Elodie Mooncheek pulled back her long, unruly red hair, swiftly braiding it as she heard the pitter-patter of small feet approaching. Two blonde haired little fireballs burst into her room, followed closely by their morose older brother. Both Ethel and Shirlyn jumped at Elodie, crashing into her full force, almost sending them all to the floor. The two sets of warm blue eyes twinkled merrily up at her as she tried to look stern. "Girls, what are you doing barging into my quarters like this?"
Ethel pulled away and straightened her skirts. "Sorry Miss Mooncheek, we just-"
Shirlyn still clung tightly to Elodie's waist. "Ellie, we want to hear another of your stories!" she talked over the top of her older sister, "I want to hear more about the Dwarves and your friends!"
"Shirlyn, you mustn't interrupt, it isn't polite," the four year old pouted, her little nose wrinkling, "And now is not the time for stories. We need to get your breakfast and make sure you are ready for your lessons."
The girl, a foot shorter than Elodie, pulled away in disgust. "I don't want to go to lessons! I want to learn more about the Dwarves!"
Elodie glanced at Aidric, his piercing blue gaze watching her closely. She knew what he wanted and it wasn't to go to lessons. The only time Aidric seemed to have any joy was when she talked of the Lonely Mountain and she could never say no to him for his eyes reminded her too much of someone she had left behind.
She glanced at Ethel and saw the hope in the six year olds eyes, but was trying to contain her excitement. She acted so grown up for being so young, the only time she seemed like a child was when Elodie shared her childhood.
Shirlyn tugged at her skirt, "Miss Ellie?" she whispered. In that instance she knew it was probably best for these children to have some happiness in their lives and if her stories gave them that, then so be it. They could work on lessons another day.
Elodie sighed and sat in the dwarf-sized chair beside her, pulling Shirlyn into her lap. Ethel settled at her feet and Aidric chose the chair across from Elodie, a small smile gracing the ten year olds face. "What shall I tell you about today?"
"I want to hear about you and Thorin scaring King Thror in the throne room," Shirlyn said excitedly.
Elodie smiled and hummed in contemplation, looking to Ethel.
"I want to hear the story of when you started taking care of Fili and Kili," Ethel asked quietly.
Smiling sadly, Elodie nodded softly then sought Aidric's suggestion.
Aidric's ice blue eyes crinkled in thought and Elodie knew whatever he asked would be what she told.
"I want to hear of why you have no beard."
Elodie laughed and the girls agreed enthusiastically with the idea.
"Well as I have told you before, there are a few Dwarf women that have been known to have no beard. So no one thought it strange that as I matured I never grew one. At first many said I would soon grow one, but when I didn't, everyone took it as a seldom heard of occurrence and left it at that. What they didn't know was that I was special…"
The sun glared off the pond at the far corner of the house as two small figures approached on ponies. The brothers were arguing when they reached the door.
"There is no way I'm going in there."
"Why not? You know she listens to you more."
"That is not true. You're eldest, this is your job."
"And you're the baby, which is why she will agree only if you go in."
"No, I will not go in."
"Yes you will! As you said, I am eldest so that means you must listen to me and I am telling you-"
"Can I help you Master Dwarves?"
Fili glanced at Kili who had pursed his lips and looked away, ignoring the stable boy. Fili sighed and dismounted than looked up at the gangly teen. "Should have stayed on the damn pony," he grumbled under his breath.
"What was that?" the human inquired.
"Nothing. I am looking for Elodie Mooncheek. Does she live here?"
The boy's eyes lighted, "Oh, Miss Mooncheek. Yes, she is working here. Follow me and I'll go fetch her."
Fili was led through the tall front door into a small entry room.
"Stay here," the boy commanded then headed up a narrow staircase.
He glanced around at the human furnishings and muttered, "You'll pay for this Kili."
"…And so I was given the name Mooncheek because it was said that my bare, pale cheeks were as beautiful as the moon."
Ethel and Shirlyn sighed while Aidric smiled.
"Oh my, look at how late it's gotten. Let's go find some lunch and I do believe we will still have some time for a few lessons." She placed a groaning Shirlyn on the floor and helped Ethel from her spot when John came into the room.
"Miss Mooncheek, sorry to interrupt miss, but you've got a visitor."
Her brow crinkled in confusion, "A visitor?"
John nodded his messy, brown topped head, "Aye. He's waiting for you downstairs."
"Well alright," she glanced at the children, who were all watching her eagerly, "Could you take the children to get some lunch. I'm sure it's nothing of consequence."
Shirlyn grabbed John's hand and tugged, "Well I'm sure it's an adventure Mister John. Miss Ellie sure needs a new story to tell us about."
Laughing, Elodie followed them out of the room and went downstairs. Her forest green eyes settled on the back of whoever her visitor was. From his height and stature she knew it was a dwarf and his wavy golden hair reminded her very much of her dear Fili, but she didn't think there could be any reason that Fili would come searching for her. Unless something had happened to Kili or to…no, nothing could have happened to him.
At her approach, he turned and his eyes lit up with delight upon seeing her. Elodie laughed as Fili swept her up in a tight hug, nearly crushing her.
"Fili, what are you doing here?" as she pulled back to look at him, she noticed his eyes were wet as were hers.
"Auntie El! I've missed seeing you," and he drew her back in for another hug, her face brushing against the fur on his coat.
"I've missed you as well Fili, but you couldn't possible have come all this way just to see me," she glanced around the room, "and where's Kili? You two were always inseparable."
He released her and stepped back. "Well, we were passing through on our way to Hobbiton. Thorin needs us for a quest."
Her chest tightened when Fili spoke his name. "Hobbiton? What could possibly be in Hobbiton that Thorin needs for a quest?" She wrapped her arms around herself to hide the tremble in her fingers.
"I'm not sure, but we're going to reclaim Erebor."
"Yes, and I'm sure Uncle would love to have you along," he watched her hopefully.
Elodie lowered her brow at him, "You mean to say that Thorin has no idea about you being here? Asking me to join his company?"
"Well…" Fili tugged at the end of the braid coming down from his mustache, "the wizard told us to get you."
"Gandalf the Grey? Why could he possibly want me to come?"
Fili shrugged and Elodie sighed. She glanced toward the back of the house where she knew the children were eating lunch; the girls probably giggling about something and Aidric dreaming of adventure. Elodie had been here nine years, since Aidric was small, watching each of the children grow. She taught them and cared for them like they were her own. She didn't know if she could bear to leave them and yet, Fili, one of her very first children, was asking her to do something very important for him.
"Shall I go get Kili to come and beg?" Fili teased.
She smiled and shook her head. "I'll be right back." She went back upstairs first, going to pack her things. It surprised her that in all her travels from one house to the next, only one bag was needed to hold her belongings. She changed out of her dress and pulled on a pair of black breeches and black boots, along with a cream tunic that came mid-thigh on her then put a black leather vest over that. She grabbed her dark green cloak off the end of her bed and settled that on her slender shoulders.
While pulling her black gloves on over her scarred hands, she glanced at herself in her looking glass. Her wavy red hair stayed loosely in its braid and her narrow cheeks were pink with excitement. She had always thought she looked too narrow and slim to be a dwarf. She was by no means as slim as an elf and she could hold her own in a fight, but she had never been as stocky as the other she-dwarves. Her small hands grabbed the light pack and she pulled her seldom used sword from behind the headboard, buckling it around her waist. Looking around her room one last time, Elodie closed the door and headed down to the kitchen.
Coming to the doorway to the kitchen, she saw John had left and in his stead was the children's mother, sharing a smile with the girls.
Shirlyn glanced up and saw her, "Are you going on an adventure Miss Ellie?" Her eyes twinkled with delight and their mother looked at Elodie's appearance warily.
"I must leave Milady. Something has come up very unexpectedly and my…" she trailed off, wondering what to classify Thorin and his nephews as, when the woman raised her eyebrow at Elodie, "My family needs me."
She nodded her head in understanding as all three children rushed to say goodbye. Shirlyn giggled with merriment while hugging Elodie tightly. "You've got to come back to tell us all about your adventure Miss Ellie!" Elodie smiled and gave Shirlyn a kiss on the top of her head.
As Shirlyn pulled away, Ethel stepped into her embrace, tears glistening in her eyes, "I shall miss you Miss Mooncheek. Please come back." Elodie squeezed the girl closer then released trying to catch the ten year olds downcast eyes. She moved to him and placed her hand on his cheek watching his piercing gaze move to hers.
"I shall miss you Aidric," she whispered, his head only a few inches taller than hers.
He nodded, eyes red, and smiled.
She stepped back and looked at each child, memorizing their faces and vowing to herself that she would see them again. Out of all the places she had been and all the children she had cared for, these three would always hold a special place in her heart. "Goodbye," was all she managed before she turned and left, heading back to Fili in the front room.
"Ready?" he asked, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Wiping at her eyes, she nodded, "As ready as I'll ever be."
He grabbed her pack and led the way out of the house. She glanced back one last time and saw Shirlyn waving through the front window. She waved back and smiled, feeling bittersweet. Then she looked ahead and saw a cluster of three ponies, one with a rider.
"Aunt Ellie!" Kili exclaimed, slipping off his mount and rushing to her, to pull her into a hug very similar to his brother's.
"Kili!" she exclaimed and pulled back to look at him, "What's this I see?" she rubbed his scruff, "Grew some whiskers while I wasn't looking!"
He grinned in that impish way she knew too well, "I'm glad you're coming."
"You know I could never say no to my boys."
"I recall you saying no to us many times. Don't you brother?" he released Elodie and looked at Fili, who had been tying her pack to one of the ponies.
Fili grinned back at Kili, "Aye. I remember that as well brother. Sometimes I thought no was the only word you knew Auntie El."
Elodie scowled at them as they all mounted their ponies. Then she laughed, "Oh how I've missed you both! It feels good to be on the road again."
"Just wait till Uncle sees you," Kili said.
"He'll love to have you along," Fili answered.
A small tendril of dread filled Elodie Mooncheek's stomach at the thought of seeing Thorin Oakenshield again.