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May. 8th, 2017

My book: Ice Warriors: Key of Midgard

I know it's been a really long time since I've posted on here and I'm not sure if anyone is still following my livejournal. But just in case anyone is, my book, Ice Warriors: Key of Midgard is now out on Amazon.



The book can be found on Amazon UK and Amazon US, as well as other country-specific Amazon websites.

Check it out on Goodreads

Please help support me by buying a copy and/or spreading the word!

My Twitter handle is @Cat2002116 and if you're able to post on there, please use #IceWarriors

Thank you!

May. 13th, 2014

Much Ado About Dwarves Master Post (Hobbit Story Big Bang)



Disclaimer: We own nothing from The Hobbit, or any of the Lord of the Rings franchise, and no monetary gain is being made from this story

Authors: Sarah (Cat2000) and Shani

Summary: Written for The Hobbit Big Bang challenge. Realising that he can't let even a dwarf suffer from an orc's attack, Legolas leaves Mirkwood to find the dwarven archer and help him. Thorin falls prey to the Arkenstone's influence and as relationships form between the characters, there is still the threat of the coming battle

Rating: R, to be safe - there are scenes of violence and one sex scene

Warnings: Spoilers for the book and both of the movies; violence; one sexual scene; AU

Pairings: Kili/Bliss (OC); Bard/Sheena (OC)

Authors' Note: A tremendous thank you has to go to Lauren, our amazing beta reader/cheerleader. To be honest, if it wasn't for her, there's a very good chance we wouldn't have been able to complete this on time. Thank you so much for your support, Lauren!

Also, a big thank you goes to NickyGabriel. She was the one who created this fantastic piece of artwork at the start of this post. She's also the moderator of The Hobbit Big Bang challenge - a job that clearly involves a huge amount of work, time and effort.

Part One
Part Two A
Part Two B
Part Two C
Part Three A
Part Three B
Part Four A
Part Four B
Part Five

Much Ado About Dwarves: Part Five: Rebuilding

Chapter One

Legolas was sitting on the ground in one of the healing tents. Kili and Thorin were lying on separate mats, side by side. Fili was pacing up and down, restless and still bloodied from the battle.

"They're going to be all right." Legolas did his best to sound reassuring, but he couldn't stop remembering the orc he'd killed. She hadn't even been properly fighting him... Had there been a part of her that remembered her past? Legolas couldn't even imagine how painful that would be, for an orc to be fully aware of what it had become.

"What did they say to you?" Fili asked, breaking into Legolas' thoughts.

Legolas held back a frown as he remembered the way the healers had acted. They had ignored Fili's presence entirely, instead speaking to Legolas in elvish. Legolas knew that he should have said something to them then, but although his wounds were fairly minor, they had still been painful and needed to be cleaned and bandaged. "They told me your brother and uncle were very fortunate. Their wounds looked worse than they were and they will wake soon."

Fili relaxed visibly and smiled, but it looked forced. "It's just as well. I wasn't ready to be King."

"I'm sure you would have done a good job if it had become necessary."

"Thank you for defending us," Fili said quietly.

"I'd already saved your brother once. It would have made a mockery of that if I'd allowed him to die in the battle." Legolas tried to make light of it, but he was surprised at how much better Fili's gratitude made him feel. He didn't particularly want to think of the battle. Many had been killed and even more wounded.

Legolas knew some would not live for much longer.

The sound of Thorin stirring drew Legolas' attention to the dwarf king. He opened his eyes, focusing briefly on the ceiling of the tent before glancing towards his younger nephew. "Kili!" He tried to push himself up, but winced and couldn't quite succeed.

Fili stepped forward. "The healers said he will recover."

Thorin's attention turned to Fili. "Are you wounded?" He quickly looked over his oldest nephew's body.

Fili shook his head. "I was fortunate to escape with a few bites from some bats."

"Good." Thorin hesitated. "Fili, I should... apologise. Since we arrived here, I haven't been myself."

"It was the jewel that changed you," Fili said, almost a bit hesitantly. "Its reach was probably far longer than any of us had anticipated."

"But it's gone now." Thorin didn't sound angry, merely just resigned. He glanced at the other sleeping mat as Kili awakened.

Kili tried to move, but hissed as his wounds apparently pained him. "Did we win?"

"The dread creatures have all been slain," Fili replied.

Legolas was quiet as he thought about Fili's words. They had survived the battle, but he wasn't sure they could claim a victory. Not when so many lives had been lost. He felt like an intruder here and rose to leave the tent, knowing that the dwarves needed to talk.

"Thank you."

Legolas paused at Thorin's words, but didn't turn. "I seem to have made a habit of saving dwarves."

There was a brief silence and then Thorin spoke again, sounding as if each word pained him a little. "I understand my nephews invited you to stay in Erebor. I would also like to extend that invitation."

"Thank you. I will leave you to talk for now." Legolas slipped out of the tent.

The healing tents had been set up a distance from the battlefield. The bodies of the dead, friend and foe alike, had already been thrown onto pyres and the stench of smoke still hovered in the air. Blood still stained the grass and Legolas wondered if it would ever fully fade.

Legolas looked up to see his father approaching. He knew he should be angry with Thranduil for lying to him, but all he felt was tired. Perhaps the anger would sink in later, when the images of battle began to fade.

Thranduil paused in front of Legolas. "Are you well?"

"My wounds have been treated." Legolas was reluctant to add anything else.

"I didn't tell you the truth because I knew it would hurt you to know and not be able to do anything about it," Thranduil said after a moment. "I was trying to protect you."

"I understand why you did it." But Legolas couldn't bring himself to add anything else.

Thranduil nodded. "Will you return to Mirkwood?"

"There will be much rebuilding to do here," Legolas answered. "I believe I will do better aiding my friends."

**********************************************************************************************************

Thorin looked at his nephews, unable to help noticing that they both seemed to have aged. He felt a momentary pang of regret. In some ways, he'd wished they could have stayed young and innocent for much longer.

Reaching out a hand, Thorin grasped Kili and pulled his startled nephew onto his mat so that he could hug him. "I'm sorry I left you behind and wasn't at your side when you were wounded," he muttered into the dark hair.

"I know you needed to find the door." For once, Kili wasn't automatically wriggling to get out of the embrace. Thorin wasn't sure if that was because he was too hurt to move, or if he'd simply grown up.

"Still, you can be assured that I won't be ignoring it again if you get hurt."

Thorin couldn't see it, but he suspected Kili was rolling his eyes. "You're never going to let us out of your sight now, are you?"

"You're Princes of Erebor. You're going to have to start behaving yourselves." Thorin gave him one last squeeze before gently releasing him. "Rest now. You need to recover."

"I'm not tired."

"I didn't say sleep. I said rest." Thorin stood up carefully and limped across the floor to Fili, then pulled him into an embrace as well. "I'm very proud of both of you."

"We had a good teacher," Fili replied.

Thorin held Fili a moment or two longer and then gently released him as there was a light knock on the tent entrance and a human woman came inside, carrying bowls of stew and cups of water.

Kili smiled. "Hello, Inga."

Inga returned the greeting. "I've brought food and water for you."

"I would have preferred ale," Thorin muttered, but took a bowl and cup anyway.

"Ale wouldn't help you recover," Inga answered, passing the remaining items to Fili and Kili. She then addressed Kili. "Bliss has been staying with me. She's been very worried and I'm sure she'll be relieved that you're awake."

Thorin frowned. "She tried to steal some of Erebor's treasure."

"She doesn't remember what happened," Inga replied. "Legolas suggested that the Arkenstone's power had affected everyone in Laketown."

"We did talk to her about taking the Arkenstone in Erebor," Fili remembered. "If the stone was intelligent, it might have acted to protect itself."

"I think we were all affected, to some extent," Kili said quietly.

Thorin shifted a little uncomfortably. "If she's not going to try and steal, you have permission to ask her to Erebor."

Kili looked surprised for a moment and then smiled. "I think you're growing soft, Uncle. First you invite an elf in and now you're willing to offer a second chance to a thief."

"A great weight has been lifted from me," Thorin answered. "Besides, I imagine you and your brother will soon be chafing against your duties."

"I should go and visit some of the other patients, but there are plenty of people close by if you need anything more," Inga said. She smiled at them and then quietly left the tent.

**********************************************************************************************************

Bilbo was starting to think that it was time to return to the Shire. He hadn't seen any of his friends, but he knew they were recovering well and assumed he would no longer be welcome once Thorin was moving around.

Although Bilbo had wanted to travel with Gandalf, the wizard seemed to have vanished now that the battle was over. Bilbo was currently wondering if he could ask the elves if they would allow him to travel through Mirkwood with them.

Seated by the cooking fire, Bilbo ate from his bowl of stew. He was so lost in his own thoughts, he didn't realise he wasn't alone until a familiar voice asked, "Could I eat with you, Master Baggins?"

Surprised, Bilbo looked up at Thorin. "Um, uh, yes."

Thorin sat down carefully next to Bilbo. "Are you planning to stay?"

"I didn't think I was welcome."

Something darkened slightly in Thorin's face. "It seems there are many I must make amends to. I would never have sent you away had I been myself. I know I am often harsh, sometimes even cruel, but I would not willingly send away a friend."

"I know I shouldn't have taken the jewel..."

"You did the right thing when you took it," Thorin answered. "The jewel had exerted a dark power over me... over all of the dwarves. Even my nephews were affected."

"Then you're not under its influence any longer?" Bilbo asked cautiously.

"I am not. And I owe you another apology."

Bilbo shifted slightly, a bit uncomfortable with being apologised to again. "I planned to return to the Shire."

"Will you stay? At least for a little while? I'm sure Fili and Kili would be happy to have you close during the rebuilding. I imagine they were worried about you."

Bilbo nodded, forcing away the fear that one of the others would discover the fact that he held the ring. He was certain he could keep it hidden. After all, it was safe in his pocket... and no one had noticed that he'd turned invisible during the battle.

**********************************************************************************************************

By the time Legolas returned to the tent, Thorin had left and Fili and Kili were sitting on Kili's sleeping mat, talking in quiet voices. They looked up as Legolas entered, though, and Kili smiled - though the smile quickly dropped from his face. "What's wrong?"

Was it really that obvious?

"Nothing's wrong," Legolas answered. "I'm still tired and aching from the battle."

"Did something happen?" It was Fili who spoke up now. "Did your father say anything to you?"

"Only to ask if I planned to return to Mirkwood. I told him it would be better to stay here and help."

"What else did he say?" Kili asked.

"Nothing important." And Legolas realised his mistake. He'd now just confirmed there was something wrong - and he doubted the two dwarves would allow him to keep it hidden inside.

"It was a hard battle," Fili said softly. "Did you lose someone important in it?"

"Yes." Legolas hesitated. "But not in the way you think."

"What does that mean?" Kili asked.

Legolas took a deep breath. "The orcs... weren't created from nothing. They originate from elves who were twisted by torture to become those creatures." He paused, but when the dwarves said nothing, continued, "My mother... disappeared when I was still very young. My father always told me she was killed."

"Was she changed?" Fili asked softly.

Kili's eyes widened. "Did you have to fight her?"

"I can't be certain it was her, but there was a part of me that recognised her." Legolas sat down slowly, struggling to hold back the grief that threatened to overwhelm him. "I had to kill her. There was no choice, but I wish with all my heart there had been another way."

It wasn't clear which dwarf moved first, but Kili and Fili stood to sit one on either side of Legolas, watching him with compassionate, understanding gazes. As Legolas felt the first of the tears prick at his eyes, the two dwarf princes moved closer to him, offering their comfort through silent touch.


Chapter Two

Bard pulled himself out of nightmares filled with blood and violence. As he struggled to return to awareness, he realised his forehead was being wiped with a damp cloth.

Forcing his eyes open, Bard focused on Sheena, who was leaning over him with a concerned look on her face. Bard reached up and gently grasped her wrist, stopping her movement. "How long have I been unconscious for?" he whispered.

"For two days. You were badly hurt in the battle. I was worried," Sheena said.

Bard watched her for a moment or two. "You don't have to act like the dutiful wife any longer. I'm sorry to tell you this, but your father fell during the battle." He couldn't be certain, but he was reasonably sure that Addison had died.

"I know," Sheena replied. "But you're wrong about me. I probably shouldn't tell you this now, but at least you can't walk away if you don't believe what I say."

Bard frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I've liked you - for a very long time." Sheena held eye contact with him as she spoke. "Before the dragon attacked, my sister and I were speaking. She suggested I talk about marriage to our father. I hinted at making a partnership more... personal... right before the dragon attacked."

Bard shook his head. "I don't understand why you wanted to marry me. It's not as if I could offer you much."

"You only saw me as a child, but I saw you as a good man," Sheena answered. "You've always been kind - to me and to the rest of the people of Laketown. And you've always been honest. I'm not sure my father ever understood how to be himself..."

"I noticed that your mother seemed cowed by her marriage to your father."

"My sister and I grew knowing how to be independent. I might have been able to hold my tongue better than Ellisif, but we weren't that different. I knew what I wanted. I just had to allow my father to think it was his own idea."

"And you wanted me."

"Yes."

"And now?"

A slight smile touched Sheena's lips. "It wasn't quite what I expected, but I don't regret it."

Bard still held Sheena's wrist and he used that grip to tug her down so that he could kiss her, his free hand cupping her cheek.

Sheena responded for a moment, but then pulled back slightly, though Bard's grip on her wrist meant she couldn't get very far. "I need to tell you something."

Bard waited, idly stroking over her hand with a finger.

"I fell ill last summer. There's a good chance I may not be able to have children."

"I already have three. You don't have to worry about not being able to provide me with an heir." Bard gently tugged Sheena back down and this time, she didn't pull away.

**********************************************************************************************************

Kili settled down next to his brother with his bowl of stew in hand, looking around at the others, who were milling around, still cleaning up the remnants of the battle. "I wish they'd let me help," he grumbled.

"You should be thankful that the healers finally said you can leave the tent," Fili replied.

Kili frowned at his brother. "I noticed you didn't back me up when I said I was fine."

"I could have lost you during the battle. I wasn't going to take any chances with your recovery."

"Of course that's what it was. I'm sure it had nothing to do with you not wanting me to run off and get into any mischief." Kili didn't need to tell his brother he was grateful that Fili had been there for him. He was thankful that those he cared about hadn't been hurt any worse.

Kili finished his stew in silence. As he clambered to his feet to fill up the bowl again, he saw Bliss, walking away from Inga.

"You should talk to her," Fili said.

"Are you sure you don't want to keep me in your sight?" Kili teased.

"Just go."

Kili walked over to Bliss, stopping close by. "Hello."

The human turned, looking at him with a worried expression that was quickly wiped away. "You're still alive."

"Inga didn't tell you?"

"I wanted to see for myself."

"Did you know the Arkenstone was probably influencing you?" Kili asked.

Bliss shrugged. "I don't remember how I got into the treasure hall. If I'm stealing something, it's normally because I've chosen to. But I hadn't."

"I know. I'm sorry I asked you to leave."

"It's not like I can blame you."

"Would you like to come back to Erebor?" Kili asked. "I wasn't able to get to know you very well before."

"Won't you be busy with your duties?"

"We've always been princes, even before coming here. It hasn't changed either of us before. I doubt it will now." Kili smiled, but then turned serious. "I know you don't have any family in Laketown. If you still want to stay in Erebor, you could for a while and see how you like it."

"Will I be the only one who isn't a dwarf there?"

"I think Uncle's tried to talk Bilbo into staying for a while. And my elf friend will also be staying for a while."

Bliss frowned. "Didn't your Uncle react badly to the suggestion that an elf might come to his home?"

"The Arkenstone is out of reach now. And Legolas defended us during the battle. I believe he proved himself to Thorin."

"I didn't prove myself," Bliss pointed out.

"But he knows that I wanted you there - and I still do." As he answered, Kili stepped closer to the human.

Bliss watched him warily, but didn't move. "Really? You wanted me to leave."

"That was the stone's influence."

"How can you be sure of that?"

"Because I don't want you to leave now." Kili closed the distance between them, placing his hands on Bliss' shoulders and drawing her in close, his lips meeting hers.


Chapter Three

As Sheena neared the healing tents, she noticed the amount of people moving around. The battlefield had been completely cleared by now, which was a relief. There was a part of Sheena that still mourned for her father, even though they had never been very close and he had tried to use her.

Bain and Sigrid were walking together in front of Sheena as they walked to the outskirts of the town. Tilda stayed next to Sheena, walking carefully in her new dress. Sheena had been a bit reluctant to let Tilda dress up, knowing how muddy it could get, but hadn't been able to disappoint the girl.

Sheena smiled in some relief as she saw that Bard was out of the tent, though she was concerned to see that he still looked very pale. She wanted to run over and see how he was, but she stayed where she was as the children went running over.

Bard pulled himself away the group he was talking to as his children met him. Tilda reached him first, with her brother and sister following a bit more slowly. Crouching down, Bard embraced them and as Sheena watched, she felt a slight ache deep within her.

Her father had never treated her or her sister like that.

Feeling somewhat guilty for being so envious, Sheena turned away, spotting a group of hunters approaching the cooking pot, carrying dead animals with them. They sat down on the ground and began to skin and cut the animals into smaller pieces.

Sheena's stomach turned as the stench of blood and raw flesh assaulted her nose. She stumbled away, but the smell seemed to hover in the air, clinging to her clothes and skin. Sheena doubled over and retched, bringing up bile a short distance from the camp.

As she slowly straightened up, Sheena winced at the sour taste in her mouth. Her eyes watered and she shakily wiped the back of her hand across her mouth, grimacing as she tried to hold back the need to be sick again.

Someone pressed a cup of water into her hand, along with a herb. "Drink some water and chew on this herb," Inga's voice said. "They'll both help to take the taste away."

"Thank you." Sheena sipped the water carefully and then put the herb into her mouth. It was mint and succeeded in taking away the taste of bile. She finished the water with a quiet sigh. "I thought I'd got over being sick."

"Are you sure you're ill?"

"What else could it be?"

"You did consummate your marriage," Inga pointed out.

"But I thought I might be barren..." Sheena's voice trailed off and she stared at the older woman.

"But you weren't sick until you smelled the meat, were you? That can often cause a pregnant woman to be ill. You could always visit one of the elf healers, but I think the timing is about right."

"I... I think I might visit one of the healers..." Sheena said, a bit hesitant. But she felt the beginnings of hope stir in her breast.

**********************************************************************************************************

Thorin never liked having to apologise.

It was different when it came to Fili and Kili. His nephews looked up to him and even when he made mistakes, they forgave him quickly and theirs was a bond forged by shared affection as well as duty. And Bilbo had become a friend during their journey together. Apologising to him had felt like the right thing to do.

But Thorin honestly didn't know what to say to Bard.

A short distance away from where Bard stood with his children was the human woman, Inga, who had brought food to him and his nephews. When she caught his gaze, she smiled at him and Thorin walked over to her. It wasn't like he could interrupt Bard's time with his children.

"How are you feeling?" Inga asked.

"I am recovering well," Thorin answered. "I understand you came to know my nephews, Fili and Kili, passing well."

"They were staying in Bard's home," Inga replied. "I keep house for him."

Thorin nodded. "I'm sure my nephews will continue to visit Laketown." He glanced over towards the group of humans and saw that Bard's children had left. "I need to speak with Bard." He walked over.

Bard looked up and focused on Thorin, watching as he approached. "I see you have recovered well, Master Thorin."

"My body is healed." Thorin hesitated. "As is my mind. I remember the vow I made to the people of Laketown. When you are ready, come to Erebor and I will provide you with a share of the treasure."

"I'm glad you're willing to keep your word," Bard replied. "I'm sure dwarves and men will become allies and perhaps friends once more."

**********************************************************************************************************

Bard sighed as the last of the advisors left the tent. His true desire was to return to his home and spend time with his family, but he now had other responsibilities - not least the fact that King Thranduil had requested he speak with Thorin about the return of certain jewels the dragon Smaug had hoarded.

And there was also talk of a coronation.

There was a rustle from outside the tent and Bard looked up as Sheena entered. He smiled wearily at her. "Are you still here? You should go back to the house and get some sleep."

Sheena returned the smile, but looked almost a bit nervous. "I have something I need to tell you."

"Is something wrong?" Bard asked.

"I saw one of the healers."

"Are you sick?" Bard stood up, immediately concerned.

Sheena quickly shook her head. "No, I..." She hesitated. "I'm with child."

It took Bard a moment or two to fully realise what Sheena had said. "Are you certain? You said you might be barren."

"I... I suppose I was mistaken." Sheena looked at him uncertainly. "Are you unhappy about it?"

Bard didn't answer with words. He strode to her in quick strides, taking her in his arms, and kissed her.


Chapter Four

It was another two moons before other dwarves arrived. Fili and Kili stood impatiently at the outskirts of Erebor, watching Mirkwood. "What if they're delayed?" Kili asked.

Fili sighed, reflecting that Kili might be older physically, but mentally, he still acted like a dwarfling at times. "She'll be here."

"But when?"

Fili couldn't quite hold back an amused smile. "I'm sure Mother will be pleased to see how much you've missed her." He smiled as he watched his brother eagerly waiting, pleased to see that nothing had made Kili lose that part of himself that was still so much like a dwarfling.

"Are you hungry?"

Fili turned at the same time his brother did, shaking his head as he saw the way Kili smiled when he saw Bliss. The human had been spending most of her time in Laketown and the princes had been busy learning the duties expected of them, so Kili and Bliss had spent very little time together.

Kili took one of the plates and cups Bliss held out and Fili took the other. "No stew today?"

"I think everyone's become a bit tired of stew."

"That's just as well." Kili picked some meat from his plate and swallowed it whole. "We're waiting for other dwarves to arrive."

"Anyone in particular?" Bliss asked.

Kili smiled. "Our mother."

Fili began shovelling his own food into his mouth, surprised to find how hungry he was. He drank about half of the ale and then glanced towards the borders of Mirkwood, in time to see dwarves coming out of the forest. "They're here."

Kili turned immediately, putting his now-empty plate and cup down.

"I'll let you meet them alone." Bliss moved away from them without waiting for a reply.

Kili glanced after her for a moment and then turned once more to watch the progress of the other dwarves. Fili could feel how impatient his brother was. He knew how desperate Kili was to see their mother again. Fili felt the same. He just hid it better.

As it became possible to identify the individual dwarves, Kili left Fili's side. Fili spotted the familiar figure only moments after his brother and quickly followed.

They might be warriors now, but neither dwarf resisted when their mother pulled them both into a hug, though Fili did wonder if anyone was staring at them.

Dis released them, finally, and quickly looked them over. "Neither of you seem to have any lasting damage."

"I know. It's a pity," Kili replied. "A few scars would have done wonders for my appearance."

Dis lightly hit the back of his head. "Scars aren't something to joke about."

"There are more dwarves here than I expected," Fili said, looking around at them all.

"We joined with others travelling here," Dis replied. "It seems many of our people have heard of what's happened here." As she was speaking, a dwarf maid came walking towards them with a waterskin, which she handed to Dis. "Thank you, Katla.

Fili glanced curiously at the second female. She was about his height and rather stocky. Her beard and long hair were both black. He smiled at her. "Hello."

Katla gave a polite nod before retreating.

Fili turned back to his mother. "You have to come to the mountain now. Father really wants to see you."

**********************************************************************************************************

Thorin watched as Bard's men took the last of Laketown's share of the treasure down the mountain. He uttered a farewell in response to Bard's, but then his attention was drawn to the dwarves who were coming up the mountain.

It had been a long time since Thorin had seen his sister. He went to meet his sister, finding himself pulled into an embrace. "It's good to see you," he said.

"Thank you for taking care of my dwarflings," Dis said.

"We're not dwarflings!" Kili immediately protested.

Fili snorted softly, but didn't say anything.

Thorin heard footsteps behind him and Bilbo's voice hurriedly said, "I apologise for intruding. I'll go back inside."

Smiling, Thorin moved back and gently pulled Bilbo forward. "I want you to meet one of my closest friends," he said to his sister. "This is Bilbo."

The End

Much Ado About Dwarves: Part Four B: The Battle of Five Armies

Chapter Five

It had been nearly a moon since Bilbo had been banished and the Arkenstone had gone. For almost every day since that day, Thorin's temper had been frightening. Kili had stayed with his brother and they'd kept more or less to themselves. Fili had tried several times to talk to their uncle, but had been rebuffed at every turn.

"I thought he'd get better once the Arkenstone was out of his reach," Kili said quietly as he and Fili sat on one of the beds in their room.

"Maybe it'll just take some time." Fili didn't sound very hopeful, though.

Kili just shrugged. In some ways, he wished they'd never retaken Erebor. He hated seeing Thorin like this. It was as if they were following a stranger.

"I'm going to try talking to him again," Fili said.

"I'll go with you." Kili knew that they would eventually be forced to do more lessons, learning more about being Princes of Erebor, but for now, he was going to take advantage of having free time.

Fili hesitated, but finally nodded. Kili knew his brother wanted to protect him and was glad Fili didn't try to persuade him to stay behind. "Maybe we could have some breakfast afterwards."

Kili gave a small smile. "What? No second or third breakfast?" But his attempt at humour fell somewhat flat. All it did was remind him that Bilbo was no longer around to have all the extra meals.

"I'm sure Bard will look after Bilbo. Legolas, too."

"Maybe we should go down the mountain after we eat?" Kili suggested. "We could visit with them."

"I doubt Uncle would allow it."

"Who says we have to tell him?"

A smile finally appeared on Fili's face. Kili could tell his brother was now thinking the same as him - their Uncle was barely talking to anyone. All they had to do was tell Dwalin that Thorin had told them they could leave - and it would likely be a long time before Dwalin realised otherwise.

Unless, of course, Thorin had already given the orders that no dwarf was to leave Erebor.

Kili pulled himself out of his thoughts as Fili walked out of their room. Following his brother, Kili noticed absently that someone had made sure to keep the torches in the wall brackets well-lit. He suspected it was Balin. Out of all of them, he was the voice of reason and one less likely to have been affected by the Arkenstone.

As Kili and Fili reached the treasure hall, Kili was surprised to see that there was no sign of their uncle. He looked at his brother, trying to hide his worry. "Do you think he went to Laketown to try and get the stone back?"

"I'm sure we would have heard if he had."

Kili nodded slowly, but even with the Arkenstone gone, Thorin had still spent most of his time in the treasure hall. That he wasn't here now made Kili wonder if their uncle had become more desperate and was ready to try something potentially dangerous - and stupid. "Dwalin would know if he left."

"We could try his room," Fili suggested.

Kili didn't bother replying to that and just followed his brother from the treasure hall. They walked back down the passageway, heading to their uncle's room.

Fili stepped forward and knocked loudly.

There was a brief moment of silence and then Thorin's voice called, "You may come in."

Kili exchanged a glance with his brother and then Fili took a deep breath before opening the door, stepping into the room and closing the door behind them both.

Thorin was standing next to his bed. His attention wasn't on his nephews, but rather, on the tapestry on the far wall. The brothers recognised it as one that showed their family line... their lineage. It took a few moments before he focused on his nephews. "Is there something wrong?"

"Why aren't you in the treasure hall?" Kili asked before Fili could say anything.

"Because I..."

Dwalin pushed his way into the room, drawing the eyes of the others towards him. "There's an army of orcs, goblins and wargs approaching Laketown."

**********************************************************************************************************

As Bard left his house, he spotted Legolas coming towards him. The elf was moving fast and Bard didn't need to ask what was wrong. "How close are they?" he demanded almost before Legolas was within hailing distance.

"They're at the borders of Mirkwood," Legolas answered. "The runners have just returned. I've sent them to gather the soldiers."

Almost as soon as Legolas had finished speaking, the men of Laketown had gathered. Since they'd already practised this several times, there wasn't too much panicking as they prepared the defence outside the town's borders.

Elves and men stood side by side. Bard made sure the reserves were kept well back, not wanting the enemy to guess at their true numbers.

It seemed to take an Age for the enemy to finally appear. Bard's grip on his bow became slightly damp and slippery, but he swiftly notched an arrow and loosed it in a high-reaching arc. To either side of him, the other archers were doing the same.

As the first arrows hit their targets, Bard and the other archers fired more. But no matter how many arrows hit orcs, goblins and wargs, by the time the two lines clashed, they were still hopelessly outnumbered.

The field quickly became a bloodbath. Bard did his best to keep far enough back to continue shooting arrows, but more than once, he had to use an arrow as a sword. Men and elves fell all around him. Some were able to crawl or limp away from the devastation, but others would never rise again.

More arrows were pressed into Bard's hand and quiver, but he couldn't look to see if it was his son or one of the other boys. The ground was becoming treacherous under his feet. Keeping his balance was nearly impossible and he slipped and slid, taking a blade on his shoulder from an orc.

Bard twisted to the side to avoid a stab aimed by a goblin and looked up in time to see a warg leaping at him. He found himself pressed in on either side by enemies and couldn't extricate himself to avoid claws and teeth.

An arrow embedded itself in the warg's stomach and it fell to the side, squashing a couple of goblins as it landed.

War cries that Bard didn't recognise sounded from behind him and he twisted round in time to see the dwarves of Erebor joining the fray.


Chapter Six

Legolas quickly discarded his bow and arrows. The fighting was in too close quarters to allow for long-range weapons, though he'd given the order for some of the archers to retreat back within the borders of Laketown and take shots if they could.

The bats had descended in a black cloud, making it hard even for elven eyes to see the enemy. Within a few moments, Legolas was covered in tiny bites that bled profusely.

Legolas glanced round, but couldn't make out who was foe or friend. He couldn't even see Bilbo, though the hobbit was small enough to escape the notice of most people.

Legolas drew a deep breath in and yelled, "Target the bats!" He wasn't sure how many had heard him, but within moments, the black cloud started to disperse. There were still a lot flying around, but it was getting easier to see and fight.

A sound reached Legolas' ears; a sound that didn't belong on a battlefield. Someone was humming a lullaby. An elvish lullaby.

The sound of the battle seemed to dim slightly. Legolas turned in the direction of the sound as an orc fell. Another orc stood behind the first, clutching a sword in hand that it didn't seem to know how to use.

The humming was coming from its mouth.

Memories flashed through Legolas' mind. He remembered his mother crooning that lullaby when he'd been an elfling. But this was an orc. And his mother had been killed by orcs... hadn't she?

Even as Legolas had to turn his attention to more of the dread creatures, though, he remained unfocused. He fought his way through the enemy lines, until he found himself standing directly opposite the orc.

It was virtually unrecognisable as the elf it must have once been. Only the humming of the lullaby even showed that it had ever been anything other than the creature it had been twisted into. As Legolas advanced, it - she - retreated back a step, clutching the blade tightly to its chest.

Wildly unfocused now, Legolas only barely turned in time to parry a blow that would have taken off his head. His eyes met those of his father's and he saw, there, the truth in Thranduil's gaze.

There wasn't any time for Legolas to think about it. He turned as she finally came towards him. The sword was raised, but not as if she knew how to use it. Legolas easily batted the sword aside as he moved back. He knew what he needed to do, but for the first time, he felt reluctant to take the life of an orc.

Legolas was dimly aware of others joining the battle. But he continued fighting against the orc, knowing that he couldn't let her live and yet unable to bring himself to strike a fatal blow.

A sharp cry pulled Legolas' attention away briefly. As he turned back, it was as the orc swept her blade forward. Legolas blocked the weapon, but she seemed to turn into the path of his dagger and he was powerless to prevent it from impaling her.

As her body crumpled to the ground, Legolas couldn't stop to mourn. As he turned, only just keeping his footing on the blood-slickened grass, he saw Fili and Kili. The brothers were standing back to back and seemed to be protecting someone on the ground behind them, but they looked like they were tiring quickly. Legolas ran quickly, but just as he reached the two dwarves, a goblin's blade breached Kili's defences, slicing into his side.

Kili crumpled and Legolas cut down the goblin. Bodies of men, elves, orcs, goblins and wargs littered the ground and Legolas could see how thin the number of defenders were getting. He wanted to help Kili, but didn't dare turn his attention away from the battle even for a moment. He just hoped that the dwarf wasn't too badly hurt.

Legolas felt himself beginning to tire. He stood protecting a dwarf he wasn't even sure still lived and his arms ached from constantly swinging his daggers, as well as the bites left on his skin by the bats. Sweat ran into his eyes and he had to blink constantly so he wouldn't be blinded.

Just as Legolas was starting to think they would be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, he heard the sound of battle cries coming from the other side of the dread creatures. As yet another orc fell to his blade, Legolas could see an army of dwarves that had come up behind their enemy.

**********************************************************************************************************

It hadn't taken Bilbo very long to decide to use his ring to turn invisible. As soon as the battle had started, he'd put his hand in his pocket and slipped the ring onto his finger. Now, with Sting in hand, he ducked and shifted, weaving in and out of orcs, wargs and goblins and stabbing those he could.

At least he had something to take his mind off how things had gone with the dwarves.

Bilbo stumbled, nearly tripping and falling in the blood-drenched grass. He was dimly aware of glimpsing Gandalf, but whether the wizard was really there, or was a hallucination, the hobbit couldn't tell. Despite being invisible, he'd received several blows, including a sharp rap to the head that dazed him and sent him stumbling.

More orcs, goblins and wargs were being felled. They were still attacking in large numbers, but Bilbo could see dwarves hacking at the creatures; dwarves who weren't part of the company.

Bilbo stumbled and tripped over a body on the ground. As he picked himself up, he saw it was a young boy; only a child. Arrows were still clutched in one fist.

Bilbo pushed himself up carefully. All around him, the battle was going on. Clutching Sting tighter in a hand that was slippery with sweat, Bilbo threw himself at the nearest orc.

The sound of beating wings filled the air as Bilbo slashed with Sting. He looked up as the sky darkened and then felt a glimmer of hope.

The eagles had arrived.

Much Ado About Dwarves: Part Four A: The Battle of Five Armies

Chapter One

It didn't take Bilbo very long before he realised there really was something wrong with the dwarves of Erebor. At first, he'd assumed it was innocent; that it was just taking them a little while to adjust to their new home.

But Fili and Kili were acting strangely as well. The human they had brought with them had disappeared. Bilbo hadn't thought he'd miss their light-hearted natures as much as he did, but there it was. Fili and Kili simply weren't themselves when they were serious.

Bilbo couldn't be sure what was responsible for this change in the company. Thorin had always been harsh, but there was an edge to him that the hobbit hadn't seen before. He spent all of his time with the gold and other treasure, rather than on rebuilding the home he had once been so desperate to return to.

And then there was the Arkenstone.

Bilbo had only seen glimpses of the so-called heart of the mountain. From what he'd seen of it, the jewel was certainly beautiful, but it seemed to be the main focus of Thorin's obsession.

The meal in the dining hall was quiet... subdued. The atmosphere was completely different to the first time Bilbo had seen the dwarves eat; or, indeed, any time since then. Bilbo sat at one end of the table with Fili and Kili, who seemed to have almost formed their own alliance against the rest.

And Thorin seemed oblivious to everything.

Bilbo picked up a potato and took a bite. There was one good thing about finally having arrived in Erebor. They didn't have to only eat a small amount of rations and Bilbo could have all he needed to.

"What happened in Laketown?" Bilbo quietly asked the two younger dwarves once he'd finished the potato.

"Nothing happened after you all returned to Erebor." It was Fili who answered. There was an almost defensive note to his voice - as if he thought Bilbo was accusing them of something.

Bilbo glanced towards the head of the table, but Thorin seemed more concerned with contemplating the jewel he clutched in his hand than in paying any attention to what the others were talking about. Something in this obsession resonated with Bilbo, but he forced that thought away before he was tempted to look too closely at it. Instead, he lowered his voice to ask, "Is something bothering both of you?"

"Why would you think that?" Kili smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes.

Bilbo leaned in closer, not wanting to risk any of the other dwarves overhearing what he said next. "Is it about the Arkenstone?" He was potentially making things more difficult for himself by bringing this up to Thorin's nephews, no less, but he had to be able to trust someone.

Fili and Kili exchanged glances. For two dwarves who were normally so open and honest, it was difficult to see them acting suspicious and distrustful.

"Why? Have you noticed anything?" Fili asked.

Bilbo hesitated. "Your uncle has never seemed so obsessed with treasure before now."

"He hasn't been," Kili replied softly.

"Kili!"

Kili looked sharply at his brother. "Would you rather I lied? We talked about Bilbo before... about whether he could help us. Why not use him now? At least he's noticed that something's different." A glance around at the other dwarves revealed the source of the bitterness in his tone - he thought the others should have seen this as well.

"So you have seen it," Bilbo said quietly.

Fili gave a soft snort. "We saw it when our Uncle came to Laketown and then left without even seeing that Kili had recovered for himself."

They didn't need to say it. Bilbo knew that Thorin would never have ignored his nephews or left them behind before. He was speaking before he thought, saying the only thing he could say. "It sounds like you need a burglar."

**********************************************************************************************************

Bilbo had stayed up most of the night, talking to Fili and Kili. He was finally happy that they had a plan which stood a good chance of actually working. That was why he'd now gone to the treasure hall, knowing that Thorin would be there.

It wasn't as though the dwarf king spent any time anywhere else.

Thorin was in the centre of the hall, or as close to the centre as he could be. Even though there was far too much treasure for any one dwarf to count, it looked like that was what he was actually doing. He seemed to have enough presence of mind to realise that Bilbo had arrived, though, and looked up. He didn't smile, but Bilbo thought he looked happy to see him. "Have you come for your share of the treasure, Master Baggins?"

Bilbo shook his head. "Is it really so necessary to stand guard here, Thorin? Why not visit one of the forges? Fili and Kili told me of what you dwarves can make. I'd like to see your work."

"All dwarves can work in the forges. Ask one of the others to show you."

Bilbo had anticipated a response similar to that. His flattery had worked on Smaug - for a time, at least. And Thorin wasn't going to try to kill him...

Bilbo pushed away the memory of Thorin drawing his sword on him. "I know how important the Arkenstone is to you. Fili and Kili have told me some of the stories of your people... Why don't you create something to make it easier for you to carry the Arkenstone? A necklace, perhaps, or a crown?"

"That's not necessary."

"It would make it easy for you to wield the jewel," Bilbo pointed out. "And it would prove that your skills at forging are as good as they ever were."

Thorin looked at him long and hard before finally nodding. He stood up, allowing the gold he'd been counting to slip through his fingers, though he kept hold of the Arkenstone. "Very well."


Chapter Two

Bilbo had managed to talk Thorin into gathering the company of dwarves together to witness the creation of the crown. There was the possibility that, with the entire company there, Bilbo wouldn't be able to take the Arkenstone... but he hoped there would be enough dwarves there that the chaos would succeed in shielding him.

In the end, Dwalin was the only dwarf who didn't gather round the forge. Bilbo knew that was because his job was to guard the secret door. Although Bilbo was certain it would be impossible for an enemy to come through Laketown, without an alarm of some kind being raised, he wasn't unhappy about Dwalin not being there.

After all, of all the dwarves there, Bilbo felt Dwalin was the most likely to notice what he was trying to do.

For a company who found sneaking around impossible even when their lives depended on it, the dwarves gathered around the forge, waiting for their King to make his crown, were markedly quiet. Even Fili and Kili stood up straight, with a minimal amount of fidgeting.

It was as though every dwarf in the area held his breath. Thorin finally put the Arkenstone down, though it was with the faintest flinch. Bilbo edged closer, his hand inching towards the jewel as Thorin retrieved his tools.

Whatever power the Arkenstone had exerted over the dwarven king, Thorin's eyes were clear as he set to work. Still, the jewel was close enough to him that there needed to be a distraction of some kind before Bilbo dared take it.

The heat and sound of pounding metal quickly assaulted Bilbo. The noise was loud enough to give the hobbit a headache, while the heat sank into his skin and made him sweat.

The crown formed quickly and skilfully under Thorin's hands. Despite his nerves, Bilbo found his eyes drawn to the work, which held a certain kind of beauty. This was the first time he'd seen a dwarf at work in a forge... and it didn't disappoint.

The problem was, given how quickly this was going, Bilbo wouldn't be able to sneak the Arkenstone away from Thorin without the dwarf noticing. He could use the ring, of course, but if he suddenly vanished from view, he was sure that would alert the dwarves as much as anything else would. And, of course, Fili and Kili wouldn't be able to react quick enough to respond to it.

Then, as Thorin reheated the crown to make it more malleable so that he could bend it into a better shape, a distraction arrived... in the shape of Dwalin.

The warrior approached the forge with quickened steps, his haste clear. "There are humans requesting an audience with you," he announced to Thorin.

Thorin's frown of concentration deepened into a scowl and he turned to Dwalin. "What do they want?"

Fili and Kili moved, as if by accident, blocking Bilbo from view of the other dwarves. Knowing he had only one chance to do this, Bilbo's hand snaked out and he grasped the Arkenstone, while Thorin's back was turned. He dropped it into the opposite pocket to the one that held the ring, but could still feel its weight almost pulling him down.

"They want the share of treasure you promised them," Dwalin was saying.

Thorin hesitated, almost as if he was tempted to refuse to see them. But, after glancing at Bilbo as if to make sure he'd had enough time to take the jewel, Fili took a step forward. "Uncle... you gave your word that the citizens of Laketown would share in some of the treasure."

"And Smaug is only dead because Bard's aim was true," Kili spoke up. "You owe them an audience at least."

Thorin didn't say anything, but he put the crown down and turned to leave the room. Fili and Kili fell into step behind him, with the other dwarves following behind them.

Bilbo was the last one to leave the forge. The Arkenstone was still a weight in his pocket and each step he took seemed to drive one word into his heart.

Traitor.

**********************************************************************************************************

When they reached the secret door, Bilbo was unsurprised to see Bard there, ahead of a small company of men. Bard himself was dressed in better-made clothes than the last time Bilbo had seen him and the hobbit wondered if he was trying to make a good impression on the dwarves.

Thorin stayed ahead of the dwarves. He didn't seem to have recognised the disappearance of the Arkenstone yet and Bilbo hoped he would stay ignorant for a time yet.

Bard stepped forward, slightly in front of the other men, and spoke in clear, ringing tones. "I've come to request you keep your word, Thorin of Erebor."

"My word?" Thorin sounded almost amused, but when Bilbo sneaked a look at his face, it was hard... cold.

Bard didn't falter. Whether he was brave or not, Bilbo couldn't tell. "I'm sure you have not forgotten the promise you made to Laketown. You swore that we would have a share of the treasure in return for our aid."

"We were the ones who chased the dragon from Erebor," Thorin replied.

"You chased him into Laketown," Bard said harshly. "Many people are dead and I was the one who shot him out of the sky. You owe me a share of the treasure for that, if nothing else."

"The treasure belongs to the dwarves of Erebor."

"So now you have your kingdom, your word means nothing?"

"I would suggest you leave," Thorin said.

Fili took a step forward. "Uncle..."

"This is my decision, Fili!" Thorin snapped at him. "Stay out of it."

Fili didn't try to say anything more, but Bilbo could see how deep that cut. To Fili's credit, he didn't back down, but stood at his uncle's side, jaw clenched.

This was wrong. Bilbo knew that, if Thorin didn't. As dwarf and human faced each other, an idea came into Bilbo's mind. It wasn't a perfect idea, he knew, but maybe it would ensure that Laketown received the treasure it needed for its inhabitants to rebuild.

"I'm sure you know the way back down the mountain." Thorin turned away in a gesture that was clearly a dismissal.

Bard opened his mouth, but apparently realised the futility of trying to argue. He watched as the dwarves filed, one by one, into Erebor once more. Fili and Kili were the last to leave and Fili glanced at Bilbo, almost as if he knew what the hobbit was planning, before disappearing inside.

"Is there something you need?" Bard asked Bilbo.

Bilbo hesitantly reached into his pocket and drew out the Arkenstone. "This is the heart of the mountain," he said. "You can use it to persuade Thorin to give the treasure he promised to Laketown."

"Why are you giving this to me?" Bard asked, not moving.

"I think the dwarves of Erebor should keep their word. It's the right thing to do." Bilbo held the Arkenstone out to him.

Bard slowly took it. "Your King won't be happy with you for this."

"I know." Bilbo took a deep breath and stepped back into Erebor as the door closed behind him.

Thorin's shout echoed through the halls.


Chapter Three

Bilbo wasn't surprised that Thorin had noticed the fact that the Arkenstone was missing. In fact, he had expected the dwarf king to realise that the jewel was gone immediately. He was tempted to stay outside Erebor until he was sure Thorin had calmed down, but he didn't want to risk one of the others being blamed for the theft.

Unsurprisingly, the raised voice was coming from the forge. Bilbo headed down the passageway, resisting the urge to put the ring on and sneak inside.

The closer Bilbo got, the more he could make out the words Thorin was shouting. He was clearly blaming the other dwarves for the disappearance of the Arkenstone. As Bilbo entered the forge, he saw Thorin with his sword drawn. The blade was close to Fili's neck. Kili was behind his brother, where he'd apparently been shoved, if Fili's arm across his chest was any indication.

That stopped Bilbo cold. Thorin might have drawn his sword on him, but Bilbo could never have foreseen the dwarf king turning on his own kin.

"You brought a thief into Erebor!" Thorin snarled at Kili over Fili's shoulder. "How do I know you didn't intend to finish what she started?!"

"Uncle, you know Kili would never betray you like that." Fili spoke calmly, but didn't take his gaze off the sword.

"With the Arkenstone, you'd have a claim to the throne of Erebor." Thorin pressed nearer to Fili, who stepped back, still keeping himself between his brother and his uncle.

Thorin was sick. Bilbo could see that. He didn't understand why none of the other dwarves were stepping in. As much as Bilbo didn't want that rage turned upon him, he couldn't stand by and allow Thorin to harm his nephews.

He knew the dwarf king would never forgive himself for that.

"It was me. I stole the Arkenstone." Bilbo spoke into the sudden silence.

The look that Thorin turned on Bilbo was so filled with hate, the hobbit couldn't think of anything else but turning and fleeing. His heart pounded in his chest, so strongly that he thought it might burst. He could hear Thorin's slightly panting breaths above the sound of his bare feet slapping against the stone floor.

Just as Bilbo raced through the door, he felt his collar grabbed, jerking him to an abrupt stop. He was pulled up into the air and spun round so fast, he almost choked. He stared into Thorin's angry face and kicked his legs weakly.

"WHERE IS IT?!" Thorin shook Bilbo violently before groping at his pockets.

"I...I don't... have it..." Bilbo managed to get out. "I gave it away."

"Who has it?!"

As much as Bilbo didn't want Thorin to turn his anger on Bard and the rest of the humans, he couldn't stop himself from looking in their direction.

"Put the halfling down." If Bard had hesitated due to shock or uncertainty, none of that now showed. He moved a bit closer. "Once we have what we came for, the jewel will be returned to you."

Thorin's grip tightened on Bilbo, cutting off more of the hobbit's air. "You have no right to hold onto the Arkenstone. It belongs to the dwarves of Erebor."

"Or do you mean to say it just belongs to you, Thorin Oakenshield?"

Despite his discomfort, Bilbo cast another glance towards the humans, his eyes widening as he recognised Gandalf. How could he have not seen the wizard before?

"It is my inheritance! My birthright!"

"Your birthright is Erebor." Gandalf moved closer, past Bard. "Put Bilbo down, Thorin, and calm yourself."

"I have no reason to listen to you!" Thorin replied, though his grip wasn't as tight as before and Bilbo could actually breathe now. "You didn't help us return to our home. Why would I take any advice you have to offer?!"

Bilbo wanted to speak, to try to explain himself, but he was uncomfortably aware of how close to the edge he was. Thorin might well be angry enough to throw him off the mountain if he said the wrong thing.

"Thorin..." Gandalf started.

Ignoring the wizard, Thorin brought Bilbo closer to his face. "You are a traitor of the worst kind, Bilbo Baggins. You are not welcome in the Halls of Erebor from this day forward!" Turning slightly, he hurled Bilbo towards Gandalf and Bard.

Not able to catch himself, Bilbo collided heavily with Bard, sending them both crashing to the ground. By the time Bilbo managed to stand up, Thorin was gone... and there was no sign of any other dwarves.

"Are you all right, Bilbo?" Gandalf asked, leaning down slightly.

Bilbo looked up at the wizard, hoping that, now Gandalf was here, the wizard could make things right. But there was a large lump in his throat and he felt tears threaten to fall. He couldn't speak, so he just shook his head.

"That wasn't normal, even for a dwarf," Bard said.

Gandalf sighed. "I was afraid this might happen. The gold sickness affected Thorin's grandfather. I believed Thorin would be free of the effects of the curse."

"It's the Arkenstone," Bilbo said quietly, finally able to find his voice.

Bard glanced at Bilbo and then at Gandalf. He took the jewel out of his pocket and held it out to the wizard. "Can you destroy it?"

Gandalf looked at it. "I can't destroy that stone, but I may be able to take it far enough away to cause its influence to dissipate." He took the Arkenstone from Bard and put it away somewhere within his robes.

"What about your share of the treasure?" Bilbo asked Bard.

"I doubt very much that Thorin will be prepared to negotiate - and I would rather the Arkenstone was taken as far away from Laketown as possible." Bard began walking back down the path.

Bilbo looked behind him one final time, trying to make out the secret door. His shoulders slumped and he quietly followed the humans.

**********************************************************************************************************

Bard walked to the outskirts of Laketown, dressed in some of his older, more simple clothes. His bow was slung across his back and he carried a quiver of arrows. He'd spent the night downstairs and then some time reassuring his children before leaving his house.

Bilbo was quiet next to him. The halfling had said barely a word since they'd returned from the mountain. He'd agreed to training with the men of Laketown, but after that, had withdrawn into himself once more.

Legolas was already outside the border, with the young men of Laketown separated into two groups. Glancing up, he beckoned Bard towards him and indicated one of the groups. "These are the humans I believe have potential to use a bow."

Bard nodded and looked at Bilbo. "I think it would be better for you to join Legolas' group."

The halfling didn't nod, but he joined the group standing in front of Legolas.


Chapter Four

Bard set his bow and quiver down on the ground, before focusing on his men. He noticed there were a great number of able-bodied citizens missing from the crowd, but decided he would deal with them later.

Bard looked again at the men and took a deep breath. He then spoke, making sure his voice was clear and didn't hold even a hint of uncertainty. "I'm sure many of you know basically how to shoot arrows, but even before you learn how to string an arrow to a bow, you need to learn the correct way to stand - and the right way of holding the bow." Unfortunately, he only had the one bow with him, but he knew that Legolas had organised some of the less able-bodied men to start making bows and arrows.

Bard had given serious consideration to having some of the men build another wind lance, but it was an idea he had quickly discarded. Although the weapon would certainly be useful for a longer range, it would take far too many men to build. And, of course, it would be impossible to shoot more than one arrow at a time.

Forcing away all other distractions, Bard proceeded to demonstrate the easiest stance for holding a bow.

**********************************************************************************************************

As the training session finished, Bard couldn't say he was happy, but he was satisfied. Using his own bow, he'd managed to show most of the young men the correct way to hold the weapon. He hadn't paid any attention to what Legolas was doing, but there had definitely been a lot more grunting from the elf's group.

Bard was tired after the amount of time he spent showing stances and even how to draw the bow, but not unbearably so. As much as his arms ached, in a way, it was a good pain.

Once all of the men had dispersed, Bard approached Legolas, who was cleaning his weapons. "Not every able-bodied man was here."

Legolas looked up at him. "I don't have any authority here, but we will need every person physically able to defend this place."

"Do you really think they'll send an army that big?" Bard asked. "The orcs who attacked before formed a much smaller number."

"For whatever reason, the orcs wanted to see the dwarves dead," Legolas answered. "I was able to slay some of their number, but a few escaped."

"And, of course, they'll alert their comrades to the dwarves' presence here," Bard muttered.

Legolas nodded. "If King Thranduil agrees to come with some of the warriors, training will go much faster. Were you able to send a message?"

"I did, but there hasn't been any reply. Do you think he'll provide any aid?"

"I think he will, even if it's just to take a share of the treasure." Legolas glanced around and then focused on Bard once more. "Where's the halfling?"

"He may have gone to be alone somewhere. He's been unhappy ever since we left the mountain."

"Did he choose to leave, or was he forced to?"

"He was banished after he gave me the Arkenstone," Bard answered. "I hope he hasn't ventured too far. One halfling alone is not going to be able to defend himself."

"I could go and look for him while you speak to the other men of Laketown who weren't here today," Legolas offered.

Bard nodded and walked back into the town.

**********************************************************************************************************

Legolas didn't need to move far from the border of Laketown before he found Bilbo. The halfling was sitting on the grass, staring at the blade of his dagger as if he was trying to figure something out.

"That's a well-made blade," Legolas said. "What name have you given it?"

Bilbo gave a half-hearted smile. "I call it Sting."

"That's a good name." Legolas sat on the grass next to Bilbo. "It's of elven make, isn't it?"

Bilbo nodded. "It glowed blue when we were attacked by goblins."

"That's a warning," Legolas explained. "The blade will glow blue if it detects the presence of goblins or orcs."

"Would it help to send the sword with one of the scouting parties?" Bilbo asked, almost hopefully.

Legolas' first instinct was to say no; that he doubted an army of orcs or goblins would be able to sneak up on them. But he thought better of it. He could tell that Bilbo wanted to feel useful - and perhaps it truly would help. Even a moment's advance warning could make all the difference. "I'm sure that would be a great help."

Bilbo nodded a second time, the sadness on his face lifting a little.

Legolas rose to his feet. "Are you ready to come back into the town now? I'm sure you must be very hungry."

Bilbo started to reply, but was cut off by the loud growl that came from his stomach. "I suppose I must be."

Legolas allowed himself a slight smile and waited for the halfling to precede him into the town.

**********************************************************************************************************

Having tried Addison's house, Bard wasn't all that surprised to only find the man's wife there. He exchanged a few words with Amma, who told him that her husband had gone to the market.

At least he wasn't at the house, plotting with Sheena.

Bard pushed the thoughts of his own wife out of his mind. He knew how strained things had become between them, but as it stood right now, he needed to focus on defending Laketown and keeping as many people alive as possible, when the battle finally came.

Everything else would have to wait. Including how Bard felt about the merchant.

The marketplace was a little more subdued than usual. There were some people milling around, but they were talking in hushed whispers and Bard saw more than a few nervous glances sent in his direction. He sighed to himself, but returned the few greetings he received, even as he strained his ears and eyes for any sound or sight of Addison or one of the other merchants.

"I need a better price."

Hearing the words, spoken in the familiar voice, Bard immediately headed in the direction the voice was coming from.

An elderly stall owner was selling cloth. Bard immediately saw that Addison was leaning forward in an almost threatening way and it took Bard a few moments to keep his temper down. He wasn't necessarily a calm man at the best of times, but it was even more difficult to keep control of himself now.

As soon as Bard felt he could speak calmly, he approached Addison. "I need to speak with you."

Addison slowly turned round to look at Bard. "I'm busy. I'm certain you are as well."

"And that's what I need to talk to you about." It was difficult to stay civil, but Bard just about managed it. "There is a war coming. Every able-bodied man needs to join the groups for training."

"We only have your word and the word of an elf. No army has been sighted close to Laketown - no dread creatures at all."

"A group of orcs has already entered Laketown once," Bard said. "Now that dwarves have returned to the mountain, more of them will come."

"I have a lot of rebuilding to do, as do most of the other merchants. That's more important than training to fight in a war that probably won't even occur."

"If you're not prepared to fight for Laketown, you and the rest of the merchants will have to leave."

"You don't have the power to do that." Addison didn't sound so sure, though.

"I'm in command here," Bard replied. "And, yes, I do have the power to banish you and the rest of your guild. So you either help to defend Laketown... or you no longer have a home here."

**********************************************************************************************************

Sheena didn't really know what to do. She could keep her hands busy with sewing the fabric into clothes, but there was nothing she could do to keep her thoughts from turning over and over.

Bard's older children had gone out. Sheena expected that Bain had gone to join the men as they trained and that Sigrid had left to see if there was anything else she could help out with.

Tilda, on the other hand, was seated opposite Sheena. Whatever was between Sheena and Bard, Tilda still seemed willing to spend time with her. Tilda was currently practising some of the grabs she'd been taught by Bliss.

Sheena bit off the strand of thread and then shook the dress out, looking at it critically.

"Is that mine?" Tilda asked.

Sheena nodded. "Would you like to try it on?"

Tilda smiled and stood up, walking round to Sheena's side of the table.

The clothes the girl was wearing had become quite threadbare by now. Sheena helped her out of them and then into the dress she'd made, happy to see it was a near-perfect fit.

Just as Sheena was finishing fastening the ties on the dress, there was a knock on the door. Guessing it was Inga, Sheena walked over to answer it and invited the older woman inside.

"Is something wrong?" Inga asked once she and Bliss were inside the house.

"Nothing's wrong," Sheena answered reflexively.

"Don't try giving her that answer," Bliss said as she walked over to join Tilda at the table. "It's not an acceptable answer. Apparently."

"What does that mean?" Sheena asked, a bit wary.

"Bliss isn't too happy with me after I persuaded her to talk," Inga answered. "She believes she doesn't need anyone."

"Maybe she doesn't."

Inga merely shrugged, though Sheena had the feeling she didn't agree. "Today is the first time I've seen you unhappy since you married Bard."

"It's nothing."

"It's rarely 'nothiing'." Inga stepped closer to Sheena, placing a hand on her arm. "Was it something to do with your father?"

Sheena opened her mouth to continue denying it. What came out, however, was, "Bard overheard him saying something to me and misunderstood."

"What did he misunderstand?"

"Why I married him." Sheena lowered her voice, not wanting Tilda or Bliss to overhear her.

"Have you tried talking to him?" Inga asked.

"Everything's been so chaotic lately... and I don't even know how to speak to him about it."

"Then don't worry about doing that yet," Inga advised. "Be supportive - and then, once things have calmed down, explain it to him."

"What if the battle destroys Laketown?"

Inga squeezed her arm gently. "If you start thinking like that, it'll make you incapable of doing anything. Just do what you can to help - like you already have been."

**********************************************************************************************************

The second day into training, Bard lowered his bow as he heard shouting. He could see the latest group of scouts running towards them. A row of warriors marched behind them, too far away for Bard to make out any details. All he could think was that they could be an enemy.

Bard drew an arrow from his quiver and notched it to his bow. He raised his weapon, drawing the arrow back, aiming at one of the soldiers.

Legolas knocked his arm down. "Don't shoot! They're elves."

Bard wasn't quite ready to lower his bow completely. "Are they Mirkwood elves?"

"Yes. I recognise some of my comrades." Legolas stepped forward, past Bard. "Allow me to speak to them."

Bard wasn't sure he trusyed the sudden appearance of the elves, but he did trust Legolas. "If things go wrong, signal me and we'll get you out of there."

"Nothing will happen to me." As reassuring as Legolas sounded, Bard imagined he could see the signs of fatigue in the elf as he moved to meet the leader of the Mirkwood army. Legolas had worked himself as hard as any of them.

Bard forced his concern away as he thought he recognised the leader who had come forward to meet Legolas. Whether it was deliberate or not, Legolas spoke loud enough that Bard could hear every word. "It's good to see you've responded to Laketown's request for aid... Father."

"I have a vested interest in the treasure that is held in that mountain." The elf's regal bearing made Bard realise it was King Thranduil who had led the army of elves here... though Bard could see very little of his father in Legolas.

"No matter your reasons for coming, I'm relieved you have," Legolas said. "It would be to your advantage to ally yourself with the men of Laketown."

"And what of the treasure in the mountain?"

Bard was a little taken aback by how obsessed Thranduil seemed to be with the treasure. Had the Arkenstone wrought its curse on the elf king as well? Or was this simply greed, with no sinister cause?

Bard stepped up to Legolas' side. He had no doubts that, had they wanted to, the two elves could have made their conversation private. "We can't concern ourselves with the treasure until our home is safe."

"Then what plans do you have?" Thranduil asked.

Much Ado About Dwarves: Part Three B: A Marriage of Convenience

Chapter Six

The next morning, Bard woke with a slight ache in his neck. He'd fallen asleep seated at the table and his head had dropped onto his folded arms, which meant that the back of his neck now ached.

As Bard looked around the room, he saw that Sheena stood in front of fireplace. She was next to Inga and the two women were clearly cooking something that had quite a tantalising scent.

Sheena turned round and, as her eyes met Bard's, she smiled. "You're awake."

"Have you been down here for long?" Bard asked.

Sheena shook her head. "Inga arrived only shortly before you woke. I gave her some of the money I had left over yesterday. I know you're quite busy at the moment and I wanted to make sure you had enough to eat before you left."

"Did you buy anything personal for yourself?" Bard asked before he could stop himself.

"I bought myself and Tilda a meat pie each while we were in the marketplace yesterday," Sheena answered. "And some water, too. But everything else was for the household."

Bard nodded, standing from his chair and rubbing at his neck. He noticed that the material on the table had stitches in some parts and that there was a needle with thread resting on top of the pile.

"I'm going to continue sewing the clothes later," Sheena said, apparently noticing the direction of his gaze.

"I think the food's ready now," Inga said. "Would you like me to tidy the house?"

"Please do," Bard replied.

Inga smiled, first at Bard and then at Sheena. She then moved off to make sure everything was tidy, wiping down wood surfaces with a damp scrap of material.

Sheena retrieved two bowls and filled them both with the stew. She also put three separate bowls to one side, before carrying the filled bowls and two large pieces of bread to the table.

Bard sat down once Sheena placed one of the bowls and a piece of bread in front of him. He waited until she sat down as well before he began eating, dipping the bread into the stew.

"Are you going to leave very soon?" Sheena asked between mouthfuls.

"In a short while." Bard finished his stew and used the remains of the bread to mop up the dregs.

"Is there very much to do?"

"There is still a lot of rebuilding," Bard answered. "The dragon's attack also wounded many people. There are a lot who still need aid."

"Would you like me to come with you?" Sheena asked.

"You're certainly welcome to accompany me, but I can't imagine it would be a pleasant sight," Bard said. "Many have been severely injured and are in very bad ways."

"I imagine not much can be worse than seeing my sister dead," Sheena said quietly.

"There are worse things than dying. Don't ever think you've seen how bad things can get." Bard captured Sheena's gaze with his own. "You're fortunate you didn't have to see her die." He realised that he probably sounded a bit harsh, but he couldn't quite bring himself to apologise.

Sheena was silent, but she picked up the bowls and walked over to the bucket of water.

Bard sighed and stood up once more. "I'll be back by the evening." Without waiting for a reply, he walked out of the house.

**********************************************************************************************************

The first place Bard went to were the shelters that had been set up for the wounded. There were a number of them left, wrapped up in blankets, but Bard realised that a few more had quietly died during the night.

Bard bent over one of the sleeping mats, trying to encourage a young man to drink. Although his wounds weren't serious, he had been coughing and had obvious breathing problems. He was also refusing to drink anything, no matter how hard anyone tried to persuade him.

"I don't think you can do anything more for him."

Bard looked up, somehow not very surprised to see Legolas standing there. The elf seemed somehow out of place in the horror of the dragon's attack. In stark contrast to everything all around them, the elf looked clean without anything out of place.

"Are you a healer as well?" Bard asked.

"I can't be a warrior and a healer," Legolas replied. "But I was fostered by Lord Elrond, who is a very skilled healer, and I learned quite a lot from him."

"Do you know what's wrong with him?" Bard spoke quietly, not wanting the man to overhear.

"I believe he inhaled too much smoke. It's burned him inside. The best thing you can do is make him as comfortable as possible and move on to a patient you can help."

There was no cruelty in the elf's words, but Bard felt he sounded callous. "Do you feel nothing?"

"I would offer my aid where it is needed, but not where it will not do any good," Legolas replied.

"What do you know of death? Elves are immortal."

Despite the fact that Bard's voice had begun to rise, Legolas remained calm... impassive. "I know you're not angry with me. I know that this makes you feel helpless. I'm here to give you my help." Legolas paused briefly. "I would send a message to Mirkwood and request aid from the healers there, but I'm afraid I can't guarantee whether or not anyone would come."

"By the time they got here, their skills would probably not be required anymore."

Legolas placed a hand gently on the young man's shoulder as he began coughing. A compassionate look came across the elf's face and as he moved to one of the other wounded, Bard wondered at why this elf wasn't as aloof as the others of his kind Bard had met.

**********************************************************************************************************

Tilda wandered down the stairs, yawning and rubbing her eyes. She stood at the bottom and looked towards Sheena, who was seated at the table and sewing. "I'm hungry."

Sheena smiled, placing the clothes to one side, and stood up. "There's some breakfast left. Are your brother and sister going to come and eat with us?"

"Maybe." Tilda wandered over and climbed up onto the chair. She reached out to touch the material, careful not to let the needle pierce her finger. "When will my dress be made?"

"It will take a few days yet." Sheena picked up one of the bowls and filled it with the stew, bringing the bowl and some bread over to Tilda. "Did you sleep well?"

Tilda nodded and then smiled, looking at the table and then at Sheena. "Did you know one of the dwarves used our table as a bed? I think he was hurt..." she added.

Sheena looked surprised for a moment but then smiled. "I'm sure it must have been interesting to have dwarves here."

Tilda wrinkled her nose slightly. "They came out of our toilet. And they smelled strange," she added. "I don't think Father liked them very much."

"Do you know why?"

Tilda shrugged. "They probably woke the dragon." She watched Sheena. "Were you scared when it attacked?"

"I didn't see much of the dragon. When the sky went dark, I thought it was a storm coming. And then I realised how much of the town was on fire..."

Tilda began eating, scooping up large amounts of the stew with her bread. "Did Father go to help the people who were hurt?"

Sheena nodded. "I'm sure he'll be back later this evening."

"Well, you're going to be here. So you can look after us."


Chapter Seven

After he left the healing tents, Bard felt tired, hot and sweaty. His clothes were ripped in places and where they weren't ripped, they clung to his skin. Bard couldn't see his face, but he imagined it didn't look any better. There was also a lot of blood, staining both his clothes and his skin.

"You may want to return to your home and change your clothes," Legolas said from next to Bard.

Bard turned to look at the elf before shaking his head. He didn't understand how Legolas had escaped with barely a hair out of place. He'd seen him taking care of the wounded as well, after all. "How do you stay clean?"

"I brought a bucket of water with me from the lake. I washed the worst of the blood and dirt off my skin with that."

When Bard looked more closely, he could see that the elf's skin was clearly wet. There were also a few stains on his clothes and hair that Bard hadn't noticed in his first cursory glance. "Do you want to come back to my home?"

Legolas shook his head. "I was going to go hunting. There are many humans here who are starving and can't afford to pay for anything to eat. I will not demand anything from them in exchange for food and water."

Bard opened his mouth to thank the elf, but before he could get any words out, he overheard the Master mentioned in a conversation between two people standing a short distance away. And what they were saying made it sound as if something had happened.

Without bothering to tell Legolas where he was going, Bard strode over to the two young men. "What are you talking about?" he asked directly.

One of the men jumped and darted a guilty look at his friend, who was clearly trying to look braver than he actually felt. "We've heard that the Master left Laketown late last night. He took some of the contents of the treasury with him."

"Who told you that?" Bard demanded. "Was it Alfrid?"

"He's gone as well," the other man said. "Everyone thinks he's abandoned us." He looked at Bard, almost pleadingly. "What are we going to do?"

Bard wanted to ask why they were looking to him, but he already knew the answer. After all, he had done his best to help the people of Laketown. He just wasn't sure what they could do now. Still, he knew he had to do something. "There are still many people who are wounded and in need of help. Gather together anyone with nothing to do and go with Legolas." He indicated the elf. "He will need help to bring food back to the village."

The two young men nodded and quickly hurried off.

Bard turned to Legolas. "Can you use the help?"

"I can always use the help. Once enough food is brought into the town, I can divide them into groups to help with the rebuilding and the rest of the injured."

"I'll meet you at the outskirts once I've changed my clothes." Realistically, Bard knew there was little point in changing. After all, the healing tents probably weren't going to be the only place he'd get his clothes and skin dirty.

But since Bard knew he was going to be seeing other people, he didn't want the sight of him to scare them.

Legolas nodded. "Even with help, it will take me a while to hunt and forage enough food for everyone I've seen who needs them. I'll still be outside the town after you've finished changing your clothes."

Bard simply nodded and began walking away as Legolas remained standing where he was.

"Bard."

Bard blinked and focused on Addison as the merchant stepped out in front of him. He hadn't seen Sheena's father since the wedding and he held back a sigh. He didn't need to figure out how to deal with the older man. "Can I help you with something?" he asked with a certain amount of forced politeness.

"I need to start up trade again. Will you send a message to King Thranduil and ask him when he's going to open up the routes again?"

"I have other duties I need to attend to," Bard replied. "Before I can look into any kind of outside trade, I need to look at the problems here. I'm sure you know that the Master and Alfrid have gone. If you help with the wounded and rebuilding, everything will be finished much sooner."

Addison frowned. "Are you returning to your home? Maybe I can visit my daughter for a time."

"Sheena is busy with her new duties." Bard didn't bother to explore where that sense of protectiveness was coming from. He kept his voice polite, but firm nevertheless. "I'm sure she'll send you a message and ask you to come and visit soon." He didn't bother waiting for a reply and instead walked past the merchant.

Bard reached his house without any further interruptions and opened the door, stepping inside.

Sheena, who'd been sitting at the table, sewing, looked up. She gasped and her eyes widened as she stood up. "Are you hurt?"

Bard put a hand out to stop her approach. "I'm unhurt. I've been with the wounded. I need to wash myself and change my clothes."

Sheena nodded, biting her lip. "There's a bucket of water by the fireplace and I can go and find some clean clothes."

Bard nodded, feeling more weary than he'd realised. He glanced around, seeing that Sheena was the only one downstairs. He didn't think he had the strength to drag the bucket upstairs with him - not without spilling any water - so he simply walked over to the bucket and stripped off his ripped and stained clothes.

Sheena walked over to pick them up. "I'll burn these. I don't think I can clean them - and, besides, I'm making new clothes for you." She spoke while keeping her eyes averted.

"I saw your father on my way here." Bard dipped a scrap of material into the bucket and began washing himself, wincing a bit at the coldness of the water - but he was used enough to it that he could ignore the discomfort.

"Did he say anything to you?"

"He wanted me to contact King Thranduil about reopening the trade routes. I told him that we needed to worry about rebuilding Laketown before anything else." Bard paused a moment, the only sound that of water splashing over his body. "He wanted to come and see you. I told him that you'd send him a message when you'd become more accustomed to your duties."

"I haven't really had that many duties to perform."

"He doesn't know that." Bard glanced at her over his shoulder. "Was I wrong? Did you want him to come and visit?"

Sheena opened her mouth, probably to reply - but before she could do so, there was a loud, frantic knock on the door.

Chapter Eight

Bard paused in the act of putting the washcloth down. He glanced at Sheena. "Are you expecting anyone?"

Sheena shook her head. "Perhaps my Father decided to visit anyway." She looked from Bard to the door and back again. "Should I ignore it?"

As if in response to Sheena's question, a second knock came - louder this time.

"If it's your Father, he's not going to go away," Bard said. "He saw I was coming home." As he spoke, he walked over and picked up his cloak, wrapping it around his shoulders. He then turned to watch Sheena walk over to open the door.

Sheena opened the door and sounded surprised when she said, "Oh. Who are you?"

"My name's Bliss," a slightly familiar voice said. "Isn't this Bard's house?"

Surprised, Bard moved to Sheena's side, looking down at the young girl. "What are you doing here? I thought you were in Erebor."

Bliss stared up at him, her face impossible to read. "I can't stay there."

"Did they treat you badly?" Bard asked, concerned.

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Have I seen you before?" Sheena asked.

Bliss shrugged. "You're one of Addison's daughters, aren't you? I've done some business with him in the past."

"She means she sold him items that she stole," Bard informed Sheena.

"I'm not going to apologise for needing to feed myself."

Sheena glanced at Bard and then looked at Bliss. "Would you like to come inside?"

"Why are you here?" Bliss asked directly. "I don't recall seeing you before I left."

"She's my wife." Bard reflected that this was the first time he'd said those words. And speaking them wasn't nearly as hard as he'd thought they would be.

"That was fast." Bliss stepped into the house, glancing at Bard. "Did I interrupt something?"

Bard shook his head and spoke to Sheena. "I will go and put some clothes on." Without waiting for a reply, he walked up the stairs.

**********************************************************************************************************

By the time Bard was dressed in clean clothes and came down the stairs once more, Bliss had settled at the table, a bowl of stew and a cup of wine in front of her.

Sheena was seated opposite the other girl, having picked up the fabric to continue sewing. She glanced up briefly at Bard, but now that he had nothing else to think about, the memories of the blunt, and perhaps quite harsh, words he'd spoken seemed to hang between them.

While he'd dressed, it had occurred to Bard that he should talk to Sheena later... explain why he'd responded in the way he did. He just didn't want to have that conversation when other people could overhear it.

Another knock drew Bard's attention to the door. Wondering if it was Addison now, Bard walked over and opened it, a bit surprised to see Legolas standing there. "I thought we were going to meet on the outskirts of the town."

"I had a lot of humans approach to offer their aid," Legolas replied. "I thought I'd come here so you can choose where to put them to work."

"There is still plenty to do," Bard muttered. "Has anyone heard anything of the Master?" He could guess at the answer, but in some ways, he hoped he was wrong.

"It appears the Master of Laketown fled during the chaos of trying to deal with the aftermath of the dragon's attack," Legolas answered. "I suspect he feels there will be more attacks, now that Erebor has been reclaimed by dwarves."

Bard nodded. "Will you arrange some of the younger men into scouting parties?"

"I will." Legolas hesitated briefly before he continued, "I cannot send a message to King Thranduil myself to request aid, but there is nothing to prevent you from doing so."

"I'll keep that in mind." Bard knew they needed to find all the help they could get.

Legolas nodded and then frowned as he looked towards Bliss. "Isn't she supposed to be with Kili?"

"Which one's Kili?"

"The archer. They were supposed to make use of her skills." Legolas' frown deepened. He edged past Bard, stepping over to Bliss. "What are you doing back here? Are they safe?"

Bliss slanted a glance up at him and then quickly away again. "They were unhurt when I left."

Bard closed the door and turned to the table. "What are you talking about?"

"You know of the Arkenstone?" Legolas asked.

Bard nodded. "Most of Laketown knows the story."

"Fili and Kili believed it was affecting their uncle in the same way it had affected their great-grandfather," Legolas explained. "They planned to try and steal it, taking it far enough away that it couldn't affect him any longer." He looked at Bliss. "What went wrong?"

Bliss hesitated, as if she wasn't going to answer at all. "I don't know."

"How can you not know?" Bard asked.

"I tried to take some treasure." Bliss stared at the table's surface, almost angrily. "I don't know what happened. It was as if I was in a trance. I woke with a sword pointed at my throat and with gold and jewels in my hands." She hesitated. "I might be a thief, but I'm not stupid. Certainly not so much so that I would steal with a whole company of dwarves around."

"Did any of you talk about you attempting to take the Arkenstone while you were in Erebor?" Legolas asked.

Bliss slowly nodded.

"Surely you're not suggesting the jewel was responsible for that," Bard put in. "Stones are not intelligent, no matter how pretty they appear."

"Something drew the dragon here originally," Legolas said. "There were gold and jewels in the mountain long before the Arkenstone was discovered. Why would Smaug have been drawn here then?"

"If the pull of the jewel was strong enough to draw a dragon from so far away, why have none of us here been affected by its presence?" Bard asked.

"Do you really think you're unaffected?" Legolas returned. "Answer me this, then. Why, when the dragon came, did none of you leave?"


Chapter Nine

Silence descended upon the room with Legolas' words. Bard was silent for a moment and then spoke. "I can't answer that, but if you're right and this jewel is exerting an influence over everyone here, it needs to be destroyed."

"That may not be possible," Legolas said. "There are certain things that cannot be destroyed easily."

"Then it needs to be taken far enough away that it cannot influence anyone else," Bard stated. "Can your King look after it?"

"I believe he would fall to the same influence as a human would," Legolas replied. "He is more taken with jewels than most of my people are." He hesitated. "Perhaps it wouldn't be a good idea to ask him to come here."

Bard looked at Bliss. "Did either of the dwarves give you a message to bring back?"

Bliss shook her head. "They just asked me to leave."

"Is that like them?" Bard addressed the question to Legolas.

"I've only known Fili and Kili for a few days, but dwarves in general are not subtle, or good at hiding their emotions. This silence from Erebor strikes me as unnatural." Legolas sighed, a troubled look coming across his face. "If I weren't certain it would cause fighting, I would go there myself to find out what is happening."

"There is nothing to stop me from going up the mountain," Bard said. "Indeed, considering Thorin's promise of sharing the treasure and the Master's desertion, I expect it now falls to me to ensure that promise is kept."

Bliss was quiet, but Bard could see that she was just moving her spoon around in the stew, not eating anymore of it.

"That might be the best thing to do," Legolas agreed. "But you won't get any chances to take the Arkenstone."

"I know," Bard replied. "But perhaps I can gain information, if nothing else." He looked at Sheena. "I'm going to go with Legolas to see what else I can help with. Will you be all right here?"

Sheena nodded and then seemed to think of something. "If there is anything I can do, will you let me know?"

"You could cook," Legolas suggested. "I'm going to take a group of humans hunting. If you know other people who would be willing to do that as well, it would certainly save a lot of time."

Sheena nodded. "I can do that." She looked at Bard, almost as if she was uncertain. "If that's all right with you."

"If you want to help, I'm not going to stop you." Bard turned his attention to Legolas. "Shall we leave now?"

Legolas nodded and walked over to the door. He stood there, waiting.

Unsure of what else to do, Bard said a quiet farewell to the two girls and then left the house with the elf.

**********************************************************************************************************

Later, Bard walked to the town hall, tired and sweating once more - though at least he wasn't stained with blood this time. He'd been hauling around bricks and stones for a long time now and since those cooking were doing so on the street outside the town hall, that was where he went.

The smell of food was still strong as Bard approached, though there was no one else waiting. Noticing Sheena standing next to one of the cooking pots, Bard stepped over to her. "Is Inga looking after the children?"

Sheena nodded. "She also offered room in her home for Bliss to stay in. I accepted on your behalf." As she spoke, she filled a bowl with stew and handed it to him, wrinkling her nose as she did so. "You'll need to wash again later."

"I'll need new clothes as well. Are you going to finish the stitching soon?" Bard asked between mouthfuls.

"I should be finished by week's end." Sheena paused a moment. "Do you need finer clothes, if you intend to visit Erebor as a representative of Laketown?"

Bard considered her question, but then shook his head. "I will not hide who I am beneath false masks. Why would the dwarves trust someone who comes as anything other than who they are?"

"Do you expect there to be danger?"

"I don't know what to expect," Bard admitted. "I know nothing of jewels that can think and act for themselves, or of dwarves enslaved by greed."

"Dwarves enslaved by greed cannot be very different to the Master - and you had little trouble with him."

"He also wasn't likely to attack me." Bard was quiet for a moment as he rethought that. "Though he did have me locked up before the dragon attacked."

"Was he really that worried about you turning the people against him?"

"He was really that worried about himself." Bard finished the bowl of stew, but found himself reluctant to immediately return to work. "Has there been enough food for everyone?"

Sheena nodded. "Some of the others took food for those unable to come here themselves."

"I'm glad to hear that."

"When do you intend to visit Erebor?"

"As soon as possible. We need the resources."

"Will you be careful?"

"I don't intend to take any chances," Bard replied. "I will be safe. The people of Laketown need me." He handed the bowl back to Sheena and began to walk away - though not before he heard the last quiet words she uttered.

"Your family needs you."

**********************************************************************************************************

When Bard finally returned home, he felt in need of two things; a wash and sleep. He felt that the latter would be difficult to come by, but when he walked into the house, he could see Sheena standing in front of the fire, heating a pot of water with the bathtub close by.

Bard walked over to her and paused within touching distance. "I should apologise for what I said before."

"You don't have to apologise. You meant what you said."

"Still, I could perhaps have chosen a better way of saying it."

Sheena turned to look at him. "I understand the loss you suffered."

Bard met her gaze unflinchingly. "I don't know if I can ever put what I felt into words."

"You don't have to speak." Sheena stepped nearer to him. "I don't know if I can truly be a comfort to you... but I'd like to try."

And then she kissed him.


Chapter Ten

Bard was taken aback at first, but quickly found himself responding. He slid his arm around Sheena's waist, not surprised to find it slim... but he was concerned by how bony she was. He thought about pulling away and stopping this before it began, but there was something almost comforting about this.

Bard pulled away from the kiss, but took Sheena's hand, leading her towards the stairs. Neither of them said anything, but as they walked up the stairs, Bard was certain they both knew what was going to happen.

Once they were in his bedroom, Bard ensured the partition was fully closed before he turned to Sheena. Cupping one hand behind her neck, he kissed her thoroughly before gently pushing her back towards the sleeping mat.

Sheena sat rather than fell on the sleeping mat and Bard braced a hand on either side of her, pushing her down gently and pinning her to the mat.

Bard pulled away gently from the kiss to slide Sheena's dress off her. As soon as she was naked, he turned his attention to his own clothes, removing them and dropping them gently onto the floor.

Without her dress on, Bard could see just how thin Sheena truly was. When he lowered himself once more, he was careful not to put his full weight onto her and then kissed her again, before letting his lips lower, over the line of her jaw and her neck.

Sheena bit her lip and then reached out for him. When she paused, hesitating, Bard took her hands, guiding them towards him with an encouraging smile. He held still as she explored his body, hands running over his chest and back. Although her hands didn't move any lower, Bard still felt himself responding to her touch. A faint blush coloured Sheena's cheeks as she directed her gaze downwards.

Bard waited a moment, until he was certain Sheena wasn't unhappy with this, and gently ran one hand down her body, over her chest and down her stomach, until he reached between her legs. Her body arched as he touched her there, stroking gently and softly, but quickly going a bit harder.

Sheena was gasping, shifting a little under him. Bard braced his hands on her shoulders as he positioned himself and then carefully eased inside her. He kissed her as he did so, muffling the sharp cry of pain that escaped her lips.

**********************************************************************************************************

Bard woke with an unfamiliar weight resting on his arm. He opened his eyes, looking down at Sheena, who was nestling against him as she slept.

For a few moments, Bard allowed himself to just lay there, looking down at the young girl... woman. He knew there would be the telling sign of blood on the bed sheets and that he would have to burn them, so as to protect Sheena's reputation.

A bit reluctant to disturb her rest, Bard gently brushed a lock of hair from her face.

Sheena stirred, opening her eyes and blinking at him. "Do we need to wake up?"

"It's not late, but if we don't burn the bed sheets soon, it will raise all kinds of questions."

Sheena nodded and carefully pulled away from Bard, looking almost embarrassed. She stood and dressed quickly, before walking over to the partition.

Bard climbed to his feet and clothed himself. He then stripped the sheets from the sleeping mat. Carrying them in his arms, he followed Sheena from the room, walking down the stairs. He then immediately went over to the fireplace. Starting the fire, he put the sheets on it and watched them burn.

**********************************************************************************************************

Sheena bit her lower lip in concentration as she made the last stitch in Bard's new tunic. Although he hadn't wanted to visit Erebor clothed in finery, she still sewed the clothes to the best of her ability.

It was strange. She'd expected to feel differently, now that she'd finally known the touch of a man. But apart from a slight soreness, she felt the same as always.

The sound of footsteps coming down the stairs drew Sheena's attention to the children. She'd seen Sigrid and Bain in passing, but hadn't yet truly spoken to them. Placing the clothes neatly to one side, she smiled at them. "Good day. Are you hungry?"

"I am." Tilda immediately sat down opposite Sheena, smiling at her.

"Has Father left again?" Sigrid asked.

Sheena nodded. "I'm certain he will be back soon, though. There's still a lot to rebuild in the town." She stood up, walking over to the cooking pot. "You didn't have breakfast," she commented, filling three bowls with stew.

"We weren't hungry," Bain said.

"Tilda told us you were going to make her a dress," Sigrid said.

Sheena stepped over with the three bowls, which she placed on the table. "I am. I've just finished making some new clothes for your father. Would you both allow me to measure you later, so I can sew some for you?"

Sigrid and Bain exchanged glances and then Sigrid nodded.

Sheena smiled, watching as the children took their seats at the table and began eating. She took a seat at one end and picked up the material for Tilda's dress. She was just about to begin sewing when there was a knock on the door.

Frowning, Sheena put the sewing aside. She stood and walked over, opening the door, prepared to politely send the person away. But the words died before they reached her lips.

Addison was standing there.

**********************************************************************************************************

Bard looked up at the elf as Legolas approached him. "Have the scouting parties encountered anything yet?" he said by way of greeting.

Legolas paused next to him, surveying the few remaining pieces of debris. The elf was beginning to the signs of strain. Dark circles had formed under his eyes and his face had grown unnaturally pale. Bard couldn't help wondering what other effects the exile had had on him.

Realising that Legolas was speaking, Bard pulled away from his thoughts to listen. "As yet, there have been no signs of orcs or any other dark creatures. I've begun training with some of the young men who haven't learned to fight." He sighed. "Of course, there isn't enough time to train them properly... but if anyone breaks through the first line of defence, we need to have other defenders."

"If they break through the first line of defence, we'll probably all be dead," Bard said, a little harsher than he'd intended.

Legolas studied Bard for several long moments and then nodded. "You and I both know that, but we can't let the others believe it. I'm sure you're aware that a battle needs to be won inside the mind before it can be fought in reality."

Bard shook his head. He knew that Legolas had a point, but he also knew what battle was truly like. At least the dragon had left Laketown more or less in peace after its initial attack.

"I can get some bows made," Legolas said. "I thought we could each train a group of men who show some promise with long-range weapons."

Bard nodded. "I'll go back home to eat something and then go to Erebor. If it's not dark, I'll train them when I return. If it is, then I can start tomorrow."

Legolas nodded. "I'll help finish clearing the remains of this debris and then I'll get some rest." He walked over to join the rest of the group.

Bard began walking back along the street, returning to his home. He opened the door and stepped inside.

Inga was putting away plates and bowls she had apparently washed in the lake. Bliss was sitting with Tilda at the table and Bard wasn't very pleased to see her showing his youngest daughter the techniques of picking pockets.

"Father... you're back." Sigrid left Bain and walked over to him.

Bard wrapped an arm around Sigrid's shoulders. "Is everything all right here?"

Sigrid nodded. "Sheena's father came. They're talking upstairs."

Bard frowned. What did Addison want that meant he had to talk to Sheena upstairs? Bard squeezed Sigrid gently and then released her. "I'll be back soon," he promised, before walking up the stairs.

Reaching the partition, Bard was about to enter, when the sound of a raised voice reached him.

"I had you wed to Bard so that he would be more amenable to trading with me. You know you were to seduce him into agreeing to my terms."


Chapter Eleven

Sheena stared at her father. "What are you doing here?" Try as she might, she couldn't quite keep her voice as polite as it should be.

"I haven't seen you since you were married," Addison said. "I thought it was about time I paid a visit."

Sheena was about to reply, but spotted Inga approaching, with Bliss at her side. "Good afternoon," she politely greeted the two women. "Would you like to come in?" She had little choice but to include her father in this invitation.

Addison barely spared a glance for Inga and Bliss before he stepped inside the house. Sheena waited until the two women had entered before she closed the door, taking a deep breath. She was almost sure that Addison planned to scold her and as much as she didn't want to talk with him, she couldn't really refuse.

Inga paused close to Sheena. "Are you all right?" she asked softly.

Sheena nodded. "I'm fine. Will you stay down here with the children? I should probably talk to my father privately for a little while."

"Of course, but are you sure you want to do that?"

"I think it might be best to talk to him privately." Sheena smiled at Inga and then addressed her father, stepping away from the other woman. "I think we can talk upstairs." She didn't wait for a response and instead started moving in that direction, hearing her father following.

Addison didn't speak until they were behind the partition and then he pinned Sheena with a cold glance. "What are you doing?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't play games with me," Addison said. "You know exactly what I expected of you. Your sister's gone now and the only chance I have to better my own prospects is to make sure you marry someone with plenty of money and power. I was hesitant at first about arranging this marriage with Bard, until I realised the people wanted him to take the place of the Master."

Sheena wanted to take a step back, but remained where she was, though with some difficulty. "There's a lot to do. You can't expect Bard to immediately start looking at trade with the merchants here. You..."

Addison raised his voice, cutting her off. "I had you wed to Bard so that he would be more amenable to trading with me. You know you were to seduce him into agreeing to my terms."

Opening her mouth to reply, Sheena was cut off by the partition being pushed aside. She shot a quick glance towards it, her eyes widening as she saw Bard standing there. How much had he overheard? She chanced a glance at his face and saw it tight with anger.

If Addison noticed the look on Bard's face, he didn't comment on it. "I'm glad you're here, Bard. I was hoping to talk to you."

Bard focused his attention on Addison. "I'd like you to leave." He spoke quietly, but with quite a dangerous tone.

Addison hesitated, but apparently thought better of whatever he'd been about to say. He moved past Bard and a few moments later, Sheena heard him leaving the house - though she didn't take her eyes off Bard. "I didn't realise you'd be home this quickly. I'm sure your children are happy to see you."

"You should have just asked," Bard said, his voice still low. "You didn't have to seduce me to try and persuade me to reopen trade routes with your father."

Sheena stared at him. "I didn't..."

"I knew he had that motive behind marrying you to me, but after everything between us, I didn't think you were like him."

Sheena quickly shook her head. "I'm not... that wasn't why I married you."

Bard just looked at her. "I imagine you had no say in the matter."

"It was my idea!" Sheena replied. "I mean... I didn't say it outright, but I was the one who planted the seed. I wanted to marry you, but it had to be his idea."

"Don't lie to me."

"I'm not."

"Why would you want to marry me? I'm older than you. I've been married once already. I have three children. And I'm not a rich man, if it was money you and your father were hoping for." Bard spoke sharply, as if he was trying to drive each sentence like a barb.

Sheena stepped forward, wanting to reach out and touch Bard - but she didn't dare. "I know you value honesty and I can tell you that I've never lied to you."

"I don't believe that." Bard turned away.

"Where are you going?"

"To Erebor. I need to meet with the dwarves." Bard strode out of the room.

Sheena watched him go and then slowly sat down on the sleeping mat.

Much Ado About Dwarves: Part Three A: A Marriage of Convenience

Chapter One

Her monthly bleed still hadn't arrived.

That was the only thought that went through Sheena's mind as she broke her fast with her family. She'd hoped it would come today, but the fact that it hadn't meant she had hardly any appetite. The food tasted like sand in her mouth; the wine like vinegar.

As Sheena reached out for the seasoning, she couldn't help glancing down at her hands. The effects of the illness were still obvious, at least to her eyes. Her weight loss was hidden by the heavy clothes she wore, but her hands were still thin and pale... almost skeletal in appearance. Later, when she went out to the marketplace, she would hide them in gloves.

Ellisif looked up, meeting Sheena's gaze. "You're still fortunate, sister, that you don't need to worry about suitors yet."

Addison frowned from his seat at the head of the table. He glanced at his wife, who kept her head down, not making eye contact with any of them. "Are you no longer being courted? Did you frighten him away?"

Ellisif shrugged, wrapping a lock of dark hair around one finger. "Is it my fault that no man wants a wife who can think for herself?"

Addison's expression darkened slightly. "Why can't you be more like your sister? I never hear her engage in idle chatter."

Ellisif stood from the table. "I'm going for a walk."

Sheena took one last look at her plate, deciding she'd moved the food around enough to look like she'd actually eaten something, and stood as well. "I'll go with you."

Ellisif didn't say anything, but she walked out of the house. Sheena followed and the sisters paused on the street outside before Ellisif turned to her. "Shall we go to the marketplace?"

"I didn't notice your money pouch while we were sitting at the table."

"I don't have it," Ellisif replied. "But I know you have yours. Perhaps there'll even be something at the market that will tempt you into eating."

"I eat," Sheena protested.

"Why don't you try saying that to someone who knows you much less well than I do? I know you haven't had much of an appetite since you fell ill with the plague that came through last summer."

"I was fortunate to survive when so many lost their lives." Sheena struggled to hold the bitterness out of her voice.

Ellisif studied her face for a few moments and then began walking, lowering her voice as Sheena moved alongside her. "I've heard rumours. It's said that many of the other women who survived the plague have been unable to carry a child to term."

Sheena didn't say anything, but she knew her silence was answer enough. She wrapped her arms around herself, shivering in the cool breeze.

"At least you don't have to worry about marriage until after some poor man has been talked into becoming my suitor by Father," Ellisif commented after a moment.

"I suppose that's true." Sheena fell silent as she walked alongside her sister. The breeze was blowing harder now and Sheena raised a hand to smooth back the auburn locks of hair that escaped from her ribbon.

Ellisif looked down at Sheena, her face becoming concerned. "We can return home if you're too cold."

Sheena shook her head. "I feel fine. It's nice to be outside and spending some time with you." She smiled, though she knew there was little humour in it. "Once we're both married, there'll be little time to spend with each other."

Ellisif gave no reply to that, but a slight smile showed briefly on her face.

As they reached the marketplace, all the different sounds merged together, becoming almost deafening and nearly impossible to make out individual noises or words. People milled around, moving between the different stalls and jostling each other.

Ellisif walked towards one of the stalls selling meat pies. Sheena followed more slowly. The scents coming from the stall were tantalising, but even they couldn't tease out Sheena's appetite.

"Are you going out onto the lake today, Bard?"

Sheena paused as she picked out that one sentence close by. She looked around, noticing Bard standing at one of the nearby stalls.

Pulling her hands into her sleeves, Sheena walked over to Bard. She reached him just as he turned away from the stall. "Bard?" She meant to sound confident... assertive, even. Instead, what came out sounded little more than a squeak.

Bard paused, his gaze falling on her. "Hello, Sheena. Did you need something?"

"My father was wondering when you were going to trade with him again." That wasn't entirely the truth, but Sheena was trying to figure out a way to keep him talking.

"Tell him I'll come and see him tomorrow," Bard said. "I need to go onto the lake now, though."

Sheena nodded, watching him leave. She sighed quietly and then turned, seeing her sister standing there. "Did you want to use my money for a pie?"

"I think we should both have a pie," Ellisif replied. "I remember you used to really like them."

Sheena wanted to protest, but decided it wasn't worth arguing over. She walked over to the stall, removing her money pouch.

After they'd paid for the pies and Sheena managed a couple of mouthfuls as they began walking around the marketplace, Ellisif spoke while keeping her attention on the path in front of them. "He'd be a good husband."

"I doubt he's even properly noticed me."

Ellisif shrugged. "He doesn't have to love you to see the advantages of taking a merchant's daughter as a wife. He's a kind man and already has three children. You at least wouldn't be under pressure to produce a son."

"I don't think he'd ever see me as anything other than a child."

"You should suggest it to Father. Let him think that it's his idea and he'll do the work for you."

**********************************************************************************************************

Sheena sat at the table, her writing instruments in front of her. She was looking over some of the accounts, having taken over looking after the household finances while her father was away on business.

The sound of movement by the door caught Sheena's attention and she looked up to see her sister, dressed for the cold weather and reaching to open the door. "Where are you going?"

"Just out for a walk. I may go to the warehouse and see if Father is selling anything I might find useful."

"Would you like me to come with you?"

"I know you're busy. Maybe we could go for a walk together later?" Ellisif suggested.

Sheena nodded. "I'll see you when you come back."

Ellisif left the house, closing the door gently behind her.

Sheena turned her attention back to the papers before her. She continued working for a few more minutes before the door was opened again and her father walked into the house. "I have some more records for you to add to the accounts," he said shortly.

As he added the papers to the pile, Sheena found her voice. "I saw Bard yesterday."

"Did he mention when he was going to trade with me again?"

"He did say he'd talk to you today, but after the arrival of the dwarves, it may be another day or more before he can visit," Sheena replied. She looked down at the papers and took a deep breath. "Wouldn't trading be easier if he was more personally connected to you?"

A thoughtful look came across his face, but before he could say anything, there was the sound of rushing wind from outside. Beyond the windows, the sky grew dark and Sheena got to her feet and rushed over, intending to close the shutters.

And then the screaming started.


Chapter Two

Sheena stared out of the window, not realising what she was seeing for a moment or two. Then, she jerked back as flames devoured objects and people alike outside.

Panic flooded through Sheena and her first thought was to run outside. She made it to the door before logic prevailed and she realised that running straight into the path of the fire would only result in her getting burned. And probably killed.

Sheena's father seemed frozen, staring at the devastation that had been wrought outside. Sheena fought down her fear and ran through to the kitchen. She spared a brief thought for her sister, the only member of her family who was outside.

The bucket of water still stood close to the fire. Sheena grabbed the handle and lifted it as carefully as possible, though some water still sloshed onto her feet. She ignored the discomfort and half-dragged the bucket to the door. Pushing it open with her shoulder, she stepped onto the street and hurled the bucket's contents onto the flames that were closest.

People from other houses had had the same idea and the fire hissed as the flames began to flicker and die. Sheena heard a deafening roar and looked up in time to see a massive dragon falling from the sky.

Sheena wanted to return inside, but she saw more flames leaping high from the direction of the warehouses. Keeping hold of the bucket, she raced along the streets, her wet shoes causing her to slip and slide.

Passing by the lake, Sheena filled the bucket once more and then reached the warehouses. Other people with buckets had reached the area first and Sheena joined in with helping the fires out.

Black smoke filled the air and Sheena coughed violently, waving one hand in front of her face to disperse it. As the smoke began to dissipate, her eyes were drawn to the ruined warehouses... and the bodies of people who had been unable to escape in time.

Her body had been left untouched by the fire. Sheena stumbled forward, dropping to her knees next to Ellisif. When she reached out to touch her sister's neck, Ellisif's skin was warm, but her hopes were dashed when she didn't even feel a flutter under her fingers.

Sheena didn't realise she was crying until she felt the warm liquid on her cheeks. She pressed a fist to her mouth, trying to stifle the sobs.

"Come away. You can't do anything for her now."

Sheena pulled away from the gentle but insistent hand that was on her shoulder. "No. Leave me alone."

"You cannot stay here. Your parents will need you."

Some part of Sheena knew it was Bard talking to her, but she didn't have the energy to feel anything about that. "I have to stay... I should have been with her. Someone should have been with her."

"She wouldn't want you to see her like this. Come away now."

Sheena didn't have the strength to fight anymore. She allowed Bard to pull her away from the horror, but even as he led her back through the streets, she couldn't help looking back over her shoulder, staring at Ellisif's body.

If only...

**********************************************************************************************************

It was only a day after the dragon's attack and Bard could see there was much rebuilding to be done. He paused to help move rubble out of the streets as Bain searched for any wounded who had not received any aid.

There were other people helping to move rubble and any wounded, as well as making sure all of the fires were now out. There were a few merchants among the group and Bard recognised Addison in the group, a tall thin man who had had two daughters.

Though Bard was aware that the dragon's attack had taken the life of one of those daughters.

Seeing that there was nothing more he could do to help, Bard began to leave, intending to return home - though even with two of the dwarves having left, it was still more crowded than Bard would have liked.

"Bard, may I speak with you?"

Bard half-turned at the voice and looked at Addison. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Perhaps this is not the best time to speak of this, but I can't think of a better time," Addison said. "We have been trading partners for a number of years now and I believe it might be to both of our advantage to make this partnership more personal."

"What were you thinking of?" Bard placed a hand on Bain's shoulder, squeezing it gently, but didn't take his eyes off the merchant.

"I'm sure you're aware that my eldest daughter was killed in the dragon's attack," Addison replied. "I had thought to offer her to you as a wife, but her younger sister is calmer and more obedient. If you are agreeable, I would like to enter into marriage negotiations with you."

"I have no need for a second wife."

"I've heard people talking. I'm certain you have as well. There are rumours that the people of Laketown don't want the Master to be in control any longer. They would rather have a man who would fight to protect them."

"That kind of talk could get someone into trouble," Bard pointed out.

Addison shrugged. "You have three young children. Even if those rumours come to nothing, you could still do with a younger wife to look after them. Sheena has also been educated in the finances of my household. She would make a man a good wife. She is much quieter than Ellisif was."

Aware of Bain leaving to join his sisters, Bard didn't immediately excuse himself. He could see the advantages of having a second wife. Not only would his children have someone else to look after them, but marrying the daughter of a merchant would, more than likely, increase his trade options.

"I will have to think this over," Bard said. "Once I've made my decision, I will inform you of it."

Addison nodded. "Very well."

Uttering a quiet farewell to the other man, Bard began walking away, heading back home.


Chapter Three

Bard watched as the younger of the dwarves left and then turned his attention to the elf still standing just in the doorway. He had no idea what was meant by the elf's comment, but since it had nothing to do with him, he pushed it from his mind. "Do you have somewhere to stay?" he asked the elf.

"I don't need a proper house to stay in," the elf replied. "I can build a shelter close to the lake. If there is work to be done here, I can help rebuild."

"I'm sure any aid you can offer would be appreciated. My name is Bard."

"I'm Legolas." The elf gave a faint smile.

Bard simply nodded. "You can always stay here for a time until you have built a shelter." He'd already had a group of dwarves staying in his house and he was certain an elf would be much cleaner than them.

"Thank you."

Bard turned slightly as he heard the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs and smiled at his son. "Are you all right?"

"I've been talking to Sigrid and Tilda," Bain answered. "We think you should talk to Addison. You're always so busy. We think it would be helpful for you to have someone else to help here at home."

Bard nodded. "Thank you, Bain." He thought about it and decided he should meet with the merchant as soon as possible. He'd started to hear rumours similar to the ones that Addison had put out and it would probably be to his advantage to make his own position as strong as possible.

Since he was sure that the Master wouldn't be happy once those rumours reached his ears.

"Will you and your sisters be all right here for a little while?" Bard asked.

"I can take care of them while you're gone," Legolas offered. "It's been some time since I was around any little ones, but I'm sure I haven't forgotten anything."

"Very well." Bard stepped over to the door, moving past Legolas, and walked out onto the street.

In stark contrast to what it had been like earlier, everything was quiet on the street. There wasn't anyone around and even the natural sounds seemed somehow deadened. Bard tried to ignore how strange it was, but it wasn't very easy.

In a way, Bard was relieved when he reached Addison's home. He was sure things would return to normal eventually, but for now, the effects of the dragon's attack were still obvious.

Bard reached out and rapped on the door.

Addison opened the door and smiled politely. "Hello, Bard. Would you like to come inside?"

"Yes. Please." When Addison stepped back from the door, Bard entered the house. "I'm sure you know why I'm here."

"If you sit down, my wife will bring you a drink." Addison indicated the table, with straight-backed chairs around it. "I will return in a moment." He walked towards the stairs.

Bard took a seat at the table. He looked up as Addison's wife, Amma, approached and set a goblet of wine on the table in front of him. "Thank you."

Amma merely nodded and retreated, hiding away by the fire.

Bard sighed and wondered if he was making the right decision. Even for having had two children, Amma hadn't lost all of her looks. Her eldest daughter had taken after her in appearance, but Amma's dark hair was streaked with grey and she hunched over more than she stood straight. The only difference to how she'd looked before the dragon's attack were the mourning clothes she was now dressed in.

Bard hadn't spoken to Sheena a great deal, but he hoped Amma's younger daughter didn't take after her mother in temperament. He had no use for a wife who was scared of him.

"Master Bard?"

Bard turned his head, seeing Sheena standing at the bottom of the stairs. She was clothed in such a way that she made Bard think of a doll Tilda had once possessed. Her hands were clasped in front of the brown dress she wore. Her auburn hair had been pulled back from her pale face with a ribbon. She looked as if she'd not slept at all, her eyes still a bit red.

Bard pulled his gaze away from Sheena's face, looking at Addison. "Shall we decide the bride price?"

"Of course." Addison nodded to Sheena. "You may leave."

As Sheena moved to return upstairs, Bard spoke. "Why don't you stay? This is your future we will be discussing." He could feel Addison's eyes on him, but the merchant said nothing.

Sheena looked at her father and then at Bard once more. "I'm afraid I won't be very good company. My sister did lose her life in the dragon's attack."

There was a very faint note of accusation in Sheena's voice. From the look on Addison's face, Bard could tell her father had heard it as well. He spoke quickly, not wanting Addison to scold his daughter. "I understand. Your father and I will take care of the arrangements."

"Thank you." Sheena only spared her father a brief glance before she walked back up the stairs.

Bard picked up the goblet and drank some of the wine. "I expect you want to offer me a lower bride price than you should."

Addison sat down on the chair to the left of Bard. "Why would you say that?"

"What other reason could you have for dressing your daughter up as if she were a doll?"


Chapter Four

The wedding had been a small affair. There had been witnesses and the vows had been spoken. Bard had held Sheena's hand, but only gently. Her bones had felt so fragile through her skin, he'd been concerned that to hold on too tightly would shatter them.

Inga had taken Bard's children to her home and the elf had left the house, though Bard didn't know where Legolas had gone.

Sheena stood in the middle of Bard's room, next to the sleeping mat. Her hands were clasped tightly in front of her, but they still trembled a little. Bard noticed this and spoke to reassure her. "You don't need to fear me. I won't force myself on you. You may sleep in here. I will retire downstairs."

The girl simply nodded, slowly sitting down on the sleeping mat. Bard watched her a moment longer and then left the room, picking up a blanket on his way.

As he moved into the kitchen, Bard spotted one of the knives that he suspected the elf may have used. That gave him an idea and he picked up one of the other knives, carrying it back up the stairs with him.

Reaching the room, Bard knocked on the partition. After a brief pause, Sheena's voice called, "Come in."

Bard reached out and pushed the curtain to one side. Sheena was still sitting on the sleeping mat and she looked at the knife with slightly wide eyes.

"Get up. Please," Bard added as an afterthought.

Sheena looked at him uncertainly. "Why?"

"We need to protect your reputation. If the marriage sheets aren't bloodied, you could be accused of being unchaste."

Sheena stood slowly, but still eyed the knife. She stayed where she was, clasping her trembling hands once more.

With the hand that wasn't holding the knife, Bard rolled up his sleeve. Transferring the knife to his other hand, he walked over to the sleeping mat and drew back the blankets. Holding his bared arm over the bed sheets, he drew the blade across his skin and then turned his arm to allow blood to stain the material.

Sheena spoke, drawing Bard's attention back to her. "Thank you." Her hands no longer trembled and she looked relieved.

"I know you're still in mourning for your sister. I would have been willing to wait to be married, but your father seemed very insistent."

"He often is. It serves him well in trade."

"Did you think I would hurt you?" Bard asked.

"No," Sheena replied without hesitation. "But I can't deny I was nervous when I saw you with the knife."

Bard merely nodded. "Get some sleep. Your father told me you were involved with the accounts in your household. I could do with some help with our finances. We don't have to start tomorrow if you still need time to grieve, but you might find it helps to have something else to think about.

"I'm sure you're right," Sheena said quietly.

"I don't have a lot of money," Bard said, "but there's enough that I can give you some to spend if you wanted to go to the market tomorrow or the day after." He walked towards the partition. "Good night."

**********************************************************************************************************

The next morning found Sheena seated at the table in Bard's kitchen, papers piled in front of her. It was a position she was very used to being in, though she felt calmer than she had in her parents' house as she worked.

As Sheena worked on the finances, she reflected that Bard had been right. Something about the simple monotony of this task helped the stabs of grief lessen in their intensity.

The sound of the door opening brought Sheena out of her thoughts and she looked up as Inga ushered the children inside. The two older ones - Bain and Sigrid - hardly spared Sheena a glance as they walked towards the stairs. The youngest child, however, didn't follow her brother and sister, instead walking over to the table. "What are you doing?"

"I'm figuring out how much money there is to spend," Sheena explained. "And how much still needs to be spent."

Tilda pushed one of the other chairs back from the table and climbed up onto it. "Do you sew?" she asked. "Father sometimes gets holes in his clothes, but he's not very good at sewing."

Sheena smiled. "Men don't often sew."

"Women don't often help with the finances," Inga commented, stepping over to the table and glancing at the papers.

Sheena shrugged. "I've always enjoyed working with figures and I have no brothers, so my Father allowed me to take care of the money at home. Bard said that my Father told him I can work with figures."

Tilda leaned over to peer at the papers. "Will you teach me?"

"I think we'll have to ask your Father," Sheena answered.

"Is Bard here?" Inga asked.

"I think he went to send a message to someone. I said I'd start looking over the papers while he was gone. I like to keep busy." Sheena looked at the money pouch Bard had left her on the table. She hadn't looked inside to see how much there was, but Bard had seemed to think she could use it to buy herself clothes and maybe jewellery.

Inga followed the direction of Sheena's gaze. "If you wanted to go to the market, I could look after the children."

"Maybe I will go to the market." Sheena looked at Tilda. "Would you like to come with me? You can tell me what colour fabric your father likes."

"Really?" Tilda smiled.

Sheena nodded. "Do you want to go and tell your brother and sister where we're going? Perhaps they'd like to come as well."

"I think they'd prefer to stay here." Tilda headed quickly towards the stairs and walked up.

Inga sat down on the chair Tilda had just left. "What do you think of Bard?"

"I like him," Sheena admitted. "He's been nothing but kind to me. I know what to expect from him."

"Unlike...?"

"I don't know my father all that well," Sheena admitted. "It's nice to be around someone who is honest about who he is." She stood up as Tilda came rushing back down the stairs and smiled. "Are you ready to go?"

Tilda nodded and went quickly to the door.

Chapter Five

Bard stood just before the outskirts of Laketown, watching Legolas as the elf finished building his shelter. "You're not returning to Mirkwood?"

Legolas straightened up, pushing some hair back - though Bard couldn't see how it was out of place. "I can't go back." Although his voice was calm enough, there was the hint of a deeper feeling on his face.

Bard couldn't say he was surprised by that, though. He couldn't imagine what it must be like to be forced from your own home. "You seemed friendly enough with the dwarves. They didn't invite you to Erebor?"

"I was invited, but I believe their leader would not welcome an elf in his home," Legolas said. "And my... King had the company imprisoned, as I imagine you may be aware. They escaped inside barrels."

"That's how I found them. Were you responsible for saving the young one?" At Legolas' nod, Bard continued, "If nothing else, their leader should be grateful for his life."

Legolas shrugged. "I have no need for luxury; or, indeed, for any kind of reward. I did what I felt was the right thing. These consequences are mine to endure." A troubled look came over his face. "But I am concerned about them."

"The dwarves? Why?"

Legolas shook his head. "It isn't important. I merely believe their leader is suffering undue stress at the moment. I assume you have heard nothing from the company?"

"They came to check on those they had left behind, but returned without them." Bard had been more concerned with other things at the time, but he considered it strange that Thorin hadn't checked on the dwarves from his company. He seemed particularly close to the two young ones, though perhaps dwarves simply hid their emotions better.

"I doubt that the pack of orcs which were pursuing the company of dwarves will be the only ones who come here," Legolas said. "I sleep very lightly. I will hear if any orcs approach and will be able to warn your people."

Bard nodded. "Any aid you can offer would be greatly appreciated."

Legolas smiled faintly at him. "I would have brought more elves with me if I could... perhaps I could send a message to King Thranduil and request his aid."

"Thorin promised a share of Erebor's treasure to Laketown," Bard said. "I do not know if he'll keep his word, but it seems fair to give him the chance to do so."

"I'm sure he'll remember his debts."

Bard nodded and stood there for a moment or two longer, before he uttered a quiet farewell to the elf. Legolas returned it before moving away from the shelter, bow in hand.

Bard walked back into Laketown, considering writing a message to send to the dwarves. As much as he believed the two younger ones intended to help by providing the funds necessary to rebuild the town, he didn't trust Thorin.

Not now.

**********************************************************************************************************

Night was beginning to fall as Bard returned to his home. He'd spent most of the day checking on wounded people and making sure everyone still had plenty to eat. The Master, of course, was nowhere to be found and Bard had heard more than one person grumbling about the man's failure to care.

Opening the door to his house, Bard stepped inside, glancing around the room.

Sigrid and Bain weren't downstairs and Bard expected they were probably in their room. Sheena was sitting at the table, lengths of material spread across the surface. Tilda was seated directly opposite and the two were talking quietly to each other.

Sheena raised her head and as her gaze met Bard's, she smiled. She seemed more relaxed, as if her grief was beginning to ebb. "Will you come over here? I'd like to make sure I have your measurements right."

"You're making clothes?" Bard wasn't sure exactly why he was surprised. Perhaps it was because he had expected Sheena to still be in the marketplace.

"She's making me a dress," Tilda said.

Sheena stood up from her chair, picking up some knotted rope. "Would you...?" She hesitated, glancing at Tilda.

"Tilda, go upstairs and see what your brother and sister are doing," Bard directed. "I'm sure Sheena will tell you once she's finished your dress."

Tilda sighed loudly, but climbed down and walked over to the stairs. She didn't run up them, but her enthusiasm was still obvious.

Once Tilda was out of view, Bard turned his attention back to Sheena. She stood there with the rope in her hands, turning it over repeatedly as she watched him.

Bard waited, but when it seemed Sheena had no intention of saying anything, he spoke. "Did you want to measure me?"

"Oh... yes." Sheena looked down at her hands, as if she'd forgotten what she held there. "But you will have to..." Her voice trailed off.

Deciding not to make this more difficult than it clearly was already, Bard simply lifted his tunic over his head, dropping it onto one of the chairs as he approached Sheena.

Sheena stepped nearer to him, so close that, as she wrapped the rope around his body, Bard could feel her hair brushing against his skin. He held still, feeling her soft hands moving over him as she measured his torso.

When Sheena moved away to write down the amount of knots, Bard relaxed, but only fractionally. It had been a number of years since he'd lost his wife and this was the first time a woman had touched him since then.

Placing the quill back on the table, Sheena picked up the rope once more. She eyed Bard for several moments and then carefully crouched in front of him, beginning to measure his hips and his legs, both inside and out.

Even though he'd kept his trousers on, Bard could still feel Sheena's fingers through the material. It seemed an age before she finally finished and as she stood, she averted her gaze from him, hurrying back over to the table.

"I thought you would spend that coin on things for yourself," Bard said, trying to ignore his body's reaction to Sheena's close proximity.

"I'm your wife. Making sure you're all fully clothed is part of my job." Sheena straightened, placing the quill back down, but didn't look at him. "It's late. Will you sleep now?"

"I will sleep down here."

Sheena didn't argue, merely giving a slight nod. Bard wondered if she'd felt anything other than a sense of duty as she retreated up the stairs.

Much Ado About Dwarves: Part Two C: A Dwarf and a Thief

Chapter Eleven

Saying goodbye to the two dwarves had been harder than Legolas had anticipated. He supposed a kind of bond had formed between the three of them and he was worried that they might be in further danger.

Kili had assured Legolas they would be able to feed themselves, as well as Bard and his children. He'd also pointed out that his brother was a capable hunter and unencumbered by a wound. Knowing that the longer he was away from Mirkwood, the more irate his father would become, Legolas had to allow himself to be content with that.

As he reached the border of Laketown, Legolas pulled himself away from his thoughts. He didn't expect there to be any danger, but he still couldn't allow himself to be distracted.

Legolas glanced around, noticing the slight chill in the air. The lake was to the right of him and Mirkwood was ahead of him.

It was tempting not to go back at all. Legolas didn't need foresight to tell him what his father's likely reaction was going to be.

Despite his determination not to become distracted, Legolas couldn't prevent his mind from turning to the devastation Smaug had wrought in the town. He'd noticed there were more beggars on the street, including a mother and her small child. It had made him think of his own mother, long since slain by orcs.

This wasn't the first time Legolas had wondered how different things would be if his mother were still alive. He normally tried to force away those thoughts when they came, but as he approached the forest, there was nothing else to divert his thoughts elsewhere.

**********************************************************************************************************

Kili didn't want to admit it out loud, but he was worried about Legolas. Even though the danger from the orcs had probably passed for the time being, there were still other dangers to be faced.

And the danger from your own kin was almost worse than from the enemy.

Kili looked up as his brother approached, carrying two bowls of stew. Fili sat down and gave Kili one of the bowls. "I'll be happy when you're fully recovered and I don't have to do everything for you."

Kili took the bowl and began eating. "I know you don't mind really." He felt unusually sombre. It was hard to consider what the situation might be like in Erebor.

Fili ate in silence for a few moments before speaking. "I fed your human."

"She's not my pet."

"Are you sure? We're feeding her and she's sleeping here. And she seems to have attached herself to you."

"She's not here now."

"But she hasn't attempted to leave," Fili pointed out.

Kili glanced towards the opposite corner, where Bliss was seated with her bowl. "That's because she doesn't have anywhere else to go."

"Maybe we could buy her loyalty," Fili mused.

Finishing the stew, Kili stood up. His leg twinged, but compared to how much it had hurt from the arrow and infection, this pain was bearable.

"Where are you going?" Fili asked.

"I thought I'd go and see how Bliss is doing," Kili replied. "Do you want me to talk to her about coming with us to Erebor? Or would you rather not use her and leave her behind?" He kept his voice low, barely above a whisper. Bard and his children had finished eating and retreated upstairs, but Kili still didn't want to risk Bliss overhearing.

Fili hesitated, glancing towards Bliss and then back at Kili. "Don't tell her anything about the Arkenstone. Just try and find out what she thinks about going to Erebor. And be subtle about it," he added.

"Anyone would think you didn't trust me to diplomatic." Kili grinned and set his bowl down before walking over to Bliss, limping slightly.

The human looked up at him. "Is the elf going to come back?"

Kili sat down next to her. "It's impossible to know for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if he does."

"What are you going to do with me?" There was no inflection in Bliss' voice. It was as if she didn't care one way or the other.

"My brother and I are going to have to travel to Erebor," Kili answered. "You aren't a prisoner, but it's not like you have anywhere else to go."

"But Erebor is going to be filled with dwarves, isn't it?"

"This house has been filled with dwarves without any ill effect," Kili pointed out. "And the only trouble that has come was the responsibility of orcs. You'll be safer in the mountain. Why don't you think about it and we'll talk when it's time for me and Fili to leave?"

"I'll do that."

**********************************************************************************************************

Bard wasn't sure it was entirely safe to leave two dwarves downstairs, but two were infinitely better than thirteen. He didn't expect them to cause any problems, but he still made sure to listen anyway, just in case.

But Bard couldn't have this conversation with his children with the two dwarves and one human listening in.

Bard sat down on his sleeping mat and his daughters settled one on either side of him. He put an arm around each of them as Bain sat down on the floor in front of them. "I was approached by one of the merchants after we'd offered our aid," he explained. "Although neither of us felt it was the right time to enter into any kind of negotiations, I did promise I'd think about it and talk to the three of you."

"Why do you need to take another wife?" Tilda asked.

"I'm going to have a lot of responsibilities from now," Bard explained. "I think you need someone else to look after you as well." He hesitated. "Some of the citizens want me to take on a bigger leadership role."

"What about the Master?" Sigrid questioned.

"I don't think he knows what the people are saying," Bard answered. "But I haven't made any decisions about that yet, either. If I choose to take on the role, though, it'll be helpful to have a wife." He looked at the three of them. "She isn't a complete stranger to you. She's the younger daughter of Addison."

"You mean Sheena?" Sigrid asked. "What about her older sister? Shouldn't she be married first?"

Bard knew Addison's family, but not especially well. Still, he knew enough about the sisters to know that the older girl had never been demure... or quiet. "A lot of people died in the dragon's attack."

"When do you have to decide?" It was Tilda who spoke up.

"I don't plan to make any decisions straight away," Bard replied. "I want you all to think about this and we can discuss it further later."

**********************************************************************************************************

It was beginning to get dark as Legolas entered Mirkwood. He held one of his daggers ready. Spiders had been known to attack a lone elf. And he didn't know if any of his people had taken notice of his presence.

Legolas came unchallenged to the gates leading to his home. He stepped up to the guards and waited as they conferred among themselves. He knew both of them and they had fought alongside each other many times. Legolas had always counted them among his friends, but he expected them to follow his father's orders.

And Legolas knew Thranduil would have given them orders regarding himself.

Dimethor stepped forward. "We have orders to take you to King Thranduil."

"I understand," Legolas replied.

Dimethor and Heledir moved, taking position one on either side of Legolas, though both were careful not to touch him. Legolas waited a moment and then walked through the gates.


Chapter Twelve

Bliss was quiet for a few more mouthfuls and then she glanced at Kili. "Aren't you going to sit back next to your brother?"

Kili shrugged. "Well, I see Fili all the time. And having your big brother along on a quest isn't always fun. The same goes for my uncle. But then again, they did promise Mother they'd keep an eye on me. You know how it is. I have to eat all my vegetables and grow up to be big and strong."

"Would you like me to tell Mother what you've just said?" Fili called over.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude to listen in to private conversations?" Kili retorted, before turning back to Bliss. "See what I have to put up with?"

"I'm sure it's nice to have a brother..."

"Maybe to have a younger one. I could do without an older one most of the time." Kili smiled, knowing that Fili would understand he wasn't being serious. It was nice to be able to act as brothers again, without having to worry about where the next enemy was going to come from.

Or about the responsibilities of a prince.

"What's an Arkenstone?"

Kili paused, looking at Bliss. "You overheard us?"

Bliss shrugged, looking down at her bowl. "Having a good sense of hearing is an advantage for someone in my profession."

"I suppose that's true." Kili looked at his brother and waved Fili over. He knew Fili had told him not to mention anything about the Arkenstone, but did that direction count when Bliss already knew about it?

Fili joined them in a few quick steps, shoving a refilled bowl of stew into Kili's hands.

"You don't need to keep feeding me up," Kili objected. "I'm not hungry."

Fili pinned him with a glare that masked his concern. "You can normally eat more than just that small amount. You're eating another bowl. I'm not afraid to force-feed it to you."

Kili shook his head, not wanting to risk his brother actually carrying out his threat. Besides, Fili was right. Kili's appetite was normally much higher. Then again, the last proper big meal they'd had was in Bag End. They'd all had to eat much less than they were used to.

"I don't think I could manage two bowls of this, though it is good food," Bliss said quietly.

"I'm sure you're used to eating a small amount," Fili replied. "It's probably why you're about the same size as a hobbit."

"She heard our conversation," Kili informed his brother.

A look of resignation came over Fili's face. He sighed and sat down. "Have you heard of the Heart of the Mountain?"

"Isn't it supposed to be a really precious gem?" Bliss asked.

"That's what our uncle always used to say," Kili answered. "It became the symbol of our house's kingship after our Great-Grandfather discovered it."

"We were born after our people were driven from Erebor," Fili said. "We never saw the Arkenstone for ourselves."

"But we heard the stories," Kili put in. "We knew that our Great-Grandfather was overcome with gold fever, but we never realised the cause. Not until we came here."

"The Arkenstone?" Bliss asked.

Fili nodded. "The nearer we came to the Mountain, the more it seems the gem has been calling to Thorin."

Bliss frowned. "You make it sound as if the Arkenstone is intelligent."

Fili paused, glancing at Kili as if that hadn't occurred to him. "Perhaps it is," he said slowly. "But whether it is or not, there is something dangerous about it..."

"And we need to get it away from Uncle." Kili ignored the glare Fili shot towards him as he blurted it out. With everything they'd said so far, Kili imagined that Bliss would guess their ultimate aim in the end. It was better to tell her now, before they arrived in Erebor and risked being overheard by Thorin.

Bliss looked slowly between the two of them. "It sounds like you need a thief."

"We have one of those in our Company."

"But he may be too close to our Uncle," Kili broke in. "Stealing the Arkenstone will be difficult enough, but if Bilbo believes that we're trying to take it for ourselves and tells Thorin... well, banishment may be the kindest punishment we face."

"You want me to steal it. Don't you?"

"If it wasn't for Kili, we would have given you to the human authorities," Fili said. "This is the way you can repay him."

Kili shook his head. "I thought I was the one who was supposed to have problems with subtlety." He looked at Bliss. "We're not going to force you to help us, but you won't be in any danger. You said you had the opportunity to steal my bow because of all the commotion in the town. My brother and I will be the distraction. All you have to do is what I assume you do best."

Bliss hesitated. "I normally only steal things I can sell."

"Would it help if you were paid for it?" Fili asked. "Payment buys loyalty, doesn't it? In return for helping us with this, we'll pay you part of our share of the treasure. There won't be any trouble if you try to sell it."

"And then you'll let me leave?"

Kili leaned back and pointed towards the door. "The door's there. If you want to leave, neither of us will stop you. Despite what Fili says, you don't owe us anything. I have my bow back. Don't try and steal from us again and we'll leave you in peace."

Bliss didn't move.

"Once we hear from Legolas, we'll be going to Erebor," Fili said. "You have until that time to decide if you're willing to help us or not." He stood up and walked back to the corner he'd been sitting in before, picking up the bowl of stew he'd left there.

Kili paused a moment, but Bliss looked like she was lost in her own thoughts. Standing, he walked over to join his brother once more.

**********************************************************************************************************

As he stood in the main hall, Legolas resisted the urge to look around, instead standing facing his father, holding eye contact. He was aware of the two guards standing on either side of him, but didn't look at them.

It was impossible for Legolas to guess what Thranduil was thinking. His father stood and walked towards him, dismissing the other two elves with a simple gesture.

Once Dimethor and Heledir had left, Legolas was surprised to realise just how alone he felt. In a way, though, he felt it was better for there to be no audience. "I'm sorry I disobeyed you, Father."

"I doubt that." Thranduil spoke quietly, but with a dangerous note to his voice. "You should have let the orcs kill them."

Legolas flinched and couldn't quite keep the note of disbelief out of his voice. "You don't mean that."

"The dwarves are our enemy."

"Not all of them." Legolas thought of the two dwarf princes; particularly Kili, who had offered him a place in Erebor, even though Legolas was certain Thorin wouldn't be any happier about having an elf in Erebor than Thranduil was about having dwarves in Mirkwood."

"You shouldn't have left," Thranduil said.

"I had to do what I felt was right."

Thranduil's expression remained unreadable. "This will not pass unpunished."

"I understand."

"You are banished from Mirkwood."

Even though Legolas had been expecting the sentence, it still devastated him. Mirkwood was his home. Even when he had been away from the forest, Legolas had always known he could return at any time. "Father..." He wanted to ask to stay; to say that he was sorry and that he wouldn't disobey Thranduil's orders again.

But Legolas couldn't say that without some of his words being a lie. He took a deep breath and tried to keep his tone level and calm. "May I say my farewells before I leave?"

Thranduil nodded, stepping back to his throne and taking a seat in it once more. "I expect you to leave by dawn. You may go."

Legolas bowed his head and quickly left the hall, forcing down the grief that threatened to overwhelm him.

**********************************************************************************************************

Saying farewell to his friends in the guard was harder than Legolas had anticipated, but didn't take very long. Finally, Legolas made his way to the healing hall, to say goodbye to the one person there was left.

The last battle with the spiders hadn't gone as well, or so Legolas had heard. Two of the guard had been injured; one fairly seriously.

As he walked into the healing hall, Legolas smiled as he saw the familiar reddish-brown head bent over the supine form of one of her patients. "Tauriel."

Tauriel looked up and smiled, though she didn't leave her patient's side. "Legolas. You've returned."

Legolas stepped to the other side of the elf's bed, looking down into a face drawn taut with pain. "How are you feeling, my friend?"

"I was bitten several times," the other elf whispered, wincing and gasping for breath with each word. "I have to rest until the venom leaves my body."

Legolas nodded. "You are in good hands with the Lady Tauriel." He looked at her. "May we speak privately for a moment?"

"Of course." Beckoning for Legolas to follow her, Tauriel walked to one of the corners of the hall.

As soon as Legolas was sure they weren't going to be overheard, he said, "I have to leave."

Tauriel studied his face and then shook her head. "You were banished, weren't you?"

"King Thranduil was unhappy with me for choosing to help the dwarf who was wounded," Legolas answered. "You are the last person I need to say my farewell to."

"I want to come with you."

Legolas shook his head. "Your place is here. This isn't the first time I've left Mirkwood. I will send you messages, so you know I'm safe."

"Where are you going to go?"

"As strange as it might sound, the dwarf prince I saved invited me to come and stay in Erebor. I will send you word from there," Legolas promised.

Tauriel nodded. "Be careful."

"I promise." Legolas took a deep breath as he left the healing hall, uttering a quiet farewell to the two patients as he passed them.


Chapter Thirteen

Kili blinked himself awake as he felt the warm rays of dawn drift across his face. He realised that he'd fallen asleep with his head resting on Fili's shoulder, a fact that became more apparent when he felt his brother's braids tickle his skin.

"Are you awake?" Fili asked softly. "I don't hear you snoring."

"I don't snore."

"Maybe not as loudly as some of the rest of the company, but you do snore," Fili said.

"If you say so." It took a moment or two for Kili to realise what was different about the room and when he did, he sat up in alarm, realising it was empty... apart from him and his brother. "Bliss is gone."

"We did tell her she was free to leave if she wanted to," Fili pointed out. "She probably decided this was too dangerous and left before you could continue trying to charm her."

"I'm sure I'm not charming."

"It's certainly not the way dwarves should be described," Fili agreed. "At least Uncle won't believe her if she decides to go to Erebor and tell him of our plans."

Kili started to make a reply to that when the door was opened. The human Inga walked inside, closely followed by Bliss. Both were carrying baskets filled with fruit.

"We thought you'd left," Kili said, smiling at Bliss.

A hesitant smile touched Bliss' lips. "I thought it would be good to have something other than meat for breakfast."

"You're welcome to eat the fruit," Fili replied. "Me and my brother will eat the meat."

"I'll have both," Kili said.

"You don't eat fruit."

Kili shrugged. "I thought I'd try some. Besides, the elves seem to think fruit and vegetables are good."

Fili shook his head. "Since when did you start caring about what elves think?"

Kili didn't say anything, knowing it was a rhetorical question. He smiled when Bliss offered her basket of fruit and picked out what he thought didn't look like it tasted as bad as the others. He remembered his mother trying to persuade him to eat apples when he'd been a dwarfling, though she'd never succeeded. Still, he thought at least he knew what it was.

Fili stood and joined Inga at the hearth, helping her to prepare the meat.

Bliss sat down next to Kili and glanced at Inga and then at him. It was clear she wanted to say something and Kili thought it was probably to do with what he and Fili had talked to her about. She didn't say anything, though, and reached into the basket just as Kili went to pick up another apple.

Her skin wasn't soft, but it was warm. Kili pulled his hand away slowly as Bliss yanked her hand back. Kili looked up as his brother walked over with a plate of meat in each hand.

"Inga's going to see Bard," Fili said, sitting on the other side of Kili and passing him one of the plates.

"What did you want to say?" Kili asked Bliss.

If Bliss was surprised by the question, she didn't show it. "It's true that I do owe you, but I don't want to get caught and risk being executed."

"You won't," Fili said. "We'll make sure Uncle has no suspicion towards you at all."

"Very well." Bliss took a deep breath. "I'll do it."

**********************************************************************************************************

It was the middle of the afternoon when Legolas returned. Bard had been going in and out of the house and Inga had been scrubbing the floors and picking up the shards of pottery that no one else had thought to move.

Kili looked up as the elf walked into the house. He decided not to ask Legolas what had transpired in Mirkwood, guessing that, since the elf had returned, he didn't have anywhere else to go.

When Legolas spoke, it confirmed that thought. "I will have to take you up on your offer of asking your uncle for hospitality."

"Well, we can ask," Fili said quietly in Kili's ear.

"We'll tell Uncle that it'll make up for him not visiting me when he came down from the mountain," Kili answered, just as quietly. Raising his voice a little, he addressed Legolas. "I will be happy to speak with Thorin and send you a message once he has agreed."

"I hope you have a plan to persuade Uncle," Fili muttered.

"Trust me."

"The last time you said that to me, we found ourselves in the midst of a pack of wargs."

"And if you hadn't have trusted me, we wouldn't have got out alive."

Fili didn't bother making a reply to that, instead asking, "How is your leg?"

"It's well enough to travel up a mountain, if that's what you're asking," Kili answered. "We may as well leave now." He felt slightly apprehensive, knowing they were coming closer to an act of treason.

"Are you sure?" Fili, as always, was able to read him well.

"It doesn't matter if I'm not. We've made our decision. I'm not going to change my mind." Kili pushed himself up slowly and held a hand out to Bliss. After a brief hesitation, she put her hand in his and Kili helped her to her feet.

"I notice you didn't offer to help me up."

"Don't worry; I will next time," Kili replied, releasing Bliss and grabbing the basket with the remains of fruit which he then handed to the human.

Fili walked over to Kili's bow and arrows and grabbed them, along with his dagger that he shoved into his belt.

"I thought we took all your weapons," Legolas said.

"Why do you think I made the comment I did?" Kili asked. "I was the decoy."

Legolas shook his head. "I thought we must have missed something, you had so many," he said to Fili.

"You didn't think I'd have all my weapons in obvious places, did you?" Fili responded. "You elves are too polite to search a prisoner properly." He slipped past Legolas and out of the door.

Kili gestured for Bliss to follow his brother and then turned as he heard footsteps coming down the stairs, focusing on Bard.

The human paused. "You're leaving?"

Kili nodded. "We will speak to our Uncle about sending aid," he promised. "Thank you for your hospitality. I apologise for any problems we may have caused you." He bowed his head slightly and moved past Legolas.

The elf stopped him with a hand on his arm. "You're doing the right thing," he said quietly. "Good fortune."

"Thank you." Kili smiled and left the house.


Chapter Fourteen

"Maybe we could tell Uncle she's a representative of Laketown?" Kili suggested.

Fili shot his brother a look filled with disbelief. "He'd know the truth as soon as she opened her mouth."

Kili looked away, glancing at the path up the mountain in front of them. "Do you have any better suggestions?"

Fili shrugged. "Why don't we try telling the truth?"

It was Kili's turn to stare at his brother. "Yes. We'll tell him that we're bringing a thief into Erebor, where there's a great hoard of treasure. I'm sure that will go down very well with Thorin."

Fili rolled his eyes. "You know that's not what I meant."

"You're going to have to be a bit clearer, brother. Say what you mean next time."

"I can still sit on you," Fili threatened.

"That one's getting a bit old now. Why don't you try another threat?"

"Aren't you supposed to be a bit more respectful towards me now?" Fili asked. "Since I'm heir."

"Are we going up this mountain today?" Bliss asked.

Fili glanced at her. "I think I liked you better when you were hiding in the corner."

"So what was your great idea, then?" Kili asked him.

"As I said, we should tell the truth... at least to a point," Fili answered. "We found a human with no family or friends to speak of. You were taken with her and decided you felt sorry for her, so chose to bring her to Erebor."

"Hardly any of that's the truth."

"It's better than anything you've come up with," Fili pointed out.

Kili hesitated, but he had to admit that his brother was right. This probably was the best plan they had. And now, having a plan meant they wouldn't be able to stall any longer. Kili was certain his brother had been humouring his numerous suggestions, knowing how difficult this was going to be.

Without saying anything more, Fili started up the mountain path. Kili waited for Bliss to precede him and then started walking up behind her, trying not to think about what would happen when they reached Erebor.

**********************************************************************************************************

It was dusk by the time the small group reached the entrance to Erebor. Kili hadn't said anything to his brother, but he had been worried that they wouldn't be able to locate the hidden door. What he didn't expect was to see Dwalin standing guard.

"What are you doing out here?" Fili asked.

Dwalin narrowed his eyes as his gaze fell on Bliss. He gripped his axe tighter. "What are you doing with a human?" he demanded.

Kili exchanged glances with his brother. Dwalin being suspicious wasn't anything new, but there was something different in his voice and face now. They knew already that the Arkenstone had affected their uncle. Was it possible its influence extended further than just the royal family?

Was it really wise to bring a human with them?

"Oh, don't worry about her," Fili said. "She's just a human Kili made friends with and because she doesn't have a home, he wanted to bring her here."

Dwalin continued to look suspicious. "I'll have to speak to the King." Without waiting for a reply, he stepped through the door.

Kili let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding and turned to Fili. "I know Dwalin's normally suspicious, but that seemed a bit too much, even for him. Don't you think?"

Fili nodded, looking quite grim. "I suspected the Arkenstone might have affected the rest of the Company."

"And you didn't mention this to me because...?"

Fili shrugged. "You were already worried enough. I didn't want to add to it."

Kili wanted to protest that his brother didn't need to protect him again, but the door to Erebor was opened once more and Thorin strode out. He looked the same as before, if one discounted the white stone he held clutched so tightly in one hand, the knuckles had turned white.

Even knowing that the Arkenstone was evil, Kili still felt his gaze drawn towards it. There was a sensation of being pulled towards it and if he hadn't been forewarned, Kili suspected he would have fallen under its spell.

Next to Kili, Bliss was quiet, but he didn't turn to see her reaction to the jewel. Tearing his gaze from it with some difficulty, Kili focused on his uncle.

"Kili." Thorin's gaze moved over him, pausing briefly at his leg before making eye contact with him. "I'm glad to see you've recovered."

Kili knew there was a time his uncle wouldn't have used just words to express himself. He felt the loss of Thorin's affection keenly, but tried not to let it show. He was sure he wasn't fooling his brother, though. "My leg is healed, as much as it can be. Did Dwalin tell you about Bliss? Will you give your permission for her to enter Erebor with us?"

Thorin eyed Bliss warily. Almost as if it was an unconscious action, the hand holding the Arkenstone moved behind his back. "I would rather no one enter Erebor who is not a dwarf."

"Well, she's better than the elf Kili wants to invite," Fili said.

"What elf?" Thorin demanded.

"No elves are going to set foot in Erebor," Dwalin growled.

"And you say I'm not good at subtlety," Kili muttered, under the ranting from his uncle and Dwalin about how no elf would ever be allowed to enter Erebor, even if it was the last kingdom standing.

"Just wait and see," Fili whispered back.

Still ranting, Thorin headed back inside the mountain. Dwalin frowned at the other two dwarves, but followed their leader.

"See?" Fili said quietly. "He's so concerned about the elf, he's completely forgotten about the human."

"That's great," Kili replied. "Do you have any bright ideas about how to distract him from the elf?"

"We'll think of something," Fili promised as they followed Thorin into Erebor.


Chapter Fifteen

Erebor wasn't as different to the Blue Mountains as Kili had expected. Of course, there was a lot more treasure there, but there were fewer dwarves and Kili missed the familiarity of being with his mother as well. He missed being a family. Fili was still there, of course, but Thorin was growing more distant.

It had been two days now. Kili had yet to figure out a distraction to talk his uncle into allowing Legolas to come to Erebor and as more time passed, he found himself getting more jumpy, knowing they would soon have to implement their plans.

The three of them were now gathered in Fili and Kili's room. Kili was sitting on his sleeping mat, while Fili stood by the door, just in case anyone happened by.

The room was colder than their room in the Blue Mountain, even though they had a fire lit. Kili stared at the flickering flames and tried not to think about Thorin's reaction should he learn of their plans.

"We need to take the Arkenstone," Fili said quietly.

Kili snorted softly. "We already decided that. I didn't expect Uncle to carry it around with him all the time, though. Do you think he clings to it even when he sleeps?"

"Probably," Fili answered. He looked at Bliss. "You're the one who has experience in stealing items. How would you take something a person won't let go of?"

"If it was that heavily guarded, I wouldn't even try," Bliss replied. "That's how you get caught." She shrugged. "But if you want someone to put what they're holding down, you need to get them to do something they need both hands for."

Kili and Fili exchanged glances. "The forge requires work with both hands," Fili said. "If we could get him to put it down and then distract him..."

"We should suggest that he makes something himself that's easier to carry the jewel with," Kili said.

Fili nodded. "Maybe we should set it into motion tomorrow? The sooner we can break the curse of the Arkenstone, the better it will be for everyone."

"I hope it'll be easy to destroy once we have it in our possession," Kili muttered.

"Maybe Gandalf will have returned by then?" Though Fili didn't sound very hopeful. He glanced at the door and then at Kili. "I think we should all try to get some sleep so we can do this."

Bliss nodded and stood up, walking towards the door. Fili moved aside to allow her to exit.

**********************************************************************************************************

Shouting pulled Kili out of slumber. He scrambled from his bed without even being properly awake, grabbing one of his daggers, relieved he was still fully clothed.

"Is that Uncle and Dwalin shouting?" Fili looked more wide awake than Kili felt. Kili wondered if his brother had slept at all.

"I have a very bad feeling," Kili said.

"It's never a good sign when Uncle's shouting." Fili held his own dagger in one hand and reached for the lamp with the other. He then led the way to the door.

As the brothers stepped out into the passage, they saw other members of the Company, apparently having been woken by the commotion. There was even a sleepy-looking Bilbo, who was the only one not carrying a weapon.

"It's coming from the treasure hall," Fili whispered.

Kili didn't say anything, but a feeling of dread filled him. He followed his brother slowly, already guessing what they were going to see.

Bliss stood in the midst of all the treasure, both hands filled with gold and jewels. She was staring wide-eyed at Thorin, who had his sword against her throat. Dwalin stood slightly to the side, fingering his own weapon.

Kili paused, not sure what to do. Fili, on the other hand, strode forward, placing a hand on Thorin's shoulder. "Uncle?"

Thorin looked at Fili without lowering his axe. "You brought a thief into Erebor." He pressed slightly with the sword, drawing a bit of blood.

"She's not a thief."

Every eye in the room turned to Kili. He looked at Fili, silently pleading with his brother to support him in this.

"That's right," Fili said. "We promised her part of our share of the treasure. We didn't want to disturb you, so we told her to come here and look and we would join her once we'd eaten something."

Thorin looked suspicious, looking at both of his nephews. "Is that the truth?"

Kili nodded quickly. He couldn't normally get away with lying to his uncle, but he hoped Thorin's mind was dulled by the Arkenstone's influence.

Thorin slowly lowered his sword and Bliss took a slight step back. "I'm going back to my chamber," he said shortly, before pushing past Kili and leaving the hall.

"This had better not happen again," Dwalin stated, before going in the same direction Thorin had.

Glancing at the door, Kili waited to be sure they were gone before addressing Bliss. "You should leave."

Bliss stared at him. "I..." She opened her hands, the treasure falling to the floor.

Kili indicated the items she'd just dropped. "Take it." He should have known better than to trust a thief. He looked at Fili. "Will you see to it that she leaves?" He waited for his brother's nod before exiting the hall.

Much Ado About Dwarves: Part Two B: A Dwarf and a Thief

Chapter Six

Kili settled back on the table with his wooden bowl filled with the stew. He held a roughly-hewn wooden spoon in his hand and dipped it into the stew, taking out a spoonful that he then placed into his mouth and began to chew, swallowing it down.

"It's been a while since we had anything other than rations, hasn't it?" Fili asked.

Kili nodded, swallowing another mouthful. "I feared I'd forgotten what proper meat tastes like, rather than something we had to prepare and eat in a hurry."

"Then you've been running for a while?" Legolas questioned.

Kili shrugged. "The orcs don't want us to reclaim Erebor. I can't imagine they'll let us live here in peace, even though the dragon's dead."

"Then you'll need protection."

"We don't need an elf's protection." Bofur didn't raise his voice, but there was a note of finality to his tone.

Fili glanced towards Bofur, but didn't say anything. Kili was reasonably certain his brother agreed, though Fili did a better job of holding his tongue than most of the other dwarves. Kili was inclined to agree with Bofur and said so. "We held off a pack of orcs while in barrels with very few weapons between us. We aren't helpless."

"And yet you were still wounded." Legolas glanced at Kili's leg.

"That was bad fortune," Kili replied. "The orc shot its arrow at me from behind." He looked down at his half-empty bowl of stew and then glanced towards the pot still over the fire. "I need another bowl."

"Why?" Fili asked, even as Legolas stood to walk over and fill another bowl with the stew, bringing that and another spoon over to Kili.

Instead of answering his brother, Kili beckoned Bliss over. The human moved with wary steps, stopping at a safe distance from the table, and Kili held the bowl and spoon out to her. "Here."

Bliss eyed Kili before slowly reaching out her hand, as if suspecting Kili might suddenly snatch the food back. When Kili released the bowl and spoon to her, she mumbled a quiet, "Thank you," before retiring back to her corner.

"You're not going to alert the authorities here about her?" Legolas asked.

Kili shook his head, but didn't explain further. He resumed eating and then settled back slightly once his bowl was empty. "How long do you expect it will be before I can travel again?" he asked Legolas.

"The athelas will speed up your healing, so it will take a much shorter time than it would normally for your leg to heal," Legolas replied. "But it won't be very soon. If it was your arm, then you could still move - though you would be unable to use your bow."

"My bow isn't the only weapon I can use."

"But you appear to be the only archer in your company."

In reality, not many of the dwarves were true warriors; at least not anymore. Being forced to become nomadic and find work where they could meant that very few of the younger dwarves had been able to train for battle. Kili knew that he and his brother were the exceptions, because they were Thorin's heirs. "It's useful to have at least one long-range weapon. I always thought that elves could only use bows, but I see you have daggers as well."

A very faint smile touched at Legolas' lips. "It seems there are things we have to learn about each other."

"True, but I want to get my strength back as well." Kili caught Fili's eye and waved his bowl at his brother. "Get me some more. Please," he added belatedly.

Fili grabbed the bowl. Although he looked like he wanted to make a comment, he held his tongue and walked back over to the cooking pot.

"Well, I suppose we'd better be going." Oin climbed to his feet, putting his bowl down, and addressed Bard. "Would you like us to carry a message to Thorin?"

Bard shook his head. "Just make sure he knows how much of the town was destroyed when they awakened the beast."

"I mentioned that in the message," Fili replied. "I'm sure Uncle will do the right thing."

Kili, who knew his brother better than anyone, could tell Fili didn't quite believe his own words. Remembering the way he'd been dismissed from the company, Kili wondered if Thorin would fulfil his promise to the people of Laketown. He said nothing of that out loud, though, instead forcing a smile to his face as Oin and Bofur took their leave.

After the two dwarves had gone, Bard excused himself and he and his son left the house, presumably to see if there was anything he could offer his help with. His daughters left the house moments later and Legolas rose to accompany them after telling Kili and Fili he wanted to make sure there were no orcs close by.

Now that they were alone, apart from the human thief, Kili turned to his brother. "How did Uncle seem to you? Do you really think he'll keep his word?"

"I don't know. I already said I thought he seemed sick in his mind." Fili glanced towards the girl, before lowering his voice even further. "I don't know what kind of effect the Arkenstone might have on the rest of us."

Kili shook his head. "I'd rather not be exposed to it at all."

"We might not have a choice. If it's affecting Uncle, we need to see it destroyed - or at least taken far enough away that he'll go back to normal."

Kili frowned, a stab of worry going through him. "What if he denounces us as traitors?"

Fili tried to smile, but there was little humour in it. "If we can talk the rest of the Company over to our cause, we might be able to hold back his anger until the Arkenstone has gone far enough."

"And if the rest of them turn against us as well?"

A grim look came over Fili's face, as if he were contemplating their own mortality. "If it comes to that, we still need to do the right thing. Whatever the cost."


Chapter Seven

Since they'd started out on this quest, Kili had had to face the prospect of his own possible death several times over. Up until now, though, that possibility had always been imagined at the hands - or claws - of an actual enemy. Not his Uncle, who had always been more of a father to them.Fili must have seen how much that bothered Kili, because he reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You don't need to worry about this. I'll take care of everything. The only risk will be to myself."

Kili shrugged off his brother's hand, annoyed that Fili was still trying to protect him. Only five years separated them, but there were times Fili acted as if he was much older. "I'm not afraid."

Fili shook his head. "I didn't say you were."

"But you think I am. I'm not a child, Fili. I'm old enough to know the difference between right and wrong - and old enough to accept the consequences of what I decide to do." Kili took a deep breath. "I didn't see Uncle when he returned, but I trust you. If you say he isn't acting like himself, then I believe you. And now that Erebor's been retaken, we're Princes. And we have a duty."

"Then if the Arkenstone is the problem, we need to remove it."

Kili sighed. "If Gandalf were here, he could advise us."

"We don't need him to advise us of what the right thing to do is."

Kili sat back slightly as he thought. "We should have sent a message to Bilbo."

"That wouldn't have been wise," Fili replied. "The message could have fallen into Uncle's hands." He began to pace the floor. "Bilbo's an intelligent hobbit. Surely he would notice that something's wrong." He hesitated. "But any loyalty he has will surely be to Thorin."

"And this is loyalty." Remembering that they weren't alone, Kili glanced over towards Bliss. Although the human didn't appear to be listening to them, Kili didn't want to take any chances. "We should continue this when we're alone."

"Her being here was your choice."

Ignoring his brother's comment, Kili caught Bliss' eye and waved her over. Hesitantly, the human stepped over to the table, though stopped at a safe distance away. "Is there something I can help you with?

Kili smiled at her, trying to act curious more than anything else as he asked, "How did you steal my bow without anyone noticing?"

Bliss glanced between them, hesitating before she replied, "I broke in while you were all in the town square." She shrugged. "It provided a good distraction."

"I suppose a distraction is good if you want to steal something," Kili mused, glancing at his brother.

Fili simply nodded.

"What happened to your leg?" Bliss asked.

"Oh, I was just attacked by an orc."

Fili snorted. "Just?"

"Does that happen often?"

"It's become more frequent while we've been on this quest," Kili answered. "I'm disappointed I missed the dragon. I would have had quite a story to tell Mother if I'd been there."

"I don't think you'd have found the dragon as easy to fight as you seem to think," Fili said.

"It certainly destroyed a lot of the town," Bliss said softly.

"Did you lose anyone in the attack?" Kili asked.

"I didn't have anyone to lose," Bliss replied impassively.

Kili blinked, a bit taken aback by that. "I'm sorry to hear that." He spoke truthfully, but was a bit confused by the fact that Bliss apparently didn't care about it.

"Your sympathy isn't needed," Bliss replied. "I didn't have a family, or friends, to lose." She walked back over to sit in the corner that seemed to have become hers, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.

Kili wasn't sure what to say to that. He didn't think he could even fathom not having a family. From a very early age, Kili had always had his mother, brother and uncle. They might not always be open with their emotions, but there had always been affection there. Kili didn't think he could even imagine what it would be like to be completely alone.

Her decision to become a thief made more sense now.

"Kili..."

Kili blinked, turning as his brother touched his arm. "What?

Fili made eye contact with him. "She's not to be trusted. She could be lying about this."

Although Kili knew why his brother was concerned, he didn't think Fili was right in this instance. "She doesn't seem like she's lying."

"Not everyone is open, Kili - not like you are. Lying isn't in your nature."

"It's not in yours, either."

Fili shrugged. "I'm just saying. She did steal your bow - and it was only returned because Legolas saw her. She wouldn't have known you were wounded at the time, but even so, it's not like it would be easy to get another bow you could use."

"Still, I'm not only trained in using a bow," Kili pointed out.

"Legolas seemed taken by the fact that you're the only archer in the company. That might have played a part in his decision to save your life. Besides, I imagine we'll still need long-range weapons. The dragon isn't going to be the only foe we'll face."

Kili glanced in Bliss' direction. Although the human didn't seem to be listening to them, he lowered his voice further. "But before any of that, we need to go to Erebor. We need to see if Uncle is truly affected by something unnatural. Before we make the decision to betray him."

"It isn't betrayal, Kili."

"We both know that taking the Arkenstone will be seen as a betrayal," Kili replied bluntly. "And if it's affecting Thorin, then could it affect us as well?"

"We'll have to deal with that when it comes. My concern is that he won't hold to his promise and give some of the treasure to the people of Laketown."

"That worries me, too," Kili admitted. "When I can go to Erebor, we can talk to Uncle about this. Maybe..." He cut himself off, as the door was opened.

A thin woman with light brown hair walked into the house. She stopped, a surprised look coming over her face as she saw the two dwarves and one human standing there - and no sign of Bard or any of his family, who she was probably expecting. "Oh. You must be two of the dwarves who arrived in Laketown."
Chapter Eight

The journey back to Erebor was a silent one. Gone was the normal joking around and laughter that accompanied the group of dwarves. Thorin knew that none of them agreed with his decision to return, even though none spoke against it.

When they reached the entrance, Thorin turned immediately to Bilbo. "Where is it?"

Bilbo flinched slightly.

Balin stepped forward, between Thorin and Bilbo. "He's just had to face a dragon. He needs to rest."

"I need the Arkenstone," Thorin said. "Rest can come later." He raised his hand, but managed to refrain from physically shoving Balin out of the way. "I can't risk it falling into the wrong hands again."

"And whose hands would those be?" Balin asked. "Surely you trust everyone here."

"What if those humans decide to come and take the treasure?" Thorin demanded. "What then?"

Bilbo stepped forward, moving past Balin. "It's all right. I know where it is. I can take you to the Arkenstone." A worried look had come over his face, but Thorin thought nothing of it. After all, the hobbit tended to look worried most of the time.

As Thorin started to follow Bilbo into Erebor, Balin stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Your actions now remind me of your Grandfather. Be wary you don't fall into the same trap he did."

Thorin shrugged off the other dwarf's hand. "I am not Thror."

"You weren't so young that you weren't aware of his obsession with the jewel," Balin continued. "You abandoned Fili and Kili to return here for the Arkenstone. Be careful it doesn't become more important to you than your family."

Thorin didn't make a response and just walked past Balin, following Bilbo into the heart of Erebor.

During the battle with the dragon, Thorin hadn't had a chance to look properly around the hall of treasure. He did now, noticing just how much gold and jewels had been gathered together. There was more than enough here to rebuild Erebor, returning it to its former glory and making it home once more.

Those thoughts slipped out of Thorin's mind as he glimpsed the Arkenstone. He didn't need Bilbo to tell him where it was. His feet led him towards the jewel, traipsing over the gold and other jewels as if they were nothing.

And compared to the shining beauty that was the Arkenstone, they were nothing.

As he reached the Arkenstone, Thorin paused a moment before reaching out, closing his hand around the jewel. There was a moment of resistance - as if he were trying to pull it free of thick mud - but then it was in his hand.

"Thorin?"

Thorin slowly pulled his gaze away from contemplating the Arkenstone, focusing on the hobbit, whose voice seemed to come from so very far away. "Leave me."

Bilbo flinched a second time, though Thorin hadn't raised his voice. "What about Fili and Kili? And Oin and Bofur?"

"What of them?"

"You have the Arkenstone now. Surely the time's come to make sure your nephews are all right?"

"I would be informed if they weren't. Leave me," Thorin said again, returning his gaze to the Arkenstone. "There is much work to be done. I will be there soon."

The sound of Bilbo leaving only registered dimly in Thorin's consciousness.

**********************************************************************************************************

Fili recovered fairly quickly and directed a charming smile at the new human before introducing himself. "I'm Fili and this is my brother Kili."

"And that's Bliss," Kili added, gesturing towards the human thief. "Did you want to speak to Bard? He left with his son to see what needs to be rebuilt. I'm sure we could give him a message." He considered suggesting that the woman write a message to leave for Bard, but he wasn't sure how many humans could actually write.

"I just came to see if there was anything that needed to be done. I work for Bard," the woman explained. "My name's Inga."

"Well, Bard's more likely to know what needs to be done than us," Fili said. "Why don't you wait for him? We have some stew left if you're hungry. Help yourself." He gestured towards the cooking pot.

"Thank you." Inga stepped over, filling a bowl with the stew. She smiled at Bliss. "How did you come to be here?"

Bliss merely shrugged. Her face didn't change when Fili spoke up. "She tried to steal my brother's bow. Kili didn't want to turn her over to the human authorities, so she's here."

"Oh." Inga looked surprised, but didn't make a comment. She didn't sit down and instead remained standing as she ate the stew. "Did you make this?" she asked between mouthfuls.

"Two of our company cooked," Fili answered. "You won't meet them yet, though. They returned to Erebor."

While Fili and Inga were talking, Kili walked over and sat down next to Bliss, figuring she looked lonely. He winced slightly before settling into a more comfortable position for his leg. "Have you seen dwarves before?"

"I've heard legends, but your group of dwarves are the only ones I've seen." Bliss glanced at Kili's leg. "Should you be sitting like that?"

"It's not as painful as it was." Kili paused before asking, "I guess you don't have anywhere to live, then?"

"As long as I can stay dry and find enough to eat, it isn't so bad," Bliss replied.

"What about when it gets cold?"

"That's sometimes a bit uncomfortable. I've found blankets with only small holes in that have been discarded in the past. It isn't so bad."

Kili noticed that Bliss didn't really seem to feel that sorry for herself. Her voice was calm and no emotion came through. "It doesn't bother you?" he asked.

"Why would it?"

"I suppose, if you're used to something, it isn't so bad," Kili mused, to himself more than Bliss. He and his brother had come along on the quest to support their uncle and for the adventure, but they'd never seen Erebor and it was Thorin they'd thought for, not the home they'd grown so far away from.

Bliss broke into Kili's thoughts as she commented, "You don't miss what you don't have."

Kili glanced at Bliss. He was almost certain his brother would tell him this was a bad idea, but he said it anyway. "If you need food and shelter... I can offer it to you now. Now that we have our home back."

"I don't think you really want to offer those things to a thief."

"We have a burglar as part of our company - he's a hobbit. I'm sure you'd get along fairly well with him." Kili paused, thinking about that. "Though Bilbo tends to get along with most people. He saved us from a pack of trolls just by talking to them."

"What did he say to trolls?"

"He told them we had parasites inside us."

"Parasites?" Bliss repeated.

Kili shrugged. "He knew what he was doing. It worked."

"Were you attacked here in Laketown?"

"The orc who shot me was part of a group that attacked us in Mirkwood. But we were attacked again here."

"Is there anything you haven't fought?" Bliss asked.

"Probably not," Kili answered. "The worst odds we faced might have been the goblins. Even the number of orcs paled in comparison to that amount. We also had a run-in with wargs along the way."

"What's a warg?"

It took Kili a moment to realise that most residents of Laketown wouldn't know what a warg actually was. "It's like a wolf," he answered, "but unnatural."

"Why do the orcs hate you so much?"

"I think they hate everyone," Kili replied. "But the leader seems to have something personal against the line of Durin."

"And you're from that line?"

"My uncle's the rightful King of Erebor." Kili paused before adding, "I suppose that means my brother and I are now Princes."


Chapter Nine

Legolas didn't expect there to be any trouble, but he still stayed with the two girls as they washed the dishes in the lake. He was on his guard, but kept his weapons sheathed.

A few people passing by glanced curiously at Legolas, but there was a subdued atmosphere about the town. The dead had been taken away and the wounded were probably being treated, but the events had still left their mark.

Although Legolas wasn't listening properly to the sisters' conversation, he caught a couple of words that indicated they were talking about their father. Up until now, Legolas had avoided thinking about what his own father's reaction would be to what amounted to Legolas directly disobeying his orders.

There was little chance he would get away with Thranduil not finding out about this. His father knew full well of Legolas' teachings under Lord Elrond and that Legolas had received some training in the healing arts.

It was possible Legolas would find himself accused of treason on his return.

Legolas wasn't so caught in his own thoughts that he didn't realise when the girls were ready to return to the house, though. He silently shadowed them through the streets, noticing humans moving around, still putting out fires and trying to repair what they could.

Before they reached the house, Legolas spotted Bard and his son, talking to a human who Legolas recognised dealt with his people. The merchant was clothed finely, but had apparently been helping to put out the fires, as he was stained with soot.

Bard's son noticed his sisters and left his father's side, heading over to the small group. He glanced briefly at Legolas, but didn't speak to him, instead addressing the girls. "Father's talking about marriage negotiations."

"He's going to get married again?" the younger girl asked.

The boy shrugged. "He wasn't going to, but Addison pointed out that he's going to get busier from now on. I suppose it makes sense for Father to consider his proposal."

Legolas turned his attention away from the children, not wanting to listen in on what was probably a private conversation. He kept a constant watch on their surroundings, though he knew it was unlikely there would be any danger at this time.

Orcs moving through a town during daylight would be likely to raise the alarm.

When they reached Bard's house, his children went in ahead of Legolas. To be honest, Legolas could probably leave now. He'd healed Kili and knew that the dwarf's life wasn't in any more danger. If he returned now, any punishment he received from his father would probably be lessened.

But Legolas couldn't quite bring himself just to leave without a word.

Walking into the house, Legolas was a bit surprised to see another human woman there. She smiled and straightened to meet him. "You must be Legolas. My name's Inga."

Surprised, Legolas glanced at the children, who seemed comfortable with the woman being there, and then at Fili. "You told her about me?"

"I mentioned there might be an elf joining us in a while," Fili answered.

Legolas would have made a comment about the clear lack of trust, but to be honest, he had been considering just that. He glanced around and noticed that Kili was sitting on the floor next to the human thief. Although his leg didn't appear to be paining him, Legolas still walked over to the dwarf. "You shouldn't be sitting like that."

Kili shrugged and indicated the girl. "I didn't want Bliss to keep coming back over here every time she answered a question, so I decided to sit and talk to her."

The words were spoken cheerfully enough, but Legolas could see a darker look on Kili's face. It seemed there was something troubling the dwarf and Legolas was more concerned than he cared to admit. "Did someone say something to you?"

"Why would you ask that?"

Legolas hesitated, glancing at Bliss. "Will you go and see if Inga needs you to do something?"

Bliss glanced at Kili, almost as if she were looking for permission. When the dwarf didn't say anything, she stood up and walked over to Inga.

Legolas sat down slowly next to Kili, letting his legs stretch out. "You look like something's troubling you."

"It's nothing you need to worry about."

"Until you're fully healed, you're still my patient. And it's important to take care of yourself emotionally as well." Legolas knew he wasn't nearly as skilled as Lord Elrond, but he hoped he could at least be a good listener.

Kili glanced towards his brother and didn't say anything.

"If you're concerned that I'll repeat anything you say to me, don't be," Legolas said. "You can trust me."

"What would you do if you wanted to do the right thing, but the right thing was what amounted to treason?" Kili asked quietly.

Legolas glanced at the dwarf, surprised to hear a measure of his own dilemma in the question Kili asked. "Sometimes you have to make a hard decision with no right answer. All you can do is what feels right for you."

Kili sighed, glancing at Legolas. "If I do the right thing, it might destroy my relationship with my uncle."

"He seems to really care about you. He didn't leave until he knew you were safe."

"He's different. He's been acting strangely ever since we came on this quest." Kili took a deep breath. "We heard the stories about the Arkenstone. Fili believes - and I agree with him - that the stone is responsible for Uncle's strange behaviour."

Legolas hesitated, not really wanting to admit this out loud, but Kili had just told him something personal and Legolas found himself wanting to reciprocate. "I've seen that kind of greed in my father."

"I thought elves were above all that."

"We're not perfect," Legolas said, smiling when Kili glanced at him. "I'm not sure where you got that idea from."

Kili snorted softly. "I never thought your kind was perfect."

"I never thought I'd see the level of bravery from dwarves that you and your brother showed."

"Well, I never thought an elf would save my life," Kili said.

"Your uncle saved mine first."

"That's why you saved me?"

Legolas shrugged. "I didn't know that until after I saw him when I came here."

"I'd invite you to visit Erebor as a way of saying thank you, but I think I might have to talk Uncle into it first."

"I imagine I might not be leaving Laketown for some time," Legolas said.


Chapter Ten

Kili wasn't sure what to say to that. He didn't think Legolas was likely to accept sympathy from a dwarf, even one whose life he had saved. He glanced briefly towards Bliss, noticing that she'd retreated quietly to one of the other corners, and then returned his attention to the elf. "I'm sure you can stay here for a time."

"I'll need to return to Mirkwood to face my father, but I do expect to be back."

Kili had already been considering the possibility of him and his brother being banished, if not worse, after they stole the Arkenstone. "You're welcome to come to Erebor if you can't stay in Mirkwood, provided I'm still there."

Legolas just nodded.

Kili was a bit relieved that Legolas didn't try to make him feel better. He knew he should do the right thing, no matter the consequences. "As soon as I can travel up the mountain, my brother and I are going to Erebor."

"Just the two of you?"

Kili shrugged. "I haven't decided yet."

Legolas glanced at Bliss a moment before speaking. "If you want to steal something, a thief would be quite useful."

"We have a burglar in our company." Kili thought a moment. "But he's in Erebor with Uncle."

"Then maybe he's too close to your uncle," Legolas suggested. "If you trust Bliss, then maybe it's better to persuade her to help you. After all, if it wasn't for you, she would have been handed over to the human authorities. She owes you."

"I don't think I like the idea of forcing her to help."

"You don't have to force her. Just think about it. Talk to your brother."

Kili snorted softly. "Fili would never think that was a good idea. He already thinks I'm too naive."

"It's to your advantage to use as many allies as you can," Legolas said. "I'm sure your brother would think the same."

"Why don't you travel back to Mirkwood now?" Kili suggested. "Once you know King Thranduil's reaction, you can send word back to Laketown and then my brother and I can start back to Erebor. It would at least give my leg a bit longer to heal."

Legolas hesitated. "I wouldn't want you to delay returning to your home."

"It won't be that much of a delay," Kili answered. "And I owe you that much anyway."

"I'll leave before nightfall, then," Legolas answered. He stood up. "But before I leave, I'll do some more hunting so you have enough to eat before you go to Erebor."

Kili nodded and watched Legolas leave the house. Fili moved away from Inga and walked over, taking Legolas' place next to Kili. "Is Legolas leaving?"

"He's going hunting and then going to Mirkwood," Kili answered. "King Thranduil may be angry with him for coming here and saving me. I don't want to abandon him if he has no home to go back to."

"You know Uncle won't be happy about that."

"Uncle is indebted to him as well." Kili paused to consider that statement more carefully. "Though I imagine he won't feel as strongly as I do."

"He wouldn't even when he was acting normally."

"I know. But if we can get the Arkenstone off him, I should have a better chance of talking him into helping Legolas." Remembering the elf's suggestion, Kili looked around for Bliss and then frowned when he couldn't see any sign of her. "Where did Bliss go?"

"I think Inga said something about her helping..."

"She didn't escape, then?"

"I'd think one of us would have noticed," Fili commented. "Did you need to talk to her?"

"Actually, it's you I need to talk to. Without her overhearing."

"Did something happen?"

Kili shook his head. "Legolas made a suggestion when I told him we were going to try and take the Arkenstone." He paused to glance at his brother, waiting to see if Fili would get angry with him for telling an elf their plans. Fili merely motioned for him to continue, though. "He suggested we use the thief we have here."

"I don't think we can trust her."

Kili shrugged. "She's here rather than having been handed over to the authorities. She owes her freedom to us."

"How free is she, really?" Fili asked. "She might not be locked up, but it isn't like she's allowed to leave. I don't think we should trust her. At least we know Bilbo's trustworthy."

"But he's also loyal to Uncle."

"Who do you trust more?"

"Bilbo, of course." Kili didn't even have to think about it. "But loyalty can be bought. We can pay her for helping us. And we don't have to make any decisions yet. Why don't we take her with us to Erebor and see what Bilbo's like there?"

"That's a good idea, Kili. Take a thief to where our treasure is."

"All I'm asking is that you think about it. I'm not completely naive, Fili. I know this is a risk. But so is stealing the Arkenstone. Bilbo's braver than I thought, but he might not be prepared to outright steal from Uncle. Bliss doesn't even know Thorin."

"I'll think about it."

"We've got a bit of time," Kili said. "Legolas is going to bring back some food for us. Once we hear back from him - or he returns from Mirkwood - we'll be able to leave for Erebor."

Fili didn't have a chance to make a reply before Inga came back into the room, guiding Bliss in front of her. Bliss' hair looked damp and she was wearing clothes that probably belonged to one of Bard's daughters - since they were likely nearer to her size than anyone else.

"Did Inga make Bliss have a bath?" Kili wondered.

"It looks like it." Fili eyed the human woman suspiciously. "I hope she's not going to try and make us have baths."

"It's not like we need one," Kili stated. He noticed that Bliss didn't seem too happy, but pulled his attention away from the human as the front door was opened and Bard stepped into the house, looking a bit tired and with his clothes ripped and stained in places.

"Father? Is it true?" The oldest daughter moved over to Bard.

Bard simply put an arm around his daughter, before addressing Inga. "Are you well?"

Inga nodded. "I was more fortunate than many people. Is there anything you need me to do?"

"You can return to your home for today," Bard replied. "I will let you know when there are less people in the house."

Inga nodded, saying a quiet, "Farewell," to the others before she left.

"Father?"

Bard sighed and squeezed his daughter gently. "I haven't made any decisions yet."

Much Ado About Dwarves: Part Two A: A Dwarf and a Thief

Chapter One

As Legolas walked through Laketown, he could see the destruction the dragon had wreaked. Although he looked around, all he could see were the dead bodies of the people who had fallen during the dragon's attack. Since it was unlikely there had been no injured, Legolas assumed that they'd already been taken to Laketown's healers by family or friends.

The stench of smoke wafted through the air and clung to Legolas' clothes, though he could see there were no fires blazing. When he thought about returning home, he couldn't help wincing. His father wasn't going to be best pleased that he had left against the express orders of his King - though he couldn't bring himself to regret those actions.

The blond-haired dwarf who had thrown himself over Kili's body had been very grateful to Legolas. Although Kili hadn't woken, Legolas was satisfied that the archer was completely healed. He would have liked to stay and make sure that Kili didn't need anything more, but after the reception he'd received from the leader of the company, he felt that leaving was really the best idea.

Besides, Legolas didn't want anyone to realise that he had saved a dwarf. He knew that he'd done the right thing, but that didn't mean he suddenly liked dwarves. And even if he had seen unexpected actions from two of them, they were surely the exception to what most dwarves were like.

Never mind that the other two dwarves had been trying to help the wounded one.

Although he was mostly caught up in his own thoughts, Legolas' eyesight was still working well. He walked past a house that had suffered very little damage in the attack, noticing a child out of the corner of his eye who had long, white-blonde hair. In other circumstances, he would have just pushed the sight out of his mind, since the girl had no obvious injuries. But it was what the girl was carrying that caught his attention.

"Surely you can offer me more than that," the girl said, apparently oblivious to Legolas' scrutiny. "You can trade this bow for money or goods. It's a fine make. There's very little damage to it."

"That looks to be a bow belonging to a dwarf - or a hobbit." The human standing in the doorway was dressed in clothes that were slightly finer than the girl's, which were scruffy and torn. "There are still some dwarves in Laketown and I will not be involved in the disappearance of one of their weapons."

As he came up behind the girl, Legolas recognised the look of the bow she held in her hand. The merchant - he assumed that was what he was - had been correct. Legolas knew it was a dwarven bow and he reached out and over the girl's head, plucking the weapon easily from her fingers.

The girl turned round and Legolas saw immediately that she was older than he had first thought. She frowned. "That's my bow. What are you doing with it?"

"This is a dwarven bow," Legolas replied. "How did you come by it?"

A calculating look came over the girl's face. "I found it."

"Inside a house, perhaps?" Legolas was aware of the human male going back inside his own house, but he didn't take his eyes off the thief.

The girl looked as if she were about to speak, but then closed her mouth. She feinted to the right and then suddenly made to dart to the left. Unfortunately for her, Legolas was used to fake moves. Holding the bow with one hand, he grabbed her arm with the other, holding her in place.

The girl tried to pull her arm free. Realising that she had no chance, she seemed to try a different tactic. She widened her eyes and tears welled up in them. "You're hurting me. You don't have to hold on so tight. I'll come with you."

Legolas wasn't fooled. He didn't tighten his grip, but he didn't loosen it, either. "Since you'll probably run if I let go of you, I think I'll just keep hold for now."

The tears were gone as if they'd never appeared. "I'm sorry I took the bow. It didn't look like it had an owner. It's been several days since I've had anything to eat."

Legolas looked her over. If she truly had been going hungry for several days, he imagined she'd be much thinner than she actually was. Besides, humans who were starving were generally much weaker than normal.

The problem was, Legolas wasn't sure what to do with her now. He needed to return the bow, but was it wise to turn a human thief over to dwarves? Admittedly, it was a weapon she was trying to steal rather than gold, but he didn't know how they would deal with a thief.

Perhaps he should return the bow and see what kind of welcome he got before he made any decisions.

**********************************************************************************************************

Kili muttered under his breath as he sat on the table, not quite close enough to hear what the Master of Laketown was saying to Bard. He would have got up and walked over to eavesdrop, but Fili had already warned him not to even think about getting up.

Bofur had gone to the door anyway.

Fili dug some food out of his pack and gave it to Kili. "Here. You need to get your strength up."

Kili looked at the food, but didn't take it. "I have my own rations."

"I'm not going to eat it, so you might as well take it."

Kili recognised his brother's tone. Although Fili was speaking calmly enough, if Kili continued to refuse to eat, the request would be followed by demands - and if that didn't work, then he'd start making threats that Kili knew he would have every intention of carrying out. Which was why he never fought on taking medicine after the first time Fili had literally forced it down his throat. He took the food without further argument.

As Kili was eating under Fili's watchful gaze, Bard returned from the door.

"Is something wrong?" Bofur asked.

Bard glanced at him sharply, but merely said, "That was the Master. He wanted to know who was going to pay for all of the damage caused by the dragon's attack."

"Surely he didn't think you were going to pay for it?" Bofur asked.

"I'm sure you're aware, Master Dwarf, that he wants me to speak to your leader about recompense."

Kili glanced at his brother, noticing that Fili looked quite worried. Before arriving in Laketown, Kili knew that Thorin would have willingly given the people gold to help them rebuild. But Fili was right. Their Uncle was a stranger now.

And Kili knew that Fili was struggling with how much to tell Bard.

A knock on the door broke into Kili's musings. As Bard went to open the door, Kili wondered if the Master of Laketown had realised there were four dwarves in Bard's home and had returned to speak to them.

But Kili was surprised by the elf that walked through the door, barely waiting for an invitation. In one hand, he grasped Kili's bow - and in the other, he held a small human female who was even shorter than Kili and his brother.

Ignoring Fili's warning glance, Kili struggled off the table. Disregarding the human for a moment, he bowed to the elf. "My brother told me you saved my life. My name is Kili. I'm at your service."

The elf paused, looking surprised. "I am Legolas. And you should still be resting."

Kili shrugged. "I've been told I have a very hard head."

"Yes, but it wasn't your head that was injured," Fili muttered, moving to support his brother. "I'm grateful too," he added to Legolas. "I don't know what we would have done if Kili had died."

Legolas seemed to recover fairly quickly, but merely nodded before he held the bow out to Kili. "I believe this is yours."

"Where did you find it?" Bofur asked.

Legolas glanced at Bofur, almost as if he were surprised by the other dwarf speaking. Kili wondered at that - and even more so about why an elf had bothered to save his life, though he was of course grateful. He finally looked towards the human Legolas held grasped by one arm. "Did you take my bow?"

"It's a well-made weapon - and I needed to feed myself," the human answered. "I'm sorry I took it. I thought it might have been left behind."

"You don't believe that, do you?" Fili asked his brother quietly.

Kili glanced at him. "It's likely a lot of people here are starving," he answered, just as quietly. "I would rather assume she's telling the truth than turn away someone who needs help."

"You have to recover so that we can join Uncle in Erebor."

Kili sighed at the mention of Thorin. It hurt that their Uncle had left without taking the time to make sure he was all right, Even if he was suffering from some kind of sickness, Kili wasn't used to being ignored by... well, any member of his family.

At least he still had his brother.

"Would you prefer me to take her to the human authorities?" Legolas asked.

Kili hesitated, glancing towards his brother. Fili didn't say anything, though, and Kili realised his brother was giving him silent support to decide what to do. After all, it was his bow that had been stolen.

"If Legolas releases you, will you flee?" Kili asked the human.

The girl glanced up at the elf and then at Kili. "If I tried, I don't think I would get very far."

"Then..." Kili felt a sudden wave of weakness flood through him and he stumbled, grabbing onto his brother's shoulders for support, as his leg refused to support him any longer.


Chapter Two
As Kili stumbled, Legolas handed the bow to one of the other two dwarves and moved over to Kili and Fili. He still had hold of the human's arm, but ignored the fact that he was dragging her along with him. "Are you dizzy? Do you feel sick?"

Kili shook his head. "I think I put too much weight on my leg."

"Hold the human." Legolas passed her arm to Fili, who looked a bit confused, but held her anyway. Legolas thought he probably looked more natural holding a short human, but quickly discarded that thought as he started to reach out and then hesitated. "Is it all right if I help you?"

"You already saved my life. I trust you not to attack me."

"Can you get back onto the table?"

"Is it necessary to do this here?" Bard asked. "I have other responsibilities to take care of."

"The sooner Kili is recovered, the sooner we can go to Erebor," Bofur pointed out. "And then you can get your money."

Legolas kept his gaze on Kili, ignoring the other dwarves and the humans. He saw Kili try to lift himself back onto the table and then grimace with pain. Legolas decided not to just stand by and watch Kili struggle. He reached out and lifted Kili, placing him carefully on the table before rolling up his trouser leg and exposing the bandage he'd wrapped around the wound.

There was fresh blood on the bandage and Legolas frowned at Kili. "You reopened the wound."

"Hard head, remember?"

"My father often talks about how stubborn dwarves are."

"Who is your father?" Kili asked.

Legolas hesitated, suddenly realising that the dwarves probably wouldn't react very well to learning he was Thranduil's son. He didn't want to risk fracturing the tentative peace he'd built so far. "It doesn't matter."

"Is he very important, then?" Kili asked.

"You could say that. He certainly wouldn't be happy to learn I was here," Legolas muttered as he carefully unwrapped the bandage. Try as he might to be gentle, he couldn't quite stop the bandage from sticking to the wound. "Sorry."

"I didn't think healers were supposed to apologise."

"Do you need water to clean out the wound?"

The new speaker was one of the two remaining dwarves, the one who looked a fair bit older than even the other one whose name Legolas didn't know. Legolas gave his question the consideration it deserved. "I don't want to wash out the athelas just yet, so it's not necessary right now." It was easier to talk to the dwarves now. They were different to what he'd been led to believe.

Putting the dirty bandage aside - Legolas intended to make sure it was burned later - the elf tore a fresh strip of material and bound it carefully but tightly around Kili's leg, covering the wound. "Stay on the table. Don't get up."

"We have to go to Erebor," Kili said.

"That's where you were trying to go?"

"Your homeland might be overrun with spiders, but you still have it," the other dwarf said. "We were driven away from ours."

"You can't blame us for wanting to reclaim it," Fili put in.

Legolas frowned slightly. "I suppose I can't. But you aren't in any fit state to travel yet," he addressed Kili. "The athelas will speed your healing, but you need to at least give your wound a chance to heal."

"Whatever you say, Master Elf."

"If you can't walk, you can't fight," Legolas said bluntly. "An archer is of no use if he has to be carried to his position."

The half-smile that had shown quickly faded from Kili's face. "Have you seen many wounds like this one?"

"I've seen my share of bad wounds," Legolas answered. "Elves aren't immune to being wounded. Or having infection set in. As for your particular type of wound..." He hesitated. "I knew how to treat it because I lived with Lord Elrond in Rivendell for a time. When I discovered you had been wounded by a morgul weapon, I knew I couldn't just ignore it."

"And so I owe you my life."

"Your leader saved mine, so I think that makes us even."

Kili smiled. "You returned my bow to me, so I think I owe you more of a debt. Speaking of which..." He looked towards Fili. "My pack is on the floor over there." He indicated it, laying in the far corner of the room. "Give her my rations."

Fili glanced towards the thief, who had remained silent throughout this whole time, though she'd made no obvious attempt to get away. He frowned, but gently tugged her over to Kili's pack and picked it up before opening it, taking out some food and placing it in the girl's free hand.

The girl eyed the food suspiciously, as though she feared it might contain poison. Legolas nearly rolled his eyes. He could have told her that dwarves weren't subtle enough for poison. If they wanted to kill someone, they'd simply use an axe. Or a dagger.

Eventually, the girl began eating, after sniffing the food first. One of the other dwarves handed Fili a goblet, which he passed the girl once she'd finished.

"What do you mean to do with me?" the girl asked after she'd taken a swallow from the goblet.

Legolas lowered his voice, pitching it so that it was impossible for a human to overhear him. "I would suggest turning her over to the human authorities. Erebor is the natural home of dwarves, not humans - and it would be unwise to turn her loose on the streets again."

"What will happen to her?" Kili couldn't lower his voice as much as Legolas, but he made an obvious effort to speak quieter.

Legolas shrugged. "The normal punishment for a thief is to have a hand cut off - or so I have heard."

Kili's gaze darted towards the human and then back to Legolas. "That seems unreasonably cruel. Doesn't she work?"

"Many humans here are unable to find work. Those that cannot often turn to thievery or other crimes."

Kili looked lost in thought for a moment or two, before he finally spoke. "I can't make any decisions by myself. I'll have to talk to the others." His eyes were beginning to droop, although he made an obvious effort to keep them open.

"You need to rest now," Fili said. "We can discuss what to do in the morning. No one will make any decisions without you."

It was probably a sign of how exhausted Kili was that he didn't even try to argue and simply nodded before laying back down on the table and closing his eyes.

Fili pushed the human back to Legolas and once Legolas had grasped her arm again, he walked over to his pack and removed a blanket, which he settled over Kili.


Chapter Three

"We must travel at speed. You will slow us down."

"I will carry him if I must!"

"My duty lies with the wounded."

"I cannot risk the fate of this quest for the sake of one dwarf - not even my own kin."

"I belong with my brother."

"Kili? Kili!"

Kili jerked awake, surprised to realise his eyes were wet. He blinked a few times and then focused on the concerned face of his brother. Fili was leaning over him, one hand still on his shoulder. "Did I wake you?"

"You were having a nightmare."

"It was just a bad dream. You don't need to worry over it."

"You mean I don't need to worry over you."

"It's my fault you're not in Erebor." Kili looked away, not wanting to make eye contact with his brother and see the disappointment he was sure lingered on Fili's face.

"No one forced me to stay here with you," Fili answered. "I chose to. Because you're my brother and you were wounded. I wasn't going to leave your side."

"You don't have to keep looking after me, Fili," Kili replied. "We're both grown dwarves now. You should have gone to Erebor with Uncle. I would have been healed even if you hadn't been here."

Fili snorted softly. "Do we really need to do this again? The only time I listened to you and left, you were calling out for me only moments later."

"I was a child then."

"You weren't a child when you called me to rescue you from the spider that had you trapped, were you? And you weren't a child only days before we left on this quest, when you ate that poisonous plant and were sick for the whole day and night."

Kili shook his head. If he was honest, he didn't want to drive Fili away. But the voices that had echoed through his nightmare still rang through his mind now. How could his brother see him as anything other than a burden? "Are the others still asleep?"

"Yes - or the elf and Bofur and Oin are. Your human's awake and the elf's been sleeping by the door, so she can't try to escape. Bard and his little ones are upstairs. I assume they're asleep as well."

"You were keeping watch, then?"

"I thought you'd try to sneak out."
                      
"I doubt I would have been able to get past Legolas."

"Tell me you wouldn't have tried."

Kili was silent, deciding not to even bother trying to argue with Fili. That decision to stay silent didn't last for long, though. It never did. "We can leave in the morning."

"We're not going anywhere while you're still weak, Kili."

"I can walk. Uncle told me to come to Erebor when I was healed. And I am. I want to see Erebor." Unable to help it, a slight pleading note slipped into his voice. "We should have been there with them." He wanted to get angry with his brother, but he was too tired to summon up that emotion. He couldn't even bring himself to shrug Fili's hand off when his brother touched his shoulder once more.

Despite the gentleness of Fili's touch, his voice was firm when he spoke. "If you try to get up, I'll just sit on you until you yield."

That startled a laugh out of Kili. "I'm too big for you to sit on any more."

"Are you so sure of that?"

Kili didn't bother making a response to that. He thought about trying to ignore Fili, but he knew his brother would never let him do that for long. "You didn't have to stay with me."

"I thought you might be dying." Fili spoke quietly, an intensity to his voice Kili had rarely heard before. "I wasn't going to go to Erebor and leave you alone. I could see how bad you were."

"I remember you talking to me."

"I was trying to stop you leaving me."

"I think you probably did." Kili continued watching the far wall, feeling oddly awkward, though he wasn't even sure why. After all, he'd had plenty of emotional conversations with Fili before. Kili knew that their mother and uncle often said they were more like twins than anything else, so he probably didn't need to give voice to his thoughts... but he did anyway. "I took strength from you."

"It's just as well I was offering it, then." Fili's voice was flippant enough, but there was an underlying note of seriousness to it as well.

"Do you think Uncle's angry with me?"

"I think that Uncle knew your life was in danger. He told you to stay here. He didn't need to say it the way he did, but I think he was still concerned about you."

Kili just shook his head, not knowing how to put what he was feeling into words. He continued to stare at the far wall, though he could feel himself relaxing as sleep began to overcome him once more. "I don't want to go back to sleep."

"I'm here, Kili. I won't let the nightmares trouble your sleep."

Kili smiled. "You're not a wizard. I don't think you can chase those bad dreams away."

Fili was silent, but a moment later, Kili felt the blanket lifted and another body crawl onto the table with him before the blanket was settled once more over the two of them.

Kili yawned as he relaxed back into the familiar warmth of his brother. "We'll get into trouble if you break the table."

"If we do, we can buy Bard a new one from our share of the treasure. Maybe even a new house," Fili suggested, his voice sounding rougher.

"I'll blame you if I find myself on the floor in the morning." Kili closed his eyes. "What about keeping watch?"

"Bofur's awake. And the elf's by the door. He wouldn't save you just to betray us at the first opportunity."

"Fili..."

"Yes?"

"I think he might be King Thranduil's son." Kili finally gave voice to his suspicions, right before sleep claimed him for the second time.


Chapter Four

Legolas hadn't really been sleeping while the two dwarves - who he assumed were among the youngest from the company - had their conversation. Although Kili had whispered the last words, Legolas had still overheard them. He was aware as Fili climbed onto the table with the other dwarf and settled down behind him. Within moments, Kili's breathing evened out, showing he was truly asleep.

The truth about Legolas' father was going to come out sooner or later - and if he was asked, Legolas knew he couldn't lie. He'd just hoped he would have a chance to prove he could be trusted before he had to explain things.

Letting out a slight sigh, Legolas sat up slowly, focusing on the blond dwarf as Fili gently pulled away from Kili and walked over to him. "How is he?"

Fili shrugged. "Tired and weak. That doesn't stop him from wanting to leave, of course, but at least he's asleep. For now."

"I imagine you'd feel the same if your positions were reversed."

"I expect so." Fili sat down opposite Legolas. "You overheard us."

Legolas nodded, even though it wasn't a question.

"Why did you help him? It's not that I'm not grateful, but you're an elf. We're dwarves. Why would you care?"

"I have a very good friend who I know would expect me to do anything within my power to help someone who was injured, no matter what race he was," Legolas replied. "As soon as I learned about his wound, I knew I couldn't just forget what I'd learned." He hesitated. "I'm glad I was in time."

"I am as well. He's my brother."

Legolas nodded. "I guessed as much. I have a brother as well, but we're not exactly close."

"He was right, wasn't he? King Thranduil is your father."

Legolas shrugged and then nodded. "There seems little use in hiding it."

"Thorin, our leader, is the rightful heir to Erebor," Fili said. "My brother and I are his sister-sons. We are in your debt." He hesitated. "My brother and I will each receive a fourteenth of the share of the treasure for our company. Would you be willing to accept our shares as payment?"

"I have no need for treasure," Legolas answered, though he remembered, with a disturbed feeling, how the light of greed had shone from his father's eyes. "And I would not accept a reward for saving anyone's life, be they dwarf, elf, hobbit, or human."

Fili was silent for several moments before finally speaking. "Will you be in trouble once you return?"

"My father probably believes I'm out on patrol, hunting either spiders or orcs," Legolas replied. "I don't plan on saying or doing anything to dissuade him from that." He hesitated briefly before continuing, "You should rest. I imagine it's been a long time since you were able to do so comfortably."

Fili didn't bother protesting and instead just nodded. Walking over to the table Kili was resting on, he sat next to his brother, letting his head drop lightly onto his folded arms that he rested on the table.

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When Kili woke the next morning, the first thing he noticed was the fact that his mouth was so dry, his lips felt like they were stuck together. It was a great effort to force his mouth open and then wet his lips enough to try and get some words out - if a grunt could count as words.

Kili's eyes were still closed, but he felt a waterskin placed against his mouth. It was depressed and water flooded down his throat, a gush that was so strong, it almost caused him to choke.

"Sorry," a woman's voice said - and the waterskin was pulled away enough to allow him to breathe.

It took another few moments of work to force his eyes to open. Although Kili's mind was awake, his body seemed to think differently. He focused on the face of the human thief as she leaned over him. "Thank you."

"I assumed you needed water - and it is your responsibility that I'm not being held by the authorities."

When the girl made to put the waterskin to his lips again, Kili put a hand on hers to stop her. Carefully sitting up, he took it from her. "I'm feeling much stronger now," he said, before drinking deeply.

Draining the contents of the waterskin, Kili placed it to one side and took a moment to look around Bard's house. He had yet to actually take in anything of the place they'd sheltered in.

There was just the one room where Kili and the rest of the dwarves, as well as the elf and human, were inside. There was a fireplace to one side of the room, above which there was a cooking pot. Kili could also see shelves full of crockery, but there were also many pieces that had been broken on the floor. Kili remembered the orcs attacking and saw the black blood that made it clear it hadn't been a hallucination brought on by delirium.

As he thought of this, Kili became aware of the pain in his hand - a separate throbbing from his leg. When he looked down at his hand, he saw there was a bandage wrapped around the palm.

"You saved my life."

Kili looked at his brother. "I thought maybe I'd dreamed that."

"You didn't," Fili replied. "But maybe next time, you should wield your sword by the hilt and not the blade."

"I'll try to remember that." Kili glanced towards the woman, who'd moved back a step or two. "What's your name?"

"Bliss."

Kili nodded. "I'm Kili - and that's my brother, Fili. The elf over by the door is Legolas. And over there are Oin and Bofur."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance," Bofur said cheerfully.

Bliss just nodded, but didn't say anything.

At the sound of footsteps, Kili glanced towards the stairs. As Bard came into view, he clambered off the table, relieved that his leg didn't hurt as much now, and bowed to him. "I apologise that none of us thanked you earlier, both for sheltering us and for killing the dragon. When we return to Erebor, my brother and I will see to it that you receive a fitting reward."

"The reward would be better shared among the surviving people of the town," Bard replied. "They are the ones who will need to rebuild what they've lost."


Chapter Five

A silence descended over the room at Bard's words. It was broken by the slightest of sounds - a faint huff of air, but enough to draw Kili's attention briefly back to Bliss. Her expression remained blank, but Kili was certain it had changed only a moment before.

"How many of Laketown's residents would see any of the treasure?" Legolas asked.

"Whoever's responsible for the distribution will have to see to that," Bard replied. "But words are all very well. I've yet to see any of this treasure."

Kili glanced at his brother and saw when the idea occurred to Fili. Instead of replying directly to Bard, Fili spoke to Oin and Bofur. "Kili is not yet fit to travel to Erebor and I won't leave him. But we can send a message with you for our Uncle, requesting payment of our shares to the city of Laketown."

"I could still travel, you know," Kili said, annoyed by the fact that he was still going to miss out on seeing Erebor.

"We've already had this discussion," Fili replied. "I'm not going to repeat the argument with you."

Kili turned his best scowl on his brother, but Fili seemed entirely unperturbed and spoke to Bard. "Do you have a quill and parchment?"

Bard merely nodded and walked over to one of the shelves, where he retrieved a slightly bedraggled quill, an inkwell and a piece of dusty parchment. He gave the items to Fili, who walked over to the table Kili had been resting on and set them out to start writing.

"When should we leave?" Bofur asked Oin, unable to quite contain his excitement.

"After breakfast," Oin answered. "If we're going to climb up the mountain, we need a hearty meal."

"Then that's settled," Fili said. "Once we've eaten breakfast, Oin, you and Bofur will take my message to Uncle. Make sure he knows how urgent it is."

Kili didn't make any comments, but he couldn't help wondering if Thorin truly would be willing to hand over any of the treasure to Laketown's residents - even his own and Fili's shares. He didn't want to admit that out loud, though.

He'd confide his doubts to his brother when they were alone.

"I suppose you want me to feed you," Bard said.

"That's unnecessary," Legolas replied. "I will go hunting for food."

"I'll go with you," Kili offered.

Fili glanced sharply at him. "No you won't."

"I don't need any help." Legolas smiled at Kili, taking any sting out of his words. "I do appreciate your offer, though, and once you're fully healed, I'm sure we could go hunting together on another occasion."

"I'm really not a delicate creature."

"Of course not. You're a dwarf."

"Somehow, that sounds like an insult" Kili muttered.

Legolas shrugged. "It wasn't intended that way, but I can't stop you from assuming that." He stood up, removing his bow from the quiver. "I assume dwarves aren't fussy."

"No green things," Bofur said quickly.

Legolas nodded. "I'll be back soon." He walked swiftly out of the house.

"So... you made friends with an elf," Bofur said brightly to Kili. "I don't imagine Thorin will be happy about that."

"I don't think it's a friendship," Kili replied. "I think he just wants to make sure I don't undo all his hard work in healing me."

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When Legolas stepped back into the house, Kili realised just how hungry he was. Although his brother had forced food on him earlier, he hadn't really had much of an appetite until now, when he saw the bird carcasses the elf carried.

By the time Legolas returned, Bard's children had joined the group. The youngest girl stared at Legolas in wonder, but the older one stepped over to him. "Would you like me to pluck the feathers from those birds?" she asked.

Legolas nodded and handed the birds to her. "There is enough for everyone to eat, even with the appetite dwarves have."

"Hey!" Bofur protested.

"He has a point," Fili said.

"He doesn't have to say it," Bofur muttered.

"At least we're not as bad as hobbits," Kili commented. "I haven't heard of half of the meals Bilbo was talking about. I don't understand how he can eat so much and stay smaller than us dwarves."

"I'm surprised he didn't waste away," Fili said.

"Well, I might have been sneaking him some of my rations," Bofur said, shrugging when Fili and Kili looked at him. "He was hungry."

Kili snorted softly. "You'd better not tell Uncle that. He was already complaining that we didn't have enough rations to go round." Even though the meat wasn't cooked yet, he could still smell it and his stomach growled. He shrugged when Fili glanced over towards him. "I'm obviously hungrier than I realised."

Fili just nodded as he rolled the parchment up and handed it to Oin, before giving the quill and inkwell back to Bard. Oin tucked the message into his belt and then walked over to Bard's daughter, taking out his dagger and cutting the meat into smaller pieces.

Bofur walked over to help Oin and the two dwarves, working quickly together, put the meat into the cooking pot, before Oin dug out some herbs and dried vegetables that the two of them added to the pot.

"I suppose Uncle's dining well in Erebor," Kili commented, unable to quite hold back the bitterness in his voice.

"You will enjoy your time there more if you wait until you're healed before you make the trek up there," Legolas pointed out. "That is, if no more orcs come here."

Remembering the pale orc, Kili glanced at his brother. He wasn't scared, but he knew the story. Balin had told it more than once. Kili didn't know where Azog was when the orcs were attacking them in the lake, but if more orcs came to Laketown, it would likely be too much to hope for that Azog was not among their number.

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