The March of Time

6: The Tale of the King

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

Quick A/N: Hello all, and welcome to Chapter Six! I feel kind of bad that I don't really say all that much in these author's notes, but since these are all edits I just don't really know what to put. Anyway, thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Chapter Six: The Tale of the King

Alison awoke to pale dawn light streaming through the high tree branches of the clearing, creating dancing patterns of light on the ground every time the leaves rustled from a breeze. It took her a few minutes to recall why she was sleeping out in the open, but when memory came rushing back, she sighed, wondering just what she had gotten herself into.

She sat up groggily, trying to blink the sleep from her eyes as she looked around. To her confusion, the campsite was mostly empty. The only people that remained were her, the still-sleeping Bilbo, Gandalf, who stood alone at the edge of the clearing, smoking from his pipe, Dori, who was tossing away pieces of firewood and getting rid of any signs they had camped there, and Fíli, who was rolling up his bedroll beside her.

"Ah, good, I was just about to wake you," he said, finishing his task and getting to his feet, swinging the bedroll over his shoulder.

"Where is everybody?" she asked, stifling a yawn and rolling back her shoulders; despite the bedroll, the ground had still been hard and uncomfortable, and she thought longingly of her bed back home.

"Thorin, Kíli, Dwalin and Bifur went to bury the warg," he replied, and she felt a shiver run down her spine at the reminder of last night's events. "Everyone else is packing up and readying the ponies."

She nodded, running a hand over her mussed up hair, and then quickly stopped, disgusted by the dirt and oil she felt under her palm. With another bout of longing, she wished for her shower, or at least something of importance, like a toothbrush or deodorant; anything, really, besides chapstick.

"Do me a favor, and wake up Bilbo?" he asked, nodding his head at the sleeping hobbit. "I'm going to help out the lads with the supplies. I can get your things, too, if you'd like."

"I can get it, don't worry," she said, remembering Thorin's words of pulling her own weight in the Company last night, and she wondered how well that would go over if he saw his nephew taking care of her after his warning.

Fíli nodded and left the clearing, heading into the trees to where she presumed the ponies and most of the Company were. Dori, who had finished his task of making it look like no one had been there, followed after him, leaving just her, Bilbo, and Gandalf in the clearing.

Alison clambered to her feet, pulling back on her jacket and boots, when she realized her knife sheath was empty. Thorin most likely still had it, and she reminded herself to ask him for it back next time she saw him. She quickly redid her hair, fervently thinking of how much she wanted a hairbrush, and then folded up her blanket and bedroll, slinging it over her shoulder as she went to wake Bilbo.

She hesitated when she reached the hobbit, unsure of what to do. She didn't want to kick him or prod him with her foot; that'd be too harsh, but she didn't want to get all creepy and stroke his shoulder or whatever until he woke, either. Biting her lip, she bent down and gently shook his arm. "Bilbo," she whispered, and when the hobbit only grunted in reply, she shook him more insistently, raising her voice slightly. "Bilbo, c'mon, time to get up. We're clearing out."

The hobbit opened his eyes and sat up, disoriented from sleep still. "Good morning," he mumbled, and Alison grinned, thinking of the first time she had met the hobbit; those had been his first words to her back then, as well. Had that only been yesterday morning?

"Come on, we're about to leave," she said, straightening up and holding out her hand. Bilbo took it, heaving himself to his feet as he blinked away the last traces of sleep. Alison stood with the hobbit for a moment, realizing that despite being in his home and sleeping in his guest bedroom, she hadn't really spoken to him one-on-one before.

"So…" she said casually, hoisting her bedroll higher onto her shoulder. "I see you decided to come on the quest, after all."

"So I did," he said, beginning to fold up his own bedroll as well. "And it seems you did, too."

"Yep," she agreed. There was a moment of silence in which Bilbo finished rolling his bedroll and shouldered it much the same way she was doing. "Well, can I ask what changed your mind, then?"

"To be honest, I can't really say," the hobbit said. He looked up into her face, being a few inches shorter than her, and met her eyes. "Perhaps the idea of adventure took hold of me, perhaps it was something else. I don't really know." She nodded thoughtfully. "And what about you?" he asked. "I thought you were going to Isengard to be sent back home. What made you change your mind?"

"You know, I can't really say, either," she answered, figuring it best if she kept her knowledge of the future—however scattered and hazy it was—between her and Gandalf. "I guess for the same reason as you, sort of. Adventure." She paused, then grinned at the hobbit. "I have an idea; how about as soon as we figure out what made us decide to come on this insane quest, we'll come to each other and we'll tell each other our reasons, all right?"

"Fair enough," Bilbo said, smiling back at her.

"Excellent," she said. "Now we should go pack up our things. I expect everyone'll be ready soon."

He nodded in agreement, leading the way out of the clearing. Alison made to follow him, but stopped when she saw Gandalf, still on the edge of the clearing, his back turned towards her. She thought of going over and speaking to him, but decided against it; he probably didn't want to be disturbed, and she couldn't really think of anything to say to him at that moment, either. So she hoisted her bedroll higher on her shoulder and followed Bilbo out of the clearing.

A few yards into the tree-line, Alison began to hear the murmur of voices, and another few seconds of walking revealed the Company, all milling about and talking, apparently having finished their task of loading the ponies.

As Alison approached Bofur, Bombur, and Óin to say good morning, a sudden thought struck her, and she felt a wave of sadness wash over her. In the aftermath of last night's events, she had completely forgotten about Hidalgo and his injury. She hoped he was okay, enjoying the Wild again, or, if the worst had happened, then hoping that his passing had been quick and painless.

"What's got you so down, lass?" Bofur said as she neared.

"My horse," she said. "Hidalgo. He twisted his leg and ran off last night, and I was wondering…" she trailed off, not wanting to say it. In their brief acquaintance, Alison had grown to like Hidalgo. He had obeyed her every command without question, and he had been a solid and comforting presence when she had been alone on the Road.

"Ah," Bofur said understandingly. "Well, what belongs to the Wild will always return to the Wild. Just keep that in mind. On the bright side, we have another pony for you to ride. C'mon, I'll introduce you."

He led her away from Bombur and Óin, and she waved at the two before falling into step behind Bofur. He came to a stop before a shaggy, light-brown pony laden with supplies, and Alison approached the horse, repeating the same gestures she had done to Hidalgo yesterday to earn the pony's trust.

"He's beautiful," she cooed, rubbing the pony's face as it snorted in pleasure.

"Actually, 'he' is a 'she'," he said wryly. "But yes, she is. I'm afraid you'll have to share her with some of our supplies, though. Now that we don't have…Hidalgo?" The pronunciation sounded weird on his tongue, but Alison nodded encouragingly. "Then that leaves us with two supply ponies, but you're small enough to where it won't be a burden for her."

"Good to know I'm not a burden, then," she said sarcastically, and the dwarf nodded, apparently not picking up on her tone.

Just then, Thorin, Dwalin, Bifur, and Kíli appeared out of the trees, closely followed by Gandalf. "Everyone on their pony," Thorin commanded. "We're leaving now."

Alison untied her pony (who she silently dubbed as 'Penelope') from the tree she was kept at, and when she turned back around she found Thorin standing behind her.

"Thorin," she greeted politely, giving him a respectful nod as she looped the rope around the pony's saddle so it wouldn't be in the way as she rode.

"Miss Ashburne," he said back, just as tonelessly polite. "I believe this is yours." He held out her knife to her, hilt-first, and Alison took it from his hand, the simple grip already familiar to her fingers.

"You cleaned it," she said in surprise, examining the blade, which shone clearly under the dawn light, all traces of the warg blood gone.

"Aye," he said. "It is always good to have a clean blade."

"Thank you," she replied, carefully putting the knife back into her boot-sheath.

"Your training will begin this evening," he said, accepting her thanks with only a slight nod. "Kíli will take your first rotation."

"Okay, cool. Thanks." Thorin looked at her strangely for a moment, until she remembered that they were in Middle-earth and they didn't use the words "okay" and "cool", let alone knew what they meant in colloquial terms. He got the idea, though, and nodded again, moving back to his own pony and swinging himself into the saddle.

Alison climbed into her own saddle, making a mental note not to speak like that around the Company; the last thing she needed was to be bombarded with questions and forced to trace back roots of words in her language or something, simply because the others would be confused at her terms. She had a sudden mental image of Thorin asking what the word 'swag' meant and she snickered out loud, turning it into a cough when Nori and Glóin looked over at her questioningly.

Once the Company were all seated on their horses and ready to go, Thorin ordered them to move out, and they began the slow and arduous trek through the trees. They cleared the thick tree-line by late morning, and came out on the Road, which had taken a turn into the forest somewhere far behind them, so now they were riding under taller, more widespread trees, and they had a path to follow. Thorin set a brisk walking pace for them, and the farther on they went, the closer the trees got again, and the terrain more wild, the Road becoming steeper and narrower.

The Company was quiet for some time, partly from the remaining strands of sleep that tugged at them and partly from the wariness of being followed. The warg attack on Alison the night before had put all of them on guard, and Alison herself felt as if she were being watched, turning her head sharply every time she heard a twig snap or the leaves rustle in the summer air, sure something was hiding in the forest around them.

The tenth time or so she did this, Kíli slowed down his pony's pace until he was level with her as she scanned the trees, sure she could see the gleam of eyes in a patch of undergrowth before they disappeared.

"Searching for the flesh-eating bunny rabbit, are we?" he asked, and Alison shot him a look.

"Very funny," she said dryly. "But the bunny rabbit isn't my concern. I feel like we're being watched."

"It's a forest," he pointed out. "Creatures live here. They're all watching us."

"That's not what I mean," she said, shaking her head. "That warg thing…it doesn't make sense, and I have a feeling that that wasn't a chance coincidence. There's something more to this."

"I agree," he said, and Alison met his dark eyes. They gleamed mischievously in the sunlight, but she could sense a layer of seriousness under the mischief, as well. "I don't like it any more than you do, but being paranoid every waking hour of the day isn't going to help you. Just…relax a bit, but don't let your guard down completely. Find the balance between the two."

"Balance. Right, I can do that," she said, taking a deep breath and exhaling it. "I can definitely do that."

"See?" he said, grinning. "Better already."

Alison flashed him a quick smile in return before changing the subject. "So I heard you're training me tonight."

"Indeed I am."

"Can I ask what you'll be training me on?"

"Archery," he replied, gesturing to the bow on his back. "You look like an archer, and, well, no offense, but I don't think you're strong enough to actually lift one of our swords. But that doesn't mean we won't try to train you to use one," he added quickly at the scowl on her face.

"Good," she said, instantly brightening again. "I look forward to it."

Kíli stayed by her side the rest of the day, entertaining her with stories from his childhood and merchant-escorting days, which he had done before coming on the quest. Most of his stories involved Fíli in one way or another, whether his older brother was his accomplice or his target, and Alison glanced back at one point, laughing, her eyes seeking the blonde dwarf, who was guarding the rear. He met her gaze and waved from his spot in the back, and she smiled, waving back before Kíli snatched her attention again with a tale of how he and Fíli had broken a door in one of their childhood wrestling matches, and the reprimanding that had followed shortly after when they had tried to hide the damage.

When the sun was beginning to dip in the sky, Thorin called for them to stop and make camp for the night under a large outcropping of rock near the huge ravine it had taken them most of the day to cross.

After the horses had been tied up and the softest patches of ground for sleeping had been squabbled over, Alison wolfed down her dinner of ham, cheese, and bread provided by Bombur, who was obviously the cook of the Company, and got to her feet, ready to go.

"Give me a minute," Kíli said as she stood by him, tapping her foot impatiently. "Not all of us have the excessively fast eating capabilities you seem to possess."

"It's not my fault you eat like a hundred year old man on his deathbed," she retorted, and he glanced up at her in surprise and some humor as she crossed her arms and smirked.

"Well, considering I am seventy-seven, my suggestion is that you have a little patience with your elder." He gave her a once-over and smirked himself, a corner of his mouth curling up as her brows knitted in confusion. "After all, you're…what? About forty-five or so? I'd say I have a few more years on you, so I have the right to be slower."

"Wait…" she said slowly. "You…you're not actually seventy-seven, are you?"

"Uh-huh," he said brightly, at the growing look of shock on her face. "But that's nothing compared to Thorin. How old are you, Uncle?" he asked, leaning around her to look at his uncle, who observed the conversation uninterestedly while he ate, whereas all the others were watching them with either confusion or amusement. "About two hundred now, right?"

"One hundred and ninety-five," he grunted, and Kíli looked back to Alison with a gloating smirk.

Alison felt as if she should know about this from the book, but she was still taken aback by just how old they were; they must have seen so much of the world already, whereas she suddenly felt slightly more insignificant now, being so young and inexperienced.

"Oh," Alison said, for lack of anything better. "And I'm not forty-five," she added to Kíli, who took an exaggeratingly slow bite as she glared, recovering her cool from that bombshell. "Nice try, but I think you're a little off the mark."

"Aye, lad, she's right," Bofur said from across the circle, grinning at her. "My bet's sixty. No lower."

"What are you guys talking about?" she asked incredulously, as the other dwarves began to toss in their own numbers, though she noticed how none of them went below fifty. "I'm only seventeen! I'm not the Crypt Keeper!"

At this, Dori began to choke on the piece of bread he was chewing, and Bifur had to slap him on the back until his airway cleared while the others stopped talking, snapping their eyes to her as she raised a brow. "What?" she demanded, gazing around at the circle, who were all staring back with mingled expressions of horror and awe.

"But - you're a wee lass!" Bofur said in shock. "We thought - we thought you were a mature adult!"

"Uh, I will be in November," she replied, wondering why everyone was looking at her like she had just announced she wanted total world domination. "What's wrong with you all? You didn't seriously think I was older than that, did you?"

"You are forgetting, Master Dwarves, that Men age differently than your kind," Gandalf piped up from behind her, and Alison turned to see the Wizard watching her and the Company amusedly. She was faintly surprised to hear his voice; he had rarely spoken all day. "Especially in Miss Ashburne's world. Men are considered adults by the age of eighteen in the mortal world, and it is a rare feat to live nigh a century. Now, to Dwarves, she may seem like a child, but in her world, Miss Ashburne is very nearly matured, and practically considered as old as some of you by comparison."

She nodded, noticing with relief that while the dwarves still looked taken aback by her age, they trusted Gandalf's words and didn't push the subject further, and she tried not to look as smug as she felt, getting the one-up on them like that.

Finally, Kíli stood up, shoving a last piece of ham in his mouth before grabbing his bow and quiver and gesturing for Alison to follow him. Feeling a thrill of excitement, and some apprehension, she hurried after him into a small copse of trees on the outskirts of their camp.

"All right, so what I want you to do first is watch me closely," he said, swallowing the last of his ham, and Alison nodded. "I want you to note my stance, and my movements when I shoot, then we'll let you try."

"Got it," she said, focusing her eyes intently on him as he stood, feet spread about shoulder-length apart. He held the bow almost loosely in his hands, as if it were a natural extension of his body, his eyes targeted on a tree about ten feet away from him. Alison watched his fluent movements in fascination as he brought back his right arm, removing an arrow from his quiver and fitting it to the bow string with ease. Then he drew back his arm, raising the bow, until his hand was aligned with his eye and the arrow was primed, and the bow string taut. Kíli released the arrow, and it flew straight and true, burrowing itself into the center of the tree.

"See how I did that?" he said, turning to face her and holding out his bow.

"I think that was more of you showing off than instructing," she joked, approaching him and reaching for the bow.

"Ah, ah, ah," he said, holding the bow away from her as she made to take it and wagging his finger disapprovingly. "Any more comments like that, Alison, and we can go straight back to camp."

She mockingly bowed before him, grinning. "Whatever you say, Master. I am but only your humble Padawan."

"My what?" he said in confusion, and Alison used her moment of distraction to make a grab for the bow, but he was too quick for her. He leaped aside and Alison almost tumbled face-first into the ground as her momentum carried her too far forward, but she steadied herself at the last second.

"Nothing," she said, trying to play off her near-fall coolly, despite the fact that her face was burning. "Just a story from my world."

"I'd like to hear one of those sometime," he said, choosing to ignore her klutz moment and focusing his dark eyes on hers. "I expect your stories are quite different from the ones we have here."

"Most likely," she said, the color fading from her cheeks as she looked at him. "I can tell you one tomorrow on the Road, if you want."

"Great," he said, flashing a smile that reminded her of the troublemaking teenagers at her school who always played pranks and things, yet never seemed to get caught by the teachers. "We should start actually training now. We're running out of light."

She nodded, noticing how the shadows had begun to lengthen just in the short amount of time their conversation had taken. He handed her the bow and an arrow, and she held them awkwardly, trying to remember how he had done it.

"Your grip's too tight on the bow," he said immediately, and she loosened her grip slightly. "You're supposed to just hold it, not try and strangle it." She nodded, spreading her feet shoulder-width, but he swooped down on her again. "Align your feet with the target, don't point them outwards." She shifted her feet, wondering how something that looked so simple could be so complicated to get right. "All right, now nock the arrow and make sure it's in the right position…good. Now draw the arrow back."

Now came the difficult part. Alison pulled back on the string, never realizing how much work this was until she was doing it, despite the size of the bow. Her arms began to tremble from the effort of pulling the string back so far; its resistance was proving a challenge for her. "Why is this so hard?" she hissed through her teeth as she pulled it back further, trying to get her hand near her face.

"An arrow needs force if it's going to go anywhere," he pointed out logically, and Alison grit her teeth as she finally managed to align her hand with her eye. "All right…lower your elbow a bit…there, keep it there. Now, do you see your target clearly?"

"Yes," she replied, her back muscles beginning to twitch as she held her position.

"Don't focus on it too much," he warned. "Keep your eye on it, but be aware of your surroundings also."

"Can I shoot now?" she asked, her arms shaking from the strain of holding so long.

"Wait, you're letting your elbow dip too low," he said, and she groaned. "You're doing fine, just wait," he said, chuckling, and then she felt his fingertips, light and quick on her jacket as he pushed her elbow up a little higher. His unexpected touch made her concentration waver for a second, but she snapped her mind back to the target as he stepped away.

"All right, shoot," he said, and she let the arrow go, the projectile flying through the air. And it flew all right—right by the tree, missing the target completely.

Alison felt a stab of frustration. She knew she was being unrealistic, expecting to hit the tree on her first try, but she had hoped her "warrior" blood would come through, proving to her that it was there, that those instincts Gandalf had talked about would awaken and make themselves known to her. With a shock, she realized that that had been exactly what she was waiting for: some proof that Hero blood was actually in her.

She looked to her right and saw Kíli watching her, a slight grin on his face. "You're laughing at me," she accused, and his face straightened instantly.

"What? No, I'm not," he protested, and she raised her eyebrows skeptically. "Truly, Alison, I'm not. That was actually really good for your first try; I'm impressed that you actually got the stances down quite easily. Let's keep going. I want to see if you can remember the positions without me correcting you by nightfall."

So they practiced for another half-hour, until all light faded from the sky and Alison's back and arm muscles were screaming in protest as she shot arrow after arrow. By the end of the lesson, she hadn't managed to hit the tree once, though on her last one the arrow skimmed the trunk before disappearing behind it, and she cracked a small smile.

"Good, Alison!" Kíli said. "You've made excellent progress tonight. Now we'll have to wait and see if you remember anything next time it's my turn to train you."

She only nodded, too busy rubbing her muscles to say anything. She trekked after him as they went off in search of all the arrows, and a few minutes later they regrouped, placing the arrows in the quiver Kíli was carrying.

"C'mon," he said, heading back to the rocky outcrop their camp was under as she trailed after him stiffly. "I'm exhausted, and I want to see if I can smuggle some pipe-weed out of Bofur before I go to sleep."

Well, Kíli thought as he entered into the campsite, Alison close behind him. Guess that plan's botched.

No sooner had he reentered the clearing then Thorin was upon him, his uncle looking up from his place by the campfire with his stony eyes.

"Kíli," he said. "You are to take the first watch with Fíli tonight. Bifur and Bofur will take over a few hours from dawn."

"Yes, Uncle," Kíli said, wondering if he would still be able to smoke a bit on his pipe before settling down for the watch.

"Here," Alison said from beside him, and he looked to her as she handed him back his bow. "Thanks for the lesson. You're a pretty good teacher when you're not showing off every two seconds." She grinned at him, her teeth flashing white against her lightly-tanned skin.

"That was only one time," he said, grinning back, and she rolled her eyes playfully. They were a deep jade green in the dim firelight, almost matching the dark forest material of her jacket, and Kíli noticed then how he didn't have to look up or down into her face, for they were roughly the same height, though he was a couple inches taller.

"Oh, yeah, how silly of me to forget," she replied sarcastically. "Maybe next time I'll be the one good enough to show off."

"Don't get cocky," he said, and she grinned again, then winced, rubbing at her arm.

"Guess that's my cue to go lay down," she said, and she nodded respectfully at Thorin before bidding them both goodnight.

"Goodnight, Alison," Kíli said as she walked off, still rubbing her arm. Thorin nodded to her, and Kíli heard her mutter something strange under her breath as she left, along the lines of "Really wishing I had an icy-hot right about now…"

The two dwarves watched her sink onto her bedroll on the other side of the campfire, immediately engaging Ori in conversation as Bombur snored loudly behind her.

"So, how did it go?" His uncle questioned, keeping his voice low so only Kíli could hear him.

"She certainly seems able," the dwarf prince replied. "I think Gandalf was correct in his assumption that she has the instincts. They're there, but I think she just isn't aware of it herself, yet. With more training though, I reckon she'll be good to go."

Thorin nodded distractedly. "Good," he said, staring into the fire. Kíli teetered, unsure of whether his uncle was going to go on or not, but stopped as Thorin spoke again. "What do you make of her, Kíli? What do you make of this whole…Valar ordeal?"

Kíli stared at his uncle blankly. Thorin must be truly desperate for answers if he was asking Kíli for his opinion, of all people.

"I can't say," he said haltingly, trying to be honest, yet answer maturely at the same time. "I mean…I think it's great that the Valar have sent an Ashburne. That means that they recognize our quest, and they've sent someone to help us obtain our goal, but…" he hesitated, unsure of what to say. "I also feel like this is more than just reclaiming Erebor. I have a feeling that the Valar have sensed something greater than just us taking back our homeland, and they sent Alison because they need her help with…whatever the other thing is."

Thorin nodded slowly, not taking his eyes off of the flames. "I agree," he said. "I sense there is something else that ties in with this quest, and I don't like it. And, of course, if Gandalf knows anything about it, he isn't saying anything." He sighed, and Kíli noticed how dark his uncle's eyes looked in the shadows of the fire. "Go watch with your brother, Kíli," he said. "And get some sleep afterward. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."

Kíli nodded and crossed over to the large outcrop of rock that sheltered the Company from the summer night's breeze, dragging his bedroll up against the rock and settling himself down next to Fíli, who was fiddling with one of his numerous daggers as he watched Kíli sit down and prop himself against the outcrop with a small sigh.

"I take it training went well?" Fíli said.

"It was good," the dark-haired dwarf answered. "She has a lot of potential."

Fíli nodded thoughtfully. "What were you and Uncle talking about?"

"The same thing we're talking about right now," Kíli said, which was half-true; he didn't know if Thorin wanted him to tell Fíli their conversation by the fire yet, but Kíli silently promised himself he would tell Fíli soon. After all, they were brothers, and they never kept secrets from each other. "He just wanted to know how Alison's progress was coming along."

Fíli nodded again, going back to playing with his dagger, and Kíli leaned his head back against the rock, looking up to the sky. Clouds were starting to drift in, causing sparse moments of cover across the moon, and he stifled a sigh, as he noticed more clouds coming in from the east. A rainstorm was brewing, but it seemed slow-moving, and he figured it would probably reach them by dawn, though it was always hard to tell with weather.

Great, he thought, already imagining an uncomfortable and miserable slog through the rain. That should be pleasant.

His eyes were brought back down to earth as he heard a bout of laughter, and he looked over to where Alison was sitting with Ori, though now Glóin, Dori, and Nori had joined them. As if realizing how loud she had laughed, Alison put a hand over her mouth, though Kíli still saw her shoulders shaking with mirth. The dwarves around her were all chuckling, as well, and from the modest look on Glóin's face, Kíli guessed that the older, fiery-haired dwarf had been the one to crack the joke; which surprised him a bit, considering the dwarf hadn't exactly taken to her the first time around, though he didn't dwell on it.

Kíli watched Alison as she calmed down, now listening to something Nori was saying with a grin on her face.

He had been honest with Thorin when the king-in-exile had asked what he made of her. He really didn't know what to think. He'd encountered Men before, but not many, and they had only been males. He'd only glimpsed women before as he passed through villages on merchant business, but they had seemed very plain and weary, nothing compared to Alison's youth and vitality.

It was obvious she had no problem standing up for herself; he had soon learned that after she had reprimanded Dwalin for his domestic comment, and later Thorin, though he had feared for her safety a bit at the beginning when she had addressed his uncle – famous for his temper – in such a manner. But she wasn't unkind. He had been impressed the night before when she had attempted to speak with Bifur; though she wasn't a Dwarf and didn't know their language, she had still tried and succeeded, and Kíli couldn't remember the last time he had seen Bifur smile that widely under his beard. She certainly didn't seem like a warrior yet, with her lack of training in weaponry and fighting, but she definitely had a warrior's spirit, something he found intriguing.

Suddenly a wild shriek ripped through the night, and the campsite grew quiet. Kíli broke away from his thoughts, alert and wary from the sound. Though the noise had come from several miles away, he still tensed as he remembered the warg attack on Alison last night.

Bilbo, who had been trying to discreetly feed his pony an apple from his pack, backed away from the edge of the steep ravine, his round eyes darting to and fro in the gloom. "What was that?" he asked.

"Orcs," Kíli said, and Thorin glanced up sharply from his place beside the fire.

"Orcs?" Bilbo repeated, eyes wide.

"Throat-cutters," Fíli said from beside Kíli, fixing the hobbit with a stare that Kíli recognized as a joke, but Bilbo took seriously, beginning to fidget. "There'll be dozens of them out there. The lowlands are crawling with them."

Kíli joined in on the joke, putting on a fake expression of worry as he spoke to the shifting hobbit. "They strike, in the wee small hours, when everyone's asleep. Quick and quiet, no screams. Just lots of blood."

Kíli glanced over to Fíli and they shared a smirk, then began to snicker at the faint expression on the hobbit's face.

"You think that's funny?" Thorin said, getting to his feet and fixing the brothers with a stare as cold as a wolf's. "You think a night raid by Orcs is a joke?"

Kíli immediately quailed under his uncle's stare, and Fíli fell silent beside him. "We didn't mean anything by it," the younger dwarf said abashedly.

"No, you didn't," Thorin said harshly, whisking away from the campsite. "You know nothing of the world." He retreated to the edge of the ravine, his back to the Company as he gazed out at the lowlands beneath them, lost in thought.

There was an uncomfortable silence until Balin broke it, coming over to lean on the rock beside Fíli and Kíli. "Don't mind him, laddie," he said paternally. "Thorin has more cause than most to hate Orcs."

Kíli sensed a story coming on as Balin caught the looks on Bilbo's and Alison's faces; the rest of the Company was familiar with the story of the fated Battle of Azanulbizar, but the two outsiders obviously had no idea what the white-haired dwarf was talking about.

"After the dragon took the Lonely Mountain, King Thrór tried to reclaim the ancient Dwarf kingdom of Moria," Balin began, speaking to Bilbo and Alison. Though everyone else had heard the tale time and again, they all listened to Balin, as well, ensnared by the older dwarf's storytelling. "But our enemy had gotten there first.

"Moria had been taken by legions of Orcs, led by the most vile of all their race: Azog the Defiler. The giant Gundabad Orc had sworn to wipe out the line of Durin. He began—" Balin hesitated, his breath hitching, then continued in a pained tone. "He began by beheading the king.

"Thráin, Thorin's father, was driven mad by grief. He went missing, taken prisoner or killed, we did not know. We were leaderless. Defeat and death were upon us." Balin paused, a slight, sad smile coming to his lips as he prepared for his next part. Kíli stole a glance at Alison; she was completely enraptured in Balin's story, her eyes shining as she listened, her lips parted slightly. Kíli tore his eyes away from her as Balin went on. "But that was when I saw him. A young Dwarf prince, facing down the Pale Orc. He stood alone against this terrible foe, his armor rent, wielding nothing but an oaken branch as a shield." Balin's voice rose passionately, and Kíli felt himself moved by the dwarf's words, feeling a sense of pride rise up in him; that was the magic of Balin's storytelling. He could make anyone feel emotion just by listening to his words.

"Azog the Defiler learned that day that the line of Durin would not be so easily broken. Our forces rallied, and drove the Orcs back. Our enemy had been defeated."

The few dwarves who had been sleeping earlier were now awake, intent and focused on Balin as he continued, his voice much softer. "But there was no feast, nor song that night, for our dead were beyond the count of grief. We few had survived." Balin looked to Thorin, who was still facing away from them on the cliff-side, silhouetted against the moon and clouds. "But I thought to myself then, that there is one who I could follow. There is one I could call King."

Silence pressed upon the Company as they all collectively turned and watched Thorin with awed respect, many of them rising to their feet. Thorin turned away from the cliff-face and faced them, his eyes lined with ancient grief, yet his shoulders straight and proud as he looked at them all. Despite hearing this story many times before, Kíli still felt a glow of determination take hold of him as he met his uncle's eyes. They would reclaim Erebor.

"And the Pale Orc?" Bilbo's voice broke in, and Thorin dropped Kíli's gaze to meet the hobbit's. "What happened to him?"

"He slunk back into the hole from whence he came," Thorin said, his lip curling in disgust. "That filth died of his wounds long ago."

And that was the end of it. Everyone settled back into their bedrolls, pulling blankets over themselves and quickly falling asleep, the absence of conversation allowing for them to fall into their dreams more quickly than usual.

Fíli and Kíli shared another glance before settling themselves more comfortably against the outcrop of rock and preparing for the long, silent hours of nothing as they resumed their watch. Almost without thinking, Kíli's eyes flickered over to Alison's form curled up on her bedroll across the dying flames of the fire. Her face was turned towards him, her skin aglow with the golden-red embers, and just before she shifted to where the blanket covered her face, he thought he saw a tear slip down her cheek.

Author's Note

Aw, poor Al :(

As you have noticed, this chapter contained the first POV change, and from here on out, that will definitely continue, as it broadens the scope for more views and begins to interweave some sub-plot stuff you'll see in the future, so I'm excited about that!

Thank you for all the reviews/favorites/follows! And you know the drill by now: please review, with anything you liked, disliked, and/or looking forward to! Let me know!

Thanks again, lovelies! Until next chapter...

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