about the offending warriors, mostly about their lack of dwarf-hood and that they should run back and send in the real fighters.

Thorin hadn’t wanted him to say such things, but during Dwalin’s rant he had hoped that this might speed up the process.

He was most definitely disappointed.

The warriors may have taken more offense at Dwalin’s words than he had anticipated.

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They were quickly overcome and disarmed. They were herded (Dwalin not too kindly) into a holding area where even more soldiers were waiting.

And so was their leader.

The dwarf was dressed entirely in dark black leathers with light-gray to white fur trims, with dark armor beneath. Little skin was shown save for the face, which was half-covered in a pinkish-red burn scar, the fire-mangled skin stretching from the bottom of the right jaw, where it flowed into the side of the mouth, up around the cheek bone to where it curved along the top and bottom of the right eye socket, and disappeared into the side of the hairline. Thick silver-gray hair was tied back tight into a pony tail at the base of the warrior’s skull, where it seemed to explode into a mass of free hair and a few beaded braids. A beard of the same color stretched down from sideburns (where there weren’t actual burns) and was similar to Dwalin’s in shortness but lacked his mustache. On the leader’s back was a large gleaming war hammer, made of glinting obsidian and unrelenting steal. It had a rectangular steel head, with corners of dagger-sharp obsidian points that curved and stretched out. Along the black handle were intricate designs of Khuzdul in steel lines, with a small pointed head at the bottom.

Bilbo was quite frightened.

A number of the dwarves were as well, they were just better at hiding it.

“What is the meaning of this?” Thorin roared.

“Why are you here?” the opposite dwarf asked coldly.

“Just passing through,” Bofur cut in with a smile and a kind voice. They were all mature dwarrows here, why bother getting into fights over nothing?

“Right, of course,” the dwarf replied. The tone was nowhere near kind but it seemed slightly more humored. “To where?”

None of them answered. Thorin wouldn’t dare let anyone know, not this close to their goal. Not when they could stuffed into cages while someone else took what was rightfully theirs!

“Anyone?” The warrior glanced at each of the Company. Some met the gaze, others stared at their feet.

What did catch notice was the most-certainly-not-a-dwarf in the group.

The leader paused as the hobbit shuffled his feet uncomfortably and tried to hide behind the one with the unusual hat.

“You have a hobbit.”

The soldiers around them suddenly tensed and cocked their heads to try and catch a glimpse of Bilbo. The Company gathered around him protectively, and Bilbo looked like he was about to be put over a flame. “

“Why do you have a hobbit?”

“None of your business!” Kíli shouted. Most of the dwarves grunted in agreement.

The head warrior stared at them with sternly.

“Take the dwarves to the cells. One each. And keep them guarded! Put the hobbit in an office and keep an eye on him as well. I’ll see to them later.”

And with that, the soldiers forced the Company down a hall to the prison block as a few more snatched Bilbo from his friends.

The leader watched as Thorin fought harder than any to keep the hobbit close, noticed how two of the youngest members roared and scrambled tooth and nail to not be separated even at sword point, and kept a careful eye on the largest dwarf with the tattoos and knuckle-dusters (which needed to be removed ASAP) as he tried to head-butt warriors with iron helmets.

That one might be a problem.

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“This is very bad,” Rhunda said to her queen.

“I am aware.”

“No, I mean this is much, much more than our usual amount of bad. We have got Thorin Oakenshield, Son of Thrain, Son of Thror, King Under The Mountain, King in Exile, sitting in an iron cage along with a dozen other dwarrows, three of which are barely adults and one hobbit who looks like he might wet himself at any given moment.”

“I said I was aware.”

Rhunda groaned.

She was a shorter, rounder dwarrowdam with thick red hair and a fluffy beard that was braided down to her waist. Her hair was often done up in a bun to keep out of the way as she worked. She was one of her people’s most educated citizens, having been the daughter of one of Erebor’s great librarians. Rhunda had studied every subject she could diligently, dreaming of becoming a teacher. She currently had the job, though it wasn’t exactly what she had envisioned. She was also her queen’s trusted friend and advisor.

In truth, her queen was no queen. She didn’t have a drop of royal blood in her despite being part of the Longbeard clan. Her family had been rich and well-respected, but her followers cared little for that.

They followed her because she led them.

Through pain and panic and starvation she had led them to freedom and plenty. She had fought for them with her bare hands and forged a new life for them in these tunnels, far away from the cruel ways of dwarrows.

Forra was a leader they had chosen for her dedication and unwavering will. She was kind and gentle to those who needed her, and was vicious to anyone who would threaten her cares.

She wasn’t a queen, but she was the closest thing they had, and it was easier on the tongue than anything else they thought of.

“The longer they are here the higher the risk becomes of a breakout and someone getting hurt,” Rhunda argued with a hint of anger, her red dress stirring as her arms moved with her words. She had a habit of talking with her hands even when she wasn’t using iglishmêk.

“I know,” Forra said, “But what I don’t know is why they are here.” She turned to her advisor. “They could just be passing through, in which case I would be more than happy to get them out of here as quick as we can, but if they aren’t, if they know….”

“About us? Forra, did you see how surprised they were? They weren’t expecting anyone, much less dwarrows. I doubt they knew we even existed. We should get them out before things turn sour.”

Forra sighed.

“Did you see the hobbit?” she asked Rhunda.

“Yes.”

“Did you see his eyes?”

“Yes. They gleamed like emeralds.”

“Quite. Just like hers did.”

Rhunda’s eye brows jumped.

“You think he’s related to Belladonna?” she asked.

“I’m sure of it. She said that color was rare and only ran in her family. And how many hobbits are there? He must at least know her.”

Rhunda pinched the bridge of her nose.

“We can’t keep thirteen warrior dwarves here because one hobbit might know another we haven’t seen in years.”

“Fifty-five years, Rhunda! Five and a half decades and not a word from Bella. That is a much longer time for hobbits or did you forget? She saved our lives, my friend. I want to know what has become of her,” Forra said.

“You really think you’ll get anything out of him?” Rhunda asked quietly in the dark hallway, “He was quite upset about being taken away from the others. Why would he tell us anything?”

Forra knew her friend had a point. Hobbits could be just as protective as dwarrows in some ways. Though this one seemed much more timid than the first one they’d met.

“Did you see how he looked?” Forra asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean he looked less like a hobbit than Belladonna did, and she was covered in dirt, cuts, and bruises, and was nearly starved when we found her! This one looks like he’s been… converted in that fur coat. When was the last time you think he saw a hankerchief? Or anything hobbit-y? Belladonna told us plenty of her people. We can earn his trust.”

Rhunda took a long look at her queen. Forra and Belladonna had been fast friends in the weeks the hobbit lass had stayed with them. Belladonna had been shocked and overjoyed to find so many females living on their own in the Wild. She thought it was inspired! Forra had been fascinated by her tales of the Shire, a place where women were seen as equals and could choose what they wanted to do with their lives. It sounded like a dream.

Forra’s bitter feelings towards her old home were far from faded, and though the same could be said for most of the dwarrowdams who had lived in the days of Erebor, none were so callous to its culture as their queen.

“Are you sure this is just about the hobbit?” Rhunda questioned quietly. Forra’s brow furrowed as she stared at the granite floor.

“Thorin was not in power during those years. I do not blame him for the laws of his kin,” she answered sternly.

“So what are we going to do with them?”

Forra thought hard for a moment, and turned to Rhunda.

“We will treat the dwarves as decency demands and the hobbit as a guest until I have the information I need. If they are truly as they say we can send them on their way and give them what supplies we can in reparations. But I will not pass judgment until I am sure. Spread the word for everyone to dress conservatively in case they don’t realize who we are. And make sure Lark is with them whenever possible.”

“Aye, that’s a good idea,” Rhunda agreed about the last point. Lark, for whatever all the past crimes she had committed, was an excellent judge of character, wholly loyal to Forra, and one of their best fighters. “What about Forelle?”

Forra glared at the wall. Her niece was definitely a concern. Forelle was young, born long after the fall of Erebor, but she was also a skilled guard.

And headstrong.

And curious.

And scarred.

“I’ll talk to her. She won’t do anything she doesn’t want to or I don’t think is a good idea,” Forra answered.

Rhunda nodded.

“When the news spreads this will get very complicated,” she sighed.

“Believe me, I know,” her war hammer-wielding queen answered.

Chapter Text

The hobbit squeaked when she entered the room. It was a small granite cube with a desk in the middle and two chairs. The sparse room was well-lit with lanterns in the corners. Bilbo shrank into his chair when the door closed behind her, his eyes tracing her every move from the swagger of her broad shoulders to the shift of her hands. That’s when he noticed what she was carrying.

Food.

Real food.

Not a stew of whatever the boys had managed to catch, or plain bread and honey from Beorn’s bees. There were potatoes and sausages and fruit and Bilbo was already drooling before she sat down and pushed the tray to him.

He ogled down at the meal, then back up at her, and tried to avoid staring at the scar that covered a third of her face. Her stormy gray eyes studied him for a bit, before softening.

“I’m sure you’re hungry. Please, eat.”

Bilbo gazed at the food. It looked so delicious, so tantalizing that it hurt to wonder if it was poisoned.

“It’s not poison,” she said. His eyes lifted to hers once more, scared and confused. Why were they being kind to him? What about the others? What was happening?

“Where are my friends? What are you doing to them?” he tried to say bravely, but it came out an octave higher than normal.

“They are in our prison cells. We are holding them until we know why you are in our territory. If you told us, you could all go,” Forra answered. She wasn’t sure what she’d get out of trying the hobbit. He was frightened, but still was more worried about his Company than himself. Would he give them up?

“I can’t,” he answered swiftly. He was very worried she’d hurt him for saying that, but she gave an understanding nod and remained silent. He didn’t touch the food.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Bilbo Baggins,” he said quietly, “Who are you?” He glanced to try to catch her eye and was met with a strong look.

“Forra Hammerfist, Queen of the Tunnels. I am in charge he—“

“You’re a woman?!”

The two stared across the table in surprise. Bilbo had never met a female dwarf before and would never have guessed this dwarf was one of them.

“Yes. I am female,”Forra tried not to chuckle. It was always funny seeing people of other races try to decipher dwarven gender. True, beneath her layers of metal and leather she was quite hard to distinguish from a male, and few people who had come to her tunnels realized what she was without her telling them. Even the dwarrows.

“Oh,” Bilbo said, “Sorry…”

“Tis not a problem. Quite understandable.”

Bilbo wasn’t quite sure about that. He had asked if Gloin’s picture had been of another brother of his, and the dwarrow had been right offended as it was actually his wife.

“So…why am I here?” he asked tentatively.

She searched his eyes for a moment as she looked for the right words.

“I was wondering if you could help me.” His eyebrows rose at that. “A few decades ago another hobbit drifted into our lands. Alone rather, and hurt, so we gave her shelter. That year our crops were doing poorly, and her knowledge allowed us to survive. She left after a few weeks to travel through the forest, and returned a few months later. We celebrated her and she was deemed a friend to our land forevermore. But we have not heard a word from her since she left. I was wondering if you might know of what has become of her.”

The pit growing in Bilbo’s stomach during the story felt even heavier when she finished.

“What was her name?” he asked shakily.

“Belladonna Took.”

Perhaps it was the built-up stress from their journey, or the lack of sleep that night, or maybe he had just gone too long without a hankerchief, but tears began to fall from the hobbit’s eyes. Forra gazed at him with concern. This was not what she expected, and a pit began to fall in her stomach as well.

“She was my mother,” Bilbo choked out.

Was.

She was his mother. Forra’s shoulder’s slumped and she hung her head. Then the great Belladonna Baggins who they had spoken highly of for so many years was gone. And Forra had not even been there to see her off.

“I’m sorry. I am infinitely sorry,” she spoke, “She was a remarkable soul.” Bilbo just nodded and wiped his sleeve against his face. “Here,” she said as she pushed the tray to him once more, “You need to eat. As I remember, Belladonna said hobbits eat quite a bit.”

This time he took the food but ate miserably. His confusion did not help anything. His mother had never mentioned this place or this woman. He was in desperate need of answers.

“What is this place?” he asked.

Forra took a deep breath and debated in her head. Could she be honest with him? This was Belldonna’s son, raised in a freer land. He was also someone who had been traveling with thirteen dwarves for who knows how long. He was loyal to them too.

“A haven,” she answered.

Bilbo looked at her questioningly.

“How much did your friends tell you about dwarven culture?

He shrugged.

“A little. Things about beards, Aüle. A lot of songs though.”

“Anything about dwarrowdams?” she spoke and tilted her head. Bilbo scoured his memories for anything the Company had mentioned.

“Just that they were rare, I suppose, about a third of the whole population?” he answered sheepishly.

“Oh, you mean they didn’t mention the strict laws of Erebor that prohibited us from owning land or a business, being employed in certain professions, or choosing who we want to marry?” Forra said with a fake tone of kind surprise. “Perhaps they just forgot that part,” she said bitterly. Her face went firm and with her head held high she said, “This place is a haven for dwarrowdams who no longer wish to be ruled by those who think themselves superior. This place is a rare sanctuary where we can make our own choices, speak our mind, and be what we want. This place is ruled by dwarrowdams for dwarrowdams, free of cages and cruelty.”

“B-But what of the males in your city? What do they say?” he stuttered.

Forra laughed.

“Bilbo Baggins, the only males in this city are you and those you came with.”

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Lark watched them.

Her red-blond hair braided into two tails down her back and her beard into one, her hazel eyes never left whichever dwarrow she was guarding. Her lean muscles were relaxed but alert and her dark armor glinted in the lantern light.

She had an unusual build for a dwarrowdam. Most were either tall and broad and solidly-built like Queen Forra, or were shorter, round and soft like Rhunda (though that made her no less dangerous). Lark was as tall as Forra, but was skinny and thin with long, lean limbs and fast reflexes. She had been mistaken for a short Man once, which she’d found both insulting and useful on occasion.

Lark was a dangerous woman. She had a far from innocent or legal past, a dark sense of humor, and a three-tailed whip on her at all times. As well as a large assortment of daggers, poisons, and snacks. She was a diligent note-taker and rarely forgot anything.

So it was no surprise when her queen ordered her to guard the prisoners and learn everything possible.

And she learned quite fast that some were more entertaining than others.

Thorin Oakenshield was an absolute bore. He sat there on his cot and glared at them, or the wall, or the ground, and said nothing. There really wasn’t much to learn about him though, most knew everything important to know about the King in Exile, and Lark knew more than most.

Then there was the old white-haired dwarf who slept the whole time. Surprisingly less boring than the king, due to the fact he would occasionally sneeze in his slumber and it would cause his beard would ripple.

Of course there was the deaf one who said little but shouted when he did, as he had lost his ear trumpet in the fall. Lark enjoyed mouthing silent words to whomever she was paired with her to see if he would try to listen.

The enormously fat one was slept for most of her guard but snored like thunder.

The dwarrow with an axe in his head kept scratching pictures into the stone walls of his cell with his fingernails. Lark wanted to know what polish he used. For her nails and her blades.

And who could forget the silver-haired dwarrow who kept switching from asking for a needle to mend his clothes to threatening to murder the guards’ families if his little brothers were hurt.

With a giant red beard that desperately needed a brushing, another dwarrow sat angrily, grunting foul words under his breath. But he seemed burdened by something. Lark thought it was loss. She’d seen it before. But what had he lost? She would find out sooner or later.

Fortunately, the others were much more fun.

There was the young dwarrow who had carried a slingshot and sat with his arms around his legs curled up like a cat in the corner. Looked like he might wet his pants at any sudden movement. Though his knitted clothing was adorable. Lark knew a few dwarrowdams that would’ve liked to compare stitches with him. Funny child.

Then there were the young brothers, who Lark realized quickly were Thorin’s nephews, as they kept shouting things like “Uncle Thorin is going to rip you apart!” and other familial giveaways that shouldn’t be said in front of captors. But they could be humorous as well, when they tried to glower and appear scarier than they really were, which only made them seem less threatening. They were furious about being separated though. Lark hadn’t heard language like that from someone so young since Forelle was a child.

And though Forra accused her of it, Lark remained firm that it hadn’t been her who taught the queen’s niece such words.

Though her fingers had been crossed at the time.

Next was an older dwarrow with a funny hat. Lark did not like the hat. Hats hid things. No matter how cheery or charming the dwarf was, she didn’t trust him. Even if his smile was rather sweet. And his dimples were adorable. And his mustache was so—

Moving on.

The last two were by far Lark’s favorites.

And the ones she was most concerned about.

The first was bald, tattooed, and glared with the flaring nostrils of a bull in a fight. She studied him; his tattoos, his bearing. And she picked up a lot. His half-missing ear with an orc-bite pattern. The words of strength, honor, ferocity, and loyalty inked into his skin. She didn’t miss the way he had stood by Thorin’s side like they were sewn together before the soldiers had separated them.

From her travels and years of illegal activity, Lark knew many dwarves. And she knew of even more.

This was Dwalin, Son of Fundin, Loyal Guard to the King.

He would be a problem.

And Lark loved a challenge.

But the last dwarrow was definitely going to be an exciting one.

The star-haired male sat with a smugness and confidence few would have in a cage. Lark being one of those few. His eyes watched her and her partner as closely as she watched him. He was one of the few prisoners that talked. And he talked to her. Asked her things. About this place, if the food was any good, what might be done to them.

And he asked about her.

She never said a word.

It was funny, watching him talk, as she had been worried he had discovered their femininity. But he kept using male pronouns, and not in an ironic ‘I know but I don’t need to show that I know’ or even in a secretive ‘I know but don’t want you to know I know’ kind of way. He hadn’t realized they were female.

And he flirted.

And Lark thanked every god she could think of that she had a talent for holding back laughs.

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“Your mother was a close friend. You are our guest, Bilbo Baggins. I do wish it was under more favorable circumstances.”

The hobbit nodded. He had finished his food and she had offered him a room. After sleeping in a pile of dwarves for the last few months, a room of his own room sounded nice.

Nice enough to make him feel guilty about leaving his friends to their cells.

“What was she like?” he asked. He had calmed down quite a bit. Forra had shocked him with her kind heart and sympathy. She appeared quite hurt by the fact of his mother’s passing herself.

But now Forra thought back to better days, and gave a hearty, booming laugh.

“Fierce,” she said, “One of our patrols found her wandering the woods. She had just traversed the Misty Mountains and barely escaped the Goblins. She had planned to stay with Beorn the skin changer, but she lost her map in the mountains and had veered away from his cabin completely. When we found her, she was nearly dead, and still managed to give me a black eye.”

Bilbo stared stunned at the warrior. The woman looked like she could crush rocks in her hands—knowing dwarves she probably could—and he couldn’t imagine how a lass who would have been no bigger than him managed to injure a soldier like Forra.

“She had this weapon, odd thing, two nuts attached to strings. Waved ‘em around like metal flails. What did she call them? Conquerors? Anyway, Belladonna got a warm welcome from us after that. Quite impressive for her size, and any lass with a spirit like that can find a home here. We brought her in and gave her medicine and food and helped her recuperate.”

Forra felt light-hearted for the first time since the dwarrows arrived. Bilbo watched her as she spoke, how she seemed younger and even her scar appeared a little less scary.

“She told us her story, and we told her ours. I even forged a metal version of her little weapon for her travels. But she wasn’t even thinking about having kids when we met her. What happened when she returned to Tookborough?”

Bilbo mouth hung a bit when she named his mother’s old home. Few outside of his race bother learning the parts and sections of his homeland. Most just call it the Shire, or ‘that place with the tiny people’.

“My father, I suppose. Bungo Baggins. He courted her and built her a smial for a wedding present. And then they had me.”

Forra smiled at him. It’s a tad lopsided, as the right edge of her lips are melted into red tissue, but there was kindness to it.

“That sounds like an enjoyable life. Did he make her happy?”

“I think it’s a testament that she died of a broken heart after he passed.”

Forra joyful smile morphed to a sad one, but didn’t fall.

Some thought she didn’t believe love existed. Some believed that she thought all men were evil.

She didn’t.

She had seen true love and good men and wished they were more commonly found in the world.

But they weren’t.

So she did what she considered was right, and endured.

“I’m glad she found someone that loved her so. And I congratulate you on doing the same,” she chuckled, “Snagging the trust of a dwarf is hard to do. But someone has already put a bead in your hair. I’m sure that made waves.”

“Oh yes!” Bilbo agreed, “Thorin was a bit cold in the beginning, but I saved his life from an orc. He became much kinder after that! He carved this for me just a week ago.”

“That’s wonderful, Bilbo,” she said, “When is the wedding?”

Bilbo stopped dead in his tracks.

“W-what?!”

Forra blinked at him.

“The wedding? You said Thorin gave you that engagement bead. Oh, I’m sorry, have you not set a date yet?”

Slack-jawed, Bilbo slowly realized why Gandalf had congratulated him with that mischievous smile, why Balin had looked at him with a shine in his eyes when he accepted the bead, and why Fíli and Kíli had been cracking jokes about Thorin’s new closeness to Bilbo for the past week. He had assumed it was about Thorin accepting him as one of their own.

“I am going to rip off his beard.”

Forra pursed her lips as her eye brows rose.

“…He didn’t tell you?”

Bilbo shook his head slowly, split between wanting to rush the prison blocks and tear that damn dwarrow apart, and leaving him in his cell to stew.

“Perhaps some rest would help you think about everything,” Forra offered, and gestured down the hall. They continued to his lodging silently, until she opened a wooden door to a small room.

Bilbo thought he had been sent back to Bag End. It was dark and dusty, but distinctly cozy. It had a small, hobbit-sized bed and a little hearth and a rocking chair and maps and—what was this place?!

“This was your mother’s room when she stayed with us,” Forra filled in. “She was with us for nearly two month in all. Quite dear to us too. Her knowledge of farming saved us from starvation that year.” Forra turned to look Bilbo in the eye. “I know being separated from your friends may be worrisome for you, but you have nothing to fear in this place. If you need anything, don’t be afraid to ask.”

He stepped inside hesitantly, like he thought it might vanish if he touched it too fast.

“What will happen to them?” he asked without turning from the room.

“Nothing, if they mean no harm.”

“We don’t.”

“I hope so.”

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“So what do you think?” Forra asked.

“You mean on a scale of one to Erebor, how dead are we?” Lark answered.

They were sitting in Forra private planning room. Few were allowed in save for her, Lark, Rhunda, and Forelle. Forra sat with her hammer standing on its head next to her, Lark rested in a seat across from her, sharpening a knife.
“If that’s how you want to put it, sure.”

“Well, we aren’t dead yet. I think most won’t cause trouble, at least not immediately. But I’ve got a few recommendations.”

“Like?”

“Let the families see each other.”

Forra leaned back in her seat confused. Lark was the last dwarrowdam to show compassion for prisoners.

“Why?”

Lark shrugged. “There are young ones with them. Most of them are brothers or cousins. Don’t give them an hour to plot some escape, just allow five minutes to show we have mutilated anybody. If they know we aren’t obscenely cruel, they have less reason to rebel.”

Forra sighed, “Fine. But you better watch over the meetings.”

“Happy to. I’ll need a few more hours to pick out just who is related to whom, but you’ll get a list by tomorrow.”

Forra nodded, “Anything else?”

“Baths,” she answered straight faced.

“You’re kidding.”

She wasn’t.

“Why in Middle-Earth would we give them that?!” Forra said, face twisting in confusion and slight distaste.

“Nori, Son of Kori.”

Forra looked at Lark flatly.

“He’s a master break-out artist. And thief. And all-around criminal.”

“You mean you with a penis.”

“Basically.”

The warriors stared at each other.

“Okay,” Forra sighed, “I’ll humor you. Why a bath?”

“Because I would bet my beard he’s got more lock-picks in his hair and knives in his clothes than we would care to count.”

“His hair.”

“Yeah.”

“You want to give him a bath—to wash lock-picks out of his hair.”

“Yeah. And when you say I want to give him a bath you’re right. I need to be there to make sure nothing is missed. And they will all need new clothes to make sure no one is smuggling anything.”

Forra pinched the bridge of her nose and gazed at her friend.

“Okay. Fine. Baths it is. Now tell me,” she said sternly, “how do you know so much about this Nori.”

Lark went quiet.

Forra cocked a brow.

“I was a thief. He is a thief. I’ve heard what he’s done in the past.”

“And.”

Lark stared at the table between them.

“Lark.”

“He offered to break me out of prison once.”

Forra stared at her companion, compelling her to continue.

She sighed, “I got caught nabbing this necklace in Ered Luin. He was in the cell across from mine for swiping a quill or something. I watched him all night. He picked the cell lock like it was a child’s toy. He headed for the door but turned before he was out. He asked if I wanted to go with him.”

Forra’s mind replays what she knows of Lark’s life before they met. She isn’t one to speak of her past. Forra knows more than anyone, and even knowledge that has holes.

“I turned him down, told him I had nowhere to be. The prison had a decent bed and three meals a day, better than I could do for myself some days.”

“Is he really that good?” Forra asked doubtfully. She knew what Lark could do; she’d seen it plenty of times. It was hard to imagine anyone impressing the woman who could pick a lock with nothing but her toes and a bottle of perfume.

“Let me tell you a story,” Lark said with a jovial flash in her eye, the same one she got when she told tales of thefts that made adventures of old sound simple. “Nori once bet a guy that he could break in or out of anywhere in the world. So the dwarf told him to try and breakout of the high-security solitary-confinement cell of the best prison in the Blue Mountains, where, I’ll have you know, that bald tattooed dwarrow we have was captain of the guards. So instead of stealing or breaking an arm or what-have-you, Nori decides to PUNCH DWALIN SON OF FUNDIN in the FACE. He gets sent to the cell with a straight jacket and broke out within the hour using an EARRING he stole from Dwalin when he hit him. Nori is not only one of the best lock-picks in Middle-Earth, he also had balls of steel.”

Forra’s head tilted to the side.

“Lark, do you have a crush on Nori?”

Lark went red.

“NO!” she exclaimed, “I’m just saying he is the one we have to worry about. And I’m the only one here who knows what he is capable of.”

“Will he remember you?”

Lark smirked.

“Forra, I was sixty years younger, twenty pounds lighter, and had my hair powder-dyed black. I wouldn’t remember me.”

“Okay then,” Forra gives, “Do what you need to.”

“Wonderful. Also, I want Forelle there with me.”

Forra’s head snapped up.

“Absolutely not.”

“It will be good for her.”

“I’m not exposing my niece to a bunch of naked dwarrows!”

“Oh come on Forra! Seeing that they can be vulnerable too could help the lass! I’ll only bring her in to guard the less dangerous ones, how about that?”

“No.”

“Come on.”

“No.”

“How about we ask her what she wants to do?”

Forra pursed her lips once more. That could go either way. Forelle likesd to jump into things without thinking a bit much for Forra’s liking, but if it helped her….

“If she wanted to leave at any moment, I’d let her.”

“…Fine. But only with the dwarrows I pick.”

“Deal.”

Lark smiled as Forra rubbed her temple.

“Can’t live with ‘em, can’t continue a race without ‘em, eh?” Lark said with a smirk.

“Shut up and get me a drink.”

Chapter Text

“So who are you starting with?” Forra asked Lark at breakfast. Almost the entire population of the city ate in the main hall, lit by lanterns, where Forra and her closest companions sat at a head table and the rest of the citizens ate their fill at round tables around the room. Lark sat on the queen’s left, Rhunda at her right. Bilbo was somewhere down the line, placed purposefully between two of the dwarrowdams who had gotten along with Belladonna’s softer side, and were currently discussing doilies and fine china with the hobbit.

“Nori and the other ones you don’t like,” she replied. Honestly, Lark wasn’t too worried about any of them smuggling anything except for Nori and the hatted one. The others could all bathe themselves, thank you very much. She’d go through all of the more dangerous ones and then have a guard switch to bring in Forelle. “Hey, Forra, I was thinking…”

“What?” she asked suspiciously. Lark tried her innocent smile, but Forra had the rare talent of seeing through it like glass.

“Well, it’s just that we have suddenly got a large collection of males just sitting around, and I was thinking that we could at least put them to good use.”

Forra thought for a moment.

“You are not raping the prisoners.”

“What?! I never said we’d ever—Forra, I’m appalled you’d think so low of me,” Lark responded with exaggerated offence. “And it wouldn’t be rape! Those boys have been hiking across Middle Earth for how many months? You think there wouldn’t be at least a couple that are interested? And come on, think of the lasses. I know at least three that want to try for kids—and now they don’t even need to go anywhere!”

“No.”

“I think the lass has a point Forra.” Forra and Lark snapped their heads around to Rhunda.

“You agree with her?!” Forra said, stunned. Even Lark was vaguely surprised. Rhunda rarely agreed with her, especially when her…less than honorable talents came into play.

“Well, yes. Think about this from a logistics stand point. For anyone to try for kids we have to wait for at least, what? Half a dozen to also want kids just to make the trip worth it? And then we have to assemble an armored guard, all of which have to take the utmost precaution to hide their gender in case of attack. From there, they have to make the trek either through Mirkwood for a month and risk starvation only to reach the few dwarrows still in Laketown, or they have to hike through the Misty Mountains, half-way across Middle Earth to Ered Luin. Either way they have to risk the trip back as well, possibly with child! I don’t like the idea of it in principle, but the dwarrows here simplify things! It would be much safer for everyone.”

“Yes,” Forra forced herself to calm down, “but when the dwarrowdams go to Ered Luin or Laketown the fact is no one knows who they are and has no reason to follow—Wait. No. We are not having this discussion.” Forra stood up from her large oak seat at the head of the room and the chair gave a low screech against the floor, attracting the attention of most of the women in the room. They turned to her, curious. Word had spread of the prisoners, and talk of what would happen now was exploding. “Under absolutely NO circumstances,” Forra roared over the crowd, “is ANYONE to have sexual intercourse of ANY form with ANY of the prisoners. That is an order.”

Many of the older women nodded firmly, though there were a few younger lasses who looked a tad disappointed.

“Buzzkill,” Lark muttered.

“Oh, when did you suddenly want to be a mother?” Forra snapped back. She turned to Rhunda, to see if she had anything to say, when she spotted the hobbit over her shoulder, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, with a bit of scrambled egg dangling from his mouth.

Oh. Right. Could’ve timed that better.

Forra sighed and went back to eating. She could clear it up with Bilbo later.

------------------------------------------

“Hey! What’s the big idea?” Nori snapped at the guards pushing him down the hall. He didn’t want to knife them just yet—he figured it was best to save the ace up his sleeve for the big pot—but what were they going to do with him now? He was pushed past other cells, his mates looking up concernedly at him, but unable to do much. He didn’t fret; he could handle whatever came his way, but could Ori?

-------------------------------------------

“You’re not starting with Oakenshield?” Rhunda asked with mild surprise as she watched Lark get changed. And when that woman changed—she really changed.

They were in Lark’s room, Rhunda sitting in a chair near the hearth and Lark was in and out of her closet. She had already powder-dyed her hair dirt brown and had a small pouch strapped to her stomach to fake extra weight.

“Mahal, no! Dragging away a leader? Nothing would start a panic quicker. Same reason we can’t start with the young ones—the adults would worry. Have to start with someone in the middle. Not young, not vastly important or emotionally valued. Nori is perfect.”

“I’m sure,” Rhunda answered sarcastically.

---------------------------------------------

Nori was shoved into the small washroom. The four guards shoved him near a water-filled tub and moved to stand in each of the four corners of the room, hands still on their weapons. What were they going to do? Shove his head under until he talked?

But then he heard a dainty whistling just down the hall, a woman entered, and Nori’s eye brows flew up.

It had been months since he had actually seen a female of his race, and wasn’t this one a prime specimen? Her soft brown hair braided up and around her head beautifully, her beard beaded and jeweled. She was tall and lean, though a little soft around the middle. Unfortunately, she made this much more confusing. They wouldn’t interrogate him in front of a lass, would they? Wait, was she the interro—no. Couldn’t be. With a face that sweet? Not a chance.

“Well, hello there,” he began charmingly, and strode to meet her.

“Don’t.”

The sinister voice came from the hall and Nori actually froze. He recognized the scarred leader’s tone. It was as commanding as Thorin’s, and was currently much darker. The warrior appeared in the doorway, hammer and all, fire burning in his eyes. Nori held back the desire to gulp.

“Touch her and die.”

Nori glanced around the room. Two of the guards already had their weapons drawn, the others about to. He put his hands up.

“My mistake,” he offered. He could knife the bastard later anyway. And ladies couldn’t resist his hair. “What is all this?”

“A bath,” the leader growled.

“For what?” Nori laughed, inwardly cussing because what if they found his knives what if they found his lock picks this was bad very very bad—

“Lice,” the lady stated, matter-of-factly. “Can’t risk infection.” She had a high, sweet voice and Nori started running over every piece of information of strength of will he could think of.

“You are going to bathe,” the leader said without question, “And if you touch her, harm her, or try anything at all, the guards will cut off your hands I will break your knee caps with my bare hands.”

Well okay then. No funny business it is.

The warrior gave the lass a curt nod and left, closing the door behind him.

“I think I can wash myself,” Nori tried.

“Nonsense,” said the lass, “We need to be thorough. Now strip.”

Nori went red.

“W-what?”

“Strip. We need to boil your clothes.”

Oh yes, tell the man to not try anything and then get naked. Nothing wrong with that.

His eyes darted from guard to guard, all of whom looked unforgiving.

Turning his back to the woman, because Nori still had some sense of decorum, he began to shed his layers, taking care to make sure the knives didn’t show. With any luck, they would just dump his clothes in a pot and give them back. He entered the basin as quickly as possible and glanced over his shoulder. The lady picked up his garments and gave a light knock on the door. Another guard answered.

Mahal! How many were there?

“Have these boiled and make sure you search them thoroughly.”

Well, bugger.

The door closed and she moved back to the tub. Nori snapped his head back so he wasn’t facing her.

“I just need to search your hair for any signs of—“

“Really I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said, pulling away from her.

“Oh, but we must be sure.”

“I can get it. Had lice before.”

“Well that’s exactly why I need to check! Don’t make me ask the guards to hold you down,” she said, wagging a finger at him. Damn. Like it could get any worse.

Nori gulped.

But he sat still, and let her unbraid his hair. It was disturbing, having someone who wasn’t family touch his hair. Alien, even. He didn’t like it. But his hair was thick and long, so perhaps she wouldn’t find any of his tools and just pay attention to his scalp?

It seemed like an age before she was done.

“Well, you seem safe, so just wash yourself up and your clothes will be back in a bit. The guards can escort you back to your cell when you are finished,” she said daintily as she pulled her hands out of his hair and headed for the door. Nori let out a sigh of relief.

“Hey!” he suddenly yelped before she left, “What’s your name?” he asked curiously. The guards tensed for a moment but looked towards the woman. She just giggled, and closed the door behind her.

Nori sighed sadly. Oh well, there were always more fish in the sea.

He tried to relax and clean himself while ignoring the four guards watching him. He was used to be under guard; he’d spent plenty of time in prison. But not during something like this. It was unnerving.

When he began washing his hair with a bit of soap they had left out, he began to panic.

They were gone.

Not just the larger ones, or the ones nearest his scalp, or the odd pointy ones. All of them.

The lass had found ALL of his lock-picks.

Now Nori really wanted to know her name.

---------------------------------------------

Bilbo tried to not fidget in his room.

What was going on in here? Sex with the prisoners? Forra had ordered against it, but that only meant it had once been an option.

And how was the Company fairing? He didn’t have any idea except for Forra’s words, and he didn’t know if those were believable.

Then he heard a knock at the door.

“Bilbo?” It was Forra. She sounded concerned. He didn’t move for the door. She could come in if she wanted. “I brought second breakfast.”

And there went his resolve.

He opened the door.

Forra was standing there, looking down at him with care, a tray of food in her hands.

“Belladonna was quite adamant about hobbit eating habits.”

“Y-yes,” Bilbo stuttered, “She was.”

He backed up to let her enter. She set the tray down on a desk and turned to him.

Sighing, she began, “Bilbo, about what was said this morning, you need to understand something—“

“Should I be worried?” he asked.

She chuckled, “No, Bilbo, you have nothing to worry about. I just want to explain it to you.” She took a deep breath. “You know this place has an entirely female population. Well, that tends to pose a problem when it comes to the continuation of a civilization. So whenever some of our citizens want to have children, we have to go through a very long and dangerous process to give them that opportunity. And getting pregnant is very difficult for dwarrowdams. Rarely does it work on the first try, so we have to keep trying. And the travel involved, as I said, can be quite dangerous.”

“So whenever you get prisoners you just use them.”

“No!” Forra defended. “We never have. Up until now the dwarrows who have been imprisoned here have always been rather…unsavory. We let them go or…. Anyway, the only reason the idea came up this time was because your dwarrows have been well-behaved and not offended anyone. But I assure you, nothing will happen to them.”

Bilbo sighed.

“Okay. Can I see them?”

She smiled, “Actually we’re working on that. One of my advisors thought it would be good to let the relatives see each other. We were just going to let Thorin see his nephews, but I suppose you’re part of his family now.” Her grin only irritated him further.

“Oh, don’t get me started on that dwarf! That little sneak, when I get him he’ll think the dragon is a piece of pie compared!”

“I see why he likes you,” Forra laughed. Bilbo’s face reddened. “But before we get to that, there was something I wanted to show you. But you should probably eat first.” Bilbo scarfed the food down hungrily, as he had suddenly lost his appetite mid-way through first breakfast, and had not eaten his fill.

“Come.” Forra began to lead him through the tunnels, which Bilbo could not make heads or tails of. “Tell me, Bilbo, how do you like animals?”

“They’re fine,” he answered. “I am not a huge fan of ponies, though they are useful, and I had this sweet one name Myrtle until it ran away from some orcs. Otherwise I don’t have much experience with animals, unless you’re counting the dwarves.”

That got a laugh from her.

“Yes, I remember your mother having a similar view, though she loved everything small and furry. So without further ado,” she said, putting her hand on a large metal door, “Bilbo, let me introduce you to our wargs.” She pushed the door open wide.

He sucked in air.

Before him sat an enormous playpen.

Of wolves the size of ponies.

“Y-you, you—“

“We domesticated them,” she filled in. The room was a giant circle with a rocky domed ceiling. Throughout the room were dozens of wargs of every size and color, sleeping, playing, eating. “Many decades ago when we were still digging this place, we stumbled upon an orc pack. We killed them quickly and began scavenging supplies, when we found a little litter of wargs. None of us had the heart to kill such adorable creatures.”

Bilbo found it hard to believe any of them were once adorable.

“Anyway, this happened more than once. We kept finding the litters and taking them in. Eventually they began growing up and we realized we could train them just like the orcs did.”

“They’re your pets?”

“Far more than that. They’re our friends. They even became our version of ponies. Their larger size makes them a bit more difficult to ride, but they can carry more, run faster, defend themselves, and are wonderful for hunting. Sweet things really. Come in, let me introduce you.”

“What, no, I don't think that’s really—“ but Forra was already pushing him into the pen. He noticed that there were other dwarrowdams around as well. Some were feeding the smaller pups, other were petting or brushing their fur. Others were—teaching them tricks?!

Bilbo was stunned. In his daze, he didn’t notice the large warg he was being shoved towards until he was close enough to smell it. The warg’s coat was as black as pitch but its teeth were bright white—and disturbingly large and sharp. It was a long scar down the side of its face from a blade.

“Bilbo, meet Shakar, the pack queen.” He gazed up at the creature, who stared down at him with swirling green eyes. It leaned down, so close he could feel her breath on his face, and she sniffed him. He gulped and closed his eyes tight.

And then she licked him.

“Awww, she likes you.”

Bilbo felt like he was once again covered in troll snot, but when he opened his eyes Forra was hugging the warg’s neck and scratching behind its ears.

“That’s my girl,” she said as she patted it on the nose. Forra glanced at him. “She was in the first litter we found. The orcs were not the kindest to their pets. When we took them in and were gentle, we all became fast friends. Almost every dwarrowdam has a warg that assists them and every warg a dwarrowdam that cares for them. Shakar is mine.”

Bilbo nodded blankly.

“Oh! Would you like to meet Belladonna’s?”

“WHAT?!”

Belladonna had a warg? His mother rode a WARG?!

“Oh yes. Let me see if he’s in this pen, we’ve got nearly a dozen.” Forra’s eyes scanned the room and suddenly lit up. “There he is! Oi! Ravaro! Here!” She gave a whistle, and a smaller, light brown warg came running. “He was the runt of his litter. A tad small for us but Bella was a perfect fit. The two were inseparable. He isn’t much of a fighter like his siblings, but he’s got a nose like no other.”

The warg dashed up to them and skid to a halt in front of Bilbo.

“We gave him to her when she departed with the elves to pass through Mirkwood. Their legs are so much longer, we figured she’d have trouble keeping up. She came back acting like she had grown up with the pup. It was a sad day when they had to part.”

The warg stared at Bilbo, their heads at the same level. Ravaro was a little smaller than a pony, with great big hazel eyes.

“What happened?” he asked.

“She went home. Ravaro helped her pass the Misty Mountains, but it’s not like she could take him to Rivendell, and certainly not the Shire. She had to send him back,” Forra answered, her voice tinged with regret. “He hasn’t been the same.”

Bilbo dared to reach out a hand. Ravaro sniffed it, and then pushed his nose against it, nuzzling his palm.

“A nose like no other,” Forra said quietly, “I guess you’re more like your mother than I thought.”

Bilbo gently pet the warg’s head.

Well, this is definitely not what he expected when he signed that contract.

“You said the elves of Mirkwood,” he suddenly exclaimed. “You’re friends with the elves?”

Forra’s face darkened and she dropped her hands from Shakar.

“No. We are no friend to the elves. They left us to burn,” she snarled, and waved her hand to her face. Bilbo gasped a little and went red. He hadn’t realized. The burn scar trailed down her face and past the neckline of her leather clothes. He didn’t want to imagine how it might expand from there. “But we are not their enemies, either.” Forra sighed, though it sounded a little bitter. “King Thranduil made his choice to protect his people. I understand that. But he offered us no aid when we needed it. But I do not hate the elves as some other dwarves might. They respect their women, do they not? Elvish women can choose their trade and make their choices. And the Lady Galadriel is one of the most powerful forces in the land. There’s even a captain in Mirkwood I can get along with. A sharp one she is, but agreeable. When your mother came, Belladonna was aiming to travel to Laketown and we were happy to aid her. We sent a raven to the elves asking if they would help her pass the forest. They agreed, and we rode to a meeting in a clearing with her to see her off. We had only meant to see she was in their care, but somehow she convinced everyone to eat lunch together. An excellent intermediate, your mother. So no, we are not friends with the elves. But we bear them no ill. We tolerate each other, and that is that.”

Bilbo considered her words, his mother’s actions.

“That’s very mature of you.”

The queen smiled to herself.

“Sometimes I wonder how many wars could be prevented if females ran things. The pride of males seems to cause so much pain in this world,” she said, and then looked at Bilbo thoughtfully, “Of course, the war caused by the Nauglamír resulted uncountable deaths, and I can imagine women waging ferocious war over fine jewelry.”

--------------------------------------------

Lark was getting bored.

She had gone through nearly all of the dwarrows Forra had demanded Forelle be left out of. Dwalin had growled but she got a lovely few of all his tattoos, Balin and Oin she had turned away from completely. She was picking up their names dwarf by dwarf, from their time in the bath to the other guards reports from their shifts. Gloin was the red head who was thrilled to be able to fix his beard, and was almost in tears when he told her how he lost the portrait of his wife—and Lark had the kind heart to listen to him so devotedly, like a good friend.

That thought almost made her snort.

Thorin glared at her and the guards the whole time.

The one with the axe—whom she could not figure the name of yet—tried to eat the soap.

They had to get a larger tub for Bombur.

But with each dwarrow that came in, the next was slightly calmer about the ordeal. Lark smiled at her own forethought. She had asked the guards to make sure they walked each one back to their cell as slowly as they could without raising suspicion. It gave each prisoner to give the other a reassuring glance, a word of comfort.

What probably surprised her most were the enormous muscles of the one that had been asking for a sewing needle. From his tightly braided beard to his uptight demeanor, Lark thought he was a pencil-pusher. Well she missed the mark by a mile. This dwarrow could have pushed boulders. But he seemed quite pleased at the chance for common hygiene, and Lark kept her distance.

Finally, the guard shift changed. She allotted half an hour to give the new soldiers a run down and make sure Forelle was ready.

Lark waited in the washroom and Forelle was the first one there, eager as always.

“Afternoon, princess.”

“I told you to not call me that.”

“Force of habit, princess.”

Forelle rolled her eyes. Her storm-cloud irises were one of the few things she and her aunt shared. Forelle had shoulder length onyx hair that she left down except when she was on guard duty. Now it was in one tight braid down to the base of her neck. Her beard was thick but short like Forra’s, but stopped at the sides of her chin. Forelle was a smaller lass, about as tall as Rhunda but skinnier, stuck in the middle between stocky and thin. She had a strong back, a sarcastic tongue, and an enthusiasm for defending her home. No one was sure if she would become queen after Forra, for Forra was not truly a queen, but Forelle had every bit of dedication one could want in a leader. Unfortunately, sometimes that made her leap before looking.

“Ready?” Lark asked.

“Of course.”

“Just so you know,” Lark shrugged, “there will always be an extra guard outside if you want to trade out.” Forelle sighed in exasperation.

“I can handle it! For Yavanna’s sake, I am not a child!”

“I know, lass. But your aunt is queen. And if anything happens she’ll have the head of whichever dwarrow caused it, and my beard for not stopping it. So just be careful, alright?”

“Fine,” Forelle growled, but then she perked up, “Hey, some of my friends and I were joking around, can you imagine what would of happened if the dwarrows had fallen down during the Week?”

Lark thought about it for a moment and burst into her own fit of laughter.

“Oh goodness, I would almost feel sorry for the poor bastards! Do you remember last Week when someone spilled soup on Rhunda’s dress? She threw them across the room!” The two cracked up.

The Week was truly a dangerous time in the tunnels, but the dwarrowdams had every precaution in place to lessen the possible damage. Still, there was only so much one could do.

Eventually the other guards arrived and Lark filled them in and left with a wink. She always made sure to not be there when the dwarrow arrived, so she seemed friendlier than the guards. Forelle marched with the others to the cell Lark had told them was next. It held a cheery-looking dwarrow with a large hat and a goatee.

“Well, hey there lads! Is it my turn?” One of the other guards nodded and opened the cell. “Name’s Bofur,” the dwarrow said, putting his hands up. The guard gestured for him to come forward and he gladly complied. Forelle watched him closely. It had been years since she’d seen a dwarrow, and never one so ridiculously happy.

With him in the center of the guards, they marched him back to the washroom. He began undressing almost immediately, and Forelle focused on the floor by his feet. Okay, maybe there were some parts to this she wasn’t too keen on.

But Lark was there in less than a minute. Forra had joined her for most of the other prisoners when she wasn’t talking with the hobbit, but it seemed like she was less worried about these ones. It annoyed Forelle a bit, to get stuck with the ‘easy’ job, but she hated whining when her aunt had already done so much for her.

Then Lark asked for his hat.

His hands ghosted to its flaps, his breeches still on, and his eyes pleading.

“Do ya really need it, lass? None of us have got any lice. It’s fine I tell ya.”

“I’m sorry, we just need to boil it. You’ll get it back as soon as we’re done,” Lark said in her fake, high-pitched voice, not sorry at all. “Come now, I promise you’ll get it back safe and sound.” Forelle was always amazed at Lark’s ability to fake any voice, tone, or emotion. She sounded like a mother or teacher, telling a child it would all be okay. The dwarf appeared heartbroken, but slowly took off the hat and set it in her hands. She gave him a reassuring (complete crap) smile, and told him to go ahead and get in the tub. Forelle averted her eyes until Bofur was hidden by the water, and Lark began unbraiding his hair, apparently needing to check for the parasites by hand.

Forelle got bored after Lark left with the dwarrow’s clothes, and made a game in her head trying to figure out how many weapons Lark must have had on her while still in her costume. Her whip, of course, she never left that, even slept with it. Probably at least four large daggers and maybe a dozen smaller knives hidden elsewhere. She usually kept darts of one sort or another in her hair.

Eventually Bofur said he was done and they lead him back to his cell. Forelle noted how he waved happily at two of the other prisoners; the fat red-head and the axe-scarred one. Lark would want to know that.

They moved to the next prisoner on the list, a timid lad in knitted clothes. Forelle almost laughed when she saw him. He looked so soft and adorable. What was he doing with these warriors? But she was still fascinated. She had never seen a dwarrow her age before, not since she lived in Ered Luin as a tyke. He didn’t seem that different from some of the girls at all. The boy, Ori, he told them, was much more modest than Bofur and was in and out of his bath as quickly as possible.

Two left then.

“Thorin Oakenshield’s nephews,” Lark told her with a wink, “Handsome lads.” Forelle felt Lark elbow her slightly and pulled her helmet down tighter to hide her blushing cheeks. Wait, why was she blushing?

She quickly realized that the brothers were very, very different from Ori. The first one they collected actually looked a bit like her, but had a thinner beard. She laughed at him in her head. But he was loud and angry, cursing and shoving the guards when he could. But none of the others stabbed him, so Forelle held back.

But when he got to the washroom he utterly refused to cooperate.

He sat on the floor in front of the tub and refused to move, get undressed, or wash. Lark stood next to him, arms folded, like a scolding mother. After a few minutes of stubborn refusal, Lark shrugged, picked a dart out of her hair, and stuck him in the neck.

When he woke up in his cell, he was clean, had wet hair, was only in his underclothes with his other garments lying in the corner, and had a bright red lipstick mark on the side of his forehead.

Lark was very proud of her work.

The other brother, the eldest, was much better behaved. He got undressed when asked, if a bit awkwardly, and let Lark search his hair.

For reasons she couldn’t fathom, Forelle couldn’t stop blushing the whole time she was around him—well, at least when he was shirtless.

When they finally took him back to his cell and Forelle got off her shift, she grabbed Lark and didn’t let her go until they were locked in her room.

“I need help.”

“What’s wrong, lass?” Lark said with sudden concern. As sarcastic as she was, Lark cared a lot for the girl, and she had promised Forra she would always watch out for her.

“When we were with the blond one—it was so weird! My face was all hot and my stomach felt heavy and I was nearly shaking, what’s happening to me?!” she cried desperately, frantically worrying she was having an episode.

Lark looked at her for a moment, searching her, and laughed harder than ever.

“This isn’t funny!” she exclaimed.

“Course it is lass! You think he’s cute!”

“W-WHAT?!”

“Ain’t it obvious? Oh well I guess you’ve never had the opportunity! That’s puberty, lass. And it’s not going anywhere.”

“This happens? To everyone?!”

“Every dwarrowdam. Dwarrows feel a little different; their plumbing ain’t ours anyway, but it’s got the same cause!”

Forelle stared wide-eyed. She couldn’t believe this.

She liked a dwarrow? She didn’t even know him!

Mahal, a dwarrow? Ew, just…Ew.

Chapter Text

Forra was happy to find that the family reunions were mostly peaceful, even if rather tense. She had decided to sit in on them along with Lark and Rhunda, as well as a small group of rotating guards. Between reports from the prison guards and her own observations, Lark had managed to connect all of the familial dots.

The brothers Gloin and Oin were first. They both seemed very pleased to see the other. Still, they shared their glares at Forra and her compatriots. At least until Lark was ‘kind’ enough to return Oin’s hearing trumpet and Gloin’s portrait of his wife. They both became remarkably respectful at that. Rhunda was almost taken aback.

And if she had looked at the portrait of Gloin’s wife earlier with a tinge of jealousy, no one brought it up.

After fifteen minutes of brotherly bonding, they were sent back to their cells.

Next were the Lin men, which had all of the guards a little tense.

As prisoners, the brothers had been complete opposites the past two days.

Balin had been utterly polite. He behaved well, was quiet but not to a suspicious point, ate what he was given with thanks, and had often offered to do what he could to help the situation, whether it was participating in peace talks or negotiations or what-have-you.

Dwalin had been downright offensive.

For the first few hours of imprisonment he had just sat and glared, like his king. No one really minded. He even took his bath with decent obedience. But the evening after and that night all he had done was roar and curse and bang on the bars of his cell.

Considering the number of curses laid upon the guards’ mothers and how often he told them they should bring out the ‘real dwarrows’, it was a powerful testament to Forra’s strength of will to not have him brutally beaten.

But here she was, sitting in the corner and shining her hammer, while he chatted with his brother.

Mercy indeed.

After a few minutes they were taken away and the Ur family was returned to itself. These worried Forra the least by a large margin. A fat cook (though it annoyed her how many of the guards had been talking about his beard with such…flowery words), a lanky toymaker/miner, and a wounded soldier. The axe-headed one she actually found to have an understanding with. Not verbally; she had barely spoken to any of them. But having a horribly mangled face was something they had in common, and though his mind seemed a bit off at best, when he entered they shared a look. He didn’t mean harm. Neither did she. No need to scar anyone anymore.

What did surprise the tunnel queen was how closely Lark watched the family. Her eyes never left them.

Well, her eyes never left the miner.

But Forra said nothing, gritting her teeth and saving her words for a better time.

Though she thought she might explode when she saw Rhunda eyeing Bombur’s beard.

Eventually that meeting ended too and the Ri line was brought together. This family did worry her.

Forra had asked Lark more about Nori and none of it pleased her. More so, his older brother Dori (who was not of the same father, oddly enough) was one of the most muscled dwarves in the Company under his fine robes. Their little brother Ori (who shared Nori’s father) was rather adorable though, small and constantly hugged by his eldest brother, being asked if they had hurt him.

While the youngest and eldest brothers checked each other over, it was the middle son who kept watch. Nori peered at the guards constantly, especially Forra, as well as Lark and Rhunda who stood on either side of her in full armor. It may have been a tad excessive for prison wear, but it hid their genders better than any binding.

However, their reunion ended as well, and it was time for the finale. The line of Durin.

And its new member.

“I’ll go get the hobbit. Go ahead and let the boys see their uncle,” Forra said as she rose to leave.

The brothers were brought in first, and nearly jumped at each other. They began speaking ridiculously fast, almost making it impossible for the guards to understand. Fíli was checking his little brother over while Kíli told him about how they had knocked him out for his bath. The brunette was very offended.

Thorin arrived a few minutes later, still glowering at the guards, but rushed to embrace his nephews at first sight. He glanced with cautious curiosity at the soldiers around them. Why were they doing this? He had seen the rest of the Company come and go from his cell, but why? No one came back tortured or scared, but actually quite pleased. It unnerved him.

But his nephews were healthy, so what was there to worry about?

Oh, right.

Bilbo.

------------------------------------------------

Forra tried to not grin hilariously when she knocked on the hobbits door. This was going to be hysterical.

Bilbo answered the door politely but appeared rather worried.

“I have a meeting ready for you, Bilbo, but what troubles you?”

“The dwarves. Can’t you just let us go?” he pleaded. She sighed.

“I’m sorry, Bilbo, but I have a responsibility to my citizens. If your Company knows who and what we are and have now found us, it could put us in terrible danger. I just need to know.”

“Please! I can’t tell you why we were traveling, but it certainly wasn’t this! The dwarves didn’t know this place existed!”

“Would they have told you if they did?” she asked with a slight chill. Bilbo opened his mouth to speak, and closed it. Would they?

Just two weeks ago Thorin had treated him like he was less than nothing, and then put a marriage bead in his hair without telling him what it was! He could have lied about a lot more. And even if Thorin didn’t know, there could be others in the Company that did.

But then there was Gandalf.

The wizard had told him to go on this quest, recommended him to the dwarves. Gandalf would never do anything less than honorable. Bilbo had faith in that. Belladonna and Gandalf had been friends since her childhood.

“I can’t testify for all of them, no, but…What if I tell them?” Bilbo asked.

“What?” Forra’s eyes snapped to him, cold and sharp.

And suddenly, Bilbo discovered his bargaining chip.

“What if I tell them? About you and this place and your women?” he said much more boldly. For the first time since joining the quest, Bilbo felt like he had power.

And then Forra stepped towards him, and he promptly lost that feeling.

She moved towards him swiftly and strongly, until they were just inches apart, and Forra turned her head downward just to look at him, because—right he forgot—she was more than a head taller than him.

Her stormy eyes bored down at him like swords and her scar made his skin crawl when he saw it up close, the grooves in the melted flesh. He could smell the leather of her clothes and just glimpsed one corner of her massive hammer over her shoulder.

“Don’t.” Her snarl was an order, unquestionably. “I would die for my people, Bilbo. And I would kill for them. Don’t make me. Don’t let your tongue put my girls’, your Company’s, and your life in peril. Don’t you dare say. A damn. Word.”

Bilbo gulped and nodded vigorously.

Forra backed away and her features softened as she opened the door.

“Come now. Your fiancé awaits.”

Bilbo suddenly remembered who he was really mad at, and strode through the door.

---------------------------------------------

“THORIN OAKENSHIELD!” Bilbo roared when Forra let him into the room. The male dwarves (and a few of the female ones as well) jumped at the sound. “How dare you! How dare you put this bead in my hair without telling me what it is!”

Forra moved back to her place between Lark and Rhunda and shared a smile with them. She should have brought snacks for this.

Bilbo continued to shout at the dwarf king for some time, the princes split between cowering in fear of the hobbit and snickering at their uncle. The dwarf women had to bite their lips and clench their jaws to not laugh, though many were smirking the whole time. Some had wondered if Bilbo shared his mother’s ferocity. He did.

“Perhaps we should break them up before the carpet gets stained. You know how hard it is to get blood out,” Rhunda whispered jokily.

“I suppose this little mercy has turned rather vindictive, hasn’t it?” Forra answered.

“It wasn’t a mercy,” Lark growled humorously, “It was an attempt to squash rebellion. Won’t do much if somebody dies, now will it?”

“Oh, but we should let the new couple have at least some time together,” Rhunda said with an evil grin, “Be a shame to separate them when they have been apart for so long.”

“I agree. No harm in being a bystander,” Forra agreed.

Bilbo ranted and raved for a good while, without ever letting the king get a word in. Lark took notes. But eventually the hobbit ran out of energy, and the dwarrow tried to explain. Apparently, he had wanted to stake a claim to the hobbit before anyone else could, and was going to tell them after the quest was completed.

Bilbo quickly went on a verbal rampage about how Thorin shouldn’t have tried to make such a decision for him. Rhunda had to stop herself from yelling ‘You tell him, girlfriend!’ Bilbo tired after a while and demanded an ‘actual’ proposal, so Thorin actually proposed, Bilbo actually agreed, and Lark, Fíli, and Kíli all actually made gagging noises when they kissed.

And they kissed.

And they kissed.

Fíli and Kíli, as well as most of the guards, were nearly to the point of vomiting before Forra broke them up. Seeing as they had taken enough comfort in each other’s well-being, she told them. The love birds exchanged sad and sorry goodbyes that had the princes and Lark again making gagging sounds.

Forra and Lark accompanied Thorin back to his cell, taking a precaution. They dropped him off and began walking back to the war room, when they passed Nori’s cell.

“Hey, can I speak to ya for a moment?” he asked. Forra flicked her eyes to him with a bored expression and kept moving. “Hey, hey! I just wanna ask about that lass!” That put a hitch in both Lark’s and Forra’s steps. They kept moving.

Whatever he said, it was not worth hearing.

“Oh come now! As long you’re being nice to keep us quiet, you could at least toss us a bone.”

It was the way he said it that stopped Forra in her tracks. That leer, with the smirk he was wearing, and that obviously-fake charming tone that sounded as if he was flirting with them. That was what made Forra turn to glare at him.

“My dear king,” Nori said with a smile, “Where we come from dwarrowdams are so exceedingly rare, I’m sure I haven’t had one in years! And that lass looked quite comely if you ask me. She didn’t have a marriage bead in her hair either.” Lark cursed herself internally. Forra was growing increasingly enraged. “Can’t you just spare one lass for a night?”

The queen was red with fury. Her eyes were burning with hate at his words and her clenched fists shook. Nori noticed.

“Oh? Are you upset? Did I hit a sensitive spot? Do you also have an eye for that little diamond?”

Lark began to study the bars of his cage, and tried to figure out if they were strong enough to hold Forra back from snapping the dwarf in two.

“Either way, simple fix. Just send me a wench and I’ll be sated in a couple hours.”

“Apologies, Master Nori,” Lark cut in with a voice a few notes lower than normal, “but your mother is already with another. Kori should be done in a few hours though.”

This time it was Nori’s turn to be furious. His humorous eyes went dark and his laughing face glowed hatefully. He lunged at her, shaking the bars and throwing curses like knives. Lark was happy she had seen to disarm him. Forra was mighty surprised at both her friend’s and the dwarrow’s actions, but it quelled her anger and she started walking towards her goal, Lark right behind her, and Nori roaring from down the hall. When his voice quieted, either from distance or hoarseness, Forra spoke.

“That was a bit unfair.”

“He was asking for it.”

“I meant to his mother.”

Lark shrugged, “Ah, Kori would understand. Mahal knows she wouldn’t approve of her son saying such things. Besides, it’s a little hard to offend the dead.”

Forra paused.

“Wait—Kori was his mother?!”

“Yeah.”

“You called him Nori, Son of Kori.”

“Yeah. That’s what he goes by.”

The queen was surprised. Few ever went by their mother’s name.

“Why?” she asked curiously.

“Oh,” Lark gave a pondering look, “Something about his father being an abusive, drunk, cheating deadbeat if my memory serves.”

“Does that run in the family?” Forra asked bitterly.

“Not really,” Lark answered, “I mean, he’s slept around and isn’t about to settle down, but he’s never done anything horrible to an innocent person more than a light pick-pocketing.”

“One of your Not-So-Bad Bad Guys?” Forra said, recalling their inside joke of male stereotypes.

“Beats a Not-So-Good Good Guy, any day.”

Forra nodded strongly. There were some unfortunate facts of life in the world, and they knew them well.

They made their way to the war room and found Rhunda waiting for them, already out of her gender-concealing armor. Lark joined her.

Forra sighed.

“I think we should let them go.”

The others stared at her.

“Why?” they asked in unison. They had both wanted to get the dwarrows out as fast as possible. Each understood Forra’s reasoning for keeping them and found it sound, but having males in the city still unnerved them.

“From what we have seen they were completely surprised and shocked by our existence, and they haven’t shown any inclination to have figured us out. Besides, even if a few do know they have since seen our forces. I don’t think they will be coming back. And if they did, we’d be ready.”

The pair nodded agreeably.

“What do we do?” Rhunda asked her queen.

“We’ll take them to the edge of the forest tomorrow and return their supplies. And maybe a little extra. We don’t need Thorin to be any more pissed off at us.”

“Will Bilbo keep our secret?” Lark said suspiciously.

“I believe we can put our faith in him. If our secret was given away, we’d know exactly who did it, and I doubt the majestic Thorin Oakenshield would put his beloved in danger,” Forra said with a small smirk.

“Good,” Rhunda said, “I’ll prepare a security team to escort them. We’ll leave at dawn.”

Lark grinned, “Well, if that’s all settled, let’s eat! I’m starving. Those damn dwarrows took their damn time with their damn reunions.”

The three friends smiled and laughed, feeling their hearts lightened with the new decision. Normality would soon return.

And then a guard came running in, looking frantic and scared, and breathing hard.

“Queen Forra! The dwarrows have escaped!”

Chapter Text

Forra cursed the whole way to the prison blocks. She and the other dwarrowdams sprinted like they had a dragon hunting them. As quickly as they got there, it was enough time for Forra to guess how they had broken out.

Bilbo. It had to be him.

She started connecting the dots; the long kiss, Nori’s coarse words holding them there, the hobbit’s constant fear despite not being harmed. He had been working them all along.

What Forra didn’t know about (neither did any of the dwarrows for that matter) was Bilbo’s magic ring. He had yet to tell anyone of his little trinket, and he had used it quite well. From slipping in and out of baths and family reunions to passing around notes and even Nori’s lock picks, whenever Forra or one of the other dwarrowdams wasn’t watching him, he had been doing everything in his power to get the dwarves out.

And it had worked.

Sort of.

The dwarrows had escaped their cells, armed and in a group with Bilbo at its center, trying to fight their way out. They were in the middle of a T-intersection when they had gotten surrounded.

And taken a hostage.

Following the guardswoman, Forra had her hammer out before they had even reached the Company. Lark was already gripping her whip in one hand and a long dagger in the other. Rhunda had grabbed her spiked flails on the way out of the war room.

When she finally got a glimpse of the dwarrows from down the hall behind all of the guards, it occurred to Forra that it wouldn’t be hard for them to see the others’ gender. She would’ve told them to go back and get changed, had not one of the dwarrows—Dwalin she realized—been holding an axe to Forelle’s neck.

He had one arm wrapped around the front of her shoulders over her collar bones, holding her tight, while he held one of his blades to her throat. It sucked the air out of Forra.

Because this had happened once before.

And it had scarred the girl for life.

Lark briefly recalled the fact that Forelle would have been on guard duty during the breakout—at Dwalin’s cell—so she would’ve been one of the first into the fight. She didn’t look too badly bruised up, but her helmet was gone and she was shaking. They had to get her out of there.

“RELEASE YOUR HOSTAGE,” Forra roared over the commotion. The fighting stopped, the dwarrows in a tight circle with weapons out, surrounded on three sides by guards.

“Release us!” Thorin yelled back. Forra pushed her way to the front of the crowd to face him. Dwalin was at his right, and Forelle’s eyes locked with her aunt’s.

Forra squeezed her hammer with a vice that could crack bone, and glared bloody murder at the dwarves.

“We were about to,” she growled through her teeth, “Now release the guard and you can go.” This wasn’t the time for revenge. This was the time for rescuing.

“Lead the way,” Thorin answered, not giving any order to free Forelle. The girl was shaking even harder now, her eyes starting to wet. Forra could see her niece’s nightmares erupting to the surface. But that panic only made Dwalin pull her tighter against him, and Forelle gave a shriek.

“LET HER GO!” Forra thundered. She was an inch away from cracking their skulls with her hands.

The dwarrows froze. Each slowly turned their head towards the girl in Dwalin’s arms. His own eyes went wide like plates.

“Her?” Fíli gasped. Forelle sucked in air, a wet, pained sound.

Dwalin was horrified. Not breathing, he stared at the young woman who was a second away from crying.

“You would have a woman guarding prisoners?!” Gloin shouted, angry and almost scandalized, “How could you put a dwarrowdam in danger like that?” It dawned on the dwarrows that they were the ones that were putting her in danger really, but they weren’t exactly sure they could give up their hostage.

Rhunda had had enough.

“You ignorant, idiotic, misogynistic fools!” she bellowed as she moved to Forra’s side. The dwarrows gasped at the sight of another dwarrowdam—another armed and in the presence of danger. “We are all dwarrowdams!” she shouted, uncaring of the results. At that point none of them did, and it almost seemed worth it when the Company looked at her in shock.

They glanced around them, at all the female guards glowering furiously at them, and it only made matters worse when Forelle started sobbing.

Dwalin looked down at her in his own horror, because he knew deep down, however this went, he could not—would not—hurt her. All his life he had been trained to protect dwarrowdams, he had been taught from birth they needed protection and he would cave in the skull of any creature that would harm one. He had to either go back on nearly two centuries of training, or risk the life of his king.

“Let. My niece. Go,” Forra growled. Lark winced at the family admission, but the situation was deteriorating every second. Dwalin turned to Thorin, unsure of what to do. His king gave him a sad nod.

He let her go.

Forelle jumped into her aunt’s arms and Forra held her tight, putting her hammer between the dwarrows and her niece. The Company began to lower its weapons. They had lost.

“Get them out of here,” Forra snarled, mostly to Rhunda. “Take them to the edge of Mirkwood and leave them there.” She pulled her niece close, and led her back down the hall, away from the crowds.

------------------------------------------------------

Rhunda walked at the front of the convoy. The Company was led in a line of pairs, the group surrounded by armed guards each of which (to the shock and horror of the dwarrows) was riding a warg. The hobbit was by Thorin, and his eyes didn’t leave the ground. He hadn’t meant for anything like that to happen. He had tried to time it so they would face the least resistance and get the quickest way out. But Forelle had refused to back down from her guard post, and it was either injure or capture. Bilbo was not happy they had taken a hostage, but he never imagined that she would break down like that. Why did she?

From the way Forra had spoken of day before her new kingdom, he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

“Mi-Mistress Rhunda?” he asked quietly.

“What?” she snapped back, not looking at him. He felt ashamed, sure. They had been so kind to him, and his mother, that it had hurt to betray their trust. But he had to, his love was at stake!

“That guard that we…um..well, why was she crying?”

Rhunda spun towards him, looking like she might rip his tongue out. The other guards stopped as well, tensing and even the wargs growled. The women had retaken their weapons, and the dwarves were very, very worried.

“Because of him,” Rhunda answered angrily, pointing at Dwalin. “Because he just brought back every nightmare that girl has had in the past two decades and shoved them right back in her face!” Rhunda’s green eyes burned in a rage not common to her. She had never been personally hurt by a dwarrow, but she had witnessed the horrors. “Eighteen years ago we had another little troupe of dwarves run through here. Mercenaries. They had heard of a city of women and came looking. We captured them and were deliberating on what to do when they broke out. That hostage you took? That was Forelle, our queen’s niece and only kin. It was her first time as a guard. They took her hostage too.”

The dwarrows glanced at each other worriedly, only now realizing that this was one story without a happy ending.

“When we surrounded them, one of the dwarrows had a sword to her throat. Any sudden moves and she was dead and gone. And the entire time—for over an hour as we negotiated—he was touching her! He groped her and licked her and did whatever he wanted humiliatingly and Forra had to stand there and watch! If she moved Forelle was dead and if she didn’t the girl was assaulted. We finally got an archer to strike his arm to free her but the damage was done! We left to be free of monsters like him and yet they always return!”

Bilbo had a hand over his mouth and most of the dwarrows looked appalled. Fíli and Kíli were especially sickened. They had never been witnesses of Erebor’s laws, only the culture, but rape and sexual assault were nothing but revolting.

“We have been trying to help her overcome her nightmares and episodes and she seemed so healthy. And then you showed up,” Rhunda said coldly. She turned to walk on.

“What happened to them? The men?” Kíli asked.

Rhunda glared back at him.

“Forra had them castrated. Then she and our strongest dwarrowdams crushed their pelvises with sledgehammers. They died of their wounds.”

The Company stared. Blinked, and stared.

“Listen well, dwarrows,” Rhunda growled quietly. “I do not care where you are going or what your goals are, but if you value your lives at all, you will never return to our land, lest our queen make you wish you were never born.”

No one talked the rest of the way to Mirkwood.

-----------------------------------------------------

Forra roared as she crushed her wooden desk with a slam of her fists. It broke into splinters. In her rage she had all but destroyed most of the furniture in her room with her own hands.

She had been given the name Forra Hammerfist for a reason.

How could she have let this happen? As furious as she was at the dwarves and Bilbo, she blamed herself more than anyone. She, who had promised her sister-in-law that she would care for her daughter like her own in her last moments, had failed.

Twice.

Once, for not saving Forelle the first time.

Twice, for not being able to stop it from happening again.

But had it really happened twice?

Dwalin had not touched her like the other dwarrow. And he let her go.

But Forelle had been returned to the personal hell of her memories.

And Forra couldn’t crush those with her hands.

She had stayed with her niece for hours after Thorin’s Company had left, holding her close and comforting her, promising that she would never let it happen again, just as she had the last time. Lark had come in after an unknown span of time, bringing Forelle food. She told her queen to go eat dinner, and that she would stay with her niece.

Lark was one of the very few Forra trusted with her niece in such times.

For all her crimes and unbecoming attributes, Lark was loyal, and in a case like this, well, it’s best to say she could empathize with Forelle, and leave it at that.

After dinner, Forra had gone back to her niece’s quarters, only to find Forelle asleep, and Lark guarding her like she was holding the Arkenstone.

She told her queen to go get some rest.

Forra went back to her room with every intention of doing so, but it hadn’t worked out that way. Seeing red and raging, Forra had made her room look like it had been hit by a thunder battle.

That’s when Rhunda returned.

“They’re gone,” was all she said when she saw the carnage. Forra didn’t answer. She had her back turned to her friend and didn’t move. “You cannot blame yourself for what happened to Forelle. The girl was unlucky, nothing more. And she is safe now—“

“Is she?!” Forra bellowed and spun to face her. “Are any of us?! We live with those monsters and they look down at us and treat us like property. We leave and make our own home and they come after us. They hunt us and attack us and how can we EVER be SAFE?! We have all but turned our home into a military base and I can’t keep my own niece out of their arms! What am I supposed to do?!” Her rage-filled eyes released a tear. “I promised her mother—in her last minute in this world—that I would keep Forelle safe, safe from her monster of a father, the boy she’d been betrothed to at birth, everything! And I failed!”

“We live in a dangerous world, Forra,” Rhunda said solemnly, “We can’t save everyone from everything. You gave us all a new life here. You saved us from a life as prisoners in our own homes and you’ve protected Forelle better than anyone else could have. Bad things happen and we can’t stop them all, but we can help the victims and prevent future horrors.” She took a deep breath, “But only if our minds are clear. Your niece needs you. Not anger or protectiveness or pitying. Just you. Don’t deny her that.”

Forra sighed hard.

“Do you think they’ll ever come back?” the queen asked.

“No,” Rhunda said, very confident in her belief. “The hobbit seemed very ashamed,” she added. Forra laughed bitterly and leaned against a stone wall.

“For all he did, I can’t even stay mad at him,” she growled quietly to herself.

“Really? I can. Very easily. Why are you having a hard time of it?” Rhunda asked as she crossed her arms.

“Why do you think?” Forra asked and stared back at her friend, “He is just like his mother! Clever and mischievous. I bet they wouldn’t have gotten two feet if it wasn’t for him. But how can I blame him for trying to protect those he loves? If we were in their situation—Oh I remember, we were!—we would have done the exact same. We left our cages and either injured or killed any who stood in our way. I can be mad at Thorin for his stubbornness and Dwalin for taking a hostage and all of them for being sexist bastards, but that hobbit is a kindred spirit as ever there was one: looked down upon and just trying to do the right thing.”

Rhunda watched her queen warily.

“Well, it’s over now. For now. Best we try to return to normal,” the red-head said neutrally. Forra nodded absent-mindedly. “I’ll have some new furniture carved. Good night, Forra.”

“It isn’t.”

Chapter Text

The weeks passed. The dwarrows began their trek through Mirkwood and the dwarrowdams tried to return to normalcy. Forra increased the weapons-training requirements for all her citizens. Forelle went back into therapy. Rhunda started sketching the designs for another expansion of the tunnels. Lark sharpened her knives and cursed the Company under her breath.

They caught wind of the Company arriving in Laketown after five weeks. Forra was not sure if she was relieved or disappointed.

The dwarrows spent two weeks in Laketown, and headed for the Lonely Mountain.

That was when her scouts saw orcs heading east.

That was impossible.

They hadn’t left the Misty Mountains in decades.

But the orcs, led by Azog and his son Bolg, skirted around Beorn’s land and Mirkwood, heading for Erebor. And this wasn’t some small hunt for Thorin’s head.

Azog was leading an army.

And behind him were Goblins.

Forra ordered every woman underground and for three days the dwarrowdams lived in perpetual silence as the two armies marched over their tunnels. She worried that some might find the cave as the Company did, though she had ordered it hidden after their banishment. It had been designed as a quick escape for any scouts that needed to run from bandits. It could still function, but anyone who doesn’t know it is there shouldn’t be able to find it.

Finally, after the sounds of stomping feet faded away, the women talked again. And there was much to talk about.

A battle was coming. That was for sure.

So what do they do?

The easiest thing to do was nothing. The orcs and goblins would clash with whoever stood against them, likely the dwarves and Men, and perhaps the elves just out of distaste. Difficult to say who would win. But the dwarrowdams could live on in hiding, unaffected. Forra supported this idea. It kept her citizens safe from orcs and males. Going into battle would be like lighting a beacon. Their secret would be out and everyone would know who they were. And if they lose? Marching after the goblins and orcs would lead them only to misery or slaughter.

But, as Lark voiced loudly, what if they won? Their army is fierce, well-trained, and their wargs would make them even more dangerous. It wouldn’t be ringing a dinner-bell to male marauders; it would be putting an axe to the throat of any hunter. It would win the women respect and power and perhaps even alliances. A successful battle could have every spoil they want.

It is an argument that went in circles. Forra and Rhunda wanted to leave it; it was not their business, they left the politics and actions of men long ago. Lark said otherwise.

And then, almost two months after reliving her trauma, Forelle spoke.

And she wanted to fight.

In Forra’s private war room, to the only family she had left and the two women who might as well be, Forelle voiced her support.

“We should go after them, Forra. We should fight the orcs just like the warriors of old. We will make our stand and show them all that we are fearless. That we are every bit as powerful as they!” Her voice was proud and strong and commanding. It was young, but steady and passionate.

“We cannot put our people’s lives at risk for political means, Forelle,” Forra says calmly, “And why do you want to fight alongside those men? I have seen them act as horrid as orcs. We do not need to prove anything to them, and you—“

“This isn’t about me!” Forelle shouted angrily. “This isn’t about any one of us! This is about Middle Earth and where we make our place in it!”

For the first time, Forra did not see her niece as the broken child she adopted. This girl—no, this woman—was every bit a queen. And a warrior as well.

“What we do will affect dwarrowdams for ages to come. Will we sit back in our beds as the males of our race and others fight monsters? How is that any different from the lives we had in Erebor or Ered Luin? We must fight! We must stand by them as equals and fight the evils of this world together!” She caught her breath and met her aunt’s eye. When she spoke again, her voice was solemn, but solid. “You told me that we left because males were sexist and bloodthirsty and that we could live better lives on our own. But we cannot cut ourselves off from the rest of the world. And we can’t live like cowards and let others die when we could make a difference!”

The other women were stunned by the youngest’s words. Forelle, the girl they once fed and dressed, mothered and raised, protected and healed, was now one of them.

“We can’t achieve equal treatment by hiding. We have to fight for it. And this is the time to do so.”

There is silence in the room and all eyes are on Forra. She rises from her seat and steps to her niece. She searches the younger’s eyes, and then nods.

“And so we will,” Forra said clearly. She turns back to her friends, and ordered loud and fierce, “Ready the wargs. The dwarrowdams are going to war.”

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Thorin knew they were losing.

The orcs and goblins were unrelenting and endless. When Beorn and the Eagles arrived, he had found a thread of hope, but the monsters kept coming. There were just too many.

His Company were fighting heroically and the three armies of men, elves, and dwarves stood together, but across the battlefield he saw what he expected to be his end.

Azog.

Astride his massive white warg, the pale orc was slicing a path straight to Thorin. The King Under the Mountain stood alone, separated from his friends and family by both ally and foe. He would face his enemy alone.

But out of the corner of his eye he saw a trace of movement above the battlefield. For the split second he turned to see, a horn was blown.

On the cliff where Thranduil and his elven legion once abandoned the dwarves of Erebor, were the dwarrowdams.

Hundreds, armed, armored, and war painted, sat upon their loyal wargs, ready for battle.

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Forra glanced at the smaller warg near Shakar’s paw.

“Find Bilbo,” she told Ravaro, “Keep him safe.” And the brown creature raced off.

She looked back, gazing at her army. Some were scared. Some were grim. Some were grinning fiercely.

All were loyal to her and would die for each other.

And over the sounds of the war below, she bellowed to her soldiers, “These orcs know little of us save for our taste! Show them no mercy! Show them no kindness! Show them that we are warriors unlike all others and fight for your place in this world! Let them feel the fire of the dwarrowdams! And let them burn in it!” Her roar reached the hearts of her warriors and ignited a flame. This day would be remembered through history.

Forra Hammerfist, Queen of the Tunnels, charged into battle with her army behind her all of the way.

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Thorin could not believe his eyes. Nor could most of the elves, men, dwarves, orcs, or goblins.

Gandalf, well, he had seen weirder things.

The dwarrowdams slammed through the ranks of monsters, swords, axes, and hammers swinging. Their wargs crunched and clawed their way into battle. The orcs and goblins had never seen a force so fierce.

For this was a very special time for the dwarrowdams. The Week was upon them, a time when their ferocity was peaked. Old wives will tell tales that when females live together for long enough, their Weeks sync. After decades of close quarters, the dwarrowdams were timed to the second with each other. And bloodshed, in one form or another, was inevitable.

But Thorin could only pay so much attention. Azog was still coming for him, getting closer every second. He was closed in by ranks, fighting off orc after orc and had nowhere to run as the white warg neared. Unflinchingly, Azog slid off his steed, eager to do battle alone. As he approached, Thorin prepared himself.

The fight was quick.

Azog swung, Thorin jumped back. Thorin swung, Azog parried. As blood rushed in his ears and the battle roared around him, Thorin moved too late as the pale orc swung back, and his mace hit him full in the chest. He flew back, landing hard, air gone from his body. His mind flashed back to the cliff so many months before. This time, his love was not there to save him.

With foggy eyes, Thorin watched as Azog bore down upon him, and raised his mace.

Out of nowhere there was a figure in black standing over him, and over the shoulder of the form he barely saw a black and silver hammer slam into Azog’s jaw, sending him reeling. The figure, with billowing silver hair flying behind it, went after the pale orc, striking him again in the face, and roaring like a beast as blood splattered from the monster’s mouth. Azog fell to the ground, trying to rise on his elbows, as the warrior raised her hammer.

With a swing to crack a mountain, she crushed the pale orc’s skull under her hammer. Thorin watched, disbelieving, as Forra returned to him, and offered her hand. He yelled a warning as the white warg crouched to leap behind her, but mid-air the beast was intercepted by another, a huge black warg, and Azog’s beast was torn to shreds. That is when Thorin fainted.

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Forelle happened to find Fíli and Kíli in the battle, and fought by their sides, a triangle of death. As Fíli cleaved enemies with his thick twin blades, Forelle sliced and diced with her nimble long swords. They guarded Kíli as he shot with his bow, the three flowing and fighting as if they were born to.

The Ur and Ri families were holding a hill together when Lark found them. Whip in one hand, axe in another, she stood between Nori and Bofur. The two lines were a little surprised when the warrior approached them on the warg, but were happy for any assistance.

Many of the dwarrowdams had jumped off their wargs after the initial charge, believing they could do more damage separately. Most stayed near each other, but others told their mounts to support whomever needed it. One of these was Rhunda, who was fighting by Thranduil and Tauriel, the red heads reigning painful death upon whatever entered their fiery eyes.

Bilbo, of course, was unconscious for most of it, as well as invisible, but that didn’t stop the small warg from finding him. The best nose in his pack, Ravaro guarded the hobbit and tore any enemy nearby to shreds.

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They had won, the elves, men, and dwarves had been victorious.

But the cost had yet to be decided. Thorin remained unconscious in his cot, the same one that held his nephews and Forra’s niece. Rhunda placed a gentle hand on her queen’s shoulder as the warrior sat hunched over Forelle’s unmoving form.

“She’ll make it, Forra. She’s just as stubborn as you are,” she said quietly. Forra’s tears flowed silently.

She had failed to protect the one person who mattered most. Forelle had been hit over the head by the blunt pole of an orc axe while defending Kíli late in the battle. The brothers had stood over her, protecting her, until being injured themselves.

She had saved Thorin’s life. She had rescued the King Under the Mountain and killed the orc that had nearly broken his line. She could be held in the highest regard.

She couldn’t give less of a damn how people held her.

So she sat vigilant by her niece, helping the medics where she could even with the dwarrows.

A few tents over, Nori was unconscious, and much more gravely injured. For the second time in her life, Lark was crying. She sat by his cot as Oin operated, sobbing as Bofur clutched her. None of them knew why his injury upset her so, but they knew it was certainly not the time to ask. Dori and Ori were too busy fretting themselves. When Oin had done all her could, he went to help others, telling the Ri and Ur families to fetch him if Nori awoke. Dori and Ori were extremely confused by the dwarrowdams state, but as her crying quieted the youngest son of Ri approached her.

“E-Excuse me, miss?” he asked shyly. Lark gazed over at him. Bofur held her closely, trying to offer what comfort he could.

“Yes?”

“You and our brother…if I may ask, how do you know each other?” Lark swallowed hard, but smiled weakly at the boy.

“How much do you know about your father, Ori?” she asked, regaining herself. Ori gave a surprised and distasteful look, as did Dori.

“Why does it matter?” Dori asked haughtily when Ori didn’t answer. Lark searched his eyes for a moment before answering.

“Because we share the same one.”

The dwarrows gasped and stared wide-eyed.

“An abusive, drunk, cheating deadbeat, wasn’t he?” she said with half-hearted humor. They gazed at her in shock, Ori’s mouth hanging open. Lark sighed, “I was named after my mother. Our father and my mother were together a few years after Nori was born. After my mother became pregnant, he went back to Kori, and eventually Ori was born.”

“Did he ever…Did you…” Dori stuttered. He knew his mother’s second husband had been a right bastard, but he hadn’t expected another child.

“I never saw him. He never sent money. I never even knew his name until I became an adult and mother told me. I went searching for him to get revenge for her, but…” her eyes flicked to Dori’s and a dark smile crept up her features, “Nori beat me to him. I saw him get arrested for it, but I had no idea who he was, so I let myself get caught pickpocketing and met him in prison.” She giggled before she spoke again. “And he offered to break me out.” She turned back to Nori with a pained smile, but her tears were gone. “He probably has only heard of me through thief gossip, but we’d never met before you were in prison.”

“Were you one of the guards?” Bofur asked, having removed his arms from her sides. She nodded.

“And the lady who gave you baths,” she chuckled. The dwarrows all turned bright red. Ori tugged on his knit clothes, feeling naked. Bofur’s mouth became horribly dry.

“You stole my lock picks, you bitch,” Nori joked weakly. The dwarves spun to him.

“You’re alive!” Ori cheered.

“And we now have a sister,” Dori said, trying to sound annoyed but failing.

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Oin ran to Thorin’s tent as soon as he was done with Nori, followed by a concerned Balin and Dwalin. He began checking over the four unconscious patients when he noticed the blood dripping from Forra’s arm. Most, including Rhunda, had thought it had been a splatter from an enemy, but the blood was far too fresh to be from the battle. Oin stepped to her side and checked her arm as Rhunda, Balin, and Dwalin watched the others.

“Ma’am! You’re injured!” he said as he grabbed her elbow. The other heads in the room snapped to the queen as she caught the doctor’s arm in a vice grip.

“Do not touch me!” she shouted, shoving him away.

“Forra, stop!” Rhunda exclaimed as she stepped in front of her. Forra’s eyes were dark, and Rhunda knew she was not all there. She had known her friend to slip into darker memories when pained. “He means no harm. Let him help you.”

Forra glared, but sat back down, grumbling. Balin and Dwalin watched from afar, more than a little stunned. They had seen warriors react badly when startled, especially after battles, but it was something knew to see it in a woman. Oin, having seen it more than either of them, approached cautiously.

“Ma’am, if you would please take off your coat I’ll stitch that up as quickly as I can.” She huffed through her nose, nostrils flaring, and began to peel off her black leather garments down to her tunic.

The dwarrows gasped when they saw how far her scar went. The twisted burn tissue continued down the right side of her neck, passed her collar bone and disappeared beneath her shirt, but the skin of her entire right arm, from her biceps to her fingernails, was red and disfigured. She snarled at the sound of their shock. Oin quickly shook himself and began to sew the cut across her muscled upper arm closed.

The tent was silent for a few moments, no one knowing what to say or where to begin.

“It was the dragon fire,” Forra admitted gruffly. The dwarrows nodded quickly.

“What?” Thorin muttered weakly. The others snapped to him in surprise, and having finished his work with Forra, Oin rushed to his side. “The Halfling?” he coughed.

“We do not know,” Balin said sadly. Thorin’s eyes widened for a moment, before he crumpled into his cot.

“I sent a warg out to find him,” Forra said. The dwarrows looked back at her, once again stunned.

Thorin opened his mouth to speak, but a distant howl cut him off.

“That’s Ravaro!” Rhunda cried. Not ten seconds later the smaller warg walked through the tent flaps, a flustered looking hobbit on his back.

“Bilbo!” Thorin shouted, and winced at the exertion. Bilbo beamed and jumped towards him, hugging him gently. There were tears in each of their eyes.

Balin quietly explained to the dwarrowdams what had taken place, from their rushed wedding in Laketown to the fight over the Arkenstone. As he spoke of their journey, the lovers quickly apologized and forgave each other over and over again, kissing between words.

Forra gently pet the ward behind the ears. After the battle was over, the dwarrowdams had to jump to protect their furry friends, as their allies could not tell the difference between their wargs and the orc’s. It had been a little tense at first, but when the wargs settled down and got the treatment they needed from the dwarrowdams, the elves, men, and dwarrows noticed them domesticity. The uninjured ones even helped transport medicine and wounded warriors. But the tunnel queen felt horrible for Ravaro. Would he ever be allowed in to Erebor? Unlikely. The Shire? Even less. The pup would lose the only two riders he’d ever had.

Bilbo began to explain how he’d been knocked out by a stray rock and didn’t wake up until after the battle was over, and the warg was licking his face like a lost dog. He and Thorin snuggled close and spoke meaningless comforts and romantic words, and the other dwarves in the room did their best to ignore them.

“Oh Mahal, get a room,” Kíli mumbled. Thorin sat up at the sound and Oin jumped to the boy’s side, checking him over. “I take it we won?” The others nodded. His grin grew until he glanced at Fíli. A pit fell in his stomach. “Is he…”

“He’ll live,” Oin filled in. Kíli gulped. He was lying in a cot on the far side of the tent, Fíli between him and Forelle, and Bilbo and Thorin on the other end.

“Forelle! Is she okay?” he asked desperately. Oin didn’t answer. The other dwarves glanced at Forra, who glared at the ground.

“I’ve been told you and your brother defended her,” she said, gazing at Kíli with mild suspicion. He nodded blankly.

“Ye-yeah. She got knocked out…protecting me.” His face whitened. “I never… Oh Mahal, if she—“

“It wasn’t your fault,” Forra said. “No one is to blame but the orc. You got him, didn’t you?” Kíli swallowed, his throat dry, and tried to remember.

“Ah, no, Fíli did. Cut the ugly bastard’s head right off.”

“Good.”

Thorin gazed at Forra, her scars and muscles and bloodied hammer.

“I must thank you,” he said, “for coming to our aid. We owe you a debt.”

Forra looked back at him, mildly surprised with a cocked eyebrow.

“Let’s call it even. We hate the orcs just as much as you do,” she answered, “Besides, that’s a warrior’s job isn’t it? Saving damsels in distress?” She gave a half-grin, and Thorin returned it.

“We can be allies, then?”

Forra nodded. She glanced back at her niece, bandaged and bruised, and sighed.

“You said—“ Thorin coughed. “You said she was your niece?”

“Yes.” Her eyes didn’t leave the blood-stained wrap on Forelle’s head.

“Her parents?” he asked evenly. Forra was silent for a few moments and Rhunda was worried he had crossed a line. Forra’s temper was usually even, but that went out the window when her niece was involved.

“Her father beat her mother to death in Ered Luin before I could stop him. So I stomped his ass.” The dwarrows’ eye brows jumped and they shared a look.

“My condolences,” Thorin offered. “If there is anything I can do—“

“You can not be a thick-headed misogynist like your fore-bearers,” she said unflinchingly, and turned back to him. “You could treat women as equals and not second-class citizens.” She glanced at Dwalin. “Or delicate objects that desperately need you to protect them.”

There was an uneasy silence in the room until Thorin spoke.

“I will do what I can.”

She snorted.

“Guys!” Kíli exclaimed, “Fíli’s moving!”

Indeed, the Crown Prince was stirring. His brow furrowed and his eyes fluttered open.

“K-Kíli?” he asked weakly. His brother was at his side in a second. They were relieved at the sight of each other.

“How do you feel?” Thorin asked his nephew.

“Like I got hit by an oliphaunt,” Fíli answered. He smiled at the group in the medical tent, but paled as he saw the girl in the next cot.

“She…is she...?”

“We do not know,” Oin answered. The princes gazed at her fearfully, sharing a look.

“How was she in battle?” Rhunda asked plainly.

“Incredible,” Fíli snapped his head up to look her in the eye, and appeared as if he’d seen Mahal himself. “She was a whirlwind with swords. Saved my skin more than once.” Kíli nodded in agreement. A small smile crept up Forra’s face. Forelle had wanted to make an impact. She had succeeded.

But was it worth it?

Kíli added “She cut this one goblin right down the middle! I could see its brains and everything! I’ve never seen someone so beautiful fight like that!”

The dwarves all chuckled, even the dwarrowdams, but suddenly Forra’s head snapped to Kíli.

“Wait, what did you just say about my ni—“

“Did you just call me beautiful?” Forelle’s eyes popped open.

“Forelle!” the dwarrowdams exclaimed. Forelle gave a big but pained smile.

“’Morning. What did I miss?” she joked, but broke into a fit of coughs that racked her body. Forra kneeled at her side with wet eyes.

“Don’t push yourself. You gave us quite the scare,” she said. Her niece laughed, and for the first time in a long time, Forra felt relieved. Forelle smiled at her aunt, and then looked around at the dwarves in the medical tent before meeting Forra’s eyes again.

“So…what happens now?”