Chapter 12: By the Firelight
By the Firelight
With Balin's soft words in my ear and the warmth of the night enveloping me, and feel the tug of sleep wash me away.
Without warning I find myself awake and back in my own room, Kili lying in bed next to me; he is still asleep. Oh, crap... the two of us did not fall asleep touching, which means that he's still awake there, riding along innocently on his little beige pony, and I am probably face-down on the ground right now, having fallen rather ungraciously from Dwalin's steed. There's something to look forward to when I phase back into Middle Earth again.
In a sudden panic I hurry to see that there is not a Dwalin running around my house, and happily discover that there is not; no skin-on-skin contact, I suppose, plus he wasn't asleep... still, better to be safe than sorry. It also means that I have a sleeping Dwarf in my bed who will not wake up again until I return to his world and fall asleep with him... I suppose this means that I cannot just leave Kili there. His body has not vanished from this world when his consciousness has left it... wonderful.
Does that mean he's going to be sticking around here forever?
I lie back down, trying to ponder the whole situation, but am interrupted by the door creeping open. I sit up to see Josie stood there, face more terrified than Ori's when he believed Kili to be ill.
"Your mom," Josie whispers. "She's back early. Her car just pulled in the drive... hey, is Dwarf-boy still sleeping?!"
No. No, no, no, no...
In a panic I fling myself from the bed and try desperately to think of a way to hide Kili, or at least figure out a way to distract my mom long enough to shimmy his unconscious body down the drainpipe and lock him in the shed or something. I force my thinking cap onto my head, hearing my mother fumbling with her coat and work bag downstairs.
"Get in here," I tell her; Josie stares at Kili, a wicked grin which I can only describe as Dr. Seuss-esque swiping across her face. "I'll tell her you're still here, that you were really tired and went to bed... that way we'll have a few more hours. Just stay here, okay? And leave Kili alone!"
"Learn to share, spoil sport!" She says, knees up on the bed; I head downstairs as quickly as possible, straighten myself out and grin as my mother bounds in the house with armfuls of shopping.
"Mom!" I say,grinning widely, "hi!"
"Hey, honey," she chimes, kissing my cheek in her traditional manner. "You look flushed; have you been exercising?"
Of course I haven't; just running down the stairs was enough to wear me out. "Yeah, just a little cardio... work the muscles and all that. How was work?"
I flick on the kettle for her as he tells me about the shift from hell as I stand there in a fluster, nodding along in all the right places and tutting whenever appropriate.
"So how was your sleepover with Josie?"
"Good," I say, "uh... actually, she's still here. Asleep, upstairs. We stayed up all night watching DVD's, so she's completely zonked... so am I, come to think about it. Do you mind if I go up for a few hours?"
"Sure thing, Al. Go get your beauty sleep... you've earned it!" She kisses me on the forehead, abundantly proud at the thought of her daughter engaging in exercise for the first time in months, taking her green tea into the living room and muttering about finding Strictly Come Dancing on the catch up TV service. I bound back upstairs in relief and practically barricade my bedroom door upon entering it. Josie is stroking Kili's face when I enter.
"Jos, leave the poor guy alone."
"How did you not snog his face off, Alice?" Josie asks me, turned on her side and propped up on her elbow as she stares languidly at the Dwarf, "he is delicious, I just want to eat him."
"You can't eat him... mind you, at least then there wouldn't be an unexplained Dwarf in my bed. Get up, Josie, I have to touch him for this to work."
"You can't go back to sleep yet!" Josie tells me, "you have to tell me everything!"
I give her a brief summary of events as I shove her out of the bed and take her place; she hums excitedly when I am finished and says,
"You have to take me with you some time. If you can take Kili back and forth by touching him, you can take me, too, right?! I can have a bad ass name as well- like a role-playing name, my own nom de guerre... I want one! You're using Lavender, and Josie is so... bland. I'll have something really wacky, like 'Trinity' or 'Evangelina...' I'm gonna be...uh... Astoria! No, no, too Harry Potter..."
"Slow down there, buckaroo," I say, "you're talking about this like it's actually going to happen."
"It is," Josie demands. "Come on, Alice, you have to take me! Not today, but some time."
"I still can't believe you actually believe any of this. I'm not even sure if I do, and I'm living it."
"Well, why not? It's far more interesting than reading dissertations and writing essays- you're going on a quest with a Wizard."
I grin, remembering something from earlier.
"I named the Wizard's horse, you know."
"...What did you name it?"
I grin. "Dumbledore."
"You never did-"
"Oh, I did."
Josie bursts out with laughter, and I have to clasp my hand over her mouth to quieten her down.
"You're supposed to be asleep," I giggle, restraining her mirthful howls; she calms down and agrees to keep watch whilst I go back to bed. I perform the now familiar routine of fumbling under the covers before reaching out and taking the hand of Kili as he sleeps.
"I ship you," Josie beams, "I ship you so hard."
I grin, eyes closed. "Shut up, you sad little fan-girl."
"I will go down with this ship," she sings after me, "I won't put my hands up and surrender... you can't escape your destiny, Alice!"
"I don't believe in destiny. See you later, alligator."
"In a while, crocodile..."
THUD! My head smacks off the pavement with resounding force, and I realize that I have indeed fallen straight off the pony, just as expected.
"Ow, ow, ow!" I cry, face-down in the wet mud. I pull myself to my knees, my clothes smothered with thick dirt, and try my best to find my feet; amongst the huddled mirth and groans of the Dwarves comes a flurry of footsteps, and I feel arms either side of me pull me up to my feet.
"You really must learn to balance yourself, Miss Lavender," Kili's voice says; I look up to see that it is he who has helped me up, and lend him a half-dazed smile. My mud-streaked hair plasters itself across my face and I feel the burn of embarrassment again. I can sense Thorin's eyes boring into me; like the woos I am, I refuse to meet his gaze.
"Sorry," I apologise to everyone and no one, "sorry, guys."
"Baggage," Thorin mutters, and turns his pony, riding ahead. I stare after him, dripping with mud, and let out a sigh. Can't win 'em all over, I suppose.
"I told you to hold on, Lass," Dwalin calls softly, still atop his pony; I apologise light-headedly as Dwalin offers out his hand again, but instead end up following Kili as his tug on my forearm leads me to his own mule. He pulls himself onto the pony, grabs my forearm and swings me up behind him as the others ride on.
"Now you must hold on this time," he instructs me quietly, reaching back for my hands and securing them at his waist; ugh, swoon. I hold on tight as the hooves of the pony trot gently against the cobbled road.
"I was back at home just," I tell him quietly; Kili seems to tense.
"Back in your world? But you must have only been asleep for a second; just long enough to fall from Dwalin's pony-"
"I know; but I was at home for about ten minutes. I don't think there are any rules with this whole travel thing, whatever it is; if there are, I haven't figured them out. I'm going to talk to Gandalf once we stop, although I don't think he really knows all that much either. He said he's got 'wise friends' who will know."
"Wise friends?' Who are they, then?"
"Dunno. Probably Fairies, knowing this place."
Kili scoffs. "Don't be so absurd. Fairies aren't real."
Oh, the irony. "Well, I don't know then. Maybe the Dryads or the Pixies or the Elves."
Kili shakes his head. "We won't be seeing Elves any time soon."
"Uncle Thorin hates the Elves... we all do. They betrayed us, when we lost the Mountain to the Dragon."
My mind conjures images of tiny little midget people prancing around, and I wonder what use Elves would be in battle anyway. I whisper into his back,
"Have you told anyone?"
"Told anyone what?"
"You know... the travelling thing. The whole I-can't-go-to-sleep-without-dragging-Dwarves-to-alternate-dimensions thing."
"No, I have not. I didn't think it wise."
I nod, relieved. "No one else knows about it, just me, you, Josie and Gandalf."
Kili laughs under his breath. "That friend of yours is a strange one. Even stranger than you."
"The cheek of it!" I growl with a smirk, kicking him in the leg; the maneuver startles the pony and she reels, whinnying, and almost throws the pair of us off her back. I shriek in panic and Kili laughs, trying desperately to calm the beast.
"Easy, girl, easy... easy now, Primrose."
"'Primrose?'" I choke with a giggle, blushing a little as the others turn back to look at us with less-than-impressed faces, "that's not very manly, is it?"
"Well, she is a girl."
"Yes, but... you could have gone for something a little more hard-core. A name that packs a punch, like Sharon or Lesley."
"Shh, not too loud- you'll upset her."
"Sorry about all that," I say; Kili laughs a little.
"Don't be sorry. It was all rather interesting, really- I still have no idea what it was, but it was certainly... different. When did you learn to do it?"
"Learn to do what? Upset horses?"
"No, no... the travelling between realms."
"Oh. I never learnt to do it, it just... happened. Waking up with you in bed was a bit of a shock, to be honest. Will you come back with me tonight? It's... it's just I've got your body- your other body- in my bed, and it'll be kind of hard to explain to my mother why."
"You don't even have to ask," he tells me, and risks a glance over my shoulder. "Although you must promise to show me around your world."
I squeeze his waist a little tighter in a gesture of thanks. "I promise."
By the time Thorin calls for us to make camp for the night, I can barely keep my eyes open. Whilst the others get a fire going I go to speak with Gandalf; I tell him about what happened earlier, and he nods along intently, puffing smoke rings from his long pipe.
"I suspect you shall be asking Maser Kili to return with you tonight, otherwise you shall have an inexpiable body to contend with."
I nod. "I already did. But how can it be that the time is confused, Gandalf? I mean, a second here was a good few minutes back home, but that wasn't the case yesterday; I slept a solid night and woke up as though it had been just that."
"These are questions for those far cleverer than myself," Gandalf dismisses, "when we find them, the answers shall come. Until then, Miss Lavender, simply enjoy the adventure; I shall speak with the young Dwarf tonight and ask him, as I ask you now, to keep this whole affair a secret for the time being. A quest to reclaim a mountain is enough for our company to be dealing with without the added enigma of a loophole between worlds."
I agree to Gandalf's request, thank him and move over to Bilbo, who is stood discreetly with the ponies; his own, one of the pack-ponies, sniffs fondly at his hand, a soft crunching emanating from where the pair are stood.
"It's our little secret, Myrtle," Bilbo whispers, "you must tell no one. Shh, shh..."
"Are you feeding the transport, Mr. Baggins?" I tease, approaching; he hides what I can only presume to be an apple, and I give him a smile. "Have you got any more? I'm starving."
He smiles, delving a hand into his pocket. I thank him as he hands me a small cherry-red apple, and take a large bite out of it. "Now you're feeding the baggage as well as the transport," I smirk, "our Lord and Master the mighty Thorin over there won't be impressed, Mr. Baggins."
Bilbo nods awkwardly. "I'm sure he did not mean what he said."
I shrug. "I'm pretty sure he did; it seems like my coming along is just good old Gandalf calling in a favour. I'm not going to complain, though."
Gandalf's enormous horse leans its head over my shoulder, sniffing fondly at the fruit. "Are you hungry, Dumbles?" I ask, ruffling his nose and popping the rest of the fruit past his huffing lips. "Here you go, boy... eat up."
There is suddenly a high shrill sound which causes Bilbo and I to jump; we look about our heads uneasily for the source of the sound.
"What was that?!" the Hobbit yammers, startled.
Kili, who is sat under a sheltered cove in one of the large rocks on the plain calls out, "Orcs."
Bilbo and I instinctively move in closer to the group; I sit down beside the two brothers, still caked in mud which is now being dried by the fire as Fili elaborates.
"Throat-cutters. There'll be dozens of them out there. The low lands are crawling with them."
"They strike in the wee small hours when everyone's asleep," Kili tells me in an edgy voice, leaning close to my face, "quick and quiet, no screams. Just lots and lots of blood."
I stare in horror, and he exchanges a small, telling glance with his older brother over my shoulder. Fil itries to contain a smirk.
"You're having me on," I grin, "you scared the life out of me."
The two explode with laughter, and Thorin appears in our wake.
"You think that's funny?" he growls at his nephews, "you think a night raid by Orcs is a joke?!"
Kili bows his head, laughter diminished. "We didn't mean anything by it."
"No, you didn't," Thorin growls back, not even attempting to look at his shamed nephews. "You know nothing of the world."
The Dwarven Prince walks away, and the two boys hang their heads in shame.
"Don't mind him, Laddie," Balin says comfortingly to Kili as he sits with his head bowed. "Thorin has more reason than most to hate Orcs."
It is then, as Balin begins to tell me of Thorin's past- his fight against the Orcs, the loss of his father and grandfather, the way his homeland and birth right were stolen from him- that I begin to empathise with the would-be King. He stands in all his majesty as his tale is told, watching over the hilltops with sunken eyes, dark hair billowing in what is left of the night time breeze; and there is more than pride and anger in his stance. There is a softness in his gaze, a gentle sadness that helps me to see past the cool façade and the haughty demeanor. Standing there is a broken man, a troubled man...
...and most definitely a King.