Title: A Fair Wind Homeward
Author: Daisy May
Fandom: The Hobbit
Genre: Action Adventure, Drama, Romance, Time Travel
Relationship(s): Bilbo Baggins/Thorin Oakenshield
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Major Character Death, Violence-Canon Level
Word Count: 90,600
Summary: ‘You stupid, stubborn dwarf!’ Bilbo bellowed. ‘I saved your arse from being warg-food, Oakenshield, so show some bloody appreciation.’ The Valar send Bilbo and Thorin back in time to fix things, but the afterlife changes people considerably. Some folk are in for a few surprises.
Dáin and his army transformed the atmosphere in the city from the moment of his arrival. The pleasant evenings spent in the Old Market Place were but a memory now Dáin Ironfoot strode the halls of Erebor with his loud voice and raucous laugh. His initial horror at discovering his cousin was housing over three thousand elves took a while to dissipate, but a cup of elven wine from Imladris certainly helped – especially after he threw away the cup and replaced it with a tankard. For their part, the elves were equally bemused with Dáin, Lord Elrond going so far as asking Thorin if Dáin was ‘always like this?’ To which Thorin could only nod helplessly.
It didn’t help that the day following Dain’s arrival was Durin’s Day: a traditional day of celebration for the dwarrow of Durin’s Folk. Thorin remembered Durin’s Day celebrations from the time before Erebor fell to the dragon, when the entire population would feast and make merry, and exchange gifts between family members and those important to them. Dáin, it transpired, put great emphasis on the feasting and making merry part of the day.
‘I have no gift for ye apart from m’good self and five hundred of m’finest warriors to fight these orcs you say are coming,’ he told Thorin over breakfast on Durin’s Day.
‘If you’re a gift, does that mean Thorin gets to keep you?’ Kíli asked Dáin through a mouthful of breakfast.
Thorin saw Bilbo’s scowl and the way his knife cut a little too firmly through his toast, making a well-done slice jump off his plate. ‘I wouldn’t deprive Thira of that joy, Kíli.’
Dáin burst into guffaws of laughter and slapped the table, then Thorin’s shoulder several times. ‘“Wouldn’t deprive Thira”!’ he repeated loudly. ‘And I wouldn’t deprive your hobbit either, cousin!’
Thorin noticed Lord Elrond give a slight shudder at Dain’s volume and tried to think what to do with him for the day. Bilbo and Bombur had got together with the elven quartermasters and planned a feast to begin at sunset – just at the time they originally opened the secret door – although he’d initially protested the need for it with the battle so close. Balin, however, insisted, claiming – quite rightly – that those who feasted together would be more willing to fight together, and Thorin had agreed.
‘Why don’t you take Dáin to Ravenhill?’ Bilbo suggested to Thorin and gave him a sly grin. ‘We’ve made all the preparations we can. We’re just waiting for the folk from Lake-town now. And Gandalf, I suppose.’
‘Why would I want to walk all the way to a ruin of a guard outpost?’ Dáin demanded. ‘Unless it’s lying some traps for that bastard’s young un.’
‘I thought you might be interested in seeing the secret passage, that’s all,’ Bilbo told Dáin, feigning nonchalance. ‘It’s how we got into the mountain, but if—’
‘A secret passage y’say?’ Dáin demanded, his interest piqued. ‘Well, that’s different. O’ course I want to see it.’
The twins exchanged glances and one gave a nod – Elladan, Thorin thought. ‘We’d like to see it too, please.’
‘I wouldn’t mind seeing it again,’ Fíli said, and looked at his brother. ‘Kee? I don’t think Tauriel’s seen it yet.’
‘I’m game,’ Kíli nodded. ‘If we can take something to eat with us.’
Bilbo and Bombur hastened to prepare a bag of food for the explorers, Thorin now satisfied the more excitable members of their small community would have something to occupy their time, while giving those who remained in the mountain a respite from them. Lord Elrond went so far as catching Thorin’s eye and mouthing ‘thank you’ to him, making Thorin wonder just what his Grandfather would have to say if he saw Erebor that day.
There was an underlying excitement to the dwarrow city which increased as the day progressed and had nothing to do with the upcoming battle. Few of the elves from Rivendell and Lothlórien knew what Durin’s Day was, but some of the Company who weren’t busy preparing the feast volunteered to tell of the history behind it and its importance to Durin’s Folk. Thorin, recalling Balin’s advice, was happy to encourage such interaction, since it would also help dispel the widely held notion of Dwarrow secretiveness.
Glóin took Thorin aside after he returned from Ravenhill and bade him walk with him awhile.
‘Sharing a feast together is one thing, although I can’t say I like it much, but sharing our secrets and our history is quite another,’ Glóin lectured him. ‘If you’d asked for my advice before you encouraged Bofur and Ori to tell the elves about Durin’s Day, I’d have made my opposition to it clear. Several of Dain’s senior nobles are very unhappy about it.’
Thorin frowned at him. ‘Why should I care what Dain’s noblemen think? It has nothing to do with them. This is my mountain, and the elven armies are my allies. What I decide happens here is none of their business.’
‘But it is their business if they’re about to take to the field of battle on your behalf. You’re encouraging the spilling of secrets which have long been held by us for us on top of teaching our language to all and sundry!’
‘It was the Lord Mahal who taught Bilbo to speak Khuzdul, not me. Would you or Dain’s nobles argue with him?’
‘That’s not the point.’
‘It’s exactly the point! Mahal never meant our language to be secret!’ Thorin frowned at his cousin and sighed. ‘He sent us back to change things, Glóin, and one of those things is the destiny of the Dwarrow. In the Second Age, our people led the whole of Middle Earth in crafting and innovation. Durin’s Folk built the gates of Khazad-Dum and refined mithril to create ithildin. Most dwarrow today don’t even know what ithildin is, let alone how it’s made.
‘We intend to bring these crafts and methods back for our people and break the destructive cycle we fell into. You heard what Haldir said when he touched my shield. Eru Ilúvatar laid out my future, our future, and yet you would rather listen to a couple of Dain’s jumped-up lords complaining?’
Gloin’s cheeks were now flushed a deep red, but Thorin couldn’t tell if it was through shame or anger. He began to turn away when Glóin gripped his arm, keeping him in place.
‘All that’s for the future, a future we might not live to see,’ Glóin snapped. ‘Right now we have a battle to fight and we need the help of our fellow dwarves. More than that, we’re going to require the assistance of the other Clans to help us rebuild Erebor before we can even begin to think about your crafts and methods. Stop Bofur and Ori giving away our history right now, and apologise to Dain’s people as well. We need them on our side!’
‘And you think they’ll refuse to fight if I don’t apologise?’ Thorin’s lip curled as he regarded his cousin. ‘I don’t want such fickle or faithless people in my mountain, Glóin, let alone at my side on a battlefield, so think about what you’re saying. You have doubted me since Bilbo and I first returned, even when the evidence was out laid before you. It cannot continue.’
His face as dark as his mood, Thorin turned and walked away before he lost his temper entirely. Much to his surprise, Bilbo was waiting around the corner, and judging by his icy glare, had heard the conversation between Thorin and Glóin.
‘I heard,’ Bilbo nodded. ‘I was busy helping Bomber prepare for the feast when I felt your anger through our bond. It was so strong I was worried something had happened to you.’
‘Something did happen,’ Thorin muttered. ‘Glóin opposes our mission, along with several of Dain’s people, apparently, none of whom dare say anything to my face.’
‘What are you going to do about him?’ Bilbo asked, and Thorin didn’t miss the catch in his voice. Bilbo had considered him a friend.
They’d strolled in the direction of the Gallery of the Kings, a long chamber once filled with statues and portraits of Durin’s Line, some of them brought from Khazad-dûm when Durin’s Folk were forced to leave it. Smaug damaged most of the statues closest to the entrance, but the far ones – the oldest ones – were still mostly intact, and Bilbo found it endlessly fascinating to wander amongst Thorin’s ancestors and was frequently found here when he had an hour or two to spare.
‘To be honest, I don’t know. His family have been bankers and advisors to my family for three or four generations, but now…’
‘Who are your other advisors?’ Bilbo asked. ‘I heard mention of the King’s Council once or twice during the journey, and in the Halls, but we don’t really have one in the Shire so I’ve nothing to compare it to.’
‘The Council is a body which helps the king organise and run the kingdom, made up, primarily, of people he trusts to advise him fairly and honestly. Others may sit on it as needed, the Guild Masters, for example, but for everyday matters, it’s generally just a number of advisors and the heir, if he’s of age.’
‘Did you sit on Thror’s council?’
‘For a short while,’ Thorin nodded. ‘I was too young before Smaug’s attack, but after it…So many of my grandfather’s Council were dead or injured by the time we settled in Dunland, so it was smaller of necessity, and quite honestly, there was little to discuss. It was more a case of making sure everyone got a share of the little we did have, although some of them did try to justify why they should have more than others. I sat on it as an unofficial member until Azanulbizar, and after that everything was different.’
Thorin’s face must have given away his despondency, and he allowed Bilbo to drag him down onto a nearby stone bench and pull him into his arms.
‘It breaks my heart that you had no real childhood,’ Bilbo said softly, stroking his back and hair. ‘You were thrust into matters of state at far too young an age.’ Thorin buried his face in his One’s neck, soaking up Bilbo’s compassion as he would a drink to warm him after an icy day.
They sat for a while in silence, content in each other’s company and simply be themselves. Eventually, Bilbo shifted and repeated his question from earlier.
‘What are you going to do about Glóin?’
Thorin let out a deep sigh. ‘His wealth of knowledge alone earns him a position on my council, whether or not I want him on it. I’ll be seating a new Council from the one I had in Ered Luin, which won’t please some older nobles who’ve been on it since Thror’s day, but we’re beginning a new age in Erebor. I think we need to do it with a young and active Council, not one filled with old men who refuse to acknowledge change.
‘Dori will be my overall Guild Master. He was a senior member of the Tailor’s Guild in Ered Luin, such as it was, and has more than earned the position. Nori will be my Spymaster, and Dwalin will remain as Captain of the Guard. Ori will be a member in his own right, while Bofur and Bifur will share the position at the head of Mining operations: Bifur has the best stone-sense of any dwarf I’ve ever come across, and Bofur isn’t far behind him. I’ll find positions for the others of the Company as we rebuild. They’re the ones I value and trust the most, and they supported me when none of the other Lords and Clans would. They deserve to be rewarded for their loyalty.’
Since Dain’s men were camping out in the former main dining hall, and the elves were in the old market place, they decided to hold the Durin’s Day feast in separate parts of the city – especially since no one wanted to know how Dain’s men would react to the elves in the city with a little alcohol inside them. The Company and their guests, therefore, sat in their usual dining chamber in the larger of the two apartments they’d now appropriated and into which they’d brought a large enough table to seat twenty people, although Kíli had chosen to eat with Tauriel and the Mirkwood elves in the old market place.
‘At least we outnumber the tree-shaggers in here,’ Dáin muttered to Thorin in what he considered an undertone, making Thorin roll his eyes.
‘Dáin, I’ve already told you not to call them that,’ Bilbo scolded. ‘Don’t make me send you out to eat your dinner on the naughty step.’
‘It’s a little stool out in the draughtiest part of the hall,’ Fíli informed Dáin with a grin. ‘Apparently it’s an old Shire tradition for unruly…what do you call them again, Bilbo?’
‘Faunts. We call our children faunts, Dáin, and we teach them good table manners. Any faunt who can’t behave at the table is sent to eat on the naughty step and isn’t allowed any second helpings or pudding.’
‘He’s already sent us to the naughty step three times,’ Elrohir announced cheerfully, making his father glower at him, his expression alone promising a conversation between them in their near future.
‘Bilbo even sent me out one day, and I’m the oldest of us here.’ Glorfindel added. ‘That was the day with the food fight and he had to find extra stools.’ He grinned happily at the memory.
‘Fee and Kee ate most of their meals there for a couple of days when we first arrived. They’d been playing pranks on people,’ Elladan explained. ‘I doubt Bilbo would allow you any wine or ale with your dinner, Dáin, so better to do as he says.’
It was the threat of no alcohol rather than no pudding, which prompted Dáin to apologise to Bilbo and the elves.
‘It’s just a lot for a dwarf to get used to,’ Dáin confided to Glorfindel later as they watched Bilbo directing Fíli and the twins to lay the table. ‘I’ve been happily hating your guts for decades, and now I’m told you’re my ally. Told by a Hobbit at that!’
‘Well, he can be a very scary hobbit sometimes,’ Glorfindel answered. ‘ I understand from Fíli that Bilbo laid into your Maker at one point, and even He gave way, so don’t worry about it.’
Dáin stared at Glorfindel in frank astonishment. ‘He told our…What the—Thorin!’ he bellowed to his cousin. ‘Get your arse over here and tell me what the bloody hell’s going on!’
Thorin and Bilbo hurried over, the others close on their heels.
‘What did you say to him?’ Thorin asked Glorfindel as Dain’s face got redder and redder.
‘We were talking about how scary Bilbo can be and how he—Ah.’
‘Ah, what?’ Bilbo demanded. ‘What about me? I’m not scary, I’m a Hobbit! How can I be scary?’
There was an immediate outburst of laughter.
‘Uncle Bilbo, you’re one of the scariest people I know!’ Fíli told him, but his grin took away the sting of his words.’ You’re scarier thanwhen you get going.’
‘Glorfindel, what did you say to Dáin?’ Elrond asked with a sharp look at his friend.
‘That Bilbo told off Lord Aulë, one day. Except I don’t think Dain knows about that.’
‘About what?’ Dáin demanded. ‘You’re all talking in bloody riddles!’
‘It’s a long story, cousin,’ Thorin told him, ‘and in all the excitement of your arrival and Durin’s Day and everything, we simply forgot to tell you.’
‘For fuck’s sake, Thorin, tell me what?’
‘As I said, it’s a long story, and the feast is ready, so let’s take our places and we’ll explain everything over dinner.’
‘…so there you have it, Dáin,’ Bilbo concluded. ‘Thorin, Kíli, Fíli, and I returned to the past to right some wrongs and to carry out some tasks for the Valar.’ He held up a hand as Dáin opened his mouth. ‘And that’s all we can tell you at the moment, so—’
Bifur interrupted his explanation to Dáin by bursting into the room, terribly agitated. As Bifur was supposed to be on Guard duty with an elf from Lothlórien, Thorin stumbled to his feet, looking to Bofur for a translation of the archaic form of Khuzdul.
‘Don’t panic, it’s not orcs,’ Bofur told those gathered around the table, holding up his hands to stop all the questions. ‘There’re lights approaching, though, led by a few people on horseback, from the looks of it, but there’s no screaming or howling as there would be if it were orcs coming.’ He listened for a moment more and nodded to his cousin. ‘Bifur thinks they might be the folk from Lake-town as they’re mostly all tall’uns.’
Relieving though Bofur’s words were, by common consent the feast was abandoned in favour of either the Lookout for the elves and Dáin, or the King’s Doors for the Company, while Bilbo and Bombur disappeared deeper into the mountain to make final preparations of the King’s Hall for the people of Esgaroth. By the time they returned to the Gates, their preparations complete, the approaching figures were recognisable as men from Lake-town accompanied by…
‘Gandalf!’ Bilbo exclaimed as he watched the three horses begin the final climb up to the front doorstep, Bard and his son on one horse while his two girls were mounted together on another, and on the third horse was a familiar grey clad figure with a large grey pointed hat.
Gandalf removed his pipe from his mouth as he returned the stares of the gathered Company, then raised his head to the sounds coming from the Lookout above them. His mouth fell open when he recognised the elves watching him, and Bilbo couldn’t help the shiver of anticipation which swept through him at Gandalf’s expression. We have a lot of explaining to do; he told Thorin through their bond.
I regret nothing, Thorin told him in return, making Bilbo give a snort of nervous laughter he tried quickly to cover.
‘Bilbo Baggins! Thorin Oakenshield!’ Gandalf called out loudly. ‘You have a lot of explaining to do!’
Neither Bilbo nor Thorin could help dissolving into laughter, and they supported each other as they continued to laugh while the other Dwarrow gave them looks of consternation.
‘You think this is amusing!?’ Gandalf bellowed, his aura darkening and flaring, and making the pair howl even more with laughter.
Elrond and his sons appeared and while the twins led Gandalf’s and Bard’s horses through to the stables, Elrond greeted Gandalf, giving Thorin and Bilbo time to gather their wits.
‘My apologies, Tharkûn,’ Thorin could say at last. ‘Welcome to Erebor.’
‘Welcome to Erebor?’ Gandalf repeated, his aura still apparent, albeit a little dimmed. ‘You weren’t even due to enter the mountain until today, and yet I find you fully ensconced and surrounded by elves! What is the meaning of this!’
‘You must be tired from your journey, Gandalf,’ Bilbo told him, now fully recovered from his laughter. ‘And someone needs to show Bard and his people to the quarters we’ve prepared for them. Thorin and Lord Elrond will escort you to the rooms we are using while Bombur and I will take care of the people from Lake-town.’
Gandalf was still glowering at everyone and everything, but allowed himself to be led away, giving Bilbo a fierce glare which promised a conversation in their future. Bilbo grinned happily back at him, causing the wizard’s glare to deepen and darken.
‘We always knew Gandalf would be a problem,’ Fíli murmured in Bilbo’s ear. ‘We’ll leaveand Lord Elrond to take care of him and help you with the Lake-towners.’
Their refugees from Lake-town – between two and three hundred men, women and children – were settled in the King’s Halls within the hour, and the chickens, pigs, and goats they brought with them taken to the stables. A group of elves who were camping out in the market place brought baskets of food and drink from their own Durin’s Day feast to share with the new arrivals, and everything appeared to be sorted.
‘This has gone far too smoothly,’ Bilbo muttered to himself.
Bombur and Fíli overheard him, and Fíli laughed. ‘Don’t knock it, Bilbo. Just accept it for what it is.’
‘But I feel as though we’ve missed something. Something important.’ He looked around at the groups of men and elves and frowned. ‘Surely there should be more people than this. And where’s the Master?’
Bard’s eldest daughter heard his question from where she was helping a mother spread out her blankets over a straw pallet. ‘The Master left two days ago, after we saw the elves march past the town,’ she replied, wiping her hands down her skirts. ‘Most of his followers either left at the same time or disappeared that night. Some others said they weren’t prepared to die in a dwarf battle and took themselves and their families up river towards Mirkwood abandoning the rest of us. The Master loaded the treasury into a boat and set off upriver towards Mirkwood without a word to anyone.’
‘He just left?’ Bilbo asked, frowning. ‘The last I heard, he was demanding we prepare rooms for him in the Royal quarters. Why would he just leave like that?’
Sigrid shrugged, her lips pressed together in a hard line. ‘I don’t know and I don’t care. I hate him. We all hate him, the selfish, grasping—’
Bilbo reached up to pat her shoulder gently. ‘Don’t get so worked up. He’s gone now, that’s what matters.’
‘Gone, yes, and the town treasury with him! How can we rebuild Dale or Lake-town with no money? How can we feed ourselves with no money?’
Fíli appeared at Sigrid’s side and took her hand. ‘Don’t worry, Miss Sigrid. We’ll help you. We’ll help the entire town. You have my promise.’
Sigrid’s already pink cheeks reddened further as Fíli comforted her, and Bilbo removed his hand from her shoulder, but she didn’t even notice as she smiled gently at Fíli. He grinned to himself, nudged Bombur, and the pair retreated together, dragging a pouting Kíli with them as they went.
Gandalf and Bard, meanwhile, were escorted to the rooms the Company and their guests were using. Once they were both settled in a chair with a plate of food and a glass of wine in front of them, the wizard mellowed a little.
‘Tell me everything,’ Gandalf ordered Thorin, taking a sip of his wine and smiling appreciatively at Elrond. ‘From Imladris, I believe?’
Elrond nodded and took a seat beside him, picking up his own glass as he did. ‘I thought Thorin and his Company would appreciate a few bottles of wine.’
‘And indeed we do,’ Thorin agreed, collecting his own glass and sitting opposite Gandalf rather than at the head of the table as he was previously. ‘While our feast has been disturbed, I can still wish you both – wish everyone here – a blessed and fruitful New Year.’ He raised his glass in a toast while the others scrambled to retake their places and raise their own glasses.
‘To a blessed New Year and a fruitful alliance,’ Legolas said as he raised his glass to Thorin, making Gandalf narrow his eyes.
‘Prince Legolas. Is your father not here?’
‘He prefers to remain within his palace,’ Legolas explained to Gandalf. ‘I will lead the Elves of Mirkwood into battle.’
‘Into battle, eh?’ repeated Gandalf, nodding and pursing his lips. ‘And what would you know about a battle, Legolas Greenleaf? What do any of you know about a battle? I haven’t told you about it yet.’
‘I’m afraid we weren’t completely honest with you on the Carrock, Tharkûn,’ Thorin began, his gaze fixed on Gandalf’s icy demeanour, and causing the Maia to scowl.
‘I knew there was something odd going on.’
Thorin ignored him and turned to Bard, who had taken a seat next to Haldir. ‘And as I told you before, Bard, descendent of Girion, there was much I couldn’t tell you back in Lake-town, but what I did tell you was the truth, as you can now see for yourself. We have support from the Iron Hills, from Mirkwood, and Rivendell, and from Lothlórien, and now we have the support of the men from Lake-town. I’ll tell you the rest of our tale now.’
He looked back at Gandalf, who was now busily eating while still paying him full attention, and related the story of their return for the second time that day.
Bilbo came in while Thorin was still busy explaining their tale to Gandalf and Bard, and slipped into the seat next to Bard. In an undertone he explained Sigrid was putting Tilda and Bain to bed in the second apartment with Fíli, then he moved back to his own seat to finish his meal. By the time Fíli and Sigrid entered the room, both Bard and Gandalf knew everything they needed to know.
‘There’s much you’re not telling us, I’m certain,’ Gandalf told Thorin, ‘but I’m prepared to wait. What I want to know now is why you didn’t tell me before I left for the High Fells and Dol Guldur?’
‘Because we couldn’t be certain you would still go to Dol Guldur,’ Thorin admitted frankly. ‘We weren’t certain if Sauron could influence the battle in some manner were he still there, nor if he could discern your thoughts.’
‘Discern my thoughts! If you’d only explained to me—’
‘Oh, come on, Gandalf!’ Bilbo snapped crossly. ‘You would never have allowed us to continue on our journey without either demanding we tell you everything, or without you trying to interfere in our plans.’
Gandalf looked at him in shock, but before he could reply, Elrond nodded in agreement, surprising the wizard even further.
‘Bilbo speaks the truth, Mithrandir, and you know he does. He and King Thorin are here on a mission from the Valar and you must not try to persuade them to deviate from their tasks.’
‘There is no but,’ Thorin said flatly. ‘We have our instructions and we have our tasks to fulfil. That’s all you need to know. We welcome your help and your advice, but we can’t promise to follow it and we won’t be swayed from our mission.’
Gandalf sat back in his chair, his lips pressed tightly together in a manner Bilbo recognised, and which he usually saw on the faces of faunts who didn’t get their own way. Fíli motioned Sigrid to the chair at Bilbo’s right, at the head of the table, while he settled into the spare seat on Bilbo’s other side.
‘We’ve settled your people in the King’s Halls, Lord Bard,’ he said to the Bowman who gave a start at the title.
‘I’m no lord,’ he said, shaking his head, making Bilbo smile.
‘No, you’re not,’ he agreed. ‘In the last timeline they crowned you King of Dale. Would you prefer that title, your majesty?’
The look of sheer horror on Bard’s face made the others around the table laugh and drew their attention away from Gandalf for a moment, giving him time to absorb their revelations.
‘How many of your people will join us in our fight?’ Thorin asked Bard, accepting his unfinished plate of food from Bilbo with a small smile and a nod, and making Gandalf narrow his eyes.
‘The twenty-five bowmen from the Town Archers I command,’ Bard replied, ‘along with twenty-five from the Town Guard and two hundred of the townsmen who bear arms. What forces do you have gathered here?’
‘Over three thousand elven warriors, and five hundred dwarrow from the Iron Hills,’ Thorin told him. ‘We also have seventy-five elven healers along with our own Óin. With your men, we have a combined force of over four thousand warriors. The Great Eagles and Beorn will join us too.’
‘Is it enough?’
‘It will have to be,’ Thorin said grimly. ‘Fortunately, as we already know their plan of attack, we’ve been able to create a few traps and diversions which will, hopefully, aid us. I’ll take you to the War Room we’ve set up tomorrow and go through our plans with you. We also have weapons and armour prepared for your men. It’s all…’ Thorin paused and frowned, then looked over to Bilbo. ‘Where is it all?’
‘Silly dwarf,’ Bilbo said affectionately. ‘We put it in one of the rooms off the King’s Hall, don’t you remember Fíli and Kíli helping you carry it there?’ Bilbo turned his attention to Bard. ‘It’s been so hectic here over the last few weeks none of us know if we’re coming or going, but we’re as prepared as we can be, if one can ever be said to be prepared for war.’
‘How can you possibly prepare for the unknown?’ Gandalf asked. ‘You should have done as I instructed you and waited for my arrival before entering this mountain. Who knows what malign influence has affected you, especially you, Thorin!’
Much to Gandalf’s surprise, Bilbo considered, Thorin didn’t react to his comments other than to take a sip of his wine. He examined the liquid in the glass, smiled at Elrond, and tipped the glass slightly towards him. He took another sip, then carefully set the glass back on the table, and Bilbo bit the inside of his cheek to prevent himself from laughing at his dwarf’s actions. Only then did Thorin sit back in his seat and smile at Gandalf; a perfectly pleasant smile and the mirror image of his usual demeanour in the early part of their journey.
‘As you said to Lord Elrond yourself, Tharkûn, the throne of Erebor is my birthright.’
Gandalf narrowed his eyes, possibly at having his words used against him, then, to Bilbo’s surprise, his lips twitched and he nodded his head slowly. ‘And I can be a foolish old man at times, Thorin Oakenshield. Too busy to see what’s right in front of him, and I don’t just mean the mark of Mahal you sport.’ He gave Bilbo a deliberate look, then turned back to Thorin and raised his eyebrows. ‘Hobbits really are amazing creatures, you know. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you.’
Bilbo grinned happily at him and reached around Fíli for Thorin’s hand, while Fíli scooted his chair back, giving his uncles more space. ‘We are amazing, Gandalf, but I have to tell you, dwarrow can be pretty amazing as well when you get to know them.’
‘Dwarrow? Is that another part of your story?’
Thorin nodded and tugged Bilbo and his chair close to his, leaving Fíli to move to sit next to Sigrid – something he looked more than happy to do. ‘There is still much to tell, Gandalf, but today is Durin’s Day and I have a gift for my One.’
He nodded to Fíli, who disappeared from the room and then turned Bilbo’s chair to face him and sank to one knee. ‘I have a second courting gift for you,, and though the family gift is usually the last gift to present, I need to give you this today.’
Fíli returned with a small package in his hands and handed it to Thorin. Bilbo heard a familiar clink and smiled at Thorin in anticipation. Thorin unwrapped the package and displayed a small tunic of silver chain mail. Gandalf let out a sudden intake of breath at the sight, and the others peered over the table to see the mithril tunic.
‘It is an heirloom of my line, one said to have been worn by the second Durin when he was a child. I never wore it, being too young when we were forced to leave Erebor, but it is now back in the hands of my family. Bilbo, son of Bungo and Belladonna, grandson of Gerontius Took, will you accept this gift, the gift of my line?’
“Of cour—’ Bilbo broke off, remembering what Balin had said about official vows. ‘I, Bilbo, son of Bungo and Belladonna, do accept the gift of your line, Thorin, son of Durin, King Under the Mountain.’ He took the mithril tunic from Thorin’s hands, smiling a little at the bittersweet memories it kindled.
‘May I see it, Bilbo?’ Elrond asked, and Bilbo passed it over to him.
‘You don’t appear to be particularly surprised,’ Balin commented to Bilbo.
‘Thorin gave it to me last time, too,’ Bilbo answered, letting his fingers run gently down Thorin’s cheek. ‘But I didn’t understand either the significance or the value of the gift then. Unsurprisingly, he failed to explain what it was, the silly dwarf.’
Thorin caught Bilbo’s fingers and kissed them, then got to his feet and smiled at his companions. ‘Bombur and Bilbo have provided us with a feast to enjoy, so please, eat, drink, and we’ll tell Gandalf the rest of our tale.’
There were no sore heads in any part of Erebor, not even Bofur’s, the morning following the Durin’s Day feast. Gandalf had listened carefully to Thorin’s explanation about the curse and Mahal’s protection against it, while Bilbo explained about his and Thorin’s relationship.
Eventually, Gandalf sat back in his chair and nursed his cup of coffee. ‘You are becoming the king I always knew you could be, Thorin, and with Bilbo at your side, there is likely little you can’t achieve together. I won’t ask for details about the rest of your tasks, but know that I will help you complete them as much as I can.’
Thorin nodded, accepting his vow, but Bilbo remained a little unsure. During their journey to Erebor there were several spats between Wizard and King in Exile, and in Bilbo’s opinion both were equally to blame. Gandalf was annoyed when Thorin refused to follow his ‘advice’, while Thorin was annoyed and frustrated when Gandalf tried to pressure him to change his mind once he’d made a decision that didn’t suit the wizard. How this would work out between the pair of them on their journey to Mordor, Bilbo wasn’t certain, and wasn’t certain he wanted to find out, although he knew Gandalf’s help had been invaluable to Frodo on his journey.
We can work out the details later, amrâlimê, Thorin told him. We’ll just need to be sure Gandalf knows who will be in charge.
You, you mean? Bilbo asked and felt Thorin’s amusement through their bond.
No,. You are the Ring-bearer. You will lead our journey.
The allies who gathered for breakfast in different parts of the Mountain that morning were united not only in their hunger but also in their apprehension for what the following days would bring.
‘The period of waiting is always the hardest part of a battle,’ Elrond commented over breakfast. ‘We’ve made all possible preparations; swords are sharpened to a razor edge; arrows are checked and double checked for any imperfections; and armour is polished enough to dazzle your enemy’s eyes in the sun. There’s nothing further to do until the first arrow is fired.’
‘What I remember most about the battle last time is the smell,’ Fíli said, his eyes unfocused as he gazed at the wall behind Elrond. ‘The stink of the trolls, of orc blood, of fear. I hadn’t realised until then that fear has its own scent.’ His youthful face was far grimmer than usual, and the force he used to cut a slice of meat spoke of the tension within him.
‘For me it was the noise,’ Kíli admitted quietly, looking down at his plate. ‘The clash of metal on metal; the thud as the rocks from the troll-slings landed; the shouting, the howling, the cries for help. We heard those even inside the city, but when we finally joined the fight, it was much worse. Much, much worse.’ He looked up and met Thorin’s eyes. ‘The sounds of battle, that’s what I remember most.’
Bilbo, seated between the two princes, couldn’t help putting his arms around each of his boys. There was no verbal response he could give, which wouldn’t sound trite, so he made his reply with a warm hug to each of them.
‘Several of Roäc’s ravens are out scouting for us,’ Thorin informed them, changing the subject abruptly. ‘Reports come in every few hours. At the last check-in, the army from Mount Gundabad was on its way through the Grey Mountains, but it’s travelling at night as it’s mostly Goblins in it. If everything happens as it did before, their last day of travel will be in daylight with a force of were-bats flying overhead to block out the sun, and they’ll arrive a few hours after the battle begins.’
‘And the army from Dol Guldur?’ Gandalf asked. ‘I saw it mustering not three weeks ago.’
‘They’re already on the march north,’ Thorin nodded. ‘It looks as though they’re making for somewhere within Mirkwood. As soon as they disappear underground, we’ll know their attack is imminent, and the ravens will let us know when that is. If nothing changes, then the first attack will begin in the early morning two days hence.’
‘Bombur and I are retiring to the kitchens to make as many travelling bars as we can,’ Bilbo told the gathered group. ‘I know there’s no time to eat in a battle, but it’s always handy to have a snack stashed away if you have a moment to breathe.’
‘Spoken like a true Hobbit!’ Elrohir said, smiling at Bilbo.
‘Indeed,’ Thorin agreed, meeting Bilbo’s eyes and giving him a soft smile. ‘If more of us valued food and cheer over hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.’
‘Silly, soppy, dwarf,’ Bilbo muttered under his breath, although his eyes were misty as he looked at Thorin, who rewarded him with a kiss pressed into his curls as his dwarf stood up.
‘We will retire to the war room,’ Thorin told him. ‘I want to show Dáin, Bard, and Gandalf the plans we’ve made.’
Thorin led the way into the room just off the throne room they’d designated the war room and which had been Thror’s council chamber before Smaug attacked. It had a large, centrally placed table upon which lay several maps of the city, and a whole pile of different lists about the battle and about the priorities for Erebor once it was over.
Thorin, Bilbo, and the boys had each summarised the battle in the last timeline from their own point of view, recalling as they did a number of bits which had slipped their minds. It enabled Thorin, Dwalin, and Balin, the main war council – or the Old Codger’s Club as Bilbo irreverently named them – to plan in minute detail what was going to happen, and what they wanted to happen.
Fíli joined the council as the Durin heir so he knew what was being planned, and also to give him experience in planning, as life in Ered Luin had been more hand to mouth with little opportunity for actual plans. Mostly, however, it was Thorin’s determination that Fíli would not be left in the position he had been after Azanulbizar. If Thorin were killed, Fíli would know what to do next and how to do it.
‘We’ve briefed the different commanders on the overall plan and on their own individual roles within it,’ Thorin explained to Dáin, Bard, and Gandalf while the elves and those of his Company who’d joined them studied the maps and held quiet conversations. ‘The four of us made notes about everything we could remember from the battle last time, and we’ve handed them to the various Commanders and sub-commanders to give them an idea of what they would face and when. I’ll make sure you three have copies as well. Most of my Company have their individual command roles—’
‘But I’ll be staying as close to your arse as possible,’ Dwalin interrupted, surprising Thorin as he hadn’t noticed him standing so close. ‘On the instructions of Bilbo and my brother. And I know which one of them I fear most!’
‘Some of my lieutenants won’t be happy about it,’ Dáin sighed. ‘Stupid fuckers.’
‘Nevertheless, that’s the way it’s going to be,’ Thorin told him. ‘My Mountain. My command.’
‘I don’t disagree,’ Dáin said mildly. ‘You are our King. The thing is, only a few of the bastards have experience of anything other than small skirmishes. And just like you, cousin, I lost most of the senior lords at Azanulbizar. These’re their sons in most cases; all full of their own prowess, with nae a brain between ‘em, and no common sense either!’
‘Just like us at Azanulbizar,’ Thorin admitted ruefully. ‘It’s bad enough I have to let my own boys fight now, but at least they’re both of age. We were all mere striplings back then. I was fifty-three, Dwalin was fifty, and you were how old, Dáin?’
‘Just turned forty-eight,’ Dáin admitted.
‘And Frerin was barely forty,’ Thorin continued. ‘None of us were of age, and none of us should have been there. It’s why I set the minimum age for battle – or anything which risks life and limb – at seventy-seven. Frerin didn’t get to live any of his life; that’s what I most regret about Azanulbizar.’
‘Far too many of our people died,’ Dwalin agreed. ‘But I doubt your decree would affect any of those who are determined to fight. Can you honestly say that we wouldn’t have been at Azanulbizar given the choice, Thorin?’
Thorin sighed. ‘No, I can’t. But we shouldn’t have even been given the choice is what I’m saying. War isn’t for anyone underage, not dwarrow, men, or-or hobbits even!’
‘I quite agree,’ Gandalf said. ‘Better still would be no wars at all, but that will not happen. There will always be evil in the world and, thankfully, there will always be those willing to fight against it.’
Thorin nodded. ‘And that’s our job tomorrow. We’ll fight and we’ll defeat evil.’
Guard duty on the Lookout was now being shared between the dwarrow, the elves, and the men from Lake-town, one from each race on duty at all times. The rota included the Company, but not Bilbo who vehemently protested being left out, but had to admit that he couldn’t see over the Lookout wall without standing on the box Thorin had built for him or peering through a narrow arrow slit. He joined Thorin whenever he was on duty, though, just to make a point.
The pair were on the Lookout with Bard and Haldir the evening before the battle was due to begin, and tension within the mountain was increasing by the hour.
‘Fíli and Kíli had a big row just before I came out here,’ Bilbo announced as he cuddled into Thorin’s fur coat to keep warm. ‘As far as I can tell, Fíli had moved something belonging to Kíli in their room, but it’s such a mess I have no idea how Kíli even noticed.’
‘The lead up to a battle is always thus,’ Haldir told Bilbo with a small smile. ‘We are all preparing ourselves for the fight mentally, and the building pressure has nowhere to disperse.’
‘I can’t comment on that as the only other proper battle I’ve been involved in was this one,’ Bilbo replied with a wry laugh. ‘And I spent part of that unconscious after being hit on the head.’ He suddenly realised Bard wasn’t paying any attention to the conversation, but was peering down the Long Valley even as the sky darkened. ‘Bard? Can you see something?’
‘I’m not sure. Haldir, you’ve got the best eyesight. Can you see a shape flying towards us?’
His question made Thorin focus in the direction he was looking, and he squinted into the dusk. ‘Dwarrow have great eyesight in the dark when underground, but it’s not as good above ground,’ he muttered, half to himself.
‘There is something there,’ Haldir confirmed, ‘but…I think it’s an eagle,’ he finished abruptly. ‘I’m certain it is.’
‘Just one?’ Thorin frowned.
‘It…It looks like it, but I think he’s carrying something on his back.’
‘Beorn, perhaps?’ Bilbo suggested. ‘He came with the eagles last time.’
‘Bilbo, fetch Elrond,’ Thorin ordered, his eyes still fixed on the dark shape coming ever closer to the city. ‘Gandalf as well, if you can find him.’
Muttering under his breath about manners and dwarrow, Bilbo disappeared inside the mountain, and by the time he returned with Elrond, it was clear the shape was an eagle.
‘Is that Radagast on the back of Gwaihir?’ Elrond asked, peering into the night. ‘It certainly looks like him.’
‘We weren’t expecting him, but he’s more than welcome,’ Thorin said, peering into the failing light.
‘Where’s Gwaihir going to land?’ Haldir asked suddenly.
Elrond, Thorin, and Bard looked at each other.
‘Good point,’ Thorin nodded, and they turned and disappeared inside the city.
Gwaihir landed on the plain in front of the city and Radagast tumbled from his back, his hair and clothing as unkempt as ever. He nodded to Thorin and disappeared into the mountain without uttering a word.
‘Roäc is on his way, but I can fly faster than he,’ Gwaihir explained as he drew closer to the reception committee, ‘and this is news you need immediately. The Orc Army has disappeared underground at the East Bight within Mirkwood.’
‘Where’s the East Blight?’ Fíli demanded, panting as he and Kíli arrived at a run from inside the mountain.
‘East Bight,’ Elrond corrected. ‘It’s a clearing in the southeast of Mirkwood, at the narrowest point, and it’s about eighty miles from Dol Guldur.’
‘And how far is it to here?’ Kíli asked, pushing his way through the group to stand next to Thorin where he could see what was happening.
Elrond thought for a moment. ‘Just under two hundred miles, I think. Gwaihir? How far do you think it is?’
‘Not as far as it is from Erebor to Imladris.’
‘Which tells us nothing,’ Kíli muttered, not quite under his breath.
‘Eagles do not measure distance in the same way as other races, twice-born,’ Gwaihir told him sternly.
Thorin reached over and smacked Kili’s head. ‘Apologise for your rudeness!’ he ordered and turned to Gwaihir. ‘I’m very sorry, my Lord. He’s young and foolish.’
‘Foolish, certainly,’ Fíli murmured inadvisedly as he was also within reach of his uncle, who promptly smacked his head and rolled his eyes at Elrond, whose lips twitched.
‘Sorry, Gw—Lord Gwaihir,’ Kíli said politely, rubbing his head.
‘I, too, have impudent young,’ Gwaihir said to Thorin. ‘I believe all young are the same regardless of race.’
‘Indeed,’ Thorin sighed. ‘Where will you spend the night, my Lord? We can supply food and water for you, if you need it.’
‘I will rest further up the mountain, but require no food. My brothers will arrive tomorrow morning with Beorn who prefers not to enter the city.’
Thorin nodded. ‘I understand. There will be guards on the Lookout all night if you need anything, otherwise, please take your rest.’ He turned to the others as Gwaihir took off to find a place to sleep. ‘Bolg will push his troops as much as he can, so I expect the armies will be here in the early part of the morning. Let’s get what rest we can.’
Very few people in Erebor slept that night, except for the Lake-town children. Bilbo and Thorin lay side by side staring at the ceiling for what felt like hours until Bilbo rolled himself out of bed.
‘I’m going to make some tea and begin breakfast. I doubt we’re the only ones awake.’
Thorin grunted and swung his legs over the side of the bed, beginning to pull on his usual clothes, then paused. His internal clock told him it was still a couple of hours until dawn, but they needed to be ready to move at any point. ‘Bilbo. Put on your mithril tunic. You may not have time to change later.’
Bilbo paused in pulling on his breeches and stared at him, feeling the blood drain from his face. ‘I…I don’t know if I’m ready for this,’ he murmured, and sat down heavily on the bed. ‘What if things don’t go as planned? What if history repeats itself? I don’t think I can spend the rest of my life alone again, Thorin. I really don’t. And what about—’
Thorin hurried around the bed and tugged him gently into his arms, sinking onto the edge of the bed, Bilbo in his lap. ‘I will not leave you again,. Not if I can help it.’
‘But that’s it, isn’t it?’ Bilbo mumbled against Thorin’s chest. ‘You can’t promise not to leave me because we both know things can go terribly wrong in an instant. I know you’ll be with me on the Lookout, organising everything, but a stray arrow could hit you, or-or something break off the mountain and fall, or—’
‘Hush,. A rock could fall on me any day, not just during the battle. I could slip on a staircase, miss my footing in a mine. There are many, many ways an accident could happen outside of a battle, but we cannot lock ourselves away in fear for all time. The Valar sent us back, and we have to trust in them.’ He kissed Bilbo’s lips, then pushed him gently to his feet. ‘Put on your tunic, amrâlimê, and have faith in our abilities and in our protectors.’
Bilbo bent forward to snatch another kiss and – for once – did as he was told while Thorin pulled on his own garments over which would go the armour from some distant family member found in the royal quarters. He hadn’t even looked for the golden armour he’d worn during the period of his gold-sickness.
The pair left their bedroom hand in hand, and when they entered the dining room, they found several of their party already there, with Bombur busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast and baking bread.
‘It helps to work off some of my ill humour on the dough,’ he informed Bilbo when he joined the rotund dwarf. ‘Want a go?’
Bilbo took some dough willingly and set about thumping it as he might an orc. ‘I’m feeling much better,’ he informed Bombur later as he patted it into shape for proving. ‘I always do when baking bread. What else can I do?’
Back in the dining room, Thorin fell into conversation about future plans for the city with those guests and members of his Company who were present. Any mention of the battle was tacitly avoided for the moment.
‘We must make trading alliances as soon as possible,’ Thorin said, taking a sip of the coffee which Bifur passed to him. ‘It’ll be a struggle to get us through the winter, especially if Lake-town is destroyed, as we suspect it will be. The Lake-towners brought as much as they could carry and Bard said they’d smashed the causeway as they left, but it won’t prevent the orcs getting into it if they want to.’
‘Not much stops them,’ Legolas agreed, taking a seat at the table. ‘Mirkwood will help you all we can. We are used to trading with Lake-town and will continue to do so as long as the river remains free of ice.’
‘Lothlórien is also happy to begin trade with you immediately,’ Haldir added. ‘Especially if we use the River Anduin and can cross Mirkwood safely. My Lord Celeborn gave me permission to make an alliance as and when I thought best. It’s something we can discuss further after the battle.’
Thorin smiled at them both. ‘Thank you. I think Bilbo and Bombur will be the best people to talk to about what we want and need, but as you say, we can discuss—’
The sudden entry of Ori interrupted him.
‘Come…quickly,’ he panted. ‘Elf…big animal…horns.’
Thorin frowned at him for a moment, then his brow cleared. ‘Someone fetch Lord Elrond and Gandalf. It sounds as though Thranduil has decided to pay us a visit.’
Sure enough, there, in the early morning light and mounted on a massive elk, was Thranduil. Since the drawbridge was raised, he was waiting a few yards back from the River Running with an escort of eight elves, including Folmer, on foot. Thorin, along with most of his Company and his guests gathered on the Lookout, but far enough back that Thranduil couldn’t see them from his angle.
‘What does he want?’ Bilbo asked, peering through one of the arrow slits instead of standing on his box.
‘At a guess, me,’ Legolas said in a hard tone, most unlike his usual gentle voice, and he looked across to Thorin. ‘Do you want me to speak with him?’
‘It’d probably be best,’ Thorin said wryly. ‘I can’t see a conversation between him and me going well.’
Legolas gave a nod and stepped forward to the outer wall of the Lookout and peered down. ‘My King?’ he called out.
For a moment it didn’t look as though Thranduil had heard him, but the huff Legolas gave made Thorin think it was a deliberate move on the Elven king’s part.
‘So you are here,’ Thranduil drawled, finally looking up at his son. ‘I did wonder. But why are you locked away in a…dwarven hole?’
The disdain which dripped from his words, accompanied by the curl of his lip, made his opinion of Erebor very clear, and Thorin clenched his fists tightly until Bilbo forced his own fingers through Thorin’s left hand and squeezed gently.
‘He’s only trying to get you riled up,’ he murmured quietly. ‘Don’t let him win.’
‘Do you also have my army with you, or did the dragon eat them?’ Thranduil continued.
‘The dragon is dead, father.’
‘I see. Did my army kill him or is there some other reason they are here? I really would like them back, you know. I do hope you didn’t get them dirty.’
‘You know very well that I command the army now, father,’ Legolas huffed with a roll of his eyes.
Thorin felt his jaw stiffen, and he took a deep breath to calm himself, winning a look of approval from Elrond, who now joined Legolas at the Lookout wall.
‘We are about to fight a battle, Thranduil, King of Mirkwood,’ Elrond announced, and Thorin grinned inwardly at the scowl the use of ‘Mirkwood’ brought to the elf’s face. ‘The Orcs and Goblins of Mount Gundabad and Dol Guldur are marching even as we speak.’
‘Are they?’ Thranduil gave an exaggerated look around him. ‘Perhaps they’re hiding behind a rock. Regardless, I don’t see what this has to do with me, and I’m surprised you’ve allowed Aulë’s creatures to inveigle you into their quarrel, Elrond of Imladris. You can’t trust them, you know. Better to gather your people and leave while you can. Let the dwarves fight their own battles.’
‘This is a battle which affects the whole of Arda!’ Elrond snapped, his usual cool demeanour absent, and Thorin had never seen the elf look as angry as he did at present.. ‘Dol Guldur lies within your forest and its evil has spread unchecked. If you had done your duty and taken care of the situation, it may not have come to battle. You allowed the Necromancer to inhabit the fortress until the White Council discovered it was no sorcerer, but Sauron himself. We banished him from there just a week ago, and now the orcs from Moria have joined those from Dol Guldur and are heading here.’
‘This is not my fight,’ Thranduil retorted, clearly stung by Elrond’s remarks. ‘Nor the fight of my people, and I refuse to allow the dwarves to embroil us in their war.’ He turned to the Captain of his Guard. ‘Sound the recall, Folmer. I will have no elven blood spilled for faithless dwarves.’
Folmer lifted his horn to his mouth, only for Gandalf to knock it out of his hands with his staff.
‘This is a fight for everyone,’ the wizard thundered, his aura darkening around him. ‘If you will not fight for the dwarrow, Thranduil of Mirkwood, then fight for your own kingdom! You should be ashamed that others were forced to clear out a fortress on your lands. Your son brought the warriors of Mirkwood here and he will lead them into battle in your stead. You should think very carefully about your future, Thranduil Oropherial, because it looks to me as though the time has come for you to sail!’
‘How the fuck did Gandalf get down there?’ Thorin demanded. ‘The drawbridge is still up!’
‘He has several tricks up his sleeve,’ Elrond replied. ‘But I think he’s given Thranduil a few things to think about!’
‘I’ll go down and talk to him,’ Legolas sighed, rubbing his face. ‘Who knows? Maybe I can talk some sense into him.’
‘Good luck with that!’ Thorin huffed, still smarting at Thranduil’s reference to the dwarrow as ‘Aulë’s creatures’ and the implication of their inferiority.
‘Leave him to Legolas and Mithrandir, Thorin,’ Elrond told him, as though Thorin hadn’t spoken. ‘We have our own problems to worry about. Dawn is almost upon us.’
Thorin nodded while several of their companions headed back inside to either finish dressing or to eat breakfast.
‘I’ll bring you out some tea and toast,’ Bilbo promised as he disappeared into the mountain, leaving Thorin and Elrond on the Lookout gazing down at the Mirkwood King.
‘Open the gates and lower the drawbridge,’ Legolas ordered as he drew close to the King’s Gates.
The two Dwarrow on gate duty hesitated for a moment until Dwalin appeared and nodded to them.
‘I thought you might appreciate a little backup until Fíli and Kíli get here,’ he told Legolas. ‘They’re just getting dressed.’
Legolas nodded, then turned back to watch the gates opening slowly. His father was still facing the mountain and looked to be trying to ignore the Grey Wizard, quite unsuccessfully, as Gandalf continued to lecture him.
The drawbridge landed with a thud just as Fíli and Kíli raced through the entrance hall to Legolas’ side, Kíli still pulling on his surcoat, and the three of them walked out together with Legolas between the two brothers, while Dwalin disappeared back into the city.
‘Father,’ Legolas said again, bowing his head slightly as they reached the group of elves.
‘Has Oakenshield finally released you?’ Thranduil asked with a raised eyebrow, not bothering to dismount.
‘I came here of my own accord, as did the warriors who accompanied me.’
‘I doubt that very much.’
Legolas frowned at him. ‘Do you also doubt my word?’
‘Let us say rather that I fear the influences upon you.’
‘No one here is influencing your son,’ Fíli told Thranduil firmly. ‘He came of his own accord along with Elladan and Elrohir, and the Elves of Rivendell and Lothlórien.’
‘Who are you?’ Thranduil asked, looking down his nose at Fíli, his lip curled.
Legolas grabbed Kili’s hand. ‘He’s my friend, father, and King Thorin’s heir.’
‘Hmm.’ Thranduil continued to watch Fíli for a moment then turned his attention back to his son. ‘Heir, not son.’
‘I’m Thorin’s nephew,’ Fíli said briefly.
‘And who are your parents?’
‘Our father is dead, our mother is Thorin’s sister, Dís,’ Kíli said clutching Legolas’ other hand. ‘Thorin is all the father we remember.’
‘I sympathise with you.’ The elven king’s lip curled a little, angering Kíli.
‘Thorin may not be our birth father,’ he retorted loudly and clearly, ‘but he brought us up along with our mother, and he’s the only father we’ve ever known, so I’ll not hear a word against him, especially from you!’
His words reached Thorin and Elrond still standing on the Lookout, and Thorin gripped the wall in front of him to steady himself.
‘Bless the boy,’ Bilbo said, appearing at Thorin’s side with a large tray which Elrond relieved him of and placed on a bench up against the city wall. ‘See? I always said they—’
‘Look!’ came Kili’s voice, attracting the attention of those on the ground and the Lookout. Thorin looked back up to see what Kíli had spotted and saw the Great Eagles flying down Long Valley towards the city.
‘The Eagles,’ Bilbo muttered. ‘And Beorn too, I hope,’ he added .
‘Then we are all gathered,’ Thorin said in a low voice. ‘We don’t have long before the battle begins. Someone call for Bombur.’
The sound of the Horn of Erebor echoed throughout the city a few minutes later, calling its residents to their various positions, and down in front of the King’s Gates Legolas turned to Thranduil.
‘Fight alongside us, father. We would all be grateful for a warrior such as you at our side.’ At the second blast of the Horn, Legolas looked pleadingly up at his father. ‘I must go, but please, I beg of you. Fight at my side.’
Legolas waited for a moment, but there was no reply from Thranduil. He sighed and turned away, then he, Fíli, and Kíli, jogged back into the mountain.
Gandalf, who had remained silent during the discussion between Legolas and Thranduil, stared at the king for a moment. ‘You’re about to lose your only son. Is that what you want?’ Without giving the king time to reply, he continued. ‘He’s the only family you have left on Arda. Will you allow your dislike of Thorin Oakenshield to overpower your love for Legolas? Thorin is not his grandfather, and is here by the will of greater beings than you and I, Thranduil Oropherial.’
The king looked away. ‘Stay out of my business, Mithrandir, and go back to your beloved dwarves. I care not.’
Gandalf watched him for a second or two and sighed. ‘As you will.’ Movement from within the city caught his attention. ‘I must go. I have orcs to kill and a battle to win.’
It took perhaps an hour for people to get to the positions given them for the start of the battle. Thorin and Dwalin had constructed a system of flags, similar to the ones used by Azog previously, to direct their forces spread around the battlefield, and, they hoped, distract the orcs from the instructions issued by Bolg. Legolas and Kíli rode together up to the Eastern Saddle ready to fire flaming arrows into the fire traps, and they would then ride like the wind to get back to Dale where Fíli, Glorfindel, and the twins would be waiting for them.
Bofur, Bifur, & Nori were all being carried on the backs of three of Gwaihir’s brothers and would drop small bottles of Dwalin’s alcohol containing a lit wick which would – hopefully – ignite the larger bombs dropped at the same time into the holes dug by the were-worms. This was one of the less certain methods they were using, but no-one had been able to come up with a better method other than a suicide mission such as that used at the Battle of Helm’s Deep and explained by Legolas and Gimli to Bilbo on a visit they paid to Imladris after the Ring Quest.
Haldir led the spearmen and swordsmen of Lothlórien and Mirkwood to the centre of the Long Valley, where they would wait behind Dain’s dwarrow foot soldiers and their wall of iron shields. Rows of elven archers and most of Bard’s Lake-town archers stood further back still, ready to fire over the heads of their allies and into the ranks of the advancing army, while Tauriel would lead other archers to bring down Bolg and his command post.
Dain’s ram-drawn war chariots and heavy ballistas were positioned to one side, the ballistas firing javelins with spinning tails – twirly-whirlies, as Dáin called them – ready to fire an initial volley. They would then be driven between the ranks of the enemy, bringing down as many as they could with both their arrows and the blades attached to their wheels, ready to hamstring anyone who got too close to them. The remainder of the men from Lake-town were being kept in reserve for the moment, along with the elves of Imladris, and Thorin would direct some of them to where they could be of most use, while the rest would wait until the Mount Gundabad army arrived.
They were all as prepared as they could be.
An odd mist suddenly covered Ravenhill, and a deep rumbling sound came from underground, the earth trembling underfoot, giving them all a forewarning of what was about to happen. Thorin ordered Bombur to sound the Horn of Erebor: the battle was underway.
The three eagles took off with their dwarrow passengers, who were lighting their wicked bottles, ready to drop them as soon as the worms broke through the Eastern Ridge. The eagles circled for a few seconds, each trying to keep the position they’d been instructed to hold as Nori, Bifur, and Bofur carefully held the bottles, trying not to spill the contents, and prevent their fingers from being burned at the same time.
The sudden eruption of the first were-worm from its tunnel still took Thorin by surprise. He saw a flash of light as Bifur dropped his bomb and bottle actually into the gaping mouth of the monster, making it suddenly explode. It brought the tunnel down upon what remained of its own body and trapped the orc army beneath tons of rock.
Nori and Bofur weren’t quite as lucky. The emerging army simply trampled Bofur’s bottle and bomb underfoot, although Nori’s bomb caused a slight rockslide. It wasn’t sufficient to do anything other than slow down the enemy emerging from the wormhole as a second, different horn sounded and Bolg was revealed on his command post on Ravenhill.
‘It’s taken out a third of the army,’ Bilbo said optimistically. ‘It’s better than nothing, and there’re the other traps to go yet.’
As he spoke, a sudden wall of flame blocked the orc army from view, and the sound of howling and screaming, and later the scent of smoke and charred flesh, were carried to them on the breeze. As expected, the traps soon filled with enough bodies of orcs that those behind simply ran across them. Many of the larger berserker orcs, however, were in the first wave, thus removing them from the battle, and new shouts and howls drifted across the Lookout as the orcs encountered the deeper traps filled with the spiked balls.
‘That’s a good many of them dead or too badly injured to fight, and we’ve not even mounted an attack as yet,’ Bilbo told Thorin. ‘That’s good, isn’t it?’
‘It’s a start,’ Thorin nodded absently, his eyes fixed on the scene in front of him. ‘Now, Ori!’ he ordered, bringing down his arm, and Ori moved the flags to signal for a troop of elves to fire on Ravenhill just as Dain’s foot dwarrow in the Long Valley formed a familiar wall of steel facing the orcs hastening from the Eastern Ridge towards them. A second signal to the battlefield launched a wave of elven arrows into the mass of orcs approaching the steel wall, followed by a wave of Dain’s twirly-whirlies, some of which released blades which cut into the bodies of the Trolls at the back of the first wave.
There was an audible crash as the front row of orcs ran into the wall of dwarrow shields. The Elven swordsmen leapt over the dwarrow and their wall, and into the fray, slashing and stabbing as they twisted their way through the mass of orcs. A further order from Bolg brought a fresh wave of Olog-hai & Ogres from the two tunnels and Dain’s twirly-whirlies were in action again, trying to cut down as many as possible before the war-chariots were sent into battle.
At times it was almost impossible to make out enemy from ally in the confusion of the battlefield, even from the height of the Lookout, but Thorin could see his people were standing firm against Bolg’s army, despite the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. Two of the massive orc-driven ogres turned their attention on Beorn and Radagast, who were working together at one point, and they would have been killed, or badly injured, if not for Bofur and Bifur. The cousins killed the orcs and took control of the ogres themselves, turning them instead on the thousands of enemy orcs, and leaving Radagast to call up vines from the ground to wrap around the legs of the bigger creatures and bring them down while Beorn went in after him to kill them.
Dáin appeared to be everywhere at once, swinging his own massive mace from side to side, supported by warriors mounted on war-goats, and Thorin felt a sudden pang of guilt. I should be out there with them. For now, though, he was busy directing his forces to launch their strikes, then move on to the next attack.
Their plans were working, yet Thorin couldn’t help his growing resentment at sending his brethren and allies to die on his behalf while he remained safe in the city. A part of him began to regret the promise Bilbo had asked him to make.
‘Thorin?’ Bilbo asked in concern. ‘Are you alright?’
‘I should be out there, leading my people,’ he muttered, almost to himself, but Bilbo heard him.
‘But you are leading them, Thorin. You’re controlling the battle, just as Bolg is, and just as Azog did. Someone has to be in charge and make sure everything happens.’ Bilbo’s voice was urgent, and an unspoken plea ran through it.
‘And Bolg is still up there!’ Thorin snapped. ‘The archers can’t even get an arrow close to him. As long as he stands, there can be no victory!’
‘You are not going up there! You can’t. You promised, Thorin!’ Bilbo’s voice broke on his name.
‘Then how are we going to kill him!?’
‘We wait for Gwaihir, for the eagles! You can’t go!’
Thorin cursed fluently under his breath and turned to Ori, thereby turning his back on Bilbo. ‘Signal for Gwaihir to come to the mountain, Ori, then signal to Tauriel’s elves to stop wasting arrows on him. They won’t manage it despite all their practicing!’
He turned back to face the battlefield, deliberately ignoring the look of distress on Bilbo’s face, and from the corner of his eye he saw Bilbo turn away, his shoulders low and his eyes fixed firmly on the ground
‘Gwaihir’s coming, Thorin,’ Ori called out, and Thorin focussed on the eagle flying towards him rather than on Bilbo. He tried to shut away the memory of calling his One a Shire-rat from this very place. Unbidden, words from Kíli flashed across his mind. ‘I will not hide behind a wall of stone, while others fight our battles for us!’ He closed his eyes at the memory of his reply: ‘Durin’s folk do not flee from a fight’.
At a sudden breeze, he opened his eyes to find Gwaihir landing on the ledge to which he and Dwalin had climbed decades ago.
‘King Thorin,’ Gwaihir called down to him.
‘My Lord Gwaihir. The archers can’t reach Bolg, so I need you to…’
‘Bilbo,’ Elrond said to the hobbit in a low voice as Bilbo turned away from Thorin, and Bilbo glanced to the doorway where Elrond was standing. He didn’t think Thorin had even noticed his arrival. ‘Bilbo, you cannot keep Thorin tied to your apron strings.’
Bilbo frowned at the comment and was about to deny it when Elrond spoke again.
‘Thorin is King of all Dwarrow, and I think you forget that sometimes. You must let him do what he thinks is best. Let him be the king we all know he can be.’
‘But he promised he wouldn’t—’
‘I suspect you gave him no choice but to make that vow. Am I right?’
It was as though Elrond could see deep into his soul.
‘…maybe?’ he acknowledged in a small voice. ‘But—’
‘You do him no favours by forcing him to remain at your side. I, above all, know this. I did the same after Celebrían was injured, I’m sure you know the story. I begged her to stay for our children and for me, but mainly, I admit, for me. I didn’t think I could live without her, yet every day it became clearer that she couldn’t live with me. In the end it was Galadriel who told me the truth. I was being selfish keeping her at my side.’
‘Elrond, he died in my arms.’
‘And I’m sure he’ll do his best not to do so again, but the Lord Aulë gave him a task to do, just as he did you. You must let him fulfil his vow to his Maker, Bilbo. It comes even before his vow to you, my friend.’
Bilbo turned and watched Thorin for a moment, feeling his heart might break. He nodded to Elrond and tried to smile, suspecting it came out more as a grimace, and slipped inside the doorway. He ran silently down the stairs and into the Guardroom they’d used after killing Smaug almost seven weeks ago. Little noise filtered down the staircase once the door was closed, and it was difficult to believe enemies and allies alike were dying outside the mountain.
He sat for a moment thinking about Elrond’s words, and his admission of selfishness – thankful Thorin was too busy to pick up on his thoughts. Was he being selfish? He just didn’t want Thorin to die! That wasn’t being selfish, that was—
The door from the Entrance Hall banged open and Bard hurried through and up the staircase to the Lookout. Bilbo doubted Bard had even seen him in his—
Bard, who lost his wife shortly after Tilda’s birth, and whose children had no other close family. Bard, the only adult in their lives who was about to lead a group of men out onto the battlefield to fight for their future safety, and who might not return to them.
Bilbo felt his cheeks heat as he realised how selfish he was being with his insistence that Thorin remain here. Every single one of his other friends – Elf and Dwarf, Maia and Man – was or would be out on the battlefield, knowing they might never come back.
Eyes and hands clenched, Bilbo allowed a wave of shame to pass through him, then he squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and marched back up to the Lookout and Thorin.
From the angle of the sun Bilbo realised he hadn’t been long, and he crossed to Thorin, resting his hand on his arm.
‘You were right, and I was utterly wrong,’ he told his soulmate. ‘I have no right to keep you from your duty. My job is to support you in all your endeavours, and I will try to keep that in mind. Now, what can I do?’
Thorin kept his eyes on the battlefield, but his arm came around Bilbo’s shoulder and he tugged him into a one-armed hug, and pressed a kiss against his curls. ‘You can fetch some water for us, amrâlimê. Lord Elrond and Bard will lead their people into battle as soon as we get word the Gundabad army is close.’
‘Are they close?’ Bilbo asked, staring into the distance.
‘A few hours judging by last time, but—’ Thorin broke off as an eagle flew towards them.
Landroval, Bilbo thought to himself. What…
‘Gwaihir is leading an attack on Ravenhill,’ Thorin explained, as though Bilbo had spoken aloud. ‘Bolg obviously hasn’t fallen,’ he added, almost to himself, ‘so what’s happened?’
Just as his brother had, so Landroval landed on the ledge above the Lookout.
‘Bolg is far too protected for us to get close to him,’ the eagle called down to Thorin. ‘He is partly sheltered by some ruins and has a small group of archers with him you failed to mention.’
‘I don’t recall any archers,’ Thorin frowned, ‘but it was later in the day when I got there and my mind was on Azog alone.’ He paused for a moment, and from his expression, Bilbo surmised he was considering their options. ‘You need someone to either distract the archers from firing on you,’ Thorin said slowly as he worked through his idea, ‘or you attract their attention while someone else takes them out.’
And that someone’s going to be you, isn’t it? Bilbo thought, his heart sinking.
‘We—’ Thorin began when Dwalin erupted onto the Lookout.
‘The boys and the elves aren’t on their way back! We should be able to see them by now. Roäc says there’s no sign of them, but the orcs look to have taken Dale!’
‘Something’s happened,’ Thorin said flatly, staring towards the ruined city. ‘They’d be on their way by now if they could be. I should have arranged some sort of signal if they got into trouble.’
‘Is there anyone we can send to find them?’ Bilbo asked.
Thorin glanced towards Elrond and Bard. ‘Yes, but it only leaves a few fresh men to fight the second army when it gets here, especially as we have Ravenhill to—.’
‘If someone doesn’t get to Dale now, it might be too bloody late!’ Dwalin interrupted.
‘Too late?’ Bilbo gulped.
‘It’s crawling with bastard orcs!’ Dwalin pointed at Dale where columns of smoke and dust were rising across the city as the orcs searched for the people they believed were there. The elves and princes had done too good a job at drawing them in.
‘If they’re trapped somewhere in there, the orcs will find them,’ Thorin muttered. ‘But Ravenhill—’
‘I will go to Ravenhill,’ Bard said, stepping forward. ‘We can go through the passage you showed to Dáin and we can attack Bolg while the eagles distract the archers, right, Master Landroval?’ Without waiting for a response from the eagle, he continued: ‘In any case, a small group like mine is far better than a whole column.’
‘You can’t give the Khuzdul password,’ Thorin said absently, and Bilbo was certain he was thinking about ways to get to Bolg. He took a deep breath and stepped into Thorin’s line of sight.
‘I can take them. I know the password and you know my Khuzdul is good enough. I’ve used it with you a couple of times, so I know I’ve got it right.’
‘Thorin, somebody needs to go,’ Dwalin told him urgently. ‘To Ravenhill and Dale.’
Thorin paused for a moment and Bilbo concentrated hard, trying to discern his thoughts, but only caught bits of them: I’m not happy with this…. I should be the one…someone needs to go…what about the signals…command of the…at least an hour and a half before they reach…
‘I will take over here,’ Elrond told Thorin quietly, appearing at his side. ‘I know the battle plan as well as you do. Go and rescue our sons, Thorin, and I will be fresh to lead my elves against the second army.’
‘And we will support Bilbo and Master Bard,’ Landroval said from above them. ‘I will tell my brothers of the change in our plans.’ There was a sharp downdraft as he took off, leaving Thorin with no option but to agree to the alternative plan.
He nodded to Elrond and gripped the elf’s arm. ‘Thank you, my friend.’ Then in a louder voice: ‘Bard. Make sure you all have good weapons and armour. There’s plenty of men-sized stuff we forged as well as arrows. And Bilbo.’ He looked down at him. ‘You take the greatest of care,. In fact, stay in the tunnel and let the men and the eagles take care of Bolg. I need to—’
‘We both need to go, Thorin,’ Bilbo told him, aware his voice was a little unsteady and hoping Thorin didn’t notice. ‘All of us, but please, please, take care. Both of you, take care,’ he added, glancing at Dwalin.
Thorin pulled him into a brief, but tight hug and gave him a gentle kiss. ‘We will.’ He turned to Ori. ‘Signal for the Company to return,’ he ordered, then gave Dwalin a grim smile. ‘Ready, old friend?’
‘As ready as you are, my King.’
They both disappeared into the mountain and Bilbo closed his eyes. Keep them safe, keep them all safe, my Lady and my Lord. Bring them all back to me in one piece.
It took a few minutes to get prepared to enter the passage, but eventually they were all ready. Bard checked the armour of the twenty men going with him and Bilbo, while Bilbo collected what lanterns he could. Finally, they were all ready and Bilbo opened the door of the large cupboard and stepped inside.
‘It’s not gonna be high enough for us through there,’ Bard heard one of his men mutter. ‘It’s built for Dwarves, not us!’
‘It’ll be high enough, don’t worry,’ he replied, turning his head slightly so his voice would carry. ‘Gandalf managed it and he’s taller than most of us.’
Bilbo backed out of the cupboard. ‘The door’s open. Do you want to lead, Bard, or shall I?’
‘I’ll lead with you just behind me,’ Bard decided.
‘The last person through the entrance here needs to pull the door shut behind him,’ Bilbo instructed the men behind Bard. ‘The door at the other end opens and closes automatically, but this one doesn’t.’
‘Then let’s get going!’ Bard entered the cupboard and felt a cool draft from ahead and he stepped from a wooden floor onto one of stone. He moved forward for a few yards to make space for the others, and waited for the signal they were all in the passage, holding up his lantern to look around at the smooth stone walls until Bilbo tapped his shoulder.
‘We’re all in.’
Bard nodded and set off walking, keeping up a good pace, and hoping Bilbo could keep up. Thorin said it was a two hour walk from the city to Ravenhill, but he hoped to cut that down by half, if possible. Time was running out.
The four long notes of Erebor’s horn drew the attention of those on the battlefield. All eyes turned to the front gates of the city, and Elrond watched, knowing from Bilbo’s description, what was about to happen.
With a resounding thud, the drawbridge fell across the river. Thorin Oakenshield emerged at the head of a V formation of dwarrow, swords and axes swinging. Their cries of ‘Du Bekâr! ’, were picked up by Dain’s army, and soon spread across the battlefield like a breeze across a cornfield.
‘Rally to the King! To the King!’ Dáin bellowed to his army from his new position close to the King’s Gates, rallying his warriors to support Thorin and his companions in their charge towards Dale. Elves, dwarrow and men alike were visibly rejuvenated by Thorin’s arrival, fighting with renewed vigour, simply by the king’s presence on the battlefield.
The attack against them was merciless. Bolg sent in wave after wave of orcs and his most fearsome war beasts, but the allied forces repelled them all. Foot by foot, it seemed, Thorin and his Company, now joined by Dain, made their way inexorably towards the ruined city.
They’d been walking for well over an hour, Bard decided as the passage sloped sharply uphill, and he knew they must be close to their destination.
‘Quiet now,’ he told the man behind Bilbo in a low voice. ‘We don’t know if they can hear us.’
They passed the order back down the line in equally low tones until Bard heard someone mutter, ‘They’d have to have bloody good hearing then,’ making him chuckle, despite the danger of their position
‘Come ahead of me now, Bilbo,’ he told the hobbit, pressing himself up against the wall to give him room to move past him. ‘And when we get to the end, you open the door and let us out, but stay in the tunnel until we get back. Thorin explained how to get the stairs to open and we can manage that, but I don’t want you getting into any trouble or getting hurt. Thorin would never forgive me.’
‘I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself,’ Bilbo objected, and Bard could see his scowl in the light from his lantern. ‘I’ve probably fought more orcs than you have.’
‘Perhaps, but if you get injured, we might not get back into the passage,’ Bard said firmly. Bilbo’s huff told him his wily stratagem had failed.
It took a few more minutes, but eventually they went from rough to smooth stone underfoot and on the walls. There was more room in the passage too, not quite a small room, but sufficient space for the men to draw their weapons ready to attack.
‘Remember, we don’t know if anyone’s going to be actually in the guard post,’ Bard warned. ‘Once you’re out of the passage, make room for the person behind you, but keep a lookout for anyone else around. We know there’s a second army on the way, we just don’t know when exactly.’
Bilbo positioned himself in front of the wall ahead of them and took a deep breath. ‘,’ he said clearly. For a moment Bard thought it hadn’t worked, then the wall slid sideways revealing a small stone room. ‘The stair won’t open while this door is open,’ Bilbo explained. ‘I need to be on the other side of this door so I can open it again for you, but I’m not sure we can all fit through there at once.’
He was right, Bard realised, and he quickly numbered his party off into groups of four, then Bilbo gave the password again. The stone door slid shut just as a light appeared above them with a low grinding noise.
‘Bifur made sure everything was oiled and working properly,’ Bilbo explained to Bard in a low voice. ‘He couldn’t get rid of the noise altogether, though.’
‘Hopefully, no one’s close enough to hear it.’
Two of his group were already out of the stair opening by the time the grinding stopped, and the third followed quickly after them.
‘We’ll stay close by as long as we can,’ Bard murmured to Bilbo before he gave a last grin and swung himself up and out of the secret room.
He sent Reeve and Jasper to have a quick look around while Bilbo closed the stair ready for the next group to emerge and, gripping his sword, he listened carefully. There was no noise at all from beneath the staircase until the stair itself slid back, and what had sounded extremely loud from under the stair, was much quieter on this side, and he sighed in relief.
Reeve appeared at the top of the stairs. ‘It’s all clear on this level,’ he called down to Bard quietly. ‘I can see to the end of the spur where the signals are, and I think the big orc is in or behind some ruins there. The eagles are overhead, but are staying just out of range of the arrows and there’s no sign the orcs’ve heard anything.’
‘How many orcs are there?’
‘I saw four around the ruins with more probably with him, and two others prowling around and looking over the edge of the spur, but they’re obviously not expecting an attack to come from here.’
‘Good. Let’s try to keep it that way,’ Bard said, nodding to Reeve, then turning his attention back to the five men emerging from the stair.
Jasper came back into the guard post through the outer door. ‘I’ve counted four other Orcs patrolling the area, but they’re not bothering with the guard post itself.’
All of his companions were now waiting for Bard to direct them. The stair had closed again, meaning Bilbo was safe underground, and Bard knew where the mechanism for opening the stair again was. They were ready, and the eagles were ready.
As soon as they released their flaming arrows towards the fire-traps, Legolas and Kíli raced for their waiting horse, and Legolas swung himself up and held out a hand for Kíli to pull him up. Kíli settled behind him, keeping an arrow notched in his bow, ready to fire.
‘It worked,’ he told Legolas triumphantly. ‘I wasn’t sure I had the distance, but I did.’
‘All your practice has paid off,’ he heard Legolas say, but any further comment was lost in the howls and screams of the enemy.
By the time they were in reach of Dale, the two sides were fully engaged on the battlefield and Kíli could barely hear himself think above the screams, shouts, and cries from all around. He was forced to switch to using his sword and knife when orcs got too close to them in the plain, but Dáin, busy enjoying himself in the midst of the battlefield, had shouted to his dwarrow to clear a way for them as they drew closer to Dale, and four of his knights on their war goats rode with them, two in front and two behind them to keep most of the orcs away, Kíli easily taking care of the ones who got through.
The city of Dale appeared empty as they rode over the bridge, but once inside the city walls Glorfindel met them and led them to an old stable to tie up their horse alongside the others as they would be needed for a quick escape once the orcs breached the city.
‘The twins are in the last surviving bell tower fitting enough rope to ring the bells,’ the elf told them. ‘I’ve just come from Fee who has the dummy heads in place and is waiting for you, Kee.’
Kíli nodded and sped off to find his brother. Glorfindel’s idea was to mount several helm-wearing fake heads on sticks and parade them along a wall, along with strategically placed straw stuffed dummies, to dupe the enemy into believing they were men and to attack accordingly. Once the orcs were committed, Dale was rigged with booby traps to kill them: simple ones like piles of rocks to fall when a door was opened, or difficult to see thin wires strung between buildings at foot or neck height which when triggered released rocks to crush the advancing enemy. Other wires were so thin and taut they would decapitate an orc running into it, or cut into the chest of a taller being.
Deadfall traps – heavy rocks or other deadly items supported by wood or metal, activated by knocking away the support – were ready to be triggered as the enemy advanced either to kill or divert the orcs, and included a mace-like device, dreamed up by Dwalin, which would release a large wrecking ball on a chain, made up of spikes and knives. There were also few ground traps like the ones on the battlefield, but the ground within the city was too solid for even dwarrow axes in the time they had to prepare.
At least, that was the plan.
Initially, everything went just as expected. The troll catapults shot boulders at the spots where the dummies were placed, and at where Fíli and Kili’s helm-covered heads could be seen, and the twins were busy ringing the remaining bell as a further distraction to the enemy. Glorfindel and Legolas found a building intact enough for them to climb unseen up to the roof, to watch what was happening, and know which choke points to use to drive the orcs into the various traps.
As soon as the orcs breached the inner wall of the city, the six of them would race to their meeting point where a trap needed to be triggered. They’d then get the horses, trigger the last trap, and ride like the winds of Manwë out of the city. When Glorfindel and Legolas got to the meeting point, however, only the twins were waiting for them.
‘Where’re Fee and Kee?’ Glorfindel demanded.
‘We’ve been here for a couple of minutes and there’s no sign of them,’ Elladan answered. ‘They must be held up somewhere.’
Elrohir nodded. ‘Well, we can’t leave without them. Why don’t we split up and look for them in case something’s happened?’
Every instinct Glorfindel had screamed at him to disagree, but as the orcs were about to breach the walls, he realised they had little choice. ‘Legolas, get the horses ready to go, twins, go find the princes. If they’re hurt, it’ll take both of you to get them to the stable. I’ll trigger the final two traps by myself.’
‘Can you do them both alone?’ Legolas asked with a frown, just as Elladan instructed him to take care.
‘Ada will murder both of us if we go back without you.’
‘I can manage, and you won’t be going back without me. Now go find our missing princes and we’ll meet at the stables in fifteen minutes!’ Glorfindel ordered, and watched as they all sped off.
Glorfindel could trigger the first trap from where he was as soon as the orcs were close enough. The complicated device of ropes, rocks, and wooden planks would drop an enormous pile of rocks on anyone in the narrow street underneath. The second, a deadfall trap, was further away, intended to be set off only when they had the horses and could make a rapid retreat. Doing it on foot was more dangerous, but Glorfindel had no other option.
He knew when the orcs broke into the city by the ever nearing sound of their shouts and howls. Trying to picture in his mind exactly where they were, he triggered the first trap. He knew it had worked from the sudden increase in volume of the howls two streets away. He was about to set off for the last trap just as Kíli appeared around a corner supporting a limping Fíli.
‘Fíli tripped and fell,’ Kíli called to Glorfindel. He looked around and frowned. ‘Where are the others?’
There was no time to talk.
‘Get to the stables and wait for the others there,’ Glorfindel ordered. ‘I’m off to activate the last trap.’ He set off on his own mission, aware he’d already lost a few precious seconds.
By the time he reached the upper levels of the house in which they’d placed the last trap, he knew it was too late to trigger it. The enemy now surrounded the house. Glorfindel needed to work out how he could escape. He knew the others would wait for him, but didn’t know for how long. It wasn’t something they’d discussed. Common sense might prevail, but he also knew the twins and the two dwarrow princes in the short time he’d been in Erebor. He was aware it would fall to Legolas to get them to leave.
If any of them get themselves killed, I’m going to kick all their arses. Even if I have to storm the Halls of Mahal to do it!
‘What’s the plan, cousin?’ Dáin bellowed as he neared Thorin, battling side by side with Dwalin.
‘The boys are trapped in Dale!’
Within seconds, two war-goats were hauled in front of them.
‘I’ll give ye a breeding pair for a wedding present,’ Dáin yelled at him. ‘Come on, then. We need to go.’
‘He’s right,’ panted Balin, appearing at Thorin’s side, his sword dripping with black blood. ‘Go, we’ll get to you as soon as we can.’
Thorin gripped his shoulder for a moment, then threw his leg over one of the goats, hoping he remembered how to ride. Turning them to face the ruined city, he and Dwalin dug in their heels and urged the goats forward, slashing and stabbing at anything in their way. The shouts and grunts from behind suggested Dáin and Petal were following.
‘Do we all know what we’re doing?’ Bard asked again.
‘Bloody hell, Bard. Let’s just get on with it!’ Jasper snapped, gripping his sword and shield tightly. ‘Less talking, more action!’
Bard took a deep breath and held it for a moment. This was always the most difficult and most nerve-racking moment. Send his men in too early and they’d lose the element of surprise: send them in too late and it’d be a massacre. ‘Let’s go!’
Four of his group broke away to take care of the orcs patrolling the edges of the outcrop, and four more headed for the outlying orcs. The eagles were watching for their attack and began to draw the fire of Bolg’s archers, leaving Bard and his men to kill Bolg and his lieutenants.
Bard positioned his six archers to fire on the orc archers, hoping the eagles would occupy their attention until they got at least a few of them down. Two more orcs joined Bolg, but Bard couldn’t tell where they came from. He didn’t have time to care about it. They needed to kill orcs until there were none left. It was as simple as that.
Dale was getting closer, Thorin decided as he chopped the head off yet another orc trying to pull him off the war-goat, and he skirted the remains of an ogre, its head a few feet further on.
‘Oakenshield!’ a voice bellowed from above him, and Thorin glanced up to see Thranduil glowering down at him. ‘Are you deaf? I asked where in the city my son should be!’
‘How—’ Thorin began, then thought better of it. ‘Follow me!’ he yelled instead and tried to make the goat he was riding speed up.
Elk, goats, and boar were all labouring by the time they reached the bridge, which was, surprisingly, free from obstruction. During the planning stages they’d discussed whether to collapse it after the Dale group left the city, but a combination of time, difficulty, and the prospect of having to rebuild it afterwards made them decide against it. Right now, Thorin was very thankful they hadn’t.
They crossed the bridge in single file with Thorin in front. Dale appeared to be empty as they entered the city gates, but the sound of howling and shouting ahead was closer than from the battlefield behind, beyond the bridge. Orcs were in the city.
Thorin dismounted and looked around for somewhere to tie up his war-goat. Somewhere close to the gates was essential, as they would need to make a hasty retreat.
Dwalin’s call made him turn around and he saw his friend disappearing into a small room within the wall itself. One of the old guard posts. The two goats and the war-pig fitted in perfectly and, more to the point, couldn’t be seen from outside. Thranduil’s elk was another matter.
‘That big bugger ain’t going in there with my Petal,’ Dáin said flatly. ‘I don’t want no nonsense with yon bloody venison.’
‘My elk will wait for me here if I order him to,’ Thranduil returned, looking down his nose at the red-haired dwarf.
Dáin simply shrugged and turned to Thorin. ‘Where to now?’
‘The stable they’re using, deeper in the city.’ Thorin led them carefully and as quietly as they could through the streets, checking each corner as they went, but the shouts and howls were getting closer.
‘Thank Aulë you’re both alright,’ Legolas sighed as the two princes arrived at the stables where they’d tied the horses .
‘I’m fine, but Fili’s hurt his ankle,’ Kíli told him. ‘He tripped over a rock, the idiot, and I think it might be broken.’
‘Here, let me see.’ Legolas led Fíli to an old mounting block and lifted Fili’s left leg onto an old chest.
‘Should he keep it elevated?’ Kíli asked. ‘I’ve heard Óin say that.’
‘That only applies to blood wounds,’ Legolas said absently as he gently moved his fingers over the ankle, noticing Fili’s flinch when he pressed a little too firmly. ‘It’s certainly broken,’ he agreed as he sat back on his heels, ‘but the good news is that it’s not dislocated as well.’
‘That’s good news?’ Fíli managed to ask, grimacing in pain as he shifted his leg.
‘Keep still!’ Legolas ordered. ‘If we strap it up and you’re careful, you won’t do any more damage to it before we get back to the mountain.’
‘The same mountain which is five miles away across a battlefield full of orcs?’ Kili’s tone was dry as dust. ‘We’re still missing the twins, and Glor went to trigger the last trap. He should be here by now, shouldn’t he? He can move faster than we could.’
‘You saw Glor?’
Kíli nodded. ‘He was still at the meeting point when we got there. He told us he’d meet us here and dashed away to set off the trap.’
‘The twins went off to look for you as well. They should be back any minute. We know we don’t have much time now the orcs have broken through the city wall.’
‘But we’re not leaving without Glor!’ Fíli lifted his head to glare at Legolas, who held up a hand.
‘No, of course not. At least, not yet. We can wait a few more minutes.’
‘We don’t leave without Glor,’ Fíli said firmly. ‘He wouldn’t leave without us.’
That’s very true, Legolas admitted to himself. Glorfindel’s death in the First Age was in defence of his people, and he hadn’t changed. Sighing, Legolas considered how to get Fíli and Kíli out of Dale and back to Erebor. They weren’t tall enough to ride a horse without an elf with them, but Legolas knew he couldn’t leave until the twins, at least, got back. They could then ride with the two princes while he tried to find Glorfindel who, he suspected, was trapped somewhere by the orcs. Where being the important bit.
He’d almost decided to leave the princes and try to find Glorfindel on his own when footsteps sounded in the small yard outside the stable. He notched an arrow and pointed it at the door. In the periphery of his sight he saw Kíli was doing the same while Fíli grasped his sword in one hand and a dagger in the other.
The footsteps grew closer and a low voice called out, ‘Legolas!’
‘In here,’ he replied and lowered his bow. Kíli followed his example, but his frown told Legolas he hadn’t heard Elrohir’s voice. ‘It’s the twins,’ Legolas said quietly, just as the pair came into the stable.
‘We thought it best to warn you—’
—before you shot us.’ The twins grinned at him, then noticed Fíli still seated on the ground with his foot elevated.
‘What happened?’ Elladan demanded.
‘I tripped,’ Fíli explained briefly. ‘Have you seen Glor?’
‘No, but neither did we hear the last trap go, which we should have done. There were enough rocks to make a decent noise.’
‘He was probably too late,’ Kíli sighed. ‘He was about to leave the meeting point when we arrived. He told us to come here just as he raced off.’
‘So, he’s probably trapped in that house,’ Elladan agreed. ‘How would he get out?’
‘Over the rooftops,’ Elrohir said firmly. ‘It’s the only way he could go with orcs everywhere. It’s how we would get out.’
‘And if we’re not careful, we’re going to get trapped in here,’ Kíli pointed out.
Legolas made an instant decision. ‘Fíli, you stay where you are, but keep your sword at hand just in case. Kíli, go up into the hayloft so you can see through the window and door if any orcs enter the yard. Kill them if you can, but warn Fíli the moment you see them.’ He took a breath, his mind working feverishly to plot out their movements. ‘How good are you at climbing, twins?’
Elladan smirked at him. ‘As good as you are, if not better.’
‘Then get as high as you can and see if you can spot Glor. I’ll try to get to him through the city.’ He gave a sudden grin. ‘I know which street leads to which lane. One advantage of having played around these ruins for decades.’
‘Even with the dragon on the doorstep?’ Fíli asked with a raised eyebrow.
‘Particularly with the dragon on the doorstep. It added spice to the adventure!’
Dale was strangely still. The clashing of metal on metal so prevalent outside the city was absent from within. At one street end they came across a group of orcs leading a blinded ogre on a rope, the ogre armed with a massive spiked club. They made short work of the orcs with their four swords, then tugged the ogre to the ground where Dwalin severed its head almost in an act of pity. Thorin heard him muttering under his breath about the cruelty of Sauron.
They turned another corner to bring them to the street off which lay the stable yard, when a second, larger group of orcs found them. Thorin slashed, stabbed, and swiped at his enemy, glad to have not only Orcrist in his hand this time but also his oaken shield fastened to his arm. The four of them were outnumbered, though. Two orcs appeared behind the one he was fighting, and he swung Orcrist for what might be a final time. Both orcs suddenly fell to the ground, arrows deeply embedded in their skulls. Thorin risked a glance up and saw Legolas and Glorfindel on a rooftop, each notching double shots of arrows. The twins were also up high, making their way carefully towards them.
‘Thorin!’ Dwalin bellowed, and Thorin took another deep breath and began swinging at the orcs again. More and more of them appeared, as if from thin air, but more and more arrows were striking and felling them even as Thorin and his companions tried to fight their way past. They reached the narrow alley leading to the stable yard with the elves on the rooftops still covering them.
Thorin wondered how many arrows they had left, followed closely by Why isn’t Kíli with them? Heart in his mouth, Thorin dived into the alley as his companions continued to hold back the orcs.
‘Kíli? Fíli?’ he called out, aware anyone inside the stable would be on their guard.
‘In here, Indâd,’ Fíli shouted back, and Thorin knew just by his tone something was wrong.
‘What happened?’ he demanded as soon as he was through the doorway.
‘Broke my ankle,’ Fíli told him, his relief at seeing Thorin apparent. ‘Made us late to the meeting point. Glor had to set off the last trap on his own.’
‘We think he got trapped by orcs,’ Kíli added, jumping down from the hayloft. ‘Legolas and the twins have gone to find him.’
‘They’ve found him. They helped us fight off the orcs in the street.’
‘Who’s us?’ Kíli demanded, helping his brother get to his single foot, the other wrapped in what looked like bits of a shirt and two pieces of wood holding his leg and ankle straight.
‘Me, Dwalin, Dáin, and Thranduil.’
‘Thranduil? What’s he doing here?’ Kíli demanded.
‘Probably the same as Thorin,’ Fíli managed to say as he took deep breaths and leaned on his uncle for support. ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get back, indâd.’
‘Dwalin and I will carry you if we have to,’ Thorin told him, running his hand gently over Fili’s hair.
‘I told the others they should just leave me,’ Fíli confided in a low voice.
‘We would never do that,’ Kíli whispered, putting his arm around his brother and hugging him.
It had to have happened above an hour ago, so Thorin knew Fíli must be in agony by now. I should have brought pain reliever with me.
A noise in the yard had all three of them swinging around, and Thorin gripped Orcrist firmly in his hand.
‘We need to leave, now!’ Dwalin yelled, followed by the crash of metal on metal.
‘Orcs are in the yard,’ Fíli muttered. ‘Leave me here and get out.’
Thorin ignored him as he glanced at the four horses, wondering if he could hoist Fíli onto the back of one of them.
The twins’ abrupt arrival made him sigh in relief. One twin went for the horses while the other took Fíli from Thorin’s arms.
‘Clear the way, Thorin. We’ll get your boys back to Erebor,’ Elladan told him with a grim smile. ‘Legolas and Glor are with Dáin and Thranduil.’
Thorin nodded his thanks, pressed a kiss to both his boys’ cheeks, and gripped Orcrist. He was at Dwalin’s side in seconds and, fighting together as they had for so many years, they cleared the yard of orcs.
The battle in the street was just as fierce. Legolas and Thranduil were fighting back to back. Glorfindel was fighting as close to Dáin as he dared with the dwarf swinging his mace and bellowing. ‘Baruk Khazâd! ’
Thorin sensed movement behind him in the alley and knew the horses were there, ready to move as soon as the path was clear. He threw himself into the fray, Dwalin, as ever, by his side.
Bard slashed and stabbed with his sword as he worked his way towards Bolg. The eagles were still drawing the fire of most of Bolg’s archers, and his own were occupying the rest. Jasper appeared at his side and they fought in unison, bringing down another one of Bolg’s massive lieutenants.
‘Wilfrid’s injured,’ Jasper yelled at him over the sounds of the battle. ‘A bad sword wound. I saw Godwin help him back to the guard post. Bilbo will take care of him. We got both the orcs we went after, though.’
Although Bard nodded, he doubted Jasper saw it. They focused their attention on killing orcs and staying alive. A sudden howl from his left made him glance over to see young Edmun disappearing over the edge of the plateau, and he gritted his teeth and fought on.
The other men were tiring now, he could see. Most were fishermen, and though used to heavy and dirty work, they didn’t have the stamina he and Jasper had as Lake-town archers. First Cedrick, and then Reeve were brought down by the Orcs. Bard couldn’t see how bad their injuries were, or even if they were still alive.
The eagles couldn’t get close enough to help them, and Bard, now down to eight swordsmen, wished he’d brought more of his archers with him. Men he was familiar fighting alongside instead of fishermen and shopkeepers.
Movement to one side caught his attention, and he gave a quick glance to his left. Two of the larger orcs were down, but there was no one near them. Further away, Wilkins was hacking the heads of other fallen orcs. Bard risked a look behind to see Bilbo standing on a high outcrop using a slingshot with remarkable accuracy.
Bloody idiot! I told him to stay hidden. His moment of inattention allowed an orc to get too close to him. The thwack of a club hitting his head and pain rippling out from it was the last thing he remembered.
The fight was ferocious. Black orc and red ogre blood was everywhere. Thorin had to wipe his hand on his surcoat to stop Orcrist from slipping.
An orc was driving an ogre towards Legolas and his father. Thorin yelled out a warning just in time for Thranduil to slash off the ogre’s arm. The club thudded onto the cobbles, loosening a few and making the bloody street even more dangerous. More and more orcs were arriving.
At last a path down to the river was clear, and Thorin felt rather than saw the horses race past him.
‘They’re leaving our horses by the bridge!’ Thorin heard Legolas shout to Glorfindel, who simply nodded as he plunged his sword into the belly of another orc.
‘To the river,’ he yelled to Dwalin, and they began to move, inch by inch, towards safety.
Another ogre stumbled towards them repeatedly smashing down its club, the orc driver slumped over its shoulder with an arrow through its skull. Thorin saw where the next smashes would fall and grabbed for one of Dwalin’s axes, pushing him away. He threw it with all the force he had, hitting the ogre between its sightless eyes even as Dwalin glared at him. He grasped the handle of the axe as the ogre collapsed just where Dwalin had been standing.
‘You’re welcome!’ Thorin bellowed in Dwalin’s direction, only to be answered with a one handed gesture.
They were almost at the end of the street when Legolas gave a cry of ‘Dwalin!’ One of the large, iron-armoured berserker orcs with sharpened tusks attached to its arms and shoulders was bearing down on his friend. Only a long sword stood a chance of injuring the orc, and Thorin realised none of Dwalin’s weapons were long enough. With strength he didn’t realise he had, Thorin pushed past three or four orcs, cutting them down as he went. He reached Dwalin’s side just as the orc was bringing down the twin-bladed axe. Thorin threw up Orcrist to stop the axe falling, but was now in the same position as when he’d fought Azog. He couldn’t defend himself as all his strength was being used to hold back the axe, nor could he attack.
For a split second he thought he was going to fall again. This time, though, he had Dwalin at his side. Now Thorin was engaging the orc’s single blade, Dwalin could use Grasper and Keeper elsewhere. A step to the side, and a double swipe, back and forth, cut deep into the orc’s lower legs. It crumpled where it stood, allowing Thorin’s blade to complete its sweep and cut deeply upwards into the orc’s throat.
They were almost at the guard post where their mounts were waiting when two troops of orcs came racing towards them from opposite directions. They were going to be trapped. Legolas’ arrows felled several in the furthest group before they got into range to use their handheld weapons. The rest of them fought the other, larger and closer troop. Thorin and Dwalin fought back to back again until Thorin noticed Dáin trying to fight off three orcs determined to eviscerate him. He charged towards the orcs, Orcrist held high and his shield before him.
Dáin saw him coming and grinned at him, yelling ‘Baruk Khazâd! Ai-rusê!’ The orcs’ surprise paused them just long enough for Thorin to slice off the head of the one closest to him. This gave Dáin time to smash his mace into the second orc while the third one was caught by the mace on its return swing, pushing it onto the blade of Orcrist.
Thorin wrenched Orcrist from the orc and swung around, ready for the next. Legolas unexpectedly fumbled one of his long knives in the close quarter fight. Thorin was too far away to help. He and Dwalin moved as fast as they could to his position, hoping to be in time, swords and axes slashing and cutting into the orcs between them and Legolas. Thranduil was faster. With an unbelievable burst of speed, he leapt in front of his son just as a large orc swung his jagged-edged scimitar with both hands.
Everything appeared to slow, just as it had for Thorin up on Ravenhill. The orc blade moved upwards, its black coating appearing to gleam in the sunlight. Thranduil was too close to the orc to use his own sword for a counterattack. He reached for the dagger attached to his belt, when a shout from the bridge distracted him. His personal guards had finally caught up with him. The orc’s blade struck the king’s armoured breast-plate. It continued to slice upwards, scratching across the metal. It reached Thranduil’s neck and ripped deep into the flesh. Blood sprayed out, but still the scimitar continued upwards, cutting through the flesh.
‘No!’ Blood splattered across Legolas’ face. He reached around to stab his knife deep into the orc’s own face and twisted back to catch the body as it collapsed.
Legolas cradled his father in his arms, tears streaming down his cheeks while Thranduil’s guards helped the others to dispatch the rest of the orcs.
‘Come on, lad,’ Dáin said gently, bending slightly to steady Thranduil’s body as Thorin and Dwalin helped Legolas to his feet. ‘We need to go, now!’
Bolg was dead. Bolg was dead and his command post shattered. That much was clear from Dale.
The battle didn’t stop abruptly, not like it did for Aragorn at the Black Gate, Thorin thought, recalling what Bilbo had told him. The fighting continued around them, even as he and Dwalin helped carry Thranduil back to his elk. The King’s personal guard defended them until they reached where they’d left their mounts, but took the body as soon as they reached the city wall. Glorfindel had Legolas with him, and he helped him onto the elk, arranging Thranduil’s body across the animal in front of him for the journey back to Erebor.
The enemy forces within Dale were now all dead, or they’d escaped while they could. As Thorin and his companions crossed the bridge, he could see a steady stream of orcs running away from the battlefield, no matter how hard Bolg’s lieutenants in the Long Valley whipped and berated them. The stream quickly became a flood as more and more of the orcs and olog-hai, and some more intelligent, un-mutilated trolls, realised the command post was obliterated, and they escaped while they still could.
Returning to Erebor was easier than the outward ride, although there were still groups of orcs and olog-hai continuing to fight, and still scores of wargs attacking anything and everything. They were intelligent enough to lie hidden behind or even within piles of dead orcs and trolls, and attacked when least expected. Dáin was again swinging his mace back and forth, and from side to side where he could, slaying anything which came too close to him. Thorin saw two figures, on horses he recognised as belonging to Elrond and Haldir, come out onto the battlefield with a group of archers and swordsmen to dispatch the numbers of mutilated war beasts, abandoned in the Long Valley while their drivers escaped. Thorin made a mental note to make sure all the enemy fallen were burnt as soon as possible lest they foul the land even further.
The elves accompanying Thranduil’s body back to the city rode or ran in silence, and somehow word of Thranduil’s death was spreading across the battlefield. Most of the elves were running back towards Erebor, forming two lines between which Legolas would ride, and Thorin recalled Thranduil was the last Elven king in Middle Earth. The dwarrow and the men on the battlefield were also falling into line to pay their own respects, and Thorin wondered if similar lines had formed for his boys and himself after the battle last time, dismissing the thought as quickly as it arrived. Here and now the battle was won.
‘Where’s Bilbo?’ Thorin demanded as entered his city, not even bothering to dismount. ‘Is he back yet?’
A shout of ‘Indâd’ came from the main staircase before anyone could reply, and Kíli appeared, flushed and dirty, but in one piece. Thorin quickly dismounted and as Kíli threw himself towards him, drew him into a hug and pressed their heads together.
‘Fili’s malingering in the Infirmary,’ Kíli told him with a grin. ‘He’s perfectly capable of walking with a support, but he’s happy being fussed over by Sigrid.’ His smile suddenly vanished. ‘Is it true Thranduil’s dead?’ he asked in a low voice.
‘He died protecting Legolas,’ Thorin nodded. ‘The way any father would, I think. I can’t say I liked him, but he’s more than earned my respect. Have you seen Bilbo?’
Kíli shook his head. ‘Lord Elrond said he escorted Bard to Ravenhill, but I thought there was some mistake. Why did Bilbo go and not anyone else?’
‘Bilbo wanted to go, bâhzundushuh.’
‘Why would he do that? And why did you let him, Thorin? It’s the last place he should be! Have you forgotten he killed Bolg’s father?!’
Ice stabbed deep into Thorin’s heart, and he froze. How did I forget? ‘Has anyone checked the passageway?’ he demanded, not waiting for an answer before racing for the guard room where the passage began, concentrating on their bond to reach him. Bilbo? Bilbo!
I’m fine, stoopid. Bashed about a bit, but fine.
‘Melhekhel Shamrûnusullu,’ Thorin all but shouted at the cupboard, and the door slid back.
‘Thank fuck for that,’ they heard Jasper say from within the passage as several dirty faced and shivering men appeared.
‘Bilbo?’ he demanded again, loudly.
‘I’m right here,’ a voice replied, but it didn’t sound at all like Bilbo.
After three injured men were carried out from the passage, one being an unconscious Bard, Bilbo finally appeared, his face streaked with dirt and blood, his split lip and rapidly colouring cheek accounting for his odd speech.
‘…thing I ever saw,’ Jasper was telling the waiting crowd as Thorin pulled Bilbo into his arms. ‘Bard’s head were all bashed in with a bloody massive club and the bastard orc was about to stab him so I had me hands full with that. Bilbo, who should’ve been back in the passage, but thank Eru he wasn’t, were busy with a slingshot I didn’t even know he had. He brought the buggers down even when they started firing arrows at him, even though they all missed, and Wilkins there stabbed ‘em to make sure they were dead.
‘Then, when the eagles started flying at the big orcs, Bilbo charged towards that ugly bastard Bolg with just a dagger in his hand! Stabbed him straight up the arse, he did, an’ out the other side, and the big bastard twice his size. It were his size that made the difference, see? They wasn’t expecting an attack from down there. Course, when he was down all the other buggers scarpered and that’s when Bilbo got smashed in the face. It weren’t too bad when we first got into the tunnel, but by the time we got back here, his mouth were too swollen to give the password. We thought we’d be in there all sodding night!’
Someone produced a cask of ale and before Thorin knew it, a party broke out in the entrance hall and further out into the city. Fíli and Sigrid appeared before long, Fíli hobbling along on crutches, and Sigrid made sure he was safely seated where he wouldn’t get knocked over by some of the more boisterous dancing which was beginning, led, of course, by Bofur.
Bombur had prepared a stew at some point, and the bread Bilbo prepared earlier in the day was carried down to share, and other food was brought along from various parts of the city as everyone came to join the celebration. Thorin suspected the sore heads the following morning would not all be from the battle itself.
Bard finally appeared after about an hour, his head bandaged up and bruises developing on his face. He headed over to where Thorin and a now cleaned-up Bilbo were seated close together, with Fíli and Sigrid, who jumped to her feet when she saw her father.
‘Shouldn’t you be in bed?’ Bilbo demanded of Bard through his swollen lips, as Sigrid settled her father into a comfy chair.
‘Shouldn’t you?’ Bard parried.
Sigrid frowned at her father. ‘He’s just too stubborn to do what Master Óin and the elven healers told him,’ she said to Bilbo, shaking her head.
‘I don’t intend to miss out on the celebration,’ Bard told her firmly. ‘I’ve earned this. There’ll be time for resting later: if we have anywhere to rest, that is.’
‘Jasper mentioned he and a few of the other men are intending to ride down to Lake-town tomorrow and see what damage it suffered,’ Thorin informed him. ‘It’s possible the orcs didn’t hang around to loot or destroy the town, and Lord Gwaihir said there was no smoke from anything burning when he flew over a little earlier. Maybe destroying the causeway was enough.’
Bard looked a little sceptical, but he nodded to Thorin. ‘Perhaps. Now, tell me, what casualties did we suffer? I saw Cedrick and Reeve go down, and I also saw Edmun go over the edge of the plateau, poor kid. He was barely seventeen.’
‘Edmun, did you say?’ Jasper asked, appearing at Bard’s side with a drink in his hand for him. ‘He’s over there playing the flute.’ He nodded towards a group of musicians Bofur was now attempting to make into a band. ‘I din’t know he could play an instrument.’
Bard stared at an auburn-headed young man who was laughing at something – probably a rude joke made by Bofur, Thorin suspected, resignedly.
‘I saw him fall over the edge of the plateau.’ Bard was frowning in Edmun’s direction.
‘Nah. He fell on a narrow ledge, lucky bastard.’
Bard looked around the room. ‘I saw Wilfrid in the infirmary, but I haven’t seen either Cedrick or Reeve, and I can’t see them here either.’
Jasper gave Sigrid a quick glance and sighed. ‘They didn’t make it,’ he said quietly. ‘We brought their bodies back, though.’
Sigrid nodded. ‘I saw them when they were brought into the Infirmary.’ She gave a sad smile. ‘I saw them both this morning, you know. Reeve was teasing Bain about something or other. I was too busy to pay much attention, and now he’s dead.’
Bard pulled her over onto his lap and pressed a kiss to her forehead. ‘That’s what happens in a battle, lass, unfortunately. Good men die and rats like the Master and his lackey get to walk free.’
‘We don’t have anywhere near the same number of dead as before, though,’ Bilbo pointed out. ‘Last time, it took a couple of days to bring just the injured to the medical tents, and we had too few of those entirely.’
‘Have we begun recovering the dead yet?’ Bard asked Thorin as Sigrid moved back to her own seat next to Fíli.
‘We’ve made a good start. It could take a few days to find all of them, but we’ll begin burning the carcasses of the orcs and the other filth as soon as possible,’ Thorin replied. ‘Beorn and the eagles are still out there searching for anyone still alive and chasing off the wargs before they can…’ He paused for a moment. ‘They’re chasing off the wargs, let’s leave it at that.’
Elrond, Haldir, and Glorfindel came to join them, nodding to Bard, and pulling up chairs.
‘Gandalf and Radagast are also out in the valley,’ Elrond added. ‘They’re trying to put protections on our dead until we can get them into the city.’
‘How are they doing that?’ Bard asked curiously.
‘In a similar way to the protections the elves use in Mirkwood to hide their water sources from the spiders,’ Elrond explained.
‘That reminds me of something Legolas said when he was leading us through Mirkwood,’ Bilbo said, frowning. ‘I didn’t understand what he meant, and we were interrupted before I could ask him about it.’
‘I remember that,’ Fíli nodded. ‘He said the forest couldn’t be protected entirely because it took too much power, and that only Thranduil could protect it.’
‘I remember thinking he wasn’t telling the truth when he said that,’ Bilbo added. ‘It was very odd.’
The three elves exchanged glances.
‘Protection of a realm does fall to its ruler,’ Elrond said carefully. ‘I protect Imladris, but am helped by my sons and the ring I bear, Vilya, which also augments my abilities as a healer. Thranduil…resented not bearing a ring, but it didn’t prevent him from sharing the burden of protection with others. It is more likely he didn’t want to share the duty, for whatever reason.’
‘So Legolas won’t have to bear it alone, now?’ Fíli asked.
There was a pause before Elrond spoke again. ‘The question becomes, who does Legolas have to share it with? It’s an intimate bond to have with someone and is usually the reason for keeping it between family members.’
Thorin decided he’d ask the question the others were avoiding. ‘Why would Thranduil not want to share the responsibility with his son? Legolas believed his father no longer loved him partly because of that decision.’
‘I can only offer my thoughts on it,’ Elrond said cautiously. ‘It’s possible he simply didn’t want to place such an obligation on the shoulders of his son, for it is a heavy one to bear. Legolas would not understand how much of a burden it is and likely believed instead his father neither loved nor trusted him. In reality, neither were true.’
‘That sounds very likely,’ Thorin sighed. ‘And now it’s too late for Legolas to hear it from Thranduil.’
‘Thranduil died protecting his son,’ Bilbo said quietly. ‘There’s no greater way for him to show how much he loved him, and I suspect Legolas knows that now.’
There was another short period of silence as they each reflected on this, broken at length by Haldir.
‘As a warden of Lothlórien, I know our forest has powerful protections on it too, thanks to my Lady Galadriel,’ he informed them. ‘She wields the Ring of Adamant, Nenya, and through it she can protect and preserve our lands. The only way the forest could be conquered is if Sauron himself led an army to attack us. If she were here, she would…’
Thorin blocked out what Haldir was saying as he spoke to Bilbo. Crap. Does that mean Lothlórien will fall when we destroy the ring? Is that what happened before?
I don’t know. The Lady Galadriel sailed with Frodo and me. I don’t know what happened afterwards. But…
But we can’t let it affect what we’re going to do.
Later that evening Thorin and Bilbo made sure to circulate and thank the different groups gathered to celebrate their victory. Several of the Lake-towners expressed concern about returning to their homes with so many orcs around, and Thorin assured them they were welcome to remain in the mountain until they were certain Lake-town was safe.
‘We’ll begin searching the area in the next few days,’ he explained to a group including Jasper. ‘The second orc army from Mount Gundabad never actually arrived, which was worrying until Lord Gwaihir could confirm they had dispersed. They were being led by one of Bolg’s lieutenants who probably didn’t have the discipline over them Bolg had over the Dol Guldur army. Whatever the reason, they didn’t get here, but there may be pockets of them still around.’
‘I’ll join you in the search, your majesty,’ Jasper offered, and several of the other men nodded.
‘I accept your offer,’ Thorin told him. ‘All of you and thank you. Dwalin will be arranging the teams so I’ll pass your offer on to him.’
‘Pass me what offer?’ Dwalin demanded, making Thorin and Bilbo jump at his sudden appearance, Glóin at his side, who Thorin tried to view with dispassion.
‘Jasper and some of the other men have offered their help in rounding up any orc packs.’
Dwalin looked them over and nodded. ‘Much obliged. Once the dead are all accounted for, we’ll make up some teams.’ He turned back to Thorin and Bilbo. ‘We just wanted a chat with you. To catch up, you know.’ He tilted his head slightly in Gloin’s direction, making Thorin sigh. He hadn’t spoken to Glóin since their disagreement on Durin’s Day and didn’t really want to now.
Suck it up—Bilbo began making Thorin glare at him and shake his head.
Now’s not the time.
‘Bilbo and I were heading up to the throne room to speak to the injured,’ he said aloud. ‘Walk with us.’
They walked in silence for a while before Glóin staggered towards Thorin, recipient of a shove from Dwalin evidenced by his growled, ‘bloody well get on with it!’
Thorin quirked an eyebrow, but kept on walking.
‘I…’ Glóin began and stumbled again. ‘Alright, alright,’ he snapped at Dwalin. ‘It’s difficult for me, you know!’ He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. ‘I want…I need to apologise to you, cousin,’ he began again.
‘Go on,’ was all Thorin said.
‘I…I shouldn’t have said what I did to you. I was wrong. The alliances you’ve made are the reason we were victorious today, and why our casualties are far less than they could have been. I remember Azanulbizar as well as you do. Today could have ended similarly if not for the Elves and Men, the Elves in particular.’ He touched Thorin’s arm and brought him to a halt, then turned to face him directly. ‘Thorin, son of Thráin, King under the Mountain, will you accept my apology to you and your line?’
Thorin gave him a warm smile. ‘Yes, Glóin, son of Gróin. I accept your apology.’ He leaned forward and thunked his head against his cousin’s head, making Bilbo flinch. ‘Just don’t be such a silly arse again, alright?’
‘I’ll try not to,’ Glóin said, and Thorin saw his eyes were a little misty. ‘I am of the line of Durin, though, and we—’
‘And you’re all arses at times,’ Bilbo finished for him, patting Gloin’s arm gently. ‘It goes with the name.’
Thorin and Bilbo finally got to the infirmary and spent some time talking to the injured, listening to the different stories they had to tell about individual acts of bravery, and a plan formed in Thorin’s mind of a memorial in Erebor to the fallen: all the fallen, not just the dwarrow as in the past.
I think it’s a great idea, Bilbo told him. How soon can we begin?
Patience, my love. Let’s first get these people back on their feet, and the repairs to the city begun. Come on. I want to speak to Óin.
‘All the planning we did paid off,’ Óin told them when Thorin and Bilbo finally got to him. ‘That, and the number of healers we have to share the work.’
‘There are far fewer casualties altogether,’ Bilbo nodded. ‘It was soul destroying last time to see the sheer number of dead.’
‘The elves took the most casualties, but there were more of them to begin with,’ Óin said. ‘But only three of the men were killed. Several were wounded, but Sigrid came to offer her help and was good with them, especially as their physiology is slightly different to ours. She helped get them settled and explained what was going to happen. It might not seem like much, but it helped. What doesn’t help is young dwarflings not doing as they’re told,’ he added pointedly, glaring at Fíli who arrived at the side of Kíli and Tauriel.
‘I’m eighty-two!’ Fíli protested.
‘With less sense than a twenty-year-old! Get back into that bed right now!’
Fíli looked at Thorin, but if he hoped for support against Óin, he was very mistaken.
‘Oin’s in charge here, not me,’ Thorin said, holding up his hands. ‘Even I know better than to argue with him. He’s got too many ways to get his revenge.’
As Fíli, grumbling all the while, got undressed with Kili’s help, and back into bed, Thorin and Bilbo took a walk around the large room, speaking to any patients who were still awake, and with the elven healers.
‘We really couldn’t have managed without you,’ Thorin told Lord Elrond who, with Glorfindel, had come to see if Óin needed any more help. ‘I appreciate your help and support, both of you, and I hope this is just the start of our alliance.’
Elrond smiled at him and nodded. ‘As I said before, it is more than time we rekindle the old alliances. There’s a growing darkness which frightens me. Even though Sauron is now banished from Dol Guldur, we have not seen the last of him.’
Bilbo and Thorin exchanged looks, and Bilbo nodded, making Elrond raise his eyebrows.
‘We have a second task to fulfil which will help deal with Sauron,’ Thorin admitted, quietly. ‘I’m afraid we can’t discuss it right now, but I promise you, we will discuss it before you depart from here as we have some questions too.’
Elrond nodded. ‘Very well,’ he said, making Glorfindel pout.
‘I want to know about it now!’
Thorin laughed. ‘An impatient Elf. Now I’ve seen everything!’ He sobered a little. ‘We will discuss it with you, just not here and now.’
‘Have you seen Legolas?’ Bilbo asked, changing the subject. ‘How is he?’
‘Bearing up,’ Elrond replied. ‘He’s with his people in the old Market Place tonight, holding vigil over his father’s body. The twins and I will take our turn later.’
‘As will I,’ Glorfindel added.
Thorin pulled a face. ‘For Legolas’ sake, I’d offer to do the same, but it would be hypocritical of me, especially as it’s a time to reflect on the one who died. I will be part of Thranduil’s Honour Guard as he leaves Erebor tomorrow, as will my Company.’
‘I’m sure Legolas will appreciate that,’ Elrond told him. ‘I know he’s grateful for your help in returning his father’s body to the city, and for your kindness to him, personally.’
Thorin gave an embarrassed shrug. ‘I would do no less for anyone’s father.’
‘But you did it for an elf who did great harm to your people.’ Elrond gave him a sad smile. ‘I know he refused to help even your dwarrowdams and children.’
‘He had his reasons,’ Thorin said, unable to meet Elrond’s eyes, and he felt Bilbo’s hand slipping into his own, larger palm.
‘It doesn’t excuse him entirely,’ Bilbo said softly. ‘We’ve already discussed that.’
‘Bilbo is right,’ Elrond nodded. ‘Still, with Legolas now king, and with Dol Guldur cleaned of its evil tenant, we can all hope for a better relationship with Mirkwood.’
As Elrond and Glorfindel took their leave, Thorin and Bilbo strolled back to the apartment and their bedroom.
‘I’m so tired I think I could fall asleep on my feet,’ Bilbo complained as he sank down on the side of their bed, already in his nightshirt. ‘I don’t think either of us slept last night.’
‘I doubt anyone in Erebor did,’ Thorin agreed. ‘I do need to have a bath before I get into bed, though. Fíli told me I stink!’
‘Bless the boy,’ Bilbo murmured, already half asleep.
Thorin pulled the blankets up to Bilbo’s chin and grinned at the little snore he gave when Thorin tucked them around him. He stroked Bilbo’s hair gently, then pressed a kiss against his lips, realising the ‘thank the Valar we’re still alive’ sex wasn’t going to happen. I should probably make it a cold bath.
It was a rowdy group who gathered for breakfast the following morning, even the more sedate elves like Elrond and Haldir laughing and joking with the Company. Fíli and Kíli had their heads bent with Elrond’s twins and Glorfindel, all five of them busy whispering.
‘That is not a good sight,’ Elrond muttered to Thorin, nodding at the group of mischief makers.
‘Should I fear for my Mountain?’
‘No, probably just your sanity.’ Elrond offered Thorin a grin, his eyes alight with humour, which made Thorin roll his eyes.
‘Still, you’ll all be leaving fairly soon, won’t you?’
‘Thorin!’ Bilbo exclaimed, slapping his arm with the back of his hand. ‘Don’t be so rude. You’re all welcome to stay as long as you want,’ he told Elrond, who grinned back at him.
‘Funny you should say that…’
Thorin buried his head in his hands. ‘Do I want to know?’
‘Uncle!’ Kíli called out from across the table. ‘The twins and Glorfindel are going to stay with us over winter! Isn’t that good news!’
They put all levity and celebration to one side later that morning as Legolas prepared to take his father’s body back to Mirkwood. Dain’s dwarrow and the men lined the corridors from the old market place to the entrance hall where Thorin and his Company were waiting solemnly, all of them dressed in the best clothing on which they could lay their hands.
The Horn of Erebor sounded a long note, and Thorin and his companions, in two lines facing each other, straightened their shoulders just as the elven pallbearers of a makeshift coffin came into view. Bofur suddenly stepped forward, much to Bilbo’s surprise, and began to sing, his voice rising into the breadths and heights of the entire mountain. After the first verse, the other dwarrow joined in, and by the time the song ended, Bilbo had tears rolling down his cheeks, as did Dori. Even Glóin, the hater of all things Elven, was surreptitiously wiping the corner of his eye, muttering about a speck of dust.
The pallbearers, who came to a halt during the singing, now moved forward again, Legolas, standing erect, and more serious than Bilbo had ever seen him, following behind them, while Tauriel led the rest of the Mirkwood elves who were fit enough to leave the city. As they passed through the Company Honour Guard, each dwarf bowed his head until the pallbearers and Legolas were past them, while Thorin and Bilbo, Kíli and Fíli – the latter balancing on his crutches – fell into position just behind Legolas as they left the mountain.
They had fashioned a bier for the coffin on one of Dain’s war chariots, which, with deep symbolism, would be drawn by Thranduil’s Elk as far as Lake-town where an elven boat would return the fallen king to his palace within Mirkwood. Thorin and Kíli were to drive the chariot, the elves being too tall to do it comfortably, and while Fíli complained vociferously, Bilbo was glad he wouldn’t be joining them.
As Thorin and Kíli got themselves settled in the chariot, Legolas turned to Bilbo and Fíli.
‘I can’t thank you enough for your kindness to me and my people, even after the ill-will my father proffered to the dwarrow of Erebor.’
‘You are not your father, your majesty,’ Bilbo told him.
‘Please, Bilbo. Are we not close enough for you to use my name? Or should I begin to call you Prince Bilbo?’
Fíli gave a snort of laughter, which he tried to cover, while Bilbo shook his head in resignation. ‘Very well, Legolas. Just know that you’ll always have friends in Erebor, and that there’s always room around our table for you and yours.’
Legolas bowed to him and to Fíli, then turned back to look at the rest of the Company, who were crowded onto the front doorstep. ‘Thank you, all of you, for your kindness.’
The sound of hooves on stone heralded the arrival of Lord Elrond and Haldir, with Elrond holding the reins of Legolas’ horse, and with the twins following behind them. Bilbo watched until the cortège was too far away for him to see. He sighed and turned away, patting Fili’s hand.
‘Come on, I’m sure there’s work to be done back inside.’
Bilbo was surprised to find himself coordinating the clean-up, both inside and outside the mountain, while Thorin and Kíli took Thranduil’s body to Lake-town. It began as a trickle of people coming to ask what they could do to help, but it soon swelled until he realised, with no small degree of shock, he was overseeing all the work. Balin had hidden himself away somewhere, and not until Ori came to find Bilbo later in the afternoon with sheaves of paper to give him, did Bilbo realise Balin had passed on many of his responsibilities to him.
‘But why?’ he demanded of Dwalin, who had remained close to his side since Thorin left the mountain.
‘Because you’re going to be the King’s Consort,’ Dwalin told him. ‘Your job will be the day to day running of the Mountain, so Balin wants you to get all the practice you can. He’s always available for questions if you really need him, but you need to take the reins yourself.’
‘I’m not ready for this.’ Bilbo’s forehead was etched with concern ‘What if I do it wrong?’
‘You won’t,’ Fíli said from where he sat with his broken ankle propped up on a stool. ‘And even if you did, you can simply say you changed your mind! That’s what amad does!’
Bilbo nodded slowly. It certainly made sense, but it also brought something else to mind, especially with Thorin out of the mountain for a while. ‘Dwalin? Fíli? I need your help.’
‘Help with what?’ Dwalin demanded. ‘It’s no use trying to get rid of me. Thorin told me—’
‘It’s about my courting gift for Thorin,’ Bilbo said quickly. ‘I can’t do it by myself.’
Fili’s eyes narrowed. ‘Can’t do what by yourself? If it’s anything dangerous…’
‘It isn’t, I just need help to…’
It was late afternoon before Thorin and Kíli returned with the twins and Haldir.
‘Ada’s accompanied Legolas back to Mirkwood,’ Elrohir informed Bilbo as they entered their quarters where Fíli now lay on a sofa resting his ankle. ‘I suspect he’ll stay with him for a few days, as Legolas isn’t quite sure what to do next. Thranduil kept him at arm’s length regarding the running of their kingdom. He thought he had plenty of time before he sailed.’
‘I don’t think he ever intended to sail,’ his brother commented. ‘Few of the Teleri do, and Thranduil was far too invested in his empire, even after his wife was killed. Maybe because his wife was killed, I don’t know. Do you know what happened to him before?’
Bilbo exchanged glances with Thorin, then shook his head. ‘I don’t. I understand Legolas and—Legolas sailed to the West in the first few years of the Fourth Age, but I have no idea what happened to Thranduil.’
‘But you do know more about what happened to Legolas.’
Bilbo inclined his head. ‘I do, but I won’t say anymore.’
‘Don’t forget that from this point forward everything is changed,’ Thorin added. ‘Winning the battle, and Fíli, Kíli and me living has created a new future. Nothing we know from the previous timeline will probably happen as it did before. This is entirely unfamiliar territory from here onwards. For all of us.’
Durin’s Day the following Year
‘Welcome to Erebor, your Majesty.’ Kíli bowed his head, but when he raised it again, his eyes were sparkling with laughter. Legolas bowed his head in return.
‘Thank you, Kíli Dragonslayer.’
They looked at each other for a brief moment, then laughed and hugged.
‘On your best behaviour today, Kee?’ Legolas asked, his arm slung around Kili’s shoulder as they walked together to a section of seating in the Erebor Throne Room with elf and man sized seating.
‘Amad and Bilbo have threatened us all if we misbehave,’ Kíli nodded, still grinning. ‘But since she’s also threatened Uncle Thorin, we can’t complain.’
Legolas laughed out loud, drawing many eyes to them both. ‘She’s still not got over you dying, then?’
It had been a memorable occasion, the return of Princess Dís to Erebor several days previously, and Legolas joined the welcome committee for her and the party of hobbits from the Shire who came with her. Her first action once in the royal apartments was to hug Bilbo again, and her second, to box her brother’s ears.
‘Ow! What was that for?’ Thorin demanded, rubbing his head.
‘Getting my boys and yourself killed!’ Dís snapped. ‘Just be glad, Bilbo, that your grandmother talked me out of chopping off his balls.’
The males in the room winced at her comment, and several hands twitched as though to protect themselves.
‘Then I’m very grateful to both you and my grandmother,’ Bilbo responded politely, then smiled at his grandparents. ‘It’s wonderful to see you both again. Thank you so much for coming: I know the journey isn’t easy.’
Adamanta narrowed her eyes. ‘If you add ‘at your age’, you’ll find out just how sprightly I can be, my lad.’ She pulled Bilbo into a hug and kissed his cheek. ‘Now, let me see this King who’s apparently won your heart.’
She examined Thorin from head to toe silently, making him shift uncomfortably under her gaze, then turned back to Bilbo and nodded. ‘He’ll do.’
Thorin didn’t know what to do or say, so he settled for giving her a low bow and raising her hand to his lips. ‘My Lady Adamanta.’
‘Well, he’s got decent manners, I’ll give him that,’ Adamanta commented, and turned to Dís. ‘You owe me five shillings.’
‘Did you two place bets on Thorin’s manners?’ Bilbo demanded. ‘Why didn’t you stop them, Grandpa?’
Gerontius held up his hands. ‘Be reasonable, Bilbo. When has your grandmother ever done what I say?’
‘I don’t think she’ll ever get over it,’ Kíli told his friend, grinning at the memory. ‘Indâd was still avoiding her early this morning.’
‘That’s…uncle, isn’t it?’ Legolas asked, and Kíli nodded.
‘Well done. We’ll have you speaking Khuzdul before too long. Now, I think this is right:’
‘, would be better if you’re greeting me, or possibly , if you wish to be more formal.’
Kíli frowned. ‘What did I say, then?’
‘“Well met”, which is fine, if a little familiar. You’re also doing well, but I suppose having Tauriel on hand helps.’ He glanced down at his friend when Kíli didn’t reply. ‘Problems in love-land?’
‘Only that Thorin insists she stays with Bard and his family, and not in our apartments. He obviously doesn’t trust us.’
Legolas glanced around. No one was taking much notice of them, being too used to seeing elves in and around the city to comment on it. He lowered his voice in any case. ‘I suspect Thorin is trying to protect Tauriel rather than punish you, Kíli. Some people – dwarrow and elves – will be critical of your relationship and are just waiting for one of you to slip up. Thorin will want to ensure you observe the proprieties to avoid any such comments.’
‘You really think so?’
By this time the two friends had reached Legolas’ seat, and he squeezed Kili’s shoulder before releasing him and greeting Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel, and Marchwarden Haldir, although he and Haldir had seen each other just a few weeks previously. Kíli gave them all a grin and trotted back to the entrance where more people were waiting to be shown to their seats. He passed Fíli who was leading Lord Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor, and his close friend, Thengel, Crown Prince of Rohan, to their seats while Glorfindel and the twins, Elladan and Elrohir, who had also been pressed into service, were showing the members of their retinues to seats further away.
‘Aren’t we guests as well?’ Elladan had asked Thorin and Bilbo over dinner, when the joint wedding and coronation was in its planning stages.
‘Have you received an official invitation?’ Thorin asked, pausing with his fork halfway to his mouth.
‘Well, no…We just thought…’. Elladan broke off, pouting.
‘That doesn’t work on Uncle Thorin,’ Fíli informed him, grinning. ‘Believe me, we’ve tried it. He’s more likely to bring out Bilbo’s wooden spoon.’
‘Thorin, stop teasing the boys,’ Bilbo scolded gently, and turned to regard the ‘boys’, one of whom was over seven thousand years old. ‘We want you to help Fíli and Kíli with various duties on the day, such as showing guests to their seats.’
‘So we are invited?’ Elrohir asked, a grin forming on his face.
‘No. Family don’t need invitations, they just generally turn up in my experience,’ Bilbo told him, unable to keep his face straight any longer. ‘And before you ask, yes, we count you as family after living with us for the better part of a year.’
Glorfindel was now accompanying Dáin to his seat, and, by the looks of it, enjoying a good chat with him at the same time. A curious friendship had developed between the elf and the dwarf, and they frequently exchanged letters and ravens, especially when Glorfindel revealed he spoke Khuzdul, having learnt the language during the second age from his friend Durin III, king and ruler of Khazad-Dum. Dáin, however, being Dáin, decided he preferred to sit next to his cousin Balin, on the front row of seats directly facing the Throne, along with the other members of the Company not taking part in the marriage ceremony, the first of the two ceremonies to take place that day.
‘I kept that seat free for Dwalin,’ Balin said to his second-cousin in an undertone.
‘Why?’ Dáin demanded. ‘He can sit where you are when he’s done his bit. You’re still doin’ the crownin’, aren’t you?’
Glorfindel decided not to get involved and made himself scarce as Dáin had turned his slightly crazed expression on Balin, the one most folk ran away from when they saw it. He grinned at the twins who were escorting Bard and his children to their seats close to the visiting elves, where Tauriel would also sit when she returned from carrying out an errand for Bilbo, who had made sure to involve all their resident elves in the official wedding party, which included specially designed clothing to match what the two grooms and the Company would wear. As Bilbo said before, they were now family.
Fíli and Kíli were now leading Gerontius, Thain of the Shire and Bilbo’s Grandfather, who had made the long journey to the Lonely Mountain at 120 years of age, along with his wife and several of Bilbo’s other relations, including Gorbadoc Brandybuck, the Master of Buckland, and Bilbo’s uncle by marriage. They left a spare seat for Gorbadoc’s eldest son, Rorimac, Bilbo’s closest friend growing up, who would take part in the marriage ceremony as Bilbo’s companion and supporter.
While they were here, the hobbits would also look at the lands surrounding the Lonely Mountain and see what needed to be done for them to recover their previous fertility before the fire-drake came. Gerontius already had a list of hobbits who were interested in moving to Erebor to take up farming the land thereabout, but he wanted to see for himself just what was required before he was willing to commit any of his people.
He met the twins back at the entrance to the Throne Room.
‘I’ve never seen so many dwarrow in one place before,’ Elrohir said in a low voice. ‘There must be thousands of them here.’
‘Far less than there would have been before Smaug’s attack,’ Glorfindel said with a sigh, looking at the filled Throne Room, walkways above and below, and along with all other vantage points where the dwarrow packed tightly together, all wanting to see their king both married and crowned. ‘Over a hundred and fifty thousand dwarrow left Khazad-dûm in 1981 after the balrog killed Náin I and his father, Durin VI, the previous year. About half that number settled here in Erebor in 1999, and now…’
‘Thorin told Ada, one night when they were talking,’ Elladan began, his head bent towards his brother and their friend, ‘that less than three thousand dwarrow remained in Ered Luin when they began the quest. Many had gone to join other Clans, or joined Dáin in Iron Hills, but a combination of falling births, and scarcity of work meant fewer and fewer dwarrow lived in Thorin’s Halls. Thorin always knew it was going to be difficult to rebuild their numbers to a sustainable level.’
‘I—’ Elrohir broke off as Lord Elrond stride to his position in front of the Throne of Erebor. Gandalf originally wanted both to marry and crown the King and his One, but Thorin and Bilbo requested instead that Lord Elrond marry them, and for Balin, as the eldest Durin male, to crown them, an honour both were happy to accept.
A few moments later, a fanfare announced the arrival of members of the royal family, and Fíli and Kíli entered the Throne Room with Dís between them, and they led her to her seat next to Balin, and slipped into their own seats on her other side. This was the cue for the three elves to take their seats next to Legolas, where another empty chair waited for their father once Thorin and Bilbo were married.
The musicians played a triumphant march as Bilbo and Thorin entered from opposite sides of the Throne Room. They were both dressed in the traditional garb of their race, although Bilbo had agreed to his breeches being fashioned of Durin blue cloth. His white shirt and red waistcoat, however, were pure Hobbit, as was his gold-coloured jacket which was embroidered with self-coloured tread making a faint pattern, if examined closely, of the seven stars of Durin’s Crown.
Thorin had chosen an outfit which only Bilbo, Fíli and Kíli recognised: the leather and velvet for which he’d exchanged his golden armour in the first timeline, the only concession being for the long velvet shirt to be made in Durin blue instead of the previous black, along with his breeches which now matched Bilbo’s. They’d explained to Balin and Dwalin, and the three elves, why Thorin had chosen the outfit – which Dori made for him – but until Balin saw his cousin wearing it, he hadn’t realised what it actually signified. It represented Thorin throwing off of his former gold-sickness and his return to sanity, something he would never allow himself to forget, and additionally, just as the Company apparently emerged from the city in the last timeline having cast aside their heavy armour to make themselves faster, lighter, and more able to fight, so Thorin now came to Bilbo just as he was, with nothing to hide behind. It was a sign to Bilbo he came as…suppliant wasn’t quite the right word, Balin decided, but it was close.
Thorin and Bilbo met in the middle of the chamber, as they had rehearsed, and where Lord Elrond waited for them. Rorimac came to Bilbo’s side representing his family, while Dwalin stood alongside Thorin as he had so many times in their past. Originally, his brother argued with Thorin, claiming it should be Fíli or Kíli, or even Dís representing his family, but Thorin was adamant: Dwalin had protected his back throughout their life and he was the one Thorin wanted.
The Dwarrow elements of the ceremony came first, and Lord Elrond was very good at explaining the meaning behind each part of the ceremony to the onlookers, although as he conducted it in Westron, almost everyone understood the words, at least. The symbolism, however, was important and Elrond made sure it was clear to everyone present.
On the stone table set up just in front of the throne were three large glass jars, two containing coloured substances, with the third jar empty. Bilbo and Thorin each took one of the other jars and poured its contents into the empty jar in the middle, thus combining them. When performed by two dwarrow, both jars contained a mixture of different crushed precious stones which meant something to each of the participants, but for this ceremony Bilbo was using soil brought from the Shire by his family, while Thorin had chosen a mixture of emeralds and sapphires, the colours of Bilbo’s eyes, he said, which changed with his mood.
The second part of the dwarrow custom was the exchange of beads, traditionally created by the pair being married, but as Balin knew Bilbo couldn’t forge metal, he was curious how they would overcome this part. He was most surprised when Rorimac handed a bead to Bilbo.
‘Thorin, this bead is a gift from my heart to represent the love I have for you; a gift from my hands as I created it; and a gift from my family, made as it is of mithril from my family’s lands.’
There was an immediate susurration in the chamber as the guests exchanged excited comments. For Bilbo’s family to own a mithril mine and, as far as Balin was aware, the only extant source of mithril on Middle Earth outside of Khazad-dûm, made that family one of the richest in Middle Earth. Thorin, however, wasn’t surprised, and neither was Dwalin, making it clear they both already knew about the source of the mithril.
Meanwhile, Bilbo was braiding Thorin’s hair and making sure the bead wouldn’t fall out, and all five of them were smiling and murmuring quietly to each other, something Balin found profoundly moving. Soon the bead was settled, and Dwalin handed Thorin his own bead for Bilbo.
‘Bilbo,. This bead is a gift from my heart to represent the deep love I have for you; a gift from my hands as I forged it; and a gift from my family as it contains the gold I mined myself from Erebor when I was young. I have carried it with me since the fire-drake forced us into exile hoping, one day, I would find my One.’
He bent to separate a section of Bilbo’s curly hair and, once again, the five people in the centre of the chamber murmured to each other, creating a sense of intimacy between them. It took a while for Thorin to braid Bilbo’s hair, and Dwalin was forced to help him, again making Balin believe he was seeing something remarkably private and personal. Finally, the bead was in place and Bilbo touched it gently, smiling up at Thorin in a way which made Balin’s heart ache even though he’d never had a desire to search for either his One or even just a companion.
The following part of the ceremony was the Hobbit element and where Rorimac and Dwalin had a part to play other than handing something to the major participants. A traditional Hobbit wedding, so Balin understood, had flowers: lots and lots of flowers in everything from clothing to the food in the feast which followed. As flowers were extremely difficult to find in and around the Lonely Mountain, Legolas provided them from Mirkwood, thus making him a part of the ceremony too.
Bilbo’s family had spent the previous three days weaving long garlands of fresh flowers and the two flower crowns now worn by the two grooms. Some of the garlands decorated the Gallery of Kings where the feast would be held later, but three were carefully woven for a purpose Balin hadn’t quite understood when it was explained to him. The Hobbits called it ‘handfasting’, but the word meant nothing to Balin, other than his belief that ‘fasting’ wasn’t in a hobbit’s usual vocabulary.
All became clear, as Thorin held out his left arm and, standing on Thorin’s left side, Bilbo held out his right, and Rorimac, Dwalin, and Elrond tied the garlands around their wrists and braided them together, creating a fusion of Hobbit and Dwarrow customs. Finally, Lord Elrond laid his own hands over the two joined ones.
‘Thorin and Bilbo’s hands are now joined as one, as are their hearts, and as they will be for eternity. People of Arda, friends. I present to you Thorin and Bilbo!’
Loud cheers erupted within the chamber and its environs, and Bofur’s gleeful shouts were heard above all others, making the members of Thorin’s Company grin. The musicians broke into joyful music as their families and friends congratulated Thorin and Bilbo, crowding around them, the hobbits hugging them both while the dwarrow bumped heads in their usual way with Thorin, while giving Bilbo a gentle tap.
The congratulations took quite a while as the hobbits gave long hugs, but eventually, order was restored and Thorin led Bilbo off for them to change into the clothing prepared for the Coronation. Dís and the rest of the Company joined them while Rorimac returned to his seat with the other hobbits, and Elrond to sit with Legolas, Glorfindel, and the twins.
‘Mithril?’ Glóin demanded as soon as he saw Bilbo in the designated changing room where he was eating a small cake, being careful not to drop anything on his wedding finery. ‘The Shire has a mithril mine?’
‘More a mithril…hole,’ Bilbo replied, swallowing his mouthful of cake. ‘There are no mines in the Shire.’
‘But it could be turned into a mine, especially now you’re married to a dwarf,’ Glóin suggested eagerly. ‘If you want me to—’
‘I don’t, and my grandfather certainly doesn’t want to discuss turning the source into a mine,’ Bilbo said sharply. ‘I very nearly didn’t make Thorin’s bead from mithril because I knew someone would want to mine it. Well, we don’t, and before anyone gets the idea of invading Tuckborough to get control of it, it isn’t there. It’s a closely kept family secret and will remain so forever.’
‘But Bilbo—’ Glóin began.
‘Enough!’ Thorin said sharply and glared at Glóin. ‘And I forbid you from speaking to Bilbo’s family about it.’
‘Speak not a single word more about mithril, Glóin!’ Thorin’s lips were pressed together in a line as he glared at Glóin, and even Óin, usually so protective of his younger brother, was nodding his head in agreement.
‘It’s a beautiful bead, Bilbo,’ Balin said, trying to draw the attention away from Glóin, who was now scowling at Thorin. ‘And you said you forged it yourself. I didn’t realise you knew how to forge.’
‘I said I created it myself,’ Bilbo corrected, giving him a small, shy smile. ‘I’ll admit to having Fili’s help with its forging, but it is all my own work.’ He glanced up at Thorin and grinned. ‘Treasure it,, as it’s the only one I’ll ever make!’
His comment relieved the tension in the room, and Dwalin and Balin helped untie Thorin and Bilbo from their handfasting braid.
Bilbo gave Thorin a sad look. ‘If we were in the Shire, we’d wear the braid for at least a week.’
‘An entire week?’ Kíli demanded, tucking into the sandwiches laid out for them. ‘What about…you know, the loo and…things?’
Thorin reached over to slap his head, but Bilbo held him back. ‘It’s a legitimate question, and one I asked my mother at the first handfasting I attended.’ He turned back to Kíli. ‘It’s a bit of a cheat, really. The way it’s made means it’s easy to draw out your hand when…certain intimate activities need to be performed. And wipe that smirk off your face, Kíli Dragonslayer. Not that sort of intimate.’
Unseen by Kíli, Dís came up behind him, and her slap to the back of his head was a total surprise to him. ‘You’ve not changed during the Quest, inùdoy, although I had hoped you might. Still, your new uncle should be a better influence on you than your other one.’
As Thorin’s mouth was stuffed with bread, he gave his sister a rude hand gesture.
‘Which only makes my point, brother dear. Now, I’m going to dress, and I suggest you do too, all of you, unless you want me to come back and laugh at you in your drawers!’ So saying, she disappeared to change in another room, and the rest of the Company changed into their even finer finery for the Coronation.
It was Dori’s suggestion when he learned Thorin wanted his entire Company involved in the Coronation. All of them would wear the same design of clothing – based on Thorin’s wedding outfit – but while Thorin, and Fíli and Kíli wore shirts and breeches in Durin blue embroidered with the Durin stars of the same blue, the rest of the Company wore colours which reflected their families, and the symbols embroidered showed their own crafts and specialities. Thus, the Urs wore tunics and breeches made from a green fabric embroidered with tiny pickaxes and mattocks, and the Ris had a purple fabric embroidered with a mixture of quills, padlocks, and teacups, referring to Dori’s small tea room in Ered Luin alongside his main business as a tailor. Óin and Glóin, and Balin and Dwalin, all descendants of Nain II, wore clothing in a deep red, also embroidered with crowns, axes, swords, and caducei – a short staff entwined by two serpents representing the profession of healing.
Each grabbing a drink and a bite to eat while they could, the dwarrow eventually fell into two lines behind Thorin and Bilbo with Balin on his own in front of them, and Dwalin escorting Dís just behind them. Thorin felt a sudden stab of pain at the absence of his long-dead brother, Frerin, making Bilbo squeeze his hand and offer him a sad smile, and Thorin bent down to give him a gentle kiss. A sudden shove from behind made him stumble.
‘None o’ that or we’ll never get you crowned,’ Dwalin told him with a grin. Thorin opened his mouth to curse his friend when Dís reached forward to slap his head, and turned to her side to slap Dwalin’s, making Kíli snort with laughter.
‘I’m about to be crowned King,’ Thorin huffed. ‘I could have the beards from both of you!’
Dís, damn her forever, simply laughed at him, and as Balin tapped on the double doors to indicate they were ready, they swung open before he could say anything else.
The rest of the day passed in a bit of a blur. Thorin recalled the moment when Balin set the Star Crown upon his head – not the Raven Crown beloved of his grandfather – and the cheers which followed, and watching as Balin crowned Bilbo as his Consort. He had no recollection of the speech he gave, but as that too raised cheers, he decided it must have been alright – or short at least! He did recall eating very little at the feast which followed, being too busy greeting the guests to pay attention to food, but when he and Bilbo could finally make their escape – one benefit of it also being his wedding day – they found Bombur had arranged a tray of food for their bedchamber in the Royal Apartment.
Neither of them had used the main bedchamber until that point, having moved into Thorin’s own former bedroom and leaving the main chamber until they were both crowned and married. It was a large, bright room and one of the few which opened directly on to a private terrace high on the mountain. Thorin had already commissioned a glasshouse to be constructed over part of the terrace to provide Bilbo with somewhere to grow things all year round, and easy access to sunlight at all times, and Bilbo had surprised him just a few weeks after the Battle by leading him onto the terrace.
He led him to the centre of the terrace where, to Thorin’s surprise, was a new flowerbed, and a wooden bench just by it, all lit by lanterns. Bilbo took his hand and led him to the bench, and pushed him down gently, then knelt in front of him.
‘Thorin, King Under the Mountain, called the Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, will you accept this courting gift from me, Bilbo, son of Bungo and Belladonna, grandson of Gerontius Took?’
Thorin’s eyes were gentle, even in the low light. ‘I, Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thráin, accept your gift, Bilbo-mine.’ He smiled at Bilbo, then raised one eyebrow. ‘But what am I accepting, exactly?’
Bilbo laughed and got to his feet and joined Thorin on the bench. ‘It’s the start of a garden nursery.’
‘A nursery? To sew seeds in?’ Thorin asked. ‘I thought all plants grew from seed. Why would you need a seperate nursery?’
‘They do grow from seed, stoopid, but this is a bed for very special seeds.’
‘If you’re trying to be subtle, it’s not working. I don’t understand.’
‘Thorin, this is where we’ll plant our faunts.’
Thorin’s heart leapt. ‘You mean…’
‘I mean, my love, that this is where our babies will grow.’
As they had done most nights, they strolled out onto the terrace where the nursery bed was now filled with rich soil from the Shire – from the nursery bed at Bag End where Bilbo himself grew, and brought to Erebor by his grandparents.
‘How soon do you think we can begin planting?’ asked Thorin eagerly.
‘We’d usually need to wait until spring,’ Bilbo replied, cuddling under his husband’s arm. ‘But if the glasshouse is finished sooner, I don’t see why we can’t plant sooner too.’
‘I’ll speak to the Glass-blower’s Guild tomorrow,’ Thorin promised. ‘First thing.’
Bilbo laughed and tugged on Thorin’s arm and led him back inside where Bombur’s tray was waiting for them. After they’d both had something to eat and drink, Bilbo gave Thorin a shy smile and disappeared into the adjoining bathroom, closing the door firmly behind him. Thorin opened the large wardrobe, wondering where his clothing was, and found Dori hadn’t let him down. Soft cotton trousers hung next to a cotton tunic and, after consideration, he undressed and slipped on the tunic only, then snuffed out most of the candles, leaving only the ones on the bedside tables and the fire to light the room.
He was waiting when Bilbo came out of the bathroom and, trying to avoid looking at him as yet, slipped into the bathroom himself. It didn’t take long to wash and refresh himself, but as he went to open the door, he hesitated. He and Bilbo had shared either a bedroll or a bed since they’d been returned, but now he was unaccountably nervous. He wasn’t sure how long he stood with his hand on the doorknob, but eventually there was a quiet tap.
‘Thorin? Are you alright?’
Thorin released the breath he hadn’t been aware of holding and opened the door. Bilbo, dressed only in a long white bed shirt, was standing on the other side of the door looking worried.
‘Is everything alright?’
‘More than alright,. I just had a few…’
‘Wedding night nerves?’ Bilbo asked, with the shy smile he loved so much.
‘And now they’re all gone. The only thought in my mind is how much I love you.’
‘Then how about we get into that massive bed and you show me how much you love me?’
‘You have the best ideas,.’