I'm sorry for the long absence. I have a different work schedule now, which leaves me wiped out by the end of the day. Thank you guest reviewers from December and March, and Jofrench22. I strive to make Hana and Thorin realistic, relatable characters. Your reviews encourage me!

The Eldfell winter was beginning to show signs of winding down. Every day, the snow was reducing to a thinner layer of coverage. The forest floor's natural carpet of dead leaves and pine debris poked through the white layer with growing visibility, the steady drip of melting icicles could be heard in the woods and town. The slow melt left the forest ground in a constant state of sogginess, the village was even worse with its dirt roads. Game was still fairly scarce to be had, but the sighting of deer and small fowl were increasing, much to the relief of all who relied on it, namely Hana and Thorin.

One clear morning, Hana was beside the smithy hearth crudely mending her trousers with a rather dull needle and thick thread. Thorin had been in the forge since daybreak and had not emerged since, a steady cacophony of sound had been heard from that direction for hours, with only brief silent pauses. He was working feverishly, and she was engrossed in mending. Hana had plans to go out hunting when she was finished, and had no intention of bothering Thorin. She would wait until he came out.

Shortly before midday, there came a strong knock on the door of the smithy. Hana dismissed it at first, thinking it was coming from the forge. Her sore fingertips tried pushing the needle through the tough fabric of the trousers, her concentration solely on her work. A second, even louder knock shook her from her task and she got up to answer it with a grudging, annoyed breath.

Hana immediately surmised it was not a Dwarf who had been knocking when the sound was heard a third time. By now she had gotten familiar with the knocks of Thorin's friends and kin. Why the insistence? She thought as she went to open the door.

A man presumably from further in the village stood on the doorstep, about the same height as Hana. He was stocky, shaped like a human top, his widest area around his waist section. He had a mop of messy dark hair protruding from underneath a warm knit cap, and his stout, gloved hands were on his hips. His boot soles were coated with mud.

He was not expecting to see Hana answer the door, according to his expression.

"Is the smith in?" He demanded. His arms shifted from his hips to folded across his chest. Hana deciphered growing skepticism in his face, as he looked behind her, scanning for Thorin.

"He is, he's busy in the forge at present. Can I take a message for him?" She tried to remain cordial and unruffled as she answered him.

The irritable villager shook his head a good few seconds, eyes closed, as if to convey his insistence and quick exasperation. "No, no. I've got to speak with him m'self. It's about some work I left with him."

He was not budging, though no physical match for Hana, there was something about his pushy attitude and confrontational stance that gave her pause. The dismissive way he watched her, as if she were a child, was quickly annoying her. Hana then surmised he did not want to discuss anything with her. She shrugged and showed no sign of intimidation. If he was going to act like that, Hana had no patience for it. "I'll go see if he can step out for a moment. Wait here." There was no way she was going to invite him in. "Whom should I say is calling?" Hana called behind her. She kept walking and turned only partially.

"The name's Morten," the villager replied, as he eyed her with dismissive condescension.

Hana listened for the sounds of clanking metal as she drew closer to the forge; she heard the unmistakable rough scraping of the long files raking along the edge of a long knife or dagger. The whispery swish of her clothes and soft thud of her boots she surely thought gave her away, but not so. She stood about eight feet from him, watching. Thorin was utterly preoccupied; he held the edge of the dagger against his palm. He looked up to check on something metal that hissed and bubbled close by.

"Thorin?" She asked him. He did not show any signs of glancing around to figure out she were present, so she announced herself.

"Mmm." He answered her gruffly, as he reached for the rolled stick of polish, then used his blunt thumb tip to coat the metal with sheen.

"I realize you are busy, but there is someone here to see you? A customer?" She answered with a rising edge in her tone, almost as if asking a question.

He stopped rubbing the polish and turned his head only slightly toward Hana. A heavy sigh foretold his response, but he did not completely face her. "Who is it?"

She frowned a bit, Thorin sounded tense and stern as he usually did while at work, but at the moment, he also sounded inconvenienced. "His name is Morten, he asked to speak to you directly."

"Did you tell him I was busy?" he asked, his tone irritated.

Hana looked at him, alert and affronted. "I did. I offered to take a message to you from him, he did not like that idea." Hana told it like it was, her hands were on the hips, closer to her back, and she eyed him in the hopes of inducing an answer.

Thorin scowled to himself and shook his head as he laid the dagger on his worktable. Another exasperated, weary sigh was heard from him. "I shall go speak with him." He got up and walked past her, and Hana trailed after him, none too eager.

Thorin opened the smithy door to see Morten, who had been vaguely scanning the landscape behind him, then turned round casually. His eyes met those of the Dwarf, who was not trying hard to conceal his feelings. He folded his arms in his trademark decisive stance and raised his thick brows at the stout man.

"Can I help you? Morten, isn't it?" Thorin asked gruffly. Hana was not in the doorframe with him, but a few feet away, able to see and hear everything.

Morten cut to the chase. "My daggers, sir. I've come to see if they might be finished? You said to come back to collect them 'round this time." The man's face read with arrogance.

Thorin nodded nonchalantly. 'They are, just about. I was giving them another layer of polish when you called. I'll go get them. It might be a few moments, I was just cleaning the last one." He disappeared back into the forge, and a gust of wind blew the smithy door open with force. The door hit the wall behind it with a loud thud. Hana walked over to close it, and Morten pushed it back open. It took her by surprise, her eyes widened. It was intrusive, and a bit threatening.

"You work for him or something, eh?"

Her eyes narrowed, as she did a double take. Hana was aghast. For a split second she did not think it necessary to answer. "No," she replied incredulously. "I have my own work."

"You live 'here, then?"

She had no immediate rebuttal, just blinked back at the man in disbelief. Why should she answer his impertinent questions? "I'm talking to you, girl," he snapped.

Hana's scowl constricted more, her eyes as wide as they could open. "That's none of your business," she responded flatly.

Morten's face turned a purplish hue, and he stepped backwards at her supposed nerve.

"Why, you…" he began, his tone snide. Thorin, who appeared carrying a carefully wrapped parcel, interrupted Morten's retort. Hana backed away from the door. Chilly wind drummed against their faces.

Thorin looked at Hana, then at his obstinate customer. Before handing over the blades, he stated, "that will be six marks, minus your already paid deposit of four, totaling ten for the job. For sharpening, cleaning, buffing times two blades."

Morten made no move whatsoever to fetch coins from the belt hugging his wide girth. "I don't think I should have to pay that."

Thorin did not flinch. "That was agreed price, sir. Before I began, that is what you agreed to. Same as prior transactions." Thorin's eyes narrowed. "I can get the records book and show you your very signature as proof."

Morten pointed past Thorin, presumably in Hana's direction. "In past transactions, I have not been met with such rudeness." Thorin looked over his right shoulder at Hana, whose back was to the door. She was seated, and hammering her pestle so hard into her smaller mortar it seemed like she was stabbing it.

"Rudeness? Whatever do you mean?" Thorin was perplexed.

"I mean 'er."

Thorin was completely baffled, but it did not distract him from the money he was owed. "Look, I'm not sure what she said or did that was rude, but this has nothing to do with her. Your business is with me. Six marks or no blades."

Morten tossed his hands up with a flippant snort. Thorin was almost certain he smelled drink on him, and it might have partially explained the man's escalating behavior. "I will find new blades, then, Dwarf," he sneered. "Keep them. And I'll not trade with your kind again anytime in the near future."

"Be gone then. Get out of my sight," Thorin thundered, and he slammed the door of the smithy. Morten stood and scowled at it, before starting down Pigot. He headed back towards town and bickered to himself.

Hana was again back in her seat, violently hitting the mortar with her pestle. Thorin approached her quietly, but clearly cross.

"He said you were rude. Were you?" Thorin questioned.

Hana did not look up. She did not feel it necessary to produce an immediate answer. "I simply told him my presence here was none of his business. Which it is not. This was after he spoke to me quite impolitely, twice, and pushed the door open uninvited."

Thorin looked up at the ceiling as if for intervention, then rubbed his hands against his temples. "Well, that spat cost me six marks. Six marks I really needed, not to mention about ten hours in lost work."

Hana broke the pestle in the mortar with a furious jab, then cursed herself as she jammed her fingers.

"Well, I'm sorry for that. Would it be so hard to show some understanding on my behalf? Would you have stood for that treatment?"

"I…" Thorin trailed off.

"No, you would not have, but I am expected to, apparently." Hana knew he would not have stood for such treatment. There was no way.

Hana scraped the contents of the mortar in another bowl and threw it angrily to the side. She would not look at him, and cursed as she rubbed her sore fingers.

His voice grew louder and angrier. "You are refusing to see my side in this matter! That was money I needed. Money I intended to save, for us. I need all the work I can get right now. In case you have not noticed, there has not been a steady stream of customers of late."

Hana stood up, right in front of him, and yelled. Her restraint was completely gone.

"I am not refusing to see your side! That man was a prick, Thorin, yes. But if he had just shown up and paid you and taken his blades it would have not been a problem. He did not do that. He even insulted you, I heard it. I also took offense to that. My feelings and treatment do not matter, though, is what your saying. Admit it."

"Could you not have bit your tongue, Hana, for once?!"

She was suddenly alarmingly calm and her tone became quieter. "Like it would have made any difference. No. No I could not have." Her facial expression was downright deadly, her brows and facial muscles relaxed. "I merely reserve the right not to tell a complete stranger personal information. And furthermore, it stings that you are not supporting me. You were harsh with me from the beginning, when I approached you in the forge." Hana wiped both hands in the sides of her tunic, felt her belt for a knife, and donned her cloak. She tightened the buckles on her boots. Her swift, short motions reflected her testy mood.

"Where are you going?" Thorin asked.

"Out. Maybe back to the woods. I don't know. It is my business." Hana had the strong urge to kill something.

Thorin did not make any move toward her, but his frown deepened. He shook his head at her last retort.

Hana stopped in her tracks on her way out the door, but did not look at him. Without further statement or acknowledgement, Hana marched out, the slam of the door followed by her fading footsteps on the porch.

Hana did return just as the last faint light of day receded from the sky. It was chilly but still, no hint of wind at all. The sky was clear and dotted with stars. She returned from her necessary solitude bearing two rabbits, and wordlessly skinned and dressed them before cooking them over Thorin's hearth. She boiled some roots as well, and added it to the heating stew. When it was ready, Hana set aside a portion for herself and left Thorin his. No conversation was exchanged during the meal. The untalkative evening was giving way to a uncomfortably long night. His nephews arrived late to converse with Thorin, Hana greeted them both but kept silent in a corner, measuring out ingredients to bake bread in the morning. She saw Fili glance at her intermittently with a furrowed brow, and he eventually turned the topic of discussion from Dwalin's fondness of home brewed ale to her.

"How have you been since we saw you last, Hana?" He took a smoke from his pipe, similar in shape and size to Thorin's.

Hana managed a wry smile for him. It was not his fault his uncle was being an utter ass. "I have been fine," she said, sifting cupfuls of flour over a large bowl. "And yourselves?" She looked up from her work intermittently to keep track of her mess.

Kili shrugged sluggishly. "As well as can be. Thirsty," he replied. His mouth spread into his easy grin.

"Not for water, I'm guessing," Hana grinned.

Fili turned slightly to his brother, eyes still on Hana. "Aye, that's the truth. Which reminds me, Uncle said you could probably mix some cure for a nasty hangover, Hana."

She looked up from the bowl in her lap, and some flour had gotten in her hair. "I can. Fairly simple, a nice strong ginger tea steeped with honey, taken often. Works pretty well."

Kili sniggered to himself. "Can you make it extra strong?" He asked. Hana nodded. "Though I thought spirits and excessive indulgence was off limits for you all until the next full moon. Am I right? For Darûn Adùruth?" She asked.

Kili leaned his head back dramatically. "Don't remind us. It is one of the longest times of year."

Thorin was watching the conversation transpire from his perch across the room, where he was seated at his table, writing in his records book.

"Hmph." He grunted with the skepticism of a bemused elder. "Some of us keep to the rule more faithfully than others," he muttered under his breath.

Hana did not respond to him. She bore no anger or resentment toward them, and did not really want any company at present, but at least both served as a buffer between her and Thorin. She had not spoken but maybe four sentences to Thorin since returning that night.

"Well, I will try not to, then. I can make an extra strong tonic, before this period is over."

"Excellent. We will pay you, you know," Kili said suddenly, as if Hana suspected them to be schemers and he still had to prove they were honorable.

Hana chuckled. "For goodness sake, don't worry about that. Bring me some game for a night's supper and I will call it an even trade. Deal?"

She grinned back at them. Thorin had put down his quill and watched them intently.

The brothers smiled broadly. "Deal," Fili answered. "Perhaps I can bring you a boar. With the weather warming, their sightings are up."

They stayed the night, as Hana and Thorin expected. She was not thrilled at the prospect of sharing a bed with her betrothed. Hana was upset with herself, she meant to go to her hut and stay there for a day or two, to simmer down and help Thorin realize how hurt she was. She left earlier however, without her tools, herb box or any clothes. She had little choice but to return. Before they retired for the night, however, she was going to reward herself.

Hana walked out to the smithy steps later after supper, with her pipe. She lit up and savored the long drags of smoke, feeling it alleviate some of her anger, if only temporarily. She watched ahead at the empty, black night sky, listening to the rustle of the breeze belt through the distant forest. Heavy footsteps sounded after her second inhale, and they did not belong to Thorin.

"Doing alright, out here?" Kili's voice was not deep or as bellowy as his uncle's, and Hana even detected a tender tone to it.

He stood behind her as Hana resolutely stared ahead. She pinched the end of her pipe. The smoke curled pleasingly into her nostrils.

"I'm alright. Just angry." Kili was about retreat back a step, Hana interrupted. "Not at you…sorry if it appeared that way."

"At Uncle?" He asked, his brown eyes wide as saucers, acutely alert.

Hana blew out white smoke, and watched its curling skeins contrast against the blackness of the night. "Yes."

Kili stood against the wall of the smithy and leaned back. He gazed out into the darkness, at nothing in particular.

"A good smoke and a good drink can help with the anger," he said calmly, as he absentmindedly kicked a small stone across the smithy porch. It rolled down the steps with a faint crackle. Hana turned further round to look back at him and smiled, he chuckled softly. "I can't tell you how many times one or both of those have helped me when I was angry, sometimes at him. Or simply walking away for a while."

Hana's brows furrowed at Kili through the darkness. She could not picture him losing his temper.

"There is a large armory in Erebor. One very long hallway, lined down both sides with suits, mail, helmets, swords, axes, shields. All manners of weaponry. These pieces dated back generations. Many were ornamental, no longer usable. My brother and I were young lads yet but old enough to know better, and one day Thorin caught us playing with a very rare, old set of armor. It was the only surviving set like it in the armory. We each grabbed hold of the arms and yanked them, acting silly and causing a commotion. Not to mention we could have damaged the suit.

Thorin yelled at us, of course. He told us how careless and disrespectful we were being, and how disappointed he was. We made a mistake, no doubt, and as I said, should have known better."

Kili sighed as he recalled the story, and the both took in the serene quiet of the outdoors. Hana smoked her last of the night, and frowned to herself before replying.

"How old were you?"

He shrugged. "We were not more than youths, but still a bit immature and impetuous."

"What happened?"

Kili looked at her, his eyes half rolled and he heaved a thoughtful breath. Just this reaction told Hana the consequences had not been light.

"Well, our mother was told, after Uncle reprimanded us. She dealt her own punishment. Both of them said some very harsh things to us. Our mother made us assist him in cleaning the vast forges for a week as penance. When the week was over, he apologized for yelling, and thanked us for our work. We had earned his forgiveness, and that of our mother. "

Hana watched him, her mild shock at the story made obvious by her raised brows and pursed lips.

"Take it from me, he is not often quick with apologies, but he eventually will. It may just take some time," Kili offered with a simper, as he lit up his pipe. "He is quite bull headed."

Hana nodded quietly, as she planned her answer. "Yes. Damn near impossible."

Thorin went to bed earlier than the other three, retiring to his bedroom after bidding his nephews goodnight. He bowed his head to Hana without saying a word. She responded with a silent nod. Fili and Kili were given the floor or the bench under the front smithy window to sleep on. Hana had been talking with them both in depth about differences between Longbeards and Stiffbeards.

"Stiffbeards are a bit more uncoordinated, in case you wondered," said Fili with a matter of fact expression on his face. "Their aim with an axe is more…erm, (he wiggled his right fingers to emphasize his point) broad. They are not nearly as precise as Longbeards."

Kili smirked. "That might have something to do with where they dwell. Northward, extremely. They spend their entire existence in the bitter cold."

Hana chuckled. "So should I ever meet one in combat, be ready to duck, lest I get accidentally clobbered, is that what you're saying?"

Kili grinned. "If you want to stay alive, yes," he replied. "They can still inflict damage. That's fair advice for an unfriendly meeting with any Dwarf."

Soundlessly, Hana walked in to Thorin's room a couple of hours later. He was fast asleep, his long, deep sighs did not stir as she delicately climbed in to the bed. She remained awake for a few hours, her back was to him as she lay on her side, facing left towards the wall at first. She knew she would not be able to continue long on this standoff of words and tempers with Thorin. The burden weighed heavily on her heart, and she inwardly hoped it weighed on him as well.

Thorin and Hana decided to share the news of their intension to marry two weeks after the first full moon of Darûn Adùruth, three weeks after he presented her with his mother's ring. It was another cold night on which the gathering took place, a few days following Fili and Kili's latest visit. They were headed to the mead hall. They had planned for the meeting and set out about an hour and a half before sunset. Thorin and Hana walked against a whipping, frigid wind, the air sharp like pinching fingernails tugging on the thin top skin of a hand. The two were heavily bundled, Thorin carried a lantern, Hana carried a well-wrapped parcel of bread. Their free hands joined at first, more for balance and support than out of affection. The lantern Thorin carried provided them with some welcome, necessary light to navigate through the woods. Hana was glad she decided to wrap the hood of her cloak in place; it kept her head extra warm. She and Thorin walked past the seemingly endless rows of whispering pines. Their steps were earnest and sure, the purposeful, monotonous steps of two beings trying to reach their destination.

"C'mon," Thorin said insistently as Hana began to lag a couple of paces behind. He sounded mildly irritated, but Hana was not going to suddenly increase her stride because of it. She was moving at a brisk, steady pace.

"I am," she answered sharply. They had been on the brink of an argument since earlier in the day.

"Still cross with me, I see?" Thorin grumbled, as the setting sun cast a bright pink haze over Hana. He faced her and waited until they were touchable distance from each other. Hana did not answer at first. She scowled slightly, and her eyes widened for a second in wordless reaction, then resumed their usual shape. Despite her irritated state, she was remarkably beautiful in the hazy pink dusk light.

"I am not in the mood to discuss it currently," she replied, shaking her head and eyeing him. Her answer was unconvincing. "I will be cross if you ask me again. And you needn't wait for me, you know. If I am walking too slowly for you, go on ahead. I know where the hall is. I can meet you there." Hana's tone conveyed her annoyance with him, better than her answer. Thorin stretched his hands out on either side of him, palms upward, with a jerk of his wrists.

"Well that would be a callous move, would it not? Leaving you to go on ahead?" His voice echoed his mounting annoyance, his lips pursed, his chest rose with agitated breaths.

Hana's right arm hung beside her; she flexed her right hand as a sort of self-calming gesture. Her left hand braced the pack slung over her shoulder. "It seems a much more attractive option for me at the moment." Hana said, bristling. Thorin had been irritable the entire day. His insistence was getting on her nerves and she needed a break from him, before she lost her temper. She would be damned if he tried to hurry her along, they were making good time. Apparently, Thorin thought otherwise.

" I do not wish to slow you down," said Hana, as she tried to remain purposefully, almost maddeningly calm. She was breathing slowly and flexing her fingers in her gloves. She met his eyes, raised her brows indignantly, but she also looked a bit hurt.

"Go. Just go on. I am a big girl, you know. I have been walking though woods alone most of my life." Hana was growing increasingly irritated. She wanted to slap him some empathy into him, and an apology out.

"Yes, I know you have, Hana you have made that clear, often," he snapped.

Hana was quite close to coming back with a nasty reply, but exerted restraint.

Thorin watched her with a twinge of remorse and hints of shame, but did not give in to it. He too, appeared visibly hurt. "Very well. I…I will see you at the hall in three quarters of an hour."

Hana nodded. "Fine."

Off Thorin went, trodding ahead of her, not leaving her sight. She could still make him out ahead of her for the remainder of the walk, a small dark figure against day lit woods. She also saw him turn around twice to ensure she was still behind him.

When Hana approached the mead hall shortly after, it was completely dark. There was already thick smoke puffing languidly from its chimney. A warm fire, excellent, she thought. She shifted the pack slung over her sore left shoulder to her right, and hammered the door with an impatient knock. Heavy boot steps sounded louder as they approached the door, and a familiar voice asked Hana:

"I have teeth but no mouth

I speak and make no sound

I can eat meat but I cannot drink wine."

Hana frowned, the riddle was unexpected. She took a step back from the still closed door, as if some unseen hand was reaching out to grab her. Hana leaned her right arm against the wall of the building, her fist balled up in concentration. She went over the riddle in her head, stumped, and could not for the life of her think of an answer. She offered the only answer in her head she could think of at the moment, but knew it was wrong. The frustration made her antsy.

"For goodness sake, I don't know!" Hana waved her right forearm in frustration. She was not in the mood for such trifles. "Thorns?"

The Dwarf's voice on the other side of the door shouted rather gleefully. It was as if the owner of the voice could see her struggling to answer, and was enjoying it. "No!" Try again, lass."

Hana did not want to draw the interrogation out. Her voice was strained with audible aggravation, the wind was picking up, and the outside temperature had dropped since night had fallen.

"It's Hana. Can I have some time to think about it and answer later?" She tried to make her plea sound as dignified as possible.

There was no answer at first. Hana thought she could hear low, muffled sound of conferring voices from inside. Then the voice at the door felt like being benevolent. "You said thorns, right? Keep thinking along those lines. You are quite close."

Hana forcefully leaned her back against the wall. "I don't know…I don't know….I…..a knife?" She was tired of guessing. If it was this difficult to gain entry, Hana was ready to surrender and walk home.

Then the door opened slowly, amidst a grating squeak of hinges. Nori was on the other side, watching her with his usual beady-eyed suspicion. The others he must have discussed her admittance with were walking back to the long table and the warm hearth.

"Damîth, lady Hana," said Nori, as if he had been coached to be on his best behavior. He bowed low, respectfully. He eyed her dubiously. "You were close. The answer was a blade."

Hana looked at Nori skeptically. "What was the point of that nonsense? Are you expecting any other visitors to show up tonight?" She asked, with an air of sauciness.

Nori laughed. "It has to be asked for security reasons. And no, we are not."

"If you need someone to vouch for my entry, ask Thorin," she said with a noted edge in her tone and not returning the greeting. She took off her pack and hung it beside the door, not making immediate eye contact with anyone. "He's already here is he not? Somewhere?"

Nori looked at Hana as if mildly affronted and confused at the same time. "Aye, he's here. And he's been waiting for you." Hana scanned the inside of the hall, to some nods of greeting and reserved gestures of acknowledgment. She did not take time to identify everyone there, yet. The one she was looking for appeared from the back of the room, with slow, pounding footsteps and a glower. Thorin glanced at no one as he met Hana in front of the door, hands at his sides and agitated, face looked as unsettled as the sky before the break of a summer thunderstorm. The way he usually was when vexed and about to discuss an urgent matter.

"I'd like to speak with you a moment," he said to her curtly. Thorin did not seem particularly angry, just stern. He motioned for her to walk aside into a smaller side room to the left of the main hall door, stood with his back to the door with forced politeness, and followed her.

Hana did not move with an obvious hurried manner, but did not drag her feet, either. They both convened in the side room, and Thorin closed the door. The room was small, there was no fire, and a small rectangular table stood in the center. Hana quickly surmised it was a room used as a storage area and privy chamber, as she spied what was undoubtedly a chamber pot in the corner. Fortunately, it did not smell as if it had been recently put to use. The floor was dusty, and there was a noticeable draft.

Thorin stood behind the closed door, they faced each other. He eyed her with a charged mixture of irritation, offense and hurt.

"I was going to tell the others tonight, about us. About our engagement. Is that alright or have you reconsidered?" He asked.

A brief moment of silence between them ensued, as both pondered his question.

They stood close enough their elbows touched. Hana's arms were folded resolutely as well, and she took a deep breath to maintain her composure. She kept her voice measured and calm, at first.

"Firstly, I am not overly fond of your tone at this moment. I was going to ask you if you had reconsidered asking me." She was trying very hard control her temper.

Thorin's eyes widened in apprehension.

"I have not changed my mind. But I was hurt by what you said earlier, Thorin. By your recent behavior towards me as well. Can you blame me?"

"You said on our journey here you weren't in the mood to discuss it! Aklâf, Hana!" he sputtered in interruption, his voice grew louder with each word. Hana raised her hand up. She knew that their voices were close to yelling and could probably be heard on the other side of the door, but did not care.

Thorin looked off to his right for a moment, and then exhaled testily before he spoke again. Neither of them wanted to make a scene. He took a few breaths to calm himself.

"I don't think this is the time or place to discuss this, there's not much privacy. Would you agree?"

Hana tightened her lower jaw. "I would, yes."

Both lingered in the tense silence until Thorin broke it. "Fine. We shall discuss this later, at home. For this evening, let us try our best to be civil with one another. Agree?" Thorin was fixated on the alert, green eyes boring into his.

Hana relaxed her jaw, then looked him straight in the eye. "Very well."

There were some latecomers to the meeting. Balin, Dwalin, Bofur, and Bifur were already there. Dwalin, stationed beside the large blazing fireplace, made eye contact with Hana and raised his large tankard to her in acknowledgement, then motioned for her to come over to him. Balin met Thorin just past the main door with an embrace and quiet conversation, inaudible to the rest of the crowd in the loud bustle of the mead hall. The hall was thick with the smells of pipe smoke, the burning hearth, spirits, roasting meat, and the distinctive combination of male sweat and cold earth. Dwalin's facial expression did not change noticeably, but Hana thought she could detect a hint of a smile beneath his beard when he spotted her.

"How are you tonight, lass?" He asked, in his usual bellowing tone, contrasting starkly with the upbeat nature of his question.

Hana was rather surprised by the question, but saw that he was making an effort as best he could. "I'm very well, thank you, Dwalin," she lied.

He took an empty pint sized tankard from a table beside them, Identical to his own, and filled it from a substantial sized barrel. Dwalin handed Hana the drink without batting an eyelash.

Hana looked at the frothy substance in her hand. "Spirits? Now? Not to be a killjoy, but isn't this off limits for a while longer?"

"Not completely off limits, just excessive consumption of it," he replied, rationalizing. "We only have the two kegs of ale, see. We might not even finish it all. Drink up, lassie," he said, as he merrily clinked her tankard with hard enough force to spill a bit of both their drinks. Hana would have if she hadn't been holding on tightly. "I have a feeling tonight is a night to celebrate."

Hana was about to protest that she could not possibly consume that much ale, but simply met Dwalin's eyes with a returned smile, and brought the tankard to her lips after saying, "To friends."

"Aye, indeed. To friends, old and new," he replied, drinking to her toast.

The ale was for once a welcome distraction. Hana felt more relaxed and Thorin saw her from across the room laughing as Dwalin introduced her to Ori, the youngest looking Dwarf there. Ori had the obvious wide-eyed, fresh face of innocence, one Hana did not see on any other Dwarf. Hana surmised he was even younger than Kili and Fili. The young Dwarf was soft spoken, when he did speak. Instead of a tankard of ale, he held a small cup of spiced tea in his hands.

"Ori here's the youngster. But don't let his naive look fool you. He's a good shot when needed," Dwalin said, clapping him hard on the back and spilling a good bit of his tea. Ori wiped the front of his tunic, as his annoyance was all too obvious. "You are a good shot too, are you not, Hana?" He laughed at himself and threw back another gulp. He had definitely been loosened up and the spirits had made him more jovial. Hana wondered how much he had drunk up to this point.

"I'm alright." She smiled as the ale touched her lips.

"Hogwash. I've heard you are better than alright." His voice got louder. He tried to get up off his stool, and stood up wobbly. He raised his right pointer finger in the air, as the elder making a wise point would, and waved it a few seconds before speaking.

"Well, thank you. I appreciate that," Hana said calmly.

"Don't mention it, lassie. And now, if you'll excuse me, I am going outside, as I feel… quite sick." He then pointed at the door, and walked out.

"That was his third ale, you saw him drinking," said Ori quietly. "I have been telling him to slow down!"

"His third? So much for restraint," she scoffed. "I suppose someone should check on him," Hana offered.

"Aye, perhaps," Ori said. "He might be out there for a while." Hana groaned and followed Dwalin out the door, as Ori did not readily volunteer.

She saw him stumbling toward the woods and caught up with him, steading his right arm. Hana directed him to some obliging bushes and he promptly vomited.

"Oh lass, I…(he heaved more into the brush)…I…go back inside. I don't…don't want you to see this."

Hana rolled her eyes upward, unrattled. "I have seen much worse. I came out here to make sure you don't pass out or hurt yourself."

She had barely finished the sentence when she saw Thorin approach them, his face concerned for his friend. "You can go back in, I will take it from here," Thorin said. "If he has to be carried back inside, I will be the one to do it. I'll have to."

Hana was about to say something, but just shook her head to herself and went back inside. "Do you want me to send help?" she asked.

Thorin frowned. "No, thank you for asking."

About thirty minutes later Thorin and Dwalin walked back in. Dwalin was flushed and sheepish, and nodded dismissively as his friend spoke to him in a low whisper by the door. Thorin cast his eyes in every direction, then strode to the front of the hall and looked round until everyone quieted. Balin shushed the persistent chatterers, then Thorin eyed Hana and motioned for her to come and stand with him. Hana eyeballed him and walked to where he stood, and he addressed them all.

"My friends and kin, you have all been called here tonight for a few reasons. Many thanks to you who came. I come before you all, asking for your acceptance and support. I do not ask you for your trust, I know that I have it; I trust each and every one of you here in this hall tonight.

Firstly, I want to make a personal announcement. As most of you know, I was most fortunate to meet Hana some time ago, and we have forged a bond that began as friendship." Thorin looked at the floor as he paused, his face softened. "It has grown beyond that." Thorin looked at Hana as she stood beside him, her face flushed and blushing. He smiled a smile of gentle fondness, with traces of grateful sentiment. Even though they were still mad at each other, they managed to relish this moment and take some joy in the declaration. She looked down at her feet nervously, then abruptly back at the audience on his next statement. She shifted her weight to her right as her knees felt like jelly. "It is with great pride that I ask you all to be witnesses to our marriage, which will take place some time in the spring. The exact date of the wedding has yet to be determined, but we will notify you. It will happen not long after the end of Darûn Adùruth."

The Dwarves watching them watched Hana and Thorin earnestly, amid blinks, mouths agape, bewilderment and growing grins. Balin smiled back at Hana, eyes twinkling. Bofur leaned over to Bifur and assumedly repeated what Thorin had just told them, as Hana could lip read the word "marry". Fili elbowed his brother and discreetly held an expectant hand out to him. Kili grudgingly fished a couple of coins out of his cloak and pressed them in Fili's outstretched palm, as the winner of the bet grinned smugly at his sibling.

The second order of business is a matter of security. I have heard from more than source and seen with my own eyes, evidence of Orc sightings in the area. Hana has seen suspected Warg tracks, as have I, and I know some of you have as well." Thorin nodded to his audience as Dwalin raised his hand after the word "you."

"We must be ever vigilant in our watch against those who would see us harmed, or eliminated. It may be a sign of a stronger Orc presence in this region, in which case, extreme action may be justified. It may just be a few deserters. Whatever the case, if detected, they must be driven out and vanquished before they can inflict harm."

Thorin's pause was met with nervous mumble and chatter from the audience. He surveyed each face, now showing concern.

"Let us not assume this means an imminent threat, or even war, yet. But warfare, terror…those are their specialties. And we will meet those dangers head on, as we always have." He shook his head decidedly on the last sentence, to some silent nods from the others. "I ask that we all…keep each other well informed."

There were some verbal acknowledgements to the end of the speech, and quick private discussions amongst the Dwarves before everyone dispersed to continue with the evening's meal.

After Thorin's address and the discussion of Orcs were finished for the night, it was agreed no one should leave until the morning. Everyone was full and tired, and there was also a sense of unease after the discussion. No one made any move to leave the hall that night. Hana was not overly thrilled at the prospect of sharing an open room hall with several other Dwarves, all of who would be a snoring chorus before long. Thorin reassured her.

"We can take that side room, if you like," he offered. "It is fairly warm in there, plus you will not have to worry about anyone stumbling over you in the night. Or the sound of snores," He smirked sourly to himself, feebly attempting humor. "Well, I guess that is not entirely true. It is only me you have to worry about stumbling over you. And my snores."

Hana narrowed her eyes slightly at him. "I'll take one over several," she quipped.

They made themselves as comfortable as they could in the room. It was quite small, barely half of the size of Thorin's forge, and dusty. Hana preferred it, though, if given the chance to sleep next to one Dwarf instead of the entire group, she would take it. Thorin left her for a few minutes, presumably to converse with the others, and came back with a face that echoed his racing thoughts. He gingerly shut the door behind him and with timid reserve, handed Hana a blanket. It looked old and a bit tatty on the ends, but was heavy and felt warm. It also smelled fairly clean. Hana accepted it.

"That is for you," he said. "My nephews actually sent it with me, they gave it up for you. Said they owed you one," he managed an echo of a weary smile.

She unfolded it and nodded approvingly as she felt the corners. "It is most welcome," she answered.

They brushed their teeth as best they could, and Hana let her hair loose. The roots were sore as they relaxed. Hana was about to crouch down on the cleanest patch of floor she could find, until Thorin interjected.

"Wait, zâyunguh," he said softly. Hana was a bit surprised he called her that. He laid his heavy fur lined cloak down, and smoothed it out with his massive hands. "There you are," he stepped back to let her crawl onto it.

"I would rather you slept on that then the bare floor. Well done, by the way."

Hana brows arched, tired but surprised. "What do you mean?"
Thorin took off his boots. "You managed to find a rare patch of floor here not coated in dust or dirt."

Hana watched as he neatly laid his boots beside hers on the floor. "I lucked out, I guess."

Thorin also left on the rest of his clothes, blew out the lone candle in the room and crawled next to Hana on the fur, leaving at least a foot of distance between. He let out a protracted sigh. They both lay completely silent in for a moment. The sound of two Dwarf voices yelling nonsense at each other in Khuzdul streamed through the door.

"What are you doing?" Hana queried, as she noticed Thorin was not covered in the blanket. He was dumbfounded.

"What do you mean?" he asked, stumped. Thorin's face read with complete befuddlement, still discernible in the dark.

"Oh, for goodness' sake. Here," she threw half of it over him, barely covering him.

"I was letting you have it," he replied. "And giving you a bit of space."

"Well I am sharing it, come closer." Thorin obeyed and moved closer to her, so they were touching. Hana reached in the dark for him.

"Closer than that, heavens, I do not have any diseases," she grumbled, as her mate moved close enough for her liking. "There." He was up against her back, and Hana promptly felt warmer.

"Are you somewhat comfortable?" He voice cut through the darkness. They were facing away from one another.

Hana was just happy to be off her feet. "Yes. I hope you are too."

"Many thanks for tending to Dwalin earlier."

Hana shifted under the covers. "It was no problem."

Neither of them said anything further before falling asleep.

The morning began quietly. Hana dressed herself and stepped out in the main area of the mead hall. The sun had been up for about a half an hour. A few of the Dwarves were awake; those who were not would soon be stirring. The quiet of the morning was broken up by deep sleeping breaths and snores, which Hana could not hear through the night. The heavy, slow breaths of Thorin asleep beside her drowned out every other sound. Hana walked some ways away from the hall to answer the morning call of nature. On her stroll back, she marveled at the brilliance of the early morning sky, the illuminated clouds. A pair of flitting robins hopped on the ground to her right, a hopeful sign of impending spring as they searched for their breakfast. They would be nesting soon.

Thorin and Hana both took their breakfast at the hall table with Balin, as they others were in various states of waking and beginning the day. Thorin sat beside Hana, both were opposite Balin as a platter of bread and rather dry looking cheese was passed round.

"So when is the big day, if I may ask?" the white haired Dwarf queried, as he followed his words with a small bite of bread. Hana's eyes, which had been looking at nothing in particular in the direction of the door, were suddenly alert on him. She was not expecting wedding questions first thing in the morning.

Thorin took a loud, long gulp from his tankard, glanced down at the vessel, then at Balin before answering.

"Early spring," he said. He paused with a reflective sigh. "Probably after the second fortnight in spring. We will let you all know."

Balin eyed Thorin, then Hana. "Did you both agree on this time?" he asked, as his questioned ended on a higher, inquisitive note. Hana nodded and finished a mouthful of cheese before replying.

"We did. Spring is the desired time for us both. I do not want to wait longer, and I do not think he (she tilted her head toward her intended) does."

Thorin was plain faced and held a crust of bread between his thick fingertips. "I most certainly do not."

Balin nodded to himself as he took in their answers and held the handle of his own tankard thoughtfully. "Spring. Aye, yes, a good time for it. Would you like me to tell anyone?"

Thorin's eyes focused resolutely on his friend. "Only those you would deem trustworthy," he answered. "And only Longbeards."

"Very well," Balin said. He took a slow gulp from his drink and smiled at them. He even chuckled. "What a feast this will be."

Both Hana and Thorin had finished their food and managed smiles through their mutual annoyance with one another. "I supposed you had better get to planning it soon," Balin said.

"We will," said Hana emphatically. She turned to her right, where Thorin sat, for support. "Aye, we will," he replied. "Much to do before then."

Both Hana and Thorin agreed not to argue until the returned to the smithy. They bade the Dwarves a farewell shortly after ending the morning meal, and promised to be on their guard while embarking on the trek through the woods. Dwalin asked them if they wanted to take ponies back, but they declined. The trip back took them about two hours on soggy ground as they walked together in silence. The sun was bright and promising, however, it was quite tense a journey as the only sounds between them were their own footsteps and the sounds of the forest. It was not long after they walked into the smithy, set down their packs, and hung up their cloaks that tensions began to flare.

Thorin did not even take time to light the fire. He turned and faced Hana, his back to the fireplace, arms folded with what Hana assumed was resolute, wordless denial of wrongdoing. Hana realized it, but went about pouring herself a cup of water from the pitcher on the table. It tasted old, but she was so thirsty she drank it.

"So…are we going to resolve this now?" Thorin said impatiently.

Hana set her cup down on the table. She stood beside it, rested her right hand on the tabletop to prepare herself, and then looked Thorin directly in the eye.

"You owe me an apology," she replied bluntly.

Thorin pursed his lips together and heaved stressed breaths. "Can I explain myself first?"

Hana nodded.

"I know you think I was furious with you. I was displeased because of wasted hours of work, and no profit to show for it. I take great pride in my craft, Hana."

"I know you do!" Hana shouted. Both their voices went from unraveling calm to shouting immediately. "Why would you ever assume otherwise!"

Thorin waved his right hand abruptly. "I was frustrated because of it! I was angry because of the way that man spoke, to both of us! I realize I spoke you to harshly, I regretted it soon after!"

"Well it was NOT my fault he acted that way! You made me feel like it was all MY fault!" She yelled back. Hana felt her face turn red and hot with her surging temper.

Thorin blinked his eyes shut and then opened them as wide as she had ever seen his eyes open.

"That was NOT my intention! I know it was not your fault! What makes me the most upset is when you are determined not to speak to me. I would rather you shout at me than not speak to me at all. I am sorry! I AM SORRY, HANA!" He bellowed. Hana saw his eyes had glassed over, laden with anguish. Hers were welling up. He stepped forward and grabbed Hana firmly on the upper parts of both arms. He held her mere inches away from him, and did not hurt her.

They stood, staring at each other. Hana's knees felt wobbly again, and her palms sweaty. Neither of them needed further words to express their contrition. They were both so maddeningly stubborn.

"I swear to you I will never tell you to bite your tongue again. I will never ignore your word again. Mahal, strike me dead if ever I do."

They embraced tightly, Thorin held her so close she felt his breath on her neck as he buried his face in the right side of her neck. His nose and lips pressed into her clavicle as he wept.

"Forgive me," he pleaded. "I will support you evermore."

She raked her fingers through his hair as his face remained tucked into her neck. Both of them were panting, like steaming teakettles whistling shrilly to be relieved of a heated stovetop.

"I'm sorry, Thorin. Forgive me…for walking out on you, for my temper. I…I'm sorry I cut you off. I often feel like more of a hindrance than help. Bless you for still wanting to marry this." She sniggered sarcastically.

Thorin pulled his face upward and looked directly at her. He held Hana's cheeks in his cold hands.

"You had best believe I do."

His arms slipped around her waist, hers around his neck. "I can't promise there will not be any more arguments, zâyunguh," he said.

"Nor can I. But let us agree to resolve them, instead of stewing. I am guilty of stewing. I will work on it," she said.

Thorin's brows upstretched. "You are marrying a Durin. Durins hold grudges worse than anyone. But yes, I will agree not to stew….long." He managed a hint of a smile.

They held one another tightly. "Fair enough," Hana said, as she leaned into his chest.