Smaug burned Lake-town.
Frerin watched in horror. Bilba was completely still in his arms. They’d gone to the Spires to see what was happening and, as soon as they had, she’d tried to rush toward the town.
He’d caught her around the waist and pulled her back. Currently he had both arms wrapped around her and was holding her wrists, lightly but in such a way that he could tighten his grip if she tried to dart forward again.
“Frerin?” She was shaking and crying, her voice wavering. She tried to take a step but he pulled her back gently, putting his face alongside hers so his mouth was by her ear.
“No, Sweetheart. Even if you were a full fairy you wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“But they didn’t know!” she cried. “They didn’t even know we were here and now the dragon is killing them! Why? Why is he doing it?”
“I don’t know,” Frerin said. “Perhaps he thinks they aided us somehow.”
The dragon made another pass, flame belching out to blanket the already burning town. At first they’d heard a dim clanging of a bell, warning people, but it had long since stopped. Frerin caught sight of a few black shapes on the waters outside the town and pointed them out to Bilba. “See, there? There are survivors. People are escaping.”
“He’ll probably just burn them after he’s done with the town,” Bilba said dully.
Frerin released her wrists to wrap his arms more completely around her, resting his chin on the top of her head. He’d tried to turn her away from the town a few times but she’d resisted and he’d relented, unwilling to manhandle her more than he’d already been forced to.
Suddenly a distant shriek rang out. Frerin straightened and saw the dragon shoot straight up in the air, spiraling.
And then it fell, striking the surface of the water with a noise audible even to them, and sinking below it.
For a few seconds they both stared, blankly.
“What was that?” Bilba asked in disbelief. “What happened?”
“I think,” Frerin said slowly, “that someone in Lake-town just earned themselves the title of Dragonslayer.”
He took her hand and pulled her away, back toward Erebor. “Come on, let’s go see if we can find the others.”
The fact no one had come out to see where the dragon had gone gnawed at him, leaving a hollow, sinking feeling in his gut.
Bilba came with him but half turned, looking back. “But what about them?”
“Erebor owes much to the Men of Lake-town,” Frerin agreed. “We can best serve them by securing the mountain and the Treasury. We have no food supplies to give them but we can certainly give them enough funds to rebuild. Come on, we need to find Thorin and the others.”
He knew he sounded cold, callous even, but he’d been raised to act in spite of his emotions. His heart raged against the wanton death visited upon Lake-town but there was nothing he could currently do about it.
She nodded, using one hand to wipe the tears off her face. Frerin stopped and put his hands on her face, using his thumbs to wipe the tears off for her. He bent his head and kissed her and then said. “We’ll take care of them, Bilba. I swear it. It would take us days to get there and the others in the Mountain may need our help as well and they’re practically at our feet. Not to mention Thranduil is probably already on his way with his army and will want to know the status of his son. One thing at a time, alright? I swear we’ll take care of them all but it can’t all be done at the same time. There’s only two of us.”
“You’re right,” Bilba whispered. “I’m sorry.”
Frerin took her hand again. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Love. Now, things appear to have fallen apart rather spectacularly on us. What do you say we start putting it all back together again?”
Bilba nodded and forced a small smile. “Okay.”
With that they headed back toward Erebor and Frerin tried very hard to ignore the way his gut was twisting inside him.
He just prayed things could still be put back together.
Bilba knew something was wrong the second she saw Thorin.
They found the Company in the Treasury, shifting through treasure in the hunt for the Arkenstone.
Fili saw Frerin first and jogged over to greet him. Frerin hugged his nephew, “What’s going on? Is he not concerned about the dragon?”
Fili frowned, his eyes troubled. “I don’t know. He’s been acting odd ever since he saw the treasure. He started acting paranoid and accused the elves of plotting to assassinate him. He got so loud he woke up the dragon before we were in place. It chased us through the mountain. Uncle Thorin blamed the elves again, saying they had planned things this way to get him and the rest of us killed. Apparently Smaug is just as paranoid as uncle because he decided we were all conspiring against him. He left saying he’d get his revenge by destroying Lake-town and Mirkwood. The elves wanted to pursue but Thorin had them locked up in the lower levels.”
Frerin’s eyes widened. “He did what?”
“Brother,” Thorin’s voice sounded and Bilba turned to see Thorin striding toward them. He looked even worse than when he’d gone in, Bilba thought. His skin was drained of color, sweat gathered on his brow in spite of the coolness of the room and his eyes darted back and forth as if unable to fully focus on anything. “I would speak to you, in private.”
As he spoke he glared at Fili who immediately put his head down and returned to the search.
“Of course,” Frerin said flatly.
Thorin nodded to a doorway. Frerin put an arm around Bilba and brought her with him, a fact Thorin made no comment on.
Outside the doorway the area opened up into a massive space. Stairs led all over, up to walkways, down to lower ones and everywhere in between. Rows of homes were cut into the sides of the rock and deep chasms opened below them leading into Erebor’s mines.
“What of the dragon?” Thorin asked shortly.
“Dead,” Frerin said, “though not before it burned Lake-town to the ground. They will expect compensation from us when they found out it woke up because of us and we will owe it to them.”
Thorin sneered. “They will not receive a single coin from my Treasury. They did not lift so much as a finger to help us in our time of need.”
“Our time of need was our own doing,” Frerin responded, his voice tight. “Theirs was not. And what of the elves? You would betray our allies?”
“They are no allies of mine,” Thorin growled. “They would have us all burned by the dragon and the treasure kept for themselves.”
“They want no treasure aside from that which is already theirs!” Frerin said, his voice rising. “You are acting like Father and Grandfather before him. You swore you would never let this happen to you, that you would not suffer the same gold sickness they did!”
“It’s the ring,” Bilba said, her voice louder than she’d intended. She’d felt it as soon as Thorin had neared. “It’s similar to what was affecting you, Frerin. I never felt it until I tried to heal you. I never felt anything from the ring before but, now, it’s lousy with darkness. It’s doing something to him.”
Frerin frowned. “Which ring?”
Bilba pointed and Frerin scowled. “Grandfather’s ring, and Father’s after that. Suddenly things make a lot more sense.”
“I am not affected by any ring,” Thorin nearly snarled. “And I am done speaking to you. We will find the Arkenstone and the armies will be summoned to defend Erebor from her enemies, no matter who they may be.” At this he gave Frerin a long look, the implied threat in his words clear.
Then he turned to focus on Bilba and she flinched at the darkness in his eyes. “Your wife has magic. We can use her to find the Arkenstone faster.”
He started to reach for her only to stop as Frerin stepped in his way. “I don’t use my wife for anything,” he said, his voice cold, “and neither will you.”
Thorin sneered. “Have a care how you tread, brother. Blood does not give you freedom to act however you wish.”
He started to turn away.
“No,” Frerin said, “it doesn’t, but it certainly gives me leeway to do this.”
With that he grabbed Thorin’s shoulder, jerked him around, twisted his body and drove his elbow straight into Thorin’s face.
Bilba clapped her hands over her mouth, muffling a shriek.
Thorin dropped like a rock, out cold, and Frerin knelt beside him. He pulled his boot knife, cut off a strip of his tunic and pulled the ring off Thorin’s finger. He quickly wrapped it in the strip of cloth and then shoved it into his pocket. “Can you feel anything from it?”
Bilba shook her head. “Now that it’s not in physical contact with him it just feels like a ring again.”
Frerin nodded. “We’ll figure out what to do with it later. Damn magic rings. They should come with warnings, may cause bouts of insanity in dwarven royalty.”
Bilba knelt next to Thorin and studied him. “I think he looks better.”
Indeed, Thorin’s color was already improving and he was no longer sweating.
“Let’s hope so,” Frerin said standing. He clapped his hands together and let out a breath. “Alright, so now all we have to do is try to repair things with the elves and hope Thranduil doesn’t try to go to war with us over how we treated his son.”
“What about Thorin?” Bilba asked. “How are you going to explain him?”
A boot scraped on the floor and they both turned to see Dwalin standing in the doorway. He studied Thorin for a few minutes and then looked at Frerin calmly. “I thought he was ill but, you know him, never wants to admit it. Finally collapsed did he?”
“That he did,” Frerin said. “I don’t suppose you’d mind getting him somewhere he can rest and recover would you?”
“Alright,” Dwalin said with a shrug. “What are you going to do?”
“Try to ensure he still has a kingdom to rule when he wakes up.”
Dwalin grunted. He knelt, easily pulled Thorin over his shoulders and stood up again. “Sounds like fun.”
“Doesn’t it always?” Frerin asked.
Dwalin started to turn and then paused. “We sent Nori out to keep an eye on things. He says the survivors of Lake-town are headed this way. He also spotted Thranduil’s army on the move.”
“Well of course he did,” Frerin muttered. “I need everyone to stop looking for the Arkenstone and try to find the jewels we promised Thranduil. In the meantime get someone to show me where Thorin put the elves, would you?”
Bilba wrapped her arms around Frerin’s waist. “If you’d let me talk to the dragon we could have avoided all this you know.”
“Yes,” Frerin responded, “because we’d be dead.”
Bilba grinned. “Details.”
Frerin chuckled. “Shall we?”
Bilba linked her arm with his and nodded. “We shall indeed.”
Bilba offered to handle talking to the elves.
The lower levels were relatively undamaged, the dragon having only been interested in the Treasury, and it was there that the dungeons were located.
Thorin had been keeping the keys in a pocket so Frerin retrieved them, took Bilba to the lower levels and waited in the hall outside while Bilba went in to release the elves and, hopefully, convince them not to declare war on Erebor.
Frerin privately had to admit that if anyone could manage to start a war five minutes after reclaiming their kingdom it would be his brother, corruption from a ring or not.
He heard the screech of old, worn hinges as the cell door was opened and then the quiet murmur of voices.
There was no way to know what Bilba had said but, a short time later, she came out with Legolas and the others behind her.
Frerin straightened immediately and bowed in apology to his fellow Prince. “On behalf of Erebor I offer my deepest apologies for the way you were treated. I know my brother, once he is recovered, will do the same.”
Legolas studied him with a blank expression. “Bilba explained to us that Oakenshield was influenced by a ring?”
Frerin pulled the ring out of his pocket, unwrapping it and showing it to the elf. “This one. It belonged to my father and grandfather before him. Both ended up going mad and we had come to the conclusion a strain of madness infected our bloodline.” He frowned at the thing. “My Grandfather claimed once that it was one of the dwarven rings of power but I never believed him. The ones given to the dwarves were all supposed to be lost, eaten by dragons, along with their bearers usually.” He gave the elf a sardonic grin. “Apparently I should have put a little more credit into my Grandfather’s story.”
“What do you plan to do with it?” Legolas asked.
“Probably hand it over to the wizard if he ever shows up,” Frerin said. “He can deal with it. In the meantime, your father is on his way. I imagine you wish to go speak to him.”
Legolas frowned. “You plan to just let us go? Without first demanding we vow not to speak of what happened?”
“I do,” Frerin said firmly. “I do not wish for Erebor to be reclaimed only to immediately have enemies on her doorstep. I want us to be allies and if that’s what I want then I need to treat you as such.”
Legolas studied him and then gave a short nod. He strode past them, the other elves in his wake. As they vanished Bilba gripped Frerin’s hand. “Do you think he’ll tell Thranduil what Thorin did?”
“I don’t know,” Frerin said truthfully, “but it’s out of my hands.” He sighed. “We need to prepare for the Lake-town survivors. I imagine they won’t be happy with us.”
“They should show up at the same time as Thranduil’s people I think,” Bilba said. “He’ll be able to keep them from doing anything rash.”
“Assuming his son doesn’t report being locked in the dungeon,” Frerin said, “in which case he may well join with Lake-town against us.”
“As you said,” Bilba said, “it’s out of our hands. Let’s go help look for what Thranduil wanted in the meantime, alright?”
Frerin nodded and, together, they headed out.
Thorin hadn’t awakened by the time Thranduil arrived.
Bilba thought perhaps the ring had been working on Thorin a long time, quietly, only to suddenly awaken in full once they reached the mountain. If this were the case it might take time for his body to completely overthrow its effects, meaning he was better off asleep during the process.
At least she hoped that was the case. She’d offered to try healing him but Frerin had rejected it, worried she would be assaulted by black magic again as she had been when healing him.
When word came that Thranduil had arrived, along with the survivors of Lake-town, Frerin went out to meet them with Bilba at his side. The others of the Company came as well and arrayed themselves in a semi-circle behind Frerin and Bilba. They had all dressed in armor found in the armory, not to appear threatening but to try and look official. It was important, Frerin argued, to look as if they belonged there and not like vagabonds who’d stumbled into the mountain and were squatting there. He’d found an old set of armor he’d once worn and had put it on as well, polishing it to a high gleam beforehand.
Bilba still wore the clothing she normally did but she’d cleaned it and repaired the few holes and worn spots it had picked up in their travels. She’d also washed her hair and braided it back carefully, adding fresh flowers along its length. Her marriage braid hung over her shoulder, the bead at the end sparkling in the early morning sun.
Thranduil’s soldiers and the Lake-town survivors stayed near Dale while Thranduil came forward riding an elk. A tall Man with dark hair rode next to him on a horse. Behind, near the forefront of the elves, Bilba caught sight of Legolas.
As they neared Bilba found herself starting to shake. She didn’t know the Man who was coming and he was the approximate age of the Necromancer who’d attacked her in Rivendell. He also had the same general coloring and his clothing, while not black, was dark.
It was silly. The nearer he came the less he looked like the other Man but the damage was already done, memories of that attack flooding through her. She hadn’t expected it to happen and so was unprepared. She tried, she really did, to put the memories aside. She’d been around Gandalf and Aragorn since the attack, after all, and had no problems.
Except Gandalf looked nothing like the Necromancer and Aragorn was her friend, while this Man was a stranger, one who had every right to be angry, who had no reason to not sell her out to the first Necromancer he saw and…
Her nerve utterly failed her and she moved to the left, stepping behind Frerin so his body blocked her from seeing the Man. She put her hands on Frerin’s back, the metal of his armor cool under her hands, and tried to focus on breathing. She could feel the presence of the others behind her and knew they wouldn’t let anyone hurt her, knew her husband wouldn’t let anyone hurt her, but she was afraid nonetheless.
“Prince Frerin,” Thranduil’s voice sounded, “Greetings. My son informs me your mission was a success.”
“It was,” Frerin agreed. “Though not without consequence.”
“Indeed,” Thranduil said. “Allow me to introduce Bard of Lake-town. He has been elected to speak for them and has requested I act as mediator.”
Bilba felt Frerin’s shoulders relax. Thranduil didn’t seem to know about the brief imprisonment of his son or his other people. One problem solved.
“Of course,” Frerin said instantly. “On behalf of Erebor and the returned King under the Mountain I offer my deepest apologies for your loss, Bard. It was never our intent that the dragon should leave the mountain.”
“You are the King under the Mountain?” Bard asked. “Thranduil mentioned someone else. Thorin, not Frerin.”
“Thorin is the king,” Frerin said. “Unfortunately he took ill shortly after our entry into the mountain. I believe it to have been a combination of stress and exhaustion, for he has pushed himself harder than anyone. As his younger brother I have the authority to speak on his behalf until he has recovered enough to take his throne. We cannot return your lost loved ones, Bard, but I assure you we can, and will, rebuild Lake-town and Dale if you choose. Every last one of your people will be fully provided for.”
“And what of our agreement?” Thranduil asked languidly. “Of the jewels you promised to return?”
“The agreement still stands,” Frerin answered. “As I feared, Smaug wrecked the Treasury, scattering treasure throughout. It may take time to find them but you are more than welcome to see for yourself. If you wish we would also welcome any help you might offer in organizing the treasure as well, the more hands the faster we’ll find your jewels.”
“You make many promises for one who isn’t king,” Bard said, suspicious, “how are you so sure that your brother will honor anything you’ve said once he’s recovered?”
Frerin didn’t hesitate in his answer. “Because the person I am today is due to the person he is. I’ve always looked up to my brother and he’s always been a role model. He isn’t perfect, no one is, but he is loyal and honorable and an excellent leader. Any positive traits you see in me are because he instilled them.”
Including his penchant for embellishments, Bilba thought dryly. Frerin had already told her his grandfather and father had just as much influence on him. Thorin had taken over leadership after Moria but Frerin had already been captured by the Necromancer by then.
“Who is it hiding behind you?” Bard said suddenly. “You claim to be dealing fairly and openly yet you have one who won’t even show their face but chooses instead to cower like a spy.”
Frerin tensed and when he spoke again his voice was tight. “My apologies, Bard.” There was the slightest hint of steel in his voice as he said the Man’s name, letting him know he’d overstepped himself. Frerin wanted peace and he genuinely wanted to right the wrongs done to Lake-town but it didn’t mean he wasn’t still a Prince and leader in his own right. “My wife was recently attacked by a Necromancer and the memories are still painfully fresh for her.”
“Surely she knows not all Men are Necromancers?” Bard stated, sounding insulted.
Bilba took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Then she opened them and, steeling herself, stepped out so she was standing in front of Frerin.
She then immediately took a step back so the top of her head brushed just under his jaw. She was trying to be brave but there was only so far she could be expected to go. She could feel herself shaking and clasped her hands together to try and make them stop.
Thranduil nodded at her. “Bilba. I’m pleased to see you are well.”
“And I you, my Lord,” Bilba greeted. She looked at Bard and saw he was staring at her in surprise. “I apologize for my fear,” she started. “I am aware not all Men are Necromancers. I have spent very little time around Men. In my entire life, in fact, I have only known two, one a Man raised by elves and the other the wizard Gandalf. My third true meeting with a Man was the Necromancer and though I do not hold his actions against you the attack was, as my husband said, very recent and the sight of a Man, when I am always around elves, dwarves or hobbits, brought back memories I thought I had dealt with.”
Bard looked startled, his eyes taking in her size and delicate frame. It occurred to Bilba that, barefoot and in a sundress amongst dwarves much larger than her in full armor, she probably looked even smaller than she normally did.
A look of guilt crossed Bard’s face, no doubt brought on at least in part by the glares he was currently getting from everyone in the Company, Thranduil and Gandalf.
“I am the one who should apologize,” he said. “I will confess the anger I feel over the loss of Lake-town is great and I allowed it to cause me to overstep. I am sorry, my Lady, for upsetting you.”
Bilba struggled to smile and then looked down.
“If you would all agree,” Thranduil said, “I propose setting up camp between here and Dale where we can start negotiating the particulars of our agreements.”
“Of course,” Frerin said. He wrapped both arms around Bilba as he spoke, drawing her back against him. Immediately her shivering eased and she gripped his arms, relaxing. “In addition if the survivors wish I’d like to offer them shelter in Erebor until such a time as they can get back on their feet.”
Bard frowned. “I would imagine after being abandoned so long Erebor is in no better shape than Dale. My people aren’t fond of living under stone. Thank you for the offer but I think we will set up in Dale.”
Frerin agreed and then they were breaking up and going their separate ways.
Bilba let Frerin lead her inside, the Company parting before them.
Once in she stopped at the sight of Thorin, standing back in the shadows inside the gate.
Frerin paused as well, the Company still behind him. “Brother. I am glad to see you awake once more.”
There was tension in his voice. Carefully he released Bilba and stepped away from her, facing his brother on his own.
Thorin moved forward until he was standing directly in front of Frerin. His eyes, Bilba noted, were clear and his color was normal once again.
He moved suddenly and she tensed but then his arms were going around Frerin and he was dragging him forward in a bear hug.
“You did well,” she heard him say. “Thank you.”
Frerin pulled back, pressing his forehead to Thorin’s. “You worked so hard and for so long to get Erebor back. I just wanted her to still be here for you.” He stepped back and easily dropped to one knee. “The throne is, and always has been, yours, my King, and your people await your command.”
As he spoke the rest of the Company as one also dropped to their knees, bowing their heads before him.
Bilba hesitated and then moved to stand beside Frerin and also carefully knelt. She had married into both the family and race, making Thorin her king as well.
“We will honor the agreements my brother has set in place,” Thorin said, his voice hoarse from emotion.
Bilba let out a breath in relief.
It was over.
The dragon was dead.
Erebor was restored.
Everyone was safe and there were no more pressing problems on the horizon than dealing with the negotiations.
She was safe.
Thorin was speaking again and Frerin stood up next to her, reaching down a hand to help her up.
He smiled at her and she returned one of her own, a feeling of hope rising in her.
Perhaps Frerin was right.
Perhaps her story would have a different ending than the one visited upon so many Fae in the past.
Perhaps she did have options other than fleeing, hiding or dying.
Perhaps she could be happy.
She was allowed to keep her feelings of hope and peace for exactly three days.
Three very busy days.
The elves set up camp near the gates of Erebor and the Men moved into Dale. After that it was a flurry of barely organized chaos as they attempted to make the mountain and city habitable before winter set in. Thorin sent word to his cousin, Dain, who showed up with his own army bringing supplies and tools to aid in the beginnings of the restoration.
Given the speed with which the other dwarf came, never asking a single question about the Arkenstone, Bilba wondered why Thorin hadn’t just asked him for help in the first place but she wisely chose to keep that question to herself.
She barely saw Frerin, or Thorin, Fili or Kili during those three days. They were, after all, the royal family of Erebor and there was far too much work for Thorin to oversee by himself.
So most of the time when she did catch a glimpse of them they were rushing back and forth, escorting Thranduil to the Treasury, negotiating with Bard or the elves, helping set up or transport supplies from the various camps. Nothing was too big or too small for them as they demonstrated their commitment to both the mountain and the surrounding areas.
Bilba primarily spent her time helping one of the other Company members. She didn’t want to stand around being useless when everyone else was working so she started finding the closest Company member and would follow them around, helping them with whatever task they were assigned that day. None of them seemed to mind and, in fact, once they caught on she would often come out from the rooms she and Frerin were using inside Erebor to find one of them waiting for her.
And so it went, until the third day when the sound of galloping hooves broke through the established rhythm of the camps.
Bilba caught sight of Gandalf as he vanished into Thranduil’s camp, the expression on his face telling her it wasn’t the time to go greet him.
A few minutes later the flaps of the tent flew back and Thranduil, Legolas, Bard, Thorin, Frerin, Fili and Kili came out, all of them with grim expressions.
Frerin found her in the crowd and headed her direction, wrapping an arm around her waist and guiding her toward Erebor. “You need to get inside the mountain,” he said, his voice tense. “Now. Bard’s getting the women and children of Dale and moving them in as well.” He hesitated. “There’s no evidence of any threats to you from the Lake-town survivors but I’ll have Dain put some of his people in with you to protect you.”
“What’s going on?” Bilba asked.
“Azog is marching an army of orcs on us,” Frerin said shortly. “Gandalf saw them and came to warn us.”
Bilba stumbled to a stop, staring at him in horror. Around them the camps were turning into chaos, people racing past them in all directions. “You have to fight?” she said, her stomach clenching inside her. “All of you?” She reached out and grabbed his arms. “You have to take me with you,” she insisted. “If you get hurt I can help. I can heal you.”
“Bilba.” Frerin put his hands on either side of her face. “You can’t, Sweetheart.”
“Why?” Bilba asked, her voice rising. “Why can’t I stay with you?”
Frerin looked like he was warring with himself over something. Finally he said, “You can’t, Love. Gandalf says there are Necromancers with the army, at least a half dozen, if not more.”
Bilba’s legs buckled and Frerin caught her. She grabbed his shirt and pulled herself upright, clinging to him. Frerin knelt enough to get an arm under her legs and picked her up, carrying her in through Erebor’s broken front gates.
She saw a number of Dain’s soldiers gathering rubble and realized they intended to block up the entrance, effectively locking the women and children inside while they fought outside.
Locking her inside.
Frerin took her through the milling crowd and to the rooms they’d been staying in. It was on one of the higher levels, untouched by Smaug. The rooms had once belonged to Frerin before Erebor had fallen. They had cleaned out the dust and changed out the brittle, rotted bedding and tapestries to restore it to a basic order.
Frerin laid her down on the bed but she grabbed his shirt before he could pull away, sitting up and curling her legs under her to get closer to him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face against him. He hugged her back. “It’ll be okay,” he insisted. “You’ll see. I promised, didn’t I? Your story ends with both of us living longer than any other dwarf or hobbit, surrounded by children and grandchildren.” He pulled away to rest his forehead against hers. “Both of us, alright? That’s where our story ends, not here and certainly not now.”
He kissed her and then he was gone leaving her with empty arms in a silent room.
Bilba studied the closed door, wrapping her arms around her torso.
“You can’t promise me that,” she whispered.
Her only answer was silence.
Before she knew it the gates of Erebor were blocked off, rubble filling the doorway all the way to the battlements.
The women and children huddled inside, still and quiet from fear. Bilba had spotted Bard’s children clustered in a small group, their faces pale. The Man, as it turned out, was the descendant of the Lords of Dale making him the rightful ruler of the city and, as such, would be leading them in battle.
If he didn’t survive the title would fall to his son, a young man not yet fully grown.
Bilba’s eyes flickered to the back of the crowd where Dain’s soldiers were trying to look for her without appearing to do so.
They wouldn’t find her.
She’d passed unnoticed through the lot of them and then called the wind to take her to the top of the battlements overlooking the field outside.
The camps had been broken down to remove anything the orcs could hide behind or use against them.
The armies were arrayed in their place, gleaming armor and weapons glinting in the sun. Bilba saw Frerin, once again in the heavy armor he’d worn to meet Thranduil and Bard. The others were all similarly armed, the Men in a hodgepodge of equipment given to them by the elves and dwarves.
Gandalf was there too, his staff and sword out and held in both hands and she hoped a few of the Necromancers would take the hint and flee altogether rather than try to face him. Frerin had handed off Thorin’s ring to him and she prayed the Necromancers wouldn’t sense the darkness from it and target him to try and get it.
The distant sound of footsteps, an untold number, sounded and she lifted her eyes to see the first ranks of the army marching into view.
She saw no sign of Azog but she did see the Necromancers, six men and three women, marching in a row in the front. They were all dressed in black with staffs in hand and she suppressed a whimper of fear at the sight.
No one beneath her moved as the army came closer, and grew ever larger.
They were outnumbered, Bilba realized, wildly so.
The front ranks came to a stop, a gap of barely fifty or so feet between the two armies.
One of the figures in black strode forward, a young man barely out of his boyhood with stringy blond hair and a thin build.
“Hand over the Fae,” he ordered, his voice high and shrill, “and the Durins and we will leave in peace. Do not and you will die and we will have what we want anyway. The choice is yours.”
Bilba shuddered. She had her arms wrapped around herself, her fingers digging into her biceps hard enough to bruise.
Down below Thranduil, Thorin and Bard looked at Frerin who casually stepped forward.
“Are your fellows so afraid to face us that a sniveling whelp with an overinflated view of himself is the only one stupid enough to speak to us?”
The young man sputtered, his face going red and blotchy with anger. “You will regret your dismissal of me,” he said, his voice cracking at the end.
Frerin snorted. “I doubt that. Regardless, no Durin, or dwarf at all for that matter, with the slightest hint of self-respect would ever surrender themselves to the likes of you. As for this Fae you speak of, I have no idea what you’re talking about. The only races represented here are dwaves, elves and Men who are no doubt currently embarrassed to have to count you and your fellows amongst them.”
He drew his sword and held it loosely in one hand. “If all that was too many words for you let me put it in a way you’ll understand.”
With that he launched into a Khuzdul phrase, the sharp edged, clipped words echoing across the field.
Bilba saw Thorin lean over to him. “I doubt he understood that either, brother.”
Frerin shrugged. “I’m sure he got the idea.”
Thorin raised his sword and soon the others followed as did the bows of the elves. As one they roared and then began running.
The young man went white and scrambled back to the ranks of his own people before they too began to run forward.
Bilba shut her eyes and turned her face away.
Once she found the courage to look again, she helped as best she could, using the wind to warn about attacks from behind, pushing weapons just enough to create an opening, sending heavy gusts to knock orcs off balance. Since learning she could control the wind instead of letting it control her, she’d gotten better, able to use it with precision.
Several times she saw Frerin turn to look in her direction but she stayed invisible, afraid one of the Necromancers would see her.
The morning was overcast, a light fog clinging to the area and she cleared it as best she could, keeping it from being used against those she loved.
As she did she tried her best to not look too closely, not wanting to see the lifeless eyes of the fallen or the blood splattered on the rocks. The sound of battle was nearly deafening, the loud clash of steel, screams of the wounded and, over it all, the sound of thousands yelling battle cries.
It was as she was aiding Legolas, using the wind to send his arrows further, and truer, that she caught an impression of movement off the battlefield. She lifted her eyes and saw a large flag moving in the wind on a nearby hill overlooking the field. She frowned, only for her eyes to widen at the sight of Azog standing on the edge. As she watched he barked an order at a nearby orc and one of the flags changed position. Immediately a portion of the army broke off and turned to Dale, flooding into the ruined city.
He was directing the battle, she realized. She reached a hand up, calling the wind but it was too far away, she couldn’t reach him.
She found Frerin in the battle. He was close to her, just below and to the right, but the roar of battle was so loud he couldn’t hear when she tried to yell to him and warn him about Azog.
She hesitated. Thorin was fighting nearby, surrounded by Dain, Fili and Kili, the three of them forming a protective circle around their King. As she watched the area around him opened up, giving him a very brief pause where he wasn’t facing anything.
Before she could talk herself out of it Bilba called the wind. A second later she was in front of Thorin.
He jerked, barely resisting the automatic instinct to attack her. His eyes widened and he stepped forward and grabbed her arm, tighter than he probably intended. “What are you doing here?”
She pointed. “Azog’s directing the battle from over there. He just sent a wave into Dale.”
Thorin followed her gaze and swore. He called out to Dain in Khuzdul. Dain, in turn, whistled sharply and, a few minutes later, several of the rams he’d brought from the Iron Hills were there.
Thorin turned to face her. “Can you get back?”
She stepped away, into the shadows under the gate and went back to being invisible. Frerin raced past her, jumping onto one of the rams. “Was that Bilba?” he asked Thorin.
“It was,” he replied, “but she went back.”
He, Fili, Kili and Dwalin started toward the hill where Azog stood.
Frerin paused, his eyes searching the shadows under the gate and, for an instant, Bilba was convinced he could somehow see her. Then he turned and urged his ram after the others and she relaxed.
She didn’t see any of the Necromancers around so she focused on Frerin and his ram and then, using the wind, she followed.
When she arrived Thorin, Frerin and Dwalin were standing at the edge of a frozen river. There was no sign of Fili or Kili, or of Azog or the other orcs.
She went and stood next to Frerin and flinched as a loud horn sounded.
Her eyes went to the tower and she gasped in horror as Azog appeared at the top. He had Fili in front of him, the young dwarf’s arm twisted behind his back and a look of pain in his eyes.
Azog started to speak but Bilba barely heard it. She was already reacting, her hands moving as she called up a strong burst of wind. She directed it straight at Azog, angling it behind Fili.
The wind slammed into Azog, catching the orcs nearest him at the same time. They all rocked back, Azog stumbling, and Fili turned, grabbing a sword from a nearby orc.
Arms closed around Bilba suddenly in an iron grip and she shrieked in surprise before she heard Frerin’s voice, tense, at her ear. “You were supposed to stay in Erebor, Bilba. Not go gallivanting about the battlefield.”
At the top of the tower Bilba caught sight of Fili again. He was outnumbered by the orcs and Azog and was slowly being driven back toward the edge. Bilba twisted in Frerin’s arms, grabbed his face between her hands and kissed him, hard. “I’m so sorry, my Love.”
She gave herself over to the wind and vanished from his arms.
An instant later she was at the top of the tower. Her heart was twisting in her chest and she felt sick to her stomach.
She’d never used her magic against Frerin in any way and certainly not to get away from him. Not to mention the fact she was in the middle of the battle when she was supposed to be back in Erebor.
She recalled the tone of his voice even as she raised her hands and summoned a sheet of wind to knock the orcs and Azog away from Fili.
She swallowed against bile, her anxiety rising. She’d never been at odds with Frerin and now that she was she couldn’t even talk to him about it because Azog wouldn’t stop being an arse and because Necromancers wouldn’t stop trying to kill her.
Fili grabbed her hand. “This way,” he ordered.
He pulled her toward the door and she ran with him, reaching the stairs as Azog and the others got up behind them. Halfway down they ran into Kili on his way up but Fili yelled for him to run and he obeyed, though not before throwing his sword to Fili, keeping his bow and arrows for himself.
They reached the bottom and burst out of the entrance with the orcs on their heels. Outside Bilba shrieked as a wave of bats flew low over their heads. Just ahead of them she caught sight of Dwalin, Thorin and Frerin being nearly overwhelmed by a horde of goblins.
“Get out of here,” Fili ordered. He spun as he spoke, slashing at the first orc to come barreling through the doorway. Kili turned as well, sending arrow after arrow into the orcs until their corpses piled in the doorway and blocked the rest from getting out.
Bilba backed away, watching them all with increasing horror.
They were being overwhelmed.
Another wave of bats shot by overhead and her eyes widened.
Mentally kicking herself for being so slow she ran out into the open and jumped up and down, waving over her head. “Hey! Hey, come here!! Come here!”
A shriek sounded and the entire column of bats was suddenly swarming straight toward her. The spiraled over her head, a great mass of them darting about.
“You’re on the wrong side,” Bilba said to them. “Stop helping them. Help my friends instead!”
The bats screeched, some in agreement, others in defiance. They split, some heading for the tower and others for the goblins. Some attempted to attack her and she threw her hands up, sending a wall of wind to shove them back. As she did other bats hit them, creating a free for all over her head.
She moved, getting out from under them just as the others slammed into the orcs and goblins, driving them back.
Azog, who’d just come out of the tower roared in rage as his ranks were decimated. His eyes found her and he started toward her, his features contorted with rage.
Bilba screamed, backing away from him.
A roar sounded and Thorin lunged in his way, his sword flashing. Azog barely got his arm up in time to block it, the blade he’d jammed into the stump of his arm impacting Thorin’s sword with a clang.
The area devolved into total chaos, a swirling mass of goblins, orcs and bats. Every so often she caught sight of Dwalin or Fili only to lose sight of them again in the melee.
Bilba went invisible again and ran behind the tower. She caught sight of Azog and Thorin locked in battle but ran past them to the edge of the hill. Down below she saw what she was looking for and called the wind, sending her down to the base of the cliff.
As her feet touched down a wave of dizziness hit her and she staggered. She was using her magic in ways that were still new to her, in far vaster quantities, and was quickly reaching her limits.
But she couldn’t stop, not now, not when Frerin and everyone else needed all the help they could get.
Something bumped her arm and she looked to see a massive warg next to her, the same one she’d seen from the top of the cliff.
“Hi,” she said. Guilt assailed her at having not thought of doing this sooner. “I need your help, alright?” There was no way she could get to every warg on the battlefield, even if she had the strength but it didn’t mean she couldn’t still make an impact. “Tell your friends to help me and help my friends. Please.”
The warg licked her, spun around and bounded off into the battle. As with the bats she knew that not all the wargs would help her. The one she’d sent off would, however, and it would undoubtedly get others to join it as well. That would, at the very least, cause infighting amongst the wargs which could only help the dwarves, elves and men.
She needed to get back to the top again and make sure the others were alright. She shut her eyes for a second, trying to regain her breath.
When she opened them again it was to look straight into the eyes of a Necromancer standing twenty or so feet away. It wasn’t the young one, but an older woman, gray hair falling to her shoulders and a look of absolute cruelty in her eyes as she studied Bilba the way one might look at a particularly interesting object they wanted to acquire.
Bilba whimpered, her stomach clenching so hard it was physically painful. She grabbed the wind and fled, racing back up to the top of the hill, preferring the orcs and goblins to a Necromancer.
She landed and promptly fell to her hands and knees, exhaustion forcing her down.
A large shadow rushed over her and she looked up to see an eagle soaring overhead. Several more joined it, some diving to the battle below while others vanished to the other side of the tower.
Bilba looked to the side and sucked in a gasp at the sight of Thorin laying on his back, red staining the snow around him. Several yards away Azog lay in the center of the ice, sprawled like a broken doll with Thorin’s sword thrust through his chest nearly to the hilt.
She scrambled over to Thorin. Her legs refused to hold her so she crawled, dragging and skidding across the ice until she’d reached his side.
He was alive, his breath rattling in his lungs and blood pooling over his chest and running down his side. Bilba made a strangled sound as she reached out and put her hands on the gaping hole in his chest. Blood bubbled out, squeezing through her fingers and pooling on the back of her hands.
“It’s okay,” Bilba whispered, “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. You aren’t going to die. I won’t let you.”
She focused, calling her powers to her and sending them out from her hands. She felt the flesh under her fingers start to mend, knitting back together until no mark was left. Other injuries healed as well, old scars from prior battles, arthritis in his left knee from it being previously broken or damaged in some way.
Her magic subsided and she sagged forward. Blackness ate at the corners of her vision but she fought to stay awake. She couldn’t lose consciousness, not yet.
He moved under her and then his hands were grabbing her arms and gently lifting her up. She grabbed the edges of his cuirass to hold herself upright.
“Thank you,” Thorin gasped. He got to his feet, putting an arm around her waist to help her up as well.
As they neared the tower there was movement and then Frerin was coming into view. He was dirty, covered in sweat and looked exhausted but aside from a few small scratches and cuts he was otherwise unharmed.
His eyes widened at the sight of them and Bilba realized that, of course, Thorin’s shirt was still torn and he was covered in blood.
As was she for that matter.
“I’m fine,” Thorin said as Frerin neared. “Thanks to Bilba.”
Bilba hesitated, nervous as her husband approached.
Frerin strode up, took her face in his hands and kissed her. “Thank Mahal,” he said, looking in her eyes, a mixture of fear and anger in them. “Do you have any idea how worried I was?”
His voice was sharp and Bilba flinched. “I’m sorry.”
Frerin’s eyes narrowed. “Can you go back? To Erebor?”
Bilba shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. My strength is at its limit.” She turned to Thorin. “A lot of the bats and wargs are fighting for us and there are eagles too. I don’t know who called them. The tide of the battle may be turning.”
Thorin nodded. “It should, now that their leader is gone and they have no one to direct them.” He looked at Frerin. “Get her back to Erebor. I’ll go and find the boys.”
“As you wish,” Frerin said.
Thorin transferred her over to him and headed off to find Fili and Kili.
Frerin started helping her toward the pathway that led down. Bilba could still hear the sound of fighting but it wasn’t as loud as before, fewer voices contributing to the din. The path was long, steep, and winding full of twists and turns as it traveled downward. Every so often she could see a view of the battlefield as the path curved, there were far fewer orcs than there had once been. She saw several wargs aiding dwarves, elves and men and saw other wargs locked in fights among themselves.
Frerin was silent beside her, one hand clutching his sword, the other arm around her waist. They traveled down the trail in silence until she finally found the courage to speak.
“Are you very mad at me?”
“I asked you to stay inside,” Frerin said shortly. “Yet you came out anyway and endangered yourself.”
“I saved Fili’s life,” Bilba argued, “and Thorin’s.”
Frerin stopped and turned to face her. “You are in a dress, Bilba, in the middle of a battlefield. You have no armor and no weapons and the only safe place is on the exact opposite side of the field from where we currently are. I have no idea if I can get you there safely and, even if I can, the bloody gate is sealed up and you’re too exhausted to get yourself back in!” His voice rose on each word until he was nearly shouting by the end. He shut his eyes, taking a deep breath and letting it out. Bilba felt her eyes starting to burn but forced it down, clenching her teeth to keep her chin from wavering.
Frerin opened his eyes again. “Do you have any idea what could have happened to you out there? You could be dead right now. You could still be dead if I can’t manage to get you back.” He stepped forward suddenly, wrapping an arm around her waist and pressing his forehead against hers. “Do you have any idea how terrified I am right now?”
“If it was as terrified as I was watching you go into battle,” Bilba whispered, “then, yes, I have some idea.” She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “I’m sorry, Frerin.”
He let out a harsh breath. “I know, and I know if you hadn’t come Fili and Thorin would both be dead.” He stepped back, his eyes intense and fixed on hers. “I just want you safe.”
“I want you safe too,” Bilba said. “I want everyone safe.”
Frerin nodded, readjusting his grip on his sword. He gave her a tight smile. “First things first then. Let’s get you back to Erebor.” He turned to look up the path, back in the direction of the tower. “We’re blocked from view here, from the tower and from the battlefield below. We should wait for Thorin and the boys to come back, Dwalin too. Then we can--”
There was a strange thump and Frerin’s voice cut off. He stumbled forward, throwing out a foot to catch his balance.
Bilba blinked in surprise, her mind trying to comprehend what it was seeing.
There was a spear…sticking out of Frerin’s back.
In his back.
Bilba felt as if she’d stepped out of her own body and was watching a nightmare unfold, someone else’s nightmare.
Not hers, it couldn’t possibly be hers.
A spear? How could there be a spear? Where would it even have come from? And he was wearing armor. A spear couldn’t penetrate, not unless it had been thrown with great force and even then it would need something else…something like…
She turned, her movements wooden and stiff, looking for where it had come from.
The path curved sharply in its journey down, almost doubling back on itself as it cut through the rock. The Necromancer, the older woman Bilba had seen before, stood several levels below them, on a different section of the path. She was looking up at them, her staff raised and the end glowing with a dark light. The woman must have somehow seen where she’d gone after speaking to the warg, Bilba thought numbly. She must have seen and followed.
The woman had a smug look on her face, her eyes locked on Frerin.
She was practically smirking as if she’d done something to be proud of.
Frerin made an odd sound.
Then he collapsed, first to his hands and knees and then to his stomach. He lay at her feet, sprawled out like a broken toy discarded by an ungrateful child.
Bilba’s eyes widened and she felt her breathing pick up. A whimper escaped her throat, her hands clenched into fists and she started shaking.
She couldn’t heal him.
Her power was almost gone. She could barely stand on her own two feet much less summon her magic. She’d used it all on traveling and the bats and wargs and healing Thorin.
All of it. All of it was gone. All of it was gone and Frerin was on the ground and there was a spear in his back and blood was burbling out, up through the hole in his armor and he wasn’t moving and the Necromancer was smirking and she couldn’t bear it, she couldn’t bear any of it and…and………..and…
Everything seemed to have slowed down to a near crawl.
She dropped to her knees, hands going out to touch Frerin. Her fingers touched the steel of his armor, slid in the blood leaking out around the wound in his back. Her breathing became more ragged, nearly hyperventilating.
She couldn’t tell if he was breathing.
He had to be though, right? He had to be breathing because he had to be alive because he’d promised her, he’d promised that it’d be okay. He’d said her story would end different, that it wouldn’t be sad or tragic and he’d said he’d loved her and they’d just gotten married and, Yavanna, Yavann, help her, he had to be breathing.
She lifted her hand and stared at it, stained red with her husband’s blood. Dizziness washed over her and a sob caught in her throat.
The Necromancer had vanished from sight, no doubt making her way up to where they were.
On her other side, Thorin, Dwalin, Fili and Kili came into view at the top of the hill, near where the path started. She saw Thorin’s mouth open but the distance was great enough she couldn’t hear what he said. Then, all four of them began running down the path toward her.
It was all happening so slowly. It had been less than a minute, less than a minute since Frerin had been standing, looking at her, talking to her, but it felt like an eternity had passed.
She let out a breath, the sound of it loud in her ears.
It was, she realized, all she could hear.
No noise of battle, no crunch of approaching footsteps.
Just her own breathing and the rush of blood in her ears.
It was all she could hear…and all she could see was Frerin.
Beautiful, kind Frerin who’d chosen her over his own people, over his own kingdom and title. Who’d stood by her side through battles that were not his own, who’d never done anything other than love her and want the best for her. Frerin who’d taken up the task of changing her fate when he’d been under no obligation to, when it would have been far easier not too.
Frerin, who’d only ever wanted her safe.
Who’d only ever wanted her to be happy.
He’d believed he could do it, that he could give her all that and more but, perhaps, in the end, he’d been wrong.
Perhaps her fate had already been written long before he’d ever had a chance to change it. Perhaps she and Frerin had been fighting against something already set in stone.
The fate of her ancestors, of all the kin who’d come before her.
Who was she that she should escape it when they had not?
Calm settled over her.
If her path were already set then all that was left for her to do was walk it.
And if, by walking it, she could save Frerin…well, that was not so bad a thing was it?
She put a hand on his back, and smiled. “It’s okay. I’m going to save you.”
She would save him, even if it meant she couldn’t save herself.
Beneath her knees she could feel the current of the earth. It was quieter than it had been in Rivendell, deeper somehow, but still there, still waiting for her.
Coming into contact with magic that is greater than yours, and not limited or bound by a mortal being, can easily overtake you. If I had not been here you would have been lost to it.
So be it.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, focusing.
She gathered the last threads of her own magic, pulling them together as best she could, and sank them through her feet deep into the currents beneath her.
Power, as before, flooded her, along with that same pulling sensation though it was not as strong as it had been outside Rivendell.
She placed a hand on the spear and pulled it out in one easy motion. She threw it in disgust and settled her other hand directly over the wound. The torn, metal edges of his armor cut into her hand, her own blood mingling with his but she ignored it. She healed him in a single instant, everything, his insides, skin, tunic, even the armor under her palm pulled back together and mended until it was flawless once more.
Frerin didn’t move.
He lay quiet, his body still.
Bilba choked back a sob.
Pain lanced through her, so intense it felt like her very soul had been rent.
Raw emotion poured through her, strong enough she began to react physically, shaking violently, harsh sobs bursting out of her throat even as she clenched her teeth to try and keep them back. Tears ran freely from her eyes, down her face to drip off her chin and onto his armor.
A scream fought to escape her throat and she dug her nails into her palm, feeling the sharp pricks of pain jolting through her nerves as the skin broke under the pressure.
Barely able to see through the veil of tears, she lifted a shaking hand to gently touch the back of his armor, between his shoulder blades. “It’s okay,” she whispered, her voice breaking. “Sweetheart, it’s okay. I’ll take care of them now.”
She tried to focus on breathing, her breaths coming in short, harsh pants.
Then she stood up.
Bilba turned her head and saw the Necromancer coming into view, a few yards away, pulling a dagger from her robe.
Hatred, white hot and blinding surged through her, wiping away, for the moment, the overwhelming waves of grief cascading over her.
A slab of earth shot up from the ground, towering over the Necromancer. The woman barely had the chance to react before it came down on top of her, crushing her flat in one motion.
Bilba stepped forward, past the dirt that had become the woman’s burial mound and continued onward, toward the battlefield down below.
Behind her a second wall of dirt rose, a shelf fitting neatly between the two ledges of rock that bordered the trail. It wouldn’t keep Thorin and the others away forever but, then, she didn’t have forever anyway. Her own magic was gone. If it weren’t for the magic from the land flowing through her she would have died already. She could feel it pulsing through her, pulling her gently downward. Gandalf had said she would be absorbed into it, that she would cease to exist.
Tears threatened, grief returning to well up inside her.
She would not see Frerin again, in this world or the next.
“I’m sorry, Frerin,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
She summoned the wind and, an instant later, was stepping into the field of battle.
Frerin had been wrong.
Her hope had been in vain.
This, after all, was how the story ended.
Not in hope, but in tragedy.
And like her ancestors who had come before her, she would die as they had died.
They came at her from all sides, goblins and orcs and the remaining Necromancers.
Bilba barely acknowledged them.
Under her feet wind started to blow, whipping in a tight funnel around her. It rose as she walked and expanded until she was in the midst of a narrow tornado of wind arching far above her. When it reached a dwarf, elf, human, or a warg or bat aiding them, it passed over them harmlessly. If it touched a fleeing goblin or orc it also went by them, allowing them to run.
All others it destroyed. They were sucked up by the winds, battered by rocks, discarded armor and other debris it had picked up. Many were thrown leagues into the air only to be cast outside of the tornado to fall and be dashed against the rocks far below.
She walked until she reached the center of the battlefield. The second she stopped the tornado exploded, widening until it nearly encompassed the entire field, leaving only a small area of calm in the center where she stood. The wind produced an almost deafening sound as it roared across the battlefield. The dirt and debris made it nearly black, so all she could see were violent, dark winds, rushing around her in a circular motion.
Inside, where she stood, the lighting was dim but enough for her to see the confused, or terrified, faces of those she had spared. They stared at the howling funnel that surrounded them on all sides and cowered in terror.
She put her hands out and a second funnel, this one clear and gentle, rushed out from her. It caught everyone inside the funnel with her and pushed them through the dark winds without them being harmed, leaving them safe and untouched on the other side.
And then it was done and her work was finished.
She dropped her hands to her sides and closed her eyes.
And, then, she did the only thing left for her to do.
Water was lapping at her ankles.
Bilba opened her eyes and blinked in surprise.
She was standing ankle deep in glittering, crystal blue water. It spread out around her, filling the area she stood in. Lilies floated on the surface, bright spots of purple, yellow and red drifting lazily about.
There was light too, dimly filtered like early morning sunlight shining through trees on an autumn day.
It was quiet.
The walls of wind were still spiraling about her but the roar had lowered to a dull sound, far off in the background.
A splash drew her attention.
There was a woman walking through the water toward her.
Bilba’s eyes widened. The woman was tall and slender, barefoot and dressed in an emerald gown. Her hair was blonde and tumbled down her back, dotted here and there with more lilies, and her eyes were as blue as the water she walked through.
She came to a stop in front of Bilba and smiled. “I did not come all this way to meet you, Wind Daughter, simply to watch you die.” She held her hands out. “Take my hands, Sister, and I shall try to change your fate.”
“It cannot be changed,” Bilba said. “It’s already too late. It was always too late.” Her lip trembled and fresh tears welled out of her eyes. “All he wanted to do was save me and, in the end, I let him die.”
“He thought you worth saving,” she said, her smile not faltering. “Would you waste his efforts? Would you refute his belief?”
Bilba shook her head wordlessly and the woman raised her hands again. “Take my hands,” she said gently. “If his final wish was to save you then let me try to fulfill his wish.”
Bilba studied the woman’s hands.
Beneath her feet she could still feel the pull of the magic racing through her, though it was weaker now that she stood in the water.
She couldn’t imagine living in a world without Frerin. The pain was crushing, as bad as when her parents had died and, then, she’d had Frerin there to bring her back.
Now she had no one.
But he’d wanted her to be safe.
He’d wanted her to live.
And she had no doubt what he’d want her to do now.
Outside the armies of the dwarve, elves and humans watched the funnel as it shook the ground.
Without warning it began to slow, and dissipate.
Within a few minutes it had vanished almost immediately, the wind fading and the debris raining to the ground in a light rain.
Beyond that, in the center of the funnel, the ground was empty.
There was no sign of Bilba, or anyone else.
No sign at all.
Erebor began to recover, slowly. As promised, Thorin started rebuilding both Lake-town and Dale alongside Erebor, pouring money freely from the Treasury to see that the survivors were adequately cared for and supplied as repairs continued.
In the second month of the restoration, aided by elves and Dain’s men, the jewels Thranduil had sought were located. Thorin had them placed in an elaborate box and held a ceremony to personally give them to Thranduil, along with an official apology over Erebor’s previous treatment of the Woodland King. The act went a long way toward restoring relations, though it would undoubtedly be a long time before they were back to what they had once been.
After the battle Thorin sent word to the Blue Mountains, telling them of the victory and inviting them to Erebor.
They arrived in the sixth month, Dis leading them. She moved back into her old quarters and began coordinating the cleaning of the rooms, throwing out old tapestries that were beyond saving and salvaging those that could.
The entire area was buzzing with activity, both inside the mountain and out and, by all rights, given what they had overcome it should have been a time of merriment and joy.
And it was, but it was a joy tinged with sadness, merriment overshadowed by pain.
As elves, humans and dwarves went about their business they would find their eyes invariably drawn to a specific patch of ground set between Erebor and Dale. The spot was empty, no different from any other location save for those who knew who had stood, and been lost, there.
The place was generally avoided, treated as a memorial of sorts, left alone and at peace by all…………………..all save one.
Frerin stood in the last spot his wife had been seen and surveyed the empty battlefield. It had long since been cleared of the dead but he could call it to mind easily enough.
He could call it all to mind easily enough.
He squeezed his eyes shut, grief welling inside him.
Footsteps alerted him to another’s presence and he opened his eyes to see his sister approaching.
“It’s late,” he said. “You should be in bed.”
Dis glanced up, studying the fat full moon hanging overhead, thin clouds occasionally scudding across it to briefly block it from view. Then she turned her attention back to her brother, standing at full attention, one hand on the hilt of his sword.
She’d been overjoyed to find out he was alive, and terrified to discover how closely they’d come to losing him again after the battle. According to Gandalf, the magic Bilba had used to heal him had not been her own. It had been the magic of the earth, not intended or meant for healing but turned to it through her own will. Because of that it had behaved differently, closing up his wounds but leaving him suffering from blood loss and shock. He’d fallen into a deep coma and not awakened for weeks.
When he had…it was to find out Bilba was gone.
“You can’t go on like this,” Dis said gently. “You barely sleep, you don’t eat. I never had the honor of meeting her myself but, from all that I’ve heard, I can’t imagine she would want you living like this.”
Frerin didn’t answer her, still staring out into the darkness. He came every night to stand in the same place she’d last stood, hoping somehow, someway it would draw him closer to her, let him feel her one last time.
But every night all he felt was cold, and empty.
“Frerin,” Dis stepped closer. “I--”
“Gandalf said she doesn’t exist anymore,” Frerin said suddenly. “He says she was consumed by the magic and that she ceased to exist.” He turned to look at his sister. “What am I supposed to do with that? How do I accept a reality where she isn’t anywhere, in this world or the next?” His eyes searched her, desperate for an answer. “Tell me how I’m supposed to go on accepting that. What am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know,” Dis said honestly. “I don’t have the answer for you, Frerin. Perhaps, with time--”
He returned to his vigil, one hand, white knuckled on the hilt of his sword. “How much time?” he asked numbly. “How long did it take you?”
Dis was silent for a moment and then sighed. “I still grieve for Vili, every single day. You don’t get over it, Frerin. You just learn to live with it.”
She stepped to his side, facing the darkness with him. “How about we keep vigil together?”
He didn’t respond but, after a few seconds, she caught the barest movement of his head in a nod of acceptance.
And so, together, they stood watch, that night, and every night after.
It was nearly a week later that Thorin came looking for him early one morning. Frerin was in the Treasury, sorting and organizing the treasure. It was a tedious job that would most likely take a lifetime but it kept him busy, and prevented him from having to think too much.
He was stacking his twentieth or so set of coins when Thorin’s voice spoke behind him.
“Frerin. I need you to come with me.”
Frerin frowned at the tone in his brother’s voice. “What is it?”
“You need to see for yourself,” Thorin said shortly. “Come on.”
Frerin obeyed, following Thorin out of the Treasury and up the stairs to the higher levels.
To his surprise he saw a large group of soldiers gathered on the battlements looking out over the front gate. More people, nobles and commoners, were gathered in the area below the gate, murmuring and talking excitedly. Several cast glances at him only to look away sharply when he made eye contact. A few smiled at him, an odd hope in their eyes that he didn’t understand.
The gate stood open and Thorin nodded to it, gesturing him forward.
Frerin walked to the doorway, and stopped so fast it was as if he’d physically hit a wall.
There was a warg sitting before the gates of Erebor, just on the other side of the bridge that spanned the moat. It was enormous and pure white.
“Harold?” Frerin said in surprise.
He started to take a step forward only to have Thorin grab his arm. “You don’t know what it plans to do.”
Overhead, on the battlements, Frerin heard the sound of bows being nocked. He shook Thorin’s hand off and went forward, crossing the bridge and coming to a stop in front of the warg.
Harold stood up, turned to his side and promptly lay down again.
The message was clear.
Frerin sucked in a shaky breath, his heart suddenly racing.
“You can’t go,” Thorin said, arriving. “You have no idea who sent that thing or where it plans to take you.”
“You cannot stop me,” Frerin said, a feverish look in his eyes. “You will not stop me.”
Thorin glowerd, clearly warring with himself. Finally he said, “At least take Dwalin.”
“No,” Frerin said instantly. “I’m going alone. I will take supplies though if you’d be willing to bring me any.”
Thorin barked orders and soon Harold was loaded down with enough supplies to see him to the other end of Middle Earth if need be. Frerin was also, to make his family happy, arrayed in full armor with a sword strapped to his waist.
“Are you sure about this?” Thorin asked, clasping his forearm. “What if it’s a Necromancer, luring you out for some reason?”
“What if it’s not?” Frerin responded.
Thorin hugged him, as did Dis who begged him to be safe and come back.
After that it was Kili’s turn and then Fili.
As his oldest nephew hugged him, he whispered, “If you find her, bring her back.”
“I intend to,” Frerin answered, his throat clogging.
He bade his farewells to the rest of the Company and then mounted the warg. Harold lumbered to his feet and took off without hesitation.
Frerin bent low over the creature’s neck, anxious, fearful, and hopeful all at once.
“Please be on the other end,” he prayed. “Please.”
In the end it was good he’d been so well supplied, for they nearly did go to the other end of Middle Earth.
Frerin spent long days and nights traveling with Harold, through Mirkwood and over the Misty Mountains. He briefly considered stopping by Rivendell as they passed by but dismissed it. He was ready to go mad with anticipation as it was. He couldn’t bear the thought of any more delay.
He thought, as they neared, that Harold was heading for the Shire and hope welled in him, for who but Bilba would be there?
Then Harold began to veer away, to the east of the Shire, and he felt his spirits fall once more.
Eventually trees began to appear, the beginnings of a large forest. Harold skirted it, running along the outside perimeter until, for no apparent reason, he simply stopped dead and lay down.
“This is it?” Frerin asked in surprise. “What is it I’m supposed to be seeing here?”
Harold gave no reaction, just continued laying down. Hesitant, Frerin threw his leg over and slid off. He waited but Harold gave no indication he planned to do anything. Frerin studied the armor strapped to the warg. He’d stopped wearing it some time ago, electing to wear a tunic and trousers instead with a light chain mail vest under his jacket. Coming to a decision he left it and stepped forward, into the woods.
He felt an odd…change immediately. The air seemed lighter somehow, purer almost. There was thick grass under his feet, dotted liberally with flowers and buzzing with small insects. The trees towered over him, full and healthy, and filtered sunlight shone merrily through the branches.
A small red fox appeared from around a tree, moving easily on three legs, and Frerin’s heart jolted so hard in his chest he feared it might actually give out. “Reginald?”
The fox studied him and then turned and started to walk away. After a few feet it paused and looked over his shoulder.
“Alright,” Frerin said. “I’m coming.”
He followed after the creature, deep into the woods on a winding, twisting path he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to find on his own.
Finally Reginald stopped near a tree bordering a small clearing. He sat and looked out and Frerin stepped up next to him to look out as well.
His legs buckled, sending him to his knees.
Bilba was crouched in the center of the clearing, studying a withered plant. She was dressed in a pale gold gown, little more than a silk shift that fell to her feet and had a high waistline that ran just under her bust. A light brown, gauzy style fabric overlaid it, slit down the center to reveal the dress underneath. Her hair was loose, falling in curls and waves about her, held back at the temples by two simple combs. He could see her marriage braid and bead hanging over her shoulder and her ring glinted on her finger. Almost unconsciously his hand went to his own ring. After…after, he’d had it recast so he could wear it on his finger instead of on the chain around his neck.
As he watched she lightly touched the plant and it sprang back to life, green returning to brown stems and moisture to dry leaves. Bilba smiled but there was a sadness to it, a quiet grief clinging to her like a cloak. She stood and for the first time Frerin noticed how very pale she was and how tired she looked.
She turned to leave, facing him, and froze entirely.
Frerin pushed to his feet, suddenly afraid she’d disappear forever if he made a single wrong move. “Bilba.”
“Frerin?” she whispered, disbelieving. Then, in an instant, her face split into the most brilliant expression of joy he’d ever seen, probably only because he didn’t currently have a mirror. “FRERIN!”
Then they were both running.
They met in the center. He grabbed her around the waist and swung her in a wide circle before setting her down to catch her lips in a deep kiss.
Then they both wrapped their arms around each other and simply held one another.
Frerin kissed her on the top of her head, his eyes burning. He moved to sit down, pulling her to sit on his lap. She curled up against him, wrapping both arms around him again and laying her head against his shoulder. She drew in a shaky breath and he realized she was crying, her chest hitching with the force of it.
He took a shuddering breath of his own. She pulled his head down to kiss him again and, for a long time, they did little else.
Finally he pressed his forehead against hers, his eyes shut as he struggled to gain control of himself. “I thought you were dead.”
“I almost was,” Bilba said. She touched him, her fingers tracing the lines and curves of his face and jaw. “I thought you were dead.” She whispered. “I thought I’d failed you.”
“You could never fail me,” Frerin said. He sighed, a massive weight finally falling off his shoulders. He fell backwards, taking her with him, until he was lying flat on his back. She moved so she was lying next to him, her head on his shoulder while his arm was around her.
“Let’s just stay here,” he said. He rolled on his side so he could wrap his free arm around her.
And they proceeded to do exactly that, for most of the day, and if anyone had asked Frerin what the best moment of his life was, he might well have been hard pressed to find one.
There were, after all, just so many to choose from.
And a great many of them involved Bilba.
It was much later that Bilba led him to the small home she’d been staying in and introduced him to the couple that lived there.
Goldberry was the woman Bilba had met in Erebor. She was also the fairy Elrond had told them about. He had been successful in contacting her after all. She’d been overjoyed to find there was another fairy in the world. Being impatient she had left to go find her rather than wait for Bilba to come back and, so, had been in the area when Bilba’s magic had run out.
Even as a full fairy, Goldberry did not have the power to save Bilba but she had known her husband, Tom, might. He was a figure Frerin could not categorize. He appeared human but older somehow, a weight of history on him that Frerin had never felt before, even amongst the elves. He held an incredible amount of power but, as far as Frerin could tell, it was limited to his own lands. What made the lands Tom’s, or what their exact boundaries were, he didn’t know but, within them, Tom was the undisputed ruler.
Which meant that he could stop the magic of the earth from pulling Bilba in, so long as she was on his land.
Goldberry was a full Fae and a daughter of the river, not the air as Bilba was, but her magic was still similar to Bilba’s. Being far more powerful, she’d been able to transport Bilba back to Tom’s land almost instantly and had sustained her life with her own magic while Tom had prevented her from being lost to the currents running through the land.
At first neither had been sure they could save her. Bilba had fallen into a deep sleep and remained that way for two and a half months, her life protected by Tom and Goldberry.
Eventually the tide, so to speak, had turned. Bilba’s own magic had begun to return, barely a spark at first but, as time passed, it had become stronger. The magic still coursing through her from the land had loosened its hold and left her, for the most part.
Some of the magic had remained within her, mixing with her own and changing it in ways that could not be undone.
Bilba was now, for all intents and purposes, a full Fae and, while she still had limits, was potentially the most powerful to have ever existed.
Or she would be, once she’d recovered.
“Tom thinks about another two months,” she told Frerin later that night. After dinner they’d retired to the small room Bilba had been staying in. It was cozy, with a fireplace, a large bed piled high with quilts and a thick rug covering the floor. “My magic still needs to stabilize. Until it does Tom doesn’t know what will happen if I try to leave his land, so it’s not safe yet.” She hesitated. “I know that’s a long time. Are you going to stay?”
Bilba was sitting on the edge of the bed while Frerin got a fire going. He stood up and walked over to her. He took her by the hands, pulled her up, wrapped both arms around her and kissed her for a solid five minutes.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said finally, drawing back to look her in the eyes. “In fact I’m going to tie a damn leash around your waist so the next time you try to get yourself killed I can drag you back.”
She laughed and wrapped her arms around him.
He pulled one of her arms free and slid a hand into hers. At her questioning look he stood up straighter and put an arm on her waist.
Her fact lit up in understanding and she put her hand on his shoulder.
The room wasn’t exactly a good size for dancing but, then, they had never needed much space. They moved in a slow, graceful dance, falling back into the pattern as though they’d never been apart.
“I thought you were dead,” Bilba repeated. “After I woke up…it was bad…as bad as when my parents were lost. Tom and Goldberry feared I would never recover because of it. She went back to Erebor, hoping to find someone she could bring to help, and was quite startled to see you instead.”
Frerin raised an eyebrow. “How did she know enough to recognize me?”
Bilba laughed, embarrassed. “I talked about you non-stop. She certainly knew your name and what you looked like. I didn’t believe her though when she told me so she wasn’t entirely convinced she wasn’t somehow, someway mistaken. She didn’t know if you’d listen to a stranger and she didn’t want risk being wrong so she sent Harold, figuring only you would be crazy enough to get on him and go off wherever he wanted to take you. She told me you were coming but…I still didn’t believe her. I thought perhaps they were just saying it in the hopes I would get stronger and be better able to deal with it later. I didn’t believe until I saw you.”
She pushed up on her toes to lightly kiss him only to have him catch her as she drew back and deepen the kiss.
“I thought I’d lost you,” he whispered when it finally ended. “That you were gone, from this world and the next, and I’d never see you again.”
He kissed her again, on the lips, then the corner of her jaw, under her jaw and then her throat.
“Frerin,” Bilba said, amused, “are you trying to seduce me?”
He lifted his head and gave her a heated look. “Absolutely. Is it working?”
She laughed. “Absolutely.”
When Bilba woke up the next morning she almost feared it had all been a dream.
She sat up, panic stirring in her chest, and looked beside her.
Frerin lay there on his back, his head turned away and his eyes closed. His chest moved rhythmically in sleep, completely unmarked by injury.
Relief flooded her, so profound she nearly burst into tears from the force of it.
She settled down again, putting her head on his shoulder and wrapping an arm across his chest.
And then she fell back asleep with a smile on her lips.
The next two months were peaceful.
Tom and Goldberry were rarely there, spending time off exploring their lands, or so they said, so Frerin and Bilba spent most of it together, uninterrupted.
It was one of the first true times of peace they’d had together. No grief, no needing to flee and no quests to defeat dragons.
It became a honeymoon of sorts, one they hadn’t been able to take while on the quest with so much pressing in on them and demanding their time.
They spent hours talking or walking through the forest. In the evenings they would spend time with Goldberry and Tom, who always returned by dinner, and then would retire to read a book from Tom’s library or simply curl up in front of their fireplace.
They also danced. As Bilba’s strength returned they would go outside and dance under the starlight. Animals, Reginald included, began to return to follow her and Bilba would often spend hours hauling Frerin through the woods so she could see a baby deer or new litter of fox pups.
And so time passed, quicker than expected, until, before they knew it, two months had passed.
And it was time to leave and return home.
Bilba studied the clouds floating serenely by overhead. “I think it’s going to rain.”
Frerin lay beside her on a large blanket, his hands resting on his stomach and his feet crossed at the ankles. A picnic basket lay nearby, empty.
“No, it’s not,” he said. “You’re just bored and hoping I’ll let us leave.”
Bilba sighed in exasperation. She sat up and proceeded to straddle her husband’s waist, grabbing his wrists and pinning them to the ground on either side of his head. “For the last time, I’m fine. I feel fine. I am fine. We’re fine. Let’s go.”
Frerin lifted a hand out of her grip without effort and scratched the side of his nose, grinning at her look of outrage. “It’s only been an hour or so, Love.”
“It’s been four,” Bilba corrected.
They had left that morning. Bilba wanted to visit the Shire and Rivendell before returning to Erebor and Frerin had agreed. She’d wanted to use her magic but he’d refused, insisting instead they walk out of Tom’s lands to ensure she was well and truly recovered.
They’d bid farewell to Tom and Goldberry, placing themselves forever in their debt and promising to return to visit soon.
They’d walked to one of the edges of Tom’s lands that they knew about, near Buckland. Frerin had brought along a picnic basket stating they could have lunch before continuing on.
What he’d really meant, Bilba now realized, was they could step one foot over and then sit there the rest of the day until he was assured Bilba wasn’t going to suddenly relapse and require him shoving her back over into Tom’s lands.
The world suddenly spun madly and she shouted in surprise. Frerin’s hand cupped the back of her head, and an arm slid around her back as she spun so a moment later she found herself, gently, on her back. Frerin crouched over her, grabbing her hands and interlacing their fingers before pinning them to the ground, having perfectly reversed their positions.
Bilba raised an eyebrow and then deliberately lifted one hand, his grip easing immediately, and scratched at her nose.
She then stuck her tongue out at him.
His eyes narrowed and he released her only to dig her fingers into her sides, tickling her. Bilba shrieked with laughter, her back arching to try and get away from him.
His hands still on her waist he moved and put the side of his head on her stomach, over the small bump slowly developing there.
Bilba laughed again. “You aren’t going to feel anything. It’s not far enough along yet.”
He pulled himself up to loom over her again and kissed her. He then got up and grabbed her hand to help her up as well.
Bilba held on to his arm, one hand subconsciously resting on her stomach.
“Just think,” Frerin said, “the world’s first fairy dwarf. He, or she, will be every bit as unique as you.”
“We don’t know that they’ll have magic,” Bilba said, fighting a laugh at her husband’s unbridled happiness. “They may just be normal.”
He caught her around the waist and lifted her up into the air. “No child of yours could ever be anything but unique, magic or not, and that’s exactly how I want it.”
He set her down like she was made of glass and started gathering up the picnic supplies.
“Do you think it’ll be safe?” Bilba asked him, the first threads of worry settling in. “Being out again?”
He laughed. “You wiped out an army, Bilba, and no one knows it’s not something you should be doing every day. Afterward every known Necromancer vanished, crawling back under rocks where they belong. I doubt they’ll be threatening us again.” He stood up, the basket on his arm and wrapped his free arm around her waist. “You’re safe.”
“And you got me a fortress,” Bilba said, “just in case.”
“I helped get one at least,” Frerin said cheerfully. “I’m looking forward to seeing it again.”
“Me too,” Bilba said.
They walked to the Shire and there had a joyous reunion with Primula and Drogo.
They only stayed a few hours. Upon finding out Bilba was back most of the Shire was soon lined up at the door wanting things from her.
After catching up and promising to visit again soon Frerin stood up, stating he’d head out and try to track down some ponies they could use to get to Rivendell.
Bilba laughed. She hugged Primula and Drogo and then stepped over to Frerin, taking his hands in her own.
“Do you trust me?” she asked.
“Of course,” he answered.
She smiled. “Then shut your eyes.”
Wind whipped around him and he flinched, his hands tightening on hers.
It died down again and Bilba said, “You can open your eyes now, Love.” There was just the slightest hint of unease in her voice and he opened them quickly, worried.
They were standing in Rivendell.
Bilba gave him a nervous smile. “I told you I was stronger now.”
“Well this certainly saves travel costs and time,” Frerin said and her smile turned relieved.
He put his arm out and she took it. “Shall we, Darling?”
She nodded. “We shall.”
They spent two weeks in Rivendell.
Elladan, Elrohir and Aragorn were all thrilled to see them.
Upon finding out Bilba was married, and pregnant, they also all took time to make sure Frerin was sufficiently threatened with highly creative methods of death if he ever broke her heart.
The two weeks flew past and, before they knew it, it was time to leave for Erebor.
Frerin had worried over Bilba trying to make such a leap from Rivendell to Erebor but she’d merely laughed and assured him she was more than capable of stopping before they reached the mountain if she needed to.
She took his hands and this time he kept his eyes open.
Wind gusted around them, her hair, which she now wore unbound continuously save for her marriage braid, swirled about her like autumn leaves and then the world faded and they left Rivendell and the elves behind.
They stood on the plain between Dale and Erebor, near the spot where Bilba had vanished and where Frerin had spent months standing sentinel.
Neither looked at the spot now, their lives having moved on to the point it had been well and truly left behind.
“I thought it best to appear out here,” Bilba said, “at least until everyone outside the Company has a chance to get used to me.”
“As you wish, my Love,” Frerin said simply. While they’d been in Rivendell Harold had shown up again. He’d no longer been carrying his supplies but had Frerin’s armor, tied in a different location and position than before.
He wore it now, shined and polished, along with a sword at his waist.
Appearances, after all, were important and if he wanted the respect and trust of his people he needed to be the Prince they expected him to be.
Even if, deep down, he’d much rather be running through the forest in a tunic and trousers with Bilba at his side.
She had dressed for the occasion as well. Arwen had helped her, designing a dress similar to the one she’d worn in Tom and Goldberry’s lands. It was a long, lavender silk shift, with a high waist and bell sleeves. The bottom of the dress had been decorated with embroidered dark purple flowers studded with gems. The overlay was royal purple and long, flowing behind her as she walked. Her hair was pulled back on both sides with silver combs, a silver and amethyst net hung between them with long strands of glittering gems handing from them.
Arwen had loaned her a necklace as well, a delicate silver flower pendant on a chain that flowed around her neck like liquid silver. Her marriage braid hung over her shoulder, the bead at the end prominently displayed.
Frerin held his arm out now and she placed her hand gently on his forearm, her wedding ring catching the afternoon sunlight.
She put her other hand lightly on her stomach, the swell still small but clearly visible under her dress.
In Erebor a loud bell started ringing and Frerin heard the grate of the gate as it started to rise. A moment later Fili and Kili appeared at the gate, most of the rest of the Company behind them, all running at full tilt toward them, joy evident in their faces.
Then, together, Bilba and Frerin started forward to meet the Company. Fili reached her first and proceed to grab her in a bear hug, followed by Kili and the others.
Behind them all Frerin caught sight of Thorin approaching, Dis next to him. They joined in a few minutes later and then it was nothing but a cacophony of noise, hugs, and celebration.
“You see?” Frerin said, managing to catch Bilba’s attention. “This is how the story ends.”
Bilba smiled at him, adoration clear in her eyes. “So it is.”
And so it was.