"Thieves! Fire! Murder!"
At those words a small man came out from behind the shrubs, on a sled pulled by rabbits. He looked a bit scruffy but Arya found it very funny.
"Radagast! It's Radagast the Brown."
Gandalf explained. The girl and the dwarves lowered their weapons. Arya had heard of Radagast, she knew that he was a kind soul who preferred the company of animals to that of people. He lived in western borders of Mirkwood and kept an eye on the great forests to the east, which was a good thing because always evil would try to take hold in those lands.
The little warlock turned to Gandalf with worry, talking about huge spiders coming from the ruins of Dol Guldur.
"Dol Guldur, but the old fortress is abandoned!"
Arya stepped in. She had read many stories of the past, about Sauron and the Rings of Power, Isildur and the Battle of Dagorlad*. The girl, in her heart, was terrified that the past might repeat itself.
"No, my dear, not anymore."
Radagast spoke again, telling them about his encounter with the Nazgûl and showing them a Morgul blade. At the sight of the dagger Arya took two steps back: few things were able to scare her, but that weapon caused in her a restlessness that she had never felt before. The young woman awoke from her thoughts by hearing a loud howl coming from the north. "Wargs" she thought. She took an arrow from the quiver and shot it just in time to see a huge wolf fall before it had a chance to tusk Kili.
"A wargscout: an orc pack is not far away. We have to get out of here."
"We can't, we don't have the ponies, they ran away."
Ori screamed in panic.
"I'll draw them off!"
Radagast then said firmly.
"These are Gundabad Wargs! They will outrun you."
Gandalf scolded him.
"These are Rhosgobel rabbits! I'd like to see them try!"
That being said, Radagast mounted on his sleigh and headed south at full speed, followed by a dozen orcs on the back of their wargs. Meanwhile, the company and Arya moved quickly through the wilderness. Gandalf was leading them to Rivendell, it didn't take long for the girl to figure it out. Soon, however, they found themselves surrounded. The orcs had realised the trick and stopped chasing Radagast. The dwarves circled around a big stone, or at least that was what it looked like. Arya no longer saw Gandalf, no longer knew where he went, until the wizard poked out of the rock behind them, revealing instead a small cave. In a short time the dwarfs began to enter it. Arya was also about to do so when she heard someone screaming behind her: Ori, the youngest of the company, had been attacked by a warg. She didn't did think twice: threw herself on the beast and pushed it away from the dwarf, then took up her sword and began to fight. She was prevailing when she felt a throbbing pain in her shoulder. She had been bitten. With difficulty she thrust her sword into the forehead of the warg and then took refuge in the cave.
Ori babbled, seeing her come in wounded.
"Arya, you're bleeding!"
Bilbo yelled, with a mixed expression of astonishment, compassion and fear.
"It's nothing, I can make it."
"That's a nasty bite, darling, it needs to be cured."
Oin affirmed, approaching the girl, followed by Fili and Kili, who were watching her with worry.
"We don't have time for this, we must hurry."
Thorin said sternly, thus receiving reproachful stares from the whole company.
Kili tried to fight back.
"Orcs won't be long to find us, we must go on."
Thorin reiterated. Arya glanced at Gandalf, she had understood where the cave led. The wizard nodded and smiled apprehensively.
"We shall follow the path, it will take us to a safe place."
And with these words, Gandalf managed to continue the company to the last welcoming house east of the sea. At the exit of that cave, in fact, was the hidden Valley of Imladris, also known as Rivendell.
"This was your plan all along, wasn't it?! You lead us straight to the enemy."
The young Dwarf King addressed the wizard with a note of anger in his voice.
"You have no enemies here, Thorin, son of Thrain. The only malice in this valley is the one you bring yourself."
"The elves will try to stop us!"
"Of course they will! But we have questions that need answers."
Gandalf concluded it.
The company continued to the central terrace of the royal palace, where Lindir was waiting for them.
The elf greeted the warlock.
"Oh Lindir, I must speak to King Elrond."
"My lord Elrond isn't... Arya! My lady, where have you been?! We were all worried about you."
The girl came out from behind Gandalf. All the dwarves, and the hobbit, were looking at her surprised: how could she possibly know the elves? She wasn't one of them after all. They didn't really know what to think. Thorin smiled to see that his suspicions were well founded, a bitter smile though, more like a grin.
"Forgive me, my lady, but you're hurt, you must be cured, follow me."
A she-elf said, approaching her. Arya decided that, perhaps, it was better to do as she was told and followed the healer away from the company.
That evening the young woman didn't join the others for dinner, she wasn't so hungry after all. She started to walk through the halls of the palace, thinking of the strange succession of events that had characterized that day.
"We haven't seen you at dinner tonight, my lady."
Arya was surprised to hear that voice.
"Please don't call me that, Fili, I am no lady."
"It sounds like you are."
There was a note of sadness in his words, he seemed almost disappointed in her. Arya did not know why, but that made her feel bad.
"How's your shoulder doing by the way?"
He asked her, bringing her to attention again.
"Much better, thank you."
"You were very brave today, you had no reason to help Ori, let alone to help us all, but you did it anyway."
Arya smiled, in fact she hadn't stopped to reflect yet on why she had acted so: she was following her instinct, perhaps, or maybe it was just to do a favor to Gandalf.
"May I ask you a question?"
The dwarf spoke again.
She answered gently.
"Why are you here? I mean, you're not an elf."
"I came to Rivendell from the North many years ago with my brother. King Elrond welcomed us after the orcs had destroyed our home and killed our family."
"I'm so sorry, I didn't..."
"Don't worry, it's all right, it doesn't matter anymore. Every one of us carries bad memories that we can't get rid of, but we can't live in the past."
"No, we can't..."
"Oh Arya, Fili, there you are, I was wondering where you were hiding. Arya, I need a word with you, dear."
The two were interrupted by the arrival of Gandalf. The young woman waved to the dwarf and walked away with the wizard.
"The reason I asked to talk to you is that I want you to join our company."
The girl suddenly stopped, shocked by that request.
"Gandalf, I don't think that's a good idea."
"Why shouldn't it be? You're a great warrior, a brave woman with a big heart. Arya, I think you've already realised what the aim of these dwarves is, and you're the only one who can face Smaug."
"I don't think Thorin will accept me, Gandalf, and what do you think will happen when they find out who I am? How exactly do you think that is gonna play out?"
"They won't know that."
"Gandalf, you know that if I have to face that beast I will not be able to do it alone. What will they think seeing my dragons? I can't risk that..."
"They'll understand. Not all dragons are the same, you told me yourself, remember?"
"Of course I do, but..."
"Besides, I already talked to Thorin who agreed to have you with them."
Arya looked astonished at the sorcerer. Since meeting him, Thorin had done nothing but glaring at her and treat her with contempt.
"Did he willingly accept it, or did you convince him?"
She then asked him.
"Well, of course I convinced him..."
"Gandalf did you see the way Thorin looks at me? How does he address me? You know that he doesn't want me with them. I can't go, I'm sorry."
"Arya, they need you, even if they don't know it yet! It'll take some time before they understand it, before Thorin understands it. The fact that he has accepted, even if unwillingly, is already a step forward. You must go with them. I feel that your destiny is tied to that company."
He asserted firmly.
Eventually Arya agreed to join the thirteen dwarves and the hobbit to go and claim back Erebor. She also agreed because she was worried about that mountain: something was at work behind the evil of Smaug, something moved in the shadow, not seen, and she, in her heart, knew it well.
The company, along with the young woman, would have left two days later, secretly: Gandalf knew that Elrond would have never let them go before obtaining the approval of Saruman and Galadriel and, while he was certain the Lady of Light would be on their side, the White Wizard worried him. Therefore, he agreed with Thorin that they would go without him, who would instead fall behind as a diversion.
*Battle of Dagorlad: 3434 of the Second Age, on the slopes of Mount Doom, in this battle the last alliance between men and elves defeated the army of Sauron and the ring of power passed to Isildur.