A/N: Bizarrely enough, I find myself trying not to end this story too soon... ^^
The crowning of Dain Ist Ironfoot took place two days later.
The whole of Erebor and New Dale had been invited. Even Mirkwood seemed to have been emptied.
The main hall was crowded and buzzing when I arrived. People were pushing inside from the Front Gate, but it soon was certain that everyone could not get in.
Putting myself on my tiptoes, I noticed a pointy hat in the distance, and made my way through the crowd towards Gandalf.
He was standing facing the throne, and beside him stood a tall, broody man.
I put myself in front of the two, knowing they would not notice me otherwise.
A smile formed onto Gandalf's lips, while Beorn's grey eyes widened.
"Good morrow, Gandalf. It is very nice seeing you again, skinchanger."
He bowed his huge head. "Hello again, little mouse."
"May I stand with you?"
He nodded, and remained silent.
I took a place on Gandalf's right.
But the wizard had something to ask. "When are you leaving, then?"
My gaze met his, and my brow furrowed. "And who has told you I was leaving?"
He chuckled, the sound muffled by the environing buzz of conversation. "Kili."
I shook my head, then sighed. "Perhaps tomorrow. It depends. On Bofur and Kili."
"Ah yes. I suppose they will wish to say goodbye."
A lump formed in my throat. "Yes. It is not the part I'm most fond of."
"I imagined so. Wish is why you didn't intend on telling me, I suppose?"
I nodded sadly. "Sorry."
"Don't be. I myself am leaving soon. With Radagast. We have unfinished business in the West."
I smirked. "Why? Haven't you ended the Necromancer's doings?"
He tutted. "I always wonder how you know such things. Yes, he has been defeated. But Mirkwood, I'm afraid, is still full of nasty things that need eradicating."
I nodded. "The spiders."
"Indeed." Then silence fell on the halls, and I understood the ceremony was about to begin. "Let's fall silent now, or we'll miss all the fun."
If fun it would be.
We stood on the left of the throne, and my companions on the right. I could see Bofur's plaits bouncing on his shoulders as he looked at me and smirked, his hat in his hands.
Ori was glued to his pen.
Then Dain appeared by a side corridor, clad in a dwarvish armour, regal-looking as Kili surely would never had been.
Kili himself was following, a mithril crown in his hands.
I smiled to myself. How symbolic that the Durin prince would be the one to crown the King Under the Mountain...his last princely act, no doubt.
I always liked symbols.
The crowning in itself didn't last. Dain sat on the throne, Kili put the crown on his head and yelled "Hail", and then the whole hall repeated the word over and over again.
Then arrived the delegations.
Bard first, as new King of Dale – he had been crowned in a discreet ceremony I had attended a day prior – bowed before Dain and offered him a leather quiver carved with ancient markings from the time of Girion, last King of the ancient Dale.
Thranduil next, Legolas at his side.
The Elvenking, as proud as ever, only bowed the head slightly, his hand on his chest, before handing over an enormous white deer for supper.
Legolas, as cheeky as ever, smirked and winked at me when they passed us, and Gandalf chuckled quietly.
And then, when I last waited for it, Gandalf cleared his throat and walked forward, his hand shooting in his pocket.
Only he talked to the King, his booming voice echoing in the silence around.
"From Gandalf the Istar, I give you a jewel like no other. Shall you wear it proudly and look over it." His palm opened, and my eyes widened.
A gasp escaped many a dwarf's lips.
A Ring of power, nothing less.
Dain bowed his head in respect, and took the jewel, fastening it on his middle finger.
It seemed to glow in the faint light, and then, as if a spell had been put on all of us, our gazes were drawn from it.
And the ceremony ended.
And the feast began.
"What do ye think?"
I whirled around, searching for the owner of the voice through music and cheers.
The party had been going on for hours, and the sun had set already.
I smiled at Bofur. "What do I think about what?"
"Is i' a good time ter leave?"
The smile faded on my lips. "Oh. I don't know. Have you seen Kili?"
He nodded. "He's over there, with Dori and Nori."
He took my hand, a gesture now so familiar that I didn't even flinch our of his grasp.
Our fingers entwined, and I followed, Sting's scabbard bouncing on my hip and reminding me painfully of how much I needed to leave. Now.
Kili was sipping from a huge mug, his green eyes dark, a frown deep on his features.
He sighed as he saw us arrive. "Time already?"
I shrugged. "I guess, if you're ready."
"Ready I am. It's the others I'm concerned about. What will they say?"
"Do they know?"
Kili shook his head, but Bofur coughed uneasily.
I snorted. "Of course he does. Is there anything he doesn't know?"
Sneaking to my room and grabbing my backpack was easy.
Sneaking out of the Mountain and avoiding unwanted questions was far harder, since I could not put the Ring on. What use would it had been to be invisible when the place was crowded to the extent that one had to push his way through?
But at last, I arrived in fresh air, onto the doorstep, the river flowing under my feet.
Kili arrived behind me, and grunted. "Bloody hell."
At the foot of the stairs stood all our friends.
Our entire company. Gandalf. Thranduil, Legolas and Tauriel. Beorn.
Gandalf looked up at us as Bofur joined our stance. "So, my dears, is it time?"
I cursed under my breath. "Bloody wizard."
Then my feet brought me down the stairs, until I stood before his pointy hat. "Yes, it is."
"Well, goodbye then, Miss Ari. Safe journey." A huge hand patted my shoulder, and a steel gaze twinkled with a silent thank.
Beorn only nodded his head.
Radagast fidgeted with his hat, as he always did, and stuttered a "Safe journey" so cute it made me want to kiss his cheek.
Thranduil, in his regal tunic, a crown of antlers on his fair head, smiled down at me. "You do really live up to your title, Ariana Elf-friend. I am glad I once met you, and if it is written that we shall meet again, we shall meet as friends."
I bowed the head. "Diola lle, fair king."
He seemed pleased by my use of elvish.
Tauriel squeezed me in her arms, a gesture I did not think a capable of, while Legolas stooped low and placed a single green feathered arrow in my quiver.
When I turned around, Kili was embracing Dwalin, and Bofur was trying to pry his brother's arms off his waist.
Balin was the first in line for me, tears in his eyes.
I sighed. "Do not cry for me, my friend. All is well."
"I will miss you, Miss Ari. Horribly so."
It made me feel so bad. And so good at the same time.
I let my backpack drop onto the ground, and embraced the eldest of our company.
"See you in the West, my dearest Balin."
He sniffed, and let go.
After that, there was a line of hugs. Oin first, the closest to me perhaps if you put Bofur aside, then Gloin – I was surprised the say the least – Nori, Bombur, and Dori.
Ori, red to his ears, stuttered in his beard and seemed about to blow out in steam when I kissed his cheek.
Dwalin was last.
To my utmost surprise.
"Thorin trusted you. So I do too."
These were his last words to me.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
Dwalin was Thorin's man to the end.
Finally our farewells had ended.
Beorn had brought us three ponies, upon the promise to send them back once we reached the Misty Mountains.
I climbed onto Ivy – who seemed to recognize me, even if I felt nothing like the Ari I was a few months prior – and kicked her sides.
Bofur at my side, Kili behind, we left the Lonely Mountain.