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Comes Wisdom in Defeat - Chapter 1

Title: Comes Wisdom in Defeat
Chapter I: Epilogue
Pairings: Unrequited Kíli/Bilbo
Warnings: major character death, angst, lots of unrequited love
Word Count: 6833
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit it would be an even bigger tragedy
Summary: Kíli is the only Durin to survive the Battle of the Five Armies but when his world falls into darkness, the Valar grant him one chance to make things right.


Fíli dies first.

The dwarf is struck down by a blow meant for his uncle, Bolg's blade piercing his chest with a wet thunk when he leaps into the way. He is brave and foolhardy, a true Durin to the last, and Kíli can only watch in horror as the light leaves his brother's eyes.

It wasn't supposed to end like this, not with Thorin on his knees and broken while his heir bleeds out in the dirt. It was supposed to end in glory and a new hope for their future, something that seems more distant with every halting breath. For there can be no kingdom without a king to rule it and yet Kíli does not care about the loss of Erebor.

All the archer cares about is Fíli, his desperate shouts ringing across the battlefield as he struggles to reach his brother’s side. Indeed, the goblins that block his way soon learn the folly of standing against the prince when his kindred are in danger, but Kíli forgets all about his enemy once his goal is in sight. Instead his blade drops from nerveless fingers as he kneels by Fíli's body, ignoring the blood that seeps through his armor as he cradles his brother's head against his chest.

“Please, Fíli. You have to get up,” the younger dwarf pleads, voice cracking painfully at the chill beneath his hands. “You have to because we're Fíli and Kíli and you can't leave me alone. Please, brother; I don't want to be alone.”

Kíli pays no attention to the battle still raging on around them, no longer caring if some stray arrow strikes him down. What does it matter if he does not live to see the morrow when his brother will never watch another new sun rise?

So the prince does not react as Bolg stalks forward, his cruel blade slick with dwarven blood. He does not react when Thorin tries to stop the orc despite the spears that pierce his body, his shield trembling in his hands. The dwarf lord demands that Bolg face him but their enemy just laughs cruelly at this challenge before swatting the King Under the Mountain out of his way with a sickening crunch of steel on bone.

Yet Kíli still does not react, not even when his family's greatest enemy halts before the youngest Durin – the only Durin now. Instead he just bows his head over his brother's body, tears streaking through the dirt upon his cheeks. This battle is lost already; the prince cannot hope to stand against Bolg when better warriors failed and all he wants now is to meet Fíli and Thorin in their maker’s halls.

However, when Bolg's roar of triumph ends in a choked off gurgle, Kíli has to look up, surprise penetrating even the dark pit of his grief.

For the giant orc's attack was stopped by one small hobbit, the company's burglar glaring at Bolg fiercely over the length of his blade. His sword has struck true, piercing Bolg’s stomach where two plates of armor don't quite meet, and the wave of blood pouring from the wound should not give the monster long. Yet Bilbo is not the only one who found his target, Bolg's blade just missing the hobbit's mithril armor, and Kíli cannot hold back a cry as Bilbo slowly crumples to the ground.

“Bilbo, why?” the dwarf chokes out, reaching out to take his dear friend's hand. “Why would you save me after everything?”

But the hobbit just gives Kíli a sweet smile and whispers, “You are worth it,” before his eyes close one last time. It is a sacrifice that the archer does not deserve; one he does not want now that his closest kin are gone. His brother is gone and it's because of the monster who's still smirking down at him.

Kíli has never been one to hate his enemies but suddenly he hates Bolg now, fury burning like molten mithril through his veins. He wants the orc to suffer, wants him to die screaming in helpless agony, and if this must be the end of Durin's line, then they will not fall alone. Because Bolg is still standing despite his enemies’ best efforts and Kíli is no longer content to wait for blood loss to finish him. The prince is going to kill the orc or die trying; he will have his vengeance if not victory. But while the archer is ready to throw himself at Bolg bare-handed, Fíli has one last gift for him.

Because there is metal beneath Kíli's fingers, the dagger that his brother kept above his heart crying out for blood to answer blood. So the prince listens, wrapping his fingers around the dagger’s hilt and surging forward with speed born of hatred, Kíli ducking under the orc's blade to slam Fíli's knife between his killer’s ribs.

“Die, you bastard,” the dwarf growls, twisting the dagger cruelly as his enemy jerks back in shock. He wants Bolg to feel every inch of the steel that’s tearing through his body, the orc's screams like music to his ears.

Yet the vicious pleasure that Kíli feels when his enemy finally topples disappears back into misery almost instantly. For vengeance does not come close to replacing what the archer has lost in this battle and without Bolg there to feed his fury, there is only pain instead.

So the young prince turns away from the orc to take Fíli back in his arms, the broken bodies of his uncle and their burglar burned into his sight. Those he loved most gave their lives to protect the Lonely Mountain and yet Kíli cannot help but wonder if the prize was worth the cost. All this death and destruction and for what? Our quest accomplished nothing; nothing but to water this desolation with our blood.

For while Thorin spoke of this day as though it would be met with celebration, all Kíli feels is emptiness instead. There is a gaping wound inside his heart that seems to spread with every breath, growing within him until the dwarf cannot hold back his sobs anymore.

---

Gandalf finds the archer there after the dust has settled, Beorn and the eagles having turned the battle's tide. These reinforcements allowed the exhausted warriors defending Erebor to fight off their attackers and yet the wizard knows that the win today is no triumphant victory.

The death toll was enormous, Gandalf’s heart breaking further with every corpse he sees, and the sight of Thorin’s body nearly brings him to his knees for the King under the Mountain is sprawled upon the battlefield amidst the broken spears that brought him down. There is no grace in death, the dwarf lord's once fine features covered in filth and twisted with gruesome injury. He will never see his homeland restored to glory or pace the fine halls of which he dreamed, and for a moment, Gandalf thinks that Thorin's sister-sons are walking through the Halls of Mandos at his side.

They could not have survived, not when the ground beneath his feet has become a crimson river and Kíli is slumped unmoving over Fíli's body in the heart of it. The blood sinks through the leather of the wizard's boots, every step squelching as he walks over to the princes, and he's not sure if he will ever feel clean again.

However, when Gandalf touches Kíli's shoulder, the archer stirs, looking up at the wizard with blood-shot eyes. In truth, the dwarf hardly seems to register his presence, Kíli's mind still lost in the battle that had claimed his brother’s life.

But at this point, Gandalf is just pleased to see a Durin left alive and now that the fight is over, he can wait until reason returns to the archer’s eyes.

“You are late, wizard,” Kíli croaks eventually, the accusation in his voice making Gandalf wince with guilt. He was supposed to help Thorin reclaim his kingdom, Valar's grace but this quest was his idea, and yet he had allowed his dear friends to die.

So all the wizard can do is whisper, “I am sorry; I could not reach your side in time,” and know that his apology will do nothing to ease the young dwarf’s pain.

Indeed the prince does not respond to Gandalf's words, reaching out to stroke his brother’s cheek as grief overcomes his heart once more. Fíli is cold now, eyes blank and staring where they had once shone with light and laughter, and the wizard truly wishes that he could let Kíli be. But while Gandalf knows that he will never have the heart to return to the site of his greatest failure, today he must salvage what he can.

So he reaches out and shakes the prince again, putting a touch of magic in his voice when the dwarf shrugs off his hand. “Kíli, you must focus. Your people need you and you cannot abandon them to wallow in your grief. You are king now and there is much work to be done.”

“King... I never wanted to be king,” Kíli replies bitterly. Fíli had always been better suited to leadership, his quiet strength commanding the respect of dwarrows twice his age while Kíli could barely get his own kin to take his ideas seriously. So how is the archer supposed to fill his brother's shoes? How is he supposed to replace his uncle now?

Yet as the dwarf looks around the battlefield, the earth soaked with death and strewn with the corpses of his people, Kíli knows he has to try. He cannot abandon the dream for which his family died and thus Erebor must be his burden now. The Lonely Mountain is Kíli's to defend because there's simply no one else to do it and so the new-crowned king reaches up to dry his eyes. There will be time for tears once Durin's Folk are home again and he will not waste the life that was bought with Bilbo's sacrifice.

But even with this determination holding back the sorrow, the archer cannot bear to let his brother go just yet. Instead he lifts Fíli's body in his arms and struggles to his feet despite the pain of his own injuries, growling Gandalf and his companions back when the wizard tries to help.

“Bring the others,” Kíli tells them, motioning toward his uncle and their burglar. His allies do as he asks, lifting Thorin and Bilbo free from the muck of the battlefield as the dwarf tries not to notice how tiny their hobbit looks in Beorn's arms.

While he has managed to shunt his grief aside for the moment, something about the sight of Bilbo small and broken threatens to shatter those frail walls. For his friend had stood to gain the least of anyone and if the hobbit had betrayed them, Thorin had surely mistreated him in kind. But Bolg would have been victorious if not for Bilbo's courage and so Kíli owes the burglar a debt of honor that he can never pay.

I only wish that he had managed to save Fíli as well. I only wish that it had not kept him from seeing his green hills again.

---

Thus the archer begins his kingship in a sea of blood and sorrow, those early days some of the most difficult that he has ever known. For Kíli must appear unbroken despite the weight that he now carries; he must be a beacon of hope for his people even as his shattered heart grinds in his chest.

To show weakness is unthinkable when there are vultures circling his kingdom, a thousand greedy souls lusting after the treasure hoard of Thrór. Even the archer's so-called allies had been prepared to claim his gold over a sea of dwarven corpses and while all talk of reparation ended with the battle, Kíli fears that a return to bloodshed is still far too possible.

It is this fear that keeps the dwarf from crying when he sees his uncle buried, Fíli and their hobbit laid in state at Thorin's side. He sheds no tears even though he should be weeping, his sorrow held back by the watching eyes on him. For Kíli could not refuse the gesture when Bard and Thranduil offered to attend his uncle's funeral and even though he does not think he will ever finish grieving, the archer swallows down his tears for them.

Only later – long after Bard has returned the Arkenstone to the young king's keeping and Dáin has left for the Iron Hills with his oath of fealty sworn – only then does Kíli allow himself to break again. The dwarf crumples at the base of Fíli's tomb, beating his fists bloody against the stone until his grief echoes like thunder from the walls.

“How could you leave me here alone?” Kíli screams at his fallen kindred. “How could you leave me to bear this burden with nothing to support me but the damned Arkenstone?”

The archer would toss the gem back into the deepest mine of Erebor if he could because its cold brilliance has come to represent the truth of Thorin’s hollow victory in his sister-son’s eyes. The Arkenstone does not care who bled and died for its beauty; ten thousand deaths would not add warmth to that embrace. But no matter how profoundly the new King Under the Mountain despises the very sight of the gemstone, he needs the legitimacy that its ownership bestows.

So Kíli weeps and shouts and curses Mahal's name until his heart feels empty and then he returns to his duty as he must.

---

The rest of Durin's Folk take five months to arrive from the Blue Mountains once Roäc is sent back with news of the battle and in that time, Erebor is transformed.

In exchange for a portion of the mountain's treasure and hospice through the winter, Bard’s people agree to help clear the rubble from the upper levels, a thousand forgotten corpses finally given proper burial. This is the first true negotiation of Kíli's kingship and while it feels wrong to barter away that which his family died for, the dwarf has no other choice. He needs Dale if the Lonely Mountain is to prosper and even though many of Dáin's people joined him after the battle, the task before them requires far more hands.

Entire families perished when Smaug attacked Thrór's kingdom, every piece of blackened flesh and dusty bone telling a story that the archer does not want to know. But to turn away would be to dishonor all those who were slaughtered and so Kíli watches every dwarf be laid to rest.

He watches and he reminds himself why he must be strong.

Durin's Folk have hope now where there was only desperation and the archer cannot let that tiny spark go out. Kíli must nurture it, feed the embers until they grow into a blazing fire and Erebor stands proud upon the plain once more.

Here Balin and the others are invaluable, the remainder of Thorin's company sharing the weight on their king's shoulders and giving him direction when his path is lost. For the dwarf may have been trained to rule alongside his brother but the duty that he’s accepted is as far from those lessons as his first dagger was from a masterwork.

There is so much damage that must be repaired, so much that must be restored before the mountain is habitable again and some days it takes all of Kíli’s willpower just to leave his bed. No one would deny him the right to sleep a little later, not when the injuries that he received in defense of his uncle have yet to heal. But the king cannot ask his subjects to give more than he is able even though the weight of his responsibilities threatens to drown him where he stands.

Kíli perseveres because he must, working alongside dwarves and men alike to complete each task that must be handled and every morning dawns a little brighter than the last. The work may be slow, but it is not impossible and by the time the first snows of winter touch the plain, there is space enough for everyone inside of Erebor.

The accommodations are basic but they’re warm and the dwarf’s allies will have no cause to complain that they are not being treated equally. So Kíli puts Balin in charge of logistics and Dori in charge of making their guests feel welcome and pretends that he doesn't feel like an imposter when Bard and his people walk into the throne room on that chill winter day.

Yet even if the archer’s throne still feels too large to hold him, the survivors of Laketown are too busy gawking to notice his discomfiture. For while the men have been aiding with the restoration, this is the first time their families have seen Kíli's kingdom and the dwarf is warmed by the wonder in their eyes.

The Lonely Mountain may be battered, but there's grace beneath the grime and knowing this makes his task seem less insurmountable. Indeed, the dwarf manages his first true smile in weeks as he steps forward to greet his allies, welcoming Bard and his kindred into Erebor until spring comes again. Once these formalities are concluded, the men of Laketown are quickly whisked away by Dori to get settled in the upper levels near the light.

It’s a smoother start than Kíli expected to their cohabitation, but these days the archer will take whatever small favors the Valar send his way. He counts himself lucky that Erebor’s deeper storerooms were untouched by time and dragon fire, these stores the only reason that he can afford to offer Bard this shelter in exchange for his people’s willing hands. Otherwise the two kings would have had to sell their lives to Thranduil just to survive the winter and Kíli still worries about the strain of the men’s extra mouths. However, Balin swears there will be supplies enough for everyone and the dwarf must trust in his steward’s expertise.

If the past weeks have taught the young king anything, it’s the need for delegation because, despite his best efforts, Kíli cannot be everywhere at once. But knowing that he needs have faith in his companions doesn't stop their king from worrying, many a sleepless night spent brooding on all that’s left undone. There can be no failure here because his dead are watching and over the months that follow, the dwarf works himself to the bone.

Kíli is not the only one who does not rest through the winter, his people following their king’s example even as tempers become more fragile over time. But while the close quarters certainly cause friction, this forced proximity also creates a new level of understanding between dwarves and men. There are friendships that would never have been possible in the past, long-held prejudices falling by the wayside through familiarity, and both kingdoms will be the stronger for these days.

However, even though Erebor has regained much of her former splendor by the time the snow starts melting, there is still the ruin of Dale sitting on her doorstep and this thought makes Kíli quake inside.

That city has been weathered by far more than dragon fire and the archer sees his fatigue mirrored in Bard's eyes when they meet to discuss logistics for the months to come. The dwarf may still feel like an imposter sometimes, but he knows that his fellow king is struggling just as much with his new responsibilities. For while the bowman is descended from Girion, he lived as a commoner until he killed the dragon and his people needed a leader to bring them home again.

So despite the bad blood that had existed between Bard and Thorin, Kíli and the bowman have come to an understanding now. Both kings agree that they must present a united front to their respective peoples and they do not condemn each other in private when the cracks begin to show. Instead Bard rants to Kíli freely when the Master of Laketown's old supporters stir up trouble and the man does not judge when the dwarf bangs his head against the wall.

Still, the King Under the Mountain does not allow himself to break completely in front of anyone, not even the bowman, and the stress is weighing on his shoulders by the time the rest of Durin's Folk arrive.

It is spring by then, the snows melting away on the lower reaches of the mountain, and Erebor's denizens let out a sigh of relief when they can finally throw open the shutters and breathe in deep again. Though this is nothing to the new life that fills the kingdom when the remainder of Kíli's people appear on the western road, their spirits fresh and ready to tackle the remaining challenges.

Indeed the dwarf hadn't realized how empty his kingdom was until it was suddenly filled with laughing families, dwarrowdams and dwarrowlings running through the halls. Because the archer had been leading a bare two score of warriors, their numbers scarcely tripled by the men of Laketown, and this here is what Kíli has been working toward. This is joy, happiness, and hope where there was none before.

Thus the king finds himself smiling again as he watches Erebor's children return to their homeland and he feels like a dwarrowling himself when his mother takes him into her arms. For Dís was riding at the front of the procession and Kíli is sure that her leadership is what allowed Durin's Folk to make such good time.

Indeed the dwarrowdam is a force of nature that no one can deny and it is such a relief to have her back at his side. So while the road to come is still filled with pitfalls, Kíli begins to think that he may yet survive.

---

Truly those first two years are the hardest, the young king uneasy in his power and burdened by his grief. The dwarf keeps turning to speak to his brother without thinking, the shock of finding only empty air ever a bleeding wound. He cannot sleep for dreaming of a scarlet river pouring across his fingers and many an evening finds the archer kneeling by Fíli's tomb.

It helps to speak to his brother, his worries spilling out in a wave of frustration until his voice is hoarse with use. The dead cannot judge him for his weaknesses and Kíli has to imagine that Thorin and Fíli would understand if they were here. Both of them knew how heavy a crown could seem, even if his uncle bore the weight far more gracefully, and Kíli can only hope that they are proud of his efforts now. The archer has to make them proud or he will never join his kin in Mahal's halls.

So the dwarf allows no one else to see the cracks in his foundation, though Dís often looks at him with a mother's knowing eyes. He allows none of his subjects to see the doubts that strike him sometimes for Durin's Folk must never know how often he wishes that he were buried with his brother; how often the archer forgoes tears for fury and curses Bilbo's sacrifice.

“You should have forgotten us,” Kíli screams, hurling his crown across the room to clang against the wall. “You should have gone back to the Shire and let me die in peace. It would have been better that way, better for everyone.”

But the dwarf's rage always burns out quickly, his anger leaving naught but weariness behind. Because Kíli cannot escape the guilt of surviving when so many more did not; guilt that grows inside him with each new grave that’s dug. And there are still graves a plenty since every excavation of old tunnels finds more bodies: dwarrowdams and dwarrowlings who had deserved much more than this. These deaths haunt Kíli far more than the warriors who had died in battle because at least those dwarrows had had a fighting chance.

Yet if the king has learned anything since taking up his uncle's crown, it's that life isn't fair at all. Life simply is in all its horror and glory and there's no point in wishing that he lived in better days. The best that anyone can do is enjoy the happiness that fate allows them and struggle onward through the sorrow and the pain.

So Kíli does; he rules over Durin's Folk as best as he is able and although he stumbles sometimes, the dwarf learns from his mistakes. He learns how to negotiate with Bard, Dáin and Thranduil, how to keep his nobles in line if not always happy, and his people respond to his efforts with the utmost loyalty.

How could they not adore the archer when he cares so deeply about their troubles, always ready to lend an ear or a helping hand? Indeed, he is beloved, Erebor's young king; beloved even when he's not so young anymore.

For the years keep turning as they're wont to do and Kíli grows with them, his body taking the last steps to maturity. He's no longer as flighty or as quick to act before thinking, though not so quick to smile either now. Yet even Kíli's grief has softened as all wounds must scar over and these days he visits the dead in order to put his thoughts in order instead of weep or rant.

The dwarf finds peace there by the tombs of his kindred, the chamber slowly becoming his sanctuary. This is one of the few places where no one will bother him and so he escapes there when the demands of his kingdom begin to weigh on his mind. Kíli tells Thorin of his struggle to find the best path for their people, jokes with Fíli about finally having a more impressive beard than his brother and finds himself missing Bilbo's own special brand of practicality.

Somehow the king doubts that the hobbit would have put up with any nonsense from his guild masters and imagining their burglar's sharp remarks helps to ease the tedium when court drags on too long. Indeed Bilbo would have been a force to reckon with in the politics of Erebor and this is something the king is truly sorry that he never got to see.

So even if it’s a little odd to prefer the company of ghosts to that of living people, Kíli figures that he’s entitled to some eccentricities after all his sorrow and no one can deny that the Lonely Mountain is standing strong again.

His people never question where their king disappears to and it is these ghosts who comfort the dwarf when the passing years finally claim his mother's life as well. Dís had taken over those duties that a queen was usually called to handle, her deft hand ensuring that no one could fault Erebor's hospitality, and her passing leaves a hole in the kingdom that no one else can fill. So Kíli invites all who knew her to see Dís buried, her body laid in state as befits a dowager queen.

But even though the archer truly loved his mother, he has no more tears with which to send her on her way. Instead the king flees as soon as he is able, curling up against Fíli's tomb and wrapping his arms around his knees.

His brother is the one who comforted Kíli after their father died and it seems only right to share this sorrow with him again. Fíli would have wrapped strong arms around the archer and promised that they would get through this together, and the dwarf wishes that someone were here to say that now.

Balin finds his king sleeping there several hours later, the Runemaster throwing his cloak across Kíli's shoulders and praying that he’ll find peace someday. The archer has faced more sorrow than one heart might be expected to stand without splitting and the old dwarf doesn't know how much more he can take. But as much as Balin wants to support the younger dwarf, he knows that he will not remain in Erebor much longer because the halls of Khazad-dûm are calling him. He wants to see those fabled caverns glowing warm with firelight, just as the Lonely Mountain now lives and breathes again.

So the old dwarf bids Kíli a fond farewell when spring comes around again and although his king does not try to stop him, he cannot shake the feeling that this is goodbye. The archer cannot shake the feeling that Balin will never return to Erebor in his lifetime, but he buries his disquiet in the work of training a new Runemaster and manages to find contentment for a time.

Contentment is the best that the king hopes for, although Kíli is never sure why he's so certain that true joy is out of reach. He is hardly the only person who has ever lost family and friends to tragedy and everyone else seems able to move on with their lives.

Yet even as the years flow by and the passage of time wears down the jagged edges of his grief, Kíli knows that something is missing inside of him. Some spark is gone, some light that made his existence more than something that he must spend surviving and he sometimes misses the dwarf he used to be. But perhaps that dwarf died on the plains of Erebor all those years ago, his spirit passing onward even as Bilbo saved his life.

Indeed, the king has become so used to enduring, so used to doing what must be done and nothing more, that talk of the future takes him by surprise. Because Kíli wakes up one day to discover that his people are suddenly hoping for a wedding, his legend requiring a grand love to carry on his line, and when his advisers first broach this idea, the king does not take it well.

In fact, the archer storms out of the throne room in a righteous fury, his subjects scrambling out of his way when they see the fire in his eyes.

“They want me to get married, married to some empty-headed dwarrowdam whom I've never even met before,” Kíli announces to his dead incredulously. “They want to stick a crown on her head and call it love so that we can start breeding Erebor’s new dynasty. But I'm not going to marry someone I don't care about just to make those old dwarrows happy and I haven't had time for romance since this damn throne fell into my lap. I’ve been busy trying to restore my family’s kingdom and anyway, I can hardly fall in love with someone else when I'm still in love with you-”

Kíli stops short when he hears the words he’s spoken, his declaration echoing in his mind as he stares down at Bilbo’s tomb. The dwarf has never considered the thought that his heart might be taken but now that he’s spoken this confession, he cannot deny that it rings true.

For he misses the hobbit as fiercely as he misses his brother and that alone should have been a sign. But Kíli has also had as many conversations with Bilbo's tomb as he has with Thorin's, their burglar's imagined sarcasm and practical advice a constant presence when the king holds court. Indeed, the thought of the hobbit makes him smile no matter what he's feeling and indeed, his mouth is curling even now.

He has built his life around a memory, one that comforts him far more than any soul still living, and the dwarf doesn't know how he's missed the truth this long. He's in love with Bilbo who is five decades gone already; Bilbo who would have been ancient had he survived the final battle and Kíli can only marvel at his heart's foolishness.

“I suppose that does explain some things,” the king whispers, his lips twisting bitterly before he starts to laugh. The dwarf laughs until he cries, slumping down against the stone with his head buried in his hands. But eventually his manic humor passes and it's not as though this knowledge really changes anything.

“I probably will have to marry eventually,” Kíli tells his ghosts with a sigh. “Find a dwarrowdam who does not care if I love her and sire a few children so that Durin's Line continues on. But I cannot do that yet. Give me a few years to imagine that our lives could have been happy before I let this last dream die.”

Indeed, the king forbids his court from mentioning marriage in his presence, glaring his advisers into submission when they try to challenge him. Erebor will have her queen when he is ready for while Kíli knows his duty, the dwarf needs time to grieve before he can marry anyone. He needs time to mourn the love that had no chance to flower and mourn he does as the years pass by. The king says farewell to the dreams that he had not known he carried and he reminds himself that his people are worth any sacrifice.

But just when Kíli has finally begun to think about a wedding, he discovers that fate has other plans in store.

Truthfully, the dwarf should have realized that darkness was brewing many months before this considering the rumors he's been hearing, but the king hasn't wanted to believe that another war might come.

So Kíli doesn't listen to the warnings of armies massing in the east or the whispers of old hatreds given flame and while he offers aid to any travelers who are attacked upon the road, he cannot believe the tales they tell. Shock must have addled the poor souls' memories since everyone knows the orcs of the north were broken when their leader fell. Indeed, it is only when all word from Khazad-dûm goes silent that Kíli truly begins to worry and the preparations that he makes are not enough.

For even the wildest rumors never claimed that a hundred score of men and monsters were waiting for their chance and neither Dale nor Erebor is ready when their enemies attack. Instead, Dale is caught flatfooted when an army of Easterlings crosses the Redwater one fine autumn morning, skirting around Mirkwood to fall upon the city like a pack of rabid beasts.

So the first shout of alarm does not come until flames are licking at the gates, the outer watch slaughtered before they could sound the warning bell, and the ensuing battle is not fair at all. Ten men swarm over the walls of Dale for every one that meets his maker and despite the skill of the city's guardsmen, they are soon overrun.

There is blood running in the streets again, a slaughter such as has not been seen since Smaug burned the city, and the people of Dale can only flee their home once more. They run for the safety of Erebor, women and children cut down without mercy even as Bard's grandson tries to cover their retreat.

Brand buys his people time with the arrows in his quiver and the sword his father carried, but he is far outnumbered and there is no one coming to his aid. For the mines of Erebor cannot be emptied quickly and those warriors who stand ready are barely enough to hold the mountain's gate.

Perhaps if Kíli had had more warning, this day might have ended differently, but wishes serve nothing when the Valar turn their eyes away. So all he can do is watch as Brand is swarmed by Easterlings, his bow broken and his lifeblood spilled upon the field. All Kíli can do is watch as the people of Dale are slaughtered, only a scant handful reaching Erebor before they are overrun. The dwarf king watches and then, even though it breaks his heart to do so, he orders the gates sealed.

There is no other choice for Erebor cannot hope to fight off such numbers and yet Kíli knows that those desperate eyes will haunt him for the remainder of his life. A span of time that is looking shorter with every day that passes by.

For the Easterlings may not be able to break through the thick walls of Erebor, but they are not leaving and the archer's kingdom is not ready for a siege. The dwarves' wealth is in gold and gemstones, their skill with metal not green and growing things. Trade is the lifeblood of the Lonely Mountain, a trade that has now ceased. There will be no more carts of fish from Dale nor venison from the elves, no sacks of grain to supplement the dwarves' own efforts underground, and what they have stored will not suffice with extra mouths to feed.

Indeed the weight on Kíli's heart grows heavier with each new report from Dori, the dwarf informing him that Erebor might last a year at most. The king has a year before his people are starving in their chambers and he knows that the weakest amongst them will not survive that long.

However, opening the gates would be tantamount to suicide for the Easterlings have settled in to wait out their enemy, defiling the fertile earth around the Lonely Mountain to fortify their camp. It sickens Kíli to see his home so corrupted, the green grass trodden into a pit of mud and filth that recalls a bygone battlefield.

But even as the whispers of his ghosts grow louder, the archer knows that he cannot stop this devastation so he bites back his fury and sends out ravens to his kin in other hills. However, all the king receives is a litany of death and destruction in reply and the day that he wakes to the sight of Mirkwood burning, he takes his bow and slaughters every foe that he can reach. This small vengeance helps to ease the clawing panic and fury in Kíli's chest just a little, enough that he can keep smiling for his people's sake.

The king smiles even as he lies and promises that everything will be all right, though it will take a miracle to save the Lonely Mountain now. He lies and Durin's Folk believe him because the archer has never lied to them before.

Perhaps the men of Dale know better for their dreams were shattered with the loss of their city, but they keep silent even as their elders are some of the first to fall. Men were not made to live in the earth's deeper places and without a spark of hope to sustain them, they just lie down and die. Though Kíli can hardly blame them when there is little enough hope in his own heart anymore, his people growing skinnier with each month that passes by.

So when word comes that the last great kingdoms of men and elves have fallen, ill news carried on a crippled raven's wing, the king must admit that he has failed and he spends the evening weeping with his dead. Kíli does not cry for himself; he cries for his people and for the end of everything.

But the dwarf cannot weep forever, not even for the future that his ghosts will never see, and so he gathers his people together when the next sun dawns. Durin's Folk have two choices now; they can either starve or go down fighting and his dwarves choose the latter as he had known they would. Erebor's children will not leave this world without a struggle; they will leave in blood and pain and fury and their enemies will suffer dearly for every dwarrow lost.

With this decision made, the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain gather at the gates with their weapons and their armor, the youngest dwarrowlings tied to their mother's backs. At their head stands the Lord of Silver Fountains, his fingers clenched tightly around Orcrist and his own helmet gleaming strong.

Although Kíli has long forgotten any dreams of glory, he wants to see his family again in Mahal's keeping and so the dwarf must die with a weapon in his hands. He and all his people, the king whispering a prayer for the Smith to watch over his children before giving a nod to the miners by the gates. These dwarrows had volunteered to collapse the mountain's entrance once their fellows pass into battle, denying the Easterlings the pleasure of picking through his kingdom's bones.

That is all Kíli can do to protect the dead who lay beneath him and he can do even less for those dwarves soon to fall. Nothing except face the end with courage so the king squares his shoulders, gives the order, and charges forward into battle one last time.


Chapter 2: Prologue