The March of Time

28: Esgaroth

Disclaimer: I own nothing, except for those random Ashburne people and whatever else you don't recognize.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Esgaroth

Thorin awoke with a stiff neck and a sense that he was caught in the middle of an earthquake as the ground beneath him rocked, until he opened his eyes and realized with a jolt of relief that it was just the barge bobbing along the lake as his bearings returned to him.

He figured it was just dawn as he sat up straighter against the side of the barge he was leaning on, where he had fallen asleep the night before, though it was hard to tell what with all the mist hanging over them like a thick grey blanket. As Thorin looked around, the first bite of winter chill nipped his nose, and he tried to ignore the flare of panic burning in his chest at the reminder of the season, but it was difficult.

The bargeman had informed them last night that the date was currently October 14th, and though the Man could not understand the significance of it, the Dwarves had all looked to each other worriedly, knowing that the heavy feeling they felt in their chests was one of dread.

Durin's Day would be upon them in less than five days, and Thorin suddenly felt as if his whole life was in the balance of the ultimate fate they would reach at the last light of that day—and maybe it was.

Though it scared him to admit it, Thorin knew that his life was now tied irrevocably to this quest. If he should fail to open the door, if he should fail to enter that mountain and retrieve the Arkenstone and see the end of Smaug, it would mean he had failed his forefathers, his Company, his self, and, worst of all, his people. And as much as it angered and saddened and panicked and terrified him, he knew that he would not be able to live with himself should things end badly—and that was what scared him most. They had to succeed, or else it would be his own undoing, along with his people.

He suddenly realized that his right hand was throbbing considerably, and he uncurled the clenched fingers, noticing the twinge that went through his hand and the pattern of purple and blue bruises smattered across the weathered skin from where he had smashed it against another barrel during their escape from the Woodland Realm, a feat he was still unsure of how to feel towards.

Though certainly clever and resourceful, Thorin thought things might have gone a lot smoother if the Orcs had not tried to hinder their escape. Not only had it caused an injury to one of his sister-sons, but the sudden attack and unexpected reappearance of Johnathan Ashburne had unnerved Thorin greatly.

He was convinced that the attack had something to do with Johnathan following them to Mirkwood, and despite the warrior's assurances that he had been the one to track the Orcs, Thorin still did not believe him, and he certainly had not gained trust for the Hero. What he had said to Beorn still rung true; there was something too hidden and mysterious about Johnathan Ashburne, and Thorin would figure out what it was, whether the Man—or Alison—liked it or not.

He was still livid that after so many unnatural signs, the female Hero continued to believe Johnathan's words and still placed her trust in him, when it was so obvious that pieces of this story were missing. Every instinct in him screamed that something was not right, and if Alison couldn't see it soon, Thorin would be taking matters into his own hands, because he knew, as sure as day, that the second Hero would not be accompanying them to Erebor; he'd almost rather lay eyes on Thranduil again than risk leading someone he did not trust to his kingdom. To Thorin, it would feel like leading another dragon into the Mountain, and the thought did not settle well with him.

Yet the only reason Thorin had not banished Johnathan from the Company was because of Alison. Thorin knew better than anyone the strong bonds of kin; he knew he would not hesitate to give his life for his nephews and his sister, and there would always be a place in his heart reserved only for his late brother, Frerin, and it was perhaps because of this bond that he understood why Alison trusted Johnathan so much. He was blood, her ancestor, the only remnant of family she had in this world, and Thorin understood that bond—he didn't like it, and he would have to do something about it before they reached the Lonely Mountain—but he understood it, at least. And he only hoped Alison could see what was best for the Company and let him go, before something happened—and Thorin had a bad feeling that something was going to happen, and soon.

Ignoring the twinges that went through his body at the movement, Thorin got to his feet, and he was greeted by a sight of thick, oppressive fog that permeated over everything, making it nearly impossible to see but for only a few meters ahead of the barge, and Thorin was slightly impressed that the bargeman could navigate through the waters so easily in this fog.

The rest of the Dwarves were already awake, either standing up and looking out over the water like Thorin, Dwalin, and Bofur were doing, or sitting in a huddled group at the bow, watching sulkily as Balin counted out stacks of silver coins to pay the bargeman with.

As Thorin walked over to Dwalin, he removed a sack of coins from his trouser pocket and tossed it to Balin, who caught it and gave Thorin a disapproving look, though he didn't say anything. Despite Balin's look, Thorin wasn't all that reluctant to give up his money, one of the only things he had left on his person besides the map and key. After all, once they reclaimed the Mountain, a small pouch of silver coins was going to mean nothing in light of all the wealth Erebor possessed.

Thorin approached Dwalin and leaned against a barrel beside the bald Dwarf, following his steely gaze until his eyes landed upon the Lakeman, still steering the tiller, and talking quietly to a pale and clammy Johnathan, who still looked like he was going to vomit any second, though Thorin figured he probably had nothing left in his stomach to throw up after all the retching he had done the night before.

Ignoring the spike of irritation that went through him at the sight of the Hero, Thorin's eyes instead found Bilbo, who stood only a few feet away, his arms wrapped tightly around his middle to keep himself warm from the chilly autumn air and his sharp eyes raking the fog. Beside him, on the floor of the barge, huddled Alison, with a threadbare blanket around her shoulders and her knees pulled up to her chin, staring blankly at a distant spot on the horizon, and Thorin noticed how dark the shadows under her eyes were, almost purple in the light of the grey dawn, and he wondered if the warrior's dreams were just as plagued with nightmares as his were.

"Watch out!" Bofur's voice cried, startling Thorin out of his thoughts, and everyone turned quickly, save for the bargeman and Johnathan, to see a large, looming piece of crumbling stone, almost like a ruined archway, emerge from the fog directly in front of the barge. For one wild moment, Thorin thought the bargeman had not seen it and would run them straight into it, until at the last second, he pulled a hard right on the tiller and the barge swerved left, smoothly avoiding the stone as they sailed deeper into the frigid waters.

Thorin looked back to the Lakeman, and saw with annoyance that he appeared to be grinning, while Johnathan chuckled lowly beside him. "What are you trying to do, drown us?" Thorin demanded of the Lakeman, and he merely raised an eyebrow at the Dwarf.

"I was born and bred on these waters, Master Dwarf," he said easily. "If I wanted to drown you, I would not do it here." This earned a snicker from Johnathan, and Thorin glared darkly at the two, wondering why he had to deal with such insufferable Men.

"Oh, I've had enough of this lippy Lakeman," Dwalin growled from beside Thorin, echoing his thoughts as his hard grey eyes bored into the bargeman. "I say we throw him over the side and be done with him—him and that whelp of a warrior both."

"Oh, Bard, his name's Bard," Bilbo piped up exasperatedly, and both Dwarves turned to look at the Hobbit, who had his arms crossed so tightly Thorin thought he was going to crack in half, until he was reminded that Hobbits weren't as accustomed to the cold as Dwarves as he sniffed and made a visible effort to keep his teeth from chattering, waving Alison off kindly as she offered him some of her blanket from the ground.

"How do you know?" Dwalin retorted, and Bilbo gave the Dwarf a withering look that Thorin was vaguely impressed by, for he had thought that their burglar was far too polite for such looks.

"Uh, I asked him?" He replied sarcastically, and Thorin had to conceal a grin at the Hobbit's newfound spark of attitude.

"I don't care what he calls himself. I still don't like him," Dwalin muttered.

"We don't have to like him," Balin chided from his place on the ground, where he was counting the coins with a frown Thorin didn't like. "We simply have to pay him." Balin's frown got deeper once he finished counting the coins, and the old Dwarf looked back up to the others. "Come on, lads, turn out your pockets. Now is not a time to be stingy."

The Dwarves dug deeper into their pockets grudgingly, handing over a few more coins with great reluctance while Balin watched them beadily.

"I don't like this," Dwalin grumbled from beside Thorin, and the Dwarf king turned to look at him. "There is something going on here, Thorin, and I don't know what it is." He met his eyes, and Thorin saw the same distrust, the same suspicion, swirling in the depths that were mirrored in his own. Dwalin lowered his voice to a whisper. "How do we know they won't betray us?"

Thorin didn't need the jerk of Dwalin's tattooed head in the direction of the Lakeman and the second Hero to know who he was speaking of, and Thorin met his friend's gaze again stonily. "We don't," was all he said in reply.

There was a slight cough from below them, and they looked down to see Balin frowning even more deeply at the coins. "There seems to be, ah, a wee problem," he said to Thorin, looking up at the Dwarf king. "We're ten coins short."

Alison, who had moved from her place on the floor to stand by the Dwarves, the blanket still wrapped around her shoulders along with a now half-disgruntled, half-grateful Bilbo, who Thorin assumed had been wrestled into the cover, looked worried as she said, "I lost my money in the goblin-tunnels ages ago. I don't have anything…"

Balin waved her off good-naturedly, cutting off what was about to be an apology. "Don't worry about it, lass," he said. "We wouldn't have asked it of you anyway. At least…" He trailed off, frowning, and the rest of them looked on anxiously, though Thorin noticed Glóin staring adamantly off into space, and a sudden thought lit in his mind.

Thorin crossed his arms, looking at the fiery-haired Dwarf. "Glóin, come on," he said, and the Dwarf glanced up to him, feigning surprise. "Give us what you have."

"Don't look at me," he huffed. "I have been bled dry by this venture! What have I seen for my investment? Naught but misery, and grief—"

He cut off abruptly when he realized Thorin wasn't listening, and he craned his neck around to see what everyone was now staring at in breathless awe, rising to their feet to get a better look.

Thorin's heart seemed to be squeezing painfully yet beating unrestrainedly at the same time, as the fog parted like it had been cleaved in two, and beyond the clinging grey mist, against the pale outline of dawn, was the Lonely Mountain. It rose up like a spire, a beacon of rock and a snow-capped peak, so close Thorin could imagine himself leaping out of the barge and swimming for it. After nearly two hundred years, he was close, so close to his kingdom, to his home…

"Bless my beard," Glóin whispered raggedly. He immediately fumbled in his trouser pocket and extracted a pouch of clinking coins, thrusting it into Balin's hands as he continued to stare at the Mountain in wonder and reverence. "Take it. Take all of it."

Thorin could have stood there and stared for hours, but when Bilbo cleared his throat warningly from behind them, he tore his gaze away and turned around with some difficulty, seeing Bard striding across the deck towards them.

"The money, quick," he said urgently, holding out a large, callused hand. "Give it to me."

Thorin looked at the Man's hand disdainfully. "We will pay you when we get our provisions, but not before."

"If you value your freedom, you'll do as I say," the bargeman said seriously, his dark eyes beseeching Thorin's as the Dwarf cocked an eyebrow. "There are guards ahead."

No sooner had the words left his mouth, then Thorin began to hear voices and the hustle and bustle of many people ahead, and through the lifting fog, he could glimpse many docks and wharfs in the distance, and the tall silhouettes of Men going to and fro. They had reached Esgaroth, the Town of the Lake.

Thorin met Balin's eyes, and he nodded curtly, not having much choice if they wished to remain unseen and sneak into Lake-town. "Give him the money."

As Balin reluctantly handed over all of the coins, Bilbo suddenly spoke up from behind them all, and Thorin switched his gaze to the Hobbit.

"Um, I'm not quite sure how you expect us to remain unseen from the Lakemen," the Hobbit said, and at this, Bard grinned.

"I'm glad you said something, little Halfling of the West," the bargeman said, and with a pointed look, he clapped a hand on the rim of a barrel.

"Oh, no," Bilbo all but groaned, and that made the Man's grin grow wider.

"Hop in, if you still wish to enter Esgaroth without being bound and gagged," the Lakeman said, with a roguish smirk, and Thorin knew he was probably going to regret this for a very long time.

"Just do it," he said sullenly to the rest of the Company, and with as much pride and dignity as he could muster, he climbed back into one of the barrels and heard the Company do the same around him, hunkering down so it would be harder for people to see them.

Thorin listened to a short argument involving Alison and Johnathan, in which Johnathan was going to apparently reside under the barge's bench since it was bigger and would hold his tall frame better, as Alison snorted indignantly before stuffing herself into a barrel, since she was smaller than the male Hero, but Thorin could tell she didn't like it at all.

Once everyone was hidden, either in the barrels or under the bench, Bard guided them to a dock and brought the barge to a halt, tying it off and then clambering aboard solid ground to presumably speak with a dock warden.

"Can anyone see what he's doing?" Thorin whispered, wanting to know what the bargeman was up to but not being able to, unless he poked his head out of the barrel, but he was sure to be seen.

"I can see!" Bilbo whispered back. "There's an arrow hole in my barrel that I can see out of."

"What's he doing?" Thorin said, shifting in his barrel to move his cramped legs and to be able to hear the Hobbit better.

"He's talking to someone," Bilbo said, and then his voice took on a sharper edge. "Wait, he's pointing right at us!" The Dwarves let out hisses of outrage, and Thorin felt his jaw clench. If this Man betrayed them… "Now they're shaking hands!" Bilbo said, sounding almost despaired, and now Thorin's temper truly flared.

"What?" he snarled. Of course they would be betrayed; Men were lowly people, subject to selling their friends out and stabbing their allies in the back… What more could he have expected from them? He had lived amongst them, had worked in their villages and armories and smithies…he knew what they were capable of. Underhanded, the lot of them—

Thorin's thoughts were abruptly cut off as there was a sudden noise from above him, and he looked up, ready to fight whoever had come to take him—until a slimy, cold fish smacked him in the face, and he started, as more and more fish pressed down on him, sliding down his hair, face, and shoulders until he felt like he was drowning in the fish, the wet, damp stench filling his nostrils as soon, he was entirely covered by the fish, and from the muffled noises and moans of disgust from the barrels around him, he knew his companions were sharing the same fate.

Despite knowing that it had been done to protect them from unwanted eyes as they were smuggled into Lake-town, Thorin could just imagine the smirk on the bargeman's face as they took off from the dock, heading towards Esgaroth, and he prayed to Mahal above to give him the composure he needed to not slap the Man across the face with a fish once they were out of there.

There was a muted complaint from the barrel beside him, and Thorin assumed it was Dori before there was a thud, as if Bard had kicked the barrel, and the Dwarf inside fell silent.

"Quiet!" Bard muttered, as he steered them along. "We are approaching the toll gate."

And as the sounds of more people and water sloshing against wooden boards reached his ears, the noises of life within the town, Thorin knew that they had made it. They had reached Esgaroth.

Bard was a man of Lake-town, through and through. Though he knew of his true ancestry, that he came from a line of Men descended from the Lord of Dale, Girion, Bard knew that he viewed himself as more of a Lakemen rather than a noble heir to what was once one of the greatest cities of Men. He lived in Esgaroth, on the edges of the Long Lake, not a ghost town that lamented the voices of the dead and gone after the dragon's attack. And as he sailed his barge ever closer to the toll gate, Bard knew it was true.

As he had told the Dwarves, he had been born and bred on these waters; as his wife sometimes used to say teasingly, the waters of the lake and the River Running flowed through his veins instead of blood, and he was accepting of that. Bard cared not for glorious fame or wealth; he cared for his home, and the home he had made with his family, with his children, after his wife had passed away nearly a decade ago now. And that was what a Man of Lake-town was; someone who cared for his family, who cared for his neighbors, who always lent a helpful hand when it could be spared, and who would not sit back and watch his town crumble to ruin, unlike a certain Master of Lake-town that came to Bard's mind…

Bard was not an unhelpful man; grim, though, he sometimes was after the death of his wife and the years of hardship and toil he had to face to keep himself and his children alive, he was not unkind, and assisted whenever he could, which was why, as he approached the toll gate, he had helped the Dwarves and the Halfling and the two humans gain access to Esgaroth.

Of course, some of the reason had to do with the money; all those coins would be enough to sustain his family for months, and it was with them in mind that he had accepted the Dwarf's offer. But the other reason had to do with his nature; he was selfless by default, and seeing people who needed his aid had spoken to him. Though the Dwarves were distrustful and border-line hostile, the Hobbit had seemed gentle and kind, and the two humans had reminded him of his children in a way, though the Man was older than his Bain by a few years and the girl seemed more serious, more intense than his own Sigrid and Tilda, but still young and innocent, all the same, which was why he had agreed to help them.

For some reason, these thoughts were swirling in his head as Bard drew his barge to a halt outside of the toll gate, just as a voice said from the little toll booth to his right, "Halt! Goods inspection! Papers, please!"

Bard was already extracting the crumpled up papers from the interior of his worn coat when the toll keeper hobbled out of the booth, his scowl turning into a smile of familiarity at the sight of Bard.

"Oh, it's you, Bard!" The man said, with his gap-toothed grin, taking Bard's papers and giving them a cursory glance, already aware of what they would say, though Bard hoped he would not comment on the fish that he had not been designated to pick up.

"Morning, Percy," Bard replied, with an equally friendly smile.

"Anything to declare?" Percy asked, and Bard felt his heart rate increase just slightly, thinking of the Dwarves, the Halfling, and the girl smuggled in the barrels and the Man stowed away under his bench.

"Nothing, but I am cold and tired and ready for home," he said, as Percy went back to the booth to stamp the papers.

"You and me both," Percy said, coming back with the papers. "There we are, all in order." He was about to hand them over when suddenly they were plucked from his hand, and Bard's stomach seemed to drop to his toes as he saw the Man emerge out of the shadows behind the toll booth, the papers in his long-nailed, yellowish hand as he stepped out into the open.

"Not so fast," Alfrid, the lackey to the Master of Lake-town (or, as Bard and some of his friends from the local tavern call him, "the Master's whipping boy"), said, coming out beside a bewildered Percy with a few poorly-armored guards behind him.

He smiled nastily, showing off rotten, dirty teeth, and his greasy black hair hung in a matted heap around his vile, uni-browed face as Bard watched him warily, shaking the papers with a flourish and beginning to read from them in a nasally, revolting voice that made Bard want to stick his head in the water to be rid of the sound.

"'Consignment of empty barrels from the Woodland Realm,'" Alfrid read, and then he looked up, pointing to the barrels. "Only they're not empty, are they, Bard?"

Bard said nothing, refusing to be deterred from this rat of the Master's as he walked over to the barge, plucking a fish out of the nearest barrel, and looking back to Bard, his eyes narrowed dangerously and his voice becoming more oily, veiled with something meaner. "If I recall correctly, you're licensed as a bargeman. Not a fisherman."

"That's none of your business," Bard replied, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling building in his chest. If he was found out to be smuggling people into the town…

"Wrong," Alfrid said, with a smug smile. "It's the Master's business, which makes it my business." He gestured for the guards to step onto the barge, and a horrible feeling filled Bard's gut as they obeyed, beginning to grab the nearest barrels to empty over the sides.

"Oh, come on, Alfrid, have a heart," Bard tried to reason, while simultaneously watching the guards out of the corner of his eye. "People need to eat."

"These fish are illegal," Alfrid said, throwing the fish he had been holding back into the water. "Empty the barrels over the sides." He ordered the guards, as they struggled to heft the barrels, and Bard's heart was pounding now, his brain circling to find any way to stop them from finding out about the Dwarves and the rest of the people he was smuggling.

"Folk in this town are struggling," Bard appealed, as he watched the head guard, Braga, begin to empty one of the barrels. "Times are hard. Food is scarce."

"That's not my problem," Alfrid said, and Bard felt a flicker of anger lace through with his worry now.

"And when the people hear the Master is throwing fish back into the lake?" Bard said, with more heat, and he had finally caught Alfrid's attention, as the stoop-shouldered Man looked to him with dark eyes that glittered suspiciously. "When the rioting starts? Will it be your problem then?"

Bard watched as Alfrid's face contorted, first in fear, and then in anger, as he raised a hand and said, "Stop!"

The guards halted in their act of emptying the barrels, and they set them down roughly as Bard felt a heavy weight lift off of his chest as the guards clambered back off the barge.

"Ever the people's champion, eh, Bard?" Alfrid muttered dangerously from beside him, and the taller Man looked down to him, raising his eyebrows innocently. "Protector of the common folk. You might have their favor now, bargeman, but it won't last."

He turned and made to walk off with the guards as Percy shouted, "Raise the gate!" and the toll gate began to open.

Bard grabbed the tiller again, about to push off, when Alfrid's voice said, "The Master has his eye on you. You'd do well to remember; we know where you live."

Bard kept his eyes on the waterway, simply replying, "It's a small town, Alfrid. Everyone knows where everyone lives." And with that, he continued on into Lake-town, steering the Company in his barge deeper into Esgaroth, and, though he didn't know it, closer to their journey's end.

Tauriel leapt lightly from boulder to boulder, the steady wind coming off of the Long Lake making her hair flutter around her as she dashed over the rocks and blowing the rank stench of Orc-flesh and blood to her sensitive nose as she came upon the site where the creatures must have made camp the night before.

Blood, fur, and leftover entrails littered the rocky ground, and Tauriel wrinkled her nose in disgust, feeling sympathy go out to the poor wildlife they had mutilated as she avoided the mess and came out upon a ridge, overlooking the Long Lake that glimmered blue and green in the early afternoon sunlight, and, farther out, the silhouette of the Lonely Mountain, it's peak capped with snow as it loomed above the rest of the landscape.

That was the Dwarves' destination, she remembered. Word had spread quickly throughout the Halls of the Woodland Realm upon their arrival, and it was no secret now that that was what the Dwarves had come for—to seek out their once-lost riches and rid the kingdom of the dragon to resettle their people once more. A noble Quest, if only Tauriel agreed with them.

She had yet to know the real reason for their journey to Erebor, but she felt as if she were standing on a brink, about to see the world either plunged into Darkness or consumed by dragon-fire, and neither option settled well with her. But a part of her still clung to the hope that their quest would be triumphant, for all their sakes, before she realized what she was thinking and shook her head, wondering why she was thinking of a Dwarven quest when she should be focused on hunting her quarry.

She looked to her sides, where the forest-land stretched around the lake, and she figured the Orcs must have taken those paths to get around the lake, unless they had found a way across, which she doubted. She was about to follow after their trail when she sensed something at her back, a presence, and she whirled around in a heartbeat, arrow already notched in her bow as she crouched, ready to shoot, when she recognized Legolas, standing and aiming his bow at her warily.

Tauriel gave herself a small, knowing smile. Her and Legolas had been friends for centuries, long before she was even Captain of the Guard, and she had a sneaking suspicion—not even that, really; she knew—that Legolas would come after her. It was instinct, almost; wherever one went, the other followed, and this time was no different, though she had to admit that her friend did not look pleased.

"Ingannen le Orch," she called to him, gauging his reaction, but his expression did not change, though he lowered his bow.

"Cí Orch im, dangen le," he replied evenly, and at this, Tauriel grinned, lowering her bow, as well, and rising smoothly to her feet as Legolas took a step closer.

"Tauriel, you cannot hunt thirty Orcs on your own," he said reproachfully, and Tauriel ignored his tone, giving him a pointed look.

"But I'm not on my own," she said, and she saw his lips twitch in a quick smile.

"You knew I would come," he said, and it was a statement, not a question.

Tauriel smiled again, watching his expression become serious once more, turning into the true Crown Prince of Mirkwood, and she resisted the urge to snort—like she had ever taken well to his royal attitude to begin with.

"The King is angry, Tauriel," he said, as she looked back out across the lake, knowing what was coming. "For six hundred years my father has protected you, favored you. You defied his orders. You betrayed his trust."

Tauriel did not answer, still staring out at the lake, and then Legolas said, in a much gentler voice, "Dandolo na nin. E gohenatha."

Tauriel looked to him sharply, feeling her ire rise that Legolas wasn't understanding, of all people, why she could not go back. Hadn't they known each other long enough now? Didn't he know that Tauriel could not stand for such injustice, that she would not bow down to or hide from the Darkness that was so inevitably encroaching upon the world?

"Ú-'ohenathon," she said heatedly. "Cí dadwenithon, ú-'ohenathon im."

Ignoring Legolas' eyebrow raise, she paced to the edge of the ridge, the wind dusting across her face as she looked back out to the land beyond. "The King has never let Orc filth roam our lands. Yet he would let this Orc pack cross our borders and kill our prisoners. Where is the justice in that?"

"It is not our fight," Legolas said, and Tauriel looked back to him, her brows contracting low over her eyes.

"It is our fight," she countered imploringly. "It will not end here, Legolas. With every victory, this Evil will grow. If your father has his way, we will do nothing. We will hide within our walls, live our lives away from the light, and let Darkness descend. Are we not part of this world?"

Legolas looked away, and though he tried to hide it, Tauriel knew him too well to see that he was considering her words, that he could be swayed to see her side, and she felt hope rekindle again in her chest. If she could make him listen…

"Tell me, mellon," she said, more softly, and he finally met her gaze again, his blue eyes conflicted. Though it hurt her to know that she was forcing him to choose between his father and her, Tauriel knew that she was right, and Legolas had to see that. "When did we let Evil become stronger than us?"

It was silent for a long time, the only sounds to be heard the wind over the rocks, the few birds that had not yet departed from the autumn season tweeting in the trees, and the water rushing below them on the ridge, and Tauriel watched Legolas carefully, holding her breath.

Even if he said no, Tauriel would still go. Though she might lose one of her only friends, her closest friend, and the trust of her king, Tauriel was not keen on losing her freedom to bask in the starlight, her ability to roam the forest without the taint of Darkness, and she was certainly not content of letting the shadows hold sway over her and all her kin. She would not allow it, and even if Legolas did not join her—

Legolas looked back up to her, his blue eyes searching hers, and Tauriel raised a brow, just as one of his clear, curved blades appeared in his hand, and she looked to him, eyes wide and a grin splitting her face as he smiled back, twirling the blade with a flourish.

"Let's go hunt some Orc."

Author's Note: Again, since what they say in this chapter is already subtitled in the movie, I will not be providing translations.

Wow, I think this is the shortest chapter I've written in like...forever. But as I said, I'm splitting their arrival to Lake-town into three different parts, so we only have one more to go after this! And I really hope you guys don't hate me after this next chapter... *technically not a spoiler alert?*

Anyway, this is the first chapter without Alison's POV, which kind of freaks me out, but next chapter, there will definitely be a lot she has to say! *Maybe another spoiler-not-so-spoiler alert?* But we got some Bard POV, which will continue, another Tauriel (and yes, what Legolas says at the end I did totally steal from what Aragorn says at the end of FOTR; forgive me), and our favorite Dwarf king!

Thank you for all the reviews/follows/favorites, I'm astounded by y'all's support!

Thanks again, lovelies! Until next chapter... *cue suspense-inducing music*

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