1.

"Have you ever been to the Shire, my dear?" Gandalf asked her one day in the library.

"Never. It wasn't a likely place to find my father and his kin, so mother never took us there." Lori looked up from the tome she was reading and found the pipe smoking wizard looking at her with a contemplating smile.

"Pity. It really is a very nice place, and the people there are… Well delightful is perhaps a too broad term to use in generalization, but certainly quaint. I think we shall have to go there soon. Events are unfolding in the mountains that would draw us out of our studies."

"I see. But why the Shire?" she asked perplexed.

Gandalf gave a few puffs of smoke and thought about it. "I'm not quite sure yet…"

"You know, if you want me to be like you, you're going to have to give up your trade secrets." She looked pointedly at him.

At this, Gandalf startled. "Like me? Heavens no, dear girl, the world has plenty of me in it. I don't want you to be like me! Whatever gave you that idea?"

"Then… Why did you take me as your apprentice? I don't understand…"

Gandalf gave her a sympathetic smile. "You are special, Lori. A child with parentage of three great races of Middle-Earth, born in the exact moment of a complete planet alignment, as well as a solar eclipse and therefore gifted with magic. There was no place for you in common society that would hone your skills and help you fulfill your destiny. I took you in to help you reach your full potential as you. Not as me. Not as a guardian."

"And what, pray tell, is my destiny then?"

"That, I cannot tell you. You'll have to follow your path like everyone else and make the choices that are presented to you in the best way that you can. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, now would I? –Not that I even know what lies in store for you. No one but the gods know that, my dear."

Lori snorted and resumed reading the text before her. After a while, something struck her. "If I'm not going to be a guardian, can I at least stop walking around with a staff like an old man? I'll never be able to use it in combat anyway, I don't have the reach nor the height for it." Her eyes lit with mischief as she watched Gandalf's reaction.

He choked on his smoke and gave her an annoyed glance. "I'll have you know that I'm far from the oldest being in this world. And yes, you may discard your staff, as long as you then choose another type of weapon to be trained in. The world is a dangerous place, as you well know, and it will not do to go about unarmed. We'll just have to figure out how best to imbue your weapon with magic, if not by the staff stone."

"Can I choose throwing knives? I've always had a knack for those."

"You may, but it will have to be in combination with a close range weapon. I doubt that throwing knives would stop a large enough enemy, and you need to be able to defend yourself, should he fall upon you in close quarters. Besides, your imbued weapon should always remain on your person, lest it loses effect, so knives or arrows are ill suited for this."

"I see," Lori said. "Let me think about it then."

"A fine suggestion! And may I propose that you do so at the weapon smith? You've been cooped up in here for quite long enough today, I think. Young bodies should move and breathe and laugh, not petrify over old tomes in the company of old men with pipes." He winked at her. "And while you're out, would you be a dear and get me a basket of apples? The ones from Dol Amroth should be arriving this morning, and they have the sweetest flavor."

"But I was just reading about Erebor and the attack of Smaug on the dwarves…"

"Nonsense! That tale will soon enough be told. Now off with you! Have fun while it is afforded to you."

"Fine then, I will," Lori sprang up from her chair and bounded up the stairs. The library in Minas Tirith was dark and dry and buried within the mountain side to protect the precious scrolls and tomes. This could have a claustrophobic effect on some. Not Lori, though. Her dwarven ancestry ensured that she felt as safe under the miles of stone as above it. But her elvish and human descent made her crave sunlight, and so when given the chance, she bolted for the bright city.

When Lori emerged from the tomb-like building she took a deep breath and bathed her face in the warmth of the light. Summer was coming and the spring air was ever so gently warming with the scent of blossoming trees. A light breeze tugged on a few strands of her long platinum hair. She opened her eyes and smiled, excited that she was going to get a new weapon, because the staff she had been lugging around the past few months was annoying and unfitting for her.

She strolled through the streets, browsing wares and greeting citizens of the city, and even though she was often received with surprise, wonder and even suspicion due to her unusual looks, people took quickly to her polite charm and easy smile. They didn't need to know that her gift of magic gave off a slight enchantment when Lori was insecure, making most people take an instant liking to the strange little woman. If she told them, she might as well lock herself in the library for the rest of her life, for it would be impossible to convince anyone to trust or accept her again.

The enchantment wasn't a willful act on her part, and wouldn't last if Lori actually offended the person in front of her. Gandalf had called it her natural charm when he met her, and had tried to explain what the magic in her did. To this day she was still trying to find out what her abilities and limitations were and sometimes she even doubted that there was anything magical about her at all. Maybe things just happened around her out of sheer coincidence?

It wasn't just the charm that showed her gift, though. She had healing powers when she encountered sickness, wherever she lived the crops would be rich and the rivers full, when she hid no enemy could find her and when she sang the animals would approach her. Lori liked to call it dumb luck with a dash of elf, to which Gandalf would laugh and rub her head, claiming that those qualities were not so bad at all.

Only in the latest months of studying with Gandalf had she begun to master small elemental feats, like making a spark from her fingers or chilling the air of her breath, conjuring a sheen of water in her palm and making a pebble crack. Mind you, this had been under extreme concentration and not something that was easily replicated. It would take a lifetime to learn anything of real use at that rate.

She arrived at the weapon shop to the familiar clang of hammer upon anvil and decided to let the smith work while she browsed the wares. Bows, spears, throwing axes and slings were quickly sorted out, as they were ranged weapons. Staffs, long swords, two-handed axes and mauls were all either too long or too heavy for her to wield properly. That left daggers, short swords, shields, axes, sabres and whips.

"Can I help you, girl?" She heard a gruff voice behind her. "This is no place for children to play."

Lori turned around and saw the surprised look on the smithy's face. "I'm hardly a child, good man. And yes, maybe you can help. I am in need of a suitable close combat weapon for myself. I don't suppose you'd know where I should start?"

"Wh… What are you?" the man stuttered before he caught himself, stunned at the look of the short woman. Obviously she was neither dwarf nor human, lacking a beard and height of a grown-up which her curves plainly testified that she was. She was also not an elf, as her ears were round tipped and again, she lacked severely in height. "Apologies miss, I didn't mean to be rude, you just caught me off guard is all. Here, let me see what you have your eyes on."

She gave a small smile, "It's alright, you're not the first to ask, nor will you lightly be the last. Suffice to say my name is Lori and I'm well of age to acquire a weapon from you."

"Very well, then. Let's start with the short sword. I have a few pieces lying around… Here! This one would look pretty in that little hand of yours, I think." He handed her an ornate sword with flower patterns twisting up the blade and a leather handle imbedded with small rubies and silver thread. She took it gingerly, not wanting to damage the art and tried to swing it around her a few times.

"The balance is off by quite a lot, master smith. The blade is a bit crooked and…" She ran her thumb across the edge, "it's too blunt." Knocking on the blade, she heard a short 'klink', but no more. "The metal is too soft, even if I sharpened it, it would dent and blunt at the first use. This sword belongs on a wall somewhere, not on the road. But you're right, it is pretty."

"The road? Whatever would you be doing on the road?" He asked as he took the blade back.

"Travelling, of course. Which is why I need a weapon that can defend me, should the need arise."

"I see. Have you any skill in sword fighting then?"

"I do not, not yet anyway."

"And when will you be travelling?"

"Soon, I suppose."

"hmm, well a short sword will do you little good if you don't know how to use it. If the travels were further off, I'd recommend that you take classes with Master Ilen before leaving, but seeing as that won't be a possibility… Are there other areas you have skill in?"

"Not for close combat. But my preferred mid-ranged weapon is the throwing knife. I'm fairly competent with those."

"So you're agile and quick?"

"Somewhat, yes. Not as an elf though, but quicker than a human."

Again the smith looked at her as if he was trying to puzzle out what kind of creature she was. "Do you know a lot of elves, lassie?"

She chuckled lightly, making the shop feel a little brighter. "I do, actually. Just not the one I wanted to."

"And who might that be?"

She sobered quickly and touched a blade with no handle on the workbench. "My father. He sailed west before I met him, but my mother didn't know and searched the elven realms for him when I was a child."

"I am sorry Miss. It was not my place to ask." He almost seemed embarrassed to have brought it up. "But if you are half elf it would make sense that you are quick, from what I've heard of them. Any other traits?"

"Well, my mother was a half dwarf, half human which is what gave me my short stature, I suppose. It also gave me a bit more strength and sturdiness as well as a resistance to fire, though not as much as a purebred dwarf."

By now, his jaw was hanging slack from its hinges. "Are you making this up, girl?" He asked. "Because I have better things to do than to be made a fool of today, I can tell you!"

"No, no! It's true, I promise. Please, I'm just here for a weapon." She held her hands up reassuringly.

He thought it over for a moment, suspicion evident on his face. "Fine… But if you tell me your grandmother was an orc I'll kick you out arse first, you hear?"

"Agreed," she smiled and rolled her eyes at him.

"Right then. How do you feel about daggers?"

"Umm… Curious?"

"Try these two on for size then," he handed her two curved daggers as long as her forearm and showed her to hold them with the blades on the pinky side of each hand. "That way, if someone comes at you with a sword, like this…" He lunged at her with a sword and she parried with the blade across her forearm, "the blade will stop theirs."

"And then what?" She asked.

"Then you slice them with your other dagger and spill their guts on the ground."

"Oh, lovely. I'll be knee deep in entrails by the time the third bandit got to me…" As she contemplated how she would use the daggers, she couldn't help but think that it was awfully close to her body. "I don't suppose you have an idea to how I can avoid being weighed down if the opponent is heavier than me?"

"You're right. If I wanted to get to you, those daggers wouldn't stop me before it was too late for both of us… Please wait here, I think I have just the thing in the back."

He dug through a few boxes and a barrel full of metal weapons before he pulled out two thin, black sheaths with fierce looking handles sporting prongs on the cross bar that extended in curves parallel to the straight center blade.

"These are called sai and are used by people who live far far east of here. See the prongs? They're used for defensive maneuvers against blades by catching the strike at arms length, and the middle blade is used for stabbing or slicing. It requires that the wielder is light on her feet and strong in her arms. You see if you can't move or jump, you'll get your legs chopped off because you can't block effectively with these weapons. And if you're not able to withstand a strike directly on your arms, you'll be overpowered and disarmed, but considering your claim to light feet and good strength… I think they're perfect for you."

Lori carefully unsheathed one of the long blades and admired the black steel they were made of as it glinted in the light from the forge. It gave off a slight tone as it was released from its scabbard and seemed to luster with life as it greeted her eager eyes. There were no adornments on the weapon, only the grip that was bound in a black shimmering leather that was smooth to the touch and the pommel which was faceted but made in the same material as the blade. As she stared at the metal there seemed to be several layers of blackness that threatened to suck her in and she had to forcibly remove her eyes from it.

"Why is it black? Is it dirty?" She asked the smith.

He chuckled at her ignorance in good humor, "No, no. That was how it was made… The metal worker who forged it mixed in components of graphite, carbonite and onyx to give the metal this color in order to make the blade hidden in the dark. It was made for stealth and assassinations, see?"

Lori shivered slightly at the thought, but examined the weight of the weapon, the balance in her hand and how it handled when she swung it around. She found that it was very willing to whirl around her fingers, but always returned to her palm at her will. It was almost effortless.

"That sort of juggling will earn you good coin at a fair, but will do you no good in a real fight, I tell you." His one brow was lifted pointedly at her.

"Oh, I know. I just wanted to see how it handled. I don't suppose you'd try to show me how it's used?"

"Sure, sure. You need to use them both at the same time to get their complimentary effect… Here you are," he handed her the twin sai. "Find a good defensive stance and get ready. Remember to breathe." He then proceeded to come at her with the two daggers in a fairly slow motion so she could block with crossed sai, push him off and catch the second slash to her ribs with a back handed block.

"Good, now try offence."

Lori only had to think for a moment before she was a blur of whirling blades, clashing with the daggers. She even got the smith to retreat for a few steps before she stopped with a victorious smirk on her face.

"Very good! I'd say we've found your weapon, indeed! All you need now is practice and some light armor and you're good to go."

She looked at her two new weapons and felt that they were as eager as her for their new partnership. They would not fail her, she was sure of it. "Thank you very much, sir. I'm grateful for your help… I need maintenance gear and straps for the scabbards as well. Black if you have them."

"Alright, and if you're going to the armorer next, let me recommend Ursus the tanner. Not many know it but she makes excellent leather gear and if you tell her I sent you, you can probably wrestle up a good discount from her. She owes me." He winked and equipped the blades with their straps and packed Lori's supplies.

"Thank you again. Goodbye." She paid the somewhat steep price for her new equipment and waved to the smith as she left the store to descend to the second level of the city where she knew Ursus' shop was.

...o00Ô00o…

When Lori's excursion was at an end she returned to Gandalf in the library, winded from the heavy load she was carrying.

"You know, I'm pretty sure you could conjure up these apples yourself if you were so inclined," she complained to Gandalf before handing him a sack of apples.

"Oh, stop your complaining, girl. Besides, this is only half the apples I asked you to get if the weight of the sack has any say?"

Lori took a few breaths with her hands at her sides as she gave him an exasperated look. "We both know that I was always going to eat half of those apples anyway. I just didn't see the need to drag them to the top of Minas Tirith to do so. And you were right, they are positively scrumptious!"

"You ate six apples so you didn't have to carry them?" He grinned. "And how did that turn out for you?"

"If you must know, I'm no longer hungry, I didn't have to take two trips to carry all of my purchases up here and I have a great memory of juicy apples on my tongue. On the down side, I'm nauseous and my left side stings from trotting up all of the the stairs. But I'm equipped for our journey, weapons, armor and food, so it's worth it, I think."

"Very well Lori. Get packed and get some sleep. We leave for the Shire in the morning. I just need to send these letters and then I will turn in as well."

"What letters?"

"You're being nosy, my dear. But as it happens, they are letters for some of the dwarves that are meeting in the Iron Hills in a fortnight. I hope to give certain events a nudge in the right direction with them. Now off you go, and don't stay up and read all night!" He shooed her along like she was a child, and she indulged him just this once.

"Alright I'm going! Goodnight Gandalf, and sweet dreams."

…o00Ô00o…

The next day they set out as planned on an adventure Lori had no idea lay in store for her…