"All journey's eventually end in the same place, home."

Chris Geiger

A cold, bitter wind was blowing down from the north when a weary and travel-worn group of Dwarves arrived on the edge of the Long Lake. The Lonely Mountain loomed high above them, a familiar silhouette against an ash grey sky, framed by small, swirling flecks of snow that settled lightly on the ground. The company had travelled for some weeks, risking the departure from the Blue Mountains at the very start of winter and pushing their ponies to the brink of exhaustion every day, and now, finally, their home was before them.

Dis stared up at the mountain, a place she had not seen since her childhood, and clenched her jaw against the tumult of emotions that stirred within her. They had received word just after the last days of autumn that her brothers quest had been a success, but she had scarcely dared believe that it could be so. She knew her brother would find no peace until he had at least tried to reclaim their stolen homeland, a weighty legacy left on his shoulders, but when they had parted nearly a year ago she had been nigh certain that she would never see him again.

But now he was king. Now the dragon was dead and the kingdom of Erebor was reclaimed.

"Look there," Narin, one of her companions, said, inclining his head ever-so-slightly towards the steely, mist covered waters of the lake with a bleak expression.

Following his gaze, she saw the burnt out and desolate town of Escaroth looming eerily through the fog. Her lips parted on a slight gasp as she made out the unmistakable bones of the dragon arching above the cold, grey waters.

"... Come," she said after a long silence, turning her pony towards the mountain once more to continue their march.

Their journey east had been rather smooth. They had expected to encounter trouble in the Misty Mountains, but had not seen so much as a hint of a goblin and driving snows had been their only obstacle. Similarly, the Beorning's on the edge of Mirkwood had welcomed them, much to their surprise and suspicion, giving them food and water and pointing them in the direction of the Old Forest Road, which was now open and clear of orcs. Dis remembered traversing the forest once before in her youth, in a tired and desolate caravan of wains and carts. The forest had been dark and oppressive then, but now each tree gleamed with pure white frost as midwinter rapidly approached.

And now, after a weary march through the fens and up the river, they were at last on the frozen shores of the Long Lake and the mountain was before them.

"Gamut namun!" a feminine voice called to them from behind, surprising them with a Khuzdul greeting. Turning, they saw that a boat had glided silently up the lake behind them as their ponies plodded along the shoreline and was now in haling distance. A girl stood at the prow, leaning over to raise her arm in greeting. She had loose, golden hair, tangled in the chilly wind, and was wearing a dark brown tunic peeking out from beneath a heavy coat with fur at the collar and a woollen scarf. She had a bow on her back and a sword that was unmistakably Elvish at her side, making them reach cautiously for their own weapons. She smiled brightly at them, no hint of a threat in her bearing. "We saw you from Lake Town, you're heading to the mountain?" she asked in a strange, lilting accent.

It fell to Dis, as leader of her company, to reply. "We are," she said carefully, eyeing this stranger who had greeted them in their secret tongue.

"It's about a day and a half march from here, but takes less than an afternoon to cross the lake by boat," the girl said, then hitched her thumb over her shoulder towards the deck in an inelegant, casual gesture. "We've got plenty of room," she offered, still smiling.

The Dwarves were wary, glancing at each other and uncertain of what to make of this girl and her unexpected offer. She grinned at their hesitance. "I happen to know for a fact that Bombur is making stew tonight, and after being on the road I am sure you're all eager for good food," she added, and the familiar name of one of her brothers companions convinced Dis that she meant them no harm.

"Thank you, that would be most welcome," she said, accepting on behalf of her company.

"Tom, can you steer closer?" the girl called to her companion, a young man who held the boats rudder. Within minutes, the boat broke through the thin ice that rimmed the shallower waters of the lake and a wide gangplank was lowered to the shore. The boat, mildly scorched in places, had a wide deck, big enough for all of them to comfortably find room. The two strangers helped the Dwarves to load up, having some trouble with the ponies; the beasts did not like the rocking of the water, but were calm enough with a dwarf holding their bridles.

"Thank you for your offer to ferry us, it was very kind of you," Dis said diplomatically to the woman as they stowed the last of their packs.

She smiled brightly, her cheeks rosy red in the bitter wind. "Any time," she said genuinely, brushing off her thanks.

"Mi-lady, we're ready to cast off," the young man said as one of the Dwarves helped him with the gangplank.

"Thank you, Tom," she said, nodding at him and turning her gaze towards the mountain ahead.

Dis went to stand with her at the railing. "You are a lady of standing here," she noted, having observed the respect and deference her companion treated her with despite her lack of rich clothing.

"Sort of," she admitted, then glanced at her curiously. She hesitated a moment, then eventually spoke again. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but … you're Dis, right?"

Dis scowled deeply at her, caught off-guard by her sudden use of her name. "I am," she said, a hint of warning in her tone at the unexpectedly correct guess.

The woman seemed unperturbed, grinning at her admittance. "I'm Lizzy Darrow," she said, holding out her hand to shake, smiling as her gaze roamed over Dis's features. "Kili takes after you, but Fili's got your eyes," she added fondly, gesturing to her face.

"You know my sons?" Dis asked, surprised at this and reluctantly extending her own hand to shake the young woman's in turn, her hand soft, slender, and cold in comparison to her own.

"Very well," she said, still smiling as they clasped hands. "Your brother too. I was – I am – a member of Thorin's company on the quest," she told her simply, shrugging one narrow shoulder.

Dis blinked at this knowledge. "I was told they would have a human advisor, but I never imagined …"

"Neither did they," Lizzy said with a slight laugh as she lent on the railings, looking up at the mountain once more. "I think I was something of a shock."

"You travelled with them the whole way?" Dis asked, her sharp eyes taking in the sturdy boots, coat, and weapons that had clearly seen some wear.

"From the Shire," she replied with a nod.

"That explains the Dwarvish greeting you hailed us with," Dis said musingly, knowing that she must be close to her brothers company after having travelled with them for so long. Even so, the fact that she knew even a small amount of Khuzdul, their secret language, was unexpected.

"I've been adopted into the Firebeard clan," she told her, seemingly reading her reaction and surprising her anew by showing her a braid in her hair with a bead stamped with the Firebeard crest. "Bifur is teaching me Khuzdul."

"It sounds like you have quite a tale to tell," Dis said, knowing full well that no human had ever been adopted into the clans before, such a thing was unheard of and she wondered why her brother had allowed it. "Will you tell me of the journey?"

Lizzy hesitated, then shook her head with a slight smile. "I'm sure Thorin would much rather tell you himself, I'd hate to steal his thunder," she said, then tilted her head slightly to the side. "I'd like to hear about your own journey though," she added, her tone genuinely interested. "We didn't expect anyone from the Blue Mountains until after winter; did you encounter any trouble on the road?"

There was a slight pause as Dis wondered briefly what the woman meant when she said 'we,' but she decided not to ask and instead told of their own journey as the boat glided through the still waters towards Erebor.

Lizzy hastily excused herself from the company of Dwarves and jumped off The Mountain Queen as soon as the boat docked in Dale, pausing only to cast a smile at Sigrid and drop a kiss on the crown of little Bill's head as they waited on the docks for Tom. The two of them had married some weeks ago, but Tom still insisted on manning The Mountain Queen, saying that it was what Captain Jordan would have wanted, even though after the coronation of Bard Sigrid was now a princess.

Darting away while the Dwarves unloaded, she ducked into a tavern where she and Kili had arranged to meet once he had finished looking over the stone-workers progress in rebuilding parts of the city that had been destroyed. "Hullo," he said, glancing up from his tankard. "Did you find anything of interest in Lake Town?"

"You could say that," she replied with a Cheshire-cat grin. She had jumped on the chance to take the boat trip down the lake that morning to see if there was anything else worth salvaging in the abandoned and desolated town as a way to escape the multitude of the royal wedding preparations going on up at the mountain. "Come on," she said, tugging his arm to get him to move.

"Lizzy, can't it wait?" he said plaintively, frowning a little when she tugged harder on his arm and nearly spilled his ale.

"Nope," she insisted, trying to hide her excitement. "Come on."

Kili grumbled and drained his tankard in several gulps, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. He stomped out of the tavern after her, following her down to the docks - only to abruptly freeze when he saw his mother overseeing the group of Dwarves disembarking the boat. "... Ma?" he said, his voice choked.

Dis turned swiftly around, her eyes, so similar to both Fili and Thorin's, widening at the unexpected sight of her child. "Kili," she breathed, approaching him slowly, as if she could scarcely believe he was before her. With trembling hands, she cupped his face and bought her forehead to rest against his. "My boy ..."

Feeling like she was interrupting a private moment, Lizzy moved to help the rest of Dis's company settle the ponies, who were relieved to be on solid ground once more. She couldn't help but steal another glance at the Dwarf-woman; she was easily able to trace the resemblance to Thorin in her dark hair, beard, and eyes, as well as the stern intractability of her demeanour. As it was, she had purposefully decided not to tell the story of her journey, unsure about what to tell Dis about the latter part and her relationship with Thorin. It was common knowledge around the mountain so she would find out soon enough, but Lizzy had taken one look at the grim, wary woman with axes at her side and had decided it would be best for Thorin himself to break the news to her.

"I see you've met our Lizzy," she heard Kili say, and turned to face them once more.

"Aye, she was kind enough to ferry our company across the lake," Dis replied, nodding graciously at her.

"We couldn't have done it without her," Kili said cheerfully, smiling between her and his mother. "She killed the dragon, you know."

"I did not," Lizzy protested instantly as the newly-arrived Dwarves stared at her with blank astonishment, the lingering title of Dragon Slayer that she shared with Bard having rapidly grown old. "Bard – King Bard," she corrected herself, "- was the one that killed him, I just ... distracted it a bit," she finished with a shrug, feeling uncomfortable at the renewed stares of the new company of Dwarves.

"Shot an arrow right in the beast's eye," Kili said, seemingly ignoring her and coming over to wrap an arm familiarly around her shoulders.

"Yes, and you can thank your son for that," Lizzy said, casting an annoyed look in Kili's direction. "He was the one who taught me how to shoot, after all."

Kili simply laughed, enjoying teasing her. "Come, Khazdush," he said, giving her the familiar title of sister that he and Fili had taken to calling her since her decision to stay. "Let's return to the mountain."

Even though she was eager to get back, she still caught Dis's narrowed, suspicious eyes when Kili called her his sister and felt a slight sense of foreboding.

Kili walked alongside his mother, holding the bridle of her pony as they made their way across the plains that separated Dale and Erebor. She looked exhausted and travel-worn, but her eyes were brighter than he ever remembered seeing them as she looked up at the approaching gates. "I never thought I'd see it again," she said softly.

"You've arrived at an auspicious time," he told her, since they hadn't expected their arrival for some weeks yet, though the fact that she was here now was indeed a blessing. "Fili is getting married, the wedding is at midwinter night," he explained.

Midwinter weddings were a tradition in Dwarvern culture; to marry on the winter solstice, when the nights started to get shorter and the days longer, was considered a lucky day. Fili and Amma's courtship had been shorter than usual, but the new Lord Lothi was eager to return to his halls and family in Ered Mithrin and wished to leave his married sister behind in her new home.

"Fili is to be married?" his mother asked sharply, then glanced over her shoulder to where Lizzy was walking with the other Dwarves. She lowered her voice, speaking quickly. "Kili, I heard you refer to that girl as your sister. Tell me now, is Fili -"

"No," Kili interrupted with a slight laugh, realising where his mothers thoughts had gone. "Mahal no, I can tell you with complete honesty that neither Fili nor I are romantically interested in Lizzy," he said with a secretive smile, hiding the truth. "Fili is marrying Lady Amma of the Firebeard clan," he added, still sporting a wide grin.

"Lothar's daughter?" Dis asked, well versed in her genealogy's of the clans ruling families. She nodded once, her expression musing. "A fine match."

There was a brief silence, during which his mother looked at him carefully as they walked and then abruptly narrowed her eyes as she noted his lingering smile. Kili suddenly regretted his blithe words earlier - Dis had a talent for digging up secrets, he'd never been able to keep any of his misdemeanour's from her growing up. "I know that look, what are you up to?" she asked suddenly.

"Me? Nothing," he said, a little too quickly.

His mother was frowning at him as they approached the gates. "You said neither of you are romantically interested and looked far too smug about it," she said shrewdly. "Who is … no ..." she said with dawning realisation, clearly guessing the truth and shaking her head. "Surely not, he would never ..." she said with a deeply furrowed brow, looking back at Lizzy, evidently not believing it.

Kili swallowed, glancing back himself and guiltily catching Lizzy's worried eye as he realised that he had inadvertently put the cat among the chickens. The line of Durin was not known for their calm and rational tempers, and Dis had no notion of Lizzy's existence until that day – to say that she would be displeased with their future queen would be an understatement to say the least. "He loves her, Ma," he said softly, trying to convince her. "We all do."

Dis sniffed disapprovingly, turning to face forward once more with her chin held high, a returning princess. "We will see about that," she said firmly as they entered the mountain.

Thorin was sat in the council chamber, deep in discussions with a group of miners from Ered Mithrin. They were not the only ones who wished to remain in Erebor after the battle, with numerous Dwarves from the Iron Hills also wanting to stay, and they were discussing the possibility of re-opening the mines. The idea was sound, but the issue was that much of the mountain was still in a dire state and they needed every available hands to restore it. Many of the communal spaces and living areas had been made habitable, but there was still much work to be done and the mines were not the highest priority.

They were busy debating the miners splitting their time between the mines and repairs when Elizabeth quickly entered the council chamber. She had taken the opportunity to go out on the lake with the young Captain, who wanted to scout Escaroth for any salvageable winter supplies, and her cheeks were red and her golden hair was tangled as a result. Her eyes quickly found his and Thorin rose to greet her. He made to draw her into his arms, but she stopped him with a hand on his forearm, giving him a strained smile.

"What's wrong?" he asked instantly, feeling her tension.

"Khazash," a familiar voice said from behind her, calling him brother. Looking up, he saw his sister standing in the doorway – she was heavily armed, her clothing travel-stained, but she was before him and gazing at him with bright eyes. Releasing Elizabeth, he crossed the room and drew her into a tight embrace. She briefly buried her face into his neck, holding him tightly, before drawing back and inclining her head respectfully. "My lord king," she said deferentially.

"Stop that," Thorin scolded with a slight smile, never having accepted royal deference from her. He was utterly amazed to see her, not having expected her arrival so soon. "The raven said you were coming, but you sent no message," he said, still holding her loosely in his arms. "I assumed it would be after winter."

Dis smiled, though it looked slightly brittle. "That dratted bird was far too eager to return after delivering your message, consenting only to bare you news of our departure and not waiting for further news," she explained. "And we travelled faster than any other message would reach you."

"But we only sent word at the end of autumn," he said with wonder, which was a scant two months ago. "The journey alone …"

"Surprisingly easy," Dis told him, shrugging her shoulders slightly. "We encountered no trouble and were mounted the whole time."

Thorin chuckled, remembering how they had lost their ponies before even reaching the Misty Mountains. "You did better than us, in that case. It took us months."

"It was worth it though, was it not?" Dis said, looking around her at the familiar chamber. "Everything looks wonderful, I remember so much destruction …"

"We've been working tirelessly," he said, speaking of the sheer amount of effort that had gone into making the mountain habitable, made possible by the many eager hands of the two Dwarvern armies that still lingered here. Thinking of the Firebeards, his smile widened even further. "You're timing is most fortuitous," he told his sister, thinking that her arrival was a blessing indeed.

"So I hear, where is my eldest boy?" she said with an answering smile of her own.

"With his betrothed, Lord Lothar's daughter," he replied, the two of them busy overseeing the last of the preparations for the wedding that was to take place in two days time.

Dis's smile was genuine, looking pleased for her son and the Dwarrowdam she had yet to meet. "I look forward to meeting her."

"I see that you've met Elizabeth," Thorin said, since she had followed her in. He glanced over his shoulder, finding Elizabeth looking upset and talking quietly to Kili, who seemed to be apologising for something.

The cause of her apparent distress rapidly became clear as Dis narrowed her eyes and straightened her back. "Aye, and I wish to speak to you about that," she said in a tone that brooked no refusal.

Sensing the argument that was brewing, Thorin released his sister and turned to the waiting miners, who had risen respectfully at the arrival of their prince, future queen, and princess in the chamber. "We shall continue this discussion later, give us the room," he ordered them quietly. "Speak to Bombur, we'll be celebrating new arrivals tonight," he added, knowing that Dis's company would be exhausted after such a long journey, especially when they had pushed so hard to get here before the end of winter.

There was a silence as the miners bowed respectfully and filed out, leaving only Thorin, Kili, Elizabeth, and Dis in the chamber. Dis gave Elizabeth a long, cool look, as if she thought that she should have left as well, and then turned away from her dismissively, looking at Thorin. "Answer me plainly, are you married?" she asked simply, a frown pulling at the corners of her mouth.

Thorin glanced at Elizabeth, whose visible agitation seemed to be rapidly shifting to annoyance at his sisters tone. "No," he said honestly.

"Betrothed?" Dis pressed, her brow furrowed.

"Yes," Elizabeth said firmly, coming forward to stand next to him. Thorin looked at her in surprise and she shrugged slightly and lowered her voice to a mutter. "I said I would marry you someday, just because we haven't set a date yet …"

"Leave us," Dis ordered her, sounding unimpressed. "I wish to speak to my brother in private."

"No," Elizabeth replied, not backing down in the slightest, her voice growing angrier in turn. "I won't just leave while you try to convince him not to be with me."

"Elizabeth," Thorin said softly, a quiet warning not to lose her temper. He took her hand in his own, squeezing it reassuringly, and turned back to his sister. "Speak your piece, Dis"

There was a pause, where Dis looked between the two of them and seemed to be digesting the interaction she had just seen, taking in their joined hands with a look of distaste. She shook her head. "You cannot be serious about this, Thorin. You cannot have a human woman on the throne of Erebor."

"Where's that written?" he heard Elizabeth mutter under her breath, though he could still feel the tension that was radiating off her in waves.

"Dis, Elizabeth is my choice," Thorin said, his tone calm and rational. "She is to be my queen and I will have no other."

"What would our father have said? Our grandfather?" his sister retorted, growing visibly upset in turn, clearly unable to understand his reasoning.

It was Elizabeth's turn to squeeze his hand, giving comfort and strength. "I am neither of them," Thorin said, having struggled on the quest to accept that truth.

There was another silence, whereupon Dis looked between the two of them, still no closer to comprehension. "Is it money that she wants? Power" she asked ignorantly, not realising how insulting her words were. "Surely with the treasure reclaimed you can pay off one harlot -"

Thorin tightened his grip on Elizabeth's hand, physically holding her back as she made to step towards Dis. He raised a finger to his sister, sternly indicating that she was to be silent, then pulled Elizabeth over to the door of the chamber. "I think it best that you are not here for this, my love," he said quietly to her as Dis waited on the other side of the room, scowling fiercely.

"What?" Elizabeth said, horrified at this. "No -"

"You have a temper, ma melhekhin," he reminded her, tucking a strand of tangled hair behind her ear. "You trying to defend yourself will not endear you to my sister," he told her plainly. "She needs to hear of my love for you, not suffer your wrath for doubting it."

Elizabeth seemed to struggle with this for a moment, then her shoulders slumped. "Fine," she muttered, agreeing with him.

"Kili," Thorin said, calling him over. "Take Elizabeth and find Fili, tell him that your mother is here," he ordered him.

"Aye," Kili agreed, looking grateful to be allowed to leave. "Come, Lizzy," he said, tilting his head towards the door.

She still seemed reluctant to go; finally, she sighed and pressed a quick, darting kiss to his mouth. "I'll see you later," she said, her gaze troubled. He nodded, trying to pour as much reassurance as he could into that simple gesture, and the two of them left the council chamber.

He turned back to Dis, who was waiting silently at the other end of the room, and rubbed one hand over the lower half of his face. "Dis, you are my sister and I love you," he said truthfully, gazing into her eyes. "But as head of this family, and your king, I order you to never speak of Elizabeth in that manner again."

She was visibly surprised by the sternness in his tone, shaking her head in complete bewilderment. "How, Thorin?" she asked, staring at him, wanting to understand. "How on earth did this come about?"

"Has anyone told you of our quest?" he asked her in turn, and she indicated that she had not yet been told anything. Taking his sister by the arm, he led her to sit down on one of the stone seats of the council chamber and poured them both a tankard of ale from the jug that still rested on the table from his previous meeting. Then, sitting down beside her, he told her everything that had occurred since the moment he had walked in the door at Bag End.

Lizzy was sat cross legged in the centre of their bed, wearing one of Thorin's tunics in lieu of pyjamas and waiting for him to return. She had forgone joining the company and newly arrived Dwarves for dinner that night, not wanting her presence to cause an argument, and had eaten with some of the Dwarves from Ered Mithrin instead. Finally, the door to their shared chambers opened and Thorin came in, pausing when he saw her.

"Still up?" he said in his deep, gravelly voice as he closed the door behind him.

"Are you really surprised?" she asked in turn, watching as he grasped the back of his tunic to pull it up and over his head, revealing the under-shirt he wore beneath.

He moved to the side of the room to drape the tunic over the back of a chair and started on the laces of his trousers, two months of sharing quarters having long since smoothed out most of his stubborn notions of propriety. "I can tell something is on your mind, so go ahead and ask," he said, inviting her to speak.

Lizzy hesitated a moment, chewing the inside of her cheek. "Are you annoyed that we aren't married?" she asked eventually.

"Annoyed?" Thorin repeated, casting her an incredulous look – clearly that was not what he had been expecting her to say. "No, I wish it were so, I do not deny it, but I am not annoyed for the delay," he told her. Blowing out the candles on the other side of the room so that the fire was the only light, he came to join her on the bed and touched her cheek. "I understand that you need time," he said, then the corners of his eyes crinkled as he smirked. "In fact, most nights it seems that you are the one who is annoyed."

Lizzy smiled guiltily, thinking of the number of times she had tried to seduce him. They had gone pretty far, but with his stubborn views of propriety he still refused to actually sleep with her until they were married. "Well that's one reason to get married sooner rather than later, I suppose," she said musingly.

Thorin gave her a slightly pained look. "Elizabeth, I'd rather we weren't married solely that we can ..." he trailed off, searching for the word. She opened her mouth to speak, but he hastily placed a finger over her lips. "No, this is not the time for one of your other worldly colloquialisms," he told her sternly.

She grinned as he removed his finger. "Shame, there are some good ones for that," she said smilingly.

He shook his head, drawing the furs up over them. "Your colourful vernacular never ceases to amaze me, my love," he said, pulling her against him as he settled down to sleep.

There was a long silence and Lizzy lightly trailed the tips of her fingers over the skin visible through the open collar of his shirt and Thorin, in turn, smoothed his large hand over her back. Lizzy sighed. "She doesn't like me, does she?" she said sadly, not having to clarify who she meant. She had known she would have to meet Dis someday, but thought she had a few more weeks to prepare for that particular meeting; despite her best efforts in offering them a lift to the mountain, she hadn't made a very good impression.

"You make me happy, that will be enough for her," Thorin said. He must have heard the doubt in her silence since he squeezed her shoulders gently. "Truly."

"Yeah, but she still doesn't like me," she repeated plaintively to the darkness.

"She does not know you," Thorin reminded her, the bristle of his beard scratching at her cheek as he spoke. She didn't reply and he bought up one large hand to cup her face. "Elizabeth, after everything that you did for this quest, for our race, do you not believe that any Dwarf would eventually come to love you?"

That managed to coax a small smile from her and she snuggled deeper into his arms, her head tucked beneath his chin. "I only really care about the love of one Dwarf," she said, resting her hand over his heart.

Thorin kissed the top of her head. "You need never worry about my love for you."

Lizzy sighed deeply with the air of one long suffering. "And yet you still won't make love to me," she said in a faux-mournful tone.

His only reply was a deep chuckle against her hair as he pulled her tighter against him to sleep.

The next day the delegation from Mirkwood arrived, the Elves having been invited to the wedding to honour the new alliance. Many of the Dwarves were prepared to be grudgingly welcome, with old habits dying hard even with the cessation of hostilities between the two races, but Kili was struggling to suppress his excitement as he stood on the raised dais next to the throne.

The Elves walked gracefully down the length of the long walkway in the throne room with Thranduil at their head, looking regal and haughty as ever. Tauriel was several steps behind him, walking with the rest of the Elves; her hair was loose and she was wearing her customary forest-green leathers, her quiver resting at her side. Kili caught her eye and grinned, but she looked determinedly forward, seemingly fighting a smile of her own.

The official welcome was somewhat short lived. Thorin had barely got his formal words of welcome out when Lizzy was descending the steps and throwing her arms around the Elf-king with a wide grin, scarcely coming up to his shoulders. Thranduil looked briefly startled, but then his smooth, marble features broke into a smile of his own as he returned her embrace.

Chuckles broke out as the formal, slightly tense atmosphere dissipated, though Dis was still frowning in abject disapproval as she stood beside the throne – unsurprising, since he knew his mother had not exactly warmed to Lizzy. With a quick glance at Thorin, Amma also descended the steps to greet the Elf-king with a more demure smile and inclination of her head, showing deference to his rank as king. Thranduil, however, lightly took her hand and bowed ever so slightly over it, giving her his best wishes for her marriage. The two of them had developed something of a rapport after she had assisted with his wounds in the battle, much to the bewilderment of many Dwarves and Elves alike.

As the Dwarves and Elves started to mingle, with discussions of the new trade agreements carrying most of the conversation, Kili took the opportunity to descend the dais himself and approach Tauriel. "My lady," he said, taking her smooth, slender hand in his own much larger one and bowing slightly over it.

"Kili," she replied in her soft, musical voice, sounding pleased to see him.

He glanced at the rest of the delegation, where Thorin and Thranduil were now speaking civilly, with Lizzy seemingly acting as a mediator between them. "Can you be spared?" he asked, wanting a moment alone with her.

"Certainly," she replied, blinking in surprise at his request, and then, after a quick glance over her shoulder, followed him from the throne room.

She looked around the city as he led her through the mountain; when she had last seen it rubble had been everywhere and it had been lit by whatever old torches could be found, but now the shafts to let in light had been unblocked and reopened, flooding the walkways with sun as well as the light from numerous torches burning fresh, fragrant wood. "You are certainly making progress with the repairs," she observed, watching as Dwarves bustled about the streets.

"Aye, we've been busy," he replied, proud of the work that had already been done – parts of Erebor were still destroyed and uninhabitable, but the city was full of life once more. He glanced at Tauriel as they walked. "My mother arrived yesterday, I should like to introduce you to her at some point, if you are willing," he said, a note of hesitation in his voice after her less than warm reaction to Lizzy's presence in the mountain.

Tauriel smiled. "So in the end you did not return to her, but rather she came to you," she said, reminding him of one of their early conversations in which he had told her of his promise to return to his mother.

"Aye," he agreed, pleased that she remembered. "Though this was always her home."

"Not yours," she said – it was not a question, they had spoken of his home in the Blue Mountains before.

"I had never visited this mountain until our quest bought us here, but it's home now." A wide, sly grin broke out on his face and he lowered his voice secretively. "I have been exploring," he told her slyly.

"Have you found anything of interest?" she asked, amused by his tone.

"Perhaps," he said nonchalantly as he picked up a torch from the wall and, with a tilt of his head, indicated a small, old archway that led down into darkness. She paused momentarily, but nevertheless followed him off the main, lit walkway without question.

The dark passageway descended sharply in a steep staircase, deep into the mountain. After some long minutes it levelled out, eventually turning from carved, smoothed stone to natural rock with shallow, rough hewn steps every few yards. There was a slightly damp feel in the air and the flickering light from the flaming torch that he held cast long shadows.

"Where are we going?" Tauriel asked curiously, lightly running her fingers over veins of gold that could be seen running through the rock like water and gazing around the passageway with interest.

"You once spoke of how beautiful you found the stars," he said instead of answering her question, holding the torch high to light their way on the uneven floor. "Light and memory to be revered, you told me."

"I did," she said; she was now frowning at him, a faint crease on her usually smooth brow, evidently aware of his evasion of her question and irked at it.

Recognising that they were approaching their destination, he paused and lowered the torch to rest on the ground. "We're almost there, we'll continue without the torch from here. Don't worry, the path is quite smooth from here," he said, tilting his head to indicate that she should continue down the passage.

Tauriel let out a faint huffing noise as she took the lead, seemingly having no trouble in the dark as they left the light of the torch behind. "You are very good at not answering my questions," she pointed out, making him smile in the darkness. "In fact I seem to recall another question I once asked you that you neglected to answer."

Knowing that she referred to what he had said in Khuzdul at her departure, his smile widened further. "I didn't neglect to answer, I simply said I would answer when I next saw you," he reminded her.

"Which is now," she pointed out, then Kili felt her pause. "There is a light up ahead," she said, sounding surprised since they were so deep under the mountain in natural tunnels.

He marvelled briefly at her eyesight, not being able to see anything himself yet, and then reached for her hand in the darkness, revelling in the feeling of her fingers threading unhesitatingly through his. "Come," he said, leading her forward, excitement stirring in his chest.

The blue light grew brighter until the passageway opened up into a natural cavern and underground lake that was filled with light. He heard Tauriel gasp behind him as she looked up, the roof of the cavern dotted with thousands upon thousands of tiny blue lights, minuscule beaded strings from worm-like creatures that glowed brilliantly. "Wil-kalina," she breathed in Elvish, gazing up in wonder, uncaring that her boots were in water as she walked slowly forwards. "Fire flies. I have heard of such a thing, but never ..."

"We call them abad thatur, stone stars," he told her, translating the Khuzdul for her and watching her taking in the sight, abjectly pleased that she seemed to like it.

"It is beautiful," she said reverently, her eyes still lifted to the roof of the cave.

Kili watched her in silence for a long moment, her beauty outshining that of the lights, then swallowed hard and gathered his courage to speak once more. "... My love," he said simply.

She turned to look at him curiously, the blue light catching in her long hair.

"Amaralime," he repeated, gazing at her. "That's what it means … my love."

There was a pause, and then Tauriel slowly smiled, the light from the stars beneath the mountain shining upon her face.

The wedding of Fili, prince of Erebor, and Amma of Ered Mithrin took place late on midwinter's night, a time that was considered lucky since the days were going to grow longer. Amma was resplendent in a dark green gown that was trimmed with gold and her auburn hair done up traditional wedding braids. She was on the arm of her brother, Lord Lothi, who was now the head of her clan, with Elizabeth on her other side as her waiting woman sporting a wide smile. Fili was waiting for her beneath the statue of Mahal, looking regal in a tunic embroidered with gold and a circlet on his brow.

The ceremony took place in the temple of Mahal, with many hundreds of Dwarves in attendance. As king, Thorin was the one to marry his nephew, feeling very proud as he spoke the traditional words in Khuzdul. When the ribbon was wrapped around their wrists and their bond sealed with a kiss Elizabeth had been the one to lead a rousing round of applause – not exactly traditional, but the gathered Dwarves had taken to it with great enthusiasm as their new princess was crowned.

Following the ceremony was a long night of eating, drinking, and dancing, traditionally until dawn. Thorin was sat at the high table, watching the revelry below with a sense of deep satisfaction. Fili and Amma were dancing, with neither of them having taken their smiling gazes off each other all night. The company made merry around them, with Dis being led around the dance floor by Dwalin, surrounded by the many hundreds of Dwarves who had made their home in Erebor after the battle. Casting his gaze around, he found Elizabeth talking and laughing with Bard and Thranduil, having just finished a dance of her own with the crowned king of Dale.

Catching his eye, she excused herself and came over to join him, sitting down beside him and taking his hand. "I know better by now than to ask for a dance," she said smilingly, her cheeks flushed a fetching pink from the dance and small wisps starting to escape from her braided and up-swept golden hair.

"Believe it or not, I think you're wearing me down on the matter," Thorin said honestly, smiling as he turned her hand in his so that he could run his fingers over her palm. "With the amount of ale flowing this evening, I might be persuaded."

"In that case, by all means have another drink," Elizabeth said with a wide grin, pointedly pushing another tankard towards him with her free hand, making him laugh. She smiled contentedly and briefly rested her head on his shoulder, looking out over the revelry with him. "When we get married we should definitely do something smaller," she said musingly.

"When?" Thorin repeated, raising a brow at her.

She mock-frowned at him. "Oh please, you know it's always been a case of when not if," she reiterated with slight annoyance.

He chuckled. "So, smaller?" he said, looking at the gathering below and wondering how small she wanted. "Just the company?"

Elizabeth nodded, her head still on his shoulder. "And Bard and Thranduil," she said, and then pulled a slight face. "And Dis, of course," she added, still not having made peace with his sister; Dis had listened to his story of the quest in silence and then simply nodded, her expression blank as stone, and said that she would think on his words. "And Legolas, Tauriel, Bard's family, Tom, Beorn if he can make it ..."

"Doesn't sound so small, ma gisherva," Thorin pointed out, amused by her list.

"Have you seen how many people there are here?" she retorted incredulously, gesturing towards the many hundreds of people feasting, dancing and making merry in the hall. "There is probably over five hundred!"

Thorin smoothed his thumb over the back of her hand. "They will be disappointed not to see their king and queen marry," he pointed out truthfully.

Elizabeth frowned slightly, then shrugged. "We can have a massive party afterwards for everyone to celebrate, but for the ceremony itself …"

"Aye, if you like," Thorin said, happy to acquiesce to any of her wishes in the matter.

"If you like what?" Kili asked, throwing himself down into the empty chair next to Elizabeth and taking a deep gulp from his tankard. He had been either dancing or raucously playing his fiddle for most of the night, and was now evidently in need of refreshment.

Elizabeth glanced at Thorin, then turned her gaze to Kili. "We were discussing plans for our wedding," she said, smiling slightly.

A large grin spread over Kili's face. "You're officially betrothed?" he asked excitedly, and she gave him a small shrug and smile in response. "Brilliant!" he said happily, and then looked around. "I've got to find Fili, he said that an understanding isn't the same as betrothed, but if the two of you are actually betrothed and tonight is midwinter -"

"You and this bloody bet," Elizabeth said, shaking her head at him and laughing – when Elizabeth had announced to the company that she was staying, but no, a wedding would not be immediately forthcoming, a heated argument had broken out among several members of the company. Thorin had been staggered to discover that a bet had apparently existed since before they had even reached Rivendell that he and Elizabeth would marry by midwinter, surprising him since he didn't remember feeling much for her aside from curiosity and suspicion at the time.

"What bet?" a sharp voice said from behind them. They turned to find Dis stood behind Kili's chair, her hands on her hips and her eyes narrowed down at her youngest son. He felt Elizabeth tense slightly beside him at her arrival, knowing that she hadn't spoken to his sister since she had left the council chamber and he had told her the story of their quest.

There was a pause, then Thorin spoke, making no move to release Elizabeth's hand. "Fili and Kili have had a wager that Elizabeth and I would be married by midwinter," he explained in a neutral tone.

"Aye, and -" Kili started to explain, but was overrun.

"No," Dis said simply, disapproval evident in her voice.

"But Fili -" Kili tried again, to no avail.

"You heard me, I said no," Dis said firmly in a tone that brooked no refusal. "You know you're not supposed to be gambling after that ridiculous wager with Gloin's son last winter." She shook her head, her braids swaying. "You may both keep your money and that will be the end of it."

"Right," Kili said after a slight pause, clearly deciding not to take the issue further. "Well ... I suppose that's the end of that then," he said, giving in far too easily. He then turned to Elizabeth. "Lizzy, a dance?" he asked, probably eager to escape the eagle eye of his mother.

Elizabeth glanced between the three of them, then accepted Kili's hand. "Sure," she said, allowing herself to be led away.

Dis took the empty seat beside Thorin, watching the two of them go. "Considering that he was due to lose, calling it a draw means he comes out better than he would have done," Thorin pointed out to his sister, taking a sip of the new ale Elizabeth had pushed on him.

"Aye, but he is my youngest lad, you can't blame a mother for being protective," Dis said fondly, casting him a small smile. "Fili has enough joys today, let Kili keep his – how much was the bet for?" she asked curiously.

"Ten gold, or so I hear," Thorin said.

"Ten gold?" Dis exclaimed, her eyes widening incredulously. "An entire mountain full of treasures and they are arguing over ten measley gold pieces?"

Thorin simply chuckled, having been amused at the fact himself.

Dis was watching him carefully. "You smile more than you used to," she observed, no doubt remembering his grim, stern demeanour that he had worn like a mantel for many decades, even in times of joy.

"I have many reasons to be happy," he said simply, honestly.

She looked out towards where Elizabeth was stomping and clapping to the beat, laughing as Kili twirled her around and the dance caused them to swap partners. "And she is one of them," she said; it was not a question, but an observation.

"She is all of them," Thorin said softly, looking at his sister. He gestured around the hall, to the lights that illuminated the stone pillars, some of which were still half destroyed, and the many hundreds of Dwarves, dozens of men, and small handful of Elves that made up the gathering. "She is the reason we have all of this. The quest would have ended very differently without her."

There was a long silence, then Dis sighed. "Well, I suppose that settles it," she said grudgingly. Thorin looked at her; she reluctantly shrugged her shoulders and continued. "I listened to everything you said regarding her and the quest. I have thought long and hard over it and I cannot say that I am convinced," she explained, then shook her head. "But this, seeing you smile?" she said, reaching for his hand on the table and squeezing it tightly. "When I sought your blessing to marry a simple miner you told me that after everything we have been through you would never begrudge me happiness, no matter where I found it … How can I do anything but the same for you now, when you want to make a ..." she paused and pulled a slight face at him, indicating that the distaste in her voice was not entirely serious. "... Human woman our queen?"

He smiled and squeezed her hand in turn. "Thank you," he said quietly, appreciating her acceptance.

"I might even learn to like her, if even half of your tales are true," Dis added with a smile of her own. There was another pause as they looked out over the people, catching sight of Lizzy scooping the little, red haired Bill up in her arms and kissing his cheek. "Children?" she questioned curiously, glancing at Thorin since no Dwarf and human couple had ever existed before as far as they knew.

He nodded. "Will come," he said confidently.

"You sound very certain," Dis said, furrowing her brow slightly.

"I am," Thorin said honestly, thinking of the vision he had been shown in Rivendell so many months ago. The Elf-witch had said that he was one of the few people that was truly in control of their own destiny; the quest was fulfilled, his nephews lived, and he knew that future was now before him. "A boy first, then a girl."

"You can't know that," she said with a disbelieving laugh, shaking her head.

Thorin grinned slowly and then turned to look at his sister. "Care to make a wager, Dis?"


Annnnnnnnnd, that's it folks!

Sorry for the long delay in getting the epilogue out – my course was so busy and intense that it basically sucked all motivation and inspiration to write out of me, but I took the holidays to tale some time for myself, hence the new chapter!

Big thank you to everyone who has stuck with this story and all of the amazing support I've received throughout, and especially my lovely Beta Gem :)

I am (Finally! After nearly three years!) marking this story as complete, but may add a few short one-shots or deleted scenes at the end, so keep your eyes out for further updates.

And I suppose all that remains to say is … Merry Christmas! xxx