Author's Note: So…a couple more pairings began to suggest themselves to me. I'll see how they spin out, shall I? Also – my apologies for the short shrift given to the actual BotFA. (And I'm changing it up anyway – let's hear it for alliances.) Also, I hope this isn't too repetitive, but I need Bella to tell them the basics. Stories and reactions…part 1?
"Will you tell us?" Fíli ventured the question. His eyes flickered to the glittering walls before steadying on her. "Will you tell us what happened?"
"Of course," she smiled. "My own brother might disown me if I didn't." She tossed a teasing smile at Ori. "The chronicles must be complete, mustn't they?" Everyone laughed, even her brother, and she squeezed Thorin's hand. "But first?" They fell silent, expressions open and expectant. "First of all, I'm afraid I'm a bit hungry. Please tell me we found food in all this mess?"
"Great Mahal!" Bombur exclaimed, his eyes going wide. "You haven't eaten!" He began to push his way out of the crowd and Tilda followed him, giggling as she went. "Stories must wait until she's been fed," he ordered. "Sit! I'll get some dinner organized."
People began moving, but Bella stared after him, her mouth open in surprise at the change in her friend. Thorin took advantage of Bombur's distraction to steal Bella back from his nephew. "No one argues with the royal chef when it comes to food," he told her as he steered her towards the table.
"Royal chef?" she repeated, turning to look at him. Then she held up a hand and shook her head. "No, no, wait. We must have the stories in some kind of order or we'll be getting the details all mixed up."
"Yours first," Ori insisted.
"Maybe I should hear yours first?" she suggested. Her voice gentled when his face fell. "Since I'm the only one who doesn't know it as yet."
"There was a big fight, lass," Dwalin shrugged.
She frowned at him. "Perhaps Balin or Ori could tell me?"
"We'll sit down first," Thorin laughed, holding out a chair for her. "If we start now, Bombur will interrupt when he returns with your dinner."
"And he'll fuss," Bofur agreed.
Bella did her best to repress a smile as Thorin sat down beside her despite Dori's annoyed huff. Her eldest brother took the seat on her other side, still frowning at the king. She looked away from the staring contest to see how the rest of the Company and their friends arranged themselves. Dwalin sat opposite Thorin at the far end of the table, placing himself between the door and the Company, while Ori sat to his left, journal and quill prepared and waiting for the tales to begin. Óin took the chair beside her brother and she decided he planned to read over Ori's shoulder if he missed some of the conversation. Glóin sat beside his brother, the two remaining close as they had been throughout most of the quest. A sturdy, if empty chair waited for Bombur on his left.
Tapping noises drew her attention and her eyes flickered to where Dori's fingers beat against the arm of his chair. She risked a glance at his face, but the concentration she found there told her now would not be the time to try interfering.
Instead she looked back to the table and found Dáin watching her through twinkling eyes. She had to bite her lip to keep from laughing as he shifted his gaze to the two males before rolling them at her. Kíli, sitting next to his kinsman, couldn't or wouldn't do the same. His chortling drew a fond look from the Elf beside him, though Tauriel managed to restrain her own reaction to a small smile…a smile that deepened as the girl beside her turned a laugh into a cough. Sigrid leaned over and whispered something to Fíli that Bella could not hear. The elder prince stroked his moustache braids, but Bella suspected he covered a smile. Then he shook his head and whispered a reply. Sigrid brought both hands up to her lips, pressing her fingers flat against her mouth as she closed her eyes. Her shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. The curious Hobbit raised her eyebrows at the Dwarf who gave her an innocent smile in return.
She shook her head – she would speak with him later – and continued her perusal of the table by returning to the opposite end.
Geira sat on Dwalin's right with Nori beside her. Bella narrowed her eyes. Nori appeared to be flirting with Geira…and Dwalin scowled at him. She made herself a mental note to speak with the female at a later time. What had been going on for the past week? Bofur's head kept moving as he turned his gaze between the three Dwarves beside him to the two Dwarves still locked in their silent argument. His eyes danced, but Bifur poked him in the side every time he opened his mouth to speak. How the grizzled Dwarf managed without looking, Bella could not guess. Bifur muttered something to Gandalf and the Wizard's little smirk broadened into a smile as he nodded in reply. Balin shook his head at both of them. They frowned, but then he made his own comment with a wry smile and had both of them chuckling.
Hmm…I had best start scheduling all these little talks I need to be having.
Tilda hurried back into the room, but came to a stop as the quiet took her by surprise. Wide eyes scanned the table before focusing on Thorin and Dori. She tilted her head as she watched them and Bombur appeared beside her. He did his own staring for a moment, taking in the scene. One hand waved to someone outside the door while he leaned down to whisper in the girl's ear. Tilda giggled and moved to the empty chair next to Dori. She scrambled into it, prompting the Dwarf to break away from his silent battle with Thorin in order to help her. She gave Bella a conspiratorial smile.
Clever girl. Bella glanced over to Bombur in time to catch his wink. She gave him what she hoped was a grateful, relieved smile. And thank Yavanna for good friends!
Soft waves of contentment drifted through her mind and she closed her eyes to let them wash over her.
"Hmm?" She blinked her eyes open to meet Thorin's worried gaze. "I'm sorry?"
"Are you alright?"
"Yes, of course," she assured him. Then she realized everyone had turned to her, their expressions having shifted from amused to concerned. "Truly, I am fine. I just…" She spread her hands. "Erebor is…" Again her words trailed off as she tried to think of how to explain the sensation.
"She's getting used to hearing the mountain," Geira informed them. "The rest of us have had a week."
"Erebor is happy!" Tilda chirped. "She likes having people here."
Smiles blossomed all around the table as the Dwarves turned to her. The girl might have glanced down or blushed at the attention a week ago, but Bella's own smile bloomed as she observed Tilda's confidence and comfort with the Company. "And I shall become accustomed to it myself," she nodded. "Just give me a couple of days."
"You're going to have someone following you," Sigrid informed her. Bella frowned and the young woman shook her head. "No, it's a good thing," she insisted. "Erebor starts talking and you get a little caught up in her." Her smile turned wry. "I almost walked off a ledge."
Bella's eyes grew wide and Dori patted her arm. "Don't worry, dear," he said. "No one's going to let anything happen – to you or to any of the others."
"Has anyone considered railings?" she muttered and he chuckled.
Bombur's people strode into the room bearing great platters of food, pitchers of various drinks, and all the necessary accessories for a meal. The room descended into organized chaos as people sought to fill their plates. Meat and fish made up the majority of the offerings, but Bella gave a happy sigh as she spied a large salad and some grilled vegetables as well. Dori made sure to add several of these to Tilda's plate, fussing over the girl like a good uncle.
Thorin took advantage of his distraction and helped Bella. "He's being overprotective," the king grumbled, though she noted he kept his voice too low for Dori to hear.
"Does he need to be?" she murmured in reply, a teasing note in her voice.
"He might." Mischief glittered in his eyes, reminding her of Kíli for a moment. Age and worry dropped away from him, giving her a glimpse of the Dwarf he might have been had the burden of his people's lives not fallen on his shoulders. For a moment she sorrowed that she had not had a chance to meet him at such a time, but then another realization burst within her.
That would not have been the Thorin she had come to love.
Thorin, for all his faults, bore his duties well, putting his people above his own well-being. The suffering and trials had made the Dwarf who sat beside her, and while she would never wish pain on a person, she loved who he was…not who he might have been.
Besides – the world did not need two Kíli's.
And she would make it a lifetime task to bring that mischievous smile to Thorin's face as often as she could.
Dinner passed quickly. Bella could not say why the others were hungry, but she had apparently spent an entire week on nothing more than what gruel the healers could get her to swallow. Her stomach demanded real food, though Óin insisted she stick to light foods. She wanted to protest, but after a bit of chicken soup and salad, she could manage no more. The attendants cleared the table and left, closing the door to assure the Company and their friends some privacy.
"Told you, lass," the healer commiserated. "You'll be on lighter meals like soups for a few days until your stomach gets used to eating. Any heavier and you'll be sick."
Bella sat back with an unhappy sigh. "Well then," she decided, "if I can't eat real food, then it's time for someone to tell me your story." She directed a mock scowl at Dwalin. "Someone who will elaborate a little more than 'a big fight' if you please."
"It's what happened, lass," Dwalin shrugged. Laughter circled the table.
"An accurate, if abbreviated summary," Gandalf allowed. Bella glared and he lifted his hands in surrender. "I believe the enemy expected to find us disorganized and at war with each other," the Wizard continued. "Azog led his army-."
"From behind," Dáin sniffed. "Cowardly piece of filth."
"He stood on Ravenhill," Balin explained when she frowned. "Giving his orders from there as his army approached the mountain."
"With the free folk united, we could focus our defense efforts," Gandalf continued, more patient with the interruption than Bella could recall seeing him. The victory must have settled some of his anxieties. "Elf archers took their places on the heights while the Dwarf army and the Elf swordsmen spread out in front."
"And the Men?" she prompted, her eyes flitting from Sigrid to Tilda and back to Gandalf.
"Clever bastards," Dwalin replied, a sharp grin creasing his features.
"Brave ones," Fíli nodded. "They lay in wait, hidden in some of the smaller rock formations. When the orcs passed, they came up and fired arrows or spears into the mass of bodies before pulling back to join the rest of us. Enough orcs went down to bunch them up, them thinking they had enemies trying to outflank them."
Thorin leaned forward. "It meant we hit more of them as we charged."
"Then things became a great deal more confusing." Gandalf took up his story once more. "As battles are wont to do. It becomes difficult to see who is where and doing what. Each warrior will have their own story to tell, but suffice it to say all fought and fought well." He paused as his eyes filled with memories. Then he seemed to give himself a small shake. "With the archers on the shoulders of the mountain, they spotted another part of Azog's army attempting to attack from behind. They began picking them off."
"Then came the bats," Kíli groused. "I hate bats."
"Thranduil's son came with them, flying in holding onto one of the things," Glóin chuckled. "What's that boy's name again?"
"Legolas," Tauriel replied. A frown crossed Kíli's face but he said nothing. "And his arrival was not the most unusual," she pointed out. "Not from what I've been told."
"True enough," Dáin laughed. "Giant eagles came soaring out of the sun," the Dwarf lord explained as Bella raised her eyebrows. "Then I saw someone jump off the back of one – a giant Man I thought him. Then," he smacked his hand against the table, "he went and turned himself into a giant bear before he reached the ground. Orcs flew with every swipe of a paw!"
"Beorn?" Bella turned to Thorin. "Beorn is here?"
"Outside," he nodded. "He's spent his time hunting stragglers. If Óin agrees, I'll take you out to him." Dori cleared his throat and Thorin's eyebrow twitched, but he continued as if he had not been interrupted. "If you wish?"
"I would like that," she agreed, careful to keep her eyes fixed on him. She had the feeling she might start giggling if she so much as glanced at one of her brothers.
"Can I go?" Tilda asked. Sigrid cleared her throat and the younger sister sighed. "May I go? Please?"
"Of course," Thorin smiled at her.
"Might as well make a full party of it," Bofur called out. He waved a hand towards Geira and Dwalin. "Between Bella's guard and yours, not to mention the girls' guardians, you'll have a large group as it is." He shrugged. "Might as well take the entire Company."
"Good idea," Nori smirked.
"What about the battle?" Bella pressed on, rolling her eyes at her brother. "After Beorn arrived?"
"Thorin and his merry band of idiots went after Azog," Dáin informed her, glaring at his cousin.
"If you want to kill a beast, you cut off its head," Thorin sighed. Apparently they'd had this discussion more than once.
"And it turned out to be a trap!"
"It was the only way to break the back of the enemy's army!" Thorin's voice grew sharper.
Only to be matched by Dáin's. "What would you have done if the mountain hadn't woken up?"
"It is pointless to argue," Balin broke in. "We cannot know what might have happened or how we might have reacted had the situation been any different."
"Indeed," Gandalf agreed. Something akin to awe began to glow in the Wizard's face. "The mountain came alive beneath us. The very stones glowed with a light that returned courage and determination to the weakest of hearts." A grim humor crossed his face. "The same light hurt the enemy."
"Boulders fell," Ori nodded from where he sat making notes. "They fell just in time to land on orcs or trolls."
"Every growing thing within sight of the mountain became a danger and a trap to the orcs," Nori grinned. "Never saw such easy targets as wargs wrapped up in clinging vines."
"The fight became a rout between the mountain, the bear, and the eagles," Dáin chuffed, though he still glared at Thorin.
"Erebor took particular attention of Thorin and the boys," Dori continued. "She seemed to take a good deal of offense at Azog as well. He couldn't find firm footing anywhere, not even when Thorin stood as if rooted in stone."
"You killed him?"
"I dealt the killing blow," he nodded, "but the mountain herself might have finished him without my aid." He grimaced. "I might have left him to her, but…I did not want to sully her awakening…" His voice trailed away.
"Good." Her firm voice drew a smile back to his lips. "Then what?"
"The enemy broke with the death of their leader," Gandalf replied. "They ran and the eagles followed, watching to make sure they truly retreated. We were left to deal with our wounded and the dead on the field." Sorrow shadowed his eyes. "There were many, though not so many as we feared."
"And we came to find out what had happened within the mountain to bring her to life," Dwalin added.
"I came to see what you'd done to yourself, lass," Óin corrected. "Knew as soon as the rocks started glowing and acting up that you'd been in the middle of something."
"Oh, really?" she demanded.
He nodded. "You usually are."
"I'm not sure if that's good or bad," she grumbled.
Balin stepped in. "Regardless of which it may be, we knew something had happened. So we came to find out. Then the guards beside the throne refused to let us pass."
"My own soldiers," Dáin pointed out, though his grin belied any anger. "Said they were under orders not to move for anyone less than the king or the princes. Had your friends madder than flashfire."
"You didn't hurt them?" Bella frowned, glancing at her Dwarves.
"Thorin came striding up before things got nasty," Bombur assured her.
"Lucky for them," Dwalin muttered, ignoring the sharp look from Geira.
Dori's lips thinned. "We found you – all of you – unconscious."
"I'm sorry if you were worried," she apologized. "I didn't know it would be quite so…dramatic."
"And that means it's your turn to tell us what happened," Ori informed her. He pulled his journal closer as he dipped his quill back in the ink. Then he fixed an expectant gaze on her.
"I have to go back a bit for my story," Bella explained. "Back to an odd dream I had when we stayed at Beorn's house." Gandalf, Dáin, and the other females looked perplexed while her Company exchanged confused glances. "I know most of you heard when I told Thorin about the dream, but for those who don't know, let me explain." Telling the story of her dream only took a few minutes, but bewilderment still lingered on her listeners' faces.
Save for Gandalf…comprehension began to overtake the Wizard's expression.
Tilda lifted a hand. "Who did the weapons represent?"
"The Company," Bella replied, happy to have a simple question. She gestured around the table. "Each of them were represented." Then she folded her hands in her lap. "But we'll have to discuss the dream later if you please. I just needed to start with it because that was when I first heard one of the voices."
"Voices?" Dori's eyes gleamed with concern.
"Let her tell it," Gandalf instructed. His voice took on a commanding note. "You must hear the story in full if you are to understand."
"Thank you," Bella nodded. She gave Dori a tremulous smile before dropping her eyes. "Yes…voices." Her fingers trembled and she clenched her hands tighter in an attempt to still them. A larger hand reached over to enfold hers. Looking up she met Thorin's gaze.
"Go on," he urged, squeezing her fingers.
With his hand to steady her, she found the strength to continue. "I didn't hear anything more until we escaped from Thranduil's realm. When I was in the river…" She shuddered. "When the water ripped me away from Nori's barrel…I almost gave up. The water closed over my head and I couldn't figure out which way was up." Another shiver ran down her back. Thorin's hand tightened yet again and Dori wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
"We have you, dear girl," her brother assured. "You're safe with us."
"I know." Gratitude rushed through her and she drew in a deep breath. "I heard another voice then – as if the water spoke to me. It encouraged me enough to continue fighting. Then I heard them again after we left Laketown, but after I stepped into Erebor…" Her voice trailed off as she gazed into her memories.
Thorin's voice shook her free and she blinked at him. The worry in his face prompted her to offer a smile. "Sorry," she chuckled, "but it has been a busy bit of time, hasn't it?"
Now Balin began to chuckle. "My lady," he shook his head, "that would be an understatement."
Bella shifted her hands so she could clasp Thorin's, wanting to anchor herself. Her eyes glanced around the table as she continued. "One voice in particular made himself known after I entered Erebor – a voice that held within it the sound of a hammer striking metal."
The overlapping questions might have made her laugh, but the name drew her eyes to Dwalin like a magnet. He stared at her, a fierce light of understanding burning in his gaze. She nodded. "Yes," she replied, though his voice held no question. "The Great Smith spoke to me." The rest of the Dwarves turned wide-eyed stares on her though she thought she could see understanding rising in Balin's as well. Her shoulders began to hunch but she forced them to straighten out as she lifted her chin. "Well, he did."
"And…and what did he say?" came Kíli's hushed voice.
"He welcomed me," she told him, an awe-filled smile curving her lips. Now her Dwarves began to smile in return, warmth and a smug satisfaction filling their faces. "Then he asked me if I was willing to help heal that which had been sundered." Her smile wavered. "I could feel the mountain then and it…she…felt wounded. What could I do but agree?"
Dori's arm tightened and he pulled her close to press a kiss to her temple. "You are a sweetheart," he sighed. "And we'll be keeping an eye on you to make sure that soft heart of yours doesn't get you hurt."
"Two eyes whenever possible," Thorin muttered. The two males exchanged a speaking glance and she felt like rolling her own eyes. Apparently no matter what differences of opinion they might have on anything else, being overprotective of her could unite them.
"Anyway," she continued with a sigh, "he's the one who prompted me to speak when Thorin wavered." She winced. There might have been a better way to put that.
My son has faced his own weakness. He is the stronger for it.
Mahal's voice eased her concerns even as Thorin gave her a wry smile. "I told them," he assured her. "They needed to know…in case something happened." His shoulders lifted in a shrug. "But it appears you took care of that as well – the treasure has been cleansed of its curse."
"How did that happen?" she demanded.
"No, no, no!" Ori's voice rang down the table. "You have to finish your story first!"
Everyone laughed as she turned a narrow-eyed look on him. He gave her a firm glare. "Stop that!" She huffed out a quick breath. "You look like Dori when you do that." Color rushed into Ori's cheeks and Dori gave a sharp tug to one of her braids. "Ouch!"
"Mind your sass, little miss," he ordered. "And leave your brother alone."
Bella pursed her lips. "After I called Thorin back to his senses, I thought about giving him the Arkenstone," she continued, sending Ori an apologetic look. He smiled and picked up his quill. "I had found it while I was talking to Smaug. But then I heard the deep voice from the garden – and he told me I would have to awaken the hearth." She paused and shook her head. "Everything got a bit busy at that point between people arriving and war planning and everything else, but when you all went out to fight…"
"You had your own battle to wage?" Fíli offered as her voice trailed off.
"Exactly," she agreed, grateful for the assistance. "I had to rekindle the heart and the hearth. I think… Well, the voice called it the dominion of the queen." Thorin's hand tightened on hers, but she did her best to avoid looking at him, not sure of what he might be thinking. "I think it may have been the responsibility of Durin's wife."
"Yavanna's daughter," Balin breathed out, understanding washing through his face.
"The tree." Bella's smile deepened. "A symbol of the Green Lady protected at the center of the mountain."
"And you returned her heart."
Now she turned to face Thorin. "Yes."
"Why the others?"
Bofur's question broke the silence, causing her to jump. She turned startled eyes on him. "I'm sorry… What?"
"Why the others?" he repeated. He waved a hand at the other females. "The girls?"
Amusement flashed through Tauriel's eyes as she glanced down the table. "Girls?"
"Not sure it applies to Geira," the miner mused. Then he raised his brows at her. "But you fit in with that lot," he continued, nodding at the princes and Sigrid before grinning at Tilda. "Might as well include you with them." The Elf shook her head but held her silence. Bofur chuckled. "That's not a denial, lass."
"You best take control back," Dori murmured in Bella's ear. "It'll only get worse from here if you don't."
"I needed them." Her voice brought the room's focus back to her story. "I could have done it alone…and I would have, but…I knew the rekindling would be stronger if more of us helped. If representatives of all of the free folk worked to heal the wound, then maybe…maybe it would help with our own wounds."
Tilda clapped her hands. "I got to represent the Hobbits!"
"She did," Bella agreed as everyone chuckled. "Since I had to climb up to put the heart in place, she agreed to stand for me and my folk at the base. Sigrid represented the race of Men while Tauriel brought the gifts of the Elves. Geira stood for the Dwarves." Her eyes grew distant. "Then came the rekindling…everything went bright, so bright. I couldn't see… The light burned my hands."
"It burned everything." Sigrid's soft voice took up the story. Her lips trembled and Fíli put an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him. "I couldn't see anything but light – a light filled with colors I couldn't even begin to name. And all I could hear was the sound of a distant drum."
"Erebor's heartbeat," Geira agreed. "Like a war drum..."
"And the smell of fire." Tauriel reached for Kíli's hand, her fingers tightening when he laced his through them. "I felt as though I stood in the heart of a giant blaze, but it comforted me…warmed me."
The room fell silent.
"That is what cleansed the gold." Gandalf's words hung in the quiet. "The fire of the rekindled heart of the mountain purified it. Now you only have to deal with regular greed, not a shadow haunted greed of the curse." He tapped one finger on the table. "And they – those who kindled the heart – they are all tied to Erebor now."
"The stones," Thorin guessed. His thumb moved over Bella's fingers and she slanted a look towards him. He gave her a crooked smile. "You helped us win back our home as you promised…and you stole a bit of it for yourself, my burglar."
"Yes," the Wizard nodded. "They gave her back her heart, and the mountain claimed them in return. They shall be her voice in the days and years to come."
Balin rubbed his forehead. "That'll set some heads to spinning," he admitted.
"Not to put too fine a point on it," Glóin interjected, "but has anyone considered letting Dís know about all this? Might be better if the people were prepared before they got here."
Fíli and Kíli exchanged a look before turning to Thorin. Their uncle glared at them both. "Fine," he grumbled. "I'll send the letter to your mother."
"She's your sister," Nori pointed out, mischief glittering in his smile.
"Yes, thank you." Sarcasm layered thick in Thorin's reply.
Bella bit her lip. "Is something wrong?"
"Not with or for you," Thorin shook his head. "But the longer my sister has to stew over something, the worse her temper grows."
"Mum's a bit like lightning," Kíli nodded. "If she's right in front of you then her temper explodes and it's all over. The sooner it happens, the smaller the explosion."
"But if she has to hold her temper?" Fíli shuddered. "It builds and builds and builds…"
"You have nothing to worry about," Thorin reassured her. "I, on the other hand, have likely survived the quest, the dragon, and even Azog…only to face something much, much worse at my sister's hands."