There was hardly a word spoken within the halls of Erebor that night. Most of the dwarves were gathered around a small fire, looking glumly into the glow of the flames while processing measly bits of cram in their mouths. Two of the dwarves were not present; Thorin was, of course, in the treasure hall, while Bombur was out on the ice wall standing guard.
Elsa and Bilbo, meanwhile, sat a short distance away from the others on two sides of a pillar, as quiet as the night itself. She could see Kili across from them, stone-faced and silent but with eyes turned red with long, tearful hours. He hadn't spoken to anyone since earlier that day, and she didn't blame him at all.
"So," Ori asked, after a moment of hesitation, "does anyone think that Thorin's going to change his mind?"
"What do you think?" Dwalin growled bitterly, "He doesn't change his mind for no one."
"I thought we'd be rich by now," Nori complained, "I feel like I came all this way for nothing!"
"Don't know why he didn't ask anyone to help him look for the Arkenstone," Glóin grumbled, "I'm sure we would've found it by now."
"I'm not sure if even that would solve the problem," Balin said, "I should've seen this coming…no, of course I did. Why did I do nothing?"
"I could use a pint of ale right about now," Bofur sighed.
"So could we all," Dori mused.
Elsa, meanwhile, was wrapped up in her own thoughts, but they very closely mirrored the sentiments of the others. How could this have happened? Surely this was not how legends of dragon-slayers were supposed to end, with war stepping closer and closer with the passing of the hour…what she wouldn't give to be back at home.
Home…was it still around? She thought of what the dragon had said out on the lake; it was likely that the great reptile had been lying to her, but he had also confirmed what Thranduil had insisted…did that mean Arendelle had died long ago?
She thought of the visions of Anna she had encountered; did she dare try to summon the hallucination? But what use would that have been? They were only hallucinations after all…
There was only one way to find out, but it was locked in the treasure hall with Thorin, meaning she was stuck here, lost to suffocating and blinding ignorance while the hounds of war pulled on their chains…
No, she thought, anger welling up from within. This was not how her story would end.
She stood up, and quietly she started to walk away, hoping not to draw anyone's attention. It wasn't until she was a good twenty paces or so away that her hopes were dashed. "Elsa," Bilbo said, having caught up to her, "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to talk to Thorin," she said quietly.
"I REALLY wouldn't try that," the hobbit urged.
"Bilbo, someone has to talk some sense into him," she explained, "and no one else is doing anything."
"Look, I know you want to see your sister again, but maybe now's not the best time to talk to him."
"Then when? When the mountainside is littered with carcasses of the innocents? This isn't about me, Bilbo; this is bigger than us."
The hobbit was quiet, her words sinking in. "Well, then," he said, "I guess someone has to try...he'll probably be more willing to listen to you." He then gave her directions to the treasure hall, and added before returning to the others, "Good luck."
Taking what he said in stride, Elsa felt some degree of confidence as she strode in the proper direction, but the further and further she went, she felt anxiety worming it's way in again.
Conceal, don't feel, she told herself over and over again, don't let it show.
Before she knew it, however, she found herself right at the entrance to the hall. Now her stomach churned with unbelievable ferocity. Maybe she had made a mistake; maybe she should just turn back and pretend this whole thing never happened...
No, she told herself, it's now or never. After inhaling deeply, and nervously gulping, she willed herself to take the necessary steps.
The first thing she saw once she entered elicited a soft gasp; all around her was a vast sea of golden coins, goblets, crowns, jewels, chests, effigies, shields, plates, and countless other valuables that, even in the dim light, shimmered and glistened like a night sky filled with stars…it was nigh overwhelming. She stared in awe for a few moments at the unimaginable wealth that lay before her. But then she started to wonder how it was that anyone could possibly find ONE jewel in this massive hoard. For that matter, how could one even possibly transport a fair share of this treasure without having to spend it on a lengthy caravan first? She also noticed that the place still retained the strong smell of dragon, evoking no small degree of dread within her.
She heard the hiss-like clinking and tingling of multiple coins striking coins to her left, and turned to see a figure kneeling and hunched over, digging and sifting through the treasure like a fox attempting to dig a rabbit out of its burrow.
"Thorin?" she said timidly.
The Dwarf King jerked his head up rapidly and stared at her with a wild look in his eyes. "You," he said, "What are you doing here?" He got up onto his feet and tromped through the gold towards her with the force of an infuriated bull. "I thought I said…"
Elsa struggled to maintain a calm composure as Thorin walked up to her, feeling intimidated nonetheless. "I know, I'm not supposed to touch the treasure until the Arkenstone is found," she finished for him, "This isn't about that."
He stopped only a few feet away from her, standing above her on a mound of gold. "Then what is this about?" he asked, his eyes boring deep into her.
You won't scare me, she said in her thoughts. She took a deep breath, and then declared, "You can't ask me to set a winter storm on the Lake Men or the Elves, Thorin."
"Why not?" he questioned, "It's within your power, no?"
"If I do, I won't be able to stop it," she explained, "Not for you, not for anyone." She then added, "You don't want me to lock this land in eternal winter. Believe me...I know."
Thorin turned away for a moment, seemingly in contemplation. Her spirits lifted then; had she managed to reach him? But then he said, "It's a risk we have to be willing to take."
Her eyes widened and her heart sank in utter disbelief. Had Thorin gone insane? "Are you even listening to yourself?" she said, "There are innocent people out there, Thorin, people that you promised to help!"
"I did not promise to give away my grandfather's possessions to a hoard of armed mercenaries allied with elves! They should have considered that before coming onto my doorstep."
"Thorin, this wealth should belong to everyone! You said you wanted to see an age of peace and prosperity, not of war and desolation! When will men, elves and dwarves coexist in tranquility? Enough of your pride and stubbornness! Put an end to bloodshed before it begins! Whatever quarrel you have with the elves, let it go!"
His back remained turned to her. But then he turned around, and she saw fire in his eyes.
"Why do you care so much about this?" he said, "It's because you want your share sooner, and I'm the only one standing in your way, isn't it?"
"What? No, I…" she stammered. Her heart grew cold with fear, and snowflakes started to whirl around the two of them.
"Well then, why don't you just take me out of the equation?" the Dwarf King ranted, "I'm the problem here, aren't I?"
The wind strengthened in speed, pushing the snow along.
"Thorin, please don't…"
"It would be so easy for you to strike me down and take as much gold as you want. What are you waiting for? Get it over with. Why don't you just kill me NOW?"
Unable to hold it in any longer, Elsa threw her arm and sent a bolt of ice across the hall, striking a pillar and causing spears of icicles to burst forth. The wind died down, and the snow settled across the gold and jewels, covering them in a fine layer. She stared at Thorin for what seemed like an eternity.
"Because I will not be the monster," she said, and then stormed out of the doorway.
She marched straight back to the front hall, still wrapped up in her utter frustration. Coming within the warmth of the fire, she noticed that Bombur was beside the fire, snoring away contently, while Bilbo was nowhere to be found. When she asked, she was informed that as soon as she had left, the hobbit had went and taken Bombur's place at the watch.
Lying back down at her place against the base of the pillar, she prayed for a miracle to happen, a prayer that lasted until sleep overtook her.
Three blasts of an elf horn stirred Elsa out of the blessed realm of sleep and into wakefulness, along with most of the others. While Fili ran to alert Thorin, the rest of them ran to the battlement, seeing once again a mixed company of elves and men carrying green and blue banners, with Bard and Legolas at the head of them all. For some reason, Elsa noticed an air of confidence around these two leaders, as if they had something in store for them.
There was no small amount of anxiety or apathy amongst the dwarves, depending on who one asked. Balin mumbled, "It's only been a day, and already these formalities are becoming pointless. We might as well sit here forever and let them starve us out."
"I don't think so," Bilbo said, and Elsa observed something different about the hobbit this time; his eyes glimmered with anticipation, and he looked down at the men and elves expectantly. "Maybe things will turn out differently this time; who knows?"
"I doubt it," Elsa said. The events of the night before still hung in her head.
Eventually Thorin arrived, and after the customary hailing shouted to Bard, "I see you still haven't dismissed the elves. Yet you still think you can negotiate for peace and gold under these conditions. You can beg and plead all you like, but I tell you now that I still stand the same as I do yesterday."
"We did not come here to banter with words, Thorin Oakenshield," Bard replied, "This time we would like to offer up a trade."
Thorin looked at him incredulously, and then laughed. "I stand upon a mountain of gold and silver, worth more than anything you can scrounge up. What could you possibly have to offer in exchange?"
"Something you hold dear," Legolas answered, "something worth more to you than all the treasure upon which you stand."
"Be done with your riddles," Thorin demanded, "What do you have to barter with, already?"
Bard motioned to one of his men, who ran forward and handed him something wrapped in a simple cloth.
"Would this be of interest to you?" the Bowman asked, and then then held the object aloft in his hand as he pulled away the cover.
All of the dwarves gasped and nearly leapt backward in shock at the sight of what Bard held in his hand; it was a small, round jewel that shone with its own light, reflecting all the colors at once in a dazzling display. It was unlike any sort of jewel that Elsa had ever seen in her life, and she marveled at the sight of it.
"…The Arkenstone!" Balin whispered.
Out of all of the dwarves, Thorin gazed upon it with the greatest amount of shock and awe, his eyes wider than Elsa had ever seen them, and his mouth agape. "…How did you find it?" he uttered.
"We are willing to return the Arkenstone," Bard went on, "If you will but…"
"HOW DID YOU FIND IT?" Thorin roared at the top of his voice. Everyone else around him shuddered and backed away, sensing the growing rage within their king, as did Elsa. She could sense that everything was about to go downhill very soon.
"How could you have found it," Thorin continued, "when it has been lost within the mountain for over a century?!"
"That is not important," Bard answered, "What's important is…"
"NO!" the Dwarf King shouted, "I demand to know! How did you find the Arkenstone? Tell me! TELL ME NOW!"
Bilbo suddenly pushed past the dwarves beside him. "They didn't find it!" he shouted.
Everyone on the battlement turned to look at him in surprise and confusion.
He seemed to struggle to force the rest of the sentence past his lips. "I did," he said, "and I gave it to them."
Everyone stared at him in quiet shock and awe. At first, Elsa wondered how he could have done it, but then realized that he must have somehow snuck out in the middle of the night.
"Bilbo…" Thorin whispered.
"I couldn't let this go on any longer," Bilbo explained to him, "It was the only way; you wouldn't listen to anyone otherwise."
Thorin just stared at him, while the rest shuffled behind him. But then he spoke again.
"You had it all along, didn't you?" he asked, "Yet you kept it hidden from me…"
"You don't understand, Thorin," Bilbo said, "The dragon said…"
"You TRAITOR!" the dwarf yelled, and unsheathed his sword. "I trusted you! We all trusted you! You were one of us!"
Elsa's eyes darted back and forth between the two of them, her breathing fast, her heart pounding, and the wing whipping by with snow and ice.
"Thorin, please!" Bilbo cried out, "Don't do this!"
But it was no use. Consumed by anger, Thorin charged forth, raised his sword, and roared as he swung it down…only for it to be halted in its path by a wall of ice.
In the few brief seconds that had passed, Elsa had managed to pull herself out of the crowd and jump between the two of them, raising ice to separate them just in time.
Heaving in and out, she stared at Thorin's distorted shape through the ice. "You…will NOT touch him!" she said.
Staring back at her, Thorin yanked his sword out of the ice, his eyes burning still with rage. "Get out," he commanded, "Both of you. NOW! Go back to your home. I never want to see your faces around here, again!" To Bilbo, he spat, "You can consider that mail shirt upon you as your payment, burglar. It's too good for you, anyway."
Hurt by his words, the Hobbit and the Snow Queen backed away from the Dwarf King. No words were spoken, but Elsa found a rope placed in her hands by Bifur, who, along with the other dwarves, looked at her and Bilbo with the kind of sadness that comes with losing the dearest of friends. They tied the other end around a stone, and with Bilbo clinging onto her, the two of them silently slid down the outside of the battlement and onto the ground below. Once they made contact, they started the long walk to Bard and Legolas' side in utter silence. Elsa looked up to see the dwarves, save Thorin who had vanished, stare down at them in grief and sadness, and in her heart she said a small farewell, promising to keep the memory of their friendship in her heart.
They came up to Bard and Legolas at last; in his grim face, the Bowman looked upon them with such subtle sympathy, while Legolas' countenance held only a semblance of smugness.
Elsa looked at Bard with tears in her eyes, saying, "You were right, Bard. I'm so sorry."
"Come," Bard said, "Let's go."
Elsa didn't bother figuring out the time before they arrived at Dale, but eventually they did, finding the ruins of the city packed with men and elf soldiers, some taking refuge from the cold winter air inside the most intact of the dwellings while others resorted to using their own tents. Some of the men and most of the elves looked upon her with some suspicion, but it seemed that word had spread about what had happened at the Gate, so she wasn't met with hostility. They weaved and wound their way through the crowded streets and paths of the city; here, up close, they could see scorch marks blacken the walls, where the paint of ancient murals was already flaking away from the crumbling walls.
As they went their way up a flight of stairs, Bilbo suddenly stopped in his tracks. Noticing this, Elsa turned and asked what was wrong.
"Oh no," he said. His face suddenly flushed with grief, he burst out, "Elsa, I'm so sorry; this is my fault entirely…"
"You were only doing what you felt was right," Elsa assured him, "Don't be sorry for that,"
"No, Elsa, you don't understand!" he said, "The Star Gems, Elsa! They're still in there!"
With horror rising within her, she realized the meaning of his words and looked in the direction of the Lonely Mountain. Arendelle, its people, Anna…she had been so close to seeing them again…but now she had lost them forever. Now they were doomed to die without her, or rather because of her.
That night, the men warriors and the elf soldiers looked up in wonder as the snow hung still in the sky, the flakes spinning in the air. For Elsa, it was a night spent awash in tears of grief.