Summary: The Company gets the show on the road, and Balin isn't comfortable with an unattached female traveling without a proper chaperone. Chapter Text As her pony trudged along behind Balin’s, Beryl had plenty of time to reconsider just exactly how she wound up in this circus. The answer could be boiled down to one unmistakable fact. Gandalf was a rotten cheat. He knew she wouldn't be able to resist digging up everything she could about this new facet of her heritage, and he knew the only answers lay with the dwarves. Which meant she had to go with them, or leave her curiosity to run wild. All those Old Wives had it wrong. It wasn’t just curiosity that killed the cat, but unfulfilled curiosity. Beryl had no intentions of ever being a dead cat. Except, she could not understand why she had fainted. That was one curiosity she had no way to satisfy. It wasn’t like her. It mortified her no end that the first and only time she ever fainted was in front of those pesky dwarves. Why then? Why, when it seemed she had the most to prove, did her stamina have to let her down in such a dramatic way? She still couldn’t tell whether Thorin’s snarky smirk or Dori’s smothering attention was more mortifying. If poor sweet Ori had to deal with that on a regular basis, she truly sympathized with his plight. Old Mother Bracegirdle could take lessons from Dori. Mother hens could take lessons from Dori, truth be told. He had cosseted her to within an inch of her life, and she’d have been happy to return the favor, but her broom had mysteriously disappeared while she was unconscious. She had a feeling that sneaky devil Nori had a hand in that. No, the biggest mindboggler was yet to come. Once she’d finally won free of the nineteen blankets Dori had wrapped around her, and demanded to go with the Company, whether they wanted her or not, Balin had approached her. “Lassie, you do realize you’ll be traveling in the company of thirteen dwarves.” Balin struck her as a normally fairly self assured dwarf. Now, he was acting very hesitant. It didn’t sit well. She wondered what subject he could be trying to broach that would cause him that much discomfort. “Yes, I had noticed.” Beryl kept her answers as neutral as possible, wondering where the verbal pitfall was, and continued to pack her bags for the trip. “And you are an unattached young Lady.” “Yes, I was aware of that as well.” She really didn’t like the turn this conversation was taking. It sounded very like when Lobelia was making her case for why Beryl should marry her boy. Just the memory of that dough faced clod made Beryl shudder. Not only was her son personally offensive, but she didn’t approve of cousins marrying, even if they were third degree. “Then are you also aware of how unseemly it is for a young lady of breeding to go on such a venture unchaperoned.” Balin had both hands behind him, rocking on the balls of his feet in a manner much like a barrister making a case. “Balin, say what you mean plainly, please?” Beryl cracked her back as she straightened up from packing her bag, stretching out the kinks. Balin took a deep breath and finally got to the point. “I would offer the protection of my name, lass, to spare your reputation.” Beryl, even half expecting it, still felt poleaxed. She took a deep breath, and then another, scrambling to put her thoughts in order. Beryl swallowed her knee jerk reply. She had to remind herself Balin meant well. She reminded herself again for good measure, before opening her mouth. She did not want to offend him, but she wasn’t about to tie herself down now, either. If she could sidestep the matchmaking biddies of the Shire this long, she could sidestep this conundrum as well. She hoped. “Balin, I really don’t know how to reply to such kindness.” Beryl frantically searched her brain for words to politely refuse. “You could accept my suit, lass.” He reminded her gently. She could, only he made her think of her granther and great uncles with his gentle dignity and snow white hair. Shave that glossy beard, and he could be any number of her relations for which she had soft fuzzy feelings. Those feelings were totally inappropriate in regards to matrimony. If ever Beryl fell prey to that institution, it would not be for anything less than love, total, consuming, and unconditional romantic head-over-heels love. “Balin, I truly do appreciate what you’re offering, but I cannot in good conscience accept. I wouldn’t know the first thing about being a proper wife, and you’ve no idea what you’d be saddling yourself with. Honestly, I like you too much to put you through that.” She offered him a friendly smile. “Whacking pesky dwarves with a broom is the least of my many faults.” Balin nodded his head in a knowing manner, a soft depreciative smile shadowing his countenance. “Aye lass, I thought that might be your answer, but my honor insisted it be offered regardless.” “Well, what says the only way you can see to your honor and my reputation is by marriage?” Balin cut his eyes sideways at the wily hobbit lass. “What are you suggesting?” “Well, while I might be a long lost princess” Beryl had a very hard time getting that out without choking on it. “Thorin is still King, is he not? Could he not appoint you my guardian? Then I’ll have a proper chaperone with all the niceties observed, and whatever reputation I have would be protected.” No need to mention she had precious little reputation left. She’d proudly earned the title ‘blue stocking’ ages ago, and no proper hobbit husband would have her now. That was fine, she’d never cared for the idea of a proper husband in the first place. She preferred deciding her fate for herself, meddling wizards notwithstanding. Balin started to answer, then caught himself. Beryl could actually watch him think through what she proposed, and surprised himself by the outcome. The loveliest smile graced his face as he regarded her warmly. “It so happens lass, your family were Longbeards before their Exile, and that would make you subject to Thorin’s rule. Aye, this will work nicely, lass. Well done.” A few minutes with parchment and quill at her long table, a few words spoken by Thorin in front of the Company, and Beryl was once again saddled with a guardian. It was as if the past decade and a half she’d been her own mistress had never happened. Before her mind could really sort through all the consequences, she felt a heavy hand land solidly on her shoulder. “Aye lass, glad to have you in the family, even if it’s as a niece instead of a bride.” Beryl’s head whipped around to regard the massive Dwalin behind her. “Excuse me?” Did he just intimate what she thought he did? “Don’t look so shocked. Any dwarf would be proud to call a woman that can hold her own as you did wife.” Her stunned expression made him laugh outright. “But I’ll be just as happy to call you niece. I have a feeling I’ll be busting heads on your behalf soon enough.” So now, Beryl found herself on the road heading into Bree with a protective and gentlemanly guardian and a berserker uncle. She wondered what other surprises were in store for her.