A/N: Aaaaaand we're back! I would like to thank those who have already put this on alert and favourites. Enjoy this new chapter, it features one of my favourite characters EVER! :)
Disclaimer: Any recognizable piece of dialogue or character is the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and his heirs and/or of Sir Peter Jackson. I only own my two main OCs Baraz and Fìli, son of Kìli and some secundary characters.
Playlist for this chapter: The adventure begins; The world is ahead; Roast mutton; The hidden valley from the An unexpected journey OST.
2. The road to Rivendell
The journey proved to take far longer than what would have been expected.
After their stay in the Prancing Pony in Bree, Bilbo began to feel more tired, more restless, and with the deterioration of his health came the slowing down of their advance.
Baraz and Bofur immediately realised after that first night that Bilbo had seemingly aged a great deal. His hair was beginning to turn white, wrinkles were engraving themselves on his face, his breathing became uneven, and his sight was getting poorer.
All of this worried Baraz a great deal, for she had no idea what had provoked these symptoms or this sudden old age when, a day prior, Bilbo had been as young as a seventy-years-old hobbit.
It was decided after four days of travels and when it began certain that they would not reach Rivendell at that speed without meeting the many creatures and thieves of the East-Road, that Bofur would ride ahead, since he knew the way – he had been there twice after all – and that he'd ask Master Elrond for help.
So he left his daughter and friend alone on the road and rode ahead as fast as his pony could manage. But even then, he'd take him days, perhaps a whole week, to reach Rivendell.
Baraz's eyes were darting to her uncle every pace or so. Some time soon, he would not be able to sit on his saddle without help, and she felt ever so worried by that fact.
When she asked him if it would not be wiser to go back or to alter their course to go on a straighter path to the Elves, though, Bilbo proved to be himself enough to refuse vehemently.
"No", he said, "I want to see the Trolls before we reach Rivendell!"
And Baraz knew nothing could change his mind...
That evening, while Baraz was boiling some water to make a stew, Bilbo sat on a fallen log, his eyes to the skies. She studied him for a moment, the way he observed the stars above his head; stars that he had placed countless times on his star-maps. The look of nostalgia on his face, of almost sadness, sent a pang of hurt to her heart.
She was in the middle of her preparation when he spoke up. "Poppy, can I ask you something?"
She nodded, her eyes not leaving the pot where she plunged some carrots. "Of course you can, Uncle."
She met his eyes that were suddenly twinkling with excitement. "How is Rivendell? What does it look like? Is there a river, or a lake? Perhaps a waterfall? And how are the Elves?"
Baraz chuckled at his incessant questions. All Hobbits loved the Elves, it was a constant, but no one loved them more than Bilbo Baggins. He had never seen one in his life, but to him as to everyone else, they were like angels. But she could not help much regarding this. "I'm afraid I don't know, Uncle. I've never been to Rivendell..."
Bilbo huffed. "Poppy! You have gone to Erebor every five years or so with your father every since you were a little dwarfling! You cannot possibly tell me you have never stopped by Rivendell!"
She sighed, plunging her spoon in the stew to taste it. It needed a little more salt. "I am sorry to say that I can... Da never really liked the Elves. He didn't want to owe them anything. So we passed close to the Hidden Valley, but never entered it. Although Ma told me some things..."
Bilbo didn't say a word, but his eyes and the way he had suddenly crossed his hands in his lap urged her forward.
She smiled to herself. "She said that Rivendell is more beautiful than any other place in Middle-Earth. That the pillars are covered in ivy, that the water runs under and over paths, that there are flowers everywhere and that it scarcely rains at all... She also said that the Lord Elrond and his daughter Arwen Ûndomiel are two of the kindest people she ever met."
Bilbo smiled widely. "I long to meet them. Do you think they are fond of songs?" Baraz shrugged. "I am composing one for them as we speak. I hope they like it..."
She chuckled. "I am sure they will, Uncle, but for now, let's eat and sleep..."
Although she knew that while he slept, she'd keep her two eyes open...
The following days grew to be much the same, with the exception of Bilbo being even more tired. He needed break from the saddle every two hours or so, and Baraz, despite her legendary patience, had started to feel like she'd ride ahead and wait for him to catch up eventually. But she would not do that. Because they were slowly entering the Wild, and she knew all-too-well the dangers that lied ahead...
Five days after Bofur had left them alone, they reached the troll hoard and the three statues now standing guard a few yards in front of it.
The trolls had long since been covered in moss and ivy for time was not kind to all things that didn't move, but you could still see the way they were stooping as if reaching for something – or someone – within their sight.
Baraz hadn't visited this place in more than a decade, and as she put her hand to the stone, Bilbo came to stand by her, his hair even whiter, more and more wrinkles on his face.
"Your mother told me how she was lucky the sun rose before they caught her..."
Baraz nodded. "Yes... And Da also told me no one within their group ever understood how she had known there was a troll hoard nearby, for their camp was at least an hour away..."
"Miss Ari was always a mystery..." Bilbo smiled kindly and circled the trolls, as if committing them to memory, before his eyes turned to the cave ahead. "Would you agree to a little exploring?"
She shrugged, made sure the ponies were altered, and followed him towards the hoard.
The smell was still awful even so long after the trolls' death, and many flies buzzed around in a stomach-turning trance around the entrance.
Bilbo didn't seem at all disturbed by all this and strolled inside humming to himself while Baraz' nose turned up in disgust and she followed, her bow in hand just in case.
Strangely enough, the cave was lit by some kind of magical torches with what seemed like never-ending fire lighting it. In other circumstances, Baraz would have thought the place to be occupied, but there were no signs of life either inside or outside of the hoard. It had been deserted a long time prior, and she was not at all against that fact.
Bilbo stopped in front of a small crate near the entrance and she stood next to him as he opened it with a look of greed on his face that she had never seen before. "You never know what kind of riches you can find in a small crate like this one..." He opened the lid, revealing thousands of golden coins, ancient coins with some elvish or dwarvish runes engraved on it. There were also rubies and sapphires, gems and thin bracelets of gold.
The hobbit flew from crate to crate, from corner to corner, as if he was looking for something in particular. Under his breath, he was muttering non-sense like 'I'm sure there is one here... It can't have been the only ring about...' but Baraz was too taken by the sounds around to pay real attention.
There was a sudden commotion outside, a rushing of leaves, a cracking of twigs and some yells as if there was hunt nearby.
Baraz drew her bow and looked at Bilbo who was still searching for something in the trolls' treasure. "Stay here, Uncle. Do not move." He hummed a vague answer, and she moved towards the entrance of the cave, an arrow notched.
There was definitely a hunt going on. She could hear the hooves of at least a dozen horses nearby and the yells of several species, both hunters and hunted, as they grew nearer. She raised her bow and waited, her figure hidden in the shadows of the steeping stone.
Several figures erupted from the woods to her left. She gasped at what she saw, for if she had never seen these creatures for real and in the break of day, she surely knew what they were. "Goblins! So far from the Mountains?" In her astonishment, she did not shoot her arrow, and instead started to think. Why would these creatures, that hated the light of day, travel so far from their caves?
She received her answer not a second later. Her bow lifted again, she watched as the dozen horses she had heard before erupted into the clearing as well, and on them, Elves.
They were drawing their own bows, except perhaps three who had long curved swords in their hands. They all mounted without a saddle, which struck Baraz as perilous.
One raised his hand as he spotted the two altered ponies, and two stopped by his side while the others continued their hunt.
She heard a vague order from the male who seemed to be the leader, then all three dismounted and went to the ponies to examine them and the bags they carried. She pondered. She had always been told by her mother that the Elves were her friends, and so far she had always believed her words, but now...with those studying her bags and all the things she and Bilbo carried with them...she wanted to shoo them away. Her dwarf blood was making itself known in the least opportune moment...
"Ya naa tanya?" Who is that?
Baraz lowered her bow as the three figures moved her way, the leader stopping for a second when he saw her standing there. He nodded to his companions and all lowered their weapons as well – bows for the two brown-haired warriors, and a sword for the golden-haired leader.
She bowed her head in greeting. "Good morrow to you, Elves."
The leader stopped in front of her and it struck her how small she was next to the Tall Kin. He studied her and her attire for a moment, then bowed his head back. "Pernogoth."
Baraz tilted her head to the side for she did not understand what his word meant, but now was not the time for questions. "I am Baraz of the Shire. Nice meeting you."
"Baraz of the Shire?" the leader's grey eyes widened. "Peculiar. Mae govannen Baraz. My name is Glorfindel. I come from Imladris."
Her mouth opened a little in surprise. "We are heading to Imladris!"
"We?" his eyes darted behind her and his ears surely caught on the sound of Bilbo's padding feet as he came back towards the entrance. "Who is your companion?"
"Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton, my...uncle."
The three Elves shared a glance, but were they pondering about their said relation or about Bilbo's name, she did not know.
Glorfindel then smiled kindly. "It would be our pleasure to escort you to the valley, Baraz of the Shire. My companions and I have been hunting down some goblins who attacked some of our people near the Bruinen, but I grow tired of it. Some light company would be welcome."
Baraz smiled back and bowed her head in thanks. "It would be most welcome on our side too, Glorfindel of Imladris." Bilbo then appeared behind her and gasped, but remained silent as he surely studied the three first Elves he saw in his life. "My father Bofur rode ahead of us a little less than a week ago. Perhaps you have seen him?"
"Yes, we have, although he did not stop to ask for assistance. A dwarf is very scarcely seen near the valley... Very scarcely indeed..." His brow furrowed as if he was trying to understand Bofur's presence in the Hidden Valley, but then he smiled again. "Shall we ride, then?"
Baraz nodded, then her eyes went to Bilbo. She looked at him in worry. "Uncle Bilbo?" his eyes went to her, and she saw he was still stunned at the Elves' appearance. "Are you strong enough to ride on your own or do you want to ride with someone else?"
Glorfindel whirled around from where he had been caressing his horse's mane, and he cleared his throat. "Is your friend ill?"
"Not ill, old... An illness that takes us all mortals." She chuckled darkly. "His health has been deteriorating since we left the Shire, and I will be happy to see Lord Elrond to enquire on the reason for this sudden weakness." She paused. "Would you mind riding with him?"
The Elf smiled and chuckled, the sound clear like chiming bells. "I will with great pleasure!" He gestured Bilbo forward until the Hobbit stood beside his horse, looking not much taller than a child, and he hoisted him onto the horse's back before climbing swiftly behind him. "This is Asfaloth, my most faithful companion. He will not let you fall."
The journey was easier with the Elves as companions. Although it was not quicker, for Baraz and her two ponies walked slower than Asfaloth and the other two horses the Elves rode. But none of their companions seemed to mind.
Bilbo had found his tongue a little while after they left the trolls' cave, and Glorfindel answered his incessant questions with many smiles and a patience Baraz would not have had in the same circumstances. The Elf was truly a great companion for the road, for he knew short-cuts and safe passages through the Wild, and was also fond of stories and of the other kins of Middle-Earth. He didn't say if he had met Hobbits before, but Baraz guessed he had not seen many, for he too questioned Bilbo on many occurrences and seemed particularly curious to learn about the peredhili's customs.
That evening, they ate a piece of elven bread. Baraz knew the Elves didn't eat the meat they hunted. When they chose to kill an animal, it was for another reason than sustenance. They killed the ill, the weak, or when a species was too numerous for a given area. They acted as animal-lovers, not as animal-eaters.
It was a first for her – and for Bilbo of course – to try elvish food. Glorfindel was quick in explaining that the bread – lambas bread he called it – had been made for long journeys or times of low food-supplies, for it could properly feed an adult Elf for an entire day. Although apparently, it did not have the same effect on Hobbits, for Bilbo asked for a second piece. But then again, Hobbits ate almost every hour or so, so it was understandable.
Baraz, on the other side, was quite full after her piece, and thought the bread practical for long periods of riding indeed. But she swore not to tell anyone in Erebor, for Dwarves there hated Elves with a passion. A passion she had never shared, but that should have been her human half.
When the sun set and the Elves lit a proper fire for the night, one of the two brown-haired males took a thin and elegant flute from one of his pockets and started to play a tune.
Baraz, whose father was also playing the flute, could not help but noticing how the sound was purer, more musical than that of Bofur's old polished flute. The music the Elf played was so pure than it seemed as if the nature itself accommodated it. Grasshoppers stopped their own music to listen, and the wind blew more softly. The stars even seemed to shine stronger.
Bilbo's eyes were as wide as tea-cups as he stared at the Elf, and he was shifting his weight to the tune, his lips moving in silence as if he was trying to put words to the song.
Glorfindel was lying on his back and was gazing at the sky, his eyes far off. The third Elf was sitting on a rock nearby, surely to take the first watch, and was humming the song to himself.
And very slowly, Baraz felt her eyes close and fatigue take over her. She had not slept in several days, and the Elf's tune seemed to lull her to sleep. So she lied down in her bedroll and closed her eyes onto dreams of streams and deers and falling leaves...
It took the little group a little more than three days to rally the Bruinen, the river that flowed at the entrance of the Hidden Valley. When they reached the bridge over the gentle water, several Elves got out of bushes and barred their way.
They all stopped in front of Glorfindel's horse. Baraz noticed their brown hair and fair eyes, and when she glanced at their guide again, she wondered what kind of Elf he was, for his features were completely different.
"Glorfindel. Cormamin lindua ele lle." said one of the guards. My heart sings to see you. "Manke nae lle?" Where were you?
"Lye carfarad Glamhoth mì Numen Imladrisin." We were hunting Goblins West of here.
The Elf nodded then he glanced at Bilbo, sitting in front of Glorfindel on his horse, and at Baraz who kept her gaze low just in case. Her father had told her that sometimes even the most innocent of stares could be misinterpreted. "Ya naa ron?" Who are they?
"Baraz i Drannin. Ar Bilbo, i Drannin." Baraz of the Shire. And Bilbo of the Shire.
The Elf looked at Baraz more closely. "Peredhili?" Halflings?
Glorfindel shook his head and looked at Baraz who met his amused glance. "Pernogoth."
Her brow furrowed for she still did not understand that word. But the Elves around gasped and their eyes widened as they looked at her, and then, they let them pass, muttering some questions under their breath, so low she could not make their words...
They dismounted as they got closer to the city, and Baraz could hear Elves singing in the trees and on the river banks, and those songs filled her with joy and happiness.
She walked faster to catch up with their guide, and cleared her throat. "Glorfindel, may I ask you something?"
The Elf glanced down at her and nodded. "Of course you can, Baraz of the Shire."
She paused to try and find her words, but she thought it best to just ask without rounding the subject. "What does 'pernogoth' mean?"
Glorfindel's grey eyes lit and he smiled widely. "I knew you understood us. Although how you came to understand Sindarin is still a mystery that I hope to resolve one day." he shared a smile with her. "Pernogoth is what you are."
"And what am I?"
"A Half-Dwarf. Which, if I may say so, if very rare. Almost never spoken of."
Baraz sighed and nodded. "Yes, some of my oldest friends told me how rare these half-breeds are. So I am a pernogoth." Glorfindel nodded. "That's a new word to add to my list."
He opened his mouth as if to ask her how she came by such a list, but decided otherwise, and the rest of the journey was spent in silence, if you counted out the songs that could still be heard on both sides of the path.
At last they arrived in sight of Rivendell, and Baraz' eyes widened as she took the city in. What her mother had told her was far from the truth. The beauty of the columns and of the sculptures, and of the overall feeling once you'd set eyes on it – everything was an understatement. She felt content and utterly peaceful as she gazed at the pure lines of the soft wood they had used to build it – if it had been built at all, for it seemed as if it was part of the nature in itself.
They were walking towards a bridge, and on the other side stood a tall brown-haired Elf with a thin mithril crown on his head – Baraz knew it was mithril for everyone in her father's kin knew what it looked like at first sight. He opened his arms and a soft smile appeared on his lips as they stopped in front of him.
"Welcome to Imladris! I am Lord Elrond, your host."
Behind the Elf, Baraz noticed a female with jet-black hair standing on top of a staircase, beside whom stood her father. She smiled at her host.
"Diola lle, Master Elrond." Thank you.
And no one even took time to ask how she knew the words...