The light of the day already began to fade while the afternoon sun sank lower and lower. Finally, the Company reached a quiet river bend. With their last remaining strength that was left in their soaked and sore bodies, they began to paddle towards the shore and climbed out of their barrels.
"I think we've outrun the orcs," Bofur exclaimed in relief and cast a glance around the shore. He spotted the mysterious dwarf lady who struggled to get out of her barrel. He did not think twice and waded through the water towards her and pulled her barrel to the shore, where he offered his hand to her. She took it gratefully and climbed outside. Bofur placed his arm around her to steady her a bit until she finally stood on safe ground.
"Thank you," she said and sent him a warm smile which he replied even though it was a bit weaker than his usual smiles. "My name is Sheera," she added and blushed a bit under his warm and intense gaze.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Sheera. I'm Bofur. Over there is my brother Bombur and that's my cousin Bifur," he pointed them both out. But before he could add anything else, he spotted Thorin and Dwalin who were both kneeling next to a heart-wrenchingly sobbing Lili. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Fili backing his brother. Kili's normally cheerful face was a grimace of pain.
Sheera did not hesitate a second and approached the two young dwarves. "Let me take a look at your wound. I might be able to help you," she said and gestured Fili to lower him down on a boulder nearby.
"Who—who are you?" Kili asked and hissed in pain as he bent his leg a little.
"My name is Sheera. And now hold still, I need to examine your leg," she replied calmly and knelt down in front of him. Carefully, she lifted his slightly shredded trouser a bit. "The arrow broke. I might be able to remove the tip out of your leg, but it might hurt. And you need binding to stop the bleeding."
Oin approached them and looked down at her. "I'll assist you," he offered and knelt down in front of Kili, too. Together, the girl, Oin and Fili cared about Kili. While doing so, Bofur turned away and decided to check on Lili. He approached Thorin, Dwalin and the girl who were surrounded by Dori, Nori, Balin and Bilbo.
"What happened?" Bofur asked and stepped closer towards them. His gaze drifted down to the small creature that was lying in the palm of Lili's hands. Blood covered its red fur while Lili carefully tried to remove the arrow out of Billy's ribcage.
"Billy got hit by an orc arrow," Bilbo explained and sneezed loudly. Bofur could see that the Hobbit was shivering for he had been the only one who had not been in one of the barrels. Even though they had not been protected that much from the water, but they were not as soaked as Bilbo. Concern was written on all of their faces while Thorin tried to calm his beloved one down.
"It is my f—fault," she sobbed and continued to fumble at Billy's wound until Balin sighed heavily and pulled her hand away from the squirrel. "No! I have to help him!" she protested and glared at him.
"You can't help him, Lili. If you pull the arrow out of his wound, with your shaking hands, you might hurt him even more," Balin insisted and took the squirrel out of her hands. "Let Oin take care of him," he suggested but Bofur shook his head.
"No, let Sheera do it. She is over there with Kili," he said and gestured towards them.
Thorin got up and looked over towards his nephews. "Kili! He was shot, too!" he breathed and pulled Lili onto her feet again as well.
"We already bound his leg. That's all I could do for him right now," Sheera got up and pushed her long, blonde hair back. "Come, let me take a look at him now," she pointed at Billy. Balin approached her while the squirrel panted heavily on the palm of his hand.
"You got to be kidding me! You are weeping because of a squirrel?" a stranger's voice suddenly spoke up and made them all turn around. Confusion was clearly written on their faces as they stared at the red-haired dwarf who stood a bit apart from them and leaned against a boulder with an annoyed expression on his face.
"And—uhm—who are you?" Gloin asked suspiciously.
"Finian is my name," he replied shortly and cast another glance around the landscape, missing the sudden realisation that showed up on their faces. One by one recognized the striking resemblance between him and their beloved Liliana.
The girl stared at him in utter disbelief. She was unable to move, or do or say anything. Even though she had seen him in the barrels before, but she had pushed that thought aside, declared it as an illusion. But now she realized that the one and only dwarf in whole Middle Earth she hated the most stood there—right in front of her.
"Wait—the Finian?" Dwalin suddenly growled furiously and stepped away from Lili and was just about to approach the other dwarf, but Thorin pulled him back. "Let me go, Thorin! I'll finish him! We will both finish him!"
"What is his problem?" Finian asked annoyed and chuckled. "Quite a temper he has, right?" he cast a glance at the Company, now full aware of the death-glances they shot at him.
Thorin still struggled to keep Dwalin away from the other dwarf as they suddenly stared in utter disbelief as Lili brushed past them and approached her father. "You dare to come here and make jokes?" she yelled and stopped in front of him.
"Keep calm, lass. I mean no harm to any of you. Just want to get away from this god-forsaken elvish place. Like all of you do, or am I mistaken?" he snapped at her and stepped closer towards her. Lili made a step back and glared at him in disgust.
Silence fell upon the Company while father and daughter looked at each other. It was obvious that Finian had no idea that she was his own flesh and blood even though none of the others could imagine that he did not see the resemblance. It was striking.
A sudden shriek reached their ears and Lili whirled around. Sheera looked at her almost comfortingly as she dropped the arrow to the ground. "I removed it," she said calmly.
"Is that little creature dead already so we can move on?" Finian groaned and crossed his arms in front of his chest. What followed next caught them all by surprise when suddenly Lili swung her arm and drove her fist right into her father's face. The sick crunch of bones could be heard and with a roar of pain, the dwarf clutched his nose and stared at the girl that was rubbing her fist.
"You broke my nose, wench! Oh, just you wait," he growled and stepped towards her, about to grab her arm when suddenly someone crushed into him and knocked him to the ground.
"Thorin!" Lili cried out while her beloved one straddled Finian and drove his fist down on him over and over again.
"I will kill you! You will never lay hand on her! She…is…your…daughter!" Thorin said, his punches grew weaker until he rolled down from the other and panted heavily while Bofur and Gloin pulled him up again. Finian was still lying on the ground, his face covered in blood and he groaned in pain.
"He's still alive! Let me give him the final blow," Dwalin called and stepped towards the bleeding dwarf on the ground.
"Uhm—lads?" Ori suddenly called and caused Dwalin to stop and look up at him. A man stood on the pile of rocks and aimed an arrow at Ori. The Company jumped up and Thorin pulled Lili closer as the man shot his arrow at Dwalin who was just about to charge towards him with a branch. The arrow stuck in the branch and made the bald dwarf stop. Kili tried his luck and was about to throw a rock at him, but he reacted quickly and shot it out of the young dwarfs hand.
"Do it again, and you're dead," the man called.
Balin was the first who found the guts to actually speak to that man. With his hands lifted, he approached him slowly, "Excuse me, but, uh, you're from Laketown, if I'm not mistaken? That barge over there, it wouldn't be available for hire, by any chance?"
The man, Bard, lowered his bow and climbed into his boat while the company approached him now, though still suspicious. Lili cast a quick glance at Finian who struggled to get back onto his feet. He glared at Thorin and her, but she tried to ignore him for once. Her gaze found Sheera who held Billy in the palm of her hand and stroked gently over the squirrels tiny head. With relief, Lili saw that his breathing had normalized at least a bit. The hint of a smile curled her lips and mouthed a 'thank you' towards the other girl.
"What makes you think I will help you?" Bard asked.
"Those boots have seen better days," Balin said with a smile while the man began to load the barrels into his barge. "As has that coat. No doubt you have some hungry mouths to feed. How many bairns?" the dwarf added with a questioningly expression on his face.
"A boy and two girls."
"And your wife, I'd imagine she's a beauty," Balin sent him a warm smile.
"Aye, she was," the man said and cast a quick, meaningful glance at him and saw that Balin's smile faded.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
"Oh, come on, come on, enough with the niceties," Dwalin grumbled.
"What's your hurry?" Bard asked.
"What's it to you?" Dwalin snapped and felt a hand on his forearm. He looked down into Lili's emerald eyes. She shortly shook her head.
"I would like to know who you are and what you are doing in these lands," Bard asked and watched them curiously.
Balin smiled innocently. "We are simple merchants from the Blue Mountains journeying to see our kin in the Iron Hills."
"Simple merchants, you say?" Bard cast a glance over all of them. "And why is it that you were just about to kill one of your own kin?" his gaze rested on Finian for a moment who leaned against a boulder and finally he looked at Thorin.
"That is none of your concern," he snapped. "We'll need food, supplies, weapons. Can you help us?"
"To be honest—I'd like to know what this was about, as well," Finian grumbled.
"Oh, shut your mouth!" they all looked at Bilbo in surprise as they were aware that he had just insulted someone for the first time.
Bard turned and examined the barrels for a moment. "I know where these barrels came from."
"What of it?" Thorin snapped.
Bard looked at him again. "I don't know what business you had with the elves, but I don't think it ended well. No one enters Laketown but by leave of the Master. All his wealth comes from trade with the Woodland Realm. He will see you in irons before risking the wrath of King Thranduil."
"Offer him more," Thorin mouthed to Balin.
The elderly dwarf thought for a moment, desperately trying to come up with something suitable. "I'll wager—there are ways to enter that town unseen."
"Aye, but for that, you will need a smuggler," Bard replied with a cheeky grin.
"For which we will pay double," Balin finally said and earned a suspicious look from the man.
"Well then—"he sighed and gestured them to enter the boat.
Sheera approached Lili and handed Billy to her. "He is fine, for now. But I can't promise that he will survive this without professional treatment," she said and earned a thoughtful nod from the red-haired girl. "I don't even know your name."
"Liliana, but call me Lili, that's fine. And you are Sheera, right?"
"I am, yes. May I ask you something?"
The girls lowered down in the back of the boat while the rest of the company was gathered together talking about the payment.
"What would you like to know?" Lili asked curiously.
"I have been locked up with Finian for quite a while and I know he is not the nicest dwarf on earth, but what did he do to you that those dwarves wish his death?"
Lili cast a glance to her injured father who leaned against the railing a bit apart from the Company.
"He is my father—"she mumbled.
"Oh—"Sheera breathed and nodded understandingly.
"You seem not to be surprised," Lili said and cast a glance at her.
"I just understand those feelings. When you hate your father."
"You hate your father, too?"
Sheera nodded and looked over towards Bofur who sent her a warm smile which she replied. "Your company seems to be friendly. Do you think they would allow me to travel with you to the Iron Hills?"
A small pain grew in Lili's chest. She leaned in closer to Sheera and whispered, "We are not about to head to the Iron Hills. But this is not the right place to talk about such things. Once we are in that city I will explain it to you. And you have to ask Thorin for permission."
"Thorin is your One?" she asked and looked towards the dwarf king.
"He is, yes," Lili sighed and stroked gently over Billy's fur.
"Quite impressive—almost majestic," Sheera chuckled and shoved Lili playfully. For the first time since they had left the barrels, the red-haired girl giggled again. That was when suddenly she stared at Sheera and looked back at Thorin.
"Wait—what did you just say?"
"Uhm—that your One is quite impressive and almost majestic?" Sheera replied confused. "Why? What's wrong?"
Lili rose up from her seat and approached the Company. Her eyes drifted searchingly along the piles of gold and treasures they were about to offer Bard as payment.
"Lili? You look pale, what's wrong?" Thorin asked and cupped her cheek to look into her eyes. He was aware that they became teary-wet. "Lili, tell me what's wrong," he asked concerned now.
"It's gone—Thorin, it is gone!"she replied and tried to pull herself together not to cry out.
"What is gone? I don't know what you are talking about," he said confused.
She grabbed his shoulder with one hand and looked into his eyes once more as she breathed,
"The helm. The Dragonhead of the North. It's gone!"
A/N: I was struggling SO SO much with this chapter. But even though I am still very unsatisfied I hope you enjoyed it anyway!^^