Hello to anyone who is still reading this - am having doubts here due to serious lack of reviews - third chapter up in three weeks!! This has got to be some kind of record! Wooohooo! Don't know how often I'll be doing it from now onwards since I'm at Uni and have a few major essays to write, however I promise it won't be a year before the next update. Do review please coz I love encouragement and thoughts about what I'm writing. Do be honest, I'm not sure of this chapter so do let me know what you think. Happy reading!

-Elvish-

"speech"

'thoughts between minds'

Disclaimer: see previous chapters

Chapter 11

I ran from the council area with no real destination in mind. As I appeared near the entrance to valley I ignored the waterfall within walking distance and flopped down by the edge of the cliff.

'Hey,' Bob spoke into my thoughts.

'Hey,' I replied gloomily. 'I don't suppose you know of any other German Shepards in this world?'

'Is it species or family that really matters?' Bob asked gently.

'Aren't they the same thing?' I asked in confusion.

'Not necessarily,' Bob started, then broke off. I sensed a presence come up behind me.

-Nat?- Elrond's voice surprised me. Of all the people to follow me Elrond was the one I least expected. -May I sit with you?-

I gazed at him in surprise. He wanted an answer?

Elrond smiled slightly. - With all the chaos you seem to cause around my home did you expect me to miss that you and my sons can communicate?-

'Huh?' I felt very eloquent right then. Elrond sat silently and allowed what he'd said to sink in. The fact that he'd known I could communicate wasn't such a revelation I suppose since he always seemed to know what went on in Rivendell. I went back to my thoughts.

-Nat, would you like to let me know what's happening?- Elrond asked. -You seemed eager to leave the council.-

'I wasn't aware you knew I was there,' was the first thought that sprang to my mind.

Elrond smiled. -That growl was hard for an elf's ears to miss.- He didn't seem to think it odd to hear my voice in his head.

I stayed silent for a while, knowing he still waited for an answer to his earlier query. He sat there patiently, petting me every now and then.

'Sometimes it gets so lonely,' I said quietly. 'Most of the time it doesn't matter but then, what you said at the council … about representing each race … I don't have a race in this world, there's just me. I miss a family.' I lifted my gaze to the stars. 'It makes me feel quite small in the universe.'

Elrond stayed quiet for a time before replying. - Most of the time, families are those in blood relationships with us.- He paused. - But they don't have to be. The family we choose can be just as close as blood. Estel, whom you love to stay around, was not a blood son of mine, however I would be just as devastated losing him as one of my other sons, or daughter.-

I looked at him rather blankly as I wondered where he was going with this. Bob had seemed to be going to a similar place before Elrond had appeared.

-My sons think of you as part of their family,- he continued quietly. -As much chaos as you cause around my home, you are definitely a character and my household would miss you were you to disappear.-

This caused me to pause. 'I'm part of your family?' I asked uncertainly. I felt close to Strider but I didn't know any feelings were reciprocated.

-Are you kidding? Of course, you're family! You mutt!- It was Strider who answered that and I turned around to see the twins and Aragorn appear by the edge of the cliff with Arwen.

-You've been around for six years now,- Elrohir continued.

-You've certainly become part of life around here,- Elladan pick up where his twin left off. My gaze passed around the group as each one spoke.

-You have a family now, Nat,- Arwen said.

-Don't ever think you're alone,- Elrond spoke. -You may be a dog on the outside, but your personality is on the inside, and you ARE a part of our family.-

It was all said with such certainty that I couldn't help but believe them. 'Thanks guys,' I sent quietly.

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'Nat!' Strider's voice sounded slightly panicked. 'Where are you? We're leaving!'

A snigger was all he got as a reply.

'Nat!'

A couple of screams rang out, causing the assembling members of the fellowship to look around. I entered the clearing with a satisfied grin, noticing that only two members of the fellowship were missing.

Strider turned to look at me. 'Where might you have been?'

'Nowhere,' I said innocently. The remaining two members of the fellowship ran stumbling through the archway.

"Sorry we're late," Merry gasped out.

"Yeah," Pippin added. "We were - delayed." A bark of laughter popped out my mouth.

'Nowhere?' Strider asked.

'Of course,' I sat myself down with injured pride. 'I don't cause trouble.'

"What is that thing doing here?" Boromir sneered at me.

"Hey, you mean Nat's coming?" Pippin asked excitedly.

'Would I be going somewhere else?' I asked Strider.

'One can only hope,' he started innocently.

'Oi!' I protested. Strider, and Bob, who had been listening in, laughed down my link.

"Yes, she's coming," Strider told Pippin.

"What?" Boromir said. You know, I could really dislike him. I bared my teeth and growled at him.

'Oh, like that'll help relations,' Bob put in sarcastically.

"That thing is dangerous!" Boromir pointed at my teeth as proof.

"She's getting rather insulted by you, Boromir," Strider stated. "If you hadn't insulted her, she wouldn't be growling at you."

"She's travelled with Aragorn for years," Gandalf said. "It's pointless arguing since she'll just follow him anyway. Personally, if I were you, I'd rather know she's with me, rather than following your back trail. Especially if she's feeling slighted by you." This last caused me to move a little closer to Boromir to tease him.

-Nat, stop it now,- Strider commanded. 'Please. We need to leave.' I went to his side and stopped growling.

"Now that we've all agreed that Nat is coming," I saw Boromir snort in the background at Gandalf's statement. Legolas didn't say much but I saw him grin at the twin sons of Elrond, who had turned up to watch us leave. Gimli had watched the exchange in silence.

"The fellowship awaits the Ringbearer," Gandalf said importantly, causing Frodo to turn toward the entrance. I looked back at Elrond and the twins.

'You have a family,' a voice entered my head. Elladan nodded at me.

'So you'd better come back to it,' Elrohir finished. I held Elrond's eyes a moment, before turning and following the fellowship.

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'You know, it's weird to think I've been here six years,' I told Bob, as we walked.

'Yep, six years last month,' Bob confirmed. 'It's the twenty fifth of December today.'

'WHAT?' I thought. I saw Strider wince at the volume. 'Sorry. But it's CHRISTMAS and you didn't TELL ME!?'

'Do you remember what happened last time?' Strider asked. 'I'm thinking Gandalf doesn't want to be reminded.'

'But he made such a GREAT Santa Claus!' I laughed. 'Besides, he thinks that was the twins.' I paused. 'I think. He did give me that look though. Maybe he knows I was involved.' I thought about that for a second. 'But it's irrelevant anyway,' I bounced right back. 'That was last year! This is this year! And what's Christmas without carols?'

'Oh no!' Strider and Bob groaned together. With that, I broke into song.

'Deck the halls with bell of holly, Falalalala, Lalalala.' As I sang I accompanied myself with a splendid instrument if I do say so myself.

"What's up with her, Strider?" Merry asked.

"Oh nothing's wrong," Strider replied, "She's just singing," then finished in my thoughts, 'Which is fine if you discount the howling.'

'Oi! That's not howling,' I protested. 'That's a brilliant accompaniment to my singing.'

"Singing?" Pippin asked in confusion.

"Nat, would you quit singing Christmas Carols?" Strider said in frustration.

"That's singing?" Sam said incredulously.

"What's a Christmas Carol?" Merry asked. I stopped mid-song and stared at Merry.

'He doesn't know what a Carol is?' I thought. 'Oh my Gosh!'

'Nat, he probably doesn't even know what Christmas is,' Bob said wryly. 'You had to explain it to Elladan and Elrohir, remember?'

'Oh yes,' I said. 'Damn, and I can't explain to these guys. They aren't even aware I can talk!'

'You can't talk to anyone other than Strider and me this whole trip,' Bob confirmed. 'Such a hardship!' He snorted in laughter. I stuck my nose in the air and stalked off to scout ahead. Sadly, while I can leave everyone else behind, I can't get away from the perpetual voice in my head.

'That sounds sane,' Bob noted. 'You're hearing voices.'

'Voice,' I corrected. 'And a bloody annoying one at that.'

'Oi!' Bob objected. I just laughed.

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'Strider,' I sent back from my scouting around. 'I found a place to stop for a break up here. You can see quite far in many directions and it's got plenty of rocks to sit on.'

'Sounds fine,' Strider replied. 'We'll be there soon.' I flopped down on a rock to wait.

"Hi Nat," Pippin greeted when they reached me. I wagged my tail.

"Let's have a rest," Gandalf said looking around. "It's a good vantage point to stop."

'I said that already,' I said indignantly to Strider.

'Nat, he can't hear you so how would he know?' Strider sent dryly.

'Oh,' I said. 'Right.' Everyone had taken a load off by now and Sam had pulled some food out and was preparing it for cooking.

"Merry, Pippin," Boromir said. "Bring out your swords and we'll see what you can do."

'Prick themselves?' I offered.

'Nat!' Strider scolded. 'Be nice.'

'Fine, fine,' I grumbled jokingly. I moved over to sit beside Strider. 'Scratch behind my ear would you? I can't reach it.' Strider grinned, then leaned over and rubbed my itchy spot. I pushed against his hand. 'Thanks, that's great,' I moaned in grateful bliss. I sat there delighting in the ear rub.

"If anyone were to ask my opinion, which I note they're not," Gimli started, interrupting my bliss.

'Why continue then?' I grumbled.

'Nat,' Strider scolded. 'Is there any reason you're being particularly mean today?'

'No,' I replied. 'It's just that any thoughts I think just HAVE to blurt from brain.'

'I'd noticed,' Strider grinned as his fingers constantly scrubbed at my ears.

'Oi!'

"-I'd say we were taking the long way round," Gimli continued. "Gandalf, we could go through the Mines of Moria. My cousin Balin would give us a royal welcome."

"No, Gimli," was Gandalf's reply. "I would not go through Moria unless I had no other choice."

'What's in Moria?' I asked Bob. 'Hitler?'

'Who?' Bob returned in confusion.

'Never mind,' I sighed. 'What's so bad about the Mines?'

'You don't want to know,' Bob replied. 'Although saying that, since it's the last place you want to be right now, it's probably where you'll end up.'

'Oh gee, thanks,' I thought sarcastically into the silence.

"Move your feet," Strider said to the sword waving hobbits. Suddenly one of them fell to the ground. A scuffle broke out as they pounced on Boromir and I had to laugh, especially when Strider got pulled in.

'The great ranger beaten by a hobbit?' I laughed out. Strider grunted and reached out with a hand. 'Aii!' I squawked out as I got dragged into the fray. 'Hardly fair!'

'What, the great Nat beaten by a human?' Strider taunted. Dragging myself free I shook the dirt from my body.

'Huh,' I replied sticking my nose in the air.

"What's that?" someone asked. I turned and looked.

'Birds?' I queried.

"Crebain from Dunland!" Legolas shouted.

"HIDE!" Suddenly everyone was in motion, Sam throwing water over the fire, and all members of the fellowship diving for cover. I was wedged under two rocks on the corner of the clearing, with a sharp stone digging into my butt.

'Well, this isn't very comfortable,' I sent, attempting to move.

'Thanks Nat,' was Strider's dry reply.

'No problem,' I replied, tongue in cheek, then stopped moving as I watched the black cloud of wings fly overhead and off into the distance. Once it was safe I shifted to move myself off the sharp rock. 'Crap,' I muttered.

'What's wrong with you?' Strider asked.

'It's rather embarrassing actually,' I started. 'Canuelpeeow.'

'Say again?' Strider looked at where I was lying.

'Shut up Bob!' I yelled at the laughter in my head. 'Er … can you help me out? I'm sorta stuck here.' Strider snorted in laughter.

'You're stuck?'

'Yeah, yeah, laugh later,' I grumbled. 'Help me out first. PLEASE?' I pulled the puppy eyes at him. I don't know why it always works coming from a dog but Strider wandered over and grabbed my fur to pull me out of my hiding place.

'Thank you,' I said with dignity. 'Feel free to laugh now.'

'Thank you for the permission,' he said soberly. Then promptly started laughing his head off. The only plus side of his laughing was that the fellowship were giving him REALLY strange looks.

"Er … Strider?" Pippin asked nervously.

"Are you alright?" Merry put in.

'Not really,' I sent to Strider in reply to Merry's question. 'He hasn't been sane for years.'

'Hey! You're just lucky he can't hear you or I would have my revenge for that!' Strider put a leash on his laughter (finally) and nodded in Merry and Pippin's direction.

"Certainly," he replied to the hobbit's question, then switched the attention from himself. "So that pass is being watched," he said seriously to Gandalf.

"We must take the pass over the mountains of Caradhras," Gandalf replied, turning to face the distant mountain.

'Oh bugger,' was my contribution. 'Snow. I hate snow.'

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Another chapter! Go me! Push the little button down there with your fish - er, am I the only one here with a mouse that has a fish? Well, whichever animal you're using, feel free to review. J Cheers all!