The March of Time

31: The Lord of Silver Fountains

Disclaimer: All rights go to JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson respectively. Anything you don't recognize is mine.

Chapter Thirty-One: The Lord of Silver Fountains

The ashes in the hearth were grey and cold and a chilly draft was blowing through Bard's house when Fili awoke the next morning, tangled in a blanket on the floor in the Lakeman's living room.

After the baffling and ominous conversation the night before, Bard had offered the Company a place to stay for the night, and though the lodgings were much better than what Fili was used to of late, his sleep had still been fitful and plagued with worries of the future, no doubt heightened by Alison's words from the night before.

If he was honest with himself, Fili knew that he had always suspected Alison was hiding something from them; his mother had always said that one of his gifts was being able to see people beyond their physical appearances and attributes, and Fili was coming to understand why.

Though it was natural for people to be nervous on their first ever adventure, Fili knew he had never seen someone with such anxiety as Alison; but as he recalled what she had said, about how their quest was a story in her world and she knew what would happen next on their journey, the mystery finally seemed to be solved. Of course someone would be anxious if they knew they were about to cross goblin-infested mountains and be captured or anything of that sort; it was only natural to be scared, especially if it could not be avoided. So Fili could understand why Alison had kept her supposed "foreknowledge" a secret; if it could affect the world on a grave level, or if the wrong people were to find out about it…he understood why she hadn't told them immediately and instead kept it to herself.

But that still didn't mean he approved of it.

He had agreed with Thorin whole-heartedly last night, though he hadn't said anything. Despite understanding her reservations of why she couldn't tell them earlier, Fili still found himself to be almost…angry with Alison; and if not that, then frustrated would be a better word. After everything they had gone through—the trolls, the goblins, Azog the Defiler and his hunting party, the Mirkwood spiders and King Thranduil's dungeons, Kili's injury during their barrel escape, and now being practically stranded in Lake-town without weapons or provisions—after all that, Fili thought it highly unfair that Alison had not warned them at all of what was to come, and that ruffled him more than anything. So many needless things could have been avoided, only if she had told them in the beginning…

Fili sat up as he became aware of voices somewhere to his left, soft and low, and he looked to see Thorin, Balin, and Kili huddled in Bard's kitchen, apparently in deep discussion. Taking care not to wake the other Dwarves splayed out around him, Fili stepped carefully into the kitchen to join the trio, nodding to them as they did the same back to him.

"I don't understand, though," Balin said, going back to whatever they had been speaking of before Fili had joined them, and the blonde Dwarf had a feeling he knew what they had been discussing as Balin went on, shaking his head. "We are not even through with this quest, yet Alison claims she knows what is going to happen in the future already. She is convinced our journey has already been recorded by someone from her world, but it does not make any sense. How can someone already know of our quest and its outcome?"

"Can't people like Gandalf go back and forth across the veil, though?" Kili said, his eyebrows crinkled and a deep frown on his face. "Maybe someone like Gandalf, with some foresight ability or something, foresaw our quest, decided to make it a story, and it passed down to Alison. But beyond that…I really don't know."

"I don't care about this story or how Alison came to know of it at this moment," Thorin cut in, and Fili noticed then how tired his uncle looked, as if he hadn't slept in days, his eyes hooded and shadowed and his mouth a firm, flat line. "What I do concern myself with is this battle she speaks of at the end of our quest. She said naught of why there was to be a battle, only that it would be great and terrible. Yet she sounded so sure…"

He trailed off, and they fell into a worried silence, until Fili spoke up, having pondered these thoughts himself for half the night already. "There's no knowing anything until Alison tells us," he said. "And you know it to be true. I'm…not saying I don't trust Alison, but how do we even know that what she says is factual? There may not even be a battle, and Bard may not actually kill Smaug." He fixed them all with an imploring stare as he went on. "I say we forget about this whole story thing, and keep going down the path we're on, without second-guessing or doubting ourselves. Who knows? Maybe what Alison told us is true, and there will be a battle, or maybe there won't be; either way, our purpose for this quest is to reclaim our homeland from that snake and give our people their glory and prosperity once more; we should not allow ourselves to be hindered from that goal now, no matter what stands in our way."

A heavy silence followed his words, and Fili looked around at the three Dwarves, his brother, his uncle, and the man he had known since he was a wee lad and was so close he was practically kin anyway, refusing to be deterred from their lack of words. They had set out to take back Erebor and destroy Smaug if need be, and by Mahal, Fili would see it done, even if it took him the last rattling breath from his lungs or the last drop of blood from his veins to see it through.

Balin looked at him with a kind, knowing sparkle in his wise eyes, and Kili stared at him, mouth slightly agape, as if he didn't know Fili was capable of such rousing words, but it was Thorin above anyone else that his eyes sought, and he met his uncle's gaze, usually so stern and unyielding, but when Fili looked to him he saw a fierce sort of pride in Thorin's jewel gaze, and he felt his chest swell with warmth at his uncle's unspoken praise as the king-in-exile nodded his head slowly.

"Fili is right," he said. "While we have been diverting our attention to things that do not need answers at this time, he is the one who saw beyond that and has reminded us of our true purpose. This story of Alison's can wait; right now, we need to focus on our quest and the Mountain, and then we will have time to discuss this problem. And we have an even more pressing matter on our hands at the moment." He swept his gaze over the three, the lines around his mouth deepening as he frowned. "Tomorrow begins the last days of autumn, and we still have no supplies or weapons to make for the Mountain."

Balin nodded solemnly in agreement. "Durin's Day falls three dawns from tomorrow. We must reach the Mountain by then."

"And if we do not?" Kili said, and his voice was strained, though Fili couldn't tell if it was from his worry over the quest or the pain from his arrow wound, or both. "If we fail to find the hidden door before that time?"

His dark eyes beseeched the other three, and Fili knew that the younger prince was seeking reassurance, despite the answer seeming to loom over them all in that moment.

"Then this quest has been for nothing," Fili said lowly, voicing the answer everyone didn't want to hear, and an even greater silence fell on them, each Dwarf wrapped up in his own thoughts for a long while until there was the sound of a door being opened and Bard walked out of his own tiny bedroom, yawning as he shuffled to the kitchen where they were while deftly avoiding the Company passed out in his living room.

The bargeman looked the same as he had yesterday, still dressed in the same woolen clothes and with the same grim set to his face, except now he was barefoot and his eyelids drooped, as if he had had a fitful night's rest.

Join the party, Fili thought drily as the bargeman entered the kitchen and gave the Dwarves a short nod, which they returned, just as curtly.

"I can start on breakfast if you'd like," he said, beginning to rummage through the cabinets and extracting various bowls and cooking utensils as the four Dwarves watched him. "It'll take a while, with such a large amount of us, but that will give enough time for everyone else to wake up."

"That's fine by us," Balin said, giving the bargeman a slight smile. "And your offer is greatly appreciated."

Bard's mouth curved slightly upwards as he gave another nod to the white-haired Dwarf, and Fili watched for a moment as the Lakeman began to cook, studying him for a few seconds as he worked. Bard was not an unfair or cruel man, he decided; though grim and reserved, Fili sensed a softer layer beneath such a hard exterior, one that revealed loyalty and compassion and a good heart.

Feeling slightly amused at what Bombur's thoughts would be when the ginger Dwarf awoke to find Bard cooking, Fili followed his brother and uncle and Balin into the living room and settled down beside the large windows of the house where Alison had sat the night before when telling the Dwarves what she knew.

They sat in thoughtful silence as the others began to stir throughout the house, Bard's children emerging from their bedrooms and looking at the sleeping Dwarves as if they were still stuck in some bizarre dream, as the Company began to sit up and stretch from their night on the floor, as well.

Soon, Alison was the only one still sleeping, and Fili found himself watching her for a moment, noting how her hands were clenched and her brows were furrowed, even in sleep and still oblivious to the world around her; not that he blamed her. After Johnathan's troubling betrayal, the warrior deserved a long rest, free from the worries and pressures on her shoulders in a moment of reprieve.

As Fili continued to watch her, he felt a peculiar sensation in his chest, and it took him several long minutes to figure out exactly what it was. Usually when he looked at Alison, he felt a sort of intense burning in his chest, something that could only be described as the flame of a candle, burning with something akin to desire whenever he was near her. But now, looking upon her still, peaceful form, the flame in his chest seemed to gutter a bit, going out to something not as ferociously hot and bright anymore, and he wondered what that meant.

"Fili," a voice said insistently from his shoulder, and Fili started, turning to see Thorin standing behind him and looking down at him with a raised brow. Obviously his uncle had been speaking to him, and, like a fool, he had instead been paying more attention to Alison than himself and his surroundings, and he wondered if Thorin had noticed what he had been doing.

"Sorry, Uncle," Fili said, clearing his throat as he met Thorin's eyes. "What were you saying?"

"I was asking if you had gotten any sleep last night," Thorin said, and then his mouth quirked in a half-grin. "You look terrible."

Fili grinned back, replying cheekily, "As if you look any better."

Thorin's grin turned into a smile at this, and it was a wonderful thing to see on his uncle's tired and lined face, reminding Fili of the uncle who would stand in the doorway to their house in Ered Luin and wait for Fili to rush at him so he could pick him up and swing him around, roaring with laughter. He had looked so young then, much happier, and Fili realized he missed that with a terrible ache, though he knew he would not trade the uncle in front of him for all the wealth in Erebor, either.

Thorin took a place beside Fili in the window seat as the Dwarves began to trickle towards the kitchen, their rumbling stomachs following the scent of food until the two were left alone, save for Alison, still asleep on the floor.

There was a moment of silence, in which neither Dwarf spoke, and Fili was content to just sit by his uncle's side as they watched the Dwarves, Bilbo, and Bard and his children attempt to bring order to the chaos now going on in the kitchen, until Thorin cleared his throat and Fili looked to him, meeting his serious blue eyes, so like his own.

"I don't know when the next time we get a moment for ourselves will be, so I'm just going to speak with you now," he said, and Fili shifted uncomfortably, now wary of what was about to happen as Thorin's eyes bored into him.

"What do you mean?" Fili asked, with some trepidation as Thorin's eyes never left him.

"Your sentiments concerning Alison," he replied, and Fili felt a flicker of nervousness, though over what, he couldn't say.

"What about her?" He asked, keeping his tone neutral, and Thorin raised a brow.

"I think you know what I'm going to say," he said, and when Fili only swallowed, he continued. "We are a Company of thirteen Dwarves with probably some of the biggest mouths around when it comes to gossip," he said wryly. "You did not seriously think I would not have noticed the talk circulating about you and Alison?"

Fili said nothing, just listened as Thorin sighed and went on. "I don't know how far your relationship with her has extended, but—"

"I broke it off," Fili interrupted, wondering if his face was as red as he thought it was, as Thorin looked at him and said, "What?"

"There's no need to worry about my feelings for her," he said, all but mumbling. "I stopped it before it even began, and she agreed with the choice, so there's nothing that needs to be said, not really. I know where I stand, and where she does; it was nothing more than a fleeting moment."

Thorin stared at him for a few moments, and Fili could feel the heat of his scrutiny, though he didn't mind so much anymore. It was true what he had said to Thorin; nothing would come out of him and whatever relationship he had had with Alison, and, somehow, he was finding himself to be more receptive towards this thought than he initially had been after his actions on top of the Carrock and in Beorn's yard. As he had told her, he had a duty to this world, and her to hers.

"Is she your One?" Thorin asked suddenly, and Fili jerked at the unexpected question.

"I…I don't know," he stammered, his throat feeling dry. "I mean, what does…your One feel like? How do you know?"

Thorin shrugged, looking a bit awkward, and Fili took some pity on his uncle for having to be in such a situation he knew nothing about. "I've never experienced it myself, but from what I've heard…it's like finding yourself in another person, and the feeling that comes out of it is just…right. Like you've been lost and you were suddenly found. But again, I do not know for sure."

Fili mulled over this for a moment, thinking hard and racking his brains. While the few touches and sentiments he had shared with Alison had felt…good, they hadn't felt "right," as Thorin had put it. And the more he thought about it, the more Fili realized just how shaky his relationship with Alison was. It was built on nothing but uncertainty, always hanging in the balance like some fragile thing that could fall at any time, and, little experience though he had, Fili somehow knew that relationships were not supposed to feel like that. They were certain, and grounded, and what he had with Alison…it was fleeting and wispy, nothing more than morning dew that dissipated with the arrival of the sun. And he knew that that was not what love, or anything more based on sentimentality, was. It was not fragile and delicate, but strong and determined and sure.

And he did not have that with Alison.

"No," he said finally, looking down at his hands as he spoke. "I…do not believe Alison is my One. At…at first, I did think so; or I liked to think so, just as I liked to think that I could be with her after this quest was over and done with. But now, when you put it like that…" He sighed, looking up only when he felt the solid warmth of Thorin's hand on his shoulder.

He met the blue eyes warily, afraid of what he would find there; disappointment, perhaps, for admitting such a thing that went against every custom of their society? Or disgust, that an heir of Durin had had a brief fling with a human warrior, not even of this world? But he found nothing there remotely close to that, only seeing the fatherly-like compassion that Thorin reserved only for him and Kili in tough situations, and Fili felt something burgeon in his chest at the look.

"You have a pure heart and a good mind, Fili," his uncle said lowly, and the deep baritone seemed to drown out the boisterousness of the Company as Fili listened to him. "Like forging iron in searing flames, they balance each other out, and this balance is what will make you a great king someday, and the people of Erebor will have a light to look to, even in the darkest of times."

Fili swallowed past the sudden lump that had formed in his throat, and he reached up and clasped his uncle's own shoulder in his hand, trying to convey all the emotions he couldn't give voice to through the squeeze he gave to the older Dwarf.

Thorin seemed to understand though, and with one last gentle smile, he squeezed Fili's own shoulder in return before getting up and moving away into the kitchen.

The flame had rekindled in Fili's chest again, but as he moved to wake Alison for breakfast, he found that it no longer burned for the reason he once thought it did. It burned not for suppressed emotion, but rather for something greater; the future of his people, of the kingdom he would help rebuild, the home he would have soon. It burned for hope; and for now, at least, it kept the shadows of doubt at bay, lighting his way for the path he would face ahead.

Breakfast at Bard's had been an interesting affair. Though more subdued and polite than they had been in the past (Thorin could not help but to think of the night at Bilbo's Hobbit-Hole at this), the Dwarves had still been fairly rowdy and messy, though they had done their part to help clean when they were done eating, nevertheless.

Bard and his children looked torn between laughing and fainting as they ate with the Dwarves, and Thorin allowed himself a small grin as Dwalin and Dori, always the two hot-heads of the group, began to squabble over the last plate of sausages on the table as he took a sip of the milk he had been offered by Bard. It was not the rich, creamy stuff Thorin was used to, but he attributed that to the fact that some things in Lake-town could not be as fair as the same things in other villages; which led him to remember what the old Esgaroth had been like before the dragon attacked, flourishing with trade and prosperous with wealth.

The thought left an odd taste in his mouth as Bombur swept by and cleared away his plate, and Thorin turned, about to tell the Dwarf he didn't have to take care of his things and that he could do it instead, but kindly, when the words died in his throat as he caught sight of something outside of the window.

Thorin stood up, the chair he was sitting in scraping loudly across the wooden floors, but it could not be heard over the din of the cleaning Dwarves as he crossed the living room in quick strides and looked out the window, wondering how he could have missed this before, though it had been dark when they had arrived last night and every time he had sat by the window he had always been facing the opposite way.

But Thorin saw it now, atop a particularly tall building somewhere in the center of Lake-town—a four-pronged ballista, silhouetted against the early morning sunlight, and even from this distance, Thorin could feel the wrought iron under his hands as if he had worked on it himself in the forges, the sight so familiar to him yet now so alien at the same time, having been a good century since last he laid eyes on it.

"A Dwarvish wind-lance," he breathed, and he was so mesmerized by the sight that he nearly jumped out of his skin when a soft voice sounded behind him, and he turned to see Bilbo standing there, small hands wrapped around a cup of tea as he joined Thorin at the window.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," the Hobbit remarked, and Thorin thought about retorting that Bilbo himself seemed to be one after sneaking up on him like that, but he never got the chance as Balin joined them at the window, his own dark gaze widening at the sight of the wind-lance.

"He has," the older Dwarf said in reply to Bilbo, and his expression turned thoughtful the longer he stared at the ballista, his forehead crinkling and his lips pursing. "The last time we saw such a weapon, a city was on fire. It was the day the dragon came—the day that Smaug destroyed Dale."

By this time, the other Dwarves were finishing up their cleaning and starting to rejoin the others in the living room, and Thorin was aware of Bard and his children there, but he figured there was no use trying to exclude them, not now after Alison had practically told them everything about their quest, which Thorin still felt angered by. But he listened as Balin went on, already knowing the story, yet now seemed a more appropriate time than ever to listen again.

"Girion, the lord of the city, rallied his bowmen to fire upon the beast," Balin said, with everyone listening raptly. "But a dragon's hide is tough, tougher than the strongest armor. Only a Black Arrow, fired from a wind-lance, could have pierced the dragon's hide. And few of those arrows were ever made."

There was a slight lull in the story, and Thorin used the brief pause to turn and see Alison, hovering on the edges of the Company, and Thorin noticed then how confused she looked, which just puzzled him in return.

Her green gaze was switching back and forth between the wind-lance on top of the tower and Bard's longbow of yew on the wall, and she looked utterly bewildered, as if something wasn't connecting, and Thorin distantly wondered if it had anything to do with the blasted story she had mentioned; but remembering Fili's words of forgetting about the story and focusing instead on what they had to do, Thorin tore his eyes away from the Hero and listened back in as Balin went on with his recount.

"The store of Black Arrows was running low when Girion made his last stand. If the tales have it, then Girion shot three arrows in the hopes of killing the dragon, but thrice the arrows failed to find their mark." Balin sighed. "But the tales also tell of one arrow remaining, though that seems impossible now; Smaug decimated Dale. Any last arrow there would surely have been destroyed by now, or lost forever."

An uncomfortable silence weighed on the room, and Thorin spoke, the words coming out of him on their own volition, so lowly only Bilbo and Balin would have been able to hear it, and they both looked to him as he muttered, "If the aim of Men had been true that day, much would have been different."

And it was true. If Girion's arrow had found its mark, Smaug would have been nothing more than a dead, rotting snake, and Thorin could still be living within Erebor with his family, never having to had worry if he could find the salvation his people needed as they had wandered the Wild before settling, never having to walk around with such an impossibly large and cumbersome load on his shoulders, the weight of an entire kingdom and people that all looked to him for their survival. If only Men had emerged victorious that fateful day…

"You speak as if you were there," Bard said, and Thorin turned to see the bargeman standing near the kitchen, staring at the Dwarf with something in his eyes that Thorin disliked.

He was about to retort that he should know that already, considering the nature of their quest, but he held his tongue as another thought occurred to him. Bard may know now of their quest to re-enter the Mountain, but that did not necessarily mean he actually knew who they were. He could think of them as nothing more than idealistic Dwarves, on an insane quest to take back Erebor; he did not actually have to know that it was Thorin, the rightful King under the Mountain, who led these Dwarves on the quest.

And then, despite his anger at her for revealing their quest to strangers and his wariness of the story she claimed to know, Thorin suddenly felt a surge of gratitude for Alison such as he had never felt for her. Reckless, mouthy, and infuriating though she was, Thorin realized then that the Hero had been cunning and loyal enough to tell of their quest, but not so candid that it would reveal impertinent information that could jeopardize them all. After everything they had been through so far, Thorin did not mistrust her, but his suspicion of her lessened considerably as he realized her role in this with a newfound clarity.

"All Dwarves know the tale of that day," he told the Lakeman, and then to his surprise, it was the bargeman's son, Bain, who spoke up, albeit nervously, but somewhat defiantly, as well.

"Then you would know that Girion hit the dragon," he said, and all eyes turned to him. "He loosened his scale under the left wing. One more shot and he would've killed the beast."

Dwalin chuckled from the other side of the room, shaking his tattooed head. "That's a fairy-story, lad," he said, fixing the younger Man with his slate-grey eyes. "Nothing more."

Bain opened his mouth as if he were about to argue, but Thorin stepped in before an all-out conflict broke out, facing Bard stonily as he attempted to change the topic and said, "You took our money. You have offered us provisions and we have accepted, but where are the weapons? That was a part of our deal."

Bard nodded slowly, his dark eyes meeting Thorin's blue ones, and again, there was that same sort of guarded look in his gaze that made the hair on the back of Thorin's neck prickle uneasily before it was gone.

"Wait here," the bargeman instructed, and without waiting for an answer, he turned and went out the front door, leaving everyone standing or sitting in various positions throughout the kitchen and living room.

Thorin gave one last look to the wind-lance before shifting so he was facing away from the window, and he waited for only a few minutes before Bard came back into the house, carrying a wrapped tarp sort of thing in his arms that dripped water on the floor as he deposited it on the kitchen table.

Curious, Thorin and the other Dwarves crept closer to the package as Bard untied the ropes around it and opened it, revealing the strangest assortment of weapons Thorin had ever seen in his life.

"What is this?" he asked, picking up a weird staff-like thing with a dull hook at the end, and he began to hear the others' murmurs of discontent as they too picked up the other weapons.

"A pike hook," Bard replied. "Made from an old harpoon."

"And this?" Kili asked, hefting a large hammer with something like a cinderblock for the head, nearly bigger than his whole face as he looked at it skeptically.

"A crow bill, we call it," Bard said. "Fashioned from an old smithy's hammer. It's heavy in hand, I grant, but in defense of your life, these will serve you better than none."

"We paid you for weapons," Glóin broke in, eyeing the bargeman incredulously. "Iron-forged, swords and axes! Not something you'd find in a scrap pile!"

"It's a joke!" Bofur exclaimed, throwing the rusty weapon he had been examining back on the table, and the rest of the Dwarves followed suit, the metal clanging as it dropped, and Thorin saw Bard's frown-lines deepen.

"You won't find better outside the city armory," he said, his eyes narrowing. "All iron-forged weapons are kept there under lock and key; this was the best I could do."

Thorin opened his mouth to snap something at the Lakeman, but Balin stepped up to him before he could, saying urgently, "Thorin, why not take what's on offer and go? I've made do with less, and so have you." When Thorin didn't immediately respond, Balin turned to the Company at large and said, "I say we leave now."

"You're not going anywhere," Bard said, adjusting the tarp back over the weapons, and Thorin looked to Bard sharply, his voice coming out as a growl as he said, "What did you say?"

"There are spies watching this house, and probably every dock and wharf in the town," Bard reminded them hotly, and Thorin bit back a curse, having forgotten that fact. "We must wait until nightfall."

He eyed the Company warningly, and, with a flicker of something Thorin couldn't read in his dark eyes, the bargeman crossed to the front door and went outside, letting in a blast of cold air before the door closed and the Dwarves were left standing around the kitchen table.

After exchanging uneasy looks, the Company retreated to the living room once more and settled down, and when Thorin looked around he realized that Alison was not with them, and he wondered where she had gotten to before his attention was captured by a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye.

Thorin looked to his right, where Bifur was seated on a small bench he was sharing with Bofur, and he saw that the movement he had seen was Bifur signing to him in Iglishmêk, the wild-looking Dwarf eyeing him with worry and some apprehension as his hands formed: What do we do now?

Thorin looked around at all of the Dwarves, who stared back with the same expressions, and he took a deep breath; the Company was trusting in him to make the right decisions now, just as they had trusted him to do the same for the duration of the quest so far, and Thorin knew what had to be done as he met each Dwarf's gaze in turn.

Be prepared to go on my order, he signed. We leave when I say. The Dwarves all nodded in relief, visibly relaxing at his words, silent or no. Looking around at them all, so willing and devout to follow him, Thorin found himself filled with a new sense of vigor and spirit, and he could not stop the small smile that crept to his face as he signed, At dawn, we make for the Mountain.

Bard didn't know how much more he could take.

Just yesterday morning, he had docked at the Woodland Realm, ready to take his consignment of empty barrels back to Esgaroth and earn his measly pay, but he had gotten a lot more than he had bargained for after meeting the washed-up Dwarves on the shore.

In one day, his life had turned upside down completely; he had smuggled people into Lake-town, had spies set upon his house, witnessed his friend be killed before his eyes by a man who apparently could turn into a shadow, and had been told from a teenage girl young enough to be his daughter that she was an ancient warrior from the 'mortal world.' Oh, and not to mention that said girl had also told him that what was happening right now was only a story in her world, and that he was meant to slay a dragon. Yep. All in a day's work.

Bard swore violently as he leaned against the railing of his porch, his head swimming, and he was glad that no one was in the vicinity to hear him, until a voice sounded right by his shoulder and he nearly toppled off the porch and into the canal below from shock, recognizing Alison beside him on the porch and wondering how he could have missed her as she spoke.

"Whoa, dude," she said, holding up her hands as she eyed Bard. "Did you kiss your mother with that mouth?"

Bard blinked, torn between feeling abashed for his ugly language or annoyed that the girl was out here when all he wanted was solitude for the moment.

"When did you get out here?" He demanded in lieu of her sarcastic question, and she shrugged, propping herself against the railing with her hip.

"After story time was over," she replied coolly, but on closer inspection, Bard could see the dark shadows under her eyes and the wan expression on her face behind the snippiness, and he noticed that her nail beds were cracked and coated with small drops of dried blood, as if she had been tearing at them nervously.

Bard nodded absent-mindedly, and she crossed her arms, raising a brow at him. "So what sort of thing constituted such a colorful string of words, if I may ask?"

Bard looked at her sideways out of the corner of his eyes, and when her brows rose higher, he sighed, suddenly wanting to be somewhere far, far away from this mess, preferably somewhere nice out in the countryside with his family, not trapped in some dingy, run-down town, no matter how much it was like home to him.

Something in Bard's face must have been standing out, for he didn't even have to say anything before Alison nodded, saying, "Ah. It's about me, isn't it? Or at least something I said last night. Right?"

Bard snorted. "What gave you that impression?" he asked sarcastically, and she cracked a grin, not at all fazed by his dry tone. But Bard's face drooped almost immediately, and he rubbed a hand over his face wearily, suddenly feeling a thousand years old as the worry that had plagued him most of the night and kept him tossing and turning came to the forefront of his mind again.

"This…story of yours," he said, choosing to speak into his hand instead of to her as he took a deep breath. "Do…are—are my children going to live?"

His voice came out as a whisper as he finally spoke aloud of the fear that had been nagging at him ever since Alison had told him he would slay the dragon, and suddenly he felt nauseous, not wanting to know the answer. If anything were to happen to his children, to the prides and joys of his life—oh, Valar, how could he live, how could he go on? It would be like his wife, like Clara, all over again—

"They live, Bard," Alison said gently, and at her words Bard's hand dropped from his face and he turned to stare at her, the cold feeling in his chest beginning to melt as he met her eyes, so serious and solemn for such a young girl.

"What?" he breathed. "I mean, how do you—are you positive?"

"Well, I'm ninety percent sure," she said reluctantly, but Bard's hope only dimmed a little bit. "I mean, your daughters weren't really mentioned in the book, but I know for sure your son lives. But, please…I don't know if things will stay true to the story from here on out. Now that everyone is aware…"

"You're afraid things are going to change now," he finished, and she nodded slowly. He knew that he should not be getting his hopes up for something that could crumble to dust so easily, but if Alison's story was true… His children would live. They would live. And for now, that hope was enough for him.

It was silent between them for a long time, until Alison broke it once more, facing out over the canal as she said, "You know, if things do actually turn out like the story says… You're going to be the Lord of Dale, Bard."

Bard suddenly felt as if a boulder the size of Lake-town had just descended from the sky and slammed into his shoulders, knocking the breath from his lungs in one fell swoop. "Come again?" he said hoarsely, and Alison gave him a tight smile.

"After the battle—if it happens—Dale will be rebuilt, and you will be the one to rebuild it. And don't pretend like you're not of Girion's line, Bard; that city is practically your birthright—"

"Stop," Bard said, holding up a hand. "Please, I…I'd rather not think about that."

She gave him a puzzled look. "Why not?"

Bard swallowed, unsure of why he felt the way he did, but under the scrutiny of the warrior's gaze, he felt compelled to tell her, even if he didn't understand it himself yet.

"I know I'm Girion's descendant," he said. "But…I'm nothing more than a simpleton, a poor bargeman trying to scrape by and carve out a life for my family and I. I'm not a Lord, and…I don't think I ever could be. I don't think I'm the type of person other people can look to for hope, for leadership. That isn't me."

He looked down at the slow-moving waters of the canal as he said this, somehow knowing it to be true, but if Alison was right…could he do it? Could he actually become the Lord of Dale?

He heard Alison sigh from beside him without looking up, and then she said, in a softer voice than she had been using, "I'm not going to argue with you on this one, Bard. After all, it's your life, your decision. But," she sighed again, and Bard could imagine her raking her brown hair out of her face. "The only reason how I know Bain lives is because he becomes the next Lord of Dale after you pass. So…if you're ever unsure of this whole Lord thing in the future when this is all said and done, just…think on that, okay?"

She clapped him on the back, and that seemed to jolt Bard back to his senses. As much as it baffled him to admit it, taking advice from such a young person and all, he had to say that Alison's advice was right. If what she said was true, there would be a lot of other things to worry about soon before the Lordship of Dale could even begin to cross his mind; and with that reminder, he looked out over the canal to his left and saw the Lonely Mountain rising up in the distance, and he looked back and forth between the human warrior and the Mountain, his other worry coming forth now that he knew his children would be fine.

"Thorin," he said suddenly, and Alison looked at him weirdly. "What?"

"Thorin," he repeated, meeting her eyes, and he saw the flicker of wariness there as he cocked a brow at her. "That is the name of the Dwarf leading this quest, is it not? The black-haired, foul-tempered fellow?"

"He's not 'foul-tempered,'" Alison said, rolling her eyes. "He's just…brooding."

"Uh-huh," Bard said. "Anyway, his name…"

"What about it?" she asked, nonchalantly, but Bard saw the infinitesimal tightening around her eyes.

"It's a very familiar name," he pressed; and it was. Bard knew he had heard that name somewhere before—but where from…

"Is it?" she said. "I wouldn't know. I'm not from around these parts, so I couldn't tell you."

Bard knew she was lying, but he let it go for the moment, only shrugging as he said, "Very well. You should get inside, out of the cold. You look like you're freezing."

Alison shot him a look, as if knowing he was trying to get rid of her, but she looked away just as quickly, sniffing, as she said, "You know, I'm probably going to listen to you on this. It is pretty cold out here."

Bard grinned as she gave him another look. "But I wouldn't stand out here and brood all day long if I were you, either," she said. "You'd probably turn into a Popsicle, and that would be very unfortunate."

This caused Bard to chuckle, despite not knowing what a 'Popsicle' was, and after another searching look, Alison nodded politely and went back inside, closing the door behind her.

Now Bard was left alone with his thoughts, and he gazed to the Lonely Mountain once more, pondering on the Dwarf leader's name. He knew he knew that name from somewhere, and the bearing of the Dwarf, the way he held himself in stature and tone, and the way the others looked to him, with devotion and respect…

Bard's eyes suddenly froze on the Mountain, and he could feel his heartbeat begin to pick up in his chest as a memory of a name floated back to him, a fragment of a story long since faded from the talk of the pubs, but one he had listened to on so many occasions…

"Thorin…" He whispered, and he could feel the puzzle pieces coming back to him. "The Lonely Mountain, King under the…"

But there was only one way to know for sure, and as the early afternoon sunlight began to warm Bard's fingers from the winter chill, he knew he had to be certain. He had heard tales of the madness King Thrór had spiraled into during and after the fall of Erebor, and if that same disease for gold resided in his heir, an heir that would try to reclaim the throne…

The door opened behind Bard again, and he spun around, thinking it was Alison once more, but instead Bain's face poked out of the crack, his dark eyes concerned as he said, "Da? You've been out here for quite a while. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Bain," Bard said, a bit too urgently, but he leaned in close to his son as he said, "I need to go out for a few minutes. It won't take me long, but I need you to be the man of the house while I'm gone, understand?"

Bain nodded, looking confused, but Bard squeezed his shoulder affectionately before saying, "Don't let them leave yet."

Bain nodded once more, and after flashing him a brief smile, Bard was off, thundering down the steps of his house and beginning to jog through the streets of the town, his feet knowing exactly where to carry him from years of experience as he passed by the vendors selling their poor wares and the various workers out on the streets, shuttling products to and fro and threading fishing lines through poles and whatnot as he approached the place he was looking for.

Bard entered the tiny shop, filled to the brim and cluttered with trinkets and antiques, and instantly the sickly sweet, musty smell of incense and dust filled his nostrils, but he ignored it, entering deeper into the shop as the old shop owner, Silas, looked up from his examination of a tarnished old salt shaker, fixing his eyes upon Bard before he blinked in recognition.

"'Ello, Bard!" He said. "What are you after?"

"There was a tapestry here, an old one," Bard said, striding deeper into the shop and making for the wall lined with cloths and blankets and beginning to shove them aside, only after a particular one. "Where's it gone?" He muttered to himself, sifting through the cloths almost frantically; if his suspicions were correct—

"What tapestry you talkin' 'bout?" Silas asked, but at that moment, Bard's fingers clasped on a dusty, worn-down, but no less exquisite tapestry, and his heart gave a little leap as he pulled out the royal blue cloth from amid the others, barely even noticing when a tiny, leather-bound book fell out of the pile and toppled to the ground at his feet, only intent on the tapestry in his hands.

"This one," he said in reply to Silas, and he put it down on a less cluttered table nearby and eagerly opened it until the whole thing was displayed for him to see.

Splayed out on the table before him was a tapestry of a family tree, a lineage of Dwarves, no less, beginning with the name at the top: Durin I the Deathless. His heart picking up speed, Bard traced his eyes and fingers down the Dwarven lines, occasionally picking up on names such as Náin I and Thorin I, but these were far before his time. After sighting a familiar name, Thrór, Bard's fingers began to tingle, and he traced the lines, going to Thráin II, and from there…

"Thorin," Bard breathed, and he suddenly knew that that was it, that this was what he had been looking for; the raven-haired Dwarf in his home, the one who had to be either insane or an Heir of Durin to risk entering that Mountain…he was Thorin II, descendant of Thrór. This quest of theirs was no mere plight of bone-headedness; these Dwarves were deadly serious about taking their homeland back from Smaug, and that terrified Bard more than anything else.

"They were Dwarves I tell you." The voice broke into Bard's consciousness like the piercing note of a horn, and he started, listening intently as the woman who had spoken went on, feeling sweat beginning to slick his palms. "Full beards, fierce eyes; I've never seen the like!"

"What are Dwarves doing in these parts?" Another voice asked, this one male.

"It's the prophecy," another man answered, and Bard froze, straining his ears as another memory tickled at the back of his mind.

"Prophecy?" The first man echoed in confusion.

"Aye, the Prophecy of Durin's Folk," the other man said, and Bard looked down at the tapestry again, his eyes drinking in the little depiction of Thorin as his memory continued to stir, dredging up pub tales from long nights past as he continued to listen raptly.

"The old tales have come true!" The first man exclaimed, from just outside the shop door, and another woman's voice joined in, exclaiming, "Vast halls of treasure!"

"Can it really be true?" Another woman's voice whispered excitedly. "Has the Lord of Silver Fountains really returned?"

At this, Bard felt as if he had been punched in the stomach as the memory finally rushed back to him in full-force, and he recalled with vivid clarity the prophecy he had heard so long ago, brushing it off as a mere children's tale, but now it held so much more meaning, so much truth. And as if in a daze, he began to recite it, the words coming off of his tongue easily, but Bard felt his throat grow dry as he spoke:

"The Lord of Silver Fountains

The King of Carven Stone,

The King Beneath the Mountain

Shall come into his own.

And the bell shall ring in gladness

At the Mountain-king's return,

But all shall fail in sadness

And the lake will shine and burn."

At the last two lines, Bard's throat seemed parched, and a sudden sense of dread stole over him, and he knew that he had to stop those Dwarves from leaving for the Mountain; even if the prophecy wasn't true, it was too much risk—they could awaken Smaug, and the dragon would have no where left to turn but Lake-town, and after his conversation with Alison earlier, he was more determined than ever to keep his children safe. If it meant keeping his family and the town safe from ruin, then he would stand between the Dwarves and their kingdom if he must. The price was too high to pay should their quest fail.

Knowing what he must do, Bard started out of the shop, but he stopped abruptly when he took a step forward and kicked the book that had tumbled out of the tapestry and cloth pile earlier, the dusty, small thing skidding across the dirty shop floor as Bard looked down to it, only half-seeing it until he stopped again, having to do a double-take.

The book had fallen open when Bard had kicked it, and on the front cover page was a word that stuck out at Bard like a gleaming gold coin, and his breath caught in his throat. As if on impulse, he snatched up the small book and tucked it into his coat, tossing a silver piece to a bewildered Silas before bursting out of the dim shop into the bright afternoon sunlight and sprinting headlong down the rickety waterside streets in a blur, his mind tumbling and whirling like a hurricane as he came to his house and tore up the stairs, all but charging through the front door.

As soon as he entered, Bard knew something was wrong; the house was far too quiet, and he could only see Sigrid and Tilda in the kitchen, working diligently but with uncomfortable frowns on their faces, and the living room was devoid of any squat, hairy Dwarves, not even a sign of the large-footed Halfling or the sword-wielding warrior, and Bard's heart jumped to his throat as Bain came rushing up to him, looking very red in the face and worried.

"Bain, where are the men?" Bard said urgently.

"Da, I tried to stop them!" Bain said. "But they told me it was important, and I didn't know what to do—"

Bard silenced him with a look, knowing that something like this was bound to happen, but still feeling a tight pinch in his gut all the same as he realized what had happened.

"They've gone."

Author's Note: Ugh. (Interpret that as you may)

Well, if you haven't noticed yet, I'm deciding to extend the Company's stay in Lake-town a bit longer than the movie's time, which will become more apparent in the next couple of chapters (there's that whole thing about no one really knowing when Durin's Day is, but from what I've researched, I'm assuming it's somewhere around October 19th, which is what I'm going with; again, it's only an estimate, though).

UGH. FILI. YOU'RE KILLIN' ME SMALLS. SORT OUT YOUR FEELINGS (or filings?...) And no chapter is complete without a brooding-but-oh-so-uncley-Thorin, so that had to be there of course. And Bard figures out who Thorin is at last, and I wonder what that book said that made him have to take it with him? Interesting stuff that will begin to shape up starting next chapter...

Anyway, thank you all for your reviews/favorites/follows! To those reviewers I can't respond to, thank you as well! Your support is greatly appreciated! So feel free to drop a review for this chapter, and I will see you all next week with the new one! *rubs hands gleefully*

Thanks again, lovelies! Until next chapter...

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