I do not own anything written by J.R.R. Tolkien or in Peter Jackson's movies.


Six years later, TA 2948:

Sakura stood bareheaded, her shoulder-length hair streaming behind her in the early spring breeze, clutching her ashwood staff as Otha Horsfall, the representative of young women between maiden and mother, lifted her voice in the tweens' song. The lyrics were in no language Sakura had ever heard, that since their adoption of Westron Hobbits only heard now during religious ceremonies, though their meaning was still remembered. Mistress Greenhand had finally had her way, Sakura was involved in a community religious ceremony. Sakura and Bilbo's marriage four months earlier didn't count, that had simply been an exchange of final vows before a few friends and anyway really just acknowledged that they were ready to start a family. (The actual 'marriage' had been when she'd accepted Bilbo's proposal.) For this it seemed all of Hobbiton had turned out in spite of the chill.

Sakura just wished it hadn't been for Mistress Greenhand's — Daisy's — funeral.

Then Otha's song rose to its crescendo, then fell silent as she knelt and gently laid the aspen staff in her hands gently on top of Daisy's bare body alongside the small applewood staff that Lily had already placed there after singing her part.

Otha stepped back, and it was Sakura's turn. One hand smoothed the thin shift the breeze was plastering against her protruding stomach — perhaps a bit more than a baby bump now — and she stepped forward, her vision going misty as she lifted her own voice in the song she had spent the past three days practicing, the song of the mother. Her voice shook from time to time, as especially poignant moments in the lyrics came, but that was normal, even desired. (Though she suspected there would still be muttered complaints, from some of those that didn't like her anyway.)

Then her song was done, she'd placed her ashwood staff alongside the other two, and she rose to her feet (with Bilbo's help, not that she needed it this early in her pregnancy) and stepped back. There would be another song from Mistress Rose Sackville for Daisy's time as an elder with a staff carved from beech joining the others, a final song and birch staff from Mistress Pervinca Catermole, the new Matron of Hobbiton, then the men, including Bilbo, would fill in the grave and the ceremony would be complete. The family would be having a post-funeral meal together, but she hadn't been invited. (For which she was grateful. Her relationship with Lily's mother had been strained, over the past several years.)

Sakura felt guilty that she would be glad to get out of the cool breeze and into warmer clothing, and that in spite of her grief she was happy to be attending a funeral of someone that had died of something besides war.

/oOo\

"Really, Bilbo, I'm fine. Even if I was in my ninth month, a simple walk up the Hill wouldn't be too much. Really, if you're this bad right now, what are you going to be like when we leave on the ponies?"

"At least on your pony you wouldn't be using your own feet," Bilbo grumbled. He was keeping a close eye on his wife but had to admit, if only silently to himself, that she was handling the walk back to Bag End easily enough.

His eyes tracked up the path they'd be taking as they turned the bend to their front door, and he stiffened at the sight of three horses grazing in the yard next to the bench where he'd smoked many a pipe. "Love, we have visitors."

Sakura looked up at his warning, and her eyes widened. "Those are magnificent horses," she breathed, and her walk turned into a stride.

A minute later the pair were approaching their front gate, and Sakura grinned ... not only were the horses magnificent, but she thought she'd recognized one of them. She pushed the gate open and stepped through, then paused for a moment as a mare ambled over and dipped her head to snuffle at Sakura's hair. Sakura reached up to rub the horse's forehead between her eyes and down along her muzzle. "Well, hello, Farstrider, what are you doing here? Sorry, but you'll have to wait for your apple until I can fetch it from inside."

The mare's whuff of breath stirred Sakura's hair, and the Hobbit continued to rub for a few moments more before turning toward the door. Bilbo had it already open and she strode through, calling out, "Arwen! What are you doing here? I didn't expect to see you until your next visit to Fornost. And where are your brothers? Who else is with you?"

The raven-haired Elf maiden popped out of what had been Bag End's main room, with its massive fireplace ... the fire there currently lit, Sakura could tell from the unexpected warmth in the burrow. "My brothers are currently hunting Orcs in the upper Anduin Vale with Beornings. I was headed to Fornost to visit when I met Aragorn on his way here. Why aren't you in Fornost? I thought you intended to be there in time for the first plantings."

Sakura leaped into Arwen's arms for a quick hug (the Elf so accustomed to them by now that she didn't even stagger, already braced for the impact). "Estel's with you? Why?" She grinned at the young man dressed in leathers over Arwen's shoulder. "Oh, I'm sorry, that should be Aragorn now. Or do you prefer 'His Majesty' yet?"

The seventeen-year-old newly minted monarch shuddered at the teasing. "No!"

When Balin's meetings with Elrond to discuss the coming migration of Erebor's Dwarves in exile from the Blue Mountains back to their newly-recovered homeland had morphed into official meetings of Rivendell, Erebor, Numenor-in-Exile (represented by Duinhir, Aragorn's uncle and unofficial regent until Aragorn was old enough to assume leadership of the Dúnedain), and Gandalf over the future of the lands of fallen Arnor and control of the High Pass; and the decision was made that with Bree bursting at the seams, the Enemy driven from Dol Guldur and thus his influence decreased if not eliminated from Mirkwood, and the Dwarves' almost-certain war with the HighPass Orcs to secure safe passage for the returning exiles, it was time for Gandalf and Elrond to sweep the northern ruins of the lost cities of Arnor clean of the forgotten dead that haunted them and for the Dúnedain to assume leadership of the Men that would be flooding into the now-safe lands by once again raising the standards of the sons of Elendil.

Oh, and young Estel would go from being the future Chieftain of the Rangers to King of Arnor reborn. To say Estel wasn't happy with the transformation (considering he hadn't even known he would be Chieftain) would be a vast understatement; and he was only mollified when his uncle, mother, and Elrond all hastily assured him that for the foreseeable future (for Men) to be Arnor's King was to be a Ranger ... that in a land sparsely populated primarily by Men seeking new farms for their families, most of his time would be in the field protecting them from outside threats. Just as the Dúnedain had done from the shadows through the centuries since Cardolan's fall, only now in the light.

Sakura laughed at the boy-king's vehement denial. "So why were you coming here? Didn't Hamfast tell you we would be joining you soon?"

"Yes, Master Gamgee told me. But you and your husband shouldn't be on the road from Bree to Fornost alone, so I thought I'd join you."

Sakura shook her head ruefully. "You really don't have the king thing down yet, do you? You're supposed to have more of an entourage than a single bodyguard."

"Actually, he was alone. I was with Arwen."

Sakura started at the new voice from the main room, then her eyes widened when the voice's author stepped into view ... a hauntingly familiar Mannish girl somewhere in her mid-teens. Tall, slim, earth-colored hair in a braid with a tiny Dwarf warrior's braid hanging in front of one ear, dressed in green and brown leathers styled after those worn by Lake-town's woodsmen, fletched ends of arrows and unstrung bow limb peeking over her shoulders, sword and knife on opposite hips ... she moved almost with the smooth glide of an Elf.

Wiggling for Arwen to let her down, Sakura dropped to the floor and stepped toward the newcomer. "Tilda? Is that you?"

Tilda smiled and nodded, dropping to one knee and spreading her arms. Sakura instantly took up the invitation, throwing herself into the embrace of Bard's youngest daughter.

Finally Sakura pushed back out of the embrace to wipe at wet cheeks. "Tilda, don't thank I'm not happy to see you, but what are you doing here?"

Tilda wiped at her own cheeks, and dropped to the floor to sit cross-legged. "Things ... haven't been going well at Dale. I mean for me, everyone else is fine. I never really fit into the 'princess' pattern everyone was trying to force me into."

"Everyone?"

"Well ... no, Father and Tauriel didn't try. Sigrid would hint every once in a while, but she never pushed it. It was everyone else, they all want the glories of Dale reborn and a princess that would rather spend time in the woods than wear gowns and a circlet don't fit their dreams. It was getting to the point that the training Tauriel was giving me was turning people against her. Then she got pregnant and couldn't take me to the Greenwood anymore..." She shrugged. "Father remembered your last letter about Fornost being resettled, and offered to make me Dale's official ambassador to Arnor reborn. It was a hard decision, I'm going to miss them all, miss watching my baby half-brother grow up, but ..." Her eyes dropped. "I was miserable, I felt like I was in a cage all the time. I couldn't stay."

"Oh, Tilda ..." Sakura plopped down in her lap and hugged her again. "You never said anything in your letters."

"What was the point? You couldn't do anything from so many leagues away." She returned Sakura's embrace again with one arm while the other waved out, encompassing the empty walls and room with no furniture. "And you didn't tell me about this."

"No, I didn't." Sakura sighed and wriggled off Tilda's lap. As she stood up, she said, "I'll tell you about it when we're on the road. You don't mind sleeping out tonight, do you?" she asked, looking around at all three. "I know it would be warmer here, but I don't know if I can take another night with Bag End empty like this."

"Of course we don't," Tilda agreed as she rose to her feet. She turned to stare at Aragorn and Arwen. "Do we?"

The other two chuckled but shook their heads, and Sakura sighed with relief. "Thank you. Bilbo, why don't you get changed and — Bilbo?" She looked around, and called, "Bilbo!"

Her husband walked back in, changed from his finest into the leathers he'd worn when with the Rangers. "I thought I'd get changed while you were holding your reunion."

"Good thinking. Why don't you run the keys down to Master Gamgee while I get changed and the ponies packed? Considering how he's likely to rant at you about stealing his son away and handing Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses, I should have time." For a moment her face fell. "I just wish he could accept that leaving with us was Hamfast's idea, and that we tried to talk him out of it. He really isn't suited to a new settlement surrounded by wilderness."

Bilbo just pulled her into a hug for a long moment, kissed her briefly, then headed out the front door.

Sakura watched him go, her eyes sad, then forced a smile. "Right, let me get changed and everything packed, and we can be on our way."

Just as Bilbo was reaching for the knob, someone started hammering on the front door. Bilbo glanced back at them, shrugged, and pulled the door open to reveal a panting Lily, once again dressed in the boy's clothing she'd taken to wearing. The young girl took one look at Bilbo in his leathers, and gasped out, "I knew it! Sakura, where are —" She glanced around Bilbo and didn't bother finishing her sentence, pushing past him and throwing herself into Sakura's arms. "You're leaving, and you weren't even going to say goodbye!" she wailed into Sakura's shoulder.

Sakura sighed. "I said goodbye when your grandmother died," she replied. "You know your parents haven't been happy with me for years, there's no way they would have let me see you once your grandmother was gone. And aren't you supposed to be at a family dinner right now?"

"I don't care."

Sakura sighed again and reluctantly pushed them apart to arm's length, her hands on Lily's shoulders. "Dear heart, you have to care. They may not be happy with your plans for the future or me for inspiring them, but they're family. And they really do want what's best for you, as they see it."

Lily's rebellious gaze dropped, and Sakura pulled her into another hug. "As much as I'm going to miss you, I don't want to see you in Fornost before you've reached your tweens. Promise me?" When Lily didn't respond beyond tightening their hug, Sakura pushed them out to arm's length again and tilted Lily's head up with fingers under her chin to look her in the eyes. "If I thought you'd agree I'd ask you to spend a couple more years with the Bounders, the Shire's southern border would be a safer place to learn the rangering trade, but I'm not going to demand the impossible. So, when you're twenty?"

Lily glared defiantly at her for a long moment, before her shoulders slumped. "Okay, when I'm a tween. But you'll write?"

"Of course, dear heart, every season. And I'll make sure it's delivered straight to you. Now come on, I need to get changed and packed."

As the pair disappeared, Arwen watched them go, then glanced at Aragorn and Tilda and smiled. "Another one. She does seem to collect them, doesn't she?" At the pair's blank looks, she added, "Children, I mean, that fall in love with her and want to grow up to be just like her." When the pair blushed, her smile turned into a laugh. "Even me, a child that extended her childhood much too long before she arrived. Let's get the ponies packed."

/oOo\

Sakura sighed as she plopped down next to the line of graves on the hill, then looked out across the farms and scattered woods below. Finally she lifted the flute the Dwarves had found for her in Lonely Mountain, and the haunting sound of another of her father's songs, "The Green Hills of Tyrol," transformed into a piece for the Navajo flute soared out into the day and to those waiting on their horses and pony at the foot of the hill.

Then after the last notes sang out, she lay back (ignoring the discomfort from Sting stretched diagonally beneath her) and looked up at the afternoon sky. It looked a lot like the sky — the same scattered clouds — of her vision, actually, when she'd shared the same hilltop with Nienna. There was even a storm system rolling in from the west, the others were going to regret their agreement not to wait for the morning before leaving.

"Hey, guys, it's been a long time. And I'm afraid it's going be the last time. I'm married now, with a kid on the way. Yeah, Sharon, feel free to laugh it up, I have my family just like you always said would happen and I never relly believed you. But ... I told about how public opinion turned against me after the Rangers announced they were pulling out ..."

And hadn't that caused a firestorm, when Aragorn's uncle had asked for a meeting with the Thain, the Master of Buckland, and the Mayor of Michel Delving. And then, once they'd all gathered, announced that due to the resettlement of Fornost almost all of the Rangers that had been guarding the borders of the Shire would be withdrawn, with only enough remaining to train the expanded Bounders to take over the task. The Thain and the Master of Buckland, along with a scattering of the more adventurous (and so less respected) Hobbits, had known of the Rangers, but to the rest of the Shire their existence and self-assumed duty had come as a nasty shock. The need to transform the Bounders from a semi-mob of unpaid volunteers looking for a little excitement by helping out the Shirriffs in their spare time to trained squads paid out of the public purse (with increased taxes) under Shirriffs that found both their duties and authority abruptly expanded had been an even nastier shock. The then-current Shirriffs had resigned almost to a man, and the chaos before the Thain had at the Mayor's request temporarily assumed the position of First Shirriff and had laid down the new Law had been terrifying.

And thanks to the cloud of suspicion Sakura had already been under thanks to her year-long 'adventure' and how 'odd' Bilbo had been acting even before her return, there hadn't been a blessed thing she could do to help. Whispers had seemed to spring up overnight that she was a spy for the Rangers, and had convinced them to abandon the Shire. Mistress Greenhand (Sakura just couldn't think of her as 'Daisy'), Rose Sackville, Bilbo, some others had tried to stem the tide, but it had been hopeless.

The worst blow had been when parents had started forbidding their children to listen to her stories, though the children's outcry had been comforting even if she'd honored their parents' wishes.

"Yeah, no way are my children going to grow up in this kind of poisonous atmosphere, and it's better for everyone that I get out of the way — maybe if I stop being the poster child for both sides of the argument, the splits that's developed in Hobbiton can heal. So Bilbo and me are moving to Fornost. Can you believe it? His family has been living at Bag End for generations, maybe centuries, and he loves me enough to give it all up. There's nothing I can ever do to deserve that ... to deserve him. Never. Of course he's said the same thing about me, but I guess that's the point."

She paused for a moment to luxuriate in that knowledge, a tear trickling down one cheek as she remembered her own parents, the way they would unthinkingly hold hands whenever they were together, the looks they'd shared, the little things they'd done for each other ... even with the knowledge of the inevitable war bearing down on them, the Piper family ranch had been a happy home. Even during the worst of the War, when she had hated her life ... hated herself ... she had clung to the hopeless dream that someday she would have that again — Sharon had made sure of it. And now she did. After all ...

"Home isn't just a place, it's people."

She pushed herself up and rose to her feet then, remembering that last desperate mission, came to attention as formally as she could manage out of uniform. "Thank you. Sharon, for never giving up on me. For all of you, for my life. Sleep well, my friends — I may not be able to visit again, but I'll never forget you. I'm going have lots of kids, and guess what their names are going to be?" She saluted the graves, held it for a sixty-beat count, snapped her hand down.

Then as the first drops of a spring rain started to fall, she turned away and carefully made her way down the hill to where her future waited for her on their mounts.


Author's Note: And that's a wrap! Perhaps not as polished as it could be, but I was a bit rushed to get it in before I take off on yet more holiday business. The chapter title comes from the excellent song from the TH:TBoFA movie.

So, the geo-political situation as of TA 2948: Dale has been refounded, with Tauriel married to Bard and their first child born — Dale has a half-Elven heir to the throne. Dwalin has led an army to sweep the Goblins out of the High Pass and he's now in charge of a military garrison and growing colony in the mountains above Rivendell, to safeguard those Dwarves of Erebor-in-Exile that choose to return to their recovered homeland (most of them). Arnor has only just been re-established, but right now consists of a stockade and a few farms (but that's going to change in a hurry) near the grassy hills that cover Fornost Erain, the capital city of first Arnor and then Arthedain. And the One Ring is being kept, unworn, as a memento at the refounded Fornost.

For the next story, if-and-when I write it, I'm thinking of jumping only seventeen years; it seems appropriate that Sakura be fifty when that kicks off. (To give an idea of the timeframe, Theoden would be seventeen and Denethor II thirty-five) And while the end goal will be the same — get the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom — the details will be very different.