Thorin hesitated. Elves were bad enough, but this elf? Why did it have to be him? The one person he would never... could never... fully trust.

Could a person be redeemed after sinking into the deepest pit of sin? Could a person be evil at one time, and good and honorable at another? Could a person return to the light after plunging so deep into the darkness?

What if one couldn't? What if he hadn't? Was Thorin willing to risk himself and his quest on the threadbare hope that the one he had the most reason to distrust would not betray him?

Could a person be redeemed? That was the ultimate question on which Thorin was banking his life. Could a person fight his way up through the gripping darkness...the darkness that sapped all strength, all goodness, all courage out of a man...and return once more to the light?

If the answer was no to that all-important question... what hope was there for him? What hope for Thorin Oakenshield, who knew the darkness as well as any fish knows the water?

Could a person be redeemed?

And if not, what then?

Slowly, Thorin held out the map.