2: Ashburne and Company
Disclaimer: All rights go to JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson, respectively. Anything you don't recognize is mine.
Quick A/N: Here is Chapter Two! Thank you for reading, and enjoy!
Chapter Two: Ashburne and Company
When Alison finally came to, she had to squint her eyes shut against the white sunlight boring down on her and lay her head back down, groaning in pain. Every part of her body ached, and it felt like she'd been hit head-on by a truck, then backed over again.
She smelled sweet earth and wheat around her, and a gust of wind tickled across her face as she cracked her eyes open again, seeing a line of clear blue sky above her. She opened her eyes further, realizing that this wasn't her bedroom or anywhere in her town, and she sat up quickly, earning an outstanding throb that emanated from the back of her head. She clutched her skull in her hands, trying to breathe through the pounding, when she heard a rustle from behind and then a deep voice mutter a strange sentence in a language she didn't know. Instantly, a warm glow flowed through her, alleviating her pains and aches and filling her with a sense of peace. She felt calm and much better physically, but that serenity vanished when she became aware that she wasn't alone.
She jackknifed to her feet, her sandals slipping in the soft dirt as she stumbled away from Ian McKellen, who had been sitting a small distance away and had obviously been waiting for her to come to. He was dressed in a long grey cloak, a thin brown belt tied around his waist and a grey scarf of sorts wrapped around his shoulder and torso. A tall, pointy grey hat adorned his head, and his wild grey hair hung down a little past his shoulders, framing his lined face and bushy eyebrows, completed with a long silver beard. Alison would never have guessed it was the same man from the bus stop all those months ago if it weren't for the eyes.
"Who are you?" she demanded shakily, trying not to let her fear show. "Where have you taken me? What do you want?"
"Eager now, are we?" The man said, grunting a little bit as he clambered to his feet. Alison noticed that he leaned on a staff as he got up, a strange staff like the branch of a tree crowned with a clear white crystal on top. In any other situation, she would've laughed at the man's ridiculous "wizard" get-up, but being lost and alone with no bearing of her current predicament made Alison too frightened to see any humor.
"No, I'm not eager!" she exclaimed, as the costumed man loomed over her, easily a foot and a half taller than her measly five foot one height. She stepped back further as he took a step forward. "I want to know what the hell is going on!"
"Well, to begin with your first question, my name is Gandalf the Grey," he said, with a little bow in her direction. He seemed to get that she wanted her space, so he stayed where he was, propping up his staff and leaning on it.
Alison felt her stomach contract. "Gandalf the Grey? Is this some sort of sick joke? He's a fictional character, not a real person." She said, shaking her head quickly.
"But he is a real person, and he is me," the man said, with a twinkle to his bright blue eyes. "In your world, I am considered a fictional character, nothing more than a fantasy for the flighty; but that is only to keep you from the truth of what you do not see."
"What—what do you mean, 'your world?'" Alison spluttered, certain that she had been kidnapped by a crazy old man who had a thing for role-playing and was about to murder her.
"Your world, the mortal world," he said. "There is a veil that separates us from them, and it takes a certain kind of person to see beyond to the other side of the veil."
"You're mad," she said. She thought about making a run for it, but botched that idea: she had no clue where she would run to in this strange place, and her feet were unwilling to move at that moment.
"You'd be surprised how many times I have been told that over my lifetime," he said amusedly, not fazed by her hostility and disbelief. "I believe your second question has already been answered, but considering you were close to unconsciousness I feel like I must repeat it: You are in Middle-earth. And if you wish me to be precise, then we are in the Shire, a few miles away from the village of Hobbiton. And to be clear, it was not I that brought you here. That was purely the doing of the Valar."
Alison's blood boiled at the words 'Shire' and 'Hobbiton', and she was close to mentally snapping as she ground out, "We are not in the Shire, or Middle-earth. We are on Earth-earth, and you are going to stop messing around and tell me where I am and what I'm doing here."
"And I have already answered you," the man said, his voice becoming more serious, all smile lines from his face vanishing as he frowned down at her. "You are in Middle-earth, and you have been summoned here by the Valar. Your arrival has long been anticipated among the peoples of Middle-earth, though they do not understand the full implications of your being here."
Alison was on the verge of a mental breakdown as she listened to his words. This old man was psychotic, and if he was going to kill her, she was not going to go down without making at least an effort to get away.
"You're insane," she spat, and turned on her heel and ran.
She sprinted through a soft golden field that she couldn't see the end to, where rolling green hills rose up beyond it and melded with the impossibly blue sky. Alison had no idea where she was going, but she was fine as long as she was away from that nut-head old man claiming to be a wizard from a fictional story.
After several minutes of running, Alison's legs began to burn, partly from the strain of running uphill and partly from the difficult task of running in sandals. Within another few minutes of pushing herself up the first hill, she was drenched in sweat and her breath came in short, gasping puffs of air.
Alison reached the top of the hill and slowed down, not hearing any sounds of pursuit behind her and assuming she was safe. She bent over double, her hands on her knees, fighting for breath, when she noticed a shadow form in front of her.
Alison staggered back, thinking it was Ian McKellen, when she noticed that the shadow was far too short to be the tall man.
Looking up, she met the round-eyed stare of a squat, plump little man wearing bright cotton clothes and a straw hat capped over his curly brown hair. He was very short, maybe five or six inches shorter than her, and he ogled at her in bewilderment, disregarding the goat he was pulling by a rope leash completely.
But Alison was not bothered by the fact that she had probably stumbled into this little man's yard uninvited and looking like she had been running for her life. What bothered her were the little man's feet.
They were very large, larger than her own, and bare; he wasn't wearing shoes of any kind, and his feet were covered only by thick, curly hairs that matched the locks on his head. Alison felt her heart sink to her toes as she registered this fact and recalled the main character of 'The Hobbit.'
"Are you…you're not a Hobbit, are you?" she asked, already fearing the answer.
The little man said nothing, just nodded.
"Oh my God," Alison gasped. "Oh my God. This…this is real. You're real. I'm in Middle-earth. This is real."
"Ah, Miss Ashburne, there you are," Gandalf said, coming up behind her on the hill. If it was possible, the Hobbit's eyes got even wider as he took in Gandalf's wild and tall demeanor. "I see you have already met an inhabitant of the lovely village. Excellent. Good day to you, sir." Gandalf tipped his hat to the Hobbit, and without a word, the squat little man took his goat and walked back down the hill. A few seconds later there was the sound of a door being closed, and Alison and Gandalf were alone in the Hobbit's yard.
Alison met the calm blue gaze of the Wizard, and immediately she started yammering. "Mr. Mc—Gandalf, I am so sorry. I didn't know…how…why…" she trailed off, at a complete loss for words.
"It is understandable," he said kindly. "It is a lot to take in."
"But I don't understand," she said, feeling a prick of hot tears rushing to her eyes. "How am I here? Why am I here?"
"Come," the Wizard said, leading her carefully by the arm down the hill. "I think we have intruded on our host's land for a tad too long. I will explain everything to the best of my ability on the road."
The two slid and slipped down the hill until they came to a nice cobblestone road, and Gandalf led the way as they passed more hobbits and their homes. The inhabitants openly stared at the two as they passed, and Alison found herself staring right back, drinking in the reality before her. She was in Middle-earth; she truly was.
"I was the one who brought you here," Gandalf said, his voice breaking through her sightseeing.
Alison tore her eyes away from the landscape and looked at him in confusion. "I thought you said the Valar or whatever brought me here?"
"I said the Valar had summoned you here, but it was I who actually cast the spell that brought you here."
Alison remembered the pain she had felt before she had fallen through the ground back home with a slight wince. "Yeah, thanks for that."
"I apologize for any discomfort I brought you, Miss Ashburne," Gandalf said sincerely. "But it was the fastest way to get you here. Any other way would have taken years to complete the spell."
"But what do the Valar want with me, and who even are they?" she asked.
"The Valar are…very powerful emissaries of the world's Creator, Eru," Gandalf explained. "They are not gods, though they are worshipped as such. They watch over Middle-earth, and though they do not directly interfere with us, they do send help occasionally." Gandalf looked over at her meaningfully. "Like you, for example."
"What?" Alison whipped around, looking at Gandalf incredulously. "The Valar sent for me because they needed help? What can I possibly do? And why me?"
"Part of that question can be told here, but I'm afraid the other part will have to wait until later," the Wizard said. "You have been chosen because you are descended from a great line of warriors that have assisted Middle-earth for thousands of years. Oh, yes, the Ashburnes have been around for centuries," Gandalf said before Alison could butt in. "You are descended from the greatest warrior of all, a Hero from this world that had accidentally crossed the veil into your own world. His name was—"
"Eleon Ashburne." She interrupted. It was as if someone had lit a flame in the back of her mind, illuminating memories that she had long since forgotten.
"You know of him?" Gandalf asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise.
"I remember my dad telling me about him a long time ago, when I was a kid," she said. She had an image of herself, a seven year old wearing flannel pajamas lying next to a cozy fire in her living room, listening to her father as he read her stories about their "family history" from a large, dusty leather book. Alison had never thought the stories were real, for they always involved the word 'warrior' and told of her ancestors crossing into another world… "You mean…my dad's stories…they're true?"
"They are," Gandalf confirmed. "Your bloodline has been an ally to Middle-earth for generations, and it seems that you have been chosen this time."
"But why me?" she asked, suddenly feeling very small and weak. "I'm not a warrior, or a Hero."
"The Valar choose the most eligible Ashburne available to them," Gandalf said. "You are young, healthy and strong, and you possess a keen mind and courage, something the Valar value very highly."
"But I'm still just…me," Alison said. "I don't have any magic powers or wicked sword-fighting skills or anything. And, wait a minute," she said, stopping in her tracks. "I never said anything about staying and helping the Valar. I need to go home; I have a family, friends, a whole life back in…the mortal world. I can't just go flouncing around Middle-earth, pretending I'm a warrior. I need to go back."
"But you must stay," Gandalf said, facing her from a few feet away. "You have been chosen to help Middle-earth."
"Yeah, but I was chosen against my will," Alison said, suddenly feeling very nauseous. "I can't do…whatever it is they want me to do, Gandalf. And you haven't even told me what I'm supposed to be helping you with."
"But I did say that that part of the question would be answered later," Gandalf countered. "And you've been here for half a day, how could you possibly know if you can or cannot help based on your feelings at this time?"
"I just know that I can't," she argued. "I'm nothing special; even if I did have otherworldly warrior blood or whatever, I still don't know how to handle weapons or anything. I would be a hindrance to whatever task they appointed me with."
"Again, your mundane world clouds your mind," the Wizard said. "You do not know your full potential; give it time, and you will see."
Alison knew the Wizard was slowly winning the argument, but she grasped for her last lifeline. "But everyone back home will know that I'm gone. They could think I was missing, or dead…" she stopped, swallowing hard as panic threatened to rise up again.
Gandalf just shook his head. "Time passes here differently than in the mortal world," he said. "You could be here for a hundred years and no time will have passed in the other world."
"So…it's like Narnia?"
Gandalf looked at her in confusion. "Like what?"
"Never mind," she sighed. "But I'm still going home, Gandalf. I can't stay here. I can't. You need to send me home."
"Even if I would let you go, you couldn't," the Wizard said. "The spell I used to bring you here took me weeks to work, and the spell to send you back would be tenfold the effort. Even if I had the time to spare, it would be months before the spell was ready. And since I do not have the luxury of time, I am afraid that you have no choice but to stay for now." And with that, he turned and whisked away down the road.
Alison hurried after him, indignation swelling in her chest. "There must be another way," she said to his back. "Another spell, another…" A memory floated to the surface, and she said, "A Wizard! There's another Wizard who can send me back! There are five of you, right? You, Saruman the White, Radagast the Brown, and like, two Blue Wizards, right? One of them can send me home!"
"Possibly," Gandalf grunted. "However, Radagast—and I mean no offense to him, for he is a very good Wizard—does not have that kind of power, and the two Blue Wizards I have not seen nor heard from for many years now, so who knows where they are? And as for Saruman, he may be willing to help, but that is only a slight chance, for he is the greatest of our Order and has many other important things to do than send a human girl back to the mortal world, Ashburne or not."
"I don't care," she said, trying not to get too disheartened over his unhelpful advice. "Even if there's a chance, I'll take it. Where does Saruman live again, Isengard?"
"Correct," Gandalf said. "But if you expect me to guide you there I am afraid I cannot help you with that, either, for I have many important things to do, as well."
"Could you give me a map?" she asked. "I could make my way there myself." Even as she said it, Alison knew she was being stupid. She had no idea how far Isengard was from the Shire, and even if Gandalf did let her go by herself, she had no supplies, no money, and no experience of any kind to venture alone. She would be dead within the night.
"That could be an option," Gandalf said, surprising her. "But we will have to wait until tomorrow, for today I must focus on preparations."
"Preparations for what?" Alison said, finally managing to fall in step with the Wizard again.
"Firstly, we must do something about you, my dear," he said, scrutinizing her head to foot. "You draw far too much attention in those clothes, and we have to make you look as inconspicuous as possible."
Alison agreed wholeheartedly; she had never felt more disgusting in her life. Sweat dripped down her neck and in between her shoulder blades, making her blue tank top and hair stick to her skin uncomfortably as the hot sun beat down on her, probably making her smell, as well. And she understood Gandalf's intentions about her clothes. A tank top, sandals, and denim shorts would definitely make her stand out. And speaking of denim…
"My pants," she said out loud, and Gandalf gave her a weird look over her random outburst. "I came here with a pair of pants," she explained. "Have you seen them?"
"Do you mean these?" The Wizard pulled out her jeans from beneath his cloak, and Alison snatched them up, the familiar texture comforting to her hands as her mouth quirked in a grin, a part of her rolling her eyes at her melodramatic reaction; but she had pants. Pants from home.
The Wizard and the girl rounded a corner in the road, and before Alison lay the quaint village of Hobbiton, every bit bright and beautiful to her eyes, and all thoughts of pants were quickly banished from her mind as her gaze roved over it all. Hobbits with their various farm animals and other wares milled about, but they all stopped and stared at the companions like everyone else on the road had, their eyes wide and jaws slack when they came into view.
Gandalf nodded and waved to a lot of them, but Alison hung back behind the Wizard, suddenly very shy as they all pointed and whispered at her. Gandalf came to a stop outside a small shop Alison realized was a clothing outfitter, and Gandalf gestured to the door, stepping aside as she swallowed and entered.
Half an hour later, Alison emerged from the shop, her hair freshly combed and her face scrubbed almost raw. The hobbit woman working the store had made a fuss over the state of Alison's hair and face, taking care of her before even letting her look at the clothes. Not that she minded. She had caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror, at her dirty and sweat-streaked face, making her look a lot tanner than she really was, and her tangled brown hair hanging limply down her back. Her eyes, usually a much tamer green, seemed to burn like pale green ice in her face, and she had backed away from the mirror then, not knowing how she could look the same when everything in her life had just been uprooted and thrown off a cliff.
Much to the hobbit woman's confusion and annoyance, Alison had stubbornly insisted on wearing her jeans, but besides that, she had let the woman go to town, allowing her to pick out a long-sleeved thermal-sort of black shirt, a forest-green hunting jacket, and sturdy yet comfortable black leather riding boots. Thanking her and paying for the clothes, Gandalf and Alison continued through the streets of Hobbiton, occasionally pausing every once in a while to check out a new stall or shop.
The sun was climbing higher into the sky as Gandalf and Alison made their way up the largest hill in the village, and Alison was suddenly hit with a realization that made her stomach churn and her world flip upside down as she recognized the round green door at the top of the hill.
"Gandalf," she gasped. "I—I think I know why the Valar need my help. Oh, my God, I think I know now."
"Oh?" The Wizard said, eyeing her interestedly.
"This—this is 'The Hobbit,' isn't it? Oh, God, oh, God, they want me to go on the quest to Erebor. This is why I'm here, why I was summoned. Isn't it, Gandalf, isn't it?" Her voice had risen to a panicked wail at the end, and Gandalf placed a hand on her shoulder gently before she could truly freak out.
"Alison," he said sternly, until she fought down the panic inside of her just a little bit to where she could process his words. "Did you reread 'The Hobbit' as I instructed you to at the bus stop last fall?"
Alison shook her head slowly, not even remembering that part of the conversation until now. Gandalf looked vaguely disappointed, but he continued anyway. "Do you remember how the story ends?"
She thought hard, trying to recall, but it had been so long ago: the dragon was defeated, she knew, and Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit survived, and there was the Battle of the Five Armies…that was it. Something involving the battle that had made her cry after she had finished reading it… She suddenly felt sick.
"The Line of Durin," she whispered. It was all coming back to her now; Thorin Oakenshield's madness caused by the gold-sickness that led to his death, and the younger two, Fíli and Kíli, the princes, dying sometime during the battle that was never specified. "No, no, no, Gandalf, you cannot expect me to do this."
"You know the fate that awaits Thorin Oakenshield and the two princes at the end of this journey," he said, staring intently into her eyes. "That book is but one ending out of a thousand possibilities, and it seems you are meant to help find one of those possibilities."
"I can't do this," she gasped, her eyes blurry with tears. "It's crazy, it's insane, you can't ask me to help save three lives when I can barely control my own. I can't, I can't."
"But you must," he said, shaking her shoulder slightly. "You must, for all our sakes. Failure means the unraveling of everything we know, in this world and yours. It is daunting and terrifying, but fate has chosen you, Alison Ashburne, and if you wish to see your family and home again, then you must learn to be strong."
Alison was petrified, but she nodded and brushed the tears from her eyes, anyway. She couldn't afford to lose it. She still needed to find a way to get back home. "Now come along," Gandalf said, sweeping away up the hill towards the green door of Bilbo Baggins' hobbit-hole. "We still need a burglar for this quest."
Taking a few deep breaths to regain her composure, Alison jogged after the Wizard until they came to the front gate of the hobbit-hole. And there, sitting on a cushioned bench by the gate, smoking from a pipe, was Bilbo Baggins in the flesh.
Like all the other hobbits Alison had seen, Bilbo was dressed in bright, cheery clothes meant for comfort, with a waistcoat of sunny yellow over a plain white shirt and green trousers, and curly brown hair and large, hairy Hobbit feet. However, he seemed slimmer than most hobbits, and his brown eyes were keen as he looked up at the two people stopped outside his gate.
"Um, good morning," Bilbo said politely, nodding to the two. He took another drag on his pipe, obviously waiting for the Wizard and the girl to move on.
Gandalf planted his staff meaningfully into the pathway and gazed at Bilbo for a long moment before speaking, while Alison just nodded her head, too in awe to say anything while Gandalf said, "What do you mean? Do you mean to wish me a good morning, or do you mean that it is a good morning whether I want it to or not? Or perhaps you mean to say that you feel good on this particular morning - or are you simply stating that this is a morning to be good on?"
Bilbo stared at Gandalf, his mouth slightly agape, and Alison didn't blame him; she had no idea what just went on, either.
"A—all of them at once, I suppose," Bilbo stammered, looking back and forth between Gandalf and Alison with a crease between his brows. "Can I help you?"
Gandalf made a disgruntled noise in the back of his throat as he regarded the Hobbit, his eyes calculating. "That remains to be seen." The Wizard said. "I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure."
Bilbo took his pipe out of his mouth, as if he were shocked that someone would suggest such a thing. "An - an adventure? Now, I don't imagine anyone west of Bree would have much interest in adventures."
He stood up from his bench awkwardly, attempting to nonchalantly put out his pipe as he opened his mailbox and took out his letters. "Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner." He chuckled once, sifting through his mail, clearly hoping that they would leave. Alison smirked as the hobbit succeeded in putting out his pipe and fled to his front door after another hasty "Good morning", but Gandalf's booming voice stopped him cold.
"To think that I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took's son as if I was selling buttons at the door!"
Bilbo looked back, slightly affronted. "Beg your pardon?"
"You've changed, and not entirely for the better, Bilbo Baggins."
"I'm sorry; do I know you?"
"Well, you know my name, although you do not remember I belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means…me."
Comprehension dawned on Bilbo's face as he smiled incredulously at the other man. "Not Gandalf, the wandering Wizard who made such excellent fireworks? Old Took used to have them on Midsummer's Eve!" Gandalf shrugged, looking quite modest, but his smile disappeared as Bilbo said, "No idea you were still in business."
Alison stifled a snort as Gandalf looked up at the hobbit from under his hat. "And where else should I be?" Bilbo said nothing, awkwardly shifting his feet, until the Wizard spoke up once more, saying, "Well, I'm glad you at least remember something about me, even if it's only my fireworks." Gandalf suddenly grinned. "Well, that's decided. It'll be very good for you, and most amusing for my companion and I. I shall inform the others."
"What?" Bilbo said in alarm. "No, no, no, wait! We do not want any adventures here, thank you! Not today, no. I suggest you try over The Hill or across The Water." He pointed in some vague, far-off direction, teetering for a moment on his doorstep. Then, with a last squeak of "Good morning!" Bilbo fled into his house, slamming his circular front door behind him. Alison heard the distinct click of a lock as her and Gandalf stood and stared at the door he had disappeared behind.
"Well, that went nicely," she said. She wasn't at all bothered by Bilbo's reaction; she knew that the hobbit would come around.
Gandalf didn't answer, instead swinging himself over the front gate and striding up Bilbo's front path. Using the end of his staff, he began to carve a glowing blue mark on the round door.
"Isn't that vandalizing?" Alison asked as Gandalf clambered back over the gate, twitching his hat back into place.
"Of course not," the Wizard said. "It is simply there for guidance."
Alison shot him a wide-eyed look. "You mean the dwarves are coming here today?"
"Tonight," Gandalf clarified, and Alison felt a rush of excitement and anxiety run through her; she was going to meet the dwarves that night!
"So what are we supposed to do until tonight?" she asked, following Gandalf back down to the village below the hill.
"We collect supplies," Gandalf replied, and Alison soon learned that the Wizard's definition of supplies and hers were completely different. By "supplies" he meant eighteen ponies, at least two dozen water skins, a supply of food equal to that seen in a grocery store, and many other assorted miscellaneous items that Alison was forced to carry.
"What are we going to do with all of this?" She panted, setting down her last armful of supplies near a shaggy brown pony. Her arms were sore from the heavy loads she had carried, and a bead of sweat dripped down her face.
"We load it on the ponies," the Wizard said, so they spent the next two hours distributing supplies among the ponies and loading them up. By the time they were finished, the sun was beginning to set, and Gandalf and Alison entered the tiny pub of the village, The Green Dragon.
Gandalf ordered a mead and Alison a water; even though she was in another world accompanied by a fully responsible adult Wizard, she still felt strange about ordering alcohol when she was underage.
"So what do we do now?" she asked after the bartender slid them their drinks.
"Now," Gandalf said, taking a deep drag from his tankard. "We wait."
Alison knew immediately when the dwarves arrived.
Though not as tall as human men, they were a good head taller than Hobbits, so when they walked into the pub Alison tapped Gandalf on the shoulder and pointed them out. The Wizard smiled and got up from his seat, leading the dwarves over to the secluded area of the bar Alison was currently seated in.
All Alison remembered from the book was that the dwarves all wore different colored hoods and had beards, but she was definitely taken aback as the dwarves approached her table. They were all clad in leather and metal and furs, strong and stocky with torsos that were round and wide and barrel-like, with broad shoulders and short legs, though they were still well-muscled. Well, some of them, she amended, as an immense ginger dwarf with a round braided beard came waddling into view.
Alison only counted eight dwarves, and she was confused as she knew there were supposed to be thirteen, when Gandalf sat back down next to her and said "Others are arriving separately." She nodded, taking a tiny sip from her water cup as the dwarves all pressed together around their table, eyeing her warily.
"Who's she?" One with a short, braided grey beard asked, gesturing to Alison.
"This, my dear Dori, is Alison Ashburne," Gandalf said. "She is here as my companion, and she is also another member of our Company."
Dori gave the Wizard a skeptical look while the other dwarves bent their heads together and whispered, occasionally glancing at her every few seconds as they talked.
Alison shifted uncomfortably, not from the dwarves' mutterings, but the way Gandalf had introduced her. "She is also another member of our Company." It had sounded so final, like there was no room to argue and she had already been roped into the quest without even getting a proper choice.
"Well," one of the dwarves, this one with brown braids and an eared hat announced, when they all broke apart after several minutes of intense discussion. "Welcome to the Company, Miss Ashburne."
Most of them smiled at her and began to introduce themselves as the bartender brought over their drinks, shaking her hand, or, in the case of the one with the hat, kissing it, though she noticed how several of them, particularly Dori, only gave her measured looks when they grudgingly offered their introductions.
She knew she was going to have trouble keeping all of their faces lined up with their names, and sure enough, she had already called the one with the crazy starfish-type hair, whose name was Nori, Bombur twice. She remembered Bofur, because he was the one who had kissed her hand, and Dori because he was the first one Alison had seen, but she knew it was going to be a while before she got all of it together.
After an hour or so of drinking and chatting, and Alison trying to answer all the dwarves' questions about herself and her world, and successfully managing to get all of their names and faces right, Gandalf announced it was time for them to head to Bilbo's house, so they all paid for their drinks and marched out of the pub, followed by the round eyes of the hobbits, who had probably never seen so many dwarves congregated in one place before.
Once the dwarves had left, Alison suddenly had a troubling thought, and she stopped Gandalf before they could follow the dwarves out. "Gandalf, I just realized something."
"What is it, my dear?" he asked, adjusting his hat back on top of his head and gazing down at her curiously.
"I don't have any money," she said. "How can I expect to pay for my things on my own?"
Gandalf reached into the leather pouch he kept around his waist and pulled out a small sack of coins that he dumped into Alison's hands by way of answering.
"Oh, no," she said, embarrassed as she tried to hand the coins back. "I couldn't possibly take your money."
"Take it," Gandalf insisted, pushing the sack back into her hands. "You'll never know when you may need it." He winked and walked out of the pub, leaving Alison standing uncertainly in the doorway.
Eventually she tucked the coin pouch into one of the numerous inside pockets of her jacket and followed the dwarves and Gandalf up the path to the hill. She hoped she wouldn't be here long enough to actually use the money, but as she heard Bilbo's agitated voice coming from inside his home and saw him opening his door like a pop-gun, causing all the dwarves standing on the threshold to fall into one big, wriggling heap, she knew it was probably just wishful thinking.
Her whole life had been changed overnight by the Valar, who were convinced she was a special warrior of sorts, and as she trailed after Gandalf into Bilbo's hobbit-hole, she had a gut feeling that things were only going to get worse for her from then on. Steeling herself, Alison entered into the fray of the Company; and from there, her long night began.
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