Another Road (Whichever Way We Go)
Chapter 3: Falling For You
Author's Note: My sincerest apologies for being gone for so long. But on the bright side I just need to edit the next chapter plus I have written some on the next chapter of Through Their Eyes. I'm so sorry! I included a little of what happened previously to help you on your way :D
I want to thank katnor, luvgirl101, SherlockAvenger, kimberlybluebelle, Dalonega Noquisi and yorushihe for your lovely views. They make it all worth it. My dearest kimberlybluebelle, thank you for letting me know that it was okay to take some time off and get my bearings back. I needed it, I think, and I believe that my writing has come one marvellously since I last spoke with you.
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I glanced back to where Azog gripped the defenceless prince and hopelessness flooded my veins as Azog drew back his bladed arm, ready to deliver a fatal stab. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a jagged blade appear over the vulnerable flesh of Kier's throat.
My hand ghosted over the empty sheaths that normally held my knives. But they were lost and I had only my sword.
I had to make a choice. I was so close to both yet they were so far apart. I knew I could only save one. Only one, and the other would be sentenced. By my hand. I would have killed them just as surely as the beast who wielded the blade.
And as I ran towards Azog the Defiler and the struggling, helpless prince the only though in my mind was;
He has a brother too.
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Azog the Defiler was neither blind nor deaf. He therefore could not miss me charging at him with my sword held aloft and a battle cry on my lips. Perhaps not the stealthiest approach, but I was only halfway towards the prince and the orc when I realised the chance of me actually reaching them was slimming with each hairsbreadth of a second.
In my irrational, highly panicked mind I theorised that screaming your head off always seemed to get people's attention, regardless of whether you wanted it or not. Knowing my luck however, the one time I yelled like a fool to actually get someone's attention, it wouldn't actually work.
As soon as the Pale Orc turned his great, scarred head towards me I wished that my luck had continued to fail.
However that tiny portion of time when his menacing blue eyes shifted from his current target to me was all the hesitation I needed to cross that last little portion of distance. Azog's eyes widened as I threw myself at him with a snarl that would have made a rampaging badger proud. He dropped the prince on reflex and raised his artificial forearm to block the downward arc of my sword.
While he could stop my blade from cleaving his great, brutish skull, there was nothing he could do to stop my momentum. I bulled into him and he grabbed my upper arm in a vice-like grip. He shifted to one side and I got a spectacular view of the sheer drop off the side of the watchtower. Growing up and living my whole life in a mountain home filled with mines and meandering walkways across bottomless ravines, I had long since gained a reasonably good tolerance for heights. My tolerance did not extend to being swung towards the edge of a tower by someone who was going to drop me the first opportunity he got.
For that was exactly what that beast of an orc did. Rather than allow my momentum to carry me a little ways before I managed to turn myself about and rejoin the fight, Azog added his own forced and propelled me forward towards the sheer edge.
I realised what was going to happen the moment he shifted and grasped my arm; it was the logical sequence of events to follow my own actions. What the orc chieftain didn't count on was me grabbing a hand hold on the bracer of his single forearm. Years of crafting, sparring, shooting and climbing had given me a good grip and there was no way I was going and not taking this beast, the epitome of evil, with me.
My grip on Azog, who had already released me, tightened as I felt my momentum fight against his mass. The Defiler's powerful throw meant that momentum won out. He was yanked forward, tripping but managing to retain his feet. I fear he may never have fallen at all if not for the dazed prince who got to his hands and knees in an altogether convenient if not unfortunate place. Azog stumbled into prince's side, his legs getting cut out from underneath him, and over the side we went.
We were falling, falling, falling, the Beast, the Prince and Me.
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Azog roared deafeningly like a wounded bear. He flailed his limbs and I had enough sense left in me to kick away form him, though not without his bladed arm ripping through the leathers I wore beneath my plates and slicing into shoulder. I yelped, still tumbling through the air. I caught a glimpse of the ground as I spun, all the colours and definition leeched out like a water-stained painting.
I screamed. What else did you actually expect me to do under those circumstances? There's not really a lot of things you can do to stop yourself from hurtling towards the ground when you're spiralling through open air. That's why I snapped my eyes shut too; I didn't want to see the hard stone that would break my body into a thousand itty-bitty squishy pieces.
The elders would say during funeral rites that one day we would all return to the stone from whence our people came. I never thought that I would be thinking back on those words in such a literal sense.
Looking back I sometimes like to think that it was my exceptional set of lungs that saved our lives, but I highly doubt that was the case, no matter how impressive my screaming may actually have been.
Did I stop screaming the moment something immense wrapped around one of my flailing legs and caused my trajectory to change? No, I most certainly did not! I had seen those huge damn bats that were flying around, tossing people through the air. My instinctive assumption then was that one of those ugly critters had snatched me out of the air for an easy meal.
I for one certainly wasn't going to take being eaten lying er… upside down.
I wrenched my eyes open, snapped my mouth shut and curled my body, fighting against the lack of flex the armour provided. I wriggled and glared at the yellow-scaled and heavily taloned foot that grasped my leg. Then realisation hit me and I could do little but wonder how hard I had hit my head earlier.
My first thought on seeing the being that had saved my life? 'That's a big chicken.'
To be fair though, I was swinging around upside down as the thing flew, providing me with a rather unflattering view of its feathered behind.
"Mahal's beard!" I blurted out when the absurdity of it all hit me upside the head with all the force of a smithy's hammer.
"You are still alive," an impossibly deep voice stated without a hint of emotion as though it really didn't make any difference whether I was alive or not. The eagle cocked his head to stare back at me for moment so that I saw a single, immense golden-amber eye and a hooked beak that could likely have swallowed me whole. I resisted the urge to tell the bird to watch were he was flying.
"You could not notice from the terrible sound it was making?" a second voice barked, laughter evident in its tone. I whipped my head around to see a second eagle, lean with dark, tawny feathers coasting lazily beside us. The second eagle had his huge talons wrapped around the prince's torso, his head lolling in the confines of unconsciousness. I bit back a wave of jealousy, as ridiculous as it was; that looked so much more comfortable than being dragged backwards through the air by a single leg. Honestly, I felt as though my leg was going to tear off at the hip.
"Why am I upside down?" I yelled up to the eagle that was carrying me, the wind snatching at my words. A tremor ran through his body, once, twice, three times and then onwards. I realised after a brief moment of bewilderment and a jolt of terror at the thought that he was having a seizure of some sort and we were going to plummet to our deaths – I wasn't allowing myself a single moment to even consider exactly how high up we were –that the great eagle was laughing. At me. When he calmed sufficiently he spoke once more.
"You were squalling so loudly I thought perhaps you were a goblin."
"Gee, thanks," I replied dryly, not knowing if the eagle would be able to hear my sarcasm over the rush of the wind or not. I fought back the indignation that attempted to climb up my throat and leap out of my mouth in the form of scathing remarks and insults. It no longer escaped my notice that the eagle had hold of me in such a way that it would be incredibly easy for him to release me or even dash my body against the sheer side of the mountain. My mouth went dry at the mere thought.
"Look there!" Huh, apparently the prince was lucid once more. I glanced over at him and followed the direction of his pointing finger and intent gaze, nausea roiling in my belly from the motion of flying.
I squinted. The time spent upside down had caused a significant amount of blood to rush to my head. That, combined with the high altitude and the sheer distance over which I could potentially fall making it a little difficult for me to concentrate.
"Lord Dain?" I suggested as our eagles swooped high over the battlefield. I thought I recognised the style of fighting. As in big, angry and hammer-wielding. He was in the centre of a ring of Iron Hills grey armour, hemmed in on all sides by orc forces. I wished to be down there with them, fighting amongst my own but I could not. There was somewhere else I had to be.
"Thorin!" The prince identified the person at the centre of my issues though I myself could not see him. "Eagles! You must take me to him!"
Without a single word spoken between them, the two eagles adjusted their trajectories in tandem. I craned my neck and spine backwards and managed to see the base of Raven Hill but no more than that.
"Kíli!" The golden prince yelled, his voice full of fear. It was the same fear that had echoed through me the moment I had heard Kier cry out – no, don't think about Kier! Focus on the then and there. You made your decision. Live with it.
"What's going on!?" I called out frantically, unable to see what was happening that was causing such a stir. The eagles had hastened their pace considerably.
"Goblin scouts," was all my eagle hissed, his tone sending shivers all up and down my spine and making me doubly glad he had realised I was no goblin. The other eagle, the one I thought to be younger was more helpful.
"The dwarf king battles against many with few," Okay, so he wasn't much more helpful at all, but I could draw my own conclusions, chilling though they were.
"We must help them!" The prince demanded. I agreed wholeheartedly with him.
"Oh, we will," Was the sinister promise that echoed from the mouth of my carrier. I was getting the impression that my eagle was a very warlike bird. Not that I was complaining at all, for he had save my life most graciously.
I did, however, mind what he did next.
My eagle angled forward and furled his wings, tucking them close to his sides and causing us to dive towards the ground faster than anything had any reason to go. The wind whipped by, tearing my screams from my throat before they even had a chance to form. Before the howling wind rushed by too fast for me to pick up any sounds whatsoever, I had the fine opportunity to hear the prince yell out "No! Please don – aah!"
He sounded about as keen on flying as I was. That is to say that dwarves are meant to keep their feet firmly on or underneath the ground!
I wanted to shut my eyes like a frightened child as the ground hurtled by beneath my, drawing nearer with every passing second. But I did not and as a result the wind lashed my eyes, drawing tears from them that streaked back into my hairline and my fear grew with each shuddering pulse of my heart. Within moments we were close enough to the earth that I curled myself up around my ensnared leg, praying the eagle didn't misjudge and smear against the uneven, rocky terrain. Then the jutting rocks gave away to a courtyard and that was where the eagle dropped me.
The moment I first heard the screeches of goblins the eagle released its grip on my leg and I plummeted – for the third time that day – like a stone towards the back-breaking ground.
My shoulders hit the ground first with a horrible thud coupled with a grating sound and something that sounded suspiciously like a crack opening up in the back of my armour. After that my arse smashed into stone and then my feet touched down for a mere moment as I tumbled forward quite unglamorously.
"You alright?" I was asked as I stopped rolling, sliding a little more before just sprawling on my back. I may have muttered something in response but really I was too busy flipping to my knees and expelling the contents of my stomach on the icy ground. My hands scrabbled at a jutting stone as the world tilted epically around me.
It was perhaps the quickest vomit of my life for a goblin ran towards me without hesitation, shrieking with a curved knife held high. I pushed myself up and stumbled back, spitting and staggering as the world continued to flip on its axis. I readied myself for fist-to-face contact but it never got to that point. Instead the goblin slipped in my bile before there was a furious rush of air and he was gone. Quite literally gone.
Only to reappear but a moment later, its horrible, twisted little body slamming into a wall twenty paces away with a crunch that made my body shudder in sympathy. I flicked my eyes up in time to see the second eagle wheel about and plough through a group of goblins, talons extended like immense scythes.
Once again I was exceedingly grateful that my eagle had deduced that I was not a goblin. I had no interest whatsoever in being tossed through the air or shredded.
The eagle that had been carrying me, who I now saw was larger and darker in colour than his companion, dove into another congregation of goblins, grabbing three in one taloned foot and another in that savage, curved beak. His other foot stayed curled close to his body as it had been, I realised, the entire time he had been carrying me. I wondered if he was injured.
Injured or not, the eagle flung his enemies away with terrifying ferocity, bowling over half a dozen other who were fleeing with the remainder of their ilk. He alighted before us, his ear-splitting screech of triumph chasing the goblins as they fled over the broken walls, pushing and shoving and fighting amongst themselves in their haste to escape. He stood on one leg, the other still curved protectively beneath him, and fluffed his feathers in a self-satisfied manner, even as his wings were still held slightly aside from his body, the pose distinctly threatening.
Suffice it to say that I felt threatened.
Then the great eagle extended its curled foot towards me, allowing something long and shining to fall to the ground with a metallic clang. I stared, not at the object, but at the eagle.
"My sword! But-" There were many things that I wanted to ask but as I gave my mind the opportunity to catch up and even overtake my mouth the answers all became clear. He had caught my sword as I fell; realising he would need to set me down eventually and that I would be pretty much utterly defenceless without it. I wanted to ask if he had harmed himself whilst catching it, for the blade was sharp enough to shave with though it was certainly dulled after a day of fighting, but I didn't wish to offend my saviour. I had heard it said that the great eagles were proud creatures. Besides, with the way his foot remained tucked protectively beneath himself I thought that I had my answer.
"Thank you," I said simply to the eagle, grateful beyond measure.
The eagle merely inclined his head towards me, blinking his immense eyes once before ascending to join his brethren with a single mighty flap of his wings. Which, coincidentally, very nearly bowled me over.
"Fight on, my little friends!" the younger eagle cried out before also taking to the wing, his form diving off the side of Raven Hill to continue fighting the main orc forces below.
"Is everyone alright?" a gruff voice called out. I glanced to back to see four dwarves congregating with the sense of relief that on feels when their friends or kin have survived a near death experience. The golden prince, looking bedraggled but getting more bright eyed with each passing second, was roughly embraced by a young dwarf then but King Thorin who looked remarkably relieved to see his heir returned more or less intact.
I averted my eyes, feeling as though I was intruding on a private family moment. Common folk were not supposed to see royalty in emotional tatters. So I turned about and picked up my sword, spending an unnecessarily long period of time examining the blade for any recently applied defects but finding none, much to my relief.
"You save his life,"
Oh how I jumped! Most embarrassingly so! I wheeled about to face the king, remembering a moment too late to bow respectfully.
"Stop," he said swiftly, grasping my shoulders and pulling my upright. "You saved his life."
This he said again and I could finally hear the raw emotions that roiled within the timbre of his voice. The relief, relief so great as to nearly bring one chokingly to tears. I wished I was feeling that relief at that moment. That I was able to playfully cuff my brother 'round the ears for being a reckless fool, hug him, never let him out of my sight. I swallowed painfully passed the immense lump that clogged my throat. How was I supposed to explain to my parents, his wife, and his little daughter that I had made the decision to let him die?
"He is my prince, sire," I managed to get out, my voice absolutely hollow. The king frowned at the juxtaposition between the words and my tone, and whatever heartbroken look must have been evident on my face as I sagged in front of him. He must've sensed that there was more to this than I was telling, or that the prince himself even knew.
"He said there are still others on the tower..?" he left it open, providing me with a reason to reveal the cause of my apparently evident distress.
"My brother, sire," this time I managed no more than a hoarse whisper, tears causing his noble visage to swim before me. I did not, however, miss the way his pale face pinched.
"We will go after them," he vowed with mithril in his voice. "Azog's spawn and perhaps the monster himself may still be alive."
He turned back to the others.
"No!" I cried out, reaching out and grabbing his arm. He paused and looked back at me, eyebrow cocked questioningly. "Lord Dain sent us to protect you from Azog and his elites. There too many for us to fight alone, even if you take that dog out of the equation."
"What are you suggesting?" He looked at me with narrowed eyes as though he were unaccustomed to seeking advice outside of his ring of confidants.
"I-" I was saved from having to admit that I wanted to return to the main bulk of the fighting - thereby forcing Azog to approach us on our terms, on our chosen battlefield. If he lived, that was – by shrill shouting.
"That is not a dwarf," I noted absently as I watched the strange little creature run towards. He was panting heavily and very nearly collapsed upon reaching us. The others obviously knew this peculiar, large-footed creature for they were watching him heave for breathe intently. He was gesticulating wildly but not able to get any words out past his strained breathing.
"Master Baggins!" the King exclaimed with far too many layers of emotion in his voice for me to be able to make them all out clearly. Relief was definitely evident as well as something a little more bitter.
"Bilbo!" The dark-haired prince rushed forward and slapped the odd, beardless creature across the shoulders boisterously, nearly knocking him to his knees. My eyes narrowed at this show of camaraderie. It was unusual for a dwarf of any kind to act this way around one outside of our race, no matter how close they may have been.
"Orcs!" the strange fellow gasped out. We all stilled, looking at this Bilbo Baggins with wide eyes. Obviously we all knew that there were plenty of orcs about, but his fear was contagious and all-encompassing.
I think that we all became painfully aware that there was something else seriously wrong. However, rather than any one of us taking the initiative and asking what in Durin's fine name this stranger was talking about we all just stood there rather dimly, looking perturbed and waiting for him to drop the catastrophic news we all knew was coming, I know that I, for instance, was simply unwilling to here one more iota of bad news. I mean, surely things couldn't go from bad to worse to really messed up to 'hello armagedon!'
I realised that I was staring at the grey stone beneath my boots - stone that was so alike and yet so different from my homeland – paying no attention whatsoever to my surroundings. That was probably not the best idea, especially when I knew for certain there were more enemies around somewhere. Where and when were the only questions we had yet to learn the answers to. My inattentiveness, as it was, almost caused me to completely miss whatever Mister Bilbo Baggins was saying. Strange, I couldn't remember ever being so distracted in all of my life. Perhaps it was because ordinarily I would have my brother there to jab me in the ribs or vice versa. No! Nope, not thinking of that. Focus, damn it all!
"That other pale orc?" Bilbo was saying, his hairless cheeks still sucking in and out as he spoke and panted at the same time. "He's Azog's kid. He's brought another army of orcs from some mountain in the North.
Gundabad," I gaped openly at the small man. He stared back at me in bewilderment.
"Y-yes. How did you know?" he asked. Honestly, I was more curious about how he had any of this information as well as how he got past the madness of the clashing armies, I did not think him to be a scout and he certainly wasn't a warrior despite the small blade strapped to his hip. I'm not saying I thought him to be a spy either, not really.
"There's no where else they could have amassed such numbers in secret aside from Moria and those orc battalions were decimated during the battle of Azanulbizar," The King said. My other thought was that an army of orcs wouldn't have been able to travel from the gates of Moria without someone noticing.
"Gundabad is to the north and north is –" the youngest prince of Durin's line tilted his head back to look at the sky and slowly turned on the spot, frowning at the overcast sky that cut out any indication of the sun's position. I touched his arm fleetingly and gestured North which was to the other side of the Lonely Mountain.
"Gandalf said that the orcs would have to go over Raven Hill…" Bilbo Baggins informed us and I felt a cold shiver race all the way down my spine.
"Thorin," The other dwarf, another stranger to me who was a large brute with an immense warhammer and a half-shaved, half-tattooed scalp, spoke. "They would come down directly behind our forces."
"They'd also possess all the high ground they could possible want," The youngest prince piped up again. "They could rain arrows down the almost the entire length of the valley with ease."
Everyone was silent for one very long moment, just letting the insanity of everything soak in. We had already been losing against one orc army. Now there were two? I chewed my lip, having a feeling that some cosmic force was already trying to reunite my dear brother and I. Only I didn't want to die, not yet. I wasn't finished in this world.
That was the first time, I think, that the truth really ever came together in my mind, hitting my like an avalanche of rocks.
My brother was dead.
My brother was dead and I had let him die for a stranger, someone I'd never even seen before.
The earth suddenly disappeared from underneath my feet and I crashed towards the ground. Blackness washed over my vision, swamping me for a moment before dissipating like a morning mist.
I shook my head vigorously, trying and failing to free it from such thoughts, though I did manage to get some small degree of control back over my body. I became aware that my body didn't hurt nearly enough for me to have hit the ground. Someone had grabbed me and was continuing to hold me upright.
"Are you alright?" someone asked for the second or third time in a matter of minutes, his masculine voice humming in my ear with genuine concern. I blinked slowly and his face swam into focus, right next to mine. I hurriedly shoved him away with a snarl, struggling to maintain my feet as I was suddenly alone in my attempt to defy gravity.
"Get away from me," I hissed, not having the emotional strength to yell no matter how much I may have wanted to. I just felt… empty. I couldn't even feel the vindictiveness that I portrayed. Something on my face, in my eyes, caused the blonde prince to recoil like he'd been physically struck.
"What is it?" the King asked, watching me with narrowed eyes. I must have looked quite the sight. "Are you injured?"
"Only in my heart," I replied coldly, blinking back the mist that rose in my eyes. As though on cue a pang of vicious pain shot through my heart. I grabbed at the offending organ, hanging onto the metal of my chest plate feebly and willing the pain to abate and quickly. It did, slowly, but the ghost of it lingered like a rotten smell. I straightened my shoulders and smoothed my face. A mask of indifference that I had never worn sliding into place easily. "I am fine now. What shall we do about these orcs?"
Dubious looks were cast at me from all around but no one commented on my momentary break down. I focused my eyes on the King, pushing everything else to the back of my mind and a moment later the others did too. When no one's gaze remained on me I took the opportunity to let out a shaky breath and slumped to one side slightly.
"The only thing we can do is warn Dain and pull the forces back to the main gate of Erebor. That way they won't be able to fire upon us from here," The King was saying and I willed myself to concentrate, to focus on the task at hand.
"They still outnumber us ten to one," The blonde prince said, attempting to stifle the despairing note in his voice. He shook his head sorrowfully, eyes downcast. I felt my eyebrows rise; after all that we had endured – and their company had challenged a dragon, of all things! – he was choosing to be a pessimist.
"No brother, look!" I squinted at the younger prince who had slipped away from us at some point with not a one of us noticing, his patience having waned. Or perhaps it was just me who hadn't noticed his departure, in which case it would be completely understandable.
Adhering to his brother's summons, the blonde prince raced over to the other who stood at the very edge of the hill, looking down over the battlefield and the great waves that must have been crashing bellow.
"Sweet Mahal!" he cried before turning to myself, King Thorin and the other dwarf with a broad grin on his face, his dimples creasing his cheeks. "Uncle, I think we're winning!"
I couldn't read the expressions on the other's faces for I was too busy running ahead of them to the edge of the hill.
Sure enough, there were our soldiers down below, formed in an immense, armoured ring that was constantly moving and adapting, each soldier moving to the centre of the ring to gain a few moments of respite in turn. There were several groups who had not managed to return to the bulk of the army, all of whom had sheer rock faces or Erebor's ruined gates at their backs. My fellows from the Iron Hills perhaps numbered over hald of the remaining orcs and were slaughtering more of the foul grey-skins every second with a savage proficiency.
Then there were the Great Eagles of course, who swooped low over the battlefield and grasped orc filth in the their talons and immense beaks, throwing them high into the air or stone or into their own forces. Something huge, furred and ruthless ploughed through the ranks of the orcs though I could not see exactly what manner of beast it was.
Who cared? We were actually winning.
"We're winning," Bilbo Baggins echoed my exact sentiment breathily with a wonder-filled smile and a huge amount of relief that simply oozed from his being.
"So we are," King Thorin said, placing a hesitant hand on the little fellow's shoulder and shooting him a look that seemed so intensely apologetic that I felt embarrassed and ashamed for having witnessed it. But the strange little creature simply smiled at the King and it was such a wholesome smile, filled with goodness and forgiveness that I felt a pleasant wave of unidentifiable emotion wash through me.
Then a chilling shriek lanced through the air, freezing my heart solid in my chest.
There were goblins leering at us from the broken walls of the courtyard. The very same goblins that the eagles had routed and now they were backed by massive orcs. Gundabad orcs. They were each grinning, terrible, crooked grins filled with jagged fangs and surely it was for no good reason whatsoever. Then I saw that reason.
To take the path down from Raven Hill, to escape, we would have to get beyond the horde – nay, the army – of goblins and orcs that jeered fiendishly at us, rattling their weapons and armour in some kind of chilling death chant.
"That's not good," Mister Baggins gave a nervous little laugh as he realised that the path he had just ascended was now literally swarming with foul creatures keen on death and dismemberment. "Th- Thorin, what do we do?"
The beasts were advancing now, the twisted bodies of the goblins hopping and shuffling towards us with their malicious intent utterly and horrifyingly clear. The orcs lumbered behind, waiting for the fleet-footed goblins to rout us, to send us running. Then they would swoop in and destroy us. My mouth was dry, tasted like ash.
"Come on!" a gruff voice demanded and a large hand grabbed my forearm, yanking me backwards two steps before I finally managed to turn myself around and run under my own steam.
Only for the ground to vanish out from beneath me feet. Once again, I was falling spectacularly to my death. This was getting to be a bad habit.
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Can I just say I love you guys and I love the title of this chapter?
Just as an interesting little factoid, the eagles are Beleram carrying Fili and Baranthor's father carrying Khayl. If you haven't played LOTR: War in the North then I doubt you know who they are. If you do know who they are then know that I have painted Beleram as very young here.
May I please beg, down on my hands and knees and kissing your feet most reverently, for a review? I haven't had any in so very long. :)