Prologue

Thorin Oakenshield, newly minted King Under the Mountain, was not pleased. Not pleased at all.

Not only was war brewing on his doorstep with the Bowman and the Elvenking (Mahal smite him), but his Burglar had betrayed him, and the Wizard was as insufferable and maddeningly riddle-like as usual.

Apparently, this was not enough.

Apparently, it was also necessary for this slip of a girl, this veiled Woman, to come striding up to the gates of Erebor in the blackest part of the night and demand an audience with him.

Dwalin had laughed in her face when he stood next to Thorin on the rampart, looking down into the moonlit night at this Woman who stood next to her horse (a horse so black it threatened to dissolve into the shadows), at this Woman who called to a King she did not know and demanded entry to his besieged and newly conquered Kingdom.

No, Thorin Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain, was not pleased at all.

"And who are you," he called to her from high above, "that you should demand an audience with the King Under the Mountain?"

Her voice, calm and clear as a bell, rose up through shadows and lingering smoke to the company, who had gathered on the rampart to witness this curious spectacle. "My name is Imya, my lord King. I come from a place I cannot name, and Aüle sends me to you. I ask to enter your Halls so I may tell you why He sends me."

Silence reigned on the rampart. None of the dwarves could have heard right.

Balin looked at him incredulously. "Thorin, laddie, did she say Aüle? As in Mahal? That he sent her?" The old Dwarf's eyes grew round with disbelief.

Durin's beard, this quest will be the death of me. Thorin might be called naive to have thought that the quest for Erebor would not contain so many meddling and interfering Men.

"She lies," he murmured to Balin. In this he was certain. Their Maker would not concern himself with the likes of a Woman.

"Liar. Impossible," he called to the Woman, and repeated his thoughts concerning the Maker and His certain indifference towards the likes of her. "Either you are a thief, come to steal from the riches you know are stored in the Halls of Erebor, and which rightly belong to me, or you are a spy, sent by the Pale Orc and the Shadow in the East. If the first, you are no better than the rallying thieves, those pitiful excuses for Elves and Men who have laid siege to my doorstep. If the second, I should cleave your head from your shoulders and the world would be better for it."

His company nodded their assent behind him, Dwalin handling his battle-axes in a menacing manner.

The veiled Woman did not seem cowed. It seemed she had expected their reaction. She said, "I am not a liar, nor a thief, nor a spy. I have not come to deceive, to steal, or sabotage. The opposite, in fact. Aüle bid me help you. I am His Servant, and He has sent me to Erebor in the service of Thorin Oakenshield, in the Battle To Come. You might be grateful, Thorin Oakenshield, for your Maker has sent you a Guardian."

Her words had taken on a prophetic, revelatory tone, her voice surging with power. It unsettled Thorin. In return, his next words grew more savage, and his hands gripped the rampart walls. "Lies! Leave, Woman, before you end like the Dragon, a rotting corpse on the doorstep of my Mountain. You have no place in my Kingdom, and you shall not be granted entry. Your story is a lie, a less believable tale I have not heard in a long time."

He motioned to his company to return inside, but a sudden shift of the light drew his eye. The moon seemed to brighten, only for a moment, before night fell darker than before. Thorin glanced behind him as he walked back inside the Mountain, but the Woman was nowhere to be seen. She had faded into the shadows with her horse.