Disclaimer: I don't own anything - Tolkien gets all the credit.

A/N: So… I've been a bad writer and haven't updated in FORVER – so sorry about that! Sometimes life happens… and seriously, a lot of "life" has been happening! I'm glad that you've all liked the series of vignettes covering journey to Erebor! The reviews have been amazing – please keep posting them! You guys are fantastic! :)

Chapter Six

Darkness. Bilbo's lasting memory of Mirkwood would be darkness… well, that and spiders. The company's first days in the forest had been miserable – the sun never penetrated the thick canopy of trees, making day and night much the same. The dwarves were accustomed to low light, but even they were having trouble sticking to the path that wove through the vast woods like a snake. Gandalf had left them, and with him went a great deal of Bilbo's confidence in this quest's success.

In fact, if Bilbo was completely honest with himself, this entire adventure had been one disaster after another! …and just when things had been looking up, the forest of Mirkwood had turned on them.

First, there was the lack of food. They could only carry so much without ponies when they first entered the wood, so meals were growing smaller and smaller by the day. Second, the blasted forest had a dark and foul smelling river with magic water that lulled you sleep. Poor Bombor had fallen victim to it – he hadn't woken in almost two days… one benefit to this was spare food – another was that Dwalin, the horrid creature, was usually forced to carry Bombor due to this superior strength. Though relations with his "brother in law" had improved slightly, Bilbo still found it difficult to stomach the idea of his sweet sister being married to that brute.

Thinking back on all of the hardships that had plagued the company in recent days, none of them could come close to the spiders – gigantic, hideous spiders! – that had snuck upon the group as they chased after elves, wishing to beg for mercy and food. This journey, really, couldn't get any worse.

At present, the company – including a now roused Bombor – was wrapped up tight in sticky, white webs. Bilbo's lovely magic ring – a token from his time in the Misty Mountains – had saved him from the same fate. The plan, as Bilbo saw it, was to climb a large tree, cut his companions out of their sticky traps, and rush everyone away to safety… The process of executing that plan, however… Well, Bilbo supposed it was time to improvise.

Since the 'incident' with Adal Brandybuck, Posey hadn't left Bag End unless completely necessary. Adal hadn't been silent about her refusal of him and many hobbits had voiced their disbelief to her – "But he's such a fine lad!" "He's handsome and rich! What more do you need?" "Is it true you slapped him?" "Your father would be so disappointed!"

Rolling her eyes at the memory of her most recent visit from Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Posey continued to work in the vegetable garden. She never quite had the skill that Bilbo did, but the garden was still passable… Though, her brother would likely fret himself to death if he saw it now – Posey had always fared better with flowers.

It was officially eight months to the day since her dear brother had run out of Bag End in pursuit of Thorin Oakenshield. Eight months as well since Posey had last seen Dwalin - Many times she'd played over the events of their final morning together. They'd only been in the same room for a few moments that day, but the lasting warmth she felt – Goodness! Surely he'd felt that warmth too? Posey didn't know him well enough to be sure, but if her judge of character was right, Dwalin hid a great deal of emotion beneath that rough exterior… at least, she hoped he did. It'd be a real shame to be pinning after him all these months, only to discover indifference on his end.

She wondered where they were now – Probably climbing a mountain. Or perhaps traveling by boat? Maybe they were already on their way back to her – her dearest brother surely wouldn't delay in returning… right?

The damp prison cell was cramped and smelt of mildew – Apparently the elves weren't as hospitable as they claimed to be. Dwalin had been shoved into the tiny cell, along with his brother, almost two days before. Initially, he'd violently struck at the bars, attempting with all his might to escape. But several hours and many bloodied knuckles later, the cell bars had yet to move. Now, their hours passed by in silence – forcing Dwalin to think, a pastime that he'd never much indulged in, which brought to mind thoughts of soft blonde hair, a tiny waist, and bright blue eyes. Posey Baggins had enchanted him.

The tiny hobbit lass was feisty, thank goodness. The mix of sass, sweetness, and the sight of her with those curls around her face – no sweeter vision would ever be found, that he was sure of. She'd looked lovely with his braid too.

The feelings had been present during the entire quest – had led him to protect her brother, led him to be more cautious. He'd be damned if he didn't do everything he could to get back to her. It worried him that she was all alone – the Shire seemed a safe place, but you never could be too careful. She deserved the safety of a dwarven fortress.

Once Erebor was reclaimed, she would gifted with jewels and fine gowns – she'd look lovely with his mother's amethyst necklace. In fact, if Dwalin were put to considering it, the lass would probably look lovely in just about anything. Her big, bright eyes were like the finest of sapphires and just the thought of seeing her look at him again with lips bruised from his kisses… Oh, Mahal, he needed to think about something else.

Shaking his head with a grunt, Dwalin's thoughts turned to his woman's troublesome brother. He'd been absent since their last battle with the spiders and Dwalin was certain that the fool had taken advantage of his funny ring and was sneaking about somewhere – hopefully. The last thing Dwalin needed was to survive this quest, only to return to Posey and tell her that her brother's fate was sealed in a dark forest surrounded by giant spiders.

"I'd say they're somewhere on the other side of the Misty Mountains now. Maybe on the West side of that big forest?" Brianne and Posey were, once again, pouring over old maps and books in an attempt to guess when the company of Thorin Oakenshield would reach their destination.

"I was surely hoping they'd be at the mountain by now." Posey was finding it increasingly hard to stay optimistic. It'd be a full year soon – a full year since she'd given Bombor an extra pack of cheese to take as a snack. A full year since that frightful burping contest in her dining room. A full year since she'd seen her brother… and Dwalin.

Surely all of this waiting would drive her mad!

"They'll come back, Posey." Oh dear – Brianne was using her 'soft' voice again – that voice always made Posey get emotional. Then again, everything was making her emotional recently. Lobelia and Otho Sackville-Baggins had been increasingly awful to her recently – trying to convince her to leave Bag End. They told her she was wasting the land and the house by being here all alone, waiting for a brother that was surely never going to return.

The rest of the Shire seemed in agreement what that. Hobbits now spoke of Bilbo as if he were dead – all in the past tense and always with a sad look on their faces. More than one hobbit had suggested that she might do well to go to Tuckborough to live with her mother's family, under the protection of the Old Took. Lobelia was, of course, more than willing to take Bag End should Posey choose to leave it.

Absolutely not!

"It's hopeless, Brianne! They've been gone a year!" Posey's head dropped and the tears were building in her eyes. What if everyone was right? What if Bilbo was dead? One of his books had mentioned goblins – Disgusting! – living in giant caves in the mountains. What if the company had run into some of them?

This though brought Posey back to Dwalin and his vast array of weaponry. The massive dwarf seemed ready for anything when he'd left her behind at Bag End. He would have protected Bilbo! Dwalin was a strong and good dwarf – she just knew it. He'd be back with Bilbo and they'd all laugh about this soon… hopefully. Wiping the unshed tears, Posey gathered herself and touched the small drawing of a lone mountain, far to the east of Hobbiton. "No, they'll come back. I just have to keep up hope."

The rush of water and the violent slamming of wood against rock made Dwalin certain that the hobbit's idea for escape from the pointy-eared demons was purely intended to kill him. The plan, seemingly ingenious at first, would more than likely drown the company before they reached the town of men.

Feeling as though he may be upright, Dwalin crashed his fist against the top of the barrel. The spray of the water and the pale light of early morning mixed with the yells he could hear from his companions. Upon lifting his head out of the barrel, Dwalin could see that many of the group were also beginning to appear out of their wooden casks. Thorin was just next to him, head pointed up into the trees, "Careful lads! We've got company!"

Arching his back, Dwalin could see dozens of elves, armed with bows, crawling through the trees along the shore of the river. The current was strong, forcing the elves to concentrate a great deal more on keeping up with them rather than shooting arrows – thankfully. Dwalin nearly toppled out of the barrel at a particularly rough section of river… Yes, Bilbo must have been trying to kill him.

A battle cry could heard – Thorin – but Dwalin was too busy trying to stay afloat. Ahead of him, Dwalin could see Bofur and Dori struggling as well, but no elves. The spray of the river had completely drenched Dwalin in ice cold water, causing a brief shiver to run through him. Surely if he was this cold, the idiot hobbit would not be faring well. Quick movement to his left alerted Dwalin to a lone elf running across a long branch that extended out over the river – the elf was armed and aiming directly at him. Using the momentum of the water, Dwalin swung his barrel around to slam into the branch, almost knocking the elf into the violent white-water. The elf's bow fell harmlessly into the river as the point-eared demon clung to the branch with both arms.

If he made it through this mess, Dwalin was going to need to have a conversation with his "brother."

"The winter festival would be a great chance for you to meet a husband, my dear." Lobelia Sackville-Baggins said with an entirely false smile. "Perhaps it would be good for you to be out around other hobbits your age. You're quickly on the path to becoming a spinster at this rate!"

If Posey rolled her eyes one more time, she was certain that her eyes might stay that way. The winter festival, a Hobbiton tradition, was only a short week away and everyone that she knew – including her dearest friend, Brianne – was trying to convince her to attend. Posey, however, didn't feel up to socializing. The weather had turned. Snow coated the little fields of the Shire and a crisp chill hung in the air. With gardening officially out of season, Posey had little motivation to be outside.

"I'm afraid that I simply do not like the cold, Lobelia. I do hope that you enjoy yourself, but I don't think that I'll be going this year."

"Perhaps Adal Brandybuck would be forgiving – that mess was thoroughly regrettable. I can't believe you botched that up!" Posey's eyes darted to Lobelia's, seeing the sneer on the older hobbit's face, "He would have been a fine husband, Posey. The best someone like you would have been able to find."

Pardon me?!

"What exactly do you mean by 'someone like me'?" Posey stood quickly, walking toward the bright green door that Lobelia had forced her way through several hours before. "Wait, never mind. I actually don't care to hear what you mean by that. I'm feeling rather tired and think that it's time for you to leave."

"Are you kicking me out?" Lobelia's shrill voice was like having daggers shoved in Posey's ears.

"I'm asking you to leave."

"Well, I never!" Lobelia's sputtering was following by the crash of her teacup falling to the floor. "I cannot believe the depths of rudeness that flow through you, Posey Belladonna Baggins! You're worse than you dead parents and your equally dead brother!" The older hobbit stomped out of the front door in a rattle of limp skirts and mousy-brown curls.

Posey slammed the door shut and leaned back against the cool wood. A giggle erupted from her throat just as tears began to fall from her eyes. How had her life come to this? The days were shorter in the winter, which left her lying awake in bed even longer each night. Sleep was always hard to find, and when she did find rest, the alternating dreams of her dearest brother and mysterious husband haunted her. After so long, more than a year, Posey had little hope that she would ever see either of them again.

Teary-eyed and depressed, Posey made her way into the sitting room to clean up the spilt tea that Lobelia had so graciously left behind. The teacup had shattered and little bits of glass were all over the floor. The tea would stain the lovely floral rug, Posey was sure of it. Taking care not to cut her fingers, Posey began the slow process of locating all of the glass.

Just as she reached for the final splintered piece of teacup, a rattling noise came from the small window in the corner of the room. Glancing up, Posey saw a large raven sitting outside on the windowsill. It was a hideously ugly thing – the winter certainly hadn't been kind to its feathers. Posey tapped lightly on the glass of the window in an attempt to shoo the bird away, "Go on, now." She whispered. The raven shook its head.

Wait… what?

"Shoo!" Posey hit the glass a little harder. The bird just stared her and lifted its leg to rattle against the glass again. It was then that Posey noticed a small metal object attached to the raven's leg – it wasn't large, but the dwarven engravings on it were clear enough to her eyes. Making a noise she wasn't sure made any sense at all, Posey nearly attacked the window before realizing that the tiny glass frame didn't open – it was just for light. Growling in frustration, Posey ran to the front door and raced through the snow toward the raven. It hadn't moved, and patiently lifted its leg out toward her.

"Please be the bearer of good news, you dear bird!" Posey muttered excitedly as she removed the tiny dwarven… thing? … from the bird's leg. Posey ran back toward the door and distractedly felt the bird follow her back inside. The large raven landed on her mother's glory box and followed her with its eyes as she struggled to twist open the metal capsule, "Goodness, please tell me that I can get this silly thing open!"

As if summoned by her words, the metal object parted open and tiny piece of parchment fluttered out. Catching it before it fell completely to the ground, Posey delicately opened the curled paper and gasped with tears in her eyes as she read the short note:

I am coming for you. Be ready to travel.


A/N: The reunion is coming! What'd you think? Please review! :)