Aaaand here is part two of my special apology update! In this chapter, there is more bonding between our elf and a certain prince, and we get to meet BEORN! Let the chapter commence!
After spending the next few minutes explaining what he meant by skin-changer, Gandalf finally declared it time for them to put the plan in motion. He led the way, Maetharanel and Bilbo following and they entered a large hall. Bilbo looked around with fearful eyes at the sheer size of the table in front of them. They opened impossibly wider when he looked at the end of the room at the giant bearded man seated on an enormous chair by a fire big enough to fit ten horses in easily. Bilbo found himself shifting closer to Maetharanel, hiding himself behind her. Maetharanel patted his arm soothingly, but did not speak for fear of insulting Beorn. The monstrous man stood then walked over to them, overshadowing Gandalf, then peered down at them with deep brown eyes.
"And who may you be and why are you in my home?" he asked, his voice booming throughout the room.
Gandalf craned his neck to look up at the giant.
"I am Gandalf the grey." He responded.
Beorn frowned in thought then shrugged his powerful shoulders.
"Never heard of him. Who are your companions? The female and the one cowering behind her like a child?"
Bilbo stiffened at his comment and Maetharanel squeezed his arm.
"He does not offend you Bilbo. In his eyes you are the size of a child." She whispered, then turned her face up to also meet Beorn's.
The skin-changer met her gaze and a flicker of recognition shone in his eyes.
"My friend here is Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit from the Shire. I am Maetharanel of Mirkwood."
A grin split across his face, lighting up his features.
"Ah! That is a name I have not heard in many, many decades. My how you have grown! Tell me, why are you here?"
"We need your help; our belongings were lost when we were captured by Goblins up in the mountains…"
"Oh! Goblins, eh? Why were you near goblins?" he asked.
Gandalf stepped in to speak.
"We were trying to pass through the mountains and they ambushed us. It is a long tale."
Beorn stroked his beard, then stepped aside, ushering them further into the half.
"Then you must come in and tell me your tale!" he exclaimed.
Maetharanel put an arm round a still subdued Bilbo and led him forward into the hall. They sat down on a wooden bench near Beorn's seat and Gandalf began their tale.
"I was coming over the mountains with a small group of friends…" he began.
Beorn was quick to interrupt the wizard.
"A group? I see only two, surely that makes only yourself and a pair?" he challenged.
Gandalf made an awkward cough and Maetharanel seized the opportunity to step in.
"We did not wish to impose on you should you be busy, so we left the remainder of our group at the gate. We can call them if you like?" she explained.
Gandalf pursed his lips and let out a shrill whistle. Within a moment, Thorin and Dori entered the hall and bowed low in respect for Beorn, who raised an eyebrow.
"Well well, I see you have a group indeed! But these are dwarves! This is a very strange sight indeed; a man, hobbit, elf and dwarves!" he exclaimed.
Thorin stepped forward and bowed once more, Dori following his lead.
"Thorin Oakenshield and Dori, at your service" Thorin spoke.
Beorn scoffed and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.
"I have no wish for your service thank you. I do know you wish for my service and though I do find myself not overly fond of dwarves, I do know your name, Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, and as long as your companion is respectable, and you are an enemy of the goblins in this land, you are welcome. Now, Gandalf, please continue your story. What are you up to?"
Maetharanel was the one to speak this time.
"We are travelling to the homeland of the dwarves, east of Mirkwood. We tried to travel through the high pass, but a thunder battle between two stone giants forced myself and several of our companions to seek shelter in a cave."
"Several? There are only two companions here! Have you lost your companions?" Beorn asked.
"They are still at the gate." Maetharanel replied.
"Well, call them in!" Beorn growled.
Gandalf whistled once again and Nori and Ori were there almost immediately, having followed the other two five minutes apart, as instructed. They moved in front of Beorn and bowed in a similar fashion to Thorin and Dori.
"Nori and Ori, at your…"
"When I have need of your service I will ask for it!" Beorn butted in. "Now sit so I can hear your tale!"
The two dwarves sat down with blank expressions and Maetharanel felt sorry for them, for she knew how temperamental and impatient Beorn could be. Gandalf continued the tale.
"So, the group settled down for the night, when the floor opened up beneath them and they all fell into a large pile at the base of the cave, where they were set on by a swarm of goblins, ripping away dozens of weapons."
He paused when he saw the confusion on Beorn's head, then the skin-changer counted them all.
"How can only seven of you carry dozens of weapons? Surely you would be too weighed down?" he questioned.
"Ah, well. We do in fact have more to arrive here; ah! Here are two more now!" Gandalf said.
Balin and Dwalin entered the room and began bowing so comically, Beorn chuckled.
"And what entertaining companions you have. Tell me, what are your names? Only your names, none of this 'at your service' malarkey!"
"We are Dwalin and Balin" Balin answered.
Beorn nodded and waved his hand, inviting them to join the others, which they did so gladly. Beorn then turned his attention once more to Gandalf, an expectant look in his eyes for the wizard to continue, which he did.
"So, the company was trapped however I snuck in and killed a number of goblins with a flash from my staff. The great goblin was also there with many guards surrounding him and I could not help but wonder how a dozen would get past such a vast number of goblins."
Yet again, Beorn's face clouded over in anger.
"A dozen! You call nine a dozen? Or are there yet more of you to arrive?"
"We have but a few more- here's Kíli and Fíli now!" Gandalf replied.
At Kili's name, Maetharanel whipped her head round and smiled at the dark haired dwarf. He failed to notice, too busy staring up at the giant man in front of him. Beorn frowned.
"Sit, sit! Gandalf, do hurry and continue!"
The brothers wasted no time in sitting down and Kíli immediately sat next to Maetharanel. She slipped her hand into his and squeezed it gently before releasing him, not failing to notice the slight blush that crossed his face. Gandalf continued their story up until the point they had first realised Bilbo was missing.
"We counted ourselves and found to our horror that there were only fifteen of us left!"
"You only have ten here now, or are there yet more to come?"
Gandalf began to worry that he would push the skin-changer's temper too far, but when he caught glances with Maetharanel she gave him an encouraging nod, telling him it was safe to continue.
"There are more. Dear me, here comes Oin and Gloin as we speak!"
"Hurry up and sit down!" Beorn hollered at the dumbfounded pair. "This still does not make fifteen unless you cannot count! But on with the tale!"
Maetharanel couldn't help but smirk. Gandalf's plan was working a treat; Beorn was by now far too interested in the tale to even care how many of them there were. As the wizard went on to describe Bilbo's reappearance followed by Azog's attack on them, Beorn grew excited, enjoying the tale immensely thus far. He barely even noticed when Bofur and Bifur arrived, a panting Bombur running behind them, annoyed at being left behind. Beorn simply acknowledged them with a grunt and Maetharanel quickly raised her had to call them over to the seats.
"Now there are fifteen of you!" he called, urging Gandalf to complete the tale.
The wizard did as requested and retold their events right up until arriving at the gates. Beorn slapped his knee and smiled down at them.
"Well, that was an exciting tale! You may just be making it up in an effort to impress me, however it is an intriguing and well-spoken story and I would be delighted to offer you all supper. Come! Let us all eat!"
Smiles and cheers were exchanged all around and before long they were seated on chairs far too large for them, but not one dwarf, human, hobbit or elf cared for they were too busy eating their first meal in almost two days. The dwarves all found themselves shocked at the animals that served them, standing on two legs and acting as any human servant, but Maetharanel had been here before and thus was completely unaffected, simply nodding her thanks when a horse served her some tea. As they ate, Beorn told them tales of his own adventures and Kíli noticed that whenever he spoke of Mirkwood a fond, albeit faraway, look took over Maetharanel's face, no doubt as she reminisced about her own memories of her homeland. As night fell, they finished their meals and found themselves seated once more on the benches, sipping on tankards of ale and mead, telling stories of their homes and of Erebor. Soon after, Beorn declared he was leaving for a while and vanished out the door, letting it bang shut behind him. Maetharanel caught sight of someone jumping at the bang and she smiled fondly to see it was a bleary eyed Bilbo that had jumped, having dozed off during their talking. She looked around to find that beds had been made for them on the far side of the wall and upon the discovery, she made her way to Bilbo.
"Bilbo, why don't you head off to sleep? There are beds over there for us and we are safe here." She spoke gently.
Bilbo looked at her with a distant look in his eyes that spoke of tiredness and Maetharanel felt her lips tugging upwards. After a few seconds, he nodded and she helped him up onto his feet, leading him to the beds. He fell onto the first one he saw, and fell asleep almost immediately. Maetharanel shook her head, bemused, then found herself walking over to the fire in the other end of the room, out of the way of the others and sat down staring deep into the flames. The rest of the dwarves began to filter out, some to bed, some to the table with more mead and others to the other fire in the middle of the hall, their pipes out as they conversed in hushed tones. Maetharanel felt herself beginning to doze when a familiar warmth dropped to sit next to her, his leg pressed up against her own, their shoulders touching snugly.
"You seem to be thinking about something" Kíli prodded.
Maetharanel sighed, her eyes saddening.
"Indeed I do. I find myself thinking of Rhavaniel. I miss him so deeply, it's like a throbbing ache. He's my best friend and for so many years has been my sole companion; it's hard being without him." she replied, a quiver to her voice he'd never heard before.
Instantly, his arm slid round her shoulders and he pulled her closer to him as the first of her tears began to fall. He held her as her shoulders shook, gently rubbing his hand up and down her back, hoping the motion would help soothe her. After a while she sat back up and gave him a weak smile.
"My apologies. I have no idea where that came from" she said as she wiped at her eyes.
Kíli reached up and took hold of her hand, pulling it away from her face. He raised his own hand and gently brushed it across her cheeks, removing the wetness from them. His eyes turned to melted chocolate in the light of the fire, and they shone with the same warmth emitted by the flames as they danced in the fireplace.
"I do. You were pulled apart unexpectedly from your best friend, then almost killed by that goblin and immediately after almost killed by an orc. It is no wonder that you are feeling a bit emotional."
Maetharanel smiled at him then nudged him playfully.
"Since when did you become so mature?" she teased.
Kili's eyes flashed with mischief and he grinned.
"I am still me, do not fear. I have just come to understand that I cannot continue being a reckless youth if I am to survive this journey."
Maetharanel watched him in the firelight as his face grew serious, and for a shining moment, she could truly see the prince that he was. She found herself leaning closer to him, leaning her head on his shoulder as they stared into the fire together. Finally, when the fire began to die down, Kíli let out a long yawn, stirring Maetharanel, who had once more drifted off. A glance around showed that only three others were still awake; Balin, Oin and Thorin. He almost laughed at the fact that the three eldest members of the company were awake longer than all those younger than them, but decided that he was too tired to jest. He stood and offered his hand to Maetharanel, who gratefully took it and allowed him to pull her towards the beds. They collapsed in a similar fashion to Bilbo and the last conscious thought Maetharanel had as Kíli wrapped his arms round her and pulled her into his chest was that she definitely wanted to be like that every night; safe and protected, wrapped in the arms of someone who truly cared for her. She fell asleep with a loving smile on her face, a smile unknowingly to her that mirrored the one on Kili's face.
A smile that unknowingly to both of them, was seen by Thorin as he passed them on his way to his own bed later that night.