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An Unspoken Promise (Rewritten)

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It was an unexpected sight that Bard woke to.  Not to say he’d been expecting anything, just that this was, particularly unexpected.  First off, it was the middle of the day, not a cloud in sight despite the rainy season currently reigning in Laketown and surrounding area.  Secondly, even had it been a spontaneously cloudless day, he should've been waking to the ceiling of the house he and his family were currently staying in, rather than out in the open for any of Laketown's beleaguered population to come across.  Thirdly—and while it might not be the last point of issue, it was certainly the biggest—not only was he out in the open, but he was also out in the open of a place that was not Dale, or Laketown, or the edges of Mirkwood, or any of the surrounding country that Bard had seen or even heard of.

 

After a longer inspection of his immediate surroundings than his initial glance around, he began to develop the theory that he had not, in fact, woken up in a completely unfamiliar area, simply because he had not woken up at all.  Granted, it didn't have that quality that dreams usually did, where even if one was aware, there was still a disconnect between oneself and their surroundings, but he couldn't imagine a place like this existing alongside reality.  Baring Mordor, there was no way there existed a place in the world that was this far gone.

 

The worst of what he could see had to be the forest.  Or what had once been a forest.  The husks of the trees were massive, and he could tell that in its heyday it must've been majestic, a giant jungle to rival that of the far away elves.  Now however, it was dead, with a sort of crawling feeling to it more reminisce of the closer elves and their kingdom in Mirkwood. A lifeless place into which no sane mortal would venture. 

 

Best not to dwell on or near it for long, Bard thought, shuddering slightly as he turned away.

 

The rest of what he could see was as unwelcoming as the forest, but without the malevolent touch, merely soaked in something like grief.  Though he’d never seen one, he’d heard of statues so lifelike that it seemed the very stone was weeping, and the rocks he now faced seemed embody the idea, presence of a face or not.  A large stone wall rose there, wind smooth and a bland shade of grey so lacking color that one could imagine the world had lost every bit of it altogether. 

 

It felt almost rude to even think of touching the formless wall, but once the thought of it was in Bard’s head he couldn’t seem to loosen it.  From the height of the stone he may not be able to look over the forest, but perhaps he would be able to see elsewhere, to recognize something in the off chance this wasn’t some strange dream. 

 

Slowly he approached the wall, coming to a dead halt right before it and reaching out tentatively as if it might bite him.  For all the unwelcome feelings the thing was forcing upon him, actually touching it rather anticlimactic.  Being neither particularly warm nor cold, the stone was just a stone. 

 

That didn’t make it any easier to climb though, and Bard was silently grateful that there wasn’t anyone around to see his awkward scramble up the side.  Especially when he reached the top and nearly fell off the other side trying to stand up.  He looked around quickly in an automatic reaction to make sure no one had seen and promptly forgot about his misstep, gaping as he took in the land around him. 

 

Definitely a dream.

 

The view from the top of the rock was to say the least, stunning.  As he’d initially guessed, he couldn’t see over the trees, but the scorched basin full of deadly sharp reeds, the empty plains, the edges of the land mass he stood on were clearly visible.  As were the miles and miles of stars stretching out from the land’s end, distant and beautiful.  Clear in midday. 

 

It didn't seem to matter that overhead the sky was sunny, nor that the land he was standing on seemed solid and unmovable.  The stars were merely there, reaching far down from beneath his feet and melting up into daylight as they neared the horizon line.  Or perhaps it was the other way around, the daylight melting into the stars. 

 

The endless expanse reminded Bard of the elves he ferried barrels for, radiant and lovely to look at, but when one truly saw, they were cold and distant, impassive.  Chilled by this comparison, Bard turned to look at the as of yet unexamined plains.  He didn’t even want to touch the forest, but perhaps the prairie could be salvaged?

 

As he pivoted, Bard’s foot caught on another jutting rock, tripping him and sending him flying forward.  Too late he reached out to catch himself, fingers just barely brushing at the smooth rock.  With a startled cry he fell, hurtling towards the ground with nothing to catch or cushion his fall. 

 

The moment of impact, and then...

 

 

 

~**~

 

 

 

In a dried up inlet that had once been filled to the brim with an ever flowing sea, a small spray of water splatted the rock.  Wherever it touched the stone seemed to loosen and crack, becoming browner, more giving.  It dried up quickly, but for a moment it had been there, and that was far more than the past lifetime could say.

 

 

 

~**~

 

 

 

Bard opened his eyes with a gasp, grasping at anything around him, desperate to catch something and halt his fall.  He’d only just managed a firm grip on rough fabric when scrapes from the recent battle protested loudly, the small sparks of pain yanking him back into reality.

 

Ah.  A dream.

 

Pushing himself up to a seating position, Bard ground the palms of his hands into his eyes, trying to dispel the feeling of wrongness from the too clear world of sleep.  There was enough wrong in reality without augmenting it with fantasy.  And if his hands and knees hurt with faint scrapes like they’d been rubbed raw against rock, well, that was just more reminders from the battle.

 

As if on cue, a voice spoke from outside the crumbling building.  "King Bard, your presence is requested in the meeting tent with King Thranduil as soon as is possible."

 

Bard winced at the title, keeping his eyes squeezed shut for a few more seconds as he drew his mind away from the automatic reminder of his ancestor’s failures.  Clearing his throat he called out an answer in the affirmative, sparing a last sorrowful thought for his bed—if blankets thrown haphazardly on the stone ground could really be called that—before pulling the covers off and slipping out.  A glance to his son on the other side of the room proved that dragon fire, orcs, or no, Bain would still sleep like the dead.

 

Once up, Bard changed his shirt to one hopefully less offensive, splashed some water from a pouch onto his face, caught a glance of himself in Sigrid's hand mirror, and promptly gave up on all appearances.  If the woodland king wanted royalty he should've called on someone else.  Bard was no king, just a bargeman who’d gotten a lucky shot at the dragon. 

 

He grimaced at the uncharitable thought.  Really, King Thranduil had shown no distain towards Bard before.  Not at their first short meeting when he’d been a new bargeman, nor more recently when the elves brought help to Dale, or any of the times between.  He had never been dressed like a king, and never had he been treated by the actual king with anything less than respect, if cold and distant.  The latest time the elvenking had actually spoken to him more or less like an equal. 

 

It was as nice as it was horrifying.  Bard was no one, just a bargeman with a bow.  A bargeman whom the people of Laketown and now even the elves of Mirkwood called king, and to whom the ice cold ruler of the wood elves responded as an equal. 

 

With a shudder Bard mentally and physically turned away from the disturbing thought, clearing the room he and his son had temporarily claimed in two strides as he moved to check up on his daughters before the meeting.

 

After the battle there’d been no time to set up shelters—for the men at least, the elves were a different story altogether—and so the people had chosen provisional homes from the still standing buildings of Dale.  The one Bard's family was in now was actually rather nice; a large, simple building with a three full sides still standing.  The last side was only slightly collapsed, more broken down by time than any invading force.  With some work it would eventually become a good place to live. 

 

After checking in on the girls and satisfying himself that they were asleep and not just pretending, he moved back to his own room and shook Bain's arm lightly.  It took a little escalation, but eventually his son woke with a groan.  The mumbled protest he let out was almost rote, quickly ruined as he visibly remembered the events that had so recently transpired and snapped awake. 

 

"Da?"  He asked worriedly, running his eyes over his father and then glancing over to the door Bard had just exited.

 

Though Bard was quick to reassure Bain that everyone was safe, it felt like all the tension that left his son was transferred into stress for himself.  His child was a child no longer.  No one could afford a coddled childhood in a place like Laketown, but the recent death and destruction had torn the last of the childish innocence from Bain.

 

Still Bard didn't let the hesitation show, speaking with barely a hitch. "I’m needed at a meeting with King Thranduil, so I need you to look after your sisters.  It’s nothing bad, likely just about what we’ll do now."

 

His son nodded, biting his lower lip, "Do you think the dwarves have changed their minds?  Most of them seemed so nice when they stayed with us."  He trailed off, evidently also remembering those who had not been so kind.

 

No.  Maybe.  I hope so.  Bard discarded the first two immediately, giving voice only to the third, then adding, "But even if they haven't, the elves are our allies.  They won’t leave us without aid."

 

Hopefully that bond was strong still.  It would be dearly needed, especially in the coming winter.  His son should’ve been too young to immediately leap to the same worry, but the uncertainty on his face could’ve been nothing else.

 

Even more tired at that thought, Bard smiled anyways, not wanting to leave Bain in a place with so little hope.  "I'm proud of you Bain, you've done so well through this."

 

Bain jerked his head up look at Bard, a returning smile growing on his face.  “You too da.”

 

Bard let out a small laugh, shaking his head in dry amusement.  "I'd better not keep King Thranduil waiting."  He ran one hand through his son's already sleep messed up hair and stood, grinning at Bain's offended protests.

 

 

 

Getting to Thranduil's tent unstopped proved something of a challenge, as it seemed that every man and his dog wanted attention or advice from the dragon killer.  Wanted to know what was going to happen, if they would be staying in Dale, if he was going to send men out to salvage Laketown, if there was enough food, if he was aware of this issue, or that one, and what was he going to do about it.  One day after what Bard had heard titled the Battle of The Five Armies, and everyone was desperate for someone to guide them, or to at least look like they knew what they were doing.  And despite no credentials other than good aim and blood that in and of itself should’ve been a deterrent, they’d decided they wanted that of him.  A bowman.  A bargeman.  Definitely not the savior they were looking for.  He’d only stepped up because no one else was going to and someone needed to actually do something.  Even with that glowing recommendation he wasn't quite sure how he'd gone from being a generally disliked if useful member of society to one looked at and called king.  He did want to help these people, wanted to do what he could for them, but he had no idea if that’d even begin to be enough.  

 

When the meeting tent finally came into view among the temporary elven structures, he shook his head, attempting to dismiss these worries from his mind.  Who knew how King Thranduil would treat them now that the battle was won.  The elves had helped without reason, but how long could that last?

 

The guard by the door gave him a nod and he ducked through the entrance, stopping when he saw the elvenking.

 

King Thranduil was seated at a small table by the side of the tent, the rest of it having been rearranged since he’d last been there.  The planning table still sat in the middle, but that was all Bard was able to take in before his eyes were drawn to what was on the smaller table.  Food.  Not a ton of it, but far more—and far richer—than Bard had seen prepared in a long time.

 

"Come.  Sit, and eat." King Thranduil commanded, sweeping his hand over the food in invitation. 

 

It was hard not to stare as Bard approached, sitting down across from the elvenking and reminding himself that it would be impolite to grab as much of it as he could and run back to their temporary shelter to feed his children.  Politeness wasn’t exactly something he held more important than taking care of his family, but he was highly aware of how far short he already fell in his negotiations with King Thranduil, and wasn’t eager to jeopardize their meeting further.  Still.  A salad, breadsticks, an assortment of wild and exotic fruits, slices of light meat.  This food could feed his family for a week!

 

"You wanted to speak with me?" Bard asked, his eyes roaming over the food.  Perhaps he could have a slice of the flatbread, cover it in other foods and then take the leftovers back with him?

 

King Thranduil let out a light laugh, the sound as void of emotion as the forest of his dream had been devoid of life.  "You needn't worry about your children.  I had assumed that they would still be resting now, but once they are awake they will be invited to come and eat with my people." Bard opened his mouth to argue that it was not fair that only his family should be given so much, but was cut off.  "You are a king now, Bard.  Of the remainders of Laketown and what will soon again be Dale.  You will have to get used to a certain status apart from your people."

 

Bard grit his teeth and looked down, slightly ashamed that he was so easily read.  Laketown already owed a debt it could never hope to repay.  What was one more personal one?

 

"Thank you." He cleared his throat, meeting King Thranduil's eyes momentarily before changing his mind on the food and adding a couple of the fruits to his plate.

 

He served himself some meat as well, pausing for a moment in case the king had something to say before Bard started to eat.  It was a, challenge, to say the least. 

 

Bard didn't completely lack manners, those had been drilled into him as a child and passed on as best he could to his own children, but it was an entirely different thing when sitting across from an elf.  Especially this elf, a ruler in both appearance and demeanor.  King Thranduil was ethereal, in one word.  A being of exquisite beauty, not one hair out of place.  The pale green clothes he wore tailored to his form and the single dark emerald bracelet only highlighting his light coloring.  Yet so distant and above everything around him.  Consuming each piece of food with a grace that made Bard feel like a slobbering river dog.  Like the stars in Bard's dream. Something to perhaps admire from afar, but always out of reach. At least he seemed as uncaring of Bard’s paltry manners as the stars were of his existence in general.

 

Not of course, that Bard had a problem with that, either the distance the elvenking held himself to, or the feelings he invoked.  He could appreciate this elf just as much as—or maybe a little more than—he appreciated the other elves and the world would not end.   He’d never speak of it, and in return perhaps Thranduil would overlook his Laketown manners.  A fair trade all around. 

 

A soft crunching noise pulled Bard out of his thoughts and he realized that he’d already finished all the food on his plate and was now just chewing on the spine of a truly amazing sweet fruit whose outer covering had appeared almost rotten.  Ducking away from his frank appraisal of the elf and hoping the other had not noticed, Bard put down the spine and sat back, wiping his hands on the napkin to the side of his plate.  King Thranduil was already finished eating and had cleaned his plate, placing the utensils and cup together so it'd be easy to pick up.  The fruits went into a bag that Bard hadn't seen until now, and the meat and bread was wrapped in leaves.  It struck Bard as something odd, that the king would clean up after his own meals, but he tried to help nevertheless, stacking his own dishes with the others.  While he couldn’t imagine anyone clearing his plate for him, he would've thought the elvenking would have servants to come and do such tasks. 

 

"Now we must speak." King Thranduil said, standing and gliding across the room to stand by the planning table.  "Did you bring the stone with you?"

 

The stone.  Likely called as such as a slight against the non-present dwarves.  The Arkenstone, which the king under the mountain had so desired that he and his group had nearly killed Bilbo Baggins over in the hobbit’s attempt to prevent a war. 

 

Nodding with a slight grimace at the jewel’s recent history, Bard pulled it from his shirt pocket, glad he had thought to bring it with him.  There was the slightest disagreement with his limbs as he went to put it down, and he wondered distantly if it really was such a good idea to trade the gem back to the dwarves.  It hit the table with an almost unnecessary thud. 

 

"We’re talking about the dwarves then.  And trading this for your jewels and help for the people of Laketown." Bard stated, tearing his eyes away from the jewel to meet the eyes of the King. 

 

King Thranduil was frowning slightly as he examined Bard, and the bowman felt trapped under his gaze, stilling in an effort to not react. 

 

"You should practice caution in where you keep that stone." The elf warned, his frown deepening as he let his eyes rest temporarily on the glowing gem.  "It shares certain properties with other far more insidious artifacts of power."

 

It was like a bucket of cold water had been dumped over Bard, and he took a step back from the table, now looking at the gem, no, stone indeed, warily.  Insidious artifacts of power?  Everyone knew of the madness of the rings of Mordor.  That this would share any of such evil, and that he had been keeping it so close...

 

"Was that what happened to Thorin?  Why he refused to honor his word?"  The dwarf had been rather rude while staying in Bard’s home, but had done nothing that would indicate him to be an oathbreaker.

 

King Thranduil tilted his head, the frown turning to something more pinched as he admitted, "As much as I would prefer to attribute his dishonor solely to the nature of dwarves, it is not unthinkable that this too played a part.  Only exasperated, I imagine, by the dragon sickness now lying upon the hoard of Erebor.  Not that such qualifies as an excuse.  Even before the dragon came they should’ve known better."

 

"Dragon sickness?" Bard asked, finding himself lost as King Thranduil spoke.  Just how much was he in the dark even beyond the whole king thing?

 

"I know much of dragons." King Thranduil said softly, turning away from Bard, the elf's left hand twitching as if to brush away a non-existent stray piece of hair.  "And I know of the sickness they leave in their wake, though I myself have not felt it.  Naturally hoarding creatures, dragon were once loving protectors of the living beings and lands that they took as their hoard, now twisted by evil to accept only the riches found from within rock and mines. 

 

"Their unnatural greed for gold and gems poisons and follows them like an aura" Thranduil continued, his words as mesmerizing as they were horrifying.  "Infecting that around them and settling deep into their surroundings while they slumber.  All of Smaug's nest is likely poisoned with contagious greed, first of the Arkenstone, then that of the dragon as well.  If the dwarves continue to devote themselves to it they will only stay under their madness."

 

And so wouldn't honor their agreements, nor give King Thranduil or Bard what they wanted.  It was unsaid but audible all the same.  More importantly for now though, did that mean they didn’t have anything Laketown wanted? If the gold carried a sickness, "Would anything moved out of the mountain carry this sickness?"

 

Thankfully the elvenking shook his head.  "As the gold spreads through your workers and what suppliers you find, the sickness will grow thin.  Away from its source and exposed to daylight it will not ensnare your people if they in their own greed do not hoard it."  Bard knew of a few people who would definitely be taken then, if they had survived the battle. "And my gems are small and filled with enough elven magic to be resistant to the sickness of dragons.  They will not be taken either."

 

Bard nodded.  That was that then.  They’d spread it out as far as possible, find their wealth in things other than the cursed treasure of the mountain.  Simple enough with the amount of imports they’d need to survive.

 

"My people," He grimaced at the possessive.  He had used it before, but this time he was choosing his words carefully without the heat of the moment.  "Need the treasure promised in order to rebuild.  We will not survive the coming winter without it, perhaps even with.  Whatever happens with the dwarves, will we still have the friendship of the elves?"

 

King Thranduil watched Bard for a few moments, head tilted to the side like an animal faced with something they had not expected. 

 

When he spoke, it wasn't to answer Bard's question, but to reply with one of his own.  "What do you intend to do to survive this winter, dragon slayer?  Will you look to rebuild Laketown or Dale?"

 

Taken aback at the sudden change in topic, Bard frowned.  "That's not my choice.  The people have lived their whole lives in Laketown, I cannot force them to move."

 

Raising an eyebrow, King Thranduil said nothing and yet managed to perfectly convey his disapproval.  Ah.  Perhaps he’d wanted Bard’s own thoughts on the matter.

 

"Smaug's body is still in Laketown, and the place is burned beyond recognition.  If it were only me I’d rebuild Dale." He conceded, looking away at the memory of his last time in Laketown, the burned bodies and buildings, the homes sinking into the water as fire blazed and people screamed.

 

"Yet you intend to give them a choice."  The elvenking somehow sounded scathing without even a hint of mockery in his tone, and Bard wondered distantly how the elf could convey so much with so little emotion.

 

"It's their lives, they should have a choice in it." He replied once he could be sure his irritation would not slip through.

 

"So if they were to choose Laketown you would spend far more than you can afford rebuilding the ruins of a town which barely stayed together in the first place?"  King Thranduil paused, letting out a small sigh as if capitulating to an unreasonable request.  "Still, if you wish to pretend, that is, I suppose, your decision.”

 

"They have had far too many choices taken from them under the rule of the ‘aster.  I will not be like him.” Bard retorted curtly. 

 

"No.  No, you will not." King Thranduil agreed, surprising Bard. "And yet regardless, you know that you cannot survive if you try and rebuild Laketown.  As king it is your responsibility to your people to bring them to the same understanding."

 

His responsibility as the king he had never wished to be.  The people should have the chance to rebuild their homes, but they did not.  It felt like surrender, but even he knew when the truth was laid out so bluntly.

 

"I know"

 

Bard knew a great many people who would’ve lorded that victory over him, but Thranduil acted content to leave it there, turning away to look at the Arkenstone.  "The friendship of Greenwood is with your town King Bard."  Then, as though to take any presumed kindness out of the words he added, "I do hope that that won't be forgotten when Dale becomes prosperous again.  You mortals have such short lifetimes.”

 

Stung, Bard went to argue but was cut off when King Thranduil continued, "The friendship of the dwarves however will not come to either of us.  Alliances shall be made, yes, but dwarves are greedy.  They care not for any beside their own."

 

Refraining from pointing out that elves were the same way, only more likely to pretty it up, Bard nodded slowly, choosing to move on.  "I’d like to see it happen, but after speaking with Thorin I doubt they'll change their minds so quickly.  Do you know if the original group survived?"

 

"Despite their best attempts to the contrary, the hobbit and Tauriel managed to keep Durin's kin alive throughout the battle.  Whether they will survive their wounds has yet to be seen, as is who will speak for them in the meantime.  Dain of the Ironhills also survived, and he is one with little time for thoughts or diplomacy." King Thranduil warned in a backhanded way, and even Bard could catch the uneasy distain on his face as he spoke of Tauriel, followed by annoyance for Dain.

 

Since learning that Tauriel was the reason his family made it out alive, Bard had nothing but thankfulness for the elf, and it was good to hear between the lines that she had survived.  The hobbit too, as he’d been one of the easiest to deal with while the company had paraded through Laketown.  Not to mention the one who give them their bargaining chip, something he’d nearly been killed for.  While Bard had heard of Master Baggins’ escapades in King Thranduil’s dungeons, he didn’t know what the elvenking had against Tauriel.  Nor did he think Thranduil was quite settled with it. 

 

Bard was saved from needing to respond when voice requested entry from outside, an elf ducking in with King Thranduil’s assent to inform him of something in Sindarin. 

 

The king nodded in response, turning back to Bard.  "Your children have arrived, if you'd care to join them.”

 

Bard stood straighter, so well conditioned to respond to his children’s needs that he was already moving to see them when King Thranduil spoke again, stopping him in his tracks.   “We will both need to deal with the dwarves in the coming days.  As such, I trust that we will be dealing with them together."

 

Though it was phrased like a statement, Bard was both surprised and gratified to hear a note of questioning in the second statement, as if his cooperation wasn’t being taken for granted. 

 

Bard nodded, deciding to be appreciative of King Thranduil’s deference.  "Given what’s already happened, I don’t think it would be in either of our best interests to deal with them alone.”

 

King Thranduil inclined his head in agreement.  When nothing else seemed forthcoming, Bard gathered up the Arkenstone and slipped out of the tent.  Making sure the stone was not in his breast pocket.

 

 

 

The rest of the day only became busier from there, and soon the meeting slipped to the back of his mind.  If he’d known there was so much work involved in being a ‘king’, he’d have, well.  Done the same thing.  It was far better than the death and destruction that had come before.

 

 Whatever rest he might’ve thought he would get after the battle was lost amidst checking on his children to make sure they were not too uncomfortable with the elves—Tilda definitely wasn't, questioning them on everything from how they keep their hair so neat to what distant lands had they traveled—talking to people who came to him with their own questions and requests, and bustling around attempting to get answers and fill said requests.  The sun had long since fallen before he thought about that morning’s meeting again. 

 

 

 

Bard had just gotten back to the house his family had claimed—and would probably keep, considering it was spacious enough for all of them and very convenient its location—when an elf appeared seemingly from thin air to walk beside him. 

 

He didn't recognize her, even when she spoke in a slightly lower tone than he’d come to expect of a female elf.  "My king wishes to inform you that the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, will be speaking for the dwarves of Erebor, and there will be a meeting tomorrow morning as the sun rises."

 

"The hobbit is speaking for the dwarves?" Bard repeated incredulously. 

 

When had that happened, and why?  Master Baggins had been polite when Bard had met him, and he couldn’t see the meeting devolving as it might were they speaking with certain dwarves he could name, but a hobbit speaking for the dwarves?  He’d have never guessed that such a proud race would let an outsider speak for them.  It’d be like a human speaking for the elves, or if one wanted to be very drastic, an elf for the orcs.  Would Master Baggins’ voice actually hold enough weight to have anything agreed upon?

 

“Indeed.” She replied, adding nothing more.  After a long pause Bard thanked her somewhat awkwardly and she left as if dismissed, disappearing as quickly as she’d arrived.

 

The hobbit had been one of the most reasonable of those who had gone to Erebor, having already proved that while he wished his dwarves to live, he would try and do what was best for everyone.  If he did have authority here it could end with a better outcome than Bard could've hoped for after having dealt with Thorin.  Dain then would be the only one bringing the greed of dwarves into their dealings. 

 

Bard shook his head, all of a sudden exhausted.  He was thinking like King Thranduil might, painting over an entire race with their less than positive attributes.  Then again the past few days had shattered many of his misconceptions about the goodness of dwarves.  Bringing only fire and ruin, then turning their backs without even a reason.  Well, greed for gold as a reason, but gold was nothing when held up against the cost of lives.

 

Trying to drive away such morose thoughts, Bard slipped inside the house, smiling to see his children already gathered in the entry room, playing with a deck of cards they must’ve found somewhere.  It was a weight off his back to sit with them, asking them how their days had been and how they were. 

 

He wasn’t surprised to learn that Tilda had chosen to help the healers and Sigrid the cooks, as Tilda was frequently jumping back and forth between hobbies and Sigrid had always loved baking.  His daughters sounded, if not happy, satisfied with the jobs they had chosen, the slightly haunted look in their eyes something they all avoided speaking of.  Bard was glad to know at least that they would be in safe areas, even if Tilda would be dealing with matter a little more gruesome than he’d have liked. 

 

Bain on the other hand had gone to help sort supplies, finding out what they had and what still needed to be found or put together.  The boy had always had a head for numbers and words, eagerly solving puzzles with Tilda when she’d gone through her puzzling phase.   Bard had tried to nurture that in him, despite caring little for the activity himself beyond what was needed for his job.  That Bain was now able to use those skills to help was something Bard was very pleased.  That his job also involved the marking down of those who still lived and those who did not was not so reassuring.  Still it was less scarring than if Bain had decided to join those who were cleaning up the battlefield, respectfully collecting the fallen, and pulling orcs and goblins aside to burn.  There was no official command that the creatures not be looted, but Bard had seen more than one person carrying something that looked like it came from an orc over the course of the day.  There was an official command to not do the same to the men, elves, and dwarves, and he could only hope that it was being followed. 

 

In turn Bard told them snatches of his own day, trying not to coddle them, but also avoiding things that might have them unnecessarily worried.  He told them of the meeting the next morning with the dwarves and that he'd be gone when they woke.  Mostly he let them talk. 

 

It wasn’t long before Sigrid was ushering them all to bed, stating quite firmly that the four of them were alive and would all need rest for the coming morning. 

 

She had been the one to step up as caretaker in place of her mother early on, and though Bard hated such a task falling upon her, he knew he could not do everything without burning out and leaving them worse off than before.  With the whole ‘king’ thing, it was likely to only get harder. 

 

Bard was asleep before his head hit the rolled up jacket posing as a pillow.