Blákári heaved a sigh, his heart still heavy in his chest. So much had transpired in so short a time. When he had finally returned to the Mountain, his father had said he was different, but Blákári did not feel as if so much had changed. Perhaps life did not change a person so much as temper them, refining who they were. He was still Blákári, yet…he felt older. He had not lost his sense of self but his experiences had acted like the heat of a forge, purging the dross from silver. He had fought and proven himself in fierce battle alongside a race that was not his own. And he had watched the light go out of the eyes of too many an elf, who should have never seen death.

Two weeks he had tarried with the elves, unable to return home with the Mountain under siege, but that time had been spent making himself useful. Many an elven gravestone had been carved by his hands.

Perhaps his father was correct, and he had changed; not so much in who he was inside so much as in how he viewed the world. His lips twitched. The elves had proven to be quite different from what he had expected, especially one of them…

And that was why he was here again under the trees of Mirkwood. He glanced down, his fingers smoothing over the flask of brandy in his hands. Clearing his throat, he said what he had come to say, "Well, I must admit, I don't know what my final tally was. I lost count, but I think there is no doubt you won the contest."

Did he imagine an elven snort to that statement?

"So, I have come to fulfill my obligation." He held up the flask of brandy with a slight smile. "The finest in the Mountain! It seems the letter Tathar's father sent with me upon my return spoke highly of my deeds." He grunted and shook his head. "Yes, I know, I did very little. Indeed, I would not have survived if not for you."

That thought sobered him, and he looked away, finding it hard to say the rest, but unable to leave without the words being spoken. "I never thought I could come to like an elf, but you made it difficult not to like you. I think if things had been different, we could have been friends."

He lifted his eyes and stared hard at the mound at his feet. A spray of new green grass was starting to touch the earth where it had been recently turned. "I would have liked that."

Stooping, he placed the flask against the small stone engraved with Maithon's name, then he straightened, blinking sudden moisture from his eyes. "I'll miss you, elf." He started to turn away, then paused, looking hard at the grave of the young elf that had made such an impression upon him. "Funny, isn't it? A dwarf missing an elf? Wherever you are, I'll just bet you're laughing at that."

He left then, not wishing anyone to catch him speaking in such a manner, but feeling better for having said and done what he had. Blákári picked up his pace, seeing Tathar anxiously pacing on the path where the elf had stopped to wait for him, giving him a few minutes of privacy to say his final goodbyes to Maithon.

Tathar came to a halt when Blákári emerged from the glen of the dead. "Your party is most anxious to be off," Tathar stated, gesturing up the path to where Bifur and the group of dwarven ambassadors waited.

Blákári grunted, seeing the dwarven delegation casting suspicious glances about them. Even the ponies shifted nervously, all except one — the brown pony that had carried him to Mirkwood initially stood patiently beside Tathar's grey, their noses nearly touching. Blákári glanced from them to where his father glared down the path at him. Bifur had not been happy with his request for a brief halt in Mirkwood on their way to Gondor, but the new King Under the Mountain, Thorin Stonehelm, had granted it to his youngest ambassador, along with the flask of brandy.

"You served the King well, young one." Thorin had held up the letter from Ferlim, and though all could see the new King still grieved for his father, Thorin had smiled. "Your request is granted."

But Bifur would take Thorin's permission for a brief halt to be just that: brief! Even now, Bifur waved his hand for the dwarves to mount up and turned an impatient look on his son.

Blákári nodded, but stopped before Tathar and looked up at the dark-haired elf. They shared a look of understanding and no words were needed. They both felt the loss of so many of their kindred, but Maithon's death had touched them both just a bit more. The young elf had been so full of life, only to have it end with an orc arrow in the last desperate moments of battle. Blákári wished he could forget, but knew he never would forgive himself for not having seen the archer, for not having moved quicker, for being able to do nothing as the light faded from shocked elven eyes…

He blinked hard and cleared his throat. "Farewell to you, Tathar. I hope our paths cross again some day."

Tathar inclined his head, sadness lingering in his grey eyes. "Good journey to you, Blákári. May your paths be green, and perhaps we shall meet again."

With a last look towards the glade that held far too many elven graves, Blákári then hurried up the path and mounted his pony. "Come Maithon," he told his pony, renamed for the elf who had teased him for talking to it, "we have far to travel, and a new king to whom to give allegiance."

As his pony picked his way along the path behind the others, a wind came up, rustling the leaves of the trees. And for a moment, Blákári was not certain, but he thought he heard a voice on the wind.

"Farewell, elvellon."

- o -

Then Bard II, Bard's son, became King in Dale, and Thorin III Stonehelm, Dain's son, became King Under the Mountain. They sent ambassadors to the crowning of King Elessar; and their realms remained ever after, as long as they lasted, in friendship with Gondor; and they were under the crown and protection of the King of the West.

~Appendix B, The Great Years, The Return of the King


I'm sure there is some great social blunder inherent in killing off an OC in a story written as a birthday fic, but considering Miss Thundera has kept me on pins and needles for several years now with Gimli stuck in that cave and Legolas surrounded by enemies in the desert...I don't feel too guilty. ;P *hopes Thundera doesn't hurt me too much*

This story was a joy to write, the OCs just kind of showed up and introduced themselves and I fell in love with them. I know many will be sad that Maithon did not survive the battle, but he was young and war is cruel. When he first came on the scene he warned me not to get too attached to him, and yet I cried writing this chapter. Like Blakari, I will miss him, though I have a feeling it's not the last we've seen of him. ;) Indeed, I think this is far from the end, as the series is demanding a sequel, though I can't promise when I'll actually get it written. But I do wish to write Blakari and Gimli having a long chat about Blakari's fight with the elves, and there is a scene in my head of Blakari's take on Gimli's and Legolas's friendship. *glares at multiplying bunnies* Muses are cruel!

Thank you so much for reading. I hope you have enjoyed the tale. I don't usually write such OC driven fic, but I do think I have somehow bested myself with this story. At the least, it will be one of my favorites, even should it fall flat with readers. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Reviews are lovely. :)

~ NiRi