With this episode, we take another step forward in Rose's love life. Is Lostwithiel still available? Is Rose still waiting for him? Has another suitor (or more) entered the scene? And will Thorin be able to cope? The answers to this and more can be found in the following story. Enjoy the ride, LOL!




Tauriel was in the kitchen, Poppy was mooching around feeling bored because no-one was taking any notice of her and Arion was playing with his large set of wooden soldiers. Well, not playing, exactly. The figures were divided into elves and orcs and he was working out complex military tactics, practising for the time when he would become a soldier himself up at his mother's outpost.

"Can I play with you?" asked Poppy.

"I'm not playing," he answered brusquely.

"Well, can I play with just these?" she said, and, without waiting for a reply, she picked up a handful of elves, totally messing up several carefully-placed ranks.

"Now look what you've done!" he snapped and he grabbed them back from her and gave her a slight push away from his battle-field. She was such a nuisance. Poppy might be six, but she was a spoiled brat!

Poppy stood there for a moment, twisting one of her golden curls around a finger. Then she stood in the middle of the room and started crying her eyes out. Arion looked startled, but she backed away from him and ran into the kitchen, clutching Tauriel by the skirt. Tauriel looked concerned and scooped her up in her arms: "What's wrong, precious?" she said.

Poppy looked pathetic and tear-stained. "It's Arion! He snatched my toys from me and pushed me and hurt me," she wailed. And she put her little arms about her mother's neck, burying her pretty face in her neck.

Arion ran in after her – he knew what his sister was like. "No, I did not!" he protested. "She stole my toys and I was only getting them back!"

Tauriel sighed. She and Thorin had somehow taken a wrong turn with Poppy. She was badly spoiled and now it was proving difficult to put wrong decisions right. She set Poppy down, even though the child was still sobbing and clinging to her skirt. "Go to your room, sweetheart, and play with your dolls. I want to talk to your brother." Poppy gave a big sniff and, casting Arion a pleased look, went off to her room.

"It's not fair!" cried Arion. "It's always me who's wrong and who gets punished."

"No," said his mother, "you're not in trouble but I do want to talk to you." And she led him back into the sitting-room and sat down with him. "Where to begin?" she murmured. "Do you remember when you were a toddler and Rose came?"

Yes, he nodded. It was his earliest memory.

"Well, perhaps you don't remember what it was like before, but your father was usually working in the forge and I was working in the house and you were quite a lonely little boy, with no-one else to play with."

"But, then, Rose came," he grinned.

"Yes, and then Rose came and she's been a devoted playmate ever since – your friend, your sister, even a second mother."

"She saved me from the pirates," he said.

"She did indeed," confirmed Tauriel, "and you've never had a boring or lonely moment since."

Arion looked at his mother and wondered where she was going with this.

"And then Poppy was born and you helped and you were wonderful." She smiled and stroked his dark curls. "We never thought we'd have any more children after you."

"Yes, I know," said Arion grumpily, staring down at the floor. "She's special and you and father make that pretty clear."

"Oh, Arion," said Tauriel, and she put her arm around his shoulder. "All of you are special. You're special because you were the first; Rose is special because she came so unexpectedly into our lives and Poppy is special because she's likely to be our last. And I'm so sorry if we've made you feel otherwise." Arion looked slightly mollified.

"But," continued his mother, "the problem with being the first is that you're often asked to take some responsibility and to make allowances for younger siblings; and the problem for Rose being in the middle, is that she sometimes must feel neither one thing nor the other; and the problem with being the youngest is that you're often left out of things. And then you cause trouble to get attention."

Arion pulled a face. "Yes, I understand that, but Poppy is so boring to play with. She really is so girly."

"And I can imagine that Rose often found you boring, too, but she persevered nonetheless," retorted his mother.

Arion raised an eyebrow at the thought that he was ever boring.

"Well," suggested Tauriel, "if you can't bear to play with her, perhaps she can be useful to you." Arion looked doubtful. "Why don't you take her out to the stables and get her to help you muck out. And perhaps she can do some grooming too. She's always been a favourite with Warg." This last annoyed Arion a little but it was true. The creature had seen her being born – it had SMELLED her being born and her scent had created a weird sort of affection in him. He had recognised her baby status right from the off and he seemed to feel the urge to guard and protect. The little girl was perfectly safe with the huge, terrifying beast.

"I'm sure that Warg would let Poppy ride him. Perhaps you could start giving her riding lessons. She'd enjoy that - and I think you'd enjoy it too. She'd really love you for it."

Arion considered what she said and then nodded. "All right, I'll give it a try," he said. "Perhaps I have been a bit mean with her. But, in return, I want you and father to promise me one thing."

"What's that?" smiled Tauriel.

"PLEASE try really hard not to call her 'precious' or 'sweetheart' or 'princess'!"


As Arion strode out to the stables with Poppy trotting happily behind him, the children passed their father coming from the forge. Thorin entered the house just as Tauriel was about to return to the kitchen. He pulled off his leather apron and then tugged off his singlet, wiping his face and chest with it before plonking himself down at the table. "It's not time for food yet," said Tauriel in surprise.

"I know it's not," he said, "but it was time to get out of that forge and away from all of them before they drove me mad."

Tauriel laughed and came over and sat on his lap. She ran her hand over his chest and then down his strong arms, feeling the flex of his biceps. "You should walk around like this more often," she whispered. And she kissed him gently on the lips.

"Wouldn't I be too much of a distraction?" he said huskily.

"A distraction from housework would be more than welcome," she grinned, "but perhaps not while we've got a houseful of people."

Thorin sighed. "You should see what's going on in that forge at the moment," he said.

Rose was out there, working on some jewellery commissions. Darri, her long-time dwarf friend, was also out there, working away on the anvil. He was staying with them for a few weeks, not only to see Rose but also to benefit from some expert tuition in smithing from Thorin. And, also out there was Lostwithiel. He was very friendly with Thorin and his captain, Tauriel, but, over the years, Rose had become more and more important to him. She was 17 now and absolutely beautiful. However, not only was she beautiful, but her magnetic personality seemed to attract everyone who came into contact with her.

Lostwithiel would laugh and call her bossy, but she was slowly becoming a significant person in his life and, whenever he visited, ostensibly to have a chat with his captain or a drink with Thorin, he would find himself drifting out to the forge more and more so that he could have a chat with Rose instead. "She's a good friend," he would say to the elves up at the outpost who were also very fond of her, and he didn't seem to realise that she was becoming more than a friend to him.

Darri, on the other hand, had begun to realise that he had thought about her as more than a friend for some time now. He was a handsome lad – a bit on the short side but, like Thorin, he was well set up. Rose always thought he was very nice to look at especially when working in the forge. He had long, brown hair but no beard yet which bothered him. "But your stubble is coming along nicely," Rose would laugh.

Rose enjoyed being with both of them – although perhaps not at the same time. Her feelings for Lostwithiel were the same as they had been a year ago; but, she had noticed that she seemed to be getting fonder of Darri.

Lostwithiel was quite beautiful in that special elven way and she always felt alive when she was with him. He was witty and entertaining and kept her on her toes; she thoroughly enjoyed the banter that always seemed to dance between them. And she wondered what it would feel like to be kissed by those perfect lips.

On the other hand, in Darri's company, she always felt completely relaxed. They had the same sense of humour and had the same passion for the forge. She wondered if he was just a friend but, at the same time, she also wondered what it would feel like to be held in those powerful arms.



"So, what's going on in the forge, then?" asked Tauriel, as she sat on Thorin's lap and kissed his nose.

"Well, there's a war going on. They're both competing for Rose's attention." Thorin looked revolted. "Rose shouldn't be encouraging them. She near enough told me she was a one-elf woman and that Lostwithiel was that elf."

Tauriel laughed. "She's been waiting so long for him that it looks as though she's given Darri the opportunity to slip into her affections."

"Well, you know I think that Lostwithiel is a fool," snorted Thorin, "even if I do like him – a bit. And even if I did do my best to head off at the pass a potential rival love-interest and earned Rose's undying gratitude. But, I must admit that, given the choice of an elf or a dwarf for a son-in-law, I'd take the dwarf any day."

"Well, of course you would. You dwarves stick together." And she gave his plaits a sharp tug.

"Ow," said Thorin. "Well, I'd like to hear you say you'd take Darri over Lostwithiel."

"If I thought him the best candidate then you WOULD hear me say that. But, Lostwithiel is her first love and I think he'll be her last love. He's a fine soldier and he saved your life."

"And he's very, very old," said Thorin.

"Well," said Tauriel indignantly, "so am I!"

"Ah, yes, my love," murmured Thorin, nuzzling her neck, "but you've worn so well. No-one would ever guess." And he placed his lips on hers before she could offer a retort, thinking that all he wanted for Rose was a love like that which existed between him and Tauriel. And he wondered if either Lostwithiel or Darri could offer her that.

Five minutes later, Tauriel rested her head on his shoulder and sighed. "Darri's a lovely lad but he just doesn't seem to have the passion and Lostwithiel is still teetering on the edge. I don't believe he feels any more than friendship for Rose at the moment."

"Well, I think you should have been out in that forge just now," laughed Thorin, "and you wouldn't be saying that. I think it's just hit him between the eyes. He's been edging Darri out of every conversation and is leaning over her, examining her work, with his arm around her shoulder."

"Oh dear," said Tauriel, sympathising with the young dwarf. "And what's Darri doing about it?"

"Well, every time Lostwithiel tries to say something witty and charming, he hammers away on his anvil like mad and blocks out all conversation. It was at that point I gave up and made my exit."

"It must be confusing for Rose to be suddenly besieged," said Tauriel thoughtfully. "Perhaps she needs to get away so that she has some time to think. She needs to have her thoughts in order in case they both suddenly propose."

"I've got to go down to the Grey Havens tomorrow for a few days," suggested Thorin. "The shipping magnate, Barnaby Waller, wants me to make a whole load of things for him. He's asked me to stay in his home while we talk over the designs. I could take Rose with me as my assistant."

"Good idea," said Tauriel. "I think that suggestion deserves an extra special kiss."

"I thought all your kisses were special," murmured Thorin against her lips. "What have I been missing?"


Outside in the stable, Poppy and Arion were having a surprisingly good time together. He had shown her how to muck out the two ponies and had expected her to say that it was not the sort of yucky thing that princesses tended to do. He had almost wished that she would say that so that he could take her back inside and report back to Tauriel that he had done his best but that Poppy had been uncooperative. Instead, she set to with a will and, between them, they soon had the place clean and tidy. She enjoyed putting out the fresh straw and filling their mangers with oats and hay and making sure that they had plenty of water. Her pretty dress was filthy but she didn't seem to notice and she soldiered on, standing on a box to help curry Blue and Little Beorn and plaiting their manes and tails.

"Great job!" said Arion and she beamed all over her little face.

Then Arion made a generous offer that he had been thinking about for some time. "You know," he said in an off-hand manner, "I never ride Blue any more because I'm always on Warg. Rose has to exercise both of the ponies. How would you like it if I gave Blue to you and taught you to ride?"

Rose's mouth dropped open. Then she flung her arms around his waist and wouldn't stop thanking him. Arion felt pleased but embarrassed and pushed her gently away. "That's all right then. And perhaps you'd like to learn to ride Warg too," he added. This produced more hugs and yelps of delight and Arion considered the pleasures to be got out of loving and giving.

Then they went next door and cleaned both Warg and his stable. And then Arion showed Poppy how to climb up on Warg's back using his fur and how to hold on tight with her hands and her knees in the riding position. Warg-riders rode bare-back and Poppy seemed to get the hang of it straight away. And then he led her several times around the yard to give her the feel of things. Rose, Darri and Lostwithiel came out from the forge to watch and they all praised him for his patience. Arion decided that having a bratty little sister wasn't so bad after all.


They all assembled in the Hall for lunch and Tauriel had the opportunity to study the elf, the dwarf and her daughter together. Thorin was right. They were vying for her attention and Rose was not enjoying it. She nodded to Thorin and he made his suggestion to Rose of a trip to the Grey Havens the next day. She looked very pleased and said she could finish off her own commissions that afternoon and take them with her. Darri looked annoyed because it meant he would have to go without her for a few days and Lostwithiel looked smug because he had to return to the outpost that evening and he wasn't happy at the thought of leaving Rose and Darri together.

Poppy gabbled away about how she had helped Arion and about her ride on Warg and the coming treat of learning to ride Blue and Arion smiled modestly as everyone told him what a wonderful brother he was.

Rose noticed that neither Tauriel nor Thorin called Poppy 'precious', or 'sweetheart' or 'princess' even once and she wondered why. But it was a great improvement.


In bed that night, Tauriel told Thorin to talk to Rose about her feelings on the ride into town and she would have a chat with Darri. Tomorrow evening, when she did her stint up at the outpost, she would also have a talk with Lostwithiel. Once everyone's cards were on the table then, perhaps, if it came to a proposal, Rose could make a sensible and informed choice.

"Were all the cards on the table when you picked me?" asked Thorin. "Did you make a sensible and informed choice?" And he pulled her to him and looked into her eyes.

"No," she smiled, running her hands down his plaits and kissing the tip of his nose, "I knew nothing except that I loved you."

"Well, there you go," said Thorin. "So, why do we have to dig out all this information when no information was good enough for us?"

"Because she's our daughter," Tauriel said, "and you either have to be very clever or very lucky to make the right choice."

"Well, I was very clever and very lucky to choose you," said Thorin and he turned off the lamp.



Thorin and Rose set off at a leisurely pace the next morning. Rose chattered easily with Thorin about the commissions she had just finished, about the new commissions they hoped to get and about Tauriel, Arion and Poppy.

Finally, Thorin said casually, "Did you have a good time with Darri and Lostwithiel yesterday?"

She paused before she said, "No, actually."

Thorin feigned surprise: "Oh, really! Why is that? I thought you were the greatest of friends with both of them."

"Well, I am," she said hesitantly, "but, but..." She stopped again, then looked at him as he rode beside her. "Do you think it sounds really arrogant of me if I say I think they're both in love with me?...And I feel really uncomfortable about it."

"No, you're not being arrogant, Rose," he replied, "because I think it's true."

She looked surprised and then laughed. "It's impossible to keep anything from you, isn't it?"

"Or your mother," he granted. "I noticed the way they were carrying on in the forge yesterday and I didn't think you were very happy about it."

"Well, it's so silly, isn't it?" she grinned. "Fancy fighting over me."

"Yes, just fancy," Thorin grinned back. "Fancy falling in love with and then fighting over the most beautiful girl for miles around! They must be mad."

And Rose leaned over and poked him hard in the ribs. "Get on with you! You're such a tease," she said and they had a good laugh. Then they became serious again.

"So, Rose," said Thorin, "you've got what you wished for and Lostwithiel is now sighing over you, it would appear, in the same way as you sighed over him. And the problem is...?"

Another long pause. "Well, there are lots of problems," she finally replied. "It's a bit upsetting to have two people in love with me because I don't want to hurt either of them. Also, I don't know how I feel about Darri any more. Am I in love with him too? If I am in love with both of them, which one do I prefer if I have to make a choice? And, if I don't know which I prefer, does that mean, actually, that I'm in love with neither of them?"

"Hmmm," said Thorin. "very sensible questions and not easily answered. That's why I thought that a few days away from it all would help you get things sorted in your mind."

"So, you don't want me along with you as your assistant?" She sounded very disappointed.

"Of course I do," he laughed, "but I thought we might kill two birds with one stone."

Rose was riding side saddle because she had on a lovely dress designed to impress their new client. It was a crisp day in winter; the sky was very blue and they were both wearing their furs. Thorin still had plenty of gold left over from the dragon's hoard and they were both earning good money from their commissions. But Thorin's acquisitive nature tended to encourage him to build up his gold in the town vaults rather than spend it and the family had gently encouraged him to go on a bit of a spree in the past few months. They had all come to the Grey Havens and ordered themselves fine clothing for the special events that seemed to occur more frequently in their lives and, today, they entered the town looking very splendid indeed. Thorin was wearing his favourite blue velvet with a fur-lined coat and Rose looked elegant and quite severe in black velvet which was modified by a deep and luxurious blue fox collar. When they arrived at Barnaby Waller's mansion, Thorin dismounted and helped his daughter from her horse and soon stable-boys came running to take away their mounts.

Thorin justified the expense of the clothes to himself by concluding that, if you presented yourself to a customer dressed in rich clothing, then they would take you seriously and be prepared to pay your prices.

As they trod up the flight of stone steps, the wealthy merchant came out to meet them. He fussed around them, leading them into a luxuriously appointed room and plying them with refreshments and wine. Servants came to remove their furs and they were invited to take the most comfortable seats by the roaring log fire.

Although he was impressed by their appearance, Waller was treating them like guests because he could see that a substantial profit could be made from the work of these smiths. It was not so much that he wanted objects of beauty for himself but he owned a whole fleet of trading ships and knew where he could sell their pieces in distant markets for much higher prices than could be achieved in Ered Luin. He wanted to go into business with Thorin and so the two sat down at the table with their heads together.

Rose was tired and bored and wandered around the room studying all the beautiful furniture and ornaments and wondering if this is what she wanted for herself. When Barnaby's son, Roger, came into the room, his first sight of Rose was of her standing by the large marble fireplace, staring in contemplation into the flames, the candle-light flickering on her lovely face and her beautiful black hair falling in a mass of curls down to her waist. He stood motionless on the threshold for a good moment, quite stunned by the graceful and delightful picture presented to him and then he cried in an excited voice, "Rose!"

She raised her head at her name and gazed wide-eyed at the handsome, dark-haired youth who was walking eagerly towards her across the room. "Roger!" she exclaimed, holding out her hands and grasping his in her own.


While Thorin and Rose were riding off to the Grey Havens, Tauriel was chatting with Darri. He was very busy working on some farm implements for Thorin in his absence and so she had taken him some bread and cheese and a mug of beer into the forge. He grinned amiably at her and bit off a chunk of bread with strong, even teeth.

"No, sit down," she said, "and take a small break." They sat together at the workbench and Tauriel thought what a nice lad he was. Darri was 40 but, by dwarf count, he was still a young man – and looked it, too. He had a fresh, open face and, like most dwarves, a heavy, muscular build. He was always smiling and always good-natured, someone whom it was fun to be with. He was hard-working too and came from a decent, well-thought-of family. Like Dis, his mother had been very supportive of Tauriel when she had first moved into the area and he and Rose had got along brilliantly together from the word go.

If Rose chose Darri, she was sure that he would look after her devotedly for the rest of their lives together; so why did she hesitate, thought Tauriel? Was it because she wanted for her daughter the same depth of passion that she had experienced with Thorin and she just had a feeling that he would not supply it? Or was it because he was a dwarf? Now, that was an odd thing to think since she had married a dwarf herself, but her elven nature still felt that perhaps an elf-lord might be a better catch for Rose or even a man, one of her own kind, where there were no worries about different rates of aging and immortality.

Tauriel was blunt about it: "You're in love with Rose, aren't you, Darri? So I suppose I'd better ask you what your intentions are." And she laughed.

Darri looked up sharply from his food. "I might have known that you would have guessed, Tauriel," he said with a smile. "Trust a mother." He paused for a moment. "Yes, I am and have been for some time. We became friends the moment we first met. I've always thought that there was no-one like her. My feelings of friendship gradually turned to love some time ago as we got older and I cannot imagine myself married to anyone else."

"And what would your mother say?" asked Tauriel. "Wouldn't she want you to marry one of your own kind?"

"Well, perhaps she would, but there are so few dwarf women around that she'd be more than happy if I gave her grandchildren by whatever means," he laughed. "And she loves Rose, too. I think my mother is hoping that there is a betrothal in the wind."

"And you'd like to join our family?"

"It would be a great honour," he said seriously. "And the thought of working with Thorin and Rose in this forge brings tremendous pleasure to me." Yes, there was that, Tauriel thought. The three of them shared this intense common interest between them and it was a very important part of all of their lives.

"And do you intend to propose?" she asked.

"Well, I was going to wait a couple of years because she's still very young, but," and he pulled a face, "Lostwithiel has suddenly become a rival and I don't want to lose her just because I was a bit tardy with my offer."

Tauriel patted his hand in a kindly fashion. "We'll just have to see what Rose decides. She went away with Thorin just so that she could have a think about things. She knows how you both feel, so you need to let her sort it all out in her own time."

Darri nodded and went back to his anvil but, once Tauriel had left the forge, he began to worry about Rose thinking through things on her own with only Thorin to advise her. Which way would Thorin suggest that she jump? Would he think that a dwarven smith, like himself, was a good choice? Or would he feel that an elf lord was somehow a step up in the world? After all, he was very happily married to an elf himself. Darri ran his hand though his hair in frustration, then put down his tools and started to make plans to follow her to the Grey Havens.



"Roger!" cried Rose, clasping his hands. He was a face from the past and she hadn't seen him for years.

The merchant looked up from the table where he was sitting in deep conference with Thorin. "Well," he said, "I wondered if you two would recognise each other, but I suppose that companions in crime have a special bond." And he laughed.

The penny suddenly dropped for Thorin. "You weren't one of Rose's little friends who went on a rampage through the market square all those years ago, were you?" he asked. Then turning to Waller, he said, "I'm surprised you've let us over your doorstep. The Oakenshield family didn't exactly make themselves popular that day."

"Well," said Waller, "I'm not one for letting a small incident like that get in the way of good business. But," he continued, waggling his finger at Rose and Roger who were still standing there clasping each other's hands, "just don't let it happen again." And he chuckled jovially.

The two young people went off to sit in a corner where they could renew their acquaintance. Roger gazed at Rose with awe. She was stunning, absolutely stunning. She looked so different from that skinny, large-eyed, short-haired urchin who had persuaded him to be wickedly naughty in the market square, and yet he would have known her anywhere. She had attracted him like a magnet then and he discovered that he was still attracted to her now.

Rose gazed at Roger in amazement too. She also would have recognised him anywhere. He had been one of her most ardent followers. A handsome child then, now he was tall and very goodlooking, clean-shaven like an elf and with long, floppy, dark hair. They looked into each other's eyes for a good five minutes, not feeling the need to talk. And then they burst into an excited chatter that completely absorbed them for the rest of the evening.

His father smiled indulgently at the young couple. He hadn't known that Thorin intended to bring his daughter but, now that he had, the two of them really seemed to be hitting it off together. And, the greedy merchant was not averse at all to his son hooking up with the daughter of an ex king, a daughter who was likely to inherit a share of a dragon's hoard. His mind leaped confidently ahead; for what girl could resist his dashing and handsome son? He thought about her work as a female smith. Well, that would have to go once they were married. They would move into their own apartments in his large mansion and she would learn to be the most beautiful and the most successful hostess in the town. Yes, that would get plenty of business rolling in. And Barnaby could scarcely stop himself from rubbing his hands with glee.

Thorin saw his daughter making an apparently delighted connection with Roger and didn't know what to think. A third suitor! This just made things even more complicated and he thought they had come to the Grey Havens to get away from things like this. Thorin felt confused and had a bit of a glower. If only Tauriel were here.


Tauriel, meanwhile, had ridden to the outpost late that afternoon. She was staying there until the following day but would return home before dark. After a meal with her men, she cornered Lostwithiel and was equally blunt with him.

"Tell me about your feelings for my daughter," she said.

She looked at the elf lord closely. He was so devilishly handsome – some people would say beautiful – and his looks had even improved since he became one of her men. What did he have in his favour? Well, he was an elf, of course, and, that was good as far as she was concerned. She didn't want to feel this bias but it was there all the same. And he was witty and charming and graceful. Rose seemed to light up in his company and their bantering always made Tauriel smile. And he had been very important in her family: he had saved Thorin's life, rescued Arion from the warg and had helped her give birth to Poppy. And so they owed him a lot. He was a good man to have around in a tight corner and she was sure he would try to be a good husband to Rose. But – and this was a mark against him – what would happen to his job up at the outpost once they were married? Would he feel obliged to give it up and then would he simply return to being a courtier with all the wafting and lethargy that that implied? And what damage would it do to their relationship? And, of course, there was the immortality issue that she and Thorin struggled with.

Lostwithiel had looked startled at her question but now he smiled and answered smoothly. "Ah, you noticed," he said. "Well, my feelings for Rose have been growing quietly now, I reckon, for a long time – I just didn't recognise them. Then, suddenly the other day, I looked at her and was nearly bowled over by the power of my emotions." Good, thought Tauriel. Passion. That's what Rose needs. "And, you know that we've been good friends ever since we first met and that we've faced a lot of things together." He gave her a charming, quirky smile and was obviously talking about Poppy's birth. "And she was so kind and supportive to me when Challis preferred Lithin. Perhaps I should have recognised my feelings for her then, but she seemed so young. Now, with Darri in love with her too..." And he trailed off.

"You don't want to miss your chance," Tauriel finished for him. He nodded. "Well," she said, "you know that she's gone to the Grey Havens with Thorin – part of that is so she can have a bit of a think about what she feels for both of you." And then she patted him on the hand and went about her duties.

Lostwithiel was upset. So, she was off with Thorin, having a think. Well, that might sink his chances completely. There had always been a certain edginess between him and the dwarf and surely Thorin would favour Darri as one of his own kind and a smith, to boot!? As soon as Tauriel left for home, Lostwithiel felt that he really ought to get down to the Grey Havens before Thorin influenced his daughter's mind.


The next day, Thorin and Rose were closeted with the merchant all morning discussing details of the jewellery he wanted them to make for him. Then they gave Rose the afternoon off and she went out for a ride with Roger. They had a wonderful time together and it seemed that neither of them could talk fast enough as they tried to fill each other in on the events of the past eight years. Finally they came home to eat and then discussed what to do that evening.

"Would you like to go to The Mithril Crown?" Roger asked. "It's a jolly place and loads of our old gang still meet up there. I'm sure they'll be pleased to see you."

This seemed like a good idea but Thorin felt vaguely unhappy and made her promise that she wouldn't return too late. "I'll wait up," he said.

She promised and off they set.

Meanwhile, some hours earlier, Darri had already set out from the forge, leaving the children in the care of Dis whilst Lostwithiel had, at roughly the same time, set out from the outpost.


The Mithril Crown was packed. Through the smoky gloom, lit only by a small number of candles, Roger could see a bunch of their old friends in the corner. "There they are," he said to Rose, grabbing her by the hand and dragging her over to meet them. They were all excited to see her again and several rounds of drinks were circulated in celebration of their reunion.

In the opposite corner, watching them over the top of his glass, sat a heavily cloaked figure. He seemed to be focussed on Rose but it was difficult to tell because all you could really see were two grey eyes staring steadily out from underneath a dark hood.

Things were getting livelier and the friends were getting wilder and more drunk. Roger was sitting there with his arm around Rose when, suddenly, he turned to speak to her. Their faces were very close and Roger, seeing her lips only fractionally away from his own, couldn't resist them and bent forward to lock her in his arms and give her a passionate kiss.

Lostwithiel and Darri had arrived at the merchant's house at precisely the same time as each other and now, armed with information from the servants as to Rose's whereabouts, they were striding silently through the streets of the Grey Havens, shoulder to shoulder, not speaking to each other and with their faces drawn into a tight, angry mask. Each thought the other an intruder on the private scene they meant to have with Rose.

They entered the Mithril Crown together, just as Roger was kissing Rose, and they let out a howl of rage. They strode across the room and, before the young man knew what was happening, they seized him by the collar and dragged him from his seat. They spun him around and both hit him at the same time. As his friends leaped up to enter the fray, the whole room seemed to erupt. Their action provided the regulars of the inn with a good excuse to hit someone and, within moments, the whole room was on its feet, engaged in the brawl.

When Rose saw Lostwithiel and Darri strike Roger, she shouted at them to stop but the mayhem drowned out her protests. And so, she dodged between the flying fists and boots in an attempt to reach their side. Lostwithiel, Darri and Roger were all in a circle ineffectually flailing at each other when Rose tried to part them. But the room was dark and noisy and heaving and they didn't hear her cries. Suddenly, Roger's fist, which was intended for Lostwithiel, connected with Rose instead. In the midst of the chaos, nobody noticed her fall nor did they realise that a young girl was being trampled underfoot. Well, no-one noticed except one – the cloaked stranger in the corner.

He leaped across the room and, shouldering the brawlers aside, scooped her up from the floor and, holding her to his broad chest, carried her out of danger and into the cold night air. The fresh air revived her and she found herself looking up into a pair of calm, grey eyes which were set in a grave and sternly smiling face. She was totally confident that she was being saved and not being kidnapped. She could hear the steady beat of his heart and she relaxed against him.

She asked for his name and his reply surprised her. "Telbarad, a Ranger of the North, at your service, lady. Have you heard of the Rangers?"

"Of course I have," she replied scornfully. "My father is Thorin Oakenshield and my mother is Tauriel, captain of the Ered Luin outpost."

"Ah, yes," he said. "I know of both of them."

For a few moments, he gazed down at her and Rose looked silently back. His eyes seemed to lock with her own and Rose felt as if her heart were smiling. But then he asked where he could take her and he carried her to Roger's home. She could have walked but the Ranger seemed more than happy to hold her and Rose was more than happy to lie with her head against his beating heart. Her father was waiting up, as he had promised, and came running across the room as Telbarad entered with her in his arms. "A brawl at the Mithril Crown," he said briefly and then he placed her gently in a chair.

Thorin ran his hand through his hair. "I don't know what your mother will say," he said. "I shall be in real hot water when she finds out."

"Does she need to find out?" asked Rose.

"Well," said Thorin, "I doubt if you'll be able to keep that black eye from her."

Rose's hand flew to her eye and the stranger laughed. "Don't worry, my lady. Nothing can spoil your radiant beauty." And his silvery eyes glittered. Then he introduced himself to Thorin and Thorin recognised his name.

"Ah, one of the heroes of our northern borders," he said. "Let me take you by the hand." And he shook it with real feeling.

At that moment, Roger, Lostwithiel and Darri staggered in, covered in blood and bruises. "There she is," said Roger, "quite alive. And now you know, I think you can both get out of my home."

But, Barnaby Waller made his entrance too and stood in appalled silence as he saw his damaged offspring and his battered companions. Then he said: "All of you can get out. Thorin, the contracts are cancelled. Everything you touch turns to disaster and the ring-leader always seems to be Rose. She's a trouble-maker and I don't want her near my son." And, before anyone could say anything, he had turned on his heel and left the room.

Roger took Rose's hand and squeezed it: "Don't worry, he shan't keep me away from you," he said.

"I'll show you to a clean, decent inn," said Telbarad and an attractive smile appeared on his rugged face. Now there's a man, thought Thorin. If only Rose would set her sights on him or he on her. But the next morning, as they said goodbye to him at the inn, this did not seem so unlikely. As Telbarad held Rose's hand, apparently reluctant to let it go, she also seemed reluctant to part from him.

"Can you visit us," she asked, "as you travel through the area? I'm sure my mother would like to meet you."

"And I her," he said. Then he bowed, got on his horse and rode away. He glanced back to raise his hand in farewell just before he was out of sight. Rose let out a big sigh. "What an amazing man," she said.

Suitor number four, thought Thorin.


Thorin was home in bed with Tauriel. Yes, she had been really mad with him and Darri and Rose when they arrived back but now they lay on their backs holding hands.

"FOUR of them," said Tauriel. "I can hardly believe it!"

"Well," said Thorin, "the way things are going, I reckon that there could be even more before the year's out."

"What about these latest two?" she asked him. "Do you think they're stronger candidates than Lostwithiel or Darri?"

"Roger's a nice boy, but a bit too young yet. And, even if we give him a few years to mature, I'm confident we'll get a lot of opposition from his father," Thorin mused. "I can imagine he's concluded that we're not the sort of family he wants Roger marrying into."

"And what about this Ranger?" Tauriel asked with interest. "A Numenorean, descended from the Faithful. Just think about having one of those in the family."

"Handsome, strong, stern, calm. He's the sort of man that I'd like to have as a friend. And I reckon he'd soon sort Rose out. There was an instant attraction between them."

"But?" Tauriel asked.

"But, we've got another older man here. I know he's one of the Dunedain – a long-lived group. But, age-wise, Roger seems to suit her best..." He paused. "I really don't know."

"And neither do I," Tauriel sighed. "Perhaps we ought to stop worrying and just let it all come out in the wash."

"Yes, let's stop worrying," said Thorin, turning towards her and pulling her tightly against him. "Let's just think about you and me – for one night, at least."

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking," murmured Tauriel. "What are you thinking, Thorin?"

"Oh, I was just thinking how beautiful you are and how much I like being in bed with you. What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking that you feel really good," she whispered, caressing him, "and that I'm not very interested in going to sleep tonight." And then she leaned across him and turned down the lamp.