The March of Time

10: A Short Rest

Hey guys! So I'm back with Chapter Ten, and we have finally reached Rivendell! Just a short A/N here, but you have no idea how hard this chapter was to write. It seems like the simplest thing in the world, but there were SO many details to convey in this chapter, and I got writer's block more than once lol. But I hope y'all like it anyway! It's kind of a slower chapter than what I'm used to, but don't worry, we'll start up the pace a little bit again next chapter. Enjoy!:)

Chapter Ten: A Short Rest

Alison had never seen such a beautiful place in all her life—and she knew, when looking at it, that 'beautiful' was too much of a restraint for Rivendell. The Hidden Valley was beyond such mundane words.

The Company stood on a rocky ledge overlooking the valley, with a gurgling river slowly winding its way along the valley floor below them. High, arcing waterfalls took flight from the tall cliffs surrounding them, their spray glinting gold in the burnished light from the setting sun. Directly across from them stood a collection of gorgeous, open-air houses, with intricate balconies and terraces stretching everywhere across the buildings, gleaming with whites, browns, silvers, and blues, surrounded by the clear crystal waters of streams and brooks and the lush forests of the valley. Alison was instantly captivated, her body and soul and mind ensnared by the beauty and the underlying magic of the place, for Gandalf was right; the valley was humming with power.

"Yes, Rivendell," Gandalf said, looking around the valley with a calm smile on his face. "Here lies the Last Homely House east of the Sea."

The dwarves all looked around in awe, but the serenity of the moment was shattered as Thorin stalked up to Gandalf, an angry scowl set deep in his face.

"This was your plan all along," the dwarf king accused. "To seek refuge with our enemy."

"You have no enemies here, Thorin Oakenshield," Gandalf said sharply, his piercing gaze meeting Thorin's angry one. "The only ill will to be found in this valley is that which you bring yourself."

"You think the Elves will give our quest their blessing?" he demanded, and by this point, the whole Company had turned around and was watching their heated conversation. "They will try to stop us."

"Of course they will," Gandalf agreed, surprising Thorin a bit. "But we have questions that need to be answered. If we are to be successful, this will need to be handled with tact, and respect, and no small degree of charm. Which is why you will leave the talking to me."

And with that, Gandalf began to make his way down the ledge, towards the expansive house across the river; with another scowl, Thorin followed him, and the Company fell into step behind them. Alison and Bilbo took up the rear, ogling and basking in the ethereal beauty of the valley as they picked their way slowly and distractedly after the Company.

Eventually, they descended from the cliff-side they had come out on and encountered a narrow stone walkway spanning across the river. As the dwarves made their way across carefully, Alison followed much more slowly, watching the water as it flowed underneath her feet, almost close enough to touch if she were to bend down. Even the way the water sounded babbling over rocks was magical in its own way, and Alison just wanted to jump in and let the water ease away her aches and worries.

She shook her head a little bit, hurrying to catch up with the Company; she couldn't be distracted by this place. She knew the stories of what happened to mortals who came into contact with magic, and she wasn't keen on falling into the river and discovering she had been turned into a mermaid or something.

The Company, led by Gandalf, entered a pavilion near the water's edge, looking around in wonder at the strange place. There was no sign of any Elves so far, and Alison drank in her surroundings, admiring the graceful architecture, melded with the own doings of nature as she noticed the beautiful carven statues of Elven knights draped with vines.

"Mithrandir," a clear voice said from behind them, and the Company turned, seeing an Elf make his way down the tall stone staircase of the front house.

Now, Alison had seen Hobbits, Dwarves, Orcs, and Wizards, but nothing could have prepared her for the appearance of an Elf. Alison openly stared as the Elf graced down the stairs, marveling at his air-like movements and the aura of gentle power that radiated from him. There was no other word for the Elf she saw—he was simply beautiful.

He was like an angelic statue come to life, flawless and radiant in the setting light of the sun. His skin was alabaster pale, smooth and unblemished, a bright contrast against his deep violet robes and braided silver circlet. He was tall and slender, and normally Alison didn't like guys on the skinnier side, but she did not mind in the slightest as she took in the Elf's face, with his high cheekbones, angular jaw, and sweeping dark hair that flowed down his back…

Whoa, girl, she said, blinking out of the trance she had gone into at the sight of the Elf. Calm down now. He's just an Elf. A very pretty Elf boy. But that's it.

Alison suddenly became aware of how disgusting she was, her clothes dirty and sweat-stained, her hair tangled and unwashed, and she bet her face was probably no better, either, as the Elf graced the last few steps and put a hand over his heart, bowing his head to Gandalf.

"Ah, Lindir," the Wizard said, making the same gesture back to the Elf as Lindir spoke in a musical voice of Elvish, a small smile flitting across his lips.

As the Elf spoke, Alison saw Thorin lean close to Dwalin and whisper something along the lines of "Stay sharp."

"I must speak with Lord Elrond," Gandalf said politely to Lindir in the Common Tongue, and Lindir shook his head.

"My Lord Elrond is not here," he said.

"Not here?" Gandalf repeated. "Where is he?"

But Lindir didn't answer, for suddenly there was the sound of a horn behind them, the same horn that had blown before the attack on the Orcs when they were in the cavern. The Company turned, and they saw a single-file procession of horses galloping down the pathway they had just crossed towards the pavilion, and Alison could see the gleam of their armor and helms and their Elven banners flying behind them as they rode down.

It was obviously a returning war party, but Alison didn't see all the fuss as Thorin shouted, "Close ranks!" and Nori pushed in front of her, trapping her in the middle with Bilbo as the dwarves crowded around them. They eyed the Elven party fiercely as they circled around the Company, easily towering over them on their horses as they all stopped at once, facing the group from underneath their elaborate silver helms.

"Is this really necessary?" Alison grumbled to the dwarves, wanting to see the Elves up close, but they ignored her, still staring distrustfully at the gathered war party.

"Gandalf!" A voice said, and Alison looked to see an Elf with long raven hair and lavish silver and dark red armor swing off his horse, a fine cape of gold fluttering around his shoulders as he dismounted.

"Lord Elrond," Gandalf said, embracing the Elf dearly.

As Gandalf began to speak in Elvish to the lord of Rivendell, Elrond handed a crude, wrapped blade to Lindir, and Alison guessed it was a spoil of war, confirming the Company's suspicions that Elrond had drove off the Orc hunting party.

"Strange for Orcs to come so near our borders," Elrond said, abruptly switching to the Common Tongue mid-conversation. "Something, or someone, has drawn them near." Elrond gave a pointed look to the Wizard.

"Ah, that may have been us," he said, a little bit guiltily.

Elrond half-smiled, sweeping his dark gaze over the Company. To her intense shock and dread, Elrond's eyes sought her out first, and she gulped as the Elven-lord bowed to her. The dwarves looked to her in bewilderment, but she didn't take her eyes off of Elrond as he straightened, looking back to her.

"Welcome, Lady Ashburne," he said. "It is most joyous to see you here in Rivendell. Your arrival has long since been anticipated among the inhabitants of Middle-earth."

She knew she should probably curtsy or something, replying with a formality equal to his, but all she could do was squeak out, "Really?"

Elrond smiled kindly. "Indeed. You are most welcome here, my Lady."

"Thank you," she said, smiling tightly, still flustered that the Elven-lord had singled her out first.

Thorin stepped forward then, his gray-blue eyes hard, and Elrond turned to him, nodding his head respectfully. "Welcome Thorin, son of Thráin."

"I do not believe we have met," Thorin said, looking at the Elf with poorly disguised mistrust.

"You have your grandfather's bearing," Elrond replied. "I knew Thrór when he ruled under the Mountain."

"Indeed?" Thorin said, lifting a brow. "He made no mention of you." Alison mentally face-palmed herself at the clear tone of hostility in the dwarf king's voice.

Elrond narrowed his eyes slightly, taking in the dwarf king with unfathomable eyes. Finally, he let forth a long stream of Elvish words, the language rolling over his tongue as he met Thorin's gaze.

When he had finished, Glóin spoke up from the inside of the group, his thick eyebrows contracted angrily as he growled, "What is he saying? Does he offer us insult?" The other dwarves began to grumble as well, glaring at the Elven-lord, and Alison rolled her eyes at their hasty assumption.

"No, Master Glóin, he is offering you food," Gandalf said, a little exasperatedly. At this, the Company all shared looks and began to mutter quietly to each other, casting suspicious glances at the Elves around them. Alison listened to them in bemusement before they finally came to a decision.

"Well, in that case, lead on," Glóin said gruffly, and Elrond smiled again.

"Certainly," he said, and he gestured to Lindir, who immediately came to his side. "Lindir, show Lady Ashburne to her rooms. I will escort Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf. Delthiel," Elrond said, gesturing to one of the standard-bearing Elves, and the armored Elf straightened immediately. "Kindly escort the Master Dwarves to the dining pavilion."

The two Elves nodded, and Lindir approached Alison, beckoning to her with a slender hand. Ignoring the disdainful glares and mutterings of the dwarves towards her escort, Alison accepted his hand gratefully with a small smile, and the Elf turned and led her back up the staircase he had descended from earlier.

"I see the Road has not been too lenient for you and your companions," the Elf said in his musical voice, taking in her bedraggled and travel-stained appearance with expressionless dark eyes.

Alison blushed as they ascended the final steps of the staircase, entering into an exquisite entry hall with glowing lamps hanging from the ceiling and gorgeous woven tapestries adorning the walls. "Is it ever lenient for anyone?"

"Seldom," he replied, a quick smile gracing his lips as they exited the house and came out to a veranda with a breathtaking vista of the valley. He led her to the left, where a smaller, yet no less exquisite house perched on the edge of a slight ridge, a tranquil waterfall flowing underneath it before falling down empty space to the valley floor far below them. Alison looked to Lindir as he continued. "It is interesting, how you came to be in the company of thirteen Dwarves and a Hobbit. The Wizard, I understand, but the others…"

He lifted a slender brow questioningly, and Alison began to panic. She couldn't tell him about the quest to Erebor—Thorin would kill her for divulging such secrets. And then she felt confusion; if her arrival had long been expected, then shouldn't the Elves know already what she had been sent to do? Unless, she thought suddenly, they didn't know her purpose, but only of her arrival.

"The Company found me when I first arrived with Gandalf," she said, hoping she would sound convincing; lying had never been one of her strong suits. "They told us that they were traveling east to…" she hesitated, before an image of the map Bilbo had given her swam into view, and she prayed the Grey Mountains were Dwarf territory as she continued, "Ered Mithrin! Yes, Ered Mithrin, to visit distant relations or some sort. And the Hobbit, I don't know. I assume he just wants adventure; strange, how different he is from most of his kind that way. And since Gandalf and I were traveling the same way, we decided to journey together. So…yeah," she nodded vigorously as Lindir glanced at her sideways, frowning.

Much to her relief, he didn't press her, though it was obvious he knew she was lying. They fell into silence as they climbed another staircase, this one smaller than the main one in the pavilion and made from ivory it seemed, instead of stone. They approached a light wooden door located at the end of a secluded hallway, and as they stopped in front of it Lindir released her hand.

"These are your rooms, my Lady," he said. "I will send for some maids to help you dress for dinner and I will return within the hour to escort you to the dining pavilion."

"Thank you, Lindir," she said politely, remembering her manners and bowing at the waist. The Elf inclined his head gracefully before retreating back down the hallway, his violet robes swirling behind him.

Alison entered the door behind her, crossing into the room beyond, when she stopped suddenly, her mouth dropping open. She had been expecting a bedroom and a bathroom for sure, but looking around the room, she realized that this was more like a hotel suite than just a room.

To her left was a raised platform of polished, light wood floors, with the largest bed she had seen in her life perched atop it. The headboard was a work of art, with gleaming wooden branches entwined together to create a backdrop of splendor against the white-sheeted mammoth of a bed; Alison was sure if she were to lay in the center of it and stretch out her arms and legs, she would not be able to reach the sides.

The ceiling was high and vaulted with wooden beams, giving the illusion she was inside a tree as pretty sparkling lamps dangled down like glowing wind chimes, casting the room in a pretty silver light and giving a sense of realness to the tapestries of nature on the walls and the fine ivory statues of Elf-maidens in the alcoves of the room. Across the wide expanse of the bedroom, gauzy blue curtains that reminded her of the waters outside fluttered in the gentle breeze, opening onto a terrace bursting with flowers in all shapes and colors while overlooking the stunning views of Rivendell.

Alison crossed to the right of the room, where an intricate awning opened up into a lavish washroom, the wood floors under her feet turning into warm, carefully hewn stone as she entered in deeper. The washroom had to be as big as her bedroom back home, with a natural spring waterfall bubbling on one side of the room, feeding into the carved stone tub dominating most of the floor space, and a simple stone vanity on the other side with a large oval mirror.

"Wow," Alison breathed, summing up the room in one understated word. Not sure if she should wait for the Elf-maids or not, but deciding she was too revolting to wait any longer, Alison peeled off her clothes and wadded them into a smelly pile before letting down her hair and stepping to the edge of the expansive tub.

She dipped a toe into the water, expecting it to be cold from the spring feeding it, but found to her delight that it was actually quite hot. She submerged herself slowly, feeling as if she were entering a Jacuzzi, but when she got to her torso, she gasped as an arc of pain lanced through her body.

Her breath hissing through her teeth as she fought to breathe through the pain, she looked down, and almost fainted at what she saw.

Her chest was covered with bruises, all blacks and blues and deep reds mottled together in a painting of horror on her body. The troll's grip had been too much for her small human body to handle, and as she continued to suck in sharp gasps of air, she felt her ribs beginning to throb, and she suspected they may have been bruised, as well.

Fighting through the pain, she continued to slowly sink into the water, perching herself on the ledge seat on the rim of the tub. As she sank to her shoulders, tears were beginning to leak out of her eyes, and she bit down on her lip to keep from crying out.

She sat rigidly, letting the water wash over her and hoping her ribs would acclimate, but they seemed to burn more intensely, and in her haze of pain Alison didn't even hear the door open until two Elf-maids entered the washroom, gazing down at her with wide eyes as they took in her tears and pained grimace.

"Lady Ashburne," one of them said in a lilting voice, her blue eyes concerned. "Is there something wrong?"

Alison, not even embarrassed at the fact she was in the bath while they stood over her, nodded and ground out, "My ribs. I think they're bruised."

"Alawë," the second Elf-maid's voice said from behind her, and then there was a rapid sentence in Elvish. Alawë, the first Elf-maid, nodded once and hurried off, leaving Alison alone with the second she-Elf.

"Lady Ashburne," the second voice said, and this voice was richer than Alawë's, deeper and older. Alison craned her neck with difficulty and saw the other Elf-maid, tall and slim with long chocolate hair and deep brown eyes, holding a vase of some sort in her hands. "Can you manage a short bath until Alawë returns with the herbs?"

Alison didn't know what herbs the she-Elf was talking about, but she nodded; she was already in the bath, and good Lord did she want to be clean again. The she-Elf handed her a piece of pale green cloth, and with difficulty, she began to scrub away the layers of dirt and grime covering her skin, gritting her teeth as the she-Elf set to work on washing her hair.

Alison was amazed at how much dirt was sloughing off her skin as she continued to wash herself; she was vaguely disappointed that most of her "tan" was peeling off, revealing a lighter shade of bronze underneath, though she noticed she was beginning to get a lot more freckles from the exposure to the sun on the journey.

After a few more minutes of painstaking washing, Alison's skin was finally rid of all the culminated dirt and her hair was clean and nice-smelling, thanks to the Elf-maid, who turned around politely as Alison clambered out of the tub and stiffly shrugged on the thick satin robe she had been provided with.

"This way," the Elf-maid said, leading her gently over to the bed, where Alison sank down gratefully, holding her chest at an awkward angle to avoid any more pain as Alawë swept back into the room, holding a silken wrap of some sort in one hand and a brew of herbs in another.

Alawë and the second she-Elf communicated in Elvish for a moment, and then Alawë approached Alison with a slight smile meant to comfort. "If I may be allowed to tend to your injuries, my Lady?" she said, and Alison nodded, her chest too tight to say anything.

Feeling extremely awkward and embarrassed, Alison removed her robe as Alawë slathered the silk wrap in the herbal brew, chanting in Elvish under her breath as she worked. Alison sat stiffly, waiting for the pain she knew was coming as the she-Elf began to wrap her torso, but it never came. As the wrap wound around her upper body, there was a flash of cold, and then a spreading warmth as the herbs came into contact with her bruises, and the pain subsided greatly, though there was still a sense of tight discomfort as Alawë tied the wrap loosely and stood back up.

"That should alleviate your pain," she said, wiping her hands on a cloth the other she-Elf held out to her. "Though you will still feel some discomfort over the next few days. By the fourth day you should be healed as long as you reapply the salve and the wrap. I will leave extras for you."

"Thank you," Alison said, placing a hand on her chest. There was a small twinge of soreness, but it was nothing compared to the stabbing pain she had felt earlier. She wondered why she had not noticed it before; perhaps the adrenaline she had been feeling all day had finally worn off, awakening her to the presence of the pain.

Alawë smiled gently. "Gebrindra and I will assist you in getting ready for dinner," she said, and Alison nodded again, not really knowing whether to make conversation or not, so she stayed in silence.

As she watched the two Elf-maids whisk around the room, setting out things like a comb and what seemed to be a dress, Alison felt the stirrings of envy in her chest, which surprised her, for she wasn't really the jealous type. But observing the Elf-maids made her feel especially self-conscious and insignificant compared to their floating, graceful movements and beautiful selves, with their flowing hair, deep eyes, and pale skin. Compared to her short, slight self and obvious human looks, the Elves were like deities, while she was the lowly commoner.

Oh, get over yourself, she thought. You're a human, and they're Elves. Obviously they're going to look better than you. And what did it matter? It wasn't like she had anyone to impress, anyway.

That's what she kept thinking to herself as the Elves worked on her with light, gentle hands, drying her hair and attempting to fashion it despite its stubborn lankiness and dressing her. Alison had some reservations about her outfit as they slipped the dress over her head, for she had never liked dresses and would much rather have preferred her jeans on the floor, but the Elves insisted on her gown, stating it was a sign of courtesy to the Elven-lord. So Alison sucked it up and let the Elf-maids continue to work on her, brushing a fine powder across her face before stepping away, scrutinizing her.

Feeling nervous about what they had done to her, Alison crossed to the mirror and looked herself up and down in it, feeling a slight shock as she looked at her appearance.

Though still very plain, not at all radiant, she seemed…older, more mature somehow. Instead of her hair hanging down in a straight style, it now framed her face in brown curls, and she wondered how in the world the Elves had managed to curl her hair and hold the style in a day when she had been trying and failing to do so for half her life. But besides her hair, she didn't look any different; her face was still the same, a few shades darker than her original skin tone from the sun, and now with a dash of freckles across the bridge of her nose, but still the same. And her eyes were nearly unchanged as well; pale green and bright, but now weighed down with a layer of exhaustion at the same time, and a sort of hardness that hadn't been there before.

However, the dress was the most significant part; it was long-sleeved, with a loose bodice shimmering in autumn colors of red, brown, and gold that flowed out to a swirling skirt of a pretty cream color. It was easily the nicest thing she had ever worn, but she felt highly uncomfortable in it; it just wasn't her.

"Do you like it?" Gebrindra asked, and Alison forced a smile.

"It's wonderful," she said. "Thank you."

The Elf-maids bowed as a light knock came on the door, and Alison crossed the room and opened it, revealing Lindir on the other side. "Are you ready for dinner, my Lady?" he asked, giving her a quick once-over with expressionless eyes.

"Yes, I am," she said, and he offered her his hand again, which she took with a slight nod.

She thought about going back to retrieve the slippers the Elf-maids had placed out for her, but she enjoyed the feeling of her bare feet on the floor too much, and besides, her dress was long enough to cover her feet anyway.

To hell with it, she thought, as Lindir swept her down the hallway and towards the dining pavilion. As the first shivers of music took to the air some distance away, Alison suddenly realized how much lighter she felt, as if a huge block of concrete that had been sitting on her chest had been lifted, allowing her to breathe again, and not just because of her tended injury.

She had never realized just how scared and stressed and anxious she had been until she had entered into the relaxing atmosphere of Rivendell. But now that she was here, she felt immensely better, the fear and uncertainty she had been carrying around for the past several days subsiding; at least temporarily, anyway, until they started their journey again. But Alison couldn't stop the serene feeling bubbling up in her, and she allowed herself a small smile before she entered into the twilit dining pavilion.

Fili had never seen an Elf. But from the way the dwarves in Ered Luin had described them, as cold, distant, haughty and arrogant creatures, he had been expecting them to be cruel yet beautiful beings, with blood-red smiles and claws or the sort. He definitely had not been expecting this.

When Lindir had descended from the staircase, Fili had been quite taken aback. While he was certainly an unearthly being, Fili had thought he looked quite…normal, despite his regal air and the aura of gentle power surrounding him, devoid of any claws or things. And that was what he had noticed about the rest of the Elves they had encountered as they were led along to the dining pavilion by Delthiel: while certainly regal and distant, they were not arrogant or unkind. In fact, they hardly paid any attention to the dwarves at all as they passed through the enormous halls.

The Company didn't speak to each other as they were led along deeper into the House of Elrond, though they all walked close together and took in their surroundings warily. While Fili did have to admit that Rivendell was beautiful in its own way, he felt uncomfortable with all the open space around him. With a twinge of homesickness, he craved for the mountain halls of Ered Luin, with the high cavern roofs that echoed with the ceaseless noise of Dwarven life and the hustle and bustle of his people. Rivendell was far too quiet and peaceful for his taste.

Eventually, Delthiel led them to an outdoor pavilion overlooking the valley, washed golden from the rays of the setting sun. There was a high table situated at the front, set with four chairs, presumably for Elrond, Gandalf, Thorin, and…Alison? Fili assumed so, since the Elves had practically treated her like royalty when she had arrived, calling her "Lady" and giving her rooms of her own.

He felt a strange twinge as he thought that; he saw her as a normal human girl, and it was strange to remind himself that she was descended from the First Hero, and belonged to a separate great line all her own.

Delthiel led them to two smaller tables in the center of the pavilion, divided down the middle by the presence of a large stone pedestal. Bombur, Bilbo, Balin, Óin, Ori, Dori and Glóin took the first table, while the rest of the Company took the second.

Fili situated himself at the end of the table, with Dwalin and Bifur on his side and Kili, Nori, and Bofur across from them. There was much disconcerted grumbling as the dwarves sat down, for the tables were low to the ground and they had cushions to sit on instead of chairs, which they found distinctly uncomfortable.

As they sat down, Delthiel bowed stiffly in his armor and then whisked away as other Elves began to take up positions around the pavilion, flutes and harps and lyres in their hands as they began to tune them. A few minutes later Elrond entered the pavilion, changed out of his armor into robes of rich gold and an intricate circlet upon his brow, leading in front of Gandalf and Thorin, who looked unruffled and scowling as he trailed after the Elven-lord.

"Where's the food?" Bofur complained. "This doesn't seem much like a dinner if there isn't actually any dinner out."

Fili smirked as he noticed one of the Elven flute players shoot him a dirty look, while the Elf-maid coming around pouring them wine looked as if she had swallowed something sour as she topped off their glasses and whisked away.

"Do you think they have any sweet bread here?" Kili asked, looking around the pavilion curiously. Fili inwardly rolled his eyes; Kili had been obsessed with sweet bread practically since he had first learned to walk, and his brother sought it out whenever he could, the question becoming a sort of habit for him anywhere they went.

Fili glanced up to the high table where Thorin sat, and he made eye contact with his uncle, who looked as sullen as ever. Fili nodded to him, and Thorin inclined his head, his face lined with the scowl plastered to his mouth. Then Lindir appeared behind the table, leading someone by the hand, and Fili had to do a double-take as he realized it was Alison the Elf was leading.

After only seeing her in her traveling clothes with her hair up or dripping wet in her face, it came as a shock to see her in a dress with her hair loose and curled. The dress was obviously meant for the tall statures of the Elves, and it pooled around her feet as she walked, but the deep colors made her plain brown hair appear lighter and her eyes glint like green ice as she stepped into the pavilion. Though she looked…good, it made Fili slightly unnerved to see her dressed so differently and her appearance equally disparate.

Elrond got to his feet as she entered, letting go of Lindir's hand as the Elf went to stand off to the side by Elrond's chair, and the Elven-lord smiled and gestured to the open chair at the other end of the table.

"Lady Ashburne," he said. "Please, have a seat."

"Thank you, Lord Elrond," she said. "But actually…I was wondering if I could sit with my friends?" Her voice rose nervously at the end, as if she were expecting his refusal, and Elrond stared at her for a few seconds.

"Well, I do not see that being a problem," he said, sitting back down and looking vaguely bemused. "Lindir, if you could find another seat…"

Fili watched in amusement as Lindir reappeared a few seconds later with another cushion, which he set down at the head of Fili's table. The Elf offered a hand to escort her, but she had already nodded her thanks to Elrond and marched to her new seat. The Company snickered as Lindir looked slightly affronted at her disregard and resumed his place behind Elrond's chair.

Fili shared a grin with Bofur across the table, and then his eyes flickered over to Kili. His brother's dark eyes were trained on Alison as she made her way over, and there was a light in them he had never seen before. Though Kili's expression remained neutral with that guard he had begun to put up, Fili knew his brother well enough to read his eyes, and what he saw there bothered him. With a sinking feeling in his chest, Fili figured it was time to talk to Kili about the extent of his feelings toward their companion.

Alison took her seat between Fili and Kili at the head of the table, and as she sat down, Fili saw her wince and place a hand over her upper abdomen; though, looking around, it seemed he had been the only one to notice, as Kili had gone back to observing the pavilion and the others weren't paying much attention.

As the pavilion shimmered with the Elven music in earnest and Elf servants fluttered around with dishes of salad and greenery, Fili looked to Alison and said, "What's wrong?"

She looked to him and glanced away quickly. "Nothing's wrong," she said nonchalantly, reaching for her glass of wine.

Fili raised his eyebrows skeptically. "I'm not blind you know. I saw you wince."

She took an experimental sip of the wine, her face puckering a bit at the sour taste, and then she sighed as she noticed Fili still staring at her expectantly. "I just…got a bit banged up last night. But it's nothing to worry about; the Elves fixed me up. I should be fine in a few days."

"'A bit banged up' and 'a few days' doesn't really add together," he noted.

"Fine," she said, rolling her eyes. "The troll bruised my ribs. Happy now?"

"No, I'm not," he said, ignoring her sarcasm. "Alison, why didn't you tell anyone? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I didn't even realize it until we got here!" They were whispering furiously to each other from their seats now; fortunately, none of the others were still paying attention.

"You still could've said something," he replied irritably. "We could've checked and patched you up—"

She snorted, breaking him off. "'Oh, right, here, let me just try to wrap your injured ribs as we're running for our lives. That's totally an option!'" she said. "Honestly, Fili, I'm fine. I don't see why you're so worried."

He opened his mouth to reply, but at that moment an Elf-maid placed a bowl of salad down before him while another bowl landed in front of Alison, breaking off their progressively heated conversation.

As Alison took another sip from her wine, Fili began to wonder; why was he so worried about her? She was upright and fine, not even near death's door. So why was he so concerned for her well-being?

She's a woman, he reminded himself. Your chivalry is coming out. And you would be worried if the same had happened to anyone else in the Company, especially if it were Kili.

Feeling better at the thought, Fili then turned to his dinner in distaste; he hoped this was only just an appetizer, or else his stomach would be growling all night. And apparently he wasn't the only one thinking the same.

"Try it," he heard Dori urge from the other table, and he looked to see the fussy Dwarf gazing beseechingly to Ori.

"I don't like green food," Ori said, staring at the piece of lettuce in his hand with displeasure.

"Where's the meat?" Dwalin said from beside Fili, shifting around his salad with his hands in incredulity, as if thinking the Elves were playing a prank on him. There were similar mutterings up and down the pavilion, and Fili watched as the Elves looked more and more disgruntled with every remark. Alison, however, ate the salad without complaint, chewing and swallowing it as if it were daily fare; and in her world, it probably was.

Fili picked a piece of lettuce from his bowl and nibbled on it experimentally. As he swallowed the tasteless greenery, his stomach twinged in protest, demanding meats and breads and ales, and he set down the lettuce, wondering if the Elves were trying to starve them.

"Kili? What are you looking at?" Alison said suddenly, and at her questioning tone, the whole table looked to the young dwarf prince, who had been smiling and winking at something over Fili's shoulder. Curious, Fili looked behind him, along with Dwalin and Alison, and much to the dwarves' detestation and Alison's amusement, they saw a she-Elf with dark blue eyes and black hair playing the harp, her eyes on Kili as well. Though at the others' stares, she quickly looked away.

Alison snickered into her wine glass as Kili dropped his gaze as well, obviously trying to play off his staring as Dwalin glared at him and Fili gave him a disapproving look as everyone else at the table watched amusedly.

"You know, I can't say I fancy Elf-maids myself," the younger dwarf prince said, taking a gulp from his wine glass as he looked around the table imploringly. "Just too thin. They're all high cheekbones and creamy skin…not enough facial hair for me." Dwalin still glared at him while Fili raised an eyebrow, Alison beginning to giggle beside him. "Although," Kili said, gesturing behind his shoulder with a cocky wink at an Elf drifting by. "That one there's not bad."

Alison began to choke in earnest, and the rest of the table looked to her as she laughed, clutching her abdomen. "Kili," she said under her breath, as he stared at her in puzzlement. "That's not an Elf-maid."

At that moment, the Elf turned around, still strumming his instrument serenely, and with a shock, Fili realized that indeed he was not an Elf-maid. Kili looked to Alison and the others in horror, and Dwalin winked at Kili, causing the whole table to erupt into laughter. Even Fili joined in at his brother's half-embarrassed, half-horrified expression.

"That's funny," Kili said, not meeting anyone's eyes as more Elf-servants came by, refilling their glasses and setting down baskets of some sort of powdered rolls. "That's real funny."

The brief laughing spell seemed to have reawakened something in the dwarves; they had been abnormally subdued and quiet throughout most of the dinner, but with the assistance of the Elven wine and bolstered by the loudness of laughter again, the Company became bolder and rowdy again, and with a bad feeling, Fili knew what was coming next.

"Prepare yourself," he whispered to Alison, and she looked at him curiously. "The revelry is about to start."

She opened her mouth, obviously about to ask what he meant, when suddenly Nori's voice came from the end of the table: "Change the tune, why don't you?" he said to the music-playing Elves. "I feel like I'm at a funeral!"

"Did somebody die?" Óin asked from across the pavilion, his ear trumpet misinterpreting things as usual. Fili saw Elrond and Lindir looking on with tight expressions as the dwarves all began to voice their somewhat rude thoughts, as well.

"All right, lads, there's only one thing for it," Bofur said, and he suddenly got up from his seat, walking along the table and knocking aside dishes as he clambered on top of the stone pedestal in the center of the pavilion. He held out his hands in a spectacular gesture as he began to sing:

"There is an inn, a merry old inn,

Beneath an old grey hill.

And there they brew a beer so brown,

The Man in the Moon himself came down,

One night to drink his fill.

The ostler has a tipsy cat,

That plays a five-stringed fiddle.

And up and down he saws his bow,

Now squeaking high,

Now purring low."

By this point, all the other dwarves had joined in, making beats and singing along while tossing their food around at each other. Fili saw Alison looking on with a wide grin and round eyes, caught off-guard from the unexpected change in the atmosphere and the dwarves' sudden revelry. Food had begun to fly everywhere, and most of the Elves had taken shelter as Elrond and Lindir watched in silent horror. Bofur continued with the last verse of the song:

"So the cat on the fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,

A jig that would wake the dead.

He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,

While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon,

"It's after three!" he said!"

On the last line, the dwarves all shouted it together, and as Fili tossed more and more food, Alison turned to him, laughing, her green eyes sparkling with a light he found himself captivated by. And as Kili handed her a roll to throw, which she accepted and pitched into the fray of soaring food, still laughing, Fili thought that he had never seen a light shine as bright as that before.

"Our business is no concern of Elves," Thorin said, glaring at Elrond distrustfully. He was standing in the Elven-lord's study with Balin, Gandalf, and—for some reason unbeknownst to him—Bilbo, the bright light of the moon streaming in through the open archways of the expansive study.

Thorin didn't want to be there; though he knew they needed help in regard to the map of the Lonely Mountain and its secrets, surely there was any other entity in Middle-earth besides Elves that could help them? To think that he had stooped so low, coming to the very people who had turned their backs on him and his kin, being forced to ask for aid like a stray dog begging for scraps. The thought left a bitter taste in his mouth.

"For goodness' sake," Gandalf said impatiently. "Thorin, show him the map!"

"It is the legacy of my people," Thorin said, not taking his gaze from Elrond's expressionless dark eyes. "It is mine to protect. As are its secrets."

"Save me from the stubbornness of Dwarves!" Gandalf said in exasperation. "Your pride will be your downfall." Thorin switched his glare to Gandalf, slightly taken aback by the Wizard's words. "You stand here in the presence of one of the few people in Middle-earth who can read that map. Show it to Lord Elrond!"

Thorin looked back and forth between Elrond and Gandalf, contemplating; Thorin was adamant in him not showing the map to the Elf. It was strictly a Dwarven artifact, and he knew that if he revealed the map, Elrond would know about their quest immediately. But Gandalf's words had sparked something in him, a flicker of worry he had been keeping at bay for weeks now. And Thorin wanted his home back; it was his birthright, and he deserved to restore his people to splendor again, even if it meant seeking help from the Elves. With Gandalf's words ringing in his ears, Thorin swallowed and removed the map from under his cloak.

"Thorin, no—" Balin protested, but Thorin held up a hand as he approached the Elven-lord cautiously, reluctantly holding out the map.

Elrond took the map from Thorin's hand, his eyes unfathomable as he opened it and looked down to it. It was silent for a few moments as Elrond studied the map, and Thorin watched anxiously as the Elf's eyes widened infinitesimally.

"Erebor," he said in wonder, and Thorin felt some smugness at the fact that he had managed to catch the high and mighty Elven-lord off his guard. Elrond looked to the group in suspicion and incredulity. "What is your interest in this map?"

Thorin opened his mouth, ready to retort something along the lines of None of your concern, but definitely more rude; however, Gandalf cut in before Thorin could reply.

"It's mainly academic," the Wizard said, shooting a warning glare at Thorin when Elrond wasn't looking. "As you know, some of these artifacts sometimes contain hidden texts."

Elrond breezed over to a particularly large and bright shaft of moonlight, his pale gold robes rippling on the floor behind him as he held up the map to the moonlight. "You still read Ancient Dwarvish, do you not?" Gandalf asked.

Elrond did not answer immediately, still examining the map. The others watched curiously as he finally muttered two words: "Cirth ithil."

Thorin, Balin, and Bilbo stared blankly at the Elven-lord, but comprehension broke over Gandalf as he said, "Ah. Moon runes." He shook his head, a knowing smile on his face. "Of course. An easy thing to miss."

"Well in this case, that is true," Elrond said, turning back around to face them. "Moon runes can only be read by the light of the moon of the same shape and season as the day on which they were written."

Thorin felt his heart sink; these runes could have been written on any day of the year. He felt a sickening feeling in his gut as he wondered if they would have to wait months for the runes to be visible. Surely not even his luck could be so bad—

"Come," Elrond said, whisking out of the study, and Gandalf followed behind the Elven-lord wordlessly with Bilbo trailing after. Balin and Thorin exchanged a glance before they followed behind.

Elrond led them over many criss-crossing bridges and through many smaller houses, passing Elves as they ghosted by, looking like shining specters in the wash of the moon. Thorin felt distinctly wary and uncomfortable as he walked along the Last Homely House. It could not have been more obvious that the dwarves did not belong here, in these halls of nature and among these beings of etherealness. But that had been apparent from the beginning, and Thorin grinned to himself wryly as his thoughts flashed back to dinner that evening.

Eventually, Elrond led them up a winding cliff-side staircase, passing so close to waterfalls that Thorin could've reached out a hand and felt the spray on his fingertips. But he refrained from doing so as the Elf led them through a small tunnel carved into the cliff, and they came out on a crystalline ridge overlooking the valley, where a small dazzling waterfall took flight from somewhere above them and tumbled down one side of the cliff-face.

The other side was devoid of any waterfall, giving a fantastic view of the open stretch of night sky above them. Wispy clouds drifted across the moon and stars, and Thorin wondered if Elrond had brought them there to ogle at the view until he noticed a sparkling plinth centered on the hidden ridge, which Elrond placed the map upon and waited.

"These runes were written on a midsummer's eve by the light of a crescent moon nearly two hundred years ago," the Elf said, indicating the map. "It would seem you were meant to come to Rivendell. Fate is with you, Thorin Oakenshield. The same moon shines upon us tonight."

Thorin's heart leaped as the scant clouds over the moon suddenly shifted, and a strong beam of silvery light bore into the ridge they were standing on. Thorin stepped closer to the plinth, having to crane his head slightly to get a better look, and he watched in wonder as the moon's rays revealed a small, silvery message in ancient Khuzdûl at the bottom of the map.

"'Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light of Durin's Day will shine upon the keyhole,'" the Elf translated.

"Durin's Day?" Bilbo asked, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

"It is the start of the Dwarves' new year, when the last moon of Autumn and the first sun of Winter appear in the sky together," Gandalf explained to the Hobbit.

Thorin felt as if he had been dumped into an icy lake and was slowly drowning as panic overtook him. "This is ill news," he said. "Summer is passing. Durin's Day will soon be upon us." He couldn't bear to think of it; they still had months to go before they reached the Lonely Mountain. If they didn't make it in time—

"We still have time," Balin said, as if reading Thorin's thoughts.

"Time for what?" Bilbo asked, but Balin held up a hand.

"To find the entrance," he said. "We have to be standing at exactly the right spot, at exactly the right time. Then, and only then, can the door be opened."

"So this is your purpose? To enter the Mountain?" Elrond said, and Thorin flinched, having forgotten the Elf was there. Elrond stared at Thorin suspiciously, his eyes calculating, and Thorin inwardly cursed himself; if the Elf hadn't guessed their purpose before, he had now.

"What of it?" Thorin asked coldly.

Elrond folded the map and handed it back to Thorin, who took it with a faint flicker of surprise. "There are seem who would not deem it wise."

"Who do you mean?" Gandalf asked.

Elrond gave the Wizard a warning look. "You are not the only guardian to stand watch over Middle-earth." And with that, he turned on his heel and swept back down the cliff-side.

"We cannot stay here any longer," Thorin said, as him and Balin walked together back to Thorin's rooms. They wandered a bit aimlessly, not exactly sure where the rooms were in the numerous houses of the place, but Thorin had a knack for remembering details, so he wasn't entirely hopeless as they went along. "If we are to reach the Mountain by Durin's Day we need to leave immediately. Tell the others we leave at dawn."

"I'm afraid we cannot do that quite yet," Balin said, and Thorin looked to him incredulously. The old Dwarf couldn't possibly like this place so much— "It's not my personal decision," the white-haired Dwarf added hastily at Thorin's look. "But Fili told me that Alison is injured, and she won't be healed for another few days, at the least."

"What do you mean, 'injured?'" he questioned. "She looked plenty healthy to me at dinner."

"Her ribs are bruised," Balin said. "The troll's grip was too strong for her. I'm just glad it didn't do any more serious damage to her. But you know how setting rib injuries work; she cannot exert herself for several days until they are healed, or she risks further damage."

Thorin seethed, knowing Balin was right, but cursing the human girl with her frail body. Then he felt a slight sense of guilt; it wasn't Miss Ashburne's fault that she wasn't built with the sturdy body of a Dwarf. But the timing was ill; now knowing their quest dangled by a deadline, Thorin was burning to start their journey again as soon as possible. They had to enter the Mountain. They had to.

"We'll be all right, laddie," Balin said comfortingly, patting Thorin's shoulder. "We can still make it there in time."

"How can you be so sure?" Thorin asked, as they finally came to a stop outside of his rooms.

"Because I know you," Balin said. "Once you set your mind on something you will not stop until you have reached your goal, whatever it may be. This quest is no different, and I know that you will succeed. Your determination is what will make you a great king."

Thorin stayed silent, too grateful for words at the comment. A lump formed in his throat as he took the older Dwarf's shoulder, but Balin saw the look in his eyes and smiled, knowing what Thorin was trying to convey through his eyes alone.

"Get some sleep, laddie," Balin said, and he walked away, back to where the rest of the Company was staying. Thorin watched him go until he was out of sight, and he was left alone in the shadows of the moon.

So, continuing over from last chapter's A/N, I would love to shoutout Aryabloodlust for providing more ship names! So now we have: Fali (Fili/Alison), Kali (Kili/Alison), and a new one, so for those of you who ship Alison and THORIN together, she has also kindly provided 'Alirin' or 'Thoron'. So combined with the ones we already have, we now have a pretty good list to choose from! Thank you again to Aryabloodlust!

Whew. This chapter wore me out. Sorry if it wasn't as paced as the others, but I have A LOT of stuff in store for y'all, so bear with me!:)

Anyway, thank you for reading this chapter and to everyone who reviewed last time! I appreciate each and every one of your reviews! So, as always, please keep them coming! Thank you, lovelies! Until next chapter...

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