Until My Last Breath (Chapter 1)
Summary: When Smaug arrived, he not only killed the dwarves of Erebor, but he also destroyed the lives of the few who survived... whether he did it on purpose or not.After a hundred years, a part of Thorin's past will come back to haunt him in the form of a dwarf who last knocks on the door of Bilbo Baggins' house, resurrecting old grudges and the pain of a life no one wants to talk about. Geira, daughter of Geiri, is anything but an open book, an exiled who no one wants around, a warrior who has no one to fight for, but only an oath she must fulfil.
Relationships: Thorin x FemaleOC
AO3 LINK: HERE
Notes: I would like to thank all of you, who commented the prologue, rebblogged it and liked it. It was a very heartwelming and I hope i wont let you down with this first chapter. In particular i need to thank@lathalea for always checking my chapters and make surei dotn mess up and, trust me, this week she really put a lot of effort to do so hahahahahha.The style its quite different from the one I will use in the rest of the story, it is just a general introduction but i really hope you cvould guess some things <3 <3 <3
"What is she doing here?!" roared Thorin Oakenshield, an accusing finger pointing at the newcomer, who in the meantime had placed her wooden bow in a corner and removed her heavy black travelling cloak, worn out by numerous weather conditions.
She felt the king's gaze burn like fire, but tried avoiding glancing at him, even when he took one step towards her like an animal ready to attack. She shifted her gaze upwards, focusing instead on the tall figure of the sorcerer who was smiling at her with the side of his mouth.
"My dear, let me introduce you to the master of the house, Bilbo Baggins," Gandalf announced in a quiet voice, ignoring, as she did, the dwarf lord's question.
With small steps Gandalf stepped to the side, indicating a small hobbit in the middle of the hallway with his hand.
The hobbit bowed his head slightly to the side to get a better look at her. He probably didn't like being surrounded by all those intruders, and now that another one had been added, he was in complete panic. She could understand him, as she could imagine him being unaware of everything that was going on around him.
For a moment she felt genuine compassion for him, yet it was not as if she had entered in the best of moods and maintaining that facade of indifference was beginning to be difficult for her.
Keeping her composure she smiled at him slightly, making a small bow with her head as brought a hand to her chest grasping the flap of her red tunic.
"Geira, daughter of Geiri, at your service," she introduced herself.
"Traitor to her folk!" Dwalin added contemptuously, shouting at the top of his lungs.
She tries to ignore the dwarf words smoking with the side of her mouth to the Hobbit infront of her. But then another voice spoke, a voice which she could never forget either in a thousand years.
"What are you doing here, you dirty mashkil?!" Thorin growled loud, his voice echoing between the whole of the whole house.
Her intention to remain calm was shattered like a crystal glass thrown to the ground. A shiver ran down her spine and a sigh escaped her mouth. She slowly lowered her hand from her chest and the armour of indifference she had built up wavered at the mere sound of the dwarf speaking to her.
Geira looked up, finally returning Thorin's gaze. His blue eyes stared at her as cold as a winter night in a blizzard, and what she felt was... nothing.
She felt nothing, or so she told herself.
"You have not been asked for introductions, King Under the Mountain," she spit, as angry as ever.
As soon as she finished those words several elderly dwarves around the table burst into exclamations and in the blink of an eye some of them stood up and she recognised them, every single one who stood up..
She knew who they were and they knew who she was.
One dwarf in particular kicked the stool he was sitting on and slammed his two iron fists into the wooden table, making it creak under his force.
"You filthy traitor, say that again!" roared Dwalin, looking her straight in the face. “Try to say it again!”
Geira didn't have time to dwell on how much she could recognise him even after all those years, for her gaze was caught by the muscles in his arms that seemed to flare with anger, and the scars on his forearms seemed to come alive with a life of their own. So many years had passed, yet she felt no nostalgia, only a great emptiness, that was all she had to feel. Yet she had to pull herself out of that situation, for the sake of what she had promised herself.
"Sit down, Dwalin..." she murmured, brushing her fingertips over the pommel of her sword strapped to her side.
"Don't you dare tell me what I must do, you 'angûna, just breathing your air disgusts me. You should die just for daring to show your face here!"
"This is not dwarven territory..." she explained, gritting her teeth.
"As long as I'm under this roof, everything around me is dwarven territory!"
At this point, however, she could not control a grimace. "Ironic how you're watching and paying attention to my presence instead of thinking about how to take back your territory." she spit glaring up at him.
The dwarf roared, moving away from the table in one swift motion. "One order from you Thorin, and I will make her bitterly regret it! Bloody traitor!" he yelled out of himself.
Geira shifted her gaze to the dwarf king still standing, looking him straight in the eye as she waited for a silent response to the demands of the warrior dwarf beside her: and she got it.
The frown in the middle of his forehead deepened, but his eyes remained as cold, as icy, and as terrible as the ones he had looked at her with one last time so long ago.
A dominance in his gaze, an anger, a hatred that had brought her to her knees back then. A look that had drained her of all light inside, like the words that had followed shortly afterwards, the last words he had ever spoken to her.
But this one she was not begging him at his feet. If he wanted to take her life away once again this time, Thorin would have to do it by looking her straight in the eyes and fighting as equals.
Thorin had opened his mouth to give an order as she sharted to count her breath and moving her hand closer to her hip, but they both were preceded by the most unlikely voice of all, which unexpectedly defended her.
"Excuse me, but I don't think that's any way to talk to a lady." All eyes shifted to the side of the hallway, to Bilbo, some admiring, some confused, some threatening, even her owns, which grew wide eyed at such words. The hobbit stammered under that attention and linked his feet, "though, I mean... that's what you say it is.... that it is," he concluded, glancing at Thorin, "at least, not in my house. No sir!" he adjusted the braces of his trousers, more out of the discomfort he felt than anything else.
Geira let go of the hilt of her sword at her side, surprised at how the little hobbit had spoken to Thorin, perhaps because she didn't know who he was, but that small gesture of courage intrigued her, as something hadn't intrigued her in a long time. She noticed an amused look from Gandalf at the hobbit as he continued to rock back on his heels, probably expecting for Dwalin and Thorin to sit back down in their seats, but they did not.
Instead a clatter of crockery and a couple of chuckles rose from the door next the living room, intruding on the vast silence that had spread across the room, breaking the layer of ice that was growing thicker between all of them.
"Uh. uh someone has angered Master Dwalin, hold this pint brother, be very careful."
"I am careful, you're the one standing on my foot Kili!"
"Then move it, no? We're missing all the fun because of you!"
The entire room quickly turned towards the source of the noise, all but one dwarf, Thorin, who didn't take his eyes off the dwarf maid figure for a moment, and like the others, kept his attention towards the side door of the dining room.
Before Geira had a chance to wonder what was going on next door to the small dining room where the dwarves were sitting, two young dwarves appeared, two pints each in hand. One with hair as golden as molten gold, the other with brown hair, frizzy and terribly familiar.
Geira held his breath for a few seconds.
"Oh shut up Fili, you're always in the way, if you'd move over maybe I'd see why they stopped shouting too," the younger dwarf mocked his brother, raising his pints in the air to go sit in his seat.
"Surely uncle has finished," replied the other making the same movements as the brunette, "or the other burg...lady... has arrived...".
The blond-haired boy could not complete the sentence as soon as his blue eyes rested on Geira.
His mouth opened wide, causing the two beads on his moustache to sway to the side of his mouth.
The hazel-haired dwarf tilted his head to the side as he looked at his confused brother, slowly sitting back in his seat. "What is a burg...lady?"
Finally, his gaze landed on her as well, but unlike that of the dwarf still standing beside her, his open mouth soon turned into a warm smile.
"SO YOU ARE THE OTHER NEW MEMBER! WELCOME!" he yelled, opening his arms in the air, raising the two pints he still held in his hand.
Geira said nothing, remaining impassive, feeling the other brother's eyes still on her.
"WELL WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? TAKE A SIT! I ALSO HAVE ANOTHER PINT, IF YOU WANT IT !" The other dwarf invited her with a dramatic gesture of the goblet, but she did not move an inch.
“Kili…” Thorin murmured to the brown haired young dwarf, glancing at him.
“Why were you yelling like that then? And why are you still up, we were about to tell Mr Beggins how-”
“Kili,” the older of the two brothers, froze suddenly, casting a glance towards Geira's side calling his brother to attention.
Geira noticed him and casually covered the visible seal on the pommel of the sword with one hand and knew from the glittering brown eyes of the younger dwarf that he understood.
His big brown eyes widened, as did the blonde-haired dwarf's mouth. "You are a..." the dark-haired dwarf murmured as his mouth curled up in a small smile.
"Fili, Kili, be quiet!" Thorin stopped them, but the two young brothers continued undaunted, not realising that they were only making things worse.
"Oh, come on uncle, it's wonderful! It'll be all..."
"I said silence!" roared Thorin, slamming his fist on the table.
At the dwarf lord's growl the two brothers were astonished, opening their mouths wide but remaining as he had ordered in silence, however, casting pointed glances towards the opposite side of the room. They knew immediately that something was wrong.
Geira's hand slipped away from her pommel and she did not let them see what had caused her to hear those last words as the two young dwarves did as their uncle told them, sitting down in silence, but not stopping to look at her.
Geira looked up at Dwalin, who glanced at Thorin, who most likely replied with another glance, because he nodded in return. However, he did not fail to look at her one last time with a look full of fury.
The dwarven king narrowed his eyes slightly before he turned his attention to the sorcerer once more in complete silence.
"I want her to leave," he said emotionlessly.
"I am afraid it can't be possible," replied Gandalf calmly, as he returned to his seat.
"I won't let her stay here. I won't let her stand around my company, and put them in danger by only her presence," he growled low, talking as if she wasn't there listening. "I don't trust her! And I don't trust anything she says!" Thorin retorted seriously, not once looking at her face.
Geira clenched a fist, trying to keep her composure, but it was becoming increasingly difficult.
How dare he speak of trust? Him of all people, when it was he himself who had betrayed hers. How dared he!
She gritted her teeth as a blind fury clouded her vision.
Gandalf remained silent for a few moments, observing the king of all dwarves before replying.
"You will have to, I did what I thought was right and calling her back from exile is the right choice," he explained.
"The right choice?" resumed Thorin, his blue eyes twinkling menacingly "And how, shall we hear?"
Gandalf gestured with his hand towards Geira, inviting her to speak with a movement of his head; thirteen heads turned towards her, and even Thorin laid, finally, his eyes on her face.
For a moment his gaze alone made her flinch, making her eat back words she had not yet spoken. And yet, she had to say them. For herself, for her father, for her one hundred and seventy years of exile and for all the pain she had to go through because of that damn dwarf who was staring at her. She swallowed up her anger and her vision slowly became clear again.
"I am here, to fulfil my oath," she explained, looking the dwarf king straight in the eye.
A thin chill spread through the room, seeping into the bones of the newcomers; Bilbo, however, watched the scene in curiosity, struggling to understand. Perhaps now he would receive the answers he had been waiting for since the beginning of that exhausting evening.
A dull clatter echoed through the room, the sound of a cup slamming against the wooden table.
"This is too much!" roared Dwalin as he pulled himself up onto his seat again. "One word from you, Thorin, and I will rip her head off her shoulders, as I should have done years ago!"
Thorin didn't answer; he stood up, continuing to look her straight in the eyes as if what she had just said was none of his business at all.
"Your oath?" he asked her calmly, too calmly. With a couple of strides he approached her, his fists clenched and his jaw contracted. "Your oath is worthless now. It was broken long ago. Your words, your oath are nothing more than a pile of cold ash," he began growling low.
She almost dug her nails into the skin of her hand.
"It is a lifetime oath, you were there when I had sworn it," she addressed him as calmly as he had.
Thorin's jaw clenched a second time and his breathing became irregular.
"And I was there when you broke it," he uttered a low growl. "I saw you break it, you did it before my eyes..." he added contemptuously.
A pang of pain cut through her chest as everything that had happened that day appeared in her head. She seemed to see his gaze again, to feel the tears running down her face, to feel her heart being torn from her chest. She seemed to see her world burning before her eyes, her life burning before her eyes, and then... the exile.
The exile to which he had condemned her.
"I don't want to keep my oath for you if that's what you're worried about, King Under the Mountain," she spit staring directly into his eyes.
"I don't care why you want to keep it, I don't need you to keep it!" Thorin shouted at her, roaring out of his mind. "Your words mean nothing to me, a'lâju Mahal!”
A scraping of a chair followed the dwarf lord's words. "Thorin..." whispered Balin, but Thorin was as unstoppable as a blazing fire.
"You have no place among us, you have no honour, you have no name, you have no clan, you are nothing!
Your oaths were broken when you turned your back on us! Your blood is as tainted as your father's!"
For Geira that was the final straw. He shouldn't even dare to mention his father, shouldn't even try, king or not! Oath or no oath, he had no right.
Her hand tightened on the pommel of her sword. This time she approached him, with a couple of strides. She looked down at him as words began to pour out of her mouth like a flood.
"Then let Dwalin cut off my head now, this instant, for I assure you, Thorin son of Thrain, that I would rather be buried underground than fulfil the words I spoke to your kin years ago!" she retorted mercilessly. "If I could, I would retreat them one by one!"
"Be quiet, traitor!" he yelled at her, slamming his fist on the wall next to him.
"ENOUGH!" the darkness fell over those present before Geira could reply; they all fell silent at the power unleashed by Gandalf, who now stood menacingly over them, glowering. He glared down at them, a gesture that made them feel almost smaller than usual. Almost. For, as certain as the sun rising in the east, dwarves were not so easily frightened, not even if the subject in question was a wizard.
"You dwarves and your stubbornness! You will bring us to ruin before we even begin our journey! Geira will come with us. If I say her presence is essential, then it is essential! Her reasons do not matter to me as they should not matter to any of you!"
"It does matter," Thorin's deep voice rose from the silence that had enveloped his companions. "You cannot ask us to trust her, Gandalf. What she has done is..." the dwarves' attention shifted from her to Gandalf again.
"I know of it, but I ask you for the sake of this quest to leave old grudges aside; otherwise, we will not get very far if you continue to quarrel. When we reach the Lonely Mountain..."
Gandalf froze for a moment averting his gaze to her for a moment and then back to Thorin again. "Geira will accompany us there and then help us to reclaim it and th-"
"Then I will leave, if that is what you wish for Thorin Oakenshield," she concluded, giving a glance to his hand still on the wall next to her.
Thorin raised an eyebrow and slowly began to back away a few steps returning to his seat. "It is what I wish for as of now, for you to leave us, and that will not change," he stated, casting a glance at her hair, so short that it showed her neck, and her shoulders and part of her hear. The same length she had when he saw her for the last time.
"I don't want it to change..." she answered back as after a long time she felt ashamed again of those short locks.
The cut he gave to her.
And that was what they were for, to make her disgusted with herself, and in the absurdity it had been her choice to cut them so much that she had scratched her scalp the first time she had done it. She had cut every single lock and braid, counting them one by one as well as the short sideburns on the side of her face, shaving as short as she could the side of her head, leaving her right side a bit longer than nothing.
And with a last disgusted glance of Thorins on her head the discussion stopped.
Geira bit her tongue, lowering her gaze, and after that long wait, accepted a chair that the Hobbit gently offered her with a smile on his face all the while the chatter that had taken place before her arrival resumed.
But the grave atmosphere continued to permeate the walls of the room.
Nor did the tense mood change when everyone's attention turned to the Hobbit.
Geira wondered if his stammering was from the bewilderment of the various news stories, or his actual way of speaking: probably the first option. She saw him frown, countless wrinkles forming on his forehead as he tried to figure out what kind of trouble they were getting him into. She felt tremendously close to him at that moment: she would have gladly walked through the round door to get away from there, but she had promised Gandalf that she would stay. She had promised herself and her father; no more running, no more hiding. It was time to show everyone that she was not what they said she was, she had never been.
She paid no particular attention to the various explanations Gandalf and Thorin gave Bilbo, but it was when they handed him the long contract that her attention was caught again. She saw the hobbit intent on reading it, concern palpably making its way into his thoughts and gestures.
"Incineration?" he asked incredulously, unfolding the parchment better; perhaps he was convinced he had read it wrong. "...I'm going to faint.... " he said, his voice uncertain and trembling.
"Think of a furnace with wings: a flash of light, searing pain, and poof! You are nothing more than a pile of ash!" began Bofur, looking out of the doorway where she sat.
Bilbo lost all colour in his face, turning pale, too pale. It sounded like an alert to Geira; she held her breath until the other fainted, falling to the green carpet like a sack of potatoes.
Had his courage in speaking to Thorin been a flash of courage, then?
It was only then that they all sprang to their feet and tried to reach him, but in doing so they created an immense confusion, whereupon Gandalf ordered them all to go outside for some air. Dwalin and Nori helped him to lift Bilbo up and bring him to his senses, while Geira, again on Gandalf's advice, fumbled around in the kitchen to make him a cup of tea, trying to do as little damage as possible. She risked, for example, to spill the water from a nice blue and yellow cup, plus splash the boiling water from the teapot all over the place. Cooking in a real kitchen, that was something she hadn't done in a long time, as well as tinkering with this kind of fine crockery. She adjusted her black armguards and with a sharp movement of her hand and rolled up her sleeves a bit. She completed the laborious mission, delivering the drink to the owner of this house who, in the meantime, had woken up and was sitting in the living room in a comfortable armchair.
As soon as he heard her coming, he followed her every gesture with watchful eyes, until she broke the silence, handing him the cup full of aromatic tea.
"Your gaze has not ceased to follow me since I crossed your threshold, Bilbo Baggins; I have a feeling you have many questions for me," she told him, trying to force a smile and be as friendly as she could be.
It was all so difficult.
"Well, I... " he was stunned, not knowing how to continue, perhaps embarrassed at being caught in the act. He watched her in silence as she found a place by the lit fireplace, resting her back against the side of it. "Well, you... you're like them, aren't you?"
"A dwarf?" she asked him in turn, hinting at a smile at such innocence.
He nodded his head, passing the hot cup through his hands. "But, well, I had heard that dwarf women... they had..." The hobbit froze suddenly and fell silent, passing his gaze quickly to her face just above.
A sigh escaped her and she decided to tell him a half-truth.
"I cut them off a long time ago..." she explained hastily, but without ever trying to offend him in any way. She took a breath, trying to find an excuse in her head that would satisfy his curiosity. "A sign of... mourning..." she murmured.
It was not the whole truth.
Bilbo looked at her carefully, trying to see in those black eyes all the suffering they concealed; and suddenly his mind asked so many questions that it became involved: how long had it been since he had felt so interested in someone? He had kept to himself as much as possible, letting those four walls envelop him like a warm, soft blanket, in a slight torpor that had been shattered by the arrival of the dwarves. And Geira's.
His curiosity got the better of him, and he could not keep his mouth shut, not even putting the cup to his lips and sipping the hot tea.
"M-may I ask you another question?" he asked her, watching her eyes gradually lose themselves in the flames of the fireplace. "Is it true what they told you earlier? Those names they refer to you... are they true?"
"Are you afraid I will stab you in your sleep?" she answered him piquantly, raising an eyebrow.
Bilbo cursed himself, cursed him and his curiosity Tuc.
"N-no... no..." He was about to apologise when the girl shrugged, evasive.
"I'm exiled, it's true, but a traitor... that... no... no, never…” she looked again into the fire, which was crackling quietly before them. "I am here for one purpose only, and to keep a promise I made, long ago, far too long ago..." she murmured, turning back to him: curious but respectful grey eyes in deep, haunted black ones.
"You all have a purpose, a mission in this whole thing... I...I am just a hobbit, I am not what you all think I am..."
Geira watched as the hobbit's fingers held the cup and his gaze suddenly clouded over.
These were good questions he was asking himself, yet Gandalf believed in him, and the dwarves in the other room believed him more than they did with her, one of their own kind.
For a few moments he reminded her of a young dwarf lady in a large luxurious room in a distant mountain years and years ago wondering what she wanted to be in life.
Slowly she approached him, kneeling beside his green armchair and resting her hands on the armrest.
"I think you will only find out if you come with us; there is more to you than meets the eye, Bilbo. I saw it before, and... even if you don't see them, they're there, they're always there," she told him gently, marvelling at her own words.
Why was she talking to him like that, in that tone, as if she knew him? As if another person, as if he was interested in her opinion, perhaps because she hadn't spoken to someone like that in months. Still, it wasn't enough of a justification, but Geira found herself continuing.
"The journey will be fraught with danger, from outside and within the Company. That will take courage, but also a deep fear of the unknown to do what we must do. Because what we will find on the other side of the known world could be anything… or nothing. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want to come with us.”
"Danger… within... the Company?"
Geira was about to answer, but their eye contact was interrupted by the arrival of the wizard, who had come to make sure of his friend's health.
"Excuse me," the dwarf-woman took her leave of the two, leaving them alone to talk; she fastened her cloak, but as soon as she placed her hand on the door knob, Bilbo's voice reached her.
"Thank you, miss Geira," he said.
“You can call me Geira” she answered, turning her head to the small hobbit sittin on the armchair.
H just nodded, looking at her with big eyes before shifting his attention to the cup in his hands
She turned, seeing a tense but grateful smile on his lips; she half-smiled as well, opening the door and stepping out into the light night breeze.
She had to calm her nerves, she had to calm down in order to regain her self-control and her coolness, which had been severely tested by the events of the evening: from an inside pocket of her cloak she took out her long white wooden pipe; from another, she took out her pipe-weed. Shortly afterwards she was blissfully smoking, sitting on the bench just outside the door; the long puffs produced small clouds that dispersed in the air: she followed them with her eyes until they disappeared, while her mind was lost in the meanders of her twisted thoughts. Did Bilbo feel out of place? And she, what was she to say? Of course, she had known from the beginning, from the moment Gandalf had introduced himself to her in that village of Men, that this would be anything but a walk in the wood: too many prejudices hovered among the dwarves, including herself, too many things left unsaid.
She felt like a flower in the frost, or perhaps she was the frost.
She shook her head, sucking in another breath that made her think better: she was there for a good reason, she had explained it to Bilbo; she just had to concentrate on that and that was it. It mattered little if they ignored her, if they did not speak to her along the leagues they had to travel, or if they were suspicious and indifferent. She would let them, their gazes should slide over her like water over her skin, she should just... just end those years.
What the wizard had told her had been gnawing at her for weeks. The likelihood of a hope, that if she fulfilled her oath perhaps, if she didn't die in the process, she would restore her name and she could... return home. But the real question was, did she want to go home and why was she still holding on to a broken oath?
"Are we interrupting?"
A young voice shook her from her outcast thoughts, finding one, or rather two young dwarves beside her... They were the two who had tried to convince Thorin to include her in the group - Fili and Kili, if she remembered correctly, the ones who had figured out what she was, who she was... Thorin's nephews. Two princes.
She took the pipe from her mouth and a mixture of emotions stirred in her chest, a desire to drive them out mixed with the urge to ask them to stay.
They were waiting for an answer to the question, she realised only after she found two pairs of puzzled eyes, waiting.
"Depends on what you want," she replied cautiously.
She didn't like the answer much, but the two stood there, undaunted. The black-haired dwarf with a youngster’s stubble sat down beside her, not waiting for an invitation; although he sensed Geira's suspicious glances, he did not pay heed to them. He took out his pipe and, after lighting it, squatted down more on the bench, puffing out small clouds of smoke.
"We just wanted to share some tobacco with you, nothing else," he insisted, sketching a brief smile.
"But maybe I don't want to share," Geira replied stubbornly.
The boy widened his eyes and looked at her almost displeased. Geira scolded herself, perhaps that wasn't the right way to go: they were her companions now, and she should at least try not to pick a fight with them. Yet it was proving so complicated, and the second boy's blue eyes didn't make it easy for him at all.
The nephews... the sons of…
"You should, if you don't want to isolate yourself before we leave..." the blond-haired, bearded dwarf attacked her: even in the moonlight she could see his blue eyes shining; so familiar it hurt.
Her fingers gently touched the inlaid hilt of her long sword, with which she never parted, seeking some form of strength, courage or, why not, peace of mind.
She forced himself not to let the acidity of his words show, "I thought I was already an outcast before I left, Master Dwarf. And forgive me, but I still don't know your names, which doesn't seem fair since you know mine."
The one sitting next to her laughed, throwing back his head, "You are right, forgive us, but the circumstances before did not allow us. I am Kili, this is my brother Fili, we are the sons of Vili and princess Dìs,"
Sons of Dìs.
A bite in her stomach made her pipe clench in her hand and suddenly her chest became incredibly heavy. The sons of Dís, Princess Dís.
How many years had passed? Had it really been that long? Had time around her really begun to move so slowly that she did not know how many years she had lived that life?
They were kids, but they were older than she had been when everything changed.
“Very well, then, Fili and Kili…” she murmured under her breath.
Geira remained silent and tried to calm her heartbeat after the latest information she had received. She sucked in another puff of smoke realising that there was, in fact, no more tobacco; she cursed silently and wiped it off, then put it back in her pocket. She wrapped herself a little more in her cloak as a gust of air penetrated her heavy clothes, fit for travel.
"Not very talkative, are you? Yet with the hobbit you spoke, I heard you!" asked Kili, sitting too close.
"You are talkative for both of us, young prince," she said, his eyes widening for a moment and then narrowing to slits, unexpectedly suspicious.
Geira caught herself explaining before the situation escalated. "You called Thorin ‘uncle’ earlier; I do not possess magical powers, if that is what you fear,"
"I didn't think so. But I am surprised that you called me young: yet, you do not seem as old as Balin, or Dori or Master Oìn..."
This time it was Geira's turn to smile. She barely lifted a corner of her lips, but it was enough for Kili: if only he had known.
"Looks can be deceiving: to me, you are certainly quite young, just boys."
"Then how many..."
His brother Fili interrupted him forcefully, "The sword, where did you t-"
"Lads, please return; the hobbit has made up his mind," Balin interrupted Fili's question, and allowed Geira to avoid answering uncomfortable questions to say the least.
The old dwarf gave her a brief but penetrating glance, but he did not bother to ascertain whether she was following him or not, so Geira opted to stay out there a little longer, alone; she left the door to Bag End half open and, from the confusion that followed, deduced that Bilbo had denied her help. Part of her felt terribly sorry and sad: she had accepted the fact that she would be leaving in the company of dwarves who hated her, but the torture seemed less heavy, knowing that a face less hostile than others would be at her side. She sighed loudly, trying to catch screams, reproaches or furious, stubborn phrases, but her ears met with the silence that reigned in the house; curious, she got up and, without making the slightest noise, looked out of the door to peek inside. She recognised Thorin's broad back covered by a fur cloak, his long, neatly wavy hair falling past his shoulders; he was leaning against the fireplace in the hall, where she had been standing before while everyone else was standing around him.
A melody sung with his mouth closed emerged from the silence; then his voice, deep and warm, filled the room, spreading through the air like perfume.
Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day
To find our long-forgotten gold.
Geira held her breath, melody from the very first notes, but.. the words, they were different from what she remembered. She frowned but then stop to worry and started to listen as Thorin's voice passed through her ears and went straight into her heart. She felt a strong grip on her chest, as if some invisible hand had tightened around her heart; those words tasted of something long forgotten, of longing for something lost. They tasted of home, of family. Her mind played the terrible trick of making her see again the places she had walked in Erebor as a child: squares, streets and alleys, palaces full of gold, stables, armouries... and then dwarves walking, working, children running and screaming. All this had died with the city, swallowed up by the terror of the dragon, and she had not had the chance to see it one last time. Soon, Thorin was not the only one singing; the others joined him, singing the last verse that reminded them of the same feelings.
The pines were roaring on the height,
The winds were moaning in the night,
The fire was red, it flaming spread,
The trees like torches blazed with light.
The song ended, but the sadness lingered on. Geira drew back quickly, returning to the embrace of darkness, her long-time friend; far from prying eyes, she wiped away the tears that had mockingly escaped her lashes, forming a small furrow on her rosy cheeks. She blinked several times to squeeze out more tears and breathed deeply, trying at the same time to calm down and listen to the king's instructions for the next morning's departure.
"Try to get as much rest as possible; Gandalf will show us to our quarters..."
There followed a great commotion, a sign that everyone was gathering their knick-knacks: as she did not want to show himself in such a pitiful state, she decided to wait outside; perhaps, with the favour of darkness, no one would notice the signs of crying.
As expected, the others came out, dark in face; they glanced at her in passing, then disappeared down a path towards a small inn. As soon as the last of them, Ori, was out of sight, she went into the house, looking for her bow, which she found where she had left it, leaning against the wall of the small kitchen. She took a quick glance around, noticing the cleanliness and order that once again reigned supreme, as if nothing had happened. It was indeed a fine home, fit for someone who loved his life and would not change it for all the gold in the world.
She secured her bow to her back, picked up her quiver, and hoisted it over her shoulder. She reached the hall with great, heavy strides, but froze when her eyes fell upon the long contract written by Thorin and countersigned by Balin on the footstool in front of the chair. With a knot in her throat, she saw that the place for Bilbo's signature was spotless, empty. She sighed again, brushing it with her fingers.
She felt guilty: it was she who had warned him of what lay ahead, who had told him that she would not blame him if he refused, and that she, too, might leave the Company to its fate; so when he had thanked her, had she already decided in her heart not to take part? She ran a hand through her short hair, touching every lock from her forehead to the back of her neck.
"He will come, do not fear," her left hand ran quickly to the scabbard, drawing the sword she carried at her side; it was only when she was in a defensive position that she recognised Gandalf, who had entered without her hearing him. He walked towards her, his hands clasped behind his back and the usual sardonic smile always on his lips; he watched her for long moments, with those blue eyes that could dig into you, until they read your soul. And Geira, in her heart, was afraid of it.
"That contract will be signed very soon," he insisted, now closer to her.
"'Are you so convinced? The young hobbit wasn't convinced, I've seen that kind of look too many times, from young soldiers, recruits, and even head guards," almost without realizing it, she found himself again brushing against that yellowed paper, and those handwritten characters of those who had once been part of her world.
"Oh, I hope so! But, usually, my convictions always turn out to be correct!"
"Like me coming here?" she said directly as she looked up at him.
Gandalf took a deep breath, tilting his head down slightly to keep it from slamming into the ceiling. "That is the uncertainty that, though you will not believe me, has plagued me these many weeks," he explained quietly. "I will not hide from you that I thought you were not coming.”
"I didn't want to," Geira admitted. "I waited in Aldburg for as long as I could," she concluded, smoothing out the traveling bag on her shoulder with a movement of her shoulder.
The wizard nodded his head before speaking. "I see. What made you change your mind?"
At that unexpected question Geira stiffened all of a sudden. She had spent weeks in the room of the inn in the small village in the kingdom of Rohan, mulling over the offer the wizard had made to her, and up until a fortnight ago she had been more than sure that she would not participate in the expedition. Why should she, why should she accept what Gandalf had told her outside that inn as true. He knew nothing of what was to come, and yet the prospect he held out to her was too much even for a hardened soul like hers.
He could revoke the exile, you could go back home, fulfil your oath and be free, Geira. Isn't it what you want? Being free again?
"Because I don't want to die like this, in the dirt of a Men’s village with an invisible chain wrapped around my chest ... I don’t want to be bound to him anymore, I want his nephews to see their home,they are the new hope for Durin’s folk" she explained hastily, speaking like a dirge she had learned by heart.
"And not him?”
She looked up to Gandalf . “Would you ask this to a victim of an executioner? Or to a leftover wife of a soldier?”
“It depends on how much the victim cared for the executioner, and vice versa,” he explained with a soft voice.
For Geira it was like receiving a punch in the middle of her sternum; she felt a sudden urge to shout out her frustration, her anger, to give vent to the rage she had kept jealousy inside her all evening. He knew, Gandalf knew, yet he dared to say that to her, if it was to achieve a goal of his as he had already seen him do, it would not work this time, not with her.That was the point of no return for her; controlling her tears was almost impossible, as was not taking the sword from the hilt and pointing it at the wizard, even though she knew what would happen.
Furious, she began to tremble, looking the wizard straight in the face and finally and, after months, asked him the question that was eating her alive.
“Why did you want me to come?!” she growled “You have warriors, you have clever dwarves and useful ones. Why did you come to me, and do not tell me you did it for me!” she nearly roared.
As he had done for the rest of the evening, Gandalf remained silent for a few seconds, watching her. He did not get angry or upset, but he looked at her in such a way that everything around her seemed to grow cold and sad and for a moment she felt the same way.
“Because you have to fulfill your oath,” he told her again.
“I did not intend to fulfill it! That oath was broken long ago as was the one that he swore to me! Stop lying to me! ” she insisted, pleading with him with her eyes.
He owed that to her, an answer a simple answer, she was not asking more. She just wanted to know why Gandalf wanted her to torture heself, why he wanted her so bad in that Company why he cared that much that forced Thorin to accept her as a member of his Company.
He sighed softly, smiling sadly with the side of his mouth “I didn't, I did it for the executioner, for the warrior, for the king...”
Geira parted her lips, astonished but quivering with anger; unexpectedly she smiled, a sad smile, without a hint of joy painted on her face. “You know Gandalf, now I understand why you lied to me, because if these are the real reasons, you know I'm sure I would have turned down your invitation back then.
And without saying anything more she turned and walked out of the rounded green door.
She left the hobbit’s house behind her, following the same path the others had taken, passing other green mounds - hobbit dwellings - and finally resting at the inn where the whole company was already staying, but still awake. And she would know that that night, like many others, she would not find rest, because a question had begun to arise, a question about a story she had been telling herself for too many years: was she really only doing this for herself? Yes was the answer, because if it were otherwise she would rather die by his hand than go through it all again. To feel again. To be betrayed again.
The flames burned up to the sky. The fumes came out of every window from every balcony from every hole in which they found a passage. The screams rose high in the air and thundered in the valley below her. The yellow and blue fabrics danced a dance of death and destruction as they walked out the shattered marble door. Children clung to their parents' necks in fear. The women and men wept as they watched the bodies scattered on the door under the rubble as they were pulled away by those few who had not yet been gripped by grief.
The once green pines and grass on either side of the mountain had become a heap of ash and coal.
Her tears would not stop flowing, her armor had become heavy as a boulder that prevented her from moving.
Then a desperate scream under the hill where she was about her came to her ears making her almost fall to her knees under the weight of her helplessness and guilt.
His formerly desperate blue eyes turned to pure amazement as they landed on her.
One scream, one last scream before the realization of what would happen as she watched her heart burn in the rubble with her oaths and with the one dwarf who possessed it.
"I told you coming here would be a waste of time!"
"To hire a hobbit, where did you get such an idea?!"
"I did not think such a small body could possess so much..."
"Well, why would he help us if he doesn't even know us?" noted Bofur, returning to light his pipe with a tinderbox and sitting down better on the window sill.
"Gandalf promised us the hobbit would accompany us; and if he said so, we must trust him."
"How about a bet, then? Come on, Nori! What do you say?"
There began a long chatting that involved them all, those who bet for or against Bilbo's arrival by the next morning. The commotion that permeated the small room of the inn, where they were to sleep, allowed two dwarves to move into the corridor, away from prying eyes and ears.
"What do you think, laddie?" asked the older dwarf, smoothing his long white beard.
The other sighed wearily, the ever-present wrinkle in the middle of his forehead more than worth a thousand words; even after he had removed his heavy cloak and remained in his long blue tunic covering his breeches, his figure was imposing and commanded awe and respect.
No matter how hard Balin tried, he still found it hard to believe that this dwarf, a child, who later became a young boy, would become king so soon, faced two major battles that had taken everything from him and with which he had to deal every day, every night; the old dwarf knew this for sure: not even in his dreams was Thorin Oakenshield free, safe from rancour and remorse.
"I think this mission has started under the worst of auspices: I wonder..." he paused, not quite sure what to say next.
"Whether we should proceed?"
The king nodded, but his gaze was far from convinced, lost in thoughts unknown to most, but intuitable to Balin; or, at least, most of the time. But, to be on the safe side, he decided to broach the subject calmly, one step at a time.
"Don't distress yourself about the hobbit: if you hadn't beckoned to me and brought me here, I would have placed a bet in his favour, you know?" he gave a half-smile, but that did not relax his companion’s tense features, quite the contrary. He made a contemptuous sound, halfway between sceptical and desperate.
"Dwalin was right: it was a waste of time coming here. It was folly to believe in his help; but even without him, we must proceed. No, it's not his presence I'm worried about... no... not him."
Here was the raw nerve, the sore point: just as Balin had imagined; it was not the thought of the failed burglar that plagued him.
"Thorin..." he began, laying a hand on his forearm. But as soon as he did, the muscles under his shirt twitched and the old dwarf was stopped with a raised hand and a grim look.
Seeing him in that state did not help Balin either, after all: after all, he was like a son to him. And fathers were always distressed when their children were not calm and happy.
"No, Balin. I don't want to talk about it," was his curt reply; and no matter how much the elder dwarf insisted, he would not be heard. His king's pride was mightier than reason, which struggled to prevail: for if he had even tried to think, Thorin would have understood; but stubbornness and anger blinded him.
Balin sighed loudly and shook his head, but he hoped in his heart that this journey would bring other victories than the lost pride of the dwarves.
Dawn came too soon, and continuous yawns surprised Geira as she rinsed her face with cold water and then strapped the sword to her side, but first she pulled it from its sheath, examining the blade for new scratches. Daylight broke over it, sending blinding glints down the walls: her hand stroked the inlaid and worked hilt, which gave the sword its name, more closely. Forged by her, for her alone, and branded on the hilt by... him.
That sword was her past, her present, her future perhaps. All she still possessed was that sword, all that bound her to what she had been was that sword that had allowed the two princes to know who she was and what she had been. She had managed to avoid their questions but she was sure, having seen the two princes, that they would ask Balin, Dwalin... Thorin for confirmation. And what would they answer? Was her oath really broken and she was just fighting the wind? No. She was to the death and would fulfil it, or die rather than live like this any longer. Without being able to speak a word to any dwarf.
She put the sword back where it belonged, and stopped losing herself in useless thoughts; she took a quick, final look around the room, tracing the outline of the simple wooden bed, the chest against the wall, and the windowsill, on which was a vase of fragrant lilac and yellow flowers: perfect, she had forgotten nothing. She arranged her traveling back better on her shoulder and closed the door, going downstairs; he thanked the innkeeper with a nod and a coin, then went out into the warm morning air. Outside, a riot of colours and scents invaded her, leaving her stunned: everything was so wonderfully green, and as the evening before she wondered what life could be like there.
"Good morning!" Kili's smiling face took her mind off her pesnier again, just like the night before in every way.
He stood in front of her, crunching a stick of beef jerky between his teeth, soon joined by his brother Fili, who had two in his mouth. "Come, we'll show you your pony," he said.
"My Pony?" she asked, incredulous.
With a gesture of his head, Fili invited her to follow them, or rather to follow her younger brother, who had already started walking with his arms behind his head. They took her to the back of the inn, where three animals stood in a large enclosure. Kili opened the wooden gate and pointed out the pony, a female with an entirely white coat, tame and quiet: Geira approached her, stroking her gently; she neighed, appreciating the gesture and making her new mistress smile. From the bag she took out a red apple and handed it to her, watching her devour it voraciously: yes, she liked it, she admitted; and it would be a good companion for the journey.
"Thanks, lads" she said with a smile turning towards the two brothers.
The dwarves bowed their heads in response, finishing lacing up the last of their bags of supplies, then dragged their steeds out of there, where the others were waiting for them; Geira followed, not receiving any greetings from the other members, just a deep silence, making her clearly remember what the others thought of her. Even the smile on her lips vanished in the blink of an eye.
Without a word, she hoisted herself up onto the saddle, settling in better. When they were all still and ready, Thorin cast his gaze over them all, including Gandalf, as if seeking some support, some security... or fear.
He made no speech, there was no need: they all knew what they were getting into, what the risks and dangers were, but they were ready; they were going to regain their homeland, there was nothing nobler than that,
their hearts were for their home. They were for Erebor: and they would hardly be discouraged or lose the purpose of their journey
The king turned his pony, leading it along the streets of Hobbiton, followed by the others.
Geira did not look back, but kept her gaze fixed ahead, her heart a little heavy and a little relieved, she could not quite explain why. She remained silent as they left the city and entered the large clearing lined with huge old trees, thinking with regret of the sort of friendly figure who might have cheered her journey and comforted her when all seemed lost. Who knows, perhaps Gandalf tended to overestimate himself a little too much, if he believed that his convictions always turned out to be right and positive …
A familiar voice brought her to a halt, and so did the others; she turned swiftly in the saddle, hardly able to believe her eyes: Bilbo Baggins had just stopped beside Balin's pony, exhausted from his long ride; he caught his breath and wiped the sweat from his brow as he held out the contract to the elderly dwarf with one hand, claiming to have signed it. As soon as Balin verified the authenticity of the signature - a gesture that Geira found amusing anyway - he announced that he was welcome to Thorin Oakenshield's company; applause and whistles of welcome followed, interrupted by the king.
"Give him a pony!"
Bilbo tried to object, as he had never ridden a pony before, but Kili and Fili cleverly hoisted him up; Geira managed to catch the hobbit's eyes and, to his great surprise, he was stunned: she smiled at him, a warm and sincere smile.
And then the hobbit knew he had made the right choice.
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