The company left the Valley of Imladris at dawn, unseen. After a day's travel the fifteen fellows camped on the slopes of the mountains to spend the night. During the journey Arya had got to know better the dwarves and the hobbit. The young woman found them very funny. They had strange manners, of course, they could be rude and vulgar at times, but they were also sweet and with a tender heart. However, the thing she liked the most was their happiness, she didn't understand how they could be so cheerful and carefree knowing what they would face, but she hadn't laughed that much for years. That obviously excluding Thorin and Dwalin, who were mostly in a bad mood and isolated from the group.
Once off the horses, everyone started to prepare their own bed for the night, while Bombur lit the fire and began to cook the dinner. Arya dropped her things a few feet from the others, placing them between two spikes of rock, where she had found a point comfortable enough not to cause her back pain.
"You shouldn't stay there, you'll feel cold that far from the fire. Come closer, there's room next to me and my brother."
Said a voice at her shoulder.
"Kili don't stress out the lady, if she didn't get close maybe it's because of your smell!"
Bofur scolded him, causing the young woman to giggle and leaving the dwarf baffled.
"Don't worry, Kili, I put myself here not to be a burden."
Having said that, Arya moved her belongings next to those of the two brothers, meeting the smiles of both. They had already grown fond of her, even if they had known her for just a day. They thought she was a sweet and kind girl with an easy laugh. The only downside they found in her was her privacy: Arya didn't talk much about herself and her past, the few things they knew were what she had said to Fili during their meeting the night before.
When Bombur stated that the soup was ready, Arya immediately offered to help Fili and Kili distribute it. The two brothers were more than happy to accept her help: the sooner they finished bringing it to the others, the sooner they ate! The last portion was Bilbo's. Arya had read a lot about hobbits while at Rivendell, she had learned that they were lively and sociable creatures, dedicated to a simple life, mostly rural, which was why she was wandering how such a person ended up in a similar venture. Bilbo, although, seemed different from the traditional hobbit stereotype, always kind and sociable of course, but, in the eyes of Arya, he had something more: perhaps courage, resourcefulness for sure. However she had found him particularly quiet during the trip, he seemed almost sad to have left Rivendell.
She called him to attention, seeing him with his gaze lost in the void, and then handed him his portion of soup.
"Oh thank you, Arya."
The hobbit smiled at her, taking the bowl.
"Everything all right?"
She asked him, sitting on his side, you could sense genuine concern in her voice.
"Yes, I'm fine thank you. I was just lost in my thought."
"And what were you thinking?"
"What it would be like to stay in Rivendell."
The hobbit replied, lowering his gaze, a tone of melancholy in his voice.
"Why didn't you stay, why did you go on?"
Arya then quietly asked him, being careful not to demand too much.
"It was the right thing to do."
He asserted with confidence, and then smiled in the direction of the young woman. Arya found in those words the confirmation of what she had previously thought: Bilbo was different from the other hobbits, there was courage in him, along with a good dose of loyalty and fortitude.
"How is it, anyway? Living in Rivendell, I mean. How was it for you?"
The hobbit tried to ask her. He knew that the girl didn't talk much about her past, but his was simple and sincere curiosity and Arya could understand it.
"Educating, I would say."
"Yes, yes, educating. Since childhood, my brother and I have spent most of our mornings studying the history of Middle Earth, its geography, the people who live there, their cultures and languages, then elven medicine, the art of war..."
"What about the culinary art? It wouldn't be a bad idea if someone replaced Bombur in the kitchen."
Bofur suddenly exclaimed. He, like many others, had started listening to the conversation. The dwarves, the hobbit and the young woman burst out laughing.
"Hey, hey, hey!"
His brother complained, pretending to be offended, only to join the general laughter a moment later.
"Well, Bofur is right, Bombur, we always eat the same soup, lunch and dinner, every day! I'm starting to not even tell the flavors inside anymore!"
Gloin continued on.
"And what do you want to eat? Green food?"
Bombur defended himself, he was too satisfied with his cooking to hear it described in that way. Those words started another chorus of laughter, mainly due to memories of the "dinner" in Rivendell.
"I'm afraid I can't take Bombur's place as a cook anyway."
Arya stepped in.
"I don't know much about cooking, and what little I do know I didn't learn in Rivendell."
"Really? Where then?"
Kili asked, full of curiosity.
"My mother tried to teach me something when I was a kid."
The young woman answered, smiling at the memory. Despite the smile on her lips, however, her eyes were sad. Kili immediately regretted asking that question, how could he not have figured it out himself?! Why had he had to ask?! Fortunately, though, not all dwarves had noticed this little detail, and so they just continued to squabble about Bombur's cuisine, quickly lifting the mood.
The evening then passed between spite and laughter, until the fifteen fellows were reached by tiredness. Arya clung between Fili and Kili, searching for a comfortable position to sleep, although she knew she wouldn't succeed. Soon after, in fact, regular as a clockwork, her usual nightmares reached her.
A city on fire, destroyed houses, desperate people, and a little girl, a little innocent girl in the midst of all that ruin, shouting her father's or her brother's name hopelessly, after seeing her mother's body fall lifeless to the ground, slaughtered by an orc, in a vain attempt to protect her. An orc, yes, but not just any orc, a pale one riding a white warg. Arya would never forget his name and never forgive her mother's killer. But now, her only aim was to escape and hide, to try to save herself, to survive. Hope was short and darkness was advancing; she was now surrounded. She never felt so much fear as at that moment: what would it have been like to die? What would have happened to her brother? To her father? To her friends? To her people? Arya had abandoned herself to the idea of a certain death when a ray of light made its way through the rubble, allowing her to see her brother running towards her: he was coming to save her, but it was too late...an immense black flame covered everything, her brother was on the ground, a sword in his heart, the child couldn't see anything else. And then there was darkness again.
Arya awoke gasping in the moon light, her hand tightened around the ring hanging from her neck. Always the same nightmare. Her mother. Azog. That flame. Her brother. Her brother, yes, but Aragorn wasn't dead and Arya knew that well, that dream though, so terribly real, crushed her every time, as if to remind her that she was destined to lose everything, even Aragorn.
Lost in her thoughts, the young woman didn't realize that she wasn't the only one awake.
"Arya? You okay? You were delirious, you worried me."
The young blond dwarf next to her called her and sat down.
"Fili! Don't worry I'm fine, it was just a bad dream, I didn't mean to wake you, sorry."
Arya gave him a short glance, opening her lips in a small smile, then lowering her head trying to forget, or at least not to think, because forgetting those dreams was impossible.
"Hey, you don't need to apologize, it must have been a terrible nightmare if..."
Fili paused noticing tears streaming down her cheeks. He leaned towards her and welcomed her into his arms, trying to reassure her. Such a strong girl, helpless against the darkness of her past.
"You want to talk about it?"
He asked her, once she had recovered, hoping for an affirmative answer. Instead he was a bit disappointed in receiving a categorical no: only knowing her could he help her. He decided not to insist, and let her lie beside him, allowing her to bury her head in the hollow of his neck and passing an arm around her waist, as if to protect her from her own nightmares.
The next morning they resumed their journey as if nothing had happened, the two young people, in fact, committed themselves to avoid talking about what had happened the previous night: it was the best thing to do.
In a few days the company reached the pass between the mountains. The fifteen fellows were surprised by a storm, which Bofur later discovered to be a fight between stone giants, risking to end up dead in the process. Thorin decided to continue, bent on finding a refuge, when the group was split, being on the knees of one of the titans. Arya clung to the wall, acting as a human shield to Kili before being crushed against the mountainside. The members of the company that were with Thorin on the other knee rushed to the rescue of his companions and all breathed a sigh of relief in seeing them safe and sound. Fili ran to his brother to help him up and only then he noticed an absence that gave him creeps.
The blond screamed with terror in his eyes. Kili jumped to his feet.
"She was just behind me! She protected me during the crash!"
The young archer shouted.
"We must find her! Now!"
Said Bofur in panic.
"There! I see her, she's hanging on the spike!"
"There Thorin, behind you!"
"Aye, I got her!"
Dwalin exclaimed, jumping forward and taking the girl's arm before she let the grip on the rock. Without much effort the dwarf managed to lift her up, Arya didn't weigh much after all, and pushed her into the cave, receiving a thank you as an answer and returning it with a small smile.
"Arya! Are you okay?"
Fili exclaimed when he saw her.
"You gave us quite a scare, you know?"
Bilbo stepped in, taking her arm to check if everything was okay.
"My apologies, Master Beggins, but I'm fine, really. I just found out that Dwalin has a heart."
Arya smiled and the two laughed, getting a nasty look from the subject in question.
"Thank you for protecting my brother when I couldn't."
Fili then continued, turning serious and ignoring the presence of the hobbit, who was still concerned to check that the young woman was actually well.
"Don't worry, Fili, it wasn't your fault, you couldn't have foreseen it."
She replied, apprehensive. Fili had a strange effect on her: she had never become attached to anyone in such a short time. He made her feel, in some way, protected. He worried about her, even though he had only known her for a week.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden crack opened into the ground.
"And what's that supposed to be?"
Bilbo asked, looking at the rift. Neither the dwarf nor the girl had time to formulate hypotheses that the company found itself falling into the unknown.