The March of Time

12: The Fallen

I'm baaaack! I'm so sorry I didn't live up to my astounding updating skills with this chapter, but 1) I was stuck at my grandma's house with no Wi-fi for two days, and 2) This chapter...ah man, this chapter. I can't even begin to describe how glad I am that we are out of Rivendell. Though a lot of stuff went down in these last few chapters, the whole pacing and everything was just...ugh. It threw me off completely. But after this we are back in business, and I am so excited as we reach the last few stretches of AUJ and cross into DoS, because I have SO MUCH planned!:)

Oh, and a little A/N: I know I made their journey from the Shire to Rivendell seem like one week, but just pretend it was several more weeks for the sake of the plot. Thanks!

But anyway. Thank you for being patient, and for all of your reviews last time! They make me so happy:)

So here is Chapter 12, and I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for reading!:)

Chapter Twelve: The Fallen

Thorin lay awake as dawn light filtered through the gauzy curtains of his rooms, bathing everything in a rosy glow as he stared up at the ceiling, trying to get his thoughts together. They had been in Rivendell for a week already, and they had entered into the month of June, which panicked him greatly; they needed to leave now if they wanted to reach the Mountain by Durin's Day. The road would become harder to travel as they entered autumn, and it would slow them down, which was something they couldn't afford.

He had barely slept all week, too consumed in his worries and thoughts to be allowed to fall into the blissful oblivion of nothing. And when he did manage to sleep some, his dreams were haunted by nightmares and memories, blending together into a symphony of fear and panic until he couldn't distinguish what was real or what was imagined. And then he would wake up in a cold sweat and go back to thinking about what lay ahead of them in the coming weeks.

That was what he was doing that morning as the sun slowly rose from its waking place on the horizon, and he was so wrapped up in thinking that he barely registered the knock on his bedroom door.

"Coming," he grumbled, pulling on his blue tunic from where he had tossed it to the floor last night and crossing the room to the door. He scowled, wondering what the Elves wanted from him so early in the morning, but as he jerked the door open he was taken aback by the appearance of Gandalf.

The Wizard had been strangely absent for most of their stay in Rivendell, only appearing at meal-times—and even those rarely—so Thorin was slightly surprised to see him randomly at his door.

"Gandalf," Thorin said, stepping back and allowing the Wizard into his rooms. "What bodes on your mind for you to come to me so early?" He shut the door behind him as Gandalf took a seat in one of the plush armchairs in the center of the room, lighting his pipe and beginning to puff on it.

Thorin took out his own and lit it as he sat in the chair across from Gandalf, and he took a long drag as Gandalf met his eyes.

"You must leave tonight," the Wizard said without preamble, and Thorin raised an eyebrow. "I have spoken to Miss Ashburne and she says that she is ready to journey again, as her ribs are now fully healed."

"Well, that's good," Thorin said. "But why was this so important to come to me about at this time?"

"Because, we need to discuss a few things about your departure," Gandalf replied, blowing a smoke ring almost absent-mindedly.

"'Your' departure?" Thorin echoed. "Aren't you coming with us?"

"Not at this moment," the Wizard said. "Though I do plan on catching up. But there are still a few things I must do before I can rejoin you."

"Like?" Thorin prompted.

"An order of business which I must see to here," he answered, and Thorin inwardly sighed, knowing he would get a sort of vague answer like that.

"Elrond will try to stop us," Thorin said, and Gandalf nodded.

"Which is why you must leave in secrecy," he said, and Thorin leaned forward, now interested in what the Wizard was saying.

"What are you proposing?"

"I believe Elrond has summoned the Lady Galadriel and Saruman the White for a meeting of the White Council, which will take place tonight. He and I will be there, and then you have an opportunity to get away unseen and continue on with your journey. After the Council is adjourned, I will make after you for the Misty Mountains and from there we will then travel on to the Lonely Mountain."

Thorin thought for a minute, his head wreathed in smoke. "I like it," he said finally. "But there is still the problem of Elrond's lackey, that Lindir fellow. He has been hovering around us all our stay, keeping an eye on us, whether by Elrond's orders or his own preconceived notions. No doubt he will be waiting for something like this to happen."

Gandalf shook his head. "Luck is on our side tonight. Lindir is ordered to be waiting at the South Gate for the arrival of Saruman from Isengard. You will be leaving through the North Gate, the path which will take you north to the High Pass. Balin knows those paths through the wilderness as well as I do, and he can lead you in my stead."

Thorin nodded. "All right then," he said. "We will leave tonight at midnight. Where will you be joining us in the Mountains?"

"Wherever I find you," the Wizard said, smiling wryly as he put out his pipe and tucked it back into his cloak. "But you must not leave the Mountains until I join you; that is my only request."

Thorin nodded again. "Then we have a plan," he said, and Gandalf nodded as well, standing up from his seat.

"Tell the others today, and let them know they need to be prepared by nightfall," the Wizard said, sweeping towards the door. "And do try to keep discrete about it."

Thorin said nothing as the door swung closed behind the Wizard, putting out his own pipe and standing up. Now that he knew they were leaving that night, a sense of newfound energy and vigor took hold of him, and he pulled on his boots before going off in search of the others, a feeling of relief buoying him up now that they had a plan.

He came to the veranda where the Company was sleeping just as the sun broke over the high cliff-faces sheltering the valley, and as he entered he saw that everyone was still sleeping save for Nori and Glóin, who were sitting in a corner quietly playing cards.

They looked up as he came over to them, nodding their heads in silent greeting as he sat down, nodding back. "We're leaving tonight," Thorin said, as Nori shuffled the pack of playing cards and distributed them evenly amongst the three now that Thorin had joined. They looked to him in interest and relief, obviously as happy as he was that they were getting away from this quiet Elven place. "Nori, you will be in charge of getting provisions for us today; food, water-skins, anything we're missing. But be discrete; no one must know that we are leaving."

Nori nodded, looking pleased at the prospect of stealing under the Elves' noses one last time, and they sat in silence for another half-hour, playing cards as the other members of the Company slowly began to stir. Bombur began to fry some eggs and bacon as the other Dwarves and the Hobbit roused from their bedrolls. Glóin went over and began to tell the others they were leaving that night as Nori snuck out of the veranda, already starting his task of collecting supplies for all of them.

Thorin ambled over to where the Company was assembled beside their small cooking fire, chatting and yawning as the delicious aroma of food wrapped around them, and Thorin's stomach growled. He had barely eaten since he had first found out about the Durin's Day deadline, but now his hunger was returning full-force as some of the panic that had gripped him all week dissipated at their imminent departure.

He sat down beside Fili and Kili, who were both still blinking sleepily, and they nodded to him. "Morning, Uncle," Fili said, stifling a huge yawn.

"Morning," Thorin replied, grinning as Kili nearly slumped over to doze again. Thorin clapped him on the shoulder, and the younger Dwarf jerked upright again with a crisp "Morning", blinking hard against his drowsiness.

"We're leaving tonight," Thorin said. "Make sure you're ready to go by nightfall."

The two princes nodded again just as Bilbo walked up. "So it's true, then?" the Hobbit asked. "We are leaving tonight?"

"You are correct, Master Baggins," Thorin said. "Is there a problem?" he added, as he caught the anxious look on Bilbo's face. He seemed conflicted, as if weighing two options, but he started at Thorin's question, shaking his head rapidly.

"Oh, no," he said quickly. "There's no problem at all. I was just making sure it was true we were, in fact, leaving tonight."

"Well, we are," Thorin said, suspicious about the Hobbit's attitude. But he decided to let it go; if Bilbo was fonder of the comfort of Rivendell compared to the idea of adventure, then Thorin would not force a decision on him. Bilbo needed to work out his conflict on his own, and soon.

Bilbo nodded once more, shooting an almost uncomfortable glance at Kili before walking away again. Thorin looked to his youngest nephew questioningly as he realized that Kili's cheeks had the slightest tinge of pink.

"Anything you want to share with me?" Thorin asked, and Kili shook his head, the faint blush fading.

"Nothing," he said, staring adamantly ahead, and Thorin continued to give him a peculiar look until he decided that whatever was going on between the Dwarf prince and the Hobbit, he didn't want to get in the middle of, so he turned away to see Alison entering into the veranda.

She was dressed in her normal clothes again, though without her jacket, leaving her only in her black shirt, odd pants and boots, which Thorin was thankful for. The dresses had been too much for him to handle, and it had reminded him uncomfortably of her status among them, which had led to further discomfort over remembering why she was with them in the first place.

Pushing his discomfort aside, Thorin beckoned her over, and she crossed the veranda warily, her eyes determinedly forward as she came to a stop before the trio.

Wondering what in the name of Durin was getting into everybody that was making them all so uncomfortable, Thorin cleared his throat until she looked to him, though she focused solely on him, her eyes stubbornly trying not to look to his sides, which he found strange.

"I hear your injury is healed," he said, and she nodded, her loose brown hair falling into her face as she did so. "Good. We're leaving tonight to make for the Mountain Pass; be prepared with your things by nightfall, and meet us here before midnight."

"Got it," she said, flicking back her hair and still refusing to look to either side of him, which Thorin was beginning to find annoying.

"Also, since you are now healed, your training will resume this evening with Fili before we go," he added.

She nodded, bestowing a quick glance at Fili before saying, "Is that all?"

"It is," he said, and she nodded again respectfully before going off to join Bombur at the fire. Thorin watched for a minute as she worked with the ginger Dwarf on breakfast, and he realized that this whole week she had been a constant attachment to the Brothers Ur; which wasn't weird, considering how well she got on with them, but she had also been very estranged from his nephews at the same time. That didn't bother him very much; he had been unnerved at how fast a bond had formed between the three, and he thought it was better if they had no deep personal attachments to her, but this tension was too much; he could literally feel his skin prickling with it.

"All right," he said suddenly to his nephews. "What's going on?"

Fili looked to him in surprise. "Nothing, as far as I'm concerned. Why?"

"Have you not noticed Miss Ashburne's peculiar behavior?" Thorin said, and Fili shook his head in confusion. "I've seen that she hasn't been around you both much in the past week."

"I've noticed that, too," Fili said. "But I didn't say or do anything…"

He trailed off, and in unison, they both turned to look at Kili, who had been sitting quietly beside them this whole time. He looked over, though, as Thorin and Fili both stared at him suspiciously.

"What?" he said in indignation. "Why does everyone assume it's always me?"

"Because you're rash and you don't think before rushing into whatever you're doing," Fili said. "What did you say to her, Kili? She looks like she wants to run away every time we're in her presence, and she hasn't spoken to us in days. What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything!" he exclaimed hastily. "I just—we—"

But Fili cut him off with a groan. "Kili, I told you to stay away from her, this isn't good—"

"Hold on," Thorin said, raising a hand. "'Stay away from her?' What do you mean? Kili, you're not—"

"I don't like her!" he said hotly. "No matter what Fili thinks, I don't."

Thorin's discomfort increased tenfold as he began to cotton on to where the conversation was leading to. He bit back a curse, suddenly wishing that Dis was there; this was her sort of area to talk about, and Thorin felt like he was crossing into dangerous, uncharted territory as he cleared his throat.

"Both of you will listen to me," he said quietly, so the others in the group couldn't hear him, and they leaned in with some trepidation to hear him better. "I don't know what is going on between you two and Miss Ashburne, nor do I particularly care unless it escalates to a fully-fledged conflict. But she has a purpose on this quest, as do the both of you, and I do not mind you forming friendships with her; however, anything beyond that I will not tolerate. You are the next heirs to the throne of Durin, and she is a warrior; though your paths may be entwined now, it is doubtful they will continue to be that way in the future. We are on this quest for one objective, and I cannot afford to have you distracted by some…infatuation with a human girl. So before you begin to form deep attachments, just remember your place in the world, and remember hers. Do we have an understanding?"

He looked to both of them seriously, and they nodded, though Fili looked like he wanted to object at the fact he had been pulled into that conversation when it had only been Kili that was involved in the situation. Fortunately, he had the tact not to say anything about it.

Thorin relaxed a bit after his statement, hoping that they had listened to him and understood; he had had no experience whatsoever with this sort of thing before, and it was highly disconcerting trying to talk about it as if he knew what he was saying.

He turned to Kili, who was fiddling with his cloak sleeves, his face expressionless. "What happened between you and Miss Ashburne can remain between the two of you, but I expect you to apologize for whatever you did. Resolve your differences today, because I will not have your problems plaguing us for the rest of this journey. Are we clear?"

Kili nodded once more. "Yes, Uncle," he said tonelessly.

Thorin gazed at his younger nephew for a few moments more, until Bombur began passing around breakfast and their discussion was broken up. Thorin clapped Kili on the shoulder once more before standing up to go get his plate, and Fili went with him, seemingly lost in thought.

"You're worried for him," Thorin stated, reading the frown lines on the blonde Dwarf's face.

Fili looked up from his faraway staring. "Of course I am," he said, as they made their way to the campfire. "He's just being reckless, as usual, and I don't want to see him get too attached only to have her leave him once our quest is finished. And I also want to spare her; Kili is used to leading women on for a short while, but I'm afraid he's going to push this and then back out when she comes around to him. It's just how he works."

Thorin nodded thoughtfully. "I understand," he said. "Let's just hope Kili comes to his senses and Miss Ashburne isn't easily courted." Fili acknowledged this with a nod, and Thorin looked to him out of the corner of his eye. "Do I need to be concerned about your sentiments to her, as well?"

Fili glanced at him with a sharp look. "I view her as only a friend," he said stiffly, and Thorin let the subject drop as Bombur handed them plates loaded with eggs and bacon; his head was beginning to pound from trying to process all this "sentimental" stuff, and he detested even thinking of these sorts of things.

As he and Fili went to go sit back down, Kili passed them moving in the opposite direction, and Thorin saw his youngest nephew making for Alison, who was handing Bifur a plate with a bright smile.

Thorin watched as Kili approached her, but as they began to speak, he averted his eyes, not wanting to intrude on their privacy. As he worked his way through eating breakfast, he kept happy at the thought that they were leaving tonight and would finally be able to start their journey again.

Even the sight of Lindir lurking outside of the veranda could not squash his optimism, and he smirked widely at the Elf, who narrowed his eyes at the Dwarf King before disappearing in a swirl of azure robes.

When Alison had awoken that morning, it was to find that the discomfort of her ribs she had been experiencing all that week had finally subsided, and when Alawë had come in at the crack of dawn to check, she had unwrapped her bindings around her torso to find only a few patches of bruises here and there, but other than that she was completely healed.

Alison was relieved to find out she was good to go; after getting used to the serenity of Rivendell the past few days, she was suddenly wishing to be out and about again, on the move. Though Rivendell was relaxing and plentiful with things they needed, the repetitive lifestyle of peace and drifting along reminded her forcibly of home, where nothing changed and she was stuck in the endless cycle of consistency. The open road was where she wanted to be, where nothing was predictable and she could just be free.

And though she would never admit this out loud, she also wanted to leave behind everything that had happened here so far, like Galadriel's warnings of the Shadow and her future, and not to mention the whole Kili fiasco.

She still didn't know what to make of it; she knew she felt nothing for the younger Dwarf prince stronger than friendship, and that he most likely didn't feel the same way, but still she remembered the pressure and warmth of his hand, the way his eyes had burned when she looked at him. It had been awkward being around him all week, and Bilbo, at that. The three had barely said more than two words to each other, and despite the compromising situation they had been placed in, Alison yearned for their friendship again. She missed Fili, too; since him and Kili were a constant attachment, she hadn't really been able to approach him without trying to ignore Kili.

But Alison was tired of floating along without them. She had been associating more with the other Dwarves in their absence, and though she liked them well enough, she missed the easy camaraderie between her and the two Dwarf princes and the trusting friendship of Bilbo.

So when Alawë left her rooms that morning after clearing Alison's health and giving back her traveling clothes (which Alison wondered where they had been for the whole week, and if they had really been that dirty), she decided to just suck it up and move on from it so they could all be friends again. But when she had gone to the veranda with the intention of apologizing for her avoidance of them, she had to hold out a bit longer due to the presence of Thorin beside Fili and Kili; she definitely did not want the Dwarf king to know what had happened, whatever it had been.

She was helping Bombur pass out plates of breakfast to the rest of the Company when she turned around, almost slamming into Kili and knocking the plate she was holding out of her hands.

"Oh, crap, sorry," she said, steadying the plate at the last second before all the food was dumped to the ground.

"Don't be, I was the one who snuck up on you like that," he said, and she met his eyes carefully, gauging his emotions. His face was normal, split into that signature half-grin, and his eyes were equally neutral, glinting mischievously as always, no hint whatsoever of any burning depths.

Alison saw him take a deep breath and open his mouth, but before he could say anything, she blurted out, "Listen, about that situation…I know it was nothing. You were just seeing if I was okay, and I'm sorry for overreacting and running off like that. And then about the whole avoiding thing, I'm sorry about that, too. You didn't deserve it, and to be honest, this whole thing was really stupid, and I was stupid, so let's just…forget about it and move on, okay?" The words came rushing out, and she didn't meet his eyes while saying it; apologies had never been one of her strong suits.

It was silent for a few heartbeats, and she chanced a glance at him. His mouth was still open, like he was going to say something, and he seemed a bit surprised, but there was no trace of accusation or irritation at her past behavior like she had been expecting.

"I agree," he said eventually. "It was stupid, and we should move on from it. But I'm sorry for overstepping my boundaries like that and making you uncomfortable. That was not my intention."

"It's fine," she said. "Seriously, I'm over it." She smiled, and he grinned back, and it was suddenly like all the tension and awkwardness between them had vanished, like morning dew in the sunlight. "Are you hungry?" She held out the plate to him, and he took it gratefully.

"Starving," he replied, already shoving two whole pieces of bacon in his mouth as he said it.

"Obviously," she joked, watching him chew with a mildly disgusted look. "Go sit down, I'll join you in a second." He nodded, his mouth now too full to speak, and she rolled her eyes, accepting the plate Bombur handed her with thanks.

Now that her and Kili had stumbled back to even ground, her heart felt much lighter as she went over to sit with him, Thorin, and Fili, and she was in a significantly better mood that morning than she had been the whole week.

As she sat down, she noticed Thorin and Fili looking at her strangely, but when she looked back to them their faces were expressionless again as they chewed their food.

"So," she said brightly to Fili, choosing to ignore their looks. "What are you training me with tonight?"

He looked up from his plate, swallowing before answering. "Swords," he said, gesturing to the two great iron blades strapped to his back. "You need to be trained in all different areas of combat, because you never know what you'll end up with in a fight. And knowing how to fight with varying weapons can increase your chances of survival dramatically."

She nodded, looking with some trepidation to his swords. "Am I even going to be able to lift that?"

"Well, you're certainly going to try," he said, grinning, and she quirked a smile at him in return; the veil of tension that had been separating them all week had been lifted, and she was just happy to have her friends back again. "You might pull a muscle or two, but it's nothing you can't handle."

"Just might?" she said. "That thing looks like it could make my arm come out of its socket!"

"Look at it this way," he said. "At least then you'll have a true warrior name: Alison the Armless. I think it has a nice ring to it, don't you?"

"Shut up," she laughed, tossing a bit of egg to him. He dodged it, grinning, and her, Fili, and Kili spent the rest of the morning throwing varying things at each other and laughing as they messed around while Thorin looked on, silent and expressionless.

Eventually they wound down by mid-afternoon, when they began to help Nori pack up supplies he had apparently stolen from the Elves. Alison had already finished packing her supplies and left her backpack with Bofur when Thorin approached her, as brooding as ever.

"Do me a favor," he said gruffly, and she looked to him. "Since you're done with your packing, I want you to go and keep an eye out for Lindir. I know he suspects something, and I don't want him lurking around to see what we're up to."

She nodded. "On it," she said, but she was stopped suddenly by him grasping her upper arm; not tightly, but enough to make her turn and look at him in surprise as he leaned in close to her ear so only she could hear.

"I have warned my nephews of this already, and now I feel it is time to warn you," he said quietly. "Do not form deep attachments to them; you are here for a specific purpose, and so are they. See to it that nothing permanent forms between you, for you are merely temporary in this world."

His breath tickled her ear, and she shivered, not from pleasure, but from how cold and warning his tone was. "Don't worry," she said. "There's no need to concern yourself over something as expendable as me."

And with that, she tugged her arm out of his grip and stalked away, feeling anger and mortification boiling inside of her. How dare he say that? That she was only "temporary?" And just when she thought they were on mutual ground, he had to yank the rug out from underneath her and tell her how she was basically easily replaced and not worth the effort.

Of course, she thought bitterly. He only sees me as the "expendable warrior", sent to do the Valar's bidding and then return home once I'm done helping them on their quest. I'm nothing more than that; no wonder why he doesn't want strings attached. I'll be gone anyway.

Though Alison knew what Thorin was thinking, it didn't make his comment feel any less biting. And why was he telling her to not form attachments with only Fili and Kili? Everyone else she was friends with, and he didn't seem bothered by them, but oh no. She had to stay away from his nephews, or else Uncle Thorin would scowl some more and spout more crap about not forming attachments. What was this, the Jedi Order?

Alison stopped walking and leaned against a smooth ivory pillar some distance away from the veranda, huffing out an irritated breath. "I am so done with Dwarves," she said out loud.

"An interesting comment, considering they have been your traveling companions these last few weeks," a voice said from behind her, and Alison straightened immediately and spun around, seeing Lord Elrond standing behind her with a bemused expression. "Though I'm guessing that was also the very reason you meant in your statement, as well."

"Lord Elrond," she said, clearing her throat and nodding respectfully. "I'm sorry; I didn't know you were there."

"Well met, Lady Ashburne," he replied formally, accepting her apology with a fleeting smile. "I was actually just coming to find you."

"Me?" she repeated in bafflement. "Why?"

"Come," he said, ignoring her question and beckoning her after him with a slight hand wave. She wondered how Thorin would react when he found out she had gone off and disobeyed his orders again, but she found herself not really caring anymore, tired of his hot/cold attitude towards her.

So Alison followed Elrond around the Last Homely House in silence, until they came to a wide, expansive study that she assumed was Elrond's. She paused to ogle at the sheer number of books lining the high shelves around the room, but the Elven-lord gestured for her to continue to follow him as he disappeared behind a thick violet curtain tucked into a secluded corner of the room.

When she pushed aside the curtain and followed him into the hidden room, she wondered if she had been magically transported to some sort of Middle-earth museum. Statues and tapestries of all different people and places stood around the small room, along with stocks of jewelry, weapons, and other fantastical things she had no name for; but there was so much stuff. It was like an antique shop had exploded.

"What is all of this?" she asked, running her fingers over a beautiful silk tapestry of a waterfall that rippled realistically at her touch.

"Relics from ages past," the Elven-lord replied. "Many of these artifacts once belonged to your ancestors, the First Heroes."

"Really?" Alison asked, looking around at all the armor and weapons gleaming on the walls. "I thought Eleon was the First Hero though? What's with the plural?"

"Eleon was the First," he said. "But he also had four siblings; three brothers, named Sendan, Kaen, and Nydeitlan, and a sister, Yendandra. They were the five Ashburnes, the five Heroes, making them the First. Eleon is considered the forerunner, however, because he was the eldest and the lone Ashburne."

"What do you mean, 'lone?'" she asked, wondering why Elrond had wanted to share a history lesson with her. "If there were four other Ashburnes, then why is only my line called upon, the line from the mortal world?"

"Because Eleon was the only Ashburne to have children," the Elven-lord said. "Yendandra vowed to be a maiden forever, Sendan and Kaen eliminated each other before they could produce heirs to the line, and Nydeitlan remained childless, sailing for the Undying Lands in the First Age, shortly after Eleon had disappeared."

"Oh," Alison said. "That makes sense, I guess. But why did you bring me here?"

"It is time to return some of these relics to you," he said, taking out a heavy-looking stone chest from the other side of the room. Alison went over to him, her curiosity rising as he set down the chest. It was long and thin, plain basalt stone with a simple design carved in the middle: a lone tree with bare branches, silhouetted against a sun behind it.

"What does the tree stand for?" she asked.

"It is an ash tree," he replied. "It is the symbol of your family, created by Eleon himself when the Heroes first came to be.

She nodded interestedly as Elrond gripped the lid and slowly pushed it up, revealing two thin, slightly curved objects lined with crimson velvet in the inside of the chest. After a moment, Alison realized that they were swords, wrapped in black leather and silver sheaths, and Elrond took them out carefully, handing them to her.

Alison braced herself for the heavy weight that was sure to break her arms, but to her intense surprise and relief, the swords actually weren't that heavy at all as she took them in her hands. "These two blades belonged to Nydeitlan Ashburne," he said, as she stroked the soft sheaths in wonder. "They are called the Twin Blades, for they are a matching pair."

Alison brought the hilts closer to her face, examining them intently. The hilts were made of a type of black iron, the grip inlaid with silver to match the sheaths. On the butt of the sword was the Ashburne symbol again, and on the part closest to the blade there were words, a different one on each blade. She looked closer, pronouncing them out loud slowly so she didn't sound completely stupid if she got it wrong.

"'Natrem,'" she read on the first one. "What does that mean?"

"It means 'dark shadow of the night,'" he said. "The other one is called 'Maodus', meaning 'cold light of the moon.'"

"Maodus," she repeated, stumbling a bit over the unfamiliar word. "Is that Elvish or something?"

"No. Those words are part of the warrior tongue, a language that has long since been forgotten by the world."

She nodded, pulling the sword Natrem from its sheath and studying the actual blade. The sword was at least as long as her arm, and to her relief, it wasn't too bulky or too broad. It was slim, made from a silvery, faintly glowing steel that looked wickedly sharp as it curved to a razor point at the end. It didn't have the same elegance and splendor as an Elven blade, but it was still majestic in its own simple way. She felt stupid for thinking it, but for some reason, as she held the blade and studied it, it felt…right, almost natural in her hand.

"So…you said you're giving these to me?" she asked, and Elrond nodded.

"Nydeitlan entrusted them to me when he sailed for Valinor, the Undying Lands," he said. "I have been waiting for the opportunity to come into contact with another Ashburne to pass on his legacy, and here you are."

"I…thank you," she said, flustered, sheathing Natrem again. "I don't really know what to say other than that. Just…thank you."

He put a light hand on her shoulder. "Use them well," he said. "For wherever your journey takes you, use them well." He gave her a knowing look, and she felt her heart sink.

"You know, don't you?" she said anxiously. "You know we are leaving tonight."

"There are not many things that can be hidden from me in this valley," he said, somewhat sternly. "And Thorin Oakenshield's thoughts betray him; it is obvious that he cannot be swayed from the path he has chosen. Though I disagree with his decision, I know that no matter what is said, he will not be deviated from this course, and it is obvious that your presence here is for the purpose of this quest. But know that this is dangerous, Lady Ashburne. I fear that this quest is not at all what it seems, and I am very tempted to divert you from this path; but I know even better that the Valar will allow no such interference."

Alison suppressed a shudder; Elrond's words eerily echoed those of Galadriel, and she knew they were right. This quest was going to be extraordinarily dangerous from what she remembered of the book, and now with the threat of the Shadow, she knew that everything could be lost in a heartbeat. But she also knew that the Valar had called on her to do exactly the opposite of that. She couldn't back out.

"So…you're going to let us go?" she asked hesitantly, and she saw the Elven-lord's face look older in the growing shadows of the room as the sun began to sink.

"I am," he said heavily. "But heed my words, Alison Ashburne. This quest can either blaze a trail of glory for our two worlds, or it will cause them to go up in flames. Take caution, and be brave."

Alison nodded, her throat suddenly too dry for words. Elrond patted her shoulder gently, a small, comforting smile playing on his lips. "You should get back to your companions before you're missed," he said, leading the way out of the back room.

They passed back through the study, and a sudden glint from the corner of her eye made Alison turn her head to look at Elrond's large desk. There, sitting on the desktop, was a knife. And a very familiar one…

"This is mine," she said in surprise, striding over to the desk and picking up the blade. It was the same simple iron knife Fili had given her back in Hobbiton, and she was relieved to see it, yet also confused. Didn't she lose this after throwing it at that Orc?

"Is it?" Elrond asked in surprise. "It is a Dwarvish blade; I didn't think it would be yours."

"Prince Fili gave it to me," she said, feeling weird at calling Fili "prince". But Elrond wasn't used to such casualty as she was when it came to the Company, so it seemed appropriate.

"We recovered it as a spoil of war," he said. "But if it is yours, then you may keep it for yourself again."

Alison thought about leaving it, or at least returning it to Fili; after all, she had the Twin Blades now, so she probably didn't need it anymore. But as if on an instinctual impulse, she tucked the knife back into her boot sheath before following Elrond out of the study.

"I wish you luck on your journey, my Lady," the Elven-lord said as they exited the study. "I hope to meet again someday before all of this is said and done."

"As do I, Lord Elrond," she said, bowing her head. "And thank you again, for the swords, and for…understanding what we must do."

He inclined his head regally back to her. "I have no inclination to interfere with destiny, Alison Ashburne. And I hope your destiny guides you well." And with that, he turned and swept off, disappearing around a corner with all the grace and silence of a ghost.

Alison made her way back to the veranda slowly, fingering the soft sheathes of her new blades and turning the Elven-lord's words over in her mind. She didn't dwell on them long, though, for they were basically a repeat of Galadriel's words; but she couldn't shake the foreboding feeling creeping up on her, either. Twice now she had been warned of the possible disastrous consequences this quest would inflict on this world and maybe even her own, and the warnings did not settle lightly on her heart.

She agreed whole-heartedly with the two Elves; this quest was definitely beginning to shape into something more than just Erebor and the dragon Smaug, and she wasn't exactly looking forward to what was going to happen in the future with that in mind.

Fili sat in silence as the sun began to set on the Hidden Valley, the last sunset he would ever see in Rivendell. The thought comforted him yet made him feel jittery at the same time; he was glad to be heading back out into the Wild, but he was also nervous; Thorin had told them all about the Durin's Day deadline, and now he was restless, wanting to go out and get to the Lonely Mountain as soon as possible, but knowing how much wild and dangerous territory now lay between them and their destination. Though he knew all of them wanted to rush there as fast as they could, now they had to be cautious, and especially with the Orcs and Wargs on the look-out for them.

He absent-mindedly traced patterns into the veranda floor with the tip of one of his smaller daggers, a habit he found himself doing whenever he was antsy, and after awhile he looked down at his idle drawings and found that he had actually written out runes in Khuzdûl: home.

He didn't know where that had come from, or which home he was talking about: Ered Luin or Erebor. Both had been weighing heavily on his mind lately, and he scuffed out the runes with his boot before anyone else could see and question him about it.

Fili looked around the clearing, stowing the dagger back into the wrist sheath he wore on his right arm, under his coat sleeve. The rest of the Company were sprawled out leisurely, puffing on pipes and chatting, taking in their last moments of relaxation before they were on the road again. The only people not relaxing were Thorin, who was pacing agitatedly in the center of the veranda, and Alison, who had mysteriously gone missing since Thorin had assigned her to look out for Lindir. Though the pesky Elf hadn't been lurking around anywhere since that morning, Thorin was still annoyed that Alison had disobeyed his orders again and run off, though, much to Fili's relief, he didn't seem extremely angry, like he would've been if it were a life-or-death situation.

A few minutes later, there was the sound of footsteps, too quiet for a Dwarf's yet too loud for an Elf's, and Alison appeared in the entryway to the veranda, her eyebrows creased and carrying two long—were those sword sheaths?—in her hands. At her arrival, the Company all got to their feet and looked to her, taking in her newfound weapons with wide eyes much as Fili was doing.

He got up and went over to her just as Thorin realized her arrival and stalked up to her, as well. "Where have you been?" he demanded. "I told you specifically to stay and watch out for that Elf, and when I go out there to check on you, you're gone. What do you—oh," he said, just now noticing the swords in her arms as Fili came to stand by his shoulder, followed by the rest of the Company.

"Lord Elrond came searching for me," she told the Dwarf king. "These belonged to my ancestors, and he wanted to give them to me." She handed one of the blades to Thorin, and the other to Fili.

He took it carefully, examining the hilt with interest as Thorin slid out his blade, studying the metal-work intently. "This is excellent craftsmanship," his uncle said. "Not as exquisite as Elvish or Dwarvish make, but very impressive nonetheless."

He handed over the blade to Bofur, who took it and looked at it closely. "What is this?" he asked, reading the hilt. "'Maodus?'" Fili examined the own blade he was holding, seeing a different word—'Natrem'—on his.

"'Maodus' means 'cold light of the moon,'" she said. "And that one there," she gestured to the blade Fili was holding, "is 'Natrem,' meaning 'dark shadow of the night' in the ancient warrior tongue apparently." She shrugged. "I don't know. It sounds too dramatic and mysterious to be real, though."

"It's poetic," Bofur joked, handing around the sword to the others, and Fili did the same, listening as the others whistled and grumbled in appreciation of the workmanship.

"You said Lord Elrond sought you out?" Thorin said suddenly, as he handed back Alison's swords. "Did he ask you anything about the quest? Did you tell him our plan?"

"Of course not," she scoffed. "Our plan is still safe." Her eyes tightened a little bit as she said it, but Fili thought he was the only one who noticed it. Thorin hesitated for a moment, but he finally nodded.

"Good," he said. "You can start training with Fili now, and keep going until nightfall. Then we'll eat, rest until midnight, and then we will leave."

She nodded, grinning slightly as Fili walked over to her, hefting his own swords. Compared to the feather-weight of her own blades, his felt extremely solid and sturdy in his hands as he gestured with his head for her to follow him.

She did, and he led her out of the veranda and down a small grassy path. "I found this spot earlier," he said as he led her down the path. "It's a small glade, hidden from the main paths and big and flat enough for good practicing terrain."

"That's nice," she said, and he couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not since she was behind him and couldn't see her face. He suddenly flashed back to that moment in the cavern pathway on the way here, when he had held her hand as he led her through the tunnel, her labored breath tickling the back of his neck as her small hand trembled in his. Then he mentally shook himself. Where had that come from?

They reached the glade he had mentioned earlier, a grassy clearing near a stream, secluded enough to where they wouldn't be disturbed, but still open enough for suitable practicing space.

"All right," he said, swinging around to face her. "We'll start on your grip first, since you can't do anything useful if you don't have that down."

"I thought all you did was swing and slash until you hit something?" she asked wickedly, shooting him a grin as she tied her hair back with the stretchy contraption on her wrist.

"That's for knives," he said, watching her hair-tail swing into place as she finished tying it and reaching down to pick back up her swords. "Swords require much more skill and finesse than that, or else you'll probably end up impaling yourself instead of your opponent."

"Which is bad," she clarified, and he rolled his eyes.

"Yes, Alison, that is bad," he said, mock-seriously. The truth was, he was glad having her talking to him again; though he hadn't given it too much thought until Thorin had mentioned it earlier, he realized that he had actually missed her during their time apart, with her sense of humor and odd quirks from her world that he found strange, yet also endearing. She was proving to be a loyal and fun friend, and he found himself enjoying her presence immensely.

"Come on, then," she said cheerily. "Let's get started."

"You're going to have to get used to drawing your swords first," he said, suddenly noticing how her scabbards were lying limply on the ground as she took out her swords. "You're not going to be carrying them like that in a fight. They'll be strapped to your back, like this," he pointed to his own scabbards, which were strapped in front and then criss-crossed to his back.

"Okay," she said, dropping her swords on the ground in a fashion that made him wince as she picked up her sheaths. He watched her as she studied them for a moment, and then tried to put them on over her head, where they promptly got stuck, tangling her head, arms, and hair all at once.

He suppressed a laugh as she tried tugging them off, only succeeding in entangling herself further. He heard her sigh loudly as her green eyes met his through a gap in the straps. "A little help?" she said in a muffled voice, and he tried not to crack up as he strode over, her eyes glaring at him as he approached.

"You're doing it wrong," he said, and she scowled.

"You couldn't have told me this before I decided to make myself look like an idiot?"

"I needed some form of entertainment tonight," he joked, examining the straps and wondering how he was going to do this. "All right, so what I want you to do is put your arms straight up over your head, and I'll get it off, got it?"

"Just hurry up," she grumbled as she raised her arms up. "This thing's starting to suffocate me."

He chuckled, working at the straps until he got in a position to tug them off. Then he yanked, the scabbards pulling off, and she staggered backward, catching herself before she fell and pulling on her shirt, which had come up a little with the scabbards.

"Thanks," she said, and he nodded, readjusting the straps.

"Put it on like this," he said, stepping closer to her and instructing to put her arms through the two large holes. Then he connected the two straps until they crossed her chest, and he began to try and clasp them without letting his hands touch her, feeling his face begin to get hot.

He was suddenly very aware of how close they were as he struggled to put the straps in place in the middle, noticing the scent of juniper and something sweeter, almost like cinnamon, clinging to her skin and tickling his nose as he worked, and the soft heat of her breath on his cheek. His hands fumbled on the clasp, and she raised her own hands up, lightly covering his fingers with hers.

"I can get it," she said, and he nodded, stumbling back quickly and not meeting her eyes as she did the clasp herself. Fili shook his head, wondering what in Durin's name was wrong with him. It was a clasp, not a pick-lock; and she was just a friend, nothing more. So why was he being so nervous?

"All right, then," he said, once she had finished with the clasp and replaced her swords. "Now, the next thing you do is…"

Fili threw himself headfirst into the lesson, not stopping to think about anything save for teaching Alison how to use and fight with her swords. To his intense surprise and pleasure, she was actually a fast learner, and she picked up the drills and steps he showed her quickly. They didn't talk much, with him only giving her instructions every once in awhile and her only listening, and by the end of the lesson, her movements were already becoming smoother and more graceful, and when he finally called a halt, it was like she had been training for weeks instead of a day.

"That was…impressive, Alison," he said as she stood up from her previous stance, and she smiled in pleasure. "Really?"

"Yeah," he said, stowing away his own swords, which he had had out to demonstrate her drills on. "I think you have an instinct for it; you caught on exceptionally well."

She grinned, pretending to slash her sword at him. "Watch out," she said. "I could take you down one day soon."

He twisted out of the way, stepping in closer to her as he took her wrist, forcing it away from him gently, but with enough force to knock the slack blade out of her hand since she wasn't really paying attention. He pinned her wrist to his chest, grinning wickedly.

"We'll see about that," he said, and they paused, meeting each other's gazes as he still held her wrist, feeling her skin and the faint pulse of her heartbeat under his own callused fingers. His own heart kicked in response as he met her eyes, and in the dim moonlight he could see that around her pupils their color was a darker green than the pale mint of the rest of her iris. He was suddenly forcibly reminded of when he had pulled her out of the river, standing and staring at each other much as they were doing now, as if taking in the other's presence for the very first time. He had been angry with her then for almost throwing her life away, but now there was no anger clouding his mind; it was just them, open and still and wondering what was running through the other person's mind.

Finally, Fili realized what he was doing and he cleared his throat, dropping her hand and moving away, though still keeping eye contact. "We should…um," he gestured in some vague direction, and she nodded listlessly, not breaking their gaze, either.

"Yeah," she said, and her eyes were unreadable as she stowed away her weapons, being the first one to drop her gaze. Without another word, she turned and walked out of the glade, back towards the veranda, leaving Fili alone in the clearing with the stream gurgling behind him, trying to collect his thoughts.

He had no idea what that had been about, and he didn't know whether he had particularly liked it or not. Nothing was making sense to him at this point, and he wondered if it was possible for his mind to be thinking two different things at once whenever he thought of Alison.

As he trailed after her back to the veranda, he recalled Thorin's words about forming attachments; and as he remembered the light in her eyes at dinner that one night and the phantom feeling of her steady pulse on his fingertips just now, he began to realize just how dangerous his situation was becoming.

Thorin wandered away from the veranda a few hours before midnight, wanting to enjoy his last moments of solitude before they restarted their quest and made for the Misty Mountains. He slowly made his way up a back staircase and paused on the landing, propping his elbows up on the ledge as he looked out at the small sliver of valley before him.

He knew he should probably be resting before they headed out, but he couldn't bring his body or his mind to be still, so moving around in the darkness helped him clear his head a bit. He was tired of thinking; whether it was about the Durin's Day deadline, what else faced them on their quest and what would happen by their journey's end, his nephews and Miss Ashburne…he just didn't want to think about any of it for a moment. He wanted to bask in the silence and the moonlight until it came time to leave.

But of course, his good fortune lasted all of about five minutes.

"Of course I was going to tell you!" Gandalf's distinct voice said from below him, and Thorin looked down from his spot on the shadowy staircase to see the Wizard and Lord Elrond walking on the pathway below him, apparently heading to the White Council meeting and unaware of his presence.

Thorin thought about walking away; he didn't particularly like eavesdropping, but Gandalf's next words rooted him to the spot, and he found himself listening in interest despite himself. "I was waiting for this very chance. And really, I—I think you can trust that I know what I'm doing."

"Do you?" Elrond replied. "That dragon has slept for sixty years. What will happen if your plan should fail? If you wake that beast—"

"But if we succeed!" Gandalf interrupted. "What if the Dwarves took back the Mountain? Then our defenses in the East will be strengthened!"

"It's a dangerous move, Gandalf," Elrond said gravely.

"It is also dangerous to do nothing!" Gandalf argued. "Oh, come—the throne of Erebor is Thorin's birthright! What is it you fear?"

Thorin wondered when his name was going to crop up, and he slunk back further into the shadows as they came nearer to the staircase, still not able to bring himself to walk away.

"Have you forgotten, a strain of madness runs in that family?" Elrond said, and Thorin felt a heavy blow to his stomach, knocking all the air from his lungs, and he listened in a daze to the Elf's next words. "His grandfather lost his mind, his father succumbed to the same sickness. Can you swear Thorin Oakenshield will not also fall?" The Wizard remained silent, and Elrond pressed on, his voice fading a bit as they drifted away out of earshot. "Gandalf, these decisions do not rest with us alone. It is not up to you or me to redraw the map of Middle-earth…"

And then they were gone, leaving Thorin alone in the shadows of the night. He felt hollow, cold, as if someone had taken out all of his organs and left him as a corpse, save for the single flame of fear that burned deep in his gut.

Though he had kept the fear at bay for weeks now, it was raging inside him full-force as he recalled Elrond's words. "A strain of madness runs in that family…Can you swear Thorin Oakenshield will not also fall?"

That same question had been plaguing him for days. He knew that reclaiming Erebor was his destiny, his birthright, but he also knew of the gold-sickness, and he feared it. He had watched his grandfather slowly spiral into madness over the love of treasure, watched as it had consumed him from the inside out. And he had noticed it in his father, as well; Thráin's lust for restoring the Dwarves to their former glory had been his drive for trying to take back Moria, and it was ultimately the sickness that had led him into the Battle of Azanulbizar, where Thrór's life was taken, and, ultimately, his own, as well. Thorin had watched the sickness torment his family, and he knew that he was at risk for it, also. And Elrond's words haunted him, for the Elf was right: how did Thorin know that he wouldn't succumb to it? How did he know he wouldn't destroy this quest by falling prey to the illness inside of him?

The thought terrified him, and it began to fill him up, though it was soon battling with the newfound sense of determination that took hold of him; he was not his father or his grandfather. Though they were great kings, he would not follow in their footsteps and allow himself to be consumed by that disease. He was stronger than that; he had to believe he was stronger than that. He couldn't destroy the hope of his Company, of the rest of his people, by succumbing to the gold-sickness; they deserved their home back, and they deserved a king that would be strong enough to lead them. He had to fight this weakness.

"Thorin," a voice said from behind him, and he started a bit, turning around to see Dwalin on the stairs behind him. "It is nearing midnight. We should go."

Thorin nodded, struggling to fight down the feeling of panic and fear inside of him. "Tell everyone to get their things," he said. "I will join you shortly." Dwalin nodded, heading back down the stairs; though they had been friends for over a century, Dwalin respected Thorin enough not to push him to talk if he didn't want to, which Thorin was grateful for.

As Dwalin's heavy footsteps retreated, Thorin faced the view of the valley again; the moon had just fully risen from behind the cliff-faces, bathing everything in an ethereal silver glow, and Thorin took out the key from his cloak pocket, holding it up until it gleamed in the light.

Seeing the key filled him with a sense of hope, and he let the feeling wash over him, smoothing down his last shreds of fear until he could think clearly again. "I will take back our homeland," he vowed. "I will not fall, and Erebor will rise again."

Silence greeted his words, and Thorin tucked the key back into his pocket after a few moments, turning and making for the veranda again. No matter what Elrond's fears—or his own—were, he would see this quest through, and he would make his people great again.

He kept rolling these thoughts over and over in his head as the Company made its way out of Rivendell from the light of the moon, keeping him going as they climbed out of the valley, fortunately with no interference from the Elves.

As they reached the rim of the valley, just before crossing back into the Wild, dawn was breaking over the horizon, and Thorin paused, glancing back to Rivendell. The Hidden Valley gleamed in the pink and gold of the rising sun, and he felt a flicker of amusement as he imagined Lindir finding out they had gone. His eyes flicked to Bilbo, who was standing a few feet further down the cliff-face they were climbing on, and Thorin was a bit surprised that the Hobbit had chosen to come again after all. He had seemed overly fond of Rivendell, and Thorin wondered what had changed the Hobbit's mind about staying as he watched him look back to the Last Homely House, much as he was doing.

"Master Baggins," Thorin said, and the Hobbit looked up to him from his place on the cliff-side path. "I suggest you keep up."

Bilbo nodded, continuing up the last few steps of the path and passing by Thorin, his eyes downcast as he walked ahead.

Thorin looked one last time at Rivendell, the words of his vow echoing in his head, and he felt the weight of the key in his pocket. Then he turned, making his way after the others, out of the valley and into the Wild as the sun rose like a beacon before them.

Okay, so I'm going to be ranting for a moment, and you can totally ignore this, but i just have to say sorry for this chapter haha. I just find it so weird and choppy, because I like exploring character depth, but I realized when I finished writing this chapter that it was too much depth, so I had to cut out some parts, which is why (in my opinion) things like Fili's POV didn't really flow so well. I really wanted to focus on Thorin in this chapter and really bring out his struggle, because even though they do a good job kind of bringing it to light in the movies, I just wanted to really show it from Thorin's true POV in his actual thoughts since this is a story, not a movie, and we can actually BE in his thoughts. I tried to convey his struggle as best as I could, because it's really important, and sorry for making everything else seem a bit...meh. (Again, this is just my opinion as the author, so y'all will probably think different, but I'd still appreciate your feedback!:))

Aight, sorry for the rant haha. Moving on! So unfortunately my updating skills will be tested from now on, because I start school again tomorrow (and no that is not the sound of me internally screaming, and no I'm not crying; my eyes are just glistening with the ghosts of my past (if you've read/seen Harry Potter and you don't get this, leave))

Wow I should really stop talking now I'm probably getting super annoying. Anyway, thank you for reading, and please review, especially for this chapter! Constructive criticism is always welcome, and I love hearing your feedback! Your reviews are all so great and I love them, so please keep them coming! Thank you, lovelies!:) Until next chapter...

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